The Corner

Bringing the Budget Numbers Down to Size

Politicians generally know the importance of translating complicated policy into language that non-wonks can understand. When it comes to budget numbers, that can be challenging. Many Americans don’t know how many zeros are in a “trillion,” much less what a trillion deficit means in terms of the economy and its economic effects. In this poll question, for example, respondents were given five multiple-choice answers for the question “how many thousands are in a trillion” and just 21 percent answered correctly (barely more than you would expect if everyone guessed randomly). 

The Gainesville Tea Party seems to have the right idea: They take some of our key economic numbers — how much money the U.S. government brings in, how much it spends, and how much brave politicians are “cutting” to bring those numbers into balance — and simply lop off eight zeros (i.e., divide by 100 million) to make those numbers something that American families can relate to:

Why S&P Downgraded the US:

U.S. Tax revenue: $2,170,000,000,000

Federal budget: $3,820,000,000,000

New debt: $ 1,650,000,000,000

National debt: $14,271,000,000,000

Recent [April] budget cut: $ 38,500,000,000

Let’s remove 8 zeros and pretend it’s a household budget:

Annual family income: $21,700

Money the family spent: $38,200

New debt on the credit card: $16,500

Outstanding balance on the credit card: $142,710

Budget cuts: $385

Even as a self-described policy wonk, I found this eye-opening. It’s harder to pretend that Washington leadership is serious about restoring fiscal sanity when their budget cuts are seen in this context.  

Carrie Lukas is the president of the Independent Women’s Forum.

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