Shutdown Blessings

Published January 22, 2018

With regard to the US government shutdown that began on January 20th, the BBC reports that:

Most staff in the departments of housing, environment, education and commerce will be staying home on Monday. Half of workers in the treasury, health, defence and transportation departments will also not be going to work.

Inasmuch as the only Cabinet departments explicitly authorized by the US Constitution are State, Treasury, Defense and Justice, closing the departments listed in the first sentence should be the occasion for robust celebration. They should be closed permanently, and their workers should seek legitimate employment elsewhere. Ditto for Transportation.

If half of the civilian workers in the legitimate departments of Treasury and Defense are considered non-essential, perhaps too many are doing too little to justify their continued employment. As to health, see below.

The BBC continues:

But essential services that protect ‘life or human property’ will continue, including national security, postal services, air traffic control, some medical services, disaster assistance, prisons, taxation and electricity generation.

Now there is a new thought: The postal service protects life or human property. Actually we can do very well without the postal service. Competition from private carriers has demonstrated their clear superiority. Even remote, rural areas can be served profitably by private carriers. The continued existence of the postal service is testimony to the corrupt power of rent-seeking and patronage.

Air traffic control can be productively privatized, and most electricity generation is already private. Except for the military and communicable diseases, the federal government has no constitutionally legitimate role in the provision of medical services. Disaster assistance (except for disasters caused by governments) was much more effective when it was in the voluntary sector. As for taxation, if we replaced income taxes with consumption taxes or at least a proportional income tax, Treasury could do very well with less than half of its current taxation employees.

In short, the current US government shutdown is a teachable moment. If we value the blessings of liberty, we should also value the shutdown.