One-Third of a French Fry Short of a Big Mac Meal

How can we put the current debate over the federal budget into a tangible perspective that anyone can understand? This morning I read a post by Dan Mitchell of the Cato Institute in which he criticized the Washington Post’s characterization of the $6 billion cut in the most recent continuing resolution as “slashing” the federal budget:

Federal spending has soared by more than $2,000,000,000,000 during the Bush-Obama years, pushing the burden of government up to $3,800,000,000,000, yet the reporters who put together this story said that an agreement to trim a trivially tiny slice of 2011 spending would “slash the budget.”
As Charlie Brown would say, good grief. This is the budgetary equivalent of going on a diet by leaving a couple of french fries in the bottom of the bag after bingeing on three Big Mac meals at McDonald’s.

That struck me as a pretty good analogy. I wondered: if you do the math, what part of a Big Mac Extra Value Meal would a $6 billion budget cut represent?
The arithmetic is pretty simple, due to the extensive nutrition information that McDonalds makes available online. A Big Mac Extra Value Meal has three components: a Big Mac, a large order of french fries, and a medium soda. The McDonalds site tells us that a Big Mac has 540 calories, a large fries has 570 and a medium Coke has 210, for a total of 1,320 calories.
Meanwhile, the federal budget is currently around $3.8 trillion, which means that a $6 billion cut represents one 633rd of the total. What would be an equivalent cut in a Big Mac Extra Value Meal?
One variable is not readily available online; that is, how many french fries are there in a large order? To answer that question, I went to a nearby McDonalds at lunch time, paid for a large order of fries, and counted them. There were 87. (I counted fries regardless of size, but did not count the hard bits in the bottom of the container.)
This allows us to complete the calculation. If there are 570 calories in a large order of fries, and 87 fries per order, each french fry, on the average, contains 6.5 calories. One 633rd of the total calorie content of a Big Mac Extra Value Meal is 1,320/633, or 2.1 calories. That equals almost exactly one-third of an average sized french fry.
So, consider: if you were to go on what the Democrats consider a starvation diet, and “slash” your calorie intake to exactly the same degree that the Republicans’ $6 billion cut has “slashed” the federal budget, you would do the following. Go to McDonalds and order a Big Mac Extra Value meal. Eat the Big Mac. Drink the Coke. Eat 86 of the 87 french fries. Carefully take the last fry and bite off two-thirds of it. Put the remaining one-third of one fry back in the bag.
If you seriously think that you have just “slashed” your diet, you are a Democrat. Most likely, an overweight Democrat.

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