500 million dollars, divided by 327 million Americans, makes $1 million per American, with enough left over for lunch. This insight was provided by a member of the editorial board of the New York Times — always a malicious newspaper, but once a respected one. I learn from a blog that at least one prominent TV personality came independently to the same result, and many lesser souls copied it. The “500 million” was the number these polymaths had taken, on the usual hearsay, as the amount rich meejah-mogul Bloomberg had blown on his badly failed attempt to buy the Democrat primaries. People, they imagined, would have preferred to take his cash directly.
In Republican comments, the comparison was of 500 million, to the hundred thousand or so that semi-literate Russian Facebook trolls had supposedly spent, to swing the last election to Donald J. Trump. But a voter would have to be a more sophisticated arithmetician to follow this joke.
Caveat: I saw the New York Times’ Mara Gay sharing that, which came from someone else’s Tweet, as both she and Brian Williams, in a suspiciously short video, introduced it. Two words came to my mind:
I wasn’t sure which should predominate, so, of course, I went on the internet and searched “full Mara Gay segment on MSNBC” and just “Mara Gay” at the MSNBC site.
The answer is: Innumeracy.
The supplemental answer is “MSNBC and the New York Times must both screen out people with functional crap detectors in their hiring process.” $1,000,000 per person is much worse than a math error; it was wildly, absurdly and facially improbable.