Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Take a guess...

One of the highlights of the summer when I was growing up was the Mooreland Free Fair. Come to think of it, it's still one of the highlights of the summer. I suppose everybody that attends the fair has their own favorite attractions. My favorite is getting the chance to see old friends.

In my younger days, I spent a lot of time at the fair with my old buddy, Stinky Wilmont. One of Stinky's favorites every year was the Gypsy Weight Guesser. Stinky had what might be called an unusual shape, and he was convinced that it threw the Weight Guesser off of his game. Stinky would give the man a quarter, and the man would take a guess about his weight. He always missed by more than the allowable margin, and Stinky would laugh and walk away with a prize that was probably worth a nickel out the outside.

Still, it was Stinky's quarter, and Stinky's choice to spend it. No matter how bad of a guesser the old man was, Stinky didn't care, the old man didn't care, and I certainly didn't care. Stinky got a prize, the old man got a quarter, and everybody was happy.

There's still a lot of guessing going on. I read the other day that somebody had determined that the earth's atmosphere weighs 5 quadrillion tons. Now, maybe it does, and maybe it doesn't. They could have guessed 4 quadrillion tons, or 6 quadrillion tons, and I doubt that anybody would have offered much of an argument. At least I know I wouldn't.

Sometimes bad guessing ends up costing us money, though. A while back someone guessed that 250,000 people use the Cardinal Greenway every year. Given the number of decent days in a year and the number of people that you see on the trail on any one of those decent days, I'm guessing that they guessed high. The 250,000 number was used to justify using our road taxes on the Greenway, I guess.

In Wayne County a couple of weeks ago, the director of tourism guessed that a new convention center in Richmond wouldn't compete with existing businesses that offer meeting rooms for various functions. I guess she was trying to convince those existing businesses to support the new tax that would finance the new center. I guess it didn't work.

When Mitch Daniels was working for George Bush, his best guess was that the Iraq War would cost the United States $50 billion. $60 billion, tops. Guess again.

Congress just passed, and President Bush just signed, a new housing bill. It puts taxpayers on the hook for all of the bad loan decisions that mortgage brokers Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have made in the past, or may make in the future. The government is guessing it could cost taxpayers $25 billion, but in reality there is no limit on the amount of bad loans that the American taxpayer might be required to buy.

There aren't very many government programs that don't end up costing more than the government guessed they would, or that turn out the way the government guessed they woud turn out.

I guess a lot of people think that elected officials somehow have a better understanding on how to manage and spend your money. I guess I don't believe that.


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