Jon Sanders

The perception that the Obama administration is exceptionally two-faced concerning budget matters is, believe it or not, unfair. Granted, Pres. Obama calling his multi-trillion-dollar spending plan with its unprecedented deficits "a new era of responsibility" seemed to invite skepticism, by which is meant open laughter. In truth, the president is using a new formula for federal expenditures that, when understood the correct way, amounts to great budgetary wisdom.

Unfortunately, few people understand it the correct way. But just as paying taxes is patriotic, learning this transcendent vision of federal expenditures — Obama's Revenue Relativism formula — is essential to good citizenship.

Expressed mathematically, this formula is 80x < y, where x equals "a lot of money" and y equals "a miniscule amount of money." Simplified explanations of the variables come courtesy of White House press secretary Robert Gibbs.

Now on the face of it, that equation would appear to violate basic rules of mathematics. We assume that "a lot of money" (x) is greater than "a miniscule amount of money" (y), based on a pedestrian understanding of those concepts. How could 80 times a lot of something make it less than miniscule?

It's a fair question. Answering it is the key to understanding revenue relativism.

Here is the formula in practice, from an April 20 press conference. Gibbs is trying to explain it to ABC's Jennifer Loven and Jake Tapper in the context of Obama's plan to cut $100 million from the same federal budget he already plans to increase by half a trillion dollars:

LOVEN: The deficit’s giant. $100 million really is only a step.

GIBBS: But no joke.

LOVEN: You sound like you’re joking about it, but it’s not funny.

GIBBS: I’m not making jokes about it. I’m being completely sincere that only in Washington, D.C. is $100 million not a lot of money. It is where I’m from. It is where I grew up. And I think it is for hundreds of millions of Americans.

Note: yes, technically, $100 million to hundreds of millions of people amounts to only a few cents per person. Before you make the mistake of thinking that doesn't sound like a lot of money to folks, however, remember the 2008 elections, which proved people are awed by change.

Skipping ahead a bit:


Jon Sanders

Jon Sanders is associate director of research at the John Locke Foundation in Raleigh, N.C.