Opinion: Why the $16 muffin story sells so well

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It’s a familiar story: government extravagance in trivial matters. This time it’s the revelation that the Justice Department paid $16 apiece for muffins served at a conference. What makes stories like this so popular is that they allow ordinary folks to feel morally superior to public employees (or, better yet, politicians).

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) complained: ‘The Justice Department appears to be blind to the economic realities our country is facing.’ The implication is that buying cheaper muffins -- or muffin tops, as on ‘Seinfeld’ -- would appreciably reduce the deficit or provide more aid for the unemployed. Actually, the practical effect of the overcharging is minuscule. It’s the symbolism that matters.


I know, $16 here, $16 there, and it all adds up to real money. But the price tag covers not only the cost of the muffins but the joyful indignation citizens will experience reading about them.


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--Michael McGough