Latest posts by Richard Ebeling (see all)
- The Walter Lippmann Colloquium and the Meaning of Liberalism - August 14, 2018
- $1 Trillion Deficits and the Crisis of the Entitlement State - August 10, 2018
- Some Confusions of Language in Economic Thought - July 25, 2018
The media once more has been agog with the terror and fear of the government shutdown that occurred following the failure of the Congress to pass another stop-gap spending bill, when federal spending approval officially ran out at one minute past midnight on Friday, January 19, 2018. This is all smoke and mirrors because: (a) the government has not shut down; and (b) would it really matter if most, or even all, of federal employees who are sent home stayed home permanently?
This entire episode is déjà vu, all over again. There have been numerous such shutdowns over the last several decades; some have been for days, while others have been for a few weeks. But government does not really get shut down. It’s all a political game, with both political parties in Congress and the president (whoever he may be at the time in the White House) jockeying for position in the eyes of special interest groups to whom they, respectively, pander for redistributive or ideological reasons. Both parties are always also looking to the next election in terms of campaign rhetoric about how they took or opposed a “stand” relative to the other party during the threatened or actual shutdown.
A Government Shutdown is Not Really a Shutdown
All the while, the bulk of what government does in our modern age continues to operate. The “national security” agencies and the military continue to function; the “entitlement” programs keep spending huge amounts of other people’s money; and many of the regulatory departments proceed with their intrusions into the everyday affairs of people in the marketplace and the wider arena of societal association.
In spite of all the hype, the armed forces still are actively serving, with U.S. military personnel undertaking and participating in various foreign interventions including those involving lethal use of force around the world. The CIA and the NSA, and all other components of the surveillance state remain on duty watching every move you make, every breath you take, every step you take. Uncle Sam still is watching you.
The air traffic controllers continue directing the airline skies, and the U.S. postman is making his delivery rounds. ObamaCare continues subsidizing health insurance companies for a government-created bankrupt health care system.
The IRS still is at work night and day making sure that each and every one of us is continuing to be pickpocketed to feed Uncle Sam’s insatiable appetite for what we have honestly earned and accumulated out of our peaceful, market-directed activities; but a “shutdown” may delay sending out those tax refunds that show the generosity of Uncle Sam, who occasionally gives you back part of the money he shouldn’t have taken from you in the first place. And agencies like the Food and Drug Administration and the Drug Enforcement Agency do not stop telling us what we can eat, drink, or otherwise ingest into our minds and bodies.
Oh, and don’t worry, all the members of Congress – those dedicated and diligent representatives of the “will of the people” –continue to be paid, because their salaries are under special dispensation due to legislation passed by . . . Congress. The “servants of the people” must be able to pay their own personal expenses, after all.
Former President Barack Obama, during the 2013 shutdown, wanted Americans to “feel the pain” of government putting up the “closed” sign, due to the Republicans, by padlocking the national parks and national monuments. Oh the horror, as tourists couldn’t make it to the top of the Washington Monument! This time around, the Donald Trump Administration wants to keep many of those national parks open; but, oh, the aroma, because the garbage won’t be collected.
“Furloughed” Workers Remind Us of the Cost of Government
The news stories are filled with warnings that if a shutdown were to go on for days or weeks, and if possibly 800,000 or more federal employees on “furlough” do not get their next regular taxpayer-funded paychecks it could be a “drag” on the economy. Think of all those civil servant paycheck dollars not being spent! What will happen to Keynesian “Aggregate Demand” spending? Again, oh, the horror!
All that it shows is how burdensome government spending really is that so much of the honestly produced earnings of ordinary people in the private sector is syphoned off in the hundreds of billions, in fact, trillions of dollars to pay the salaries of a vast army of locust-like bureaucrats who work havoc with our lives on an every day basis.
Just think if those “furloughed” federal government employees never returned to their jobs. As Frederic Bastiat reminded us, we need to try to see “what is not seen,” that is, all the things that would or could be spent on, bought and enjoyed by those who had produced and earned those dollars in the private sector if the government did not play the role of “pickpocket-in-chief.” It should awaken us to the problem of the size of government as reflected in the amount of dollars in the hands of those overseeing the interventionist-welfare state.
Protection Rackets – Private and Governmental
Given the burden and waste-making intrusiveness that results from the regulatory state, each day that those bureaucrats are, in fact, not at their desks or out in the field harassing and impeding private enterprisers is a day in which peaceful market participants are left alone just a little bit more. This is far better than when those intervening bureaucrats are out on their assigned rounds of restraining the freedom of people attempting go about their business of manufacturing, marketing and selling goods and services to willing and desiring customers.
In fact, given that we are stuck with the interventionists state (at least for the foreseeable future), I would be less bothered about being taxed for their salaries, if they were told to just stay home and leave us alone, rather than to be earning their salaries by putting their noses into other people’s private sector business. If we can’t get rid of them and we have to be taxed for their salaries whether we want it or not, then at least pay them to do nothing rather than something that interferes with our freedom. I would rather have them as bureaucratic bums, instead of active political pests.
Think of it as a protection racket in which the thugs assure you that they will stay away and leave you alone, if only you pony up the “protection” fees they insist you pay on a regular basis . . . or “bad things” may happen to you and your property. The problem with government, in comparison to these types of private sector thugs, is that politicians and bureaucrats don’t just want your money; they also want to control and command how you live and work. So they are, in this sense, far worse than their private sector extortion competitors.
A “Shutdown” and Rethinking the Role of Government
A government shutdown can be a “teachable moment.” It should be used to ask others and ourselves what is it that government should be doing in a free society? We might discover that the term “non-essential” personnel covers anywhere from 80 to 90 percent of the government’s workforce, given what a government should do if limited and confined to protecting and preserving the individual rights of the citizenry to their respect lives, liberty and honestly acquired property.
After all, what is the government doing in the vacation and recreational business? Sell off the national parks and monuments into private hands, and we would soon see what real and better management can do when guided by the profit-motive to make visits enjoyable, entertaining, and well-maintained. Nothing makes a resource or any other type of asset worth conserving, maintaining and improving like the sweet smell of consumer dollars from which profits can be made.
What is government doing in all these regulatory agencies, telling people who have neither killed, robbed nor defrauded their trading partners and customers, what or how or under what terms they may hire people to work and produce, or to sell to willing and interested buyers in the marketplace?
Why should those legions of federal bureaucrats be telling you how to manage your life, spend your money, plan for your retirement, select your health insurance and medical services, or decide on who and for what purposes you may interact or associate with others? Why is Uncle Sam telling you how to educate your children or spending your tax dollars on designing or dictating school curriculums, deciding where and how you may select a school for your child to go to, or cover the costs of other people’s education?
Why is it necessary to spend a trillion dollars or more a year on the Department of Defense, national security agencies, and foreign and military aid to other countries? Why does the United States need dozens of military bases and the stationing of tens of thousands of American military personnel in other parts of the world? Why are American soldiers fighting and sometimes dying in foreign countries that have neither declared war nor invaded America? And what are those military personnel doing killing people in those foreign lands, with multitudes of innocent bystanders losing their lives in the process under the label “collateral damage”?
Why are tens of billions of dollars spent on snooping into the personal and private affairs of the average American citizen with little or no regard for the traditional constitutional restraints and restrictions that are meant in the American system of government to protect the innocent citizen from unwarranted search, seizure and surveillance?
The Immigration Debate and “Race Consciousness”
Separate from all of this, what, precisely, is holding up an agreement between Republicans and Democrats about the passing of an expenditure bill for the U.S. government? The media and the politicians on all sides have said it concerns essential matters of principle and humanity involving the “Dreamers,” those 800,000 or more residents of the United States who were brought to America illegally by their parents when they were babies or small children. They have been under a special dispensation signed by Barack Obama exempting them from deportation. Donald Trump, back in the fall of 2017, said he would rescind this presidential exemption by the middle of March of 2018, if Congress had not passed formal legislation determining the permanent status of these people.
So, are members of Congress deliberating, debating, and determining the right and wrong of immigration laws in general? Are any Republicans or Democrats arguing that in a free society government should not impede the peaceful and voluntary movement of people from one part of the globe to another, including into and out of the United States? Are there any in Washington defending the idea that the freedom to move should be understood and recognized as part of those unalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness about which the Founding Fathers spoke in the Declaration of Independence?
Alas, no. The essence of the on-going debate among the politicians and policy-makers inside and outside of Congress is the form and content that should be given to government central planning of migration into the United States. Will people continue to be allowed into the country through a lottery drawing? Will immigrants be allowed to bring extended family relatives into America to join those who are legally in the country? Shall there be a merit-based “entrance exam” into the U.S. in terms of skills, education or other talents that the government’s central planners set up as the “types” that America “needs.” Let us not forget that “types” and “needs” are inescapable political footballs open to being kicked about according to the pressures and resistances of various special interest groups within the country.
The Democrats want as many of these “illegals” already in the United States to be legalized with a path to citizenship. Why? Because the “progressives” in America operate upon a tacit racist premise: black and brown people are genetically predisposed to vote Democrat, or more generally, politically “left.” Make as many of them citizen-voters, and their DNA will assure a permanent ascendency of the Democratic Party in elections during the decades to come.
Too many Republicans, while criticizing the Democrats for wanting to count people by race instead of treating them as individuals, take for granted the premise guiding the Democrats on immigration policy. Talk informally and candidly to some Republicans at social gatherings and they, too, often presume that Hispanics and African immigrants would just dive into the redistributive tough of government largess, and never vote Republican in any noticeable numbers. Look for black or brown faces at many Republican gatherings, and you see how little outreach or effort is made to broaden the base of the Republican Party.
This is, to a great extent, what is behind all the fire and fury about the funding of Donald Trump’s “big and beautiful” Wall along the Mexican border. Democrats want more in – more of the “right kind,” of course – to assure what they see as election victories-to-come from an increasing mass of “non-white” voters. Republicans want to keep out the “wrong kind,” meaning those who they fear will never vote Republican in great numbers, which means primarily “people of color.”
Conflicting immigration policies are all about political power and plunder, like most other things in Washington, D.C. All sides deny that they are “race-conscious” in this perverse and despicable manner. But it is a major thread running through the arguments over “the Dreamers” and “the Wall” in Congress and in the White House, which has brought about the latest “shutdown.”
That government should not be planning, restricting, fostering or influencing who comes to America for whatever peaceful and honest reasons, is totally outside of the prevailing debate in Washington. That people should not be classified, categorized or politicized according any collectivist and tribal markers for whatever purposes is an ideal continuing to diminish in American politics. It reminds us of how little fundamental principles of individual freedom and the free society enter into political and policy discourse in twenty-first century America.
[Originally Published at the Future of Freedom Foundation]