the government is your right foot

Q:You are in a car traveling at 100 MPH heading directly to a wall that is 40 feet in front of you. Should you bother braking?

A:Of course, you moron! That’s the stupidest question I’ve ever heard.

Even if you know that the car won’t be able to stop completely before you hit the wall, you still know that you will be able to reduce your speed by a substantial amount. Hitting the wall at a reduced speed means less damage to both you and the car, probably fewer injuries and definitely a higher likelihood that you will survive. So even though the car didn’t completely stop, and you didn’t actually prevent the crash, it is still worth it to hit the brakes.


Q:You hit the brakes while you are going 100 MPH toward a wall that is 40 feet in front of you. You brake hard and continuously, until you hit the wall at 18 MPH. Did the brakes work?

A: Of course, you moron! That’s the second stupidest question I’ve ever heard. It’s only “second stupidest” because I suppose in some weird abstract way you can say “if the goal was to prevent hitting the wall, and you hit the wall, then braking did not achieve the goal.” But that’s rhetorical nonsense, and everybody knows it. The brakes did the best they could, they helped slow you down, therefore they worked in every normal, reasonable, common-sense understanding of the term.


This is the kind of dialogue we need about the economy and the idea of a stimulus package. I am tired of hearing one side make the argument “Obviously the stimulus didn’t work because everything isn’t fixed” and not hearing an intelligent response from the other side. The intelligent response is: we were losing over 500 jobs per month, now we are (roughly) breaking even. The intelligent response is: we slowed down the freaking car. Therefore, the stimulus worked—period.

Now let’s go one step further with the analogy: the economy, like driving a car, involves a lot of factors and a lot of moving parts. If you ever find yourself (heaven forbid) driving at 100 MPH toward a wall, there are several things you can do, including changing the direction of the car so that you do not hit the wall head-on and using your hand to engage the parking brake. If the only thing reacting to the impending impact is your right foot (the braking foot), then you’re more likely to hit and hit hard than if all of the possible options are being worked at once (steering, hand-brake, etc).

The same is true in any country. It is the worst sort of hypocrisy to say out of one side of your mouth that government is the only thing to blame when the economy tanks, but that the government should have norole in the recovery. The fact is, the government can do some things to prevent or lessen the effects of a “crash”, but it’s only the right foot. The rest of the society has to become involved, as well.

This is true on every level and on every domestic function that government is involved in…and criticized for. For example, take education. Public education has huge, gigantic problems and only seems to be getting worse. Some people use this as an argument for shutting down public funding of education (“if we are going to hit the wall, we might as well not brake!”). But the fact is that test scores have to do with more than the way schools are run. It has to do with the quality of our children’s home lives and the support they receive at home. It has to do with the role-models and leaders in our country, and the amount of respect they show for education, science, art, and learning. Putting money into schools is just one factor, but it won’t help if that child has grown up in poverty looking up to adults and leaders who say that education doesn’t matter.

That’s just one example, but it can be applied to anything. Every single time a government program doesn’t produce the result people want, there is a portion of the population that says, “It isn’t working, so get rid of it!” Every time you hear that, you need to think about that car.

Brakes can’t prevent all crashes. That doesn’t mean you build cars without brakes.