The most frightening aspect of a possible “federal government shutdown” is the politicians’ realization that most Americans will not notice. While Tip O’Neill famously stated “all politics is local,” what is less disputable is that all services are local. Clearly, the federal government has vital functions to perform, especially in the realm of security and defense. But most of what they do is unknown to the average person because they do not benefit or affect the average person.
That is why the illustration of the hardships of a government “shutdown” is the closure of national parks and museums, and the photo op is always of the unfortunate family whose planned vacation in a national park has been thwarted by the selfish politicians. Of course, there is no logical reason why the national parks have to be closed, or even museums for that matter. Having visited many across the country, I have noticed that most charge admission, and so should be able to pay for itself. Five hundred daily visitors to a national park generate thousands of dollars in revenue, which could easily pay park employees. It is one of the few government enterprises that actually earn money in return for providing a product that people actually want – so no wonder they close them; it is atypical of government. But, in fact, parks and museums are chosen for closure because they inflict real discomfort on real people.
This begs the question, of course, of why the federal government manages these parks at all. Every park(and museum) is located in a state (or DC), so the states could just as well manage their own tourist attractions and reap the revenue. The other cases of “hardship” – the inability of small businesses to obtain federal loans or the shutdown of some federal mortgage programs (the Fanny/Freddy boondoggle that has ripped off billions from taxpayers apparently stays in business) – are also contrived. Presumably, local banks are better situated to evaluate the credit-worthiness of local businesses, so the intrusion of the feds distorts the lending system by providing loans to unworthy recipients (who will invariably default, leaving the taxpayers holding the bill). Ditto the federal home loan mortgage guarantee program – that in the early 2000s failed so utterly – that also underwrites home purchases by people who largely should not be purchasing homes. If these programs are on hiatus for a week or so, no one will notice.
But imagine if the Departments of Education, Energy, Agriculture, Commerce and the Interior had to close – and permanently ? Is there anyone who could find even ten people who would be affected, short-term or long-term ? One of the principal methods of income redistribution presided over by President Obama has been the growth in government employment since he took office. Not a person hired produces any income, but all consume the income of working people, and, has been widely reported, earn more for similar jobs – and with lifetime security – than their peers do in the private sector. Indeed, the other potential horror trotted out is the inability of people to receive their government checks in a timely fashion, or, in other words, the shutdown will throw a monkey wrench into the income redistribution apparatus.
The richest comment of impending doom came from Maryland’s liberal Senator Barbara Mikulski who asserted that closing the National Institutes of Health will set back cancer research when they are just now on the brink of discovering the cure. Hmmm… We certainly hope their research is not impeded, but even if a cure presented itself, say, tomorrow, it would be many months, if not years, before the FDA allowed it on the market! Once again, this is another pol’s attempt to humanize – to put a face on – the “suffering” that will accrue to the average person in case of a government shutdown – and falling woefully short. And most research was conducted in the private sector anyway – at least until Obama decided to target the evil pharmaceutical companies for their “obscene” profits, earned trying to market the drugs that cure the diseases that the NIH was unable to discover while on the government tab.
It is certainly sad if government workers lose their jobs, however bloated the federal government is, but there might be no other recourse. But here’s the irony of the pain of the “shutdown:” federal workers that are furloughed do not receive their wages, until they return to work – and then they are given back pay for the paychecks missed. In other words, if the government shuts down, these non-essential workers will not work but will still get paid eventually. So why don’t they just work ? Because this government, as currently constituted, does not work.
The farce is overwhelming, and the showmanship exceeds that of a Kabuki theater. The pols are fighting over whether this year’s deficit will be 1,500,000,000 or 1,450,000,000 (that’s trillion), and the congressmen, Senators, and President (and staffs) will of course still get paid in the event of the shutdown. That is another crime – because neither side is ready to come to grips with life’s reality that you can’t spend what you don’t have. The Democratic pleas for “maturity” and “compromise” from the other side amounts to a demand that everyone continue business as usual, play the media game for partisan advantage but at the end of the day just cut checks for each side’s pet projects as before.
Here’s hoping the government does shut down for a time, or longer. Essential services will continue, and local services that most affect our lives will go on without change. We will see exactly what we are overpaying for in Washington.
The fear of that realization taking root in the nation – even with the pictures of the family of five unnecessarily locked out of Yosemite and Yellowstone – will drive the parties to an agreement that will still not have embraced the real challenges of America’s economic future.