As Jesse Walker pointed out, approximately 80 percent of federal workers are still on the job, poking and prodding us in the usual fashion on this, the first day of AnarchFest