How Many is “Too Many”?

hank aaronI’ve always loved numbers. As a boy, I was well aware that a batting average of .400 (4 hits in every 10 official at-bats) was almost unattainable, even by the best major league stars. The incredible Hank Aaron never ended a season with anything higher than .355.

Following are a few other statistics. Should we be worried, or is this the best our economic and political systems can do? (In other words, how proud should we be of our collective batting average?)

In Los Angeles County, child abuse hotline tips flow in at a rapid clip. Responsibility for investigating them falls to the Department of Children and Family Services. The Los Angeles Times reports that more than 18,000 cases are unresolved within the mandated time limit of 30 days, at least in part because there are simply not enough social workers.

Meg Whitman, GOP candidate for governor in the State of California, has donated (so far) $64 million of her personal funds to the campaign . At an estimated cost per social worker of $75,000 per year, $64 million would supply Los Angeles County with 853 social workers for an entire year.

A careful anonymous reader challenged a statistic I used in my previous post. I claimed that “millions of Americans were dying prematurely because they didn’t have access to quality medical care.” (Note: I didn’t claim that every such case was the fault of insurance companies.) A more accurate number, my reader states, would be more in the range of 18,000 to 45,000 per year. Let’s use the higher number, on the assumption that many such cases probably go unreported or undocumented. At that rate, the phenomenon would need to be repeated for slightly more than 44 years to make my statement true.

Well, on November 19, 1945, Harry S Truman sent a Presidential message to the US Congress proposing a new national health care program. In his message, Truman argued that “The health of American children, like their education, should be recognized as a definite public responsibility…About 1,200 counties, 40% of the total in the country, with some 15,000,000 people, have either no local hospital, or none that meets even the minimum standards of national professional associations.”

According to Longman and Boshara (“The Next Progressive Era: A Blueprint for Broad Prosperity,” p. 118), the New England Journal of Medicine estimates that “uninsured patients receive only 53.7% of the care experts believe they should get.” The same book indicates that the journal “Health Affairs” concluded that 10% of the premature deaths in this country are attributable to shortfalls in medical care (p. 105).

A few global warming skeptics have stated that we have nothing to fear from increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it is a naturally occurring compound (proving once again that a fifth grade education is not sufficient to produce informed public policy). In fact, the atmosphere is about 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.038% carbon dioxide, plus other trace elements and water vapor. At concentrations of 1%, carbon dioxide causes pronounced dizziness; at 2%, we experience reduced hearing and increased blood pressure; 5% causes confusion, headaches, and shortness of breath. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the atmosphere has experienced a 39% increase in carbon dioxide levels since 1800. While plants do use carbon dioxide in photosynthesis to produce sugars, extremely high concentrations actually inhibit the process, and food may eventually become poorer in quality and nutritional value as a result (LA Times, 5/15/10, p. A22).

Speaking of the stratosphere, in 2009 Greg Maffei, CEO of Liberty Media Corporation, earned $87.5 million, from TOTAL company revenue of $10.16 billion. According to its website, Liberty Media Corporation “owns interests in a broad range of electronic retailing, media communications, and entertainment businesses.” I was unable to locate information on the total number of people employed by the company; presumably, there must be thousands. However, the CEO alone — ONE PERSON — pocketed 0.86% (nearly one of every 100 dollars) of the company’s TOTAL REVENUE in 2009.

Had enough numbers for one day? Oh, permit me just one more; you have just read more than 800 words! Thanks for your persistence!

Ron Wolff

Ronald Wolff publishes the blog Musings from Claremont, where this article first appeared. Republished with permission.


  1. annieR says

    For several years, I served on a foster care review board in Arizona. Case files repeatedly had entries, in response to complaints made, simply “report taken” as a result of a CPS visit. Again, case managers were so overloaded that they couldn’t possibly serve the children assigned to them. However, Arizona’s tax on alcohol is below the national average, especially on beer. And Arizonans are obsessed with extending gun carry laws (bars, church!). I don’t see the situation ever improving.


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