Anyone with a brain knows that the 21st-century global economy is fundamentally different than what has existed since the dawn of time.
Those who profit from the change embrace it. People hurt or threatened by it fear a future they understand will contain more of the same.
Beneath the rhetoric about trade, job loss and the international flow of cash to the most efficient markets, however, lies one very important unanswered question:
Do the old economic rules still apply, or does the convergence of new technology, open markets and global enterprise mean that the traditional signposts are no longer valid?
In truth, the answer has to be that some are no longer valid, because several that historically were almost always in agreement now diverge markedly.
The question is: Which remain ones remain valid, and which need to be examined skeptically?
And if some numbers are no longer useful in predicting the economic future, then our political leaders need to understand that to avoid policy choices that are ill-suited for the times.
The political debate and public-opinion polls might lead a Martian who dropped in for a visit to think the U.S. economy was overlooking a gigantic precipice.
Most people say the economy isn't very good and see the yawning federal budget deficit as an ominous warning of more bad times to come.
If the tangible measurements of prosperity employment and inflation are accurate, there is little on the horizon to worry about.
However, if two of the most historically accurate predictors of economic woe are to be believed, then the U.S. economy really is facing serious problems.
We all know about the federal budget deficit. This year's is now projected at about $340 billion, lower than the record $412 billion for 2004 but large enough that administration critics bring it out at every opportunity.
That number is ominous, yet as a percentage of our gross domestic product, it is smaller than many, if not most, Western democracies and lower than it was for the United States during the Reagan years.
It is worth noting that the size of the deficit then was the argument used by his critics, too, and the country made it through those times in pretty good shape.
Those who continue to point to huge deficits as harbingers of woe note that, historically, such large government borrowing has forced up interest rates, which make it difficult for the private sector to borrow the money it needs to expand and increase the number of jobs.
That may be true historically. Today, however, interest and unemployment rates are within hailing range of historic lows, so it is hard to see why people are so pessimistic about the economy.
Then there is the lesson of the yield curve on government-backed securities. In the past, it has almost always accurately predicted economic downturns and recessions.
We have been flirting with, and now began experiencing, what the economists call an "inverted yield curve."
Simply put, interest rates show a normal yield curve when they are lower in the short term than for a longer period. Normally, longer-term investors are paid at a higher rate for their money because they are taking a larger risk by tying up the cash for a longer period.
But there have been unusual situations in which investors have taken lesser returns for a longer investment and that produces an "inverted yield curve."
Historically, this has occurred when investors believe the economy is tanking and this is their chance to lock in a higher interest rate than they could in the future when slowing economic activity will drop rates even farther.
According to a tutorial on interest rates at the Web site of Fidelity Investments, the nation's largest mutual-fund group, inverted yield curves are rare and deadly.
"Never ignore them. They are always followed by economic slowdown or outright recession," it states.
Now perhaps Fidelity and its fellow economic soothsayers will turn out to be correct about the current inverted-yield curve. Or perhaps the yield-curve inversion that just began between the two-year and five- and 10-year Treasury bills will turn out to be just a temporary phenomenon.
If not, however, and we don't see bad times right around the bend, the lesson is worth pondering.
Even those of you who think Wall Street is a rigged game and keep your money in your mattress need to consider whether times have changed so much that the old rules don't apply anymore.
If they don't, then perhaps globalization will be even a greater change than we already believe.