Last week there was a story about census officials having trouble with the handleheld computers that they had planned to use in the 2010 census. What struck me was that there was a $600 million contract for the computers. I remember wondering: how can it cost that much to count people? $600 million is a lot of money. It sounds like a waste of money, to repay some contractor that funded someone's campaign, all in the name of flashy high-tech that probably doesn't work any better than pen and paper.

I was wrong about everything. Everything!

$600 million is not a lot of money; it's a drop in the bucket. And apparently, not getting to use the computers is going to increase the cost by two billion dollars.

Waitaminute.. increase the cost by? You mean increase the cost to, right?

According to this story:

Gutierrez said reverting to a paper-based census, in addition to other costs not associated with the handhelds, is expected to increase the cost of the 2010 census to between $2.2 billion and $3 billion through fiscal year 2013. That would bring the total cost of the 2010 census to between $13.7 billion and $14.5 billion. He said the bureau would need an increase of $160 million to $230 million for fiscal 2008 to cover costs associated with returning to paper, with an additional $600 million to $700 million for fiscal 2009. Gutierrez added that the majority of the cost increases would occur in 2010.

$13.7 billion total cost, on the low end. According to the 2000 Census, the US population was 281,421,906. Divide $13.7 billion by that number, and you get $48.68 per person. That's what it costs to count you.

Maybe I was too hard on Sequoia. Counting is hard.