Shutdown theater

  • 22 January 2018
  • NormanL

The least consequential government shutdown we can recall may be near a resolution. All of the tiresome partisan fingerpointing and blame shifting aside, there are a few items to recall about shutdowns, none of them good:

[Shutdowns] have no meaningful effect on how much the government spends, however. To begin with, shutdowns are (presumably) temporary. The average length of previous government shutdowns was seven days. And if history is a guide, then most of the suspended expenditures for salaries, benefits, and the like will be paid retroactively. If you think a shutdown helps keep the budget in check, you’re wrong.

Shutdowns also have zero effect on entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, which continue automatically unless Congress explicitly amends them. Shutdowns only influence discretionary spending that has to be reauthorized every year. Because entitlements constitute the large majority (roughly 67 percent) of federal expenditure, and because this component is growing at an unsustainable rate, shutdowns cannot have any meaningful impact on the budget deficit. And even with discretionary spending, around half is exempt given that many Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security functions are exempted from the shutdown, because they are considered “essential” services.

With such vast portions of the federal government either on autopilot, or deemed to essential to ever close, shutdowns don't save taxpayers any money. And because they typically last only a handful of days, few would notice the closures if it weren't for the headlines.

There are, however, the real affects a shutown has on the private economy, which is a testament to the depth and extent to which the federal government entagles itself in our every day lives.

Shutting the doors for a few days may feel good. But it does nothing to limit the size, scope, and absolute power government wields over us. Reversing that insidious invasion will take years -- not to mention enormous dedication and political will.

Voters have to demand politicians roll back the state. And with the exception of a few nibbles and feints in the past, there is no indication the majority of voters are all that interested in aggresively pruning the federal government's power.