Barack Obama and the Widow’s Mite

In which I engage in textual criticism concerning St. Barack’s Epistle to the Charlestonians.

Some of us compulsive textual critics have been puzzling over this passage from St. Barack’s Epistle to the Charlestonians:

But here’s what I know. I know that when people say we can’t overcome all the big money and influence in Washington, I think of the elderly woman who sent me a contribution the other day — an envelope that had a money order for $3.01 along with a verse of Scripture tucked inside. So don’t tell us change isn’t possible.

So what was the “verse of Scripture”? A Kossack commenter finds what must surely be the right passage: the parable of the Widow’s Mite (Mark 12:41-44).

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.

And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.

And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:

For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

Meanwhile, a reader answers my query about the significance of $3.01, which I imagined might point at the verse:

The significance of the amount isn’t a particular verse of scripture. I thought it was an amazingly subtle little joke. If someone buys something for $3.01, you are going to have to make change.


I think my reader is right. But if he is, we need a stronger word than “subtle.”

Another reader prefers the simpler-is-better approach:

Based on absolutely no facts, I’m going to guess that the supermarket where she bought the money order doesn’t sell them for $3 or under.

Second Update (From the department of “duhhhhh….:”):

Another reader provides what must surely be the answer to the puzzle: $3.01 is what you have left when you buy a money order for $5 and the service fee is $1.99.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: