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Commentary

All I Am Saying Is Give Shutdown a Chance


     
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President Obama has warned that “the longer this [shutdown] goes on, the worse it will be.” Meanwhile, headlines around the nation are claiming we are in the midst of a major government shutdown. But all this is just scaremongering and journalistic sensationalism.

If McDonald’s furloughed 40 percent of its non-food-production employees, closed a few drive-up windows, and stopped putting toys in happy meals no one would claim that McDonald’s had “shut down.” But this is essentially what has happened with the U.S. government.

Roughly 40 percent of nonmilitary employees have been furloughed. National parks and government museums have been closed, and some regulatory functions have been scaled back. But TSA still gropes us. The NSA still spies on us. The military still wages war. And, when Americans look at their paychecks, they’ll see that the government is still stealing some of their wages through taxation.

The good news is that—despite some unnecessary government efforts to make us feel the pain of the shutdown—for the vast majority of Americans, our lives are virtually unchanged a week into the shutdown.

For instance, we’re all still eating at restaurants and buying groceries. Yet, the Food and Drug Administration furloughed 45 percent of its employees. Now 91 percent of seafood, 50 percent of fruits, and 20 percent of vegetables entering the United States are going uninspected by the government.

But that doesn’t mean that the food goes uninspected. Private businesses have every reason to want to serve safe food to their customers because getting an unsafe reputation hurts their bottom line. The shutdown has laid off redundant bureaucrats. It didn’t destroy our food safety.

This is not to claim that some Americans haven’t been harmed. As President Obama has pointed out, “hundreds of thousands of Americans...suddenly aren’t receiving their paychecks.” These furloughed bureaucrats are clearly worse off.

But the criterion to evaluate whether a job should exist is not the welfare of the person performing the job. Jobs must be justified by the service the job provides to society. When the shutdown harms government workers, but not society at large, that tells us that the jobs shouldn’t have existed in the first place. We’d all be better off in the long run if the workers were laid off and incentivized to find work in a productive sector of our economy.

Of course some people have been harmed by the shutdown who are not government employees. The Huffington Post surveyed hundreds of local news outlets and solicited reader feedback to “understand the totality of the damage being inflicted by the government shutdown” and compiled a list.

Although there are a couple of rare tragedies on the list, overall it is yawn inspiring. For example, the totality of the devastation wrought in Iowa: a cafeteria in a federal office building is down from 600 to 200 customers per day. Seriously? The list for other states is similar.

The ad-hoc shutdown obviously isn’t the best way to furlough 40 percent of non-military government workers. But the news coverage and political scaremongering associated with it are entirely disproportionate to the actual impact that the shutdown has had on our daily lives.

The real news is that for most Americans the government shutdown means little to our daily lives. The longer the shutdown continues, the more Americans should realize how oversized their government has become. If we just give shutdown a chance, we might all realize that what we need is more of the government shutdown, not less.


Benjamin Powell is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute, Director of the Free Market Institute at Texas Tech University, and former President of the Association of Private Enterprise Education. Dr. Powell received his Ph.D. in economics from George Mason University. He has been Assistant Professor of Economics at San Jose State University, Associate Professor of Economics at Suffolk University, a Fellow with the Mercatus Center's Global Prosperity Initiative, and a Visiting Research Fellow with the American Institute for Economic Research. He is also the editor of the Independent Institute books, Housing America: Building out of Crisis and Making Poor Nations Rich.






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