"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We're in the Very Best of Hands

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has often had items he labels with the phrase, "We're in the Very Best of Hands," about the federal government's various idiocies.  Here's another example.  You may have seen the story about the U.S. Mint's botched printing of $1.1 billion in $100 bills, which will likely all have to be destroyed.   Here's an article about it in the Boston Herald.  See if you catch the problem:

There’s something funny with the newest batch of American money - and it may pose problems for the Massachusetts-based company that provides the paper for all U.S. currency.

Dalton-based Crane & Co. says it’s not responsible for a printing gaffe that has affected $1.1 billion worth of new hundred-dollar bills and could cost taxpayers up to $120 million.

“Crane manufactures the paper to the government’s specs, but I don’t know if it’s a problem with the paper,” said Peter Hopkins, a spokesman for Crane & Co., which has produced the paper for dollar bills since 1879. “I haven’t seen any finger-pointing yet.”
The new bills, bearing Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner’s signature, have been printed and remain uncirculated in vaults in Texas and Washington, D.C. Many may be unusable, because the paper folded over during production, creating a blank, uninked portion on the bill face.

Hopkins said the paper for the new $100 bill - which features a 3-D security strip and a color-shifting image of a bell designed to foil counterfeiters - is an extremely complex product, and Crane has been working with the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to resolve the issue.

The bureau will likely be able to salvage a majority of the $100 bills printed, a federal official familiar with the matter said yesterday.

“The bureau has sorted through a sample of the $1.1 billion in notes, and a large majority of those notes are likely to be used,” the source said. “It’s great that the bureau was able to detect those notes before they made it into circulation.”

The federal source confirmed that it cost $120 million to produce the $1.1 billion, about 11.8 cents per note, but added that the loss to taxpayers will be less depending upon how many notes are salvaged.

Okay, maybe I'm a little more arithmetically-oriented than most people.  And maybe it's too much to ask a reporter to catch this sort of thing; after all, if they were numerically-proficient, they'd likely have done something different than sign up to be a cub reporter in a dying industry like newspapers.   But it shouldn't be too much to ask that the federal source, presumably at the Treasury Department, have some basic numeracy.   To wit:

$1.1 billion in $100 bills = 11 million notes

11 million notes times 11.8 cents per note = approximately 120 million cents, or $1.2 million, not $120 million. 

Given the complexity of the process of printing currency and the special papers and inks that are used to foil counterfeiters, it should have been obvious that the cost per bill to print was $11.80, not 11.8 cents, which would, in fact, make the cost of the printing run $120 million.   (Putting aside the fact that 11.8 cents per note is about what you would pay Kinko's to do it.)


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