The Answers Are... | The Nation


The Answers Are...

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In our November 29 issue appeared "The Presidential Aptitude Test," a proposed snap quiz for candidates inspired by George W. Bush's flunking a test on the names of certain foreign leaders. Following its appearance we were besieged by readers wanting the answers, which we had not provided. We now confess that we did not know the answers to every single one of those questions. Frankly, it was intended as a kind of editorial describing the kind of questions candidates are too seldom asked; our test was craftily designed to focus their attention on issues important to this magazine. Loaded questions, they're called in the trade, but legitimate questions nevertheless. Here are the answers. A few questions have been changed slightly to reflect available data.

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1. What proportion of the nation's wealth is owned by the top 1 percent of all households? 40.1 percent. By the bottom 40 percent? 0.9 percent. What were those proportions in 1992, when the Clinton boom started? 37.4 percent and -0.7 percent (negative net worth).1

2. What is the increase in consumer debt over the past eight years? 76.2 percent.

3. What is the official poverty-level income for a family of four? $16,660. What percentage of the population lives below the poverty level? 12. 7 percent. What would the percentage be if the proposed more realistic method of computation was adopted? $19, 500. What percentage of the population would live below it? 17 percent.2

4. What is the 1966 federal minimum wage worth in current dollars? $6.83. How much below that is the current federal minimum wage ($5.15)? $1.68.

5. What are the odds of a kid from a low-income family going to college compared with one from an upper-class family? 53 percent of high school graduates from low-income families were academically qualified for admission to college in 1998, compared with 68 percent from middle-income families and 86 percent from high-income families. Over the 1994-96 period, the last for which data are available, 41 percent of low-income high school graduates went on to college the following fall, compared with 56 percent of middle-income graduates and 83 percent of high-income grads.

6. What percentage of Americans were without health insurance in 1998? 16.3 percent. In 1996? 15.6 percent.

7. What is the average life span of black males and white males? 67.2 years and 74.3 years. What is the infant mortality rate for black babies and white babies? 14.2 per thousand and 6 per thousand.

8. How much does it cost annually to maintain the US nuclear arsenal at its present strength? $35 billion.3

9. What is the total number of US military interventions overseas since World War II? Twelve.

10. What is the CIA's budget for FY 1999? Who knows? It's classified!

11. How many prisoners are on death row in the United States? 3,625.

12. How many convictions of prisoners on death row in Illinois have been overturned in the past twelve years because of new evidence? Twelve.

13. How many times has the Florida electric chair malfunctioned since the state resumed capital punishment? Four.

14. What was the total value of US arms sales abroad between 1993 and 1997? $125 billion.

15. What percentage of the global arms-sales market was accounted for by the United States in 1998? 46.8 percent.

16. What was the total amount contributed to the Democratic Party by US arms makers in the 1995-96 election cycle? $3,485, 923.

17. What will NATO expansion cost US taxpayers? In fiscal years 1996-98 $1.2 billion was allocated. Assuming a dozen or so more countries will be admitted, as is contemplated, and assuming, as is likely, that the United States will bear one-third to one-half of all costs, the total US contribution over the next fourteen years could reach $170-$250 billion. One thing is certain: It's going to cost a lot more than the Pentagon's current estimates.

18. What is total external debt per capita owed by all African countries save South Africa? $365. What is the per capita GDP in these countries? $308. What percentage of annual export earnings goes to service external debt? 20 percent.

19. Can you name the seventeen countries that have a larger GDP than the combined earnings of a merged Exxon-Mobil? It would take too long; the point is that there are only seventeen countries.


1. Edward Wolff of NYU, in his study "Recent Trends in Wealth Ownership," says that median wealth fell by 17 percent from 1989 to 1995; projections show an increase in median wealth in 1997, still 9 percent lower than its peak in 1989. Click here to return to the text.

2. The political odds against the new method of computation being adopted are considerable: a 17 percent poverty figure would be the highest in many years. Click here to return to the text.

3. That's $25 billion for maintaining the arsenal and $10 billion in associated costs, including cleanup, missile defense and victim compensation. Click here to return to the text.

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