Stallionic Axiom #1

There are truths and there are truths.

Rush Limbaugh likes to cite his “Undeniable Truths of Life” which contain such gems as Undeniable Truth #24: “Feminism was established so as to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream of society.“

That’s lovely and provocative, but it’s irrelevant, regardless of whether or not it’s true. It can certainly provoke some interesting discussions, but it doesn’t move the ball forward in terms of actually accomplishing anything constructive.

Indeed, the truths that neither party has the courage to confront are the ones that stand in the way of getting the United States back on track. Since I now consider myself staunchly “post-partisan,” I feel far more comfortable offering my own unhumble opinions as to how the world ought to work. My assessment of the situation is based on the following Stallionic Axioms, which, ideally, should enrage partisans of any stripe.

Stallionic Axiom #1: The economy of the United States is not a product of the government of the United States.

That is not to say that the government has no effect or impact on the economy, but it is true that government is a very blunt instrument in how it can impact economic activity. Stimulus spending that’s supposed to stimulate usually doesn’t, and lower taxes, at this point, don’t really make that much of a difference. Indeed, regardless of the tax rate, the amount of GDP collected by the government has been remarkably stable over the years, hovering at around 20%. Who pays that 20% shifts somewhat over time, but the reality is that the market finds its way around the more egregious extremes of government interference, regardless of who is in power.

That’s why I tune out very quickly when Obama defenders talk about the “mess he inherited from Bush.” People who repeat that kind of tripe obviously don’t understand what mess they’re talking about. How did Bush create it? How could he have created it if he had tried? The truth is that Bush didn’t cause this recession, whether by action or inaction. It was caused by a worldwide speculation bubble in housing prices, something that Bush would have been incapable of engineering even if he’d wanted to. Did Bush force banks in the UK to start offering loans at 125% of equity? The excesses of the market did this, just as they did during the dot com bubble, and just as they have done since the beginning of time. Could government have been more helpful in containing it? Maybe in the margins, but trying to contain speculation through intrusive regulation usually causes just as many problems as it supposedly solves.

I’m equally disgusted, however, with Republicans who gleefully blame Obama’s “socialism” for digging our economic hole. Folks, Obama’s signature accomplishment – health care reform – doesn’t start hitting your pocketbook until next year. Since he’s agreed – albeit very reluctantly – to extending the Bush tax rates for another two years, what policy, exactly, has Obama enacted that has wreaked such economic havoc? The fact is that the market has to correct the excesses of the speculation bubble, and since the bubble was pretty darn big, it’s still going to take time to work itself out. Conspiracy theorists will be very disappointed to discover that there’s really not a whole lot the government can do on that score.

The fact is that government is, by and large, inefficient and ill-equipped to shield us from the buffetings of the marketplace. It would be nice if both parties were willing to openly acknowledge this, because both parties have managed to get the public to primarily judge them on economic circumstances that are almost entirely out of their control.

Consequently, corrupt presidents like Bill Clinton get to ride good economic times to victory, while decent men like George H.W. Bush are maligned because the happen to hold office during the wrong end of the business cycle. Neither one deserves the praise or opprobrium they received. For example, can you cite a single economic policy of the Clinton administration that was directly linked to the prosperity of the 1990s? Good luck, because after the election of 1994, Clinton stopped making economic policy and focused on things like V-chips and school uniforms. But it didn’t matter – the dot com bubble fueled our rapid expansion, and Clinton took all the credit, when, in fact, it was his Vice President who created the Internet.

Yeah, I’m post-partisan, but I still loathe Clinton, primarily because he knew Stallionic Axiom #1 better than anyone and he shamelessly told the masses otherwise. When he told us “it’s the economy, stupid,” very few people noticed that they were the ones he was describing with his final word.

The consequences of Stallionic Axiom #1 are profound in terms of governance, however, because they lead to Stallionic Axiom #1A:

Government tax revenue is a product of the economy, not government.

In a recession, you can jack the rates up to high heaven if you want to, but you’re not going to get a lot more money, because there’s not enough economic activity to produce it. When a store is going under, you can’t save it by jacking up your prices and driving away whatever customers you may still have.

All of government’s control over revenue comes on the spending side. They can’t really control how much they take in, but they have precise control over how much they dish out.

Or do they? To learn the answer, prepare yourselves for Stallion Axiom #2, coming soon to a blog near you.

A Tiny Little Miracle

It’s nice to know that God answers prayers. Even stupid ones.

Here’s the story. Last year, Mrs. Cornell had spent a great deal of time and effort to make our five children’s Christmas stockings, and she had had their names embroidered on the front. The embroidery company that did it is now out of business, so the stockings suddenly became irreplaceable, which made the loss of our son Corbin’s stocking all that more tragic.

There was no reason for Corbin’s stocking to be missing. Indeed, all the other stockings were exactly where they should have been at the beginning of the season. When Corbin’s stockings didn’t show up initially, we all assumed it was buried underneath the rest of our Christmas detritus, and that it would surface eventually.

But it didn’t.

Mrs. Cornell rummaged through every nook and cranny in the house. She tore apart our storage room and rearranged everything, certain that, sooner or later, the stocking would reveal itself.

It didn’t.

This went on for almost a month. Mrs. Cornell became almost frantic as she considered every possible hiding place, every possible cupboard or shelf. She called her parents in Port Angeles, Washington, the place we had spent Christmas the year before. They, too, tore their house apart looking for the blasted thing.

No dice. No stocking, either.

So Mrs. Cornell made the matter an item of fervent prayer. That may sound petty or silly – after all, in the grand scheme of things, what’s one child’s Christmas stocking? But Mrs. Cornell turned that idea on its head – yes, one child’s Christmas stocking isn’t that big a deal, so why couldn’t God be bothered to spare a tiny moment to nudge us in the right direction? We’ve all heard the stories of people who misplace keys or wallets and pray and – sure enough – the things turn up. Why them and not us?

I didn’t realize this had become such a big deal to her until a few nights ago. Initially, she had thought, too, that this wasn’t that big a deal, but she had no explanation for the fact that God was ignoring us. What started as a very silly, simple thing had grown into an unexpected trial of her faith – and, not long after, mine, too. I began to add the stocking to my own personal prayers, and I, too, became frustrated that nothing was happening.

Tonight, Mrs. Cornell began the process of making a replacement stocking. She had reluctantly bought the materials, but she still hoped she wouldn’t have to do it. And as she fired up the sewing machine, I felt – something, A nudge. A feeling that maybe I ought to spend a few more minutes rummaging through the storage room in case she or I had missed something.

This was not my assigned task, mind you – I was supposed to be folding clothes. Mrs. Cornell noticed my dereliction of duty and came to find me, and I told her what I was doing and why I was doing it. She let me continue, but she was convinced that nothing would turn up. I still felt that little something, that nudge, which became a growing confidence that I would find it this time.

I didn’t.

I went back downstairs. Mrs. Cornell was short on red thread to sew the stocking together, so she sent me off to Wal-Mart to pick some up. I thought of nothing but the stocking as I journeyed out into the bustle of Christmas Eve-Eve Wal-Mart madness, and I calmly and deliberately considered where that dumb stocking might be hiding.

It occurred to me that since we had schlepped the stocking up to Port Angeles and back last year, then maybe it might still be embedded in some of our luggage from that trip. We had made a large trip to Washington DC in the interim, so it wouldn’t make sense that we wouldn’t have noticed the stocking when we were packing for that one. But, still, it was worth a shot.

I got home and asked Mrs. Cornell if she had searched the luggage. She hadn’t. So I did. I took down each bag one by one and rifled through every pocket. I even took out the Thule overhead container that had been on the top of our car. It was empty.

It wasn’t until I moved the last bag away that I saw Corbin’s stocking nestled away on the floor, hiding not IN, but BEHIND the luggage.

Prayer answered.

(And, as a bonus, I discovered my daughter’s toiletry bag that we were sure we’d left at my parents’ house in Washington DC.)

Now what is the big lesson here? Does this mean that every time you lose something, God acts as your personal lost-and-found? No. Does this mean that those who don’t know where they put their keys are less righteous than I am? No, because I still can’t find my good keys – I’m using the spare set at the moment.

What it means, and I feel this very, very strongly as I share it with you, is that God took a moment to remind me that He knows who I am. He knows me by name, and He knows what I need, both large and small. He took a moment, not just to find a stocking, but to remind me that He’s still there, and He’s paying attention, even when I think He isn’t.

So when the kids asked Mrs. Cornell why she was crying with joy as I tossed the stocking to her on my way down the stairs, she couldn’t quite explain it. But I’m pretty sure that was the reason.

This is a small and simple thing, I know. But I’m pretty sure that if you’re willing, then at some point in time, God will let you know that He knows who you are, too, and that He’s paying attention. It’s no big deal, and, at the same time, it’s a massive deal, a true miracle, and the greatest knowledge a human being can have. Weird how it works out that way.

Merry Christmas.