Jon Sanders

TAPPER: You were talking about an appropriations bill a few weeks ago about $8 billion being minuscule — $8 billion in earmarks. We were talking about that and you said that that…

GIBBS: Well, in terms of — in…(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: …$100 million is a lot but $8 billion is small?

As Tapper's question demonstrates through its innocent incredulity, the genius of revenue relativism is in showing how, for example, $8 billion can be small while one-eightieth of that amount can be big. The derivation of the formula provides the missing element Tapper and the rest of us need.

Obama's Revenue Relativism formula derives from O'Brien's Law of Reintegration. As you know, O'Brien's Law is expressed by the equation 2 + 2 = x, where the variable, x, is independent of any past or future value of x. (O'Brien's Law and its practical applications are discussed in detail in George Orwell's work Nineteen Eighty-Four.)

In the Obama variation, 80x < y, even though both x and y describe amounts measured in dollars, they are in dollars independent of each other. That is because they represent dollars viewed from different perspectives: inside Washington and outside Washington.

At the press conference, Gibbs was clearly comparing dollars-inside-Washington with dollars-outside-Washington. Outside of Washington, $100 million is a lot. Inside Washington, an amount 80 times that ($8,000 million; i.e., $8 billion) is not a lot; it really is tiny. Political expediency determines, of course, when to use which perspective.

For the uninitiated, the superiority of Obama's formula is difficult to see at first. It's not unusual to hear it dismissed outright, even crudely so (e.g., with "stupidest thing I've ever heard," "what a crock," and similar sentiments). It takes a while to learn, but with mastery comes mental discipline.

A true revenue relativist can even withstand the temptation to ask how, in the name of all that's holy, a $500,000 million planned increase reduced by just $100 million could possibly be called a "cut."

Jon Sanders

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