Who Needs Math When You Have Ideology?

That some random person on Twitter is really bad at basic math isn’t at all surprising or significant. What’s shocking is that this obviously bad math was publicly embraced by two highly placed professionals, one with a nightly show on MSNBC, the other a member of the NY Times editorial board.

Add to that all of the other professionals involved in putting on this show whose hands this information might have past through, and it does seem to point at something.

The error doesn’t simply reveal an inability to perform elementary school math, but a bizarre disconnect relative to the economic scale and structure of our society. If $500 million dollars would make everyone in America a millionaire, then forget UBI or any social program. We’re all set!

That’s the part that seems to me genuinely troubling, because so much of our political conflict is around who deserves what, and this talk breaks down into an intractable dispute between people who think nothing fundamentally has to change, and people who believe the whole system should be fundamentally rewritten.

One of the deep problems is that we have no clear agreement of how much “money” there is, and why. There is, in fact, a deep analogy between our ideas about energy and our ideas about money. Notice how deeply redistributive economic schemes, with their colossal pricetags, are wrapped up with ideas about alternative energy. Free energy. Free stuff.

From this perspective, the devil is a system of control, in which fossil fuel companies are holding the planet hostage in order to keep control over everybody else. Energy scarcity is their racket.

“The richest country in the world” only exists so long as it has energy. Without energy, all of these riches start to fall apart. From the Green New Deal perspective, the limits on energy are simply a construct if not invented then at least preserver to maintain control. The Green New Deal perspective essentially takes for granted the existence of a perpetual motion machine, some effectively infinite energy source we could harvest for the good of all, if the billionaires and their petro-dollars weren’t intentionally standing in the way.

It is this underlying belief that seems to me what’s behind this incident of bizarrely terrible math. That is: it is such a commonplace of the worldview of the people involved that billionaires are sources of infinite wealth, if only they wanted to be, that they didn’t even think to actually do the calculation. The calculation was done, instead, ideologically.

It was, in other words, just the sort of thing that *would* be true, according to the premises of the ideology. In any case, math is one of the tricks the devil uses to stymie the power of what’s truly possible. It’s a trick of patriarchy.

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