Our Nation, in Numbers | Steve Ballmer | TEDxPennsylvaniaAvenue


Translator: Delia Cohen
Reviewer: Ellen Maloney I am a numbers guy. Numbers, I love numbers. To some people, numbers are confusing and crazy and not helpful. Just sort of a mess. Maybe even in the worst case in school, numbers were something that you memorized for some purpose, some teacher told you
you had to memorize them. For me, numbers are a tool to tell a story, to bring things together in ways
that are more precise, has more context, has more clarity than you’ll find any other way. Numbers add to the discussion. They take a collage of mess and turn it into something that helps you see the playing field of a complex problem. Since we’re right here post-Superbowl, let’s take the case of old Tom Brady. Guy’s pretty impressive: all this stuff going on. You’ve got to see exactly
where your receivers are, where they are in context
of everything else that’s going on. You’ve got to be comprehensive. You’ve got to know
where you are in the game, and still, you’ve got to slow your brain down and get sort of a sense of comprehension and understanding, where we are and what we’re going to do. Now, I don’t think old Tom Brady
uses the same kind of tool I use, which are numbers. But it’s a reminder that if you’re going
to attack any problem, you’ve got to see
the playing field overall. When I ran Microsoft, you couldn’t use numbers,
precisely, to do innovation, but if you wanted to understand
across the world where were products selling better or selling worse. if you wanted to understand, really, the sources and drivers of profitability, one clean, simple spreadsheet – I always hated two; I didn’t like them crowded – would help tell the story. I now own the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team. Much is made of sports analytics; there are so many numbers. But if you really want to know how to defend, pick and roll,
with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving, I guarantee you: the numbers
are what tell you a story. Now, a few years back, right after I left Microsoft, so 2014, my wife Connie said something
very important to me. She said, “Okay, you’ve left Microsoft.” She’d been very busy
with our philanthropic stuff over the last seven or eight years, and she said, “Why don’t you
come join me and help?” And I said, “Well, you know, I’m just kind of
kicking back, blah blah blah blah blah. Besides, the government’s
the best philanthropy; it’s the biggest philanthropy
in the world. It takes money in and distributes it to the poor, to the elderly
to the sick, to the disadvantaged. All we have to do, really,
is pay our taxes, don’t we?” She gave me one of the dirtiest looks
I’ve ever received from her, and said, “No, we can do better than that.” But it triggered me
to actually go ask the question: what really does government do by the numbers? What does it look like? Where does the money come in from, in a holistic way? Who does it come from? Where does it get spent? And, perhaps, most importantly, by the numbers, what kind
of outcomes do we see? So, I go to my favorite search engine, Bing, and I start looking around. (Laughter) And the truth of the matter
is it’s kind of a mess. You just type in “government expenses by category,” and you’re going to find a blog, top link, you’re going to find a blog
that’s done by a guy who I’ve met, who’s fantastic, Christopher Chantrill, but he does it, one man, retired,
out of his home in Seattle, as it turns out. I was hoping I could find
something like a 10-K document that the Securities and Exchange
Commission makes public companies create. What would that look like? Well, a year after we started
on the journey, we actually found a 10-K document, but only for the federal government, and state and local is equally important, and it only had financial information. It didn’t really have information
about outcomes or population, everything else. So, I got kind of genned up on this and said: “What would a 10-K for government
look like in the United States?” And I said, “It’s got to be
all of government, because most people can’t tell
what the state does, what the federal government does.” I ask people: “Who built the road
in front of your house?” “Oh, I don’t know.” “Who pays for Medicaid?” very complicated question, one much being discussed. So the question is how do you
bring this together in a holistic way? I’m going to give you just
one or two kind of questions just to get you
in the spirit of this thing. One interesting question might be: How many employees work for government in the United States? Now, a lot of people say, “Oh, it’s a bunch of bureaucrats,
blah blah blah.” But, it’s interesting. How many people,
and what do they do? What do you think? Five million? Ten million? 50 million? The actual answer is just over 23 million, according to the Census Bureau
and the Department of Defense. All those bureaucrats people talk about, most people – just here on the slide, I don’t give you full context
but I give you context for the largest sets
of government employees that make up about two thirds of the base: It’s teachers, professors,educators: almost 11 million. It’s active duty military. It’s hospitals. The government owns
and runs a bunch of hospitals. It’s police. It’s corrections officers. It’s civilian military, which we don’t even show on here. Interesting. I had no perspective, and yet, this is one
of the major cost drivers of employment in government
in the United States. Let me pick another question for you. Infrastructure expenditure
is much in the public eye, actually with pretty good
bipartisan support. What does the Department of Transportation say about what percentage of bridges
in the U.S. are structurally deficient? What would you guess? 50%? 80%, somebody said. Let’s look at the history, and I believe government fact sources, government databases. The number actually in 1990 was 24.1%, and today it’s 9.6%. It has improved over the last 27 years. Well, there’s historical context, but I’m not showing you
all the other numbers: what’s going on
with the interstate system; what’s going on with other roads;
what’s going on with airports. But this one number in historical context I think would surprise most people, let’s just put it that way. So, let’s come back to this notion
of seeing the playing field of government by the numbers. As I attacked this problem,
