The ability of the political class in this country to either not understand basic math or their abuse of math to add credibility to their mistruths about programs they are trying to pass never ceases to amaze. In either case, non-existent math skills or using their limited math skills to deceive, the results are never good. Government initiatives rarely live up to the numbers and the taxpayer ends up paying far more than was originally estimated.The latest example of incredibly bad math skills was described in the Politifact column in the March 3, 2011 issue of the St. Petersburg Times. This column tries to make sense out of politicians’ claims, lies, and math. This latest column concerned an outrageous statement by U.S. Congresswoman Corrine Brown who stated that her home state of Florida was sacrificing 60,000 jobs by not accepting $2.7 billion from the Federal government to build a high speed rail line from Tampa to Orlando.This rail line is not a good idea for three simple reasons:High speed rail from between Tampa and Orlando is too expensive relative to driving.
High speed rail between Tampa and Orlando is too inconvenient relative to driving.
High speed rail between Tampa and Orlando takes too much time relative to driving.Costs too much, is more inconvenient, and takes too long is the trifecta for failure on this wasteful project.Round trip by car from the Tampa Bay area to Orlando is about 200 miles. If you have a fuel efficient car, you can do the trip on about six gallons of gas, or about $20 in today’s environment. There is no way, from what has been published, that a round trip ticket on this high speed rail line will cost anywhere close to $20. The more people traveling in the car, the less economically favorable the price for riding on the high speed rail line becomes.Furthermore, from the time schedule that the high speed rail line is supposed to attain, assuming everything goes right, it will take substantially less time in the total trip to go by car than by high speed rail, which, by the way, will stop to pick up passengers midway between Tampa and Orlando.From the inconvenience perspective, this is also a no brainer. Both cities have major airports so there are very few instances where you would fly into either city in order to get to the other city. They are so close to each other that no one would ever fly from one to the other. There are no major commercial ties that would require a load of people to constantly be commuting back and forth.As for the Disney connection in Orlando, once you got on the high speed rail line in Tampa, stopped at the midway point to pick up people, got dropped off at the Disney station, waited for Disney buses to pick you up and take you to your hotel, you would have already arrived much earlier if you had driven yourself.Thus, this is a dumb, dumb project. However, the Congresswoman has proclaimed that this project will create 60,000 jobs. Politifact dug into the numbers and found that the Congresswoman’s math was severely deficient:- First a of all, nowhere could their analysis find any source at any level of government claiming that 60,000 jobs would be created except for the Congresswoman.- The column cites estimates from the Florida Department of Transportation to try and develop a reasonable and logical estimate of jobs created by the high speed rail line:In the first year of construction, 2011, there would be 2,100 people working on construction, 700 workers providing engineering services, and 3,400 other individuals working in related fields in support of the line.
Thus, in the first year, possibly 6,200 people would be working on the rail line but for only a partial part of the year since we are already two months into 2011 and the project has not even been approved yet.
In 2012, the total number of people working on the line would jump up to 21,600 workers.
By 2013, the number of workers drops down to 18,900 and by 2014 the number employed in construction the line would drop to 2,100.- Thus, according to the state government department that will be working the project, at no point in the process are more than 22,000 people working on the line’s construction.- Even if you add up all four years to get the number of man-years worked, you cannot get to the Congresswoman’s 60,000 estimate, you only get to 48,800 job positions over the four years. And that assumes that you started construction on January 1, 2011 which you did not.Thus, Politifact gives a red light false rating to the Congresswoman’s claim. In fact, the column cites estimates from the Central Florida Partnership, which is an Orlando based economic development organization, that during the peak construction times, only about 10,000 people will be working on the line’s construction. Even worse, when measured against the Congresswoman’s now debunked claim, once the line is up and running, assuming it ever is, the state of Florida estimates that only about 1,100 full time jobs will exist to operate the line.When her staff was questioned about where she got her 60,000 estimate, a spokesman for the Congresswoman, David Simon, admitted that he has seen different numbers from the 60,000 for the project and was not sure where the 60,000 estimate came from.Let’s do some simple math for ourselves:According to the website, The People History, about 9,186,900 people are currently employed in the state of Florida.
If the high speed rail line creates 1,100 permanent jobs, as the state estimates, then the number of people employed in the state of Florida will go up .01%. That is one one hundredth of one percent.
Even is we look at the peak year for temporary, construction related jobs, 10,000, from the economic development organization cited above, employing this many more people will increase the number of people employed in Florida by .1%.
If you divide the $2.7 billion cost by the number of permanent jobs created you find that each of those jobs cost $2.45 million to create.
If you use the best guess of the peak temporary employment, 10,000, and add in the 1,100 permanent jobs that are created to get at a total of 11,100, you find that dividing this number into the cost of $2.7 billion yields a whopping cost per job created of $243,000 per job, the vast majority of which were temporary and which will pay far less than $243,000 on average.Anyway, the cost per job is secondary when you consider that very, very few people will ride this rail line given the three reality factors listed above. Thus, we waste taxpayer money on something nobody will use and we pay dearly, over $2 million per permanent job created. Apparently, the Congresswoman did not do the simple math that we did above.This is just another illustration of how politicians continue to falsely think that government can create jobs. It cannot because the government needs to take money out of the economy to spend it. That money, the $2.7 billion in this case, would have created other jobs if allowed to stay in the pockets of the actual people who created the wealth associated with that money, the taxpayers.They would have bought more iPods, gone to more movies, maybe bought a car, went on a vacation. Thus, even by the wildest stretch of the imagination, if the Congresswoman’s 60,000 estimate was right, she did not take into account the number of private sector jobs that were not created if the taxpayers had that money in their own, rightful pockets. That math concept, elasticity, is usually well beyond the math skills of politicians.Just once it would be refreshing for a politician to admit that they are not creating jobs, they are just reallocating jobs across different industries, almost always doing it inefficiently. You cannot claim you are efficient if it costs you over $2 million to create a permanent job that pays far less than that amount.Should government and politicians spend money on necessary infrastructure? Absolutely. Should they spend it on infrastructure no one will use? Absolutely not. Our roads and bridges are falling apart, in some cases killing Americans who simply are driving down the road or over a bridge. Judiciously spend money for infrastructure that people actually use and which is crumbling.A request to our political class: please, please take some simple math courses to figure out what you are talking about before trying to explain to those of us in the world that actually can do a little math. Otherwise, you make yourselves look foolish and waste a ton of taxpayer money on projects you do not understand. Your math deficiency is appalling.