To my fellow NCSU alum Gibbs: Where we are from, sir, 0.003 percent is deplorably small

ABC’s Jennifer Loven and Jake Tapper had the following exchanges with Obama press secretary (and NC State alumnus) Robert Gibbs over the Obama administration’s “brave” talk of cutting $100 million from the budget:

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.

True, by itself $100 million dollars is a lot of money. But pooled from, in Gibbs’ words, “hundreds of millions of Americans,” it represents a few cents from each of them. Gibbs is relying on the significant sound of “$100 million” in presenting the cuts — in dealing with numbers this large, the actual size of such things as “billions” and “trillions” can be obfuscated with political verbiage, and on this point Tapper nails Gibbs:

LOVEN: The point is it’s not a very big portion of the deficit.

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?

So let’s cut to the chase. Ignore the “-illions”; look at the figure comparatively. Harvard economist Greg Mankiw points out that it represents just 0.003 percent (and he’s rounding up!) of the budget and puts it in these terms:

imagine that the head of a household with annual spending of $100,000 called everyone in the family together to deal with a $34,000 budget shortfall. How much would he or she announce that spending had to be cut? By $3 over the course of the year–approximately the cost of one latte at Starbucks. The other $33,997? We can put that on the family credit card and worry about it next year.

At the Locker Room, George Leef passed along George Mason economics chair Donald Boudreaux‘s example of a family making $50K deciding to cut $2.09 in spending (“one less gallon of gasoline or … one less cup of coffee”) while otherwise planning to spend $75K.

The Heritage Foundation makes the same point graphically:

Heritage graph on Obama spending

Jon Sanders / Director of Regulatory Studies

Jon Sanders studies regulatory policy, a veritable kudzu of invasive government and unintended consequences. As director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, Jo...

Reader Comments

  • clayj

    That little dot looks like the Earth, compared to the Sun. (The math is still off quite a ways; the proposed cuts are 1/36,900th of the size of the budget, while the Sun could contain 1,000,000 Earths. But still.)