See if you can spot the errors in Sen. Rand Paul’s push to audit the Federal Reserve, which he laid out Friday in Des Moines:

“Anybody here want to audit the Fed?” the Kentucky Republican asked from the stage. “Anybody feel that the Fed’s out to get us?”

“They’d be bankrupt, they’d be insolvent,” he said. “Liabilities are $4.5 trillion; their assets are $57 trillion. Do the math. They are leveraged 80-1. They are leveraged three times greater than Lehman Brothers was when Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.”

Paul’s first error was in his understanding of leverage. Leverage isn’t the ratio of assets to liabilities. It’s the ratio of debt to equity. Suppose you owe $4.50 to your friend, and you have $57 in the bank. To find how leveraged you are, just subtract your liabilities from your assets, then divide your liabilities by that number. In this example, your leverage ratio is about 8.6 percent. Those are the numbers that Paul is claiming represent the Fed’s balance sheet.

His second error was his definition of bankruptcy. Having more assets than liabilities doesn’t make you bankrupt. In fact, that is the opposite of bankruptcy. In other words, what Paul is calling “bankruptcy” is what most human beings call “solvency.”

The senator’s third error came from his calculation of the size of the Fed’s liabilities. When the central bank buys assets, it pays for them (mostly) by giving the seller some Federal Reserve notes. Those are liabilities for the Fed. How would the Fed get $57 trillion in assets without issuing $57 trillion in liabilities? It couldn’t.

The only way it could have $57 trillion in assets and only $4.5 trillion in liabilities would be if the assets the Fed bought went up in price by a factor of 8. That would be a huge score for the U.S. Treasury, where the Fed sends all its profits. Unfortunately for the Treasury, Paul’s numbers are mythical.

As for the “80-to-1” ratio, it’s anyone’s guess where that came from.

So Paul’s call to audit the Fed was based not on any facts or understanding of finance or the Fed itself, but on emotion.

That makes political sense. There are many people in America who are deeply suspicious of the Fed. There always have been: Thomas Jefferson believed a central bank would rob Americans of their basic liberty, declaring that “the central bank is an institution of the most deadly hostility existing against the Principles and form of our Constitution.” Andrew Jackson made preventing the creation of such an institution one of the mainstays of his political career.

If the Fed can determine the rate of inflation or deflation, people feel that their cash — which they believe ought to be a safe investment — isn’t so secure. They feel that their life’s savings — which they worked and sweated so many decades to squirrel away — are in danger of being confiscated by mysterious faraway elites who don’t even stand for a vote. Who wants that?

What people don’t realize is that inflation and deflation would occur even if there were no Fed. Before 1913, when the Fed was founded, inflation and deflation spiked up and down wildly. The Fed initially didn’t stop that behavior. But in recent years, it has adopted a 2 percent inflation target, meaning that it tries to ensure that inflation happens at a slow, steady, predictable rate. That has saved a lot of people’s life’s savings from the sudden swings that used to be common.

Occasionally, though, when the economy is in a recession, the Fed will consider allowing a temporary burst of higher inflation to try to grease the wheels of the economy and reduce unemployment. Whether this tactic works isn’t definitely known, though most people believe it has an effect.

But whether it works or not, this kind of intervention, which suddenly reduces both the value of people’s bank accounts and of their debt, naturally stirs up fear that the technocrats are once again dipping their hands into our pocketbooks. That is the fear that Paul is tapping into. His fantasy numbers and mistaken financial concepts are embarrassing, but they are a sign of a real fear that some people still have about the Fed’s intentions.

If the central bank were more open to the public, and made a more concerted attempt to explain what it does, it wouldn’t be a bad thing, and it would forestall disastrous blunders by the likes of Sen. Paul.

Noah Smith is an assistant professor of finance at Stony Brook University and a freelance writer for finance and business publications.