Thursday, October 11, 2012

The Reagan Coefficient (apologies to Art Buchwald)

I met my friend Mitch Normey for lunch yesterday.
"You're looking remarkably tan, Mitch," I told him.
"Yes," he replied. "I'm going to be meeting with a delegation of tan voters today."
"I'm sure they will be impressed," I told him.
"You should have seen how impressed the little people I met with yesterday were. My knees are still sore from that," he said.
"Was Grover Norquist there?" I asked as the waiter brought my soup.
"Grover Norquist?" He asked with some befuddlement. "He's not a little person."
I was embarrassed. Not being sensitive to the all newfangled ways we have found to point out the differences between ourselves and others, I had momentarily forgotten that when politicians say 'little people' they are often referring to unusually short people. I had to cover..."Oh," I said thinking quickly, "I'm sorry. It's just that when you said your knees were sore, I just assumed that Grover Norquist...well, never mind."
"Its all right, old friend," Mitch reassured me, "its a common mistake."
I was relieved. Mitch has never been anything if not polite. I decided to quickly change the subject. "I've heard that your campaign contributions have tapered off."
"No, no, no, my friend," he said smiling as I bit into my sandwich, "you must have misunderstood. You see I intentionally decreased the amount of money my campaign takes in. I told all my biggest contributors to contribute less."
"Why would you do that?" I asked incredulously. "Doesn't your campaign need money?
Mitch gave me a broad and reassuring smile. "Oh yes, we need money very badly. In fact, my campaign is in deep, deep debt."
"Then why would you reduce the contributions you are receiving?" I asked as I finished off the last of my french fries.
"Its simple arithmetic, Bob. If you reduce your income, you also reduce your debt."
"I don't understand," I said, feeling very, very ignorant.
"Let me show you," Mitch said, writing a formula on a napkin to show me. It looked like this:
Money in - Money out=Net    
Net * -1/R = 2 * Money in"
"So lets say you make $500 a month," Mitch said, guessing very accurately, "that's your 'money in'. If you spend $600 per month, then your net is -100 every month. That's why my campaign is in debt. Now if you only look at the first formula it looks like the only way to get out of debt is to either get more money in or put less money out."
I was proud of myself for having followed his logic so far. "But then, if you're in debt, why would you purposely reduce your income?" I asked thinking it to be a very reasonable question.
"That's where the second formula comes in. See, if you multiply your net income by negative one divided by 'R', you always end up with a positive number equal to twice the amount of income you put in. So the the higher the negative number your net is, the more money in you're going to have."
He was starting to lose me, I pretended to be preoccupied with my coffee. I nodded and repeated back to him, hoping to look smart, "So you have to multiply your net income by negative 1 divided by 'R'."
"That's right, you multiply by the Reagan coefficient." 
"What is the Reagan coefficient?" I asked, starting to feel terribly outclassed.
"Oh, that would be very difficult to explain, its sort of in the same class of numbers as the square root of negative 1," he said leaning back in his chair. "You'll just have to trust me on this."
Mitch was a very successful businessman before he became a politician, so clearly he knew the secret to making money. It would have been foolish of me not to trust him.
I paid the bill and suggested he leave the tip. 
"Absolutely not!" He said, standing up to leave. "If I pay this waiter how will I have the money to hire another waiter? This waiter's just going to have to suffer a little if he expects me to create jobs."
His logic seemed unassailable, notwithstanding that fact that he didn't own a restaurant.
I tipped the waiter myself, because I don't create jobs. As I left the restaurant, I resolved to take care of my own debt too. I marched straight into my boss's office and said, "Boss, I want a pay cut!"
My wife will be so proud that I'm finally taking financial responsibility.