Payroll tax cut equals growth. Consumer spending equals growth. Consumer spending is 70 percent of the economy. All growth is equal.
These are the axioms that motivated lawmakers to secure an extension of a payroll-tax cut. They felt like heroes for passing and signing a temporary break allowing citizens to skip Social Security payments.
President Barack Obama, too, was pleased. He trumpeted the payroll tax news when he was visiting a Boeing plant in Washington.
An aim of that trip was to persuade American companies to do more business in America. In fact, by even going to Washington, Obama was highlighting what the administration believes is Boeing's shame: Boeing does business offshore.
But Obama took the time to go off message and praise Congress on the payroll-tax issue.
"It is amazing what happens when Congress focuses on doing the right thing," the president said.
Heed the axioms, he was saying. Even if doing so costs $93 billion, as the most recent extension does.
But perhaps the axioms are wrong.
Maybe payroll tax cuts don't equal growth. Perhaps they don't matter to growth.
Perhaps other steps generate better growth. Perhaps the evidence is right there before us, even at Boeing.
Look at the data, then look at what else the administration is up to this season, and you'll see the case for new axioms.
The Tax Foundation, a Washington-based nonprofit group that focuses on state, federal and international taxes, surveyed the 34 nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for the period from 2000 to 2010.
The foundation looked at rates for pension taxes and growth.
It found no relationship. None.
The average OECD payroll tax for pensions and health was 27.9 percent, whereas the U.S. levy was 16.3 percent. (The OECD includes unemployment insurance in its basic reckonings of payroll taxes, so the numbers may look slightly different.)
By those traditional axioms, that means we should be growing faster than other countries.
Instead we grew significantly slower than the OECD average.
Some countries featuring very high or regressive payroll tax rates, such as the Slovak Republic, with taxes in the mid-40 percent range, grew fast over the decade. The Czech Republic has high payroll taxes and high growth; Chile combined low payroll taxes and high growth.
There was no pattern.
A different picture emerged when the Tax Foundation got to a levy that the administration began to talk about after the Boeing trip: corporate income-tax rates.
The corporate rates did correlate heavily to increases in gross domestic product.
Tax Foundation author William McBride found that if you cut a corporate tax rate by 10 percentage points, you get a cumulative 11 percentage points of Gross Domestic Product over 10 years.
The seven fastest-growing countries had below-average corporate-tax rates.