Few businessmen make outright gifts to the American people. John D. Rockefeller gave his estate in Maine to the National Parks to create what is now one of my favorite venues, Acadia National Park. The views of Penobscot Bay from Rockefeller’s carriage roads are simply breathtaking and certainly worthy of a place on your bucket list. Recently, Steve Ballmer, former CEO of Microsoft, published the first ever Annual Report and 10K on American federal, state and local government. While he did not match the natural majesty of Rockefeller’s gift, in many ways his compendium of government information is possibly more valuable, coming at a time when no one knows the truth and powerful forces are attempting to bend reality to their own agenda.
Mr. Ballmer personally underwrote the project which took several years and more than $15 million. He explains the purpose of his Annual Report and 10K as follows:
“USA Facts is a new data-driven portrait of the American population, our government’s finances, and government’s impact on society. We are a non-partisan, not-for-profit civic initiative and have no political agenda or commercial motive. We provide this information as a free public service and are committed to maintaining and expanding it in the future.”
Interestingly, the New York Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin really likes the project and for the first time in years I can provide a quote that is actually balanced:
“In an age of fake news and questions about how politicians and others manipulate data to fit their biases, Mr. Ballmer’s project may serve as a powerful antidote. Using his website, USAFacts.org, a person could look up just about anything: How much revenue do airports take in and spend? What percentage of overall tax revenue is paid by corporations? At the very least, it could settle a lot of bets made during public policy debates at the dinner table.”
When you read it, you will like it too. What struck me about the 162 page Annual Report for the year ended September 30,2014 was how we have improved as a country in only a few objective measures over the measurement periods. On a positive note, I was stunned to learn the average net worth of the bottom 20% of the US population was $86,000.
Like many of you, fake news has been making me anxious. I have stopped listening to all network news and am increasingly suspicious of iconic brands like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. They broadcast in loud and urgent tones suggesting end of days mostly to promote only one way of thinking. It is nice to read the government’s own facts and form your own opinion. Here are some examples comparing 2014 to 1980 unless otherwise indicated:
- Persons in jail grew from 184,000 in 1980 to 1.6 million in 2014
- Married Parents dropped from 40.6% to 29.4%
- The poverty rate is about the same while aid to disadvantaged is up 3.4x
- Obesity increased from 16.8% to 29.8% of the population
- Average household debt rose from $51,000 to $117,000
- 6.5 million young adults (25-34yrs) live at home
- Federal, state and local governments have a combined negative net worth of $5.3 trillion
- Hate crimes based on race declined from 5,396 in 1996 to 2568 in 2014
- Religious hate crimes were unchanged for the same period
I urge you all just to browse through this wonderful gift to America. It sure beats all the fake news on TV. It may lift your spirits (race relations) or depress you (governmental deficits) but for the first time in a long while you will be thinking for yourself.