we built a little team of people. We call ourselves
The USA Facts Initiative, and we’re a small, little team of folks, and we’re leveraging resources
at the University of Pennsylvania. I taught a course at Stanford
with an economist there to try to try out some of the ideas. We’re a little band, but we get
a lot of help in a lot of different ways. And the two things
that seemed most important to get right from my perspective if we’re going to make these things
simple and easy to understand: what is important to look at, and how do we need
to look at those things? The number one thing
is who are we serving? Who’s paying the taxes
and who’s getting the service? What does our population look like? What do things look like
for less affluent people? For more affluent people? For people in the north?
The east? The south? What do the revenues
to government look like? State? Local? Property? Federal income tax? Corporate income tax? Fees? People pay fees to use
hospitals and sewer and water. Expenses? Where does the money go? On people? On capital? On transfers? And outcomes, perhaps most importantly, like what percentages of bridges
are structurally deficient? That’s a question, by the numbers,
you can answer that is an outcome. Now, how do we look at these numbers? First of all, they really do have to be factual. Tom Brady really better see where
that receiver is on the playing field. The data has to be comprehensive. One of the things I hate most is when
people will snatch a number and then not tell you how it fits
with all other numbers. They’ll give you a subset;
they won’t give you context. So, if you want to see the playing field, you’ve got to see context; you’ve got to see things
that are comprehensive: state, federal, and local; you’ve got to see things
that are accurate. In our own case, we said up front, two things: Number one, we’re only using numbers
from government databases. We don’t want this private shadow, somebody will worry about the source
being a “D” or an “R” or a blah-di-blah. So, we only use official
government numbers, that’s very important to us, and we try to use the most consistent, up-to-date numbers that we possibly can: factual, factual, factual,
nonpartisan, factual. So, that’s how you see the playing field, but this last little bullet point: “comprehensible.” We started this project,
I said, “Whoa! We could never look at a business
the way you might look at a government.” How many different committees in Congress are there or departments of government? And that’s just at the federal level. I didn’t know when I started this:
there’s over 90,000 independent government jurisdictions
in the United States. That includes school districts, waters,
towns, federal government, etc. So how do you make it comprehensible? And, I struggle with that. What a business has to do
in its 10-K report to the SEC, it’s got to divide the business down
into chunks called segments, and then the segments have chunks
underneath them, called reporting units. Okay, how do you think
about that for government? And one of our team came up
with this amazingly good idea: Let’s look at the Constitution. Actually, let’s look at the Preamble
to the Constitution. And the Preamble to the Constitution sort of says there’s four segments
of government in the U.S.: Establish justice and ensure
domestic tranquility; Provide for the common defense; Promote the general welfare; Secure the blessings of liberty
to ourselves and our posterity. Four things. That’s how we’re going to organize
by the numbers our view. So, the question is what government
activities can we show by the numbers that constitute these four segments? So, we thought about it a little bit,
and we could say for example. Well, this is it. This is everything we capture. There are four key parts
in establishing justice and ensuring domestic tranquility: crime and disaster; disaster response – fire, etc; consumer and employee safeguards
is an important part of justice and domestic tranquility; safety. Provide for the common defense. Promote the general welfare: the government promotes health, public
health policy, health insurance policy; the government promotes the economy
by an investment in infrastructure. How do we secure the blessings of liberty
to ourselves and our posterity? The government invests in human
capital through education; financial capital by promoting
wealth and savings, and managing itself reponsibly,
so the government doesn’t take on too much debt. So, as we approach Tax Day, April 18 this year, we’re going to publish our stuff online, usafacts.org and in a sense what you want a citizen
to be able to do is to go to look and say, “What do my tax dollars go for? How much taxes do people pay? What is the money going to get used for? And what kind of outcomes?” We don’t do any forecasting. No prediction, that’s not factual. We’re just reporting on the history. We’ll let people do their own
forecasting and prediction. We also don’t try to take
a position on any issues. We want the facts, the numbers, so that when people go to take a position, they’re taking a position well grounded in the actual data. So, I want to come back around
to this discussion I had with my wife. What about philanthropy and civic activism as opposed to running
a basketball team and paying taxes? Not surprisingly, not only did my wife win,
so to speak, she convinced me. She convinced me
that there’s a real opportunity to make a difference, particularly in the lives of children
who grow up in disadvantaged settings, and probably at birth
have a very low probability of achieving the American dream. She started looking
at this problem ten years ago through the lens of foster care. So, for me, issues like:
how many kids are in foster care? What’s the median amount of time
they spend in foster care? What percentage of foster care kids
are living with family members – which I think is better, probably,
I don’t know, I’m not an expert, my wife is – than living elsewhere? And last but not least, in this case, how much do we spend on foster care? This is just an issue
for us, and it’s in context. But you’re going to have your own issues;
you’re going to have your own issues. We try to be comprehensive
enough, so whatever your issue is, we’ll give you the playing field, we’ll give you the facts, we’ll give you the numbers. Thank you all very much. (Applause)

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10 Responses

  1. Lou Eckert says:

    What a great talk! It's not easy to see the big picture. This talk helped me get focused!

  2. local bulllshit says:

    9/11, WMD, FED bailout of banks. gov data unreliable to citizens. bad data, bad info, bad result

  3. Julio Meza says:

    How they show a divorce rate of 15% when most places show a 40 to 50% of divorces?

  4. SAY FAMI says:

    My kind of charity !

  5. Daniel Patterson says:

    11:11 , 13:00 Anderson Silva Avenue

  6. CK H says:

    This should make eveyone proud. The last BLS report on employmnet notes that today there are 50% more people employed by government than are employed in manufacturing. If you can't see where this is going lets anaylyze it Steve. It means that government, which produces no products at all, is growing at a pace far beyond those who produce real ecnomic growth. All ocrrect thinking people want even more.

  7. Tish Smiddy says:

    Hope your deta, helps … truly..

  8. Tish Smiddy says:

    You were on TV today talking about prison terms ,in felony charges . 50 months
    Does that play into our government spending.

  9. cjkcjk7 says:

    Great initiative Ballmer. This should be part of every school curriculum.

  10. Henry Hill says:

    They "Claim" they are "Non-partisen"… NOT! He is part of the Elite. More Fake News.
    On the Site, Simply pull up his info on the Green New Deal… From the Outset, they say "If the RISE IN GLOBAL TEMPERATURES Continue"…. who says that this is TRUE? It is not. Read the REAL Science on this "Global Temperature Rise"… it is NOT Rising.
    So from the start, the GND is flawed/a Lie. But they try to make you swallow this lock stock and barrel… Lies.

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