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James Powell and Percentages

"fm" <[email protected]> wrote in message news:<[email protected]>

"This table shows that school expenditures increased 4.6 fold, from $133.6 billion in 1960 to $618.6 billion in 1999.  This paralleled an increase in education spending as a percent of GDP from 4.8% to 7.8%. There is only ONE group which is responsible for this:  blacks.  This 3% additional expenditure for education is $270 billion per year.  We would still be spending only 4.8% of GDP for education today if we had sent the niggers back to Africa a century ago."

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On August 21,2001, on news:[email protected] "[email protected]_deja.com" <[email protected] responded:

"It wouldn't have anything to do with the 69,395,126 extra people in the United States since 1960? Are you stating that ALL of the 12,673,000 students added between 1965 and 1999 are black?? According to Table 246, in 1998, there were a total of 10,800,000 black students age 3-34!"

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Bear in mind that this discussion took place on an education forum on the usenet, in alt.education with putative American "educators" who are tasked with the responsibility of attempting to teach math to America's children.  If there's ever been any question about who's at fault for our 12th grade students scoring dead last in 17 of 34 TIMSS subjects,  this statement should put that concern to rest, forever.  That is, once the shock of the realization that our teachers don't even know percentages wears off.

In the event that those reading this post don't realize the error, thanks to the poor education they received in our once fine public schools, they should be advised that James was attempting to maintain that education spending as a percent of GDP increased so dramatically because the US population increased.  He clearly didn't, and most likely still doesn't, understand that when you measure something as a percentage of GDP, population growth is *included*, because population increases as GDP increases.  If the population increases 2% per year, and GDP increases 2% per year, then you have a fixed GDP per capita.  But if an EXPENSE like education increases by 3% of a $9,000 billion GDP, then you have a $270 billion increase in costs which far exceeds, and which is not explained by nor could be the result of, population or GDP growth rates.

It's very easy to mislead people who don't understand percentages by quoting statistics to them regarding inflation of the dollar and the vagaries of the "Consumer Price Index", so let's be specific about how foolish this statement actually is.  It's doubtful that James even understands the error of such logic to this very day.

If GDP per capita and inflation had remained fixed between 1960 and 2000 as the population increased by 58%, we would have had a 2000 GDP of $811.6 billion, which is 9.6% of what it actually was.  The fact that 2000 GDP was 10.4 times that can be due to only three factors:

  1. Increased productivity.
  2. Inflation.
  3. A combination of both.

The fact that GDP per capita relative to Japan was ten times higher in 1960 than in 2000 suggests that much of this increase in GDP is due to inflation, so it's misleading to claim that actual education spending increased 27 fold.   It's more informative to note that, as a percent of GDP, it increased only 3.1% (from 4.8% to 7.9%).  If the increase in education spending had been fixed to population growth, it would have increased only 58%, to $39 billion.  Had it been fixed to GDP per capita (or even to Japanese incomes), it would have increased only 10.4 fold, to $256.9 billion.  Had it been fixed to actual GDP growth, it would have increased 16.4 fold, to $405.1 billion.  It took a combination of population growth, inflation, an increase in productivity, and an absolute increase in the cost of education, to cause this 27 fold increase, from $24.7 to $667.6 billion in only forty years:

  1. $39 billion due to population increase.
  2. $217.9 billion due to inflation.
  3. $148.2 billion due to increased productivity.
  4. $262.5 billion due to the absolute increase in the cost of education.

Less than 6% of the increase in the cost of education between 1960 and 2000 was due to population growth.  The largest factor was the absolute increase in the cost of education as a percent of GDP of 39.3%, followed by inflation at 32.6%, and then the productivity increase at  22.2%.


As % of 2000 Education Cost
Population increase $39 5.8%
Inflation $217.9 32.6%
Productivity increase $148.2 22.2%
Absolute cost increase $262.5 39.3%

  1960 2000 Factor
GDP (billions) $515.3 $8,450 16.4x
Population (millions) 179.3 282.4 1.58x
GDP per capita $2,874 $29,922 10.4x
Education spending      

% of GDP

4.8% 7.9% 1.65x

Total (billions)

$24.7 $667.6 27.0x
GDP per capita Japan:US .2:1 2:1 10x