It's not as bad as you think
Sunday, January 27, 2019
The government shutdown has lasted for almost a month as I write this. My first question would be: How can you tell?
Of course, if you're one of the 800,000 government employees who are no longer getting paychecks, you can tell. But in a country of 320 million people, that leaves a lot of people who wouldn't know there was a shutdown unless someone told them about it. It's not even the lead story on TV most nights. Besides, your mail still gets delivered, the traffic lights still work, the grocery stores are still full of food, there are still trucks on the road, your GPS still works, you still get text and email messages. What has changed? Is it all bad news?
Oh, dear, the IRS is shut down. Rats! I was so looking forward to paying my taxes. Oh my, there are long lines at the airport security! As if there were no lines or flight delays before the shutdown. The Securities and Exchange Commission is running with a limited staff, which means some billionaires will have to wait a few weeks to make even more billions because private companies that they invested in have had to delay going public by a month or two.
Oh, the humanity! Stop! Please, you're breaking my heart.
Before you email me and tell me how cold and unfeeling I am, please email anyone you know who has ever said "the government never created a job" first. Compared to them, I'm the voice of reason. We've got 800,000 people not getting paid and that's just a "partial" government shutdown. A total shutdown would be over three million jobs. When you count federal, state and local government jobs — teachers, cops, firefighters, contractors, social workers, infrastructure, maintenance, planning, etc. — the government is the biggest employer in this country — by far.
Not to mention private jobs created by government. Where does the money come from to build aircraft carriers, fighter jets, Humvees, cruise missiles and all the rest? If there are highway construction delays on your way to work, blame it on the government. But don't forget to blame the government for the construction workers' salaries, too. And all those government workers spend their money at auto dealers, restaurants, gas stations and boutiques just like everyone else with a job, and when they don't get paid, those businesses feel it.
Sure, the government doesn't spend all that money wisely. But businesses aren't perfect either. Email your friends who wonder "Why can't they run government like a business?" and ask them "Which business?" Enron? Toys 'R' Us? Sears? The airline that just canceled a thousand flights? The food company that just "recalled" 100 tons of tainted hamburger or chicken or lettuce? The car company that just issued a recall of 4 million cars? The credit reporting bureau that got hacked and gave away all the account information for nearly 150 million people? The tech giant that knows more about you than your mother?
Would it surprise you if there is a story in today's paper about a corporation that has been caught doing something immoral or illegal? So, actually, we are running the government like a business. And it pays. Just over half of the 538 members of Congress are millionaires. Not that there's anything wrong with that. After all, it doesn't take any talent to be poor; almost anyone can do it. But you do have to wonder why so many people want one of those government jobs.
Yes, real people are being hurt by the shutdown, but since when did television care about real people? Now, if it were the Kardashians who weren't getting paid or a movie star or a famous musician who wasn't getting paid, I could understand all the outrage about the shutdown because that would be very wrong.
But average, hard-working people being hurt? What's new about that?
Jim Mullen is the author of It Takes a Village Idiot: A Memoir of Life After the City. His column, The Village Idiot, takes a look at the curiosities of American life.