Whenever I wish that I understood economics better, I think of words attributed to physicist Richard Feynman, who deftly undercuts arrogance about wisdom in any field: "If you think you understand quantum mechanics, you don't understand quantum mechanics."
Nevertheless, John Yoho, a large-animal veterinarian and Republican congressman from Florida, cavalierly dismisses the ramifications of our country's potential default on its debts, which may or may not have happened by the time you read this.
Sure, a default might destabilize the world markets at first, but "heck," he says, we'll just tell our creditors that we're going to pay them eventually, just not right now. He's had to do this sometimes in his veterinarian business, and he believes that the promise to pay will actually inspire confidence in the American economy.
Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, applies this same casual attitude toward bill-paying a little closer to home: "We have in my household budget some bills that have to be paid and some bills that we can defer or only pay partially."
The analogy between national and world economics and the economics of small business and the kitchen table is an attractive way of trying to simplify something that's very complicated. But the comparison takes us only so far.
You may be able to pick and choose the bills you pay in your household budget, but your credit will suffer, and so will your reputation.
Your neighbors probably won't elect you president of the homeowners association. But at least your failure to pay your debts, as an individual, doesn't bring everybody else down.
I don't understand economics well enough to say what will happen if we find ourselves forced into a default by the Republican sub-caucus in the House. But neither do Yoho and Barton or other tea partyers who are beginning to dismiss the impact of default. Real economic experts and common sense tell us that the impact could be extremely undesirable, even a bit scary, and definitely something to be avoided if we care about financial stability and our standing in the world.
Our federal government has operated with deficits for years -- we need to do something about that. In fact, if we find a way out of the current crisis, it will probably involve a promise by the White House to enter into negotiations about ways to reduce the national deficit.
Unfortunately, Republicans are as fixated on eliminating all remedies except spending cuts as they used to be on repealing Obamacare. But clearly new revenues are called for.
Back to the kitchen table: Families that have members who are sick or hungry or need money to go to college or who live in houses that need repair cannot rely only on cutting spending. Sometimes they have to find ways to get more money.
Unfortunately, no matter how the current crisis plays out, we may face more extortions soon over any attempts to develop a reasonable combination of spending cuts and new revenue. Republicans are serving our nation poorly with their recalcitrance on the shutdown, the debt limit and new revenues.
One more thing: Are the rump Republicans in the House paying enough attention to the moral or ethical implications of not paying what we owe? As many have pointed out, the debt ceiling doesn't permit new spending, it merely provides authorization for debt that has already been incurred.
Many of the House Republicans who are being so casual about money that the country owes also put great stock -- maybe too much sometimes -- in the tenets of our nation's Judeo-Christian heritage. Maybe they should take another look at Psalms 37:21: "The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again."
I've always paid my bills. You probably have, too. If I've ever had to borrow anything, I've always paid it back. I'd prefer to live in a country that does the same.
(John Crisp teaches in the English Department at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, Texas.)