Those of you past a certain age may remember the old Art Linkletter show “Kids Say the Darndest [sic] Things.” The one I still remember was when Linkletter asked a little boy if he looked like his daddy. “No,” replied the boy innocently, “I look like the mailman.”
Well, adults say the darnedest things, too. Sometimes they give us a window into their egos or their ignorance. Sometimes their comments contain important truths. Other times, they don’t even make sense. Let me give you an example of each kind of statement, starting with an example of the latter.
Many journalists have dutifully reported that the latest Greek bailout will reduce Greece’s national debt to a “sustainable” level of 120 percent of GDP (from over 164 percent today) by the year 2020. The problem is, they never explain how Greece will be sustained through the next eight years of “unsustainable” debt levels until the level supposedly becomes sustainable. Sustaining the unsustainable for eight years is quite a trick!
At the opposite pole from such unthinking fatuity is a statement of blazing clarity made by Rick Santorum during a recent GOP debate. With refreshing candor, Santorum stated to a nationwide audience, “I voted for that [No Child Left Behind Act]; it was against the principles I believe in … and I made a mistake.” Politics is known as a business where principles routinely fall by the wayside, but rare indeed is the politician who admits to compromising principles.
As an example of a statement that displays a disturbing ignorance of elementary economic rationality, President Obama’s friend and adviser, Valerie Jarrett, recently asserted that unemployment payments are economically beneficial, because “people who receive that unemployment check go out and spend it and help stimulate the economy.” Those who advance this theory never explain how prosperity can improve from putting more money into circulation without any additional goods or services being produced. If the key to economic progress is more money in circulation, then let Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke rain money down us from the figurative helicopter to which he once alluded. In real life, boosting prosperity is not that simple.
It’s scary when one realizes how many members of Team Obama, including the leader himself, share Jarrett’s faith in tossing money at a problem. Apparently, they really believe in the mysticism that economist John Maynard Keynes preached when he wrote in 1943 that increasing credit (or money) performed the “miracle … of turning a stone into bread.”
Finally, if you want a supreme example of how a statement can provide a revealing glimpse of a person’s ego, consider the president’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast last month. In it, he attempted to justify tax increases and government redistribution of wealth by citing Jesus’ statement, “unto whom much is given, much shall be required.”
I agree 100 percent with what the Lord said, but President Obama tore it out of context and twisted its meaning. The statement, which is the punch line in Jesus’ parable of the talents, reminds us that it is God (not government) Who has blessed humans with the gifts of life and talent, and that we owe it to God (not government) to use those gifts productively for His (God’s, not government’s nor Obama’s) glory and purposes. For a human being, even one as powerful as the president of the United States, to seek to usurp the place and prerogatives of the Creator takes hubris to the highest degree.
Yep, people do say the darnedest things. And those things can be quite illuminating when we pay attention.
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is an adjunct faculty member, economist, and fellow for economic and social policy with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.