Government Shutdown: Don’t Hate the Players, Hate the Game

Dylan DelliSanti ‘14

Due to breakdowns in negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, the United States government, for the first time since 1995, has “shutdown.” Unfortunately, this is not the start of an anarchist revolution. Rather, all the shutdown means is that “non-essential” government employees will not be coming into work. Non-essential employees and programs include certain segments of the Department of Homeland Security, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s seasonal flu program, 400 national parks and about 800,000 Federal employees. Already, partisans on both sides are launching into the traditional blame game: Republicans blaming Democrats for not backing down on the Affordable Care Act; Democrats blaming Republicans for using the Act as a bargaining chip to disrupt the budget process. However, rather than blaming either side for the breakdown, it might instead be better to look at the underlying logic that caused this problem.

This isn’t the first time the United States government has shutdown. From 1976 to 2013, there have been 18 shutdowns. Some of these shutdowns occurred with a Republican President and Democratic Congress, while others occurred under the opposite circumstances. Clearly, forcing a shutdown is not a tactic intrinsic to members of the vast left- or right-wing conspiracy.

Rather, forcing a shutdown is a tactic often employed by any minority party who controls at least the House or Senate and is unhappy with the budget, or want to use the budget to change other laws. The idea is that the minority party can make the President’s party look foolish if they prevent them from passing a spending bill. Constituents, who rely on those government services which were shutdown, will plead with the President to compromise with the minority party, as will government employees who are unable to receive pay checks.

Herein lies the fundamental problem: Our government has become so large that political parties view government shutdowns as an effective political tactic for advancing their agendas. In essence, the more services we grant to the government, the more vulnerable we are to these sorts of machinations. If our government was smaller, then fewer people would be affected by a shutdown, and the ploy would lose its edge.

Thus, when thinking of expanding government, we should keep in mind situations like these. If a good or service can be provided through market mechanisms, then we ought to lean on the side of the market. Unlike the government, the market is more robust to “shutdown”-like situations. For instance, imagine orange farms in Florida shutdown due to drought or disease. Orange consumers, rather than going without oranges as some citizens are going without government services, will still be able to purchase oranges from Brazil, Spain, and other countries that produce the fruit. By having competition, consumers are not tethered to any one producer, but instead can choose from a range of options if one option shuts down or ceases to provide a quality service.

We can try to play the blame game, but ultimately, shutting down government is a bipartisan tactic. Rather than relying on the benevolence of our elected officials (you would think that at this point we would realize they have none), we should instead to seek to liberalize as many functions of government as possible. Allowing for competition in the provision of these services will leave us less vulnerable to political manipulation and strife.

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