The cost of the inauguration

On Inauguration Day one of my oldest friends asked on Facebook quite innocently "[I] just read that this inauguration cost
170 MILLION dollars… Wow… Don't care who's going in to office…
did we really need to spend that much at this time?"

With all the respect that's due someone I've known for 20+ years, I responded with: "You're acting like a tool of Fox News."

A 39 comment Facebook thread ensued, whereby the merits of spending that much were debated.  A couple of interesting points:

  1. A country with a history of enslaving an entire ethnicity elects a member of that class as it's highest leader.  Millions pour into the capital to celebrate, and you complain about the price tag?
  2. The bulk of the figure was security costs, something that can't be reduced.  You simply can't tell people not to show up at a historic national event in a functioning democracy.
  3. The money is put to good use, in that it's mostly overtime for middle class workers (firemen, EMTs, and police).  I argued that its like a little economic stimulus package.  I was told it's too small an area for that to be appropriate, but that's from someone in St. Louis, a city about the same size as Washington DC.

Finally, the media looking to create controversy got the facts wrong.  A good fact-check of the true inauguration costs was published by left-leaning media watchdog Media Matters.  ABCNEws and Drudge kept comparing Bush's 2005 inaugural at a supposed price of $42 million to the cost of this year's inaugural at $170 million.  In fact Bush's inaugural had approximately $115.5 million in security and infrastructure costs.  I've made a handy chart to help you understand the bullshit.

Here's the short version: Bush's inaugural in 2005 spent $157m on infrastructure and events for 300,000 people, approximately $526 / person.  Obama's 2009 inaugural spent $169,000,000 on infrastructure and events for 1.8mm people, approximately $94 per person.  Click here for the full chart and sources from where I pulled this data.

Indeed, even if the attendance estimate for Obama is wrong by half, that's still $190 per person, less than half of what Bush's team spent in 2005 at $526 per person.  A new era has dawned in Washington, indeed.