It’s not actually clear what is going on in the brief MSNBC segment on this. It’s clear that a Twitter user encountered some difficulties with multiplication and division, and produced a tweet for the ages.
It’s almost as bad as not being able to do simple math as an adult. How embarrassing 🤦🏻♂️ pic.twitter.com/N922aketHM
— BarnRant (@BarnRant) March 4, 2020
The Twitter user later limited access to her account, and serenaded Twitter with a “Blah blah blah” chorus as she plugged her ears to the ratio raging around her.
Oh my gosh. Please keep tweeting about this. If only there were a calculator app on your phone. pic.twitter.com/qEZntlhQyA
— BarnRant (@BarnRant) March 4, 2020
But it isn’t clear why MSNBC then aired the original tweet with Brian Williams narrating it as if it made sense. You be the judge:
"It's an incredible way of putting it." pic.twitter.com/HJ74AkOBr3
— Aaron Maté (@aaronjmate) March 6, 2020
Said Williams, speaking of the tweet on the big screen, “When I read it tonight on social media it kind of all became clear.”
He began to read the tweet. “Bloomberg spent $500 million on ads. The U.S. population is 327 million.”
Then Williams added this aside: “Don’t tell us if you’re ahead of us on the math.” This might spark some hope in unwary viewers, but follow along.
“He could have given each American $1 million,” continued Williams, reading off the screen, “and have lunch money left over.”
Williams’s verdict: “It’s an incredible way of putting it.”
Williams’s guest on 11th Hour (Mara Gay of the New York Times) agreed: “It’s an incredible way of putting it … It’s true…”
Except, of course, it’s not true. (It is, technically, an incredible way of putting it. You can verify from this clip that Mara Gay was on 11th Hour on Thursday night, in the same outfit, although the math tweet segment is missing, for some reason. Too many Twitter users reported seeing it live to leave doubt as to whether it happened.)
At any rate, let’s try the division thing.
Dividing 327,000,000 Americans into $500,000,000, we come up with just shy of $1.53 per American for Bloomberg’s $500 million.
The round-up to $1.53 would require an additional $327,000 (one one-thousandth of a dollar, or $.001, times 327,000,000) from Bloomberg, making his all-in redistribution $500,327,000. We can presumably agree he has that — his net worth is estimated to be about $60 billion — if the question is whether it’s literally possible. We won’t try to make a conclusion about whether he would miss it or not.
That’s one dollar and fifty-three cents a head. Alternatively, we could round down to $1.52 per American and cut Mr. Bloomberg a break, requiring only $497,040,000 from him. Which would have the merit of giving him some lunch money left over, in the amount of $2,960,000.
Then there’s the multiplication thing.
— JT Brown (@jbrown8421) March 4, 2020
It would take $327 trillion ($327,000,000,000,000) to give 327 million Americans $1,000,000 each. That, Bloomberg does not have. In fact, the United States of America does not have $327,000,000,000,000. No one on the planet has $327,000,000,000,000. The total assets of the U.S. Federal Reserve are about $4.24 trillion right now. The total global GDP in 2019 was about $86 trillion.
Granted, the total, aggregate wealth of every variety and kind in the world is estimated to have been about $360,000,000,000,000 ($360 trillion) in 2019. Redistributing that to 327 million Americans would “give everyone” $1,100,917.43. (More accurately, since the overwhelming majority of that wealth exists in forms like the value of real property and business investments, this transaction would require awarding shares in the wealth to Americans, with a small cash payout to each as a cherry on top.)
But modern math isn’t about accurate outcomes. Numerous Twitter users made Common Core jokes about this, and that’s probably the best focus to bring to it. Common Core math, as it has been practiced in at least some cases, can be about intuitively just outcomes, if that’s what you want it to be. You just have to believe.
One courageous Twitter user #resisted and #persisted, proclaiming that “people are telling me my numbers are wrong but the point still stands: he could easily afford to give everyone $1 million and literally never notice.”