A LIBERAL VIEW OF THINGS: What a billion of anything means

The former owner of the San Diego Chargers, Gene Klein, once wrote a book called "First and a Billion." In that book he talked about the National Football League, its explosive growth during the stewardship of Pete Rozelle and plenty of anecdotes about players, coaches and owners.

The NFL, irrespective of the players’ union, is a plutocracy and those self-ordained Masters of this Universe are quite something to read about.

My favorite story from this book was that of former Atlanta Falcons owner Rankin Smith. During an owners’ meeting to discuss how to generate revenue, Smith suggested teams build stadiums where the field could be lined in two directions as a cross.

After a prolonged silence, Klein asked why.

“Oh, well, we could play the first half going in one direction and the second half going in the other.”

Klein asked why again.

“Well, that would give us two sets of 50-yard-line seats and we could charge more for those premium tickets.”

Klein concluded the narrative with this comment:  “You don’t have to be smart to be rich.”

The NFL is a multibillion-dollar enterprise that uses part-time officials. On any given  Sunday with a full schedule, there are 16 games employing about 15 officials. The pay for each ranges from $1,000-$8,000 per game, with the average being around $5,000 per official per game, depending on position and years with the league.

That comes out to about $1.2 million per game; extended over a full season before the playoffs, but including pre-season, you’re looking at about $24 million a year before travel expenses.

A billion dollars will pay for 42 seasons at this rate.

The figures aren’t absolutely correct, but you get the idea.

There currently are 15 million people out of work and our Congress is about to stop an extension of compensation for them.

These are not the deadbeats some would complain need “extra incentive” to find work.  These are able-bodied people who just want to keep the wolf from the door and bread on the table. Why are we considering cutting them off from hope and opportunity?

Our upcoming defense budget will top $800 billion. One billion dollars means $67 per unemployed person, not very much these days.  But $100 billion gives these folks $6,700 for a year. They still have to pay taxes on this money, but at least they can eat and presumably have shelter.

So, if we cut our defense budget to $600 billion, and gave the money to those people waiting for the banks and corporate America to start creating jobs, we might be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and say we did something for our people instead of building or maintaining more stuff we don’t need.

I’d feel a lot more secure if 10 million of those 15 million people were back at work, paying taxes and being proactive about reducing deficit spending.

A dollar bill is about .006 inches thick. Eight hundred billion of them reach to about 400,000 feet, or about four times higher than our most sophisticated jets can fly.  That equates to more than 133,000 yards or 1,330 football fields.

Now, if we employed Rankin Smith’s idea about crisscrossed football fields, that would mean 665 new stadiums.

Obviously, these kinds of numeric gymnastics can get even nuttier than this column, but what really seems to be nutty is that we, as a nation, are not attending to the needs of our people.

There are those who claim to be conservative, yet see no problem with denying our potential workforce the means to live while waiting for financial and corporate America to stop playing with trillions of dollars (a trillion dollars looks like this:  $1,000,000,000,000) and put it in action to get people employed and productive.

That is how we got to be a great nation, and that is the way we can once again become one instead of just playing a money game.

No, you don’t have to be smart to be rich, but it sure helps to be smart about the wealth you have.

Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company.

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