It’s always a good time to check in on former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. It seems that since he retired he’s been bored. So, he decided to pour millions of dollars into figuring out how the U.S. government spends his millions (billions?) of dollars in taxes. And he’s releasing all of that data on tax day so the public can know how their money is spent as well.
We’ll just quote the New York Times on Ballmer’s story of how he decided to take on this project because it’s full of his typical clueless hubris:
When Mr. Ballmer retired as chief executive of Microsoft in 2014, he was only 57 and quickly realized “I don’t, quote, ‘have anything to do.’”
As he looked for a new endeavor — before he decided to buy the Clippers — his wife, Connie, encouraged him to help with some of her philanthropic efforts, an idea he initially rejected.
“But come on, doesn’t the government take care of the poor, the sick, the old?” Mr. Ballmer recalled telling her. After all, he pointed out, he happily paid a lot of taxes, and he figured that all that tax money should create a sufficient social safety net.
Her answer: “A, it won’t, because there are things government doesn’t get to, and B, you’re missing it.”
Mr. Ballmer replied, “No, I’m not.”
Nice, billionaire lives through almost six decades on this planet and still thinks the government just takes care of those in need. When he was told that he didn’t know shit, he decided to verify how little he knows. Of course, he started with a search engine because someone must have already pulled this information together. “My favorite one, of course: I go to Bing,” he tells the Times. Of course, Ballmer didn’t become a billionaire by being an idiot and he checked Google as well, “just to make sure there’s nothing I’m missing.” But nope, detailed info about how tax dollars are spent really isn’t out there in one place.
So, he decided to put together a team of people who would collect that data and set up a grant with the University of Pennsylvania for additional help. So far, he’s spent $10 million of his own cash on the project and plans to keep spending every year to update it. On Tuesday, April 18th, while millions of people with far less cash will be scrambling to get their tax returns in on time, USAFacts.org will go live. And it sounds pretty nifty.
Examples of data that will be available include:
- Cross-referencing the number of cops in an area vs. the crime rate
- Parking ticket revenue vs. cost
- Number of people who suffer from depression vs. what the government spends on treatment
- Detailed breakdowns of how many government employees are lovely teachers vs. hated bureaucrats
- How much a tax deduction benefits the rich vs. the middle class
The list goes on. It’ll be up to the public, politicians, and press to formulate questions to make all of this information useful—Ballmer is simply facilitating its aggregation. To make sure that there are no accusations of partisanship he’s decided to only include data that comes directly from the government.
All kidding aside, this sounds like a really good project that might do a little bit of good in grounding political arguments in facts. Ballmer is a ridiculous guy but maybe not evil. Thanks, Steve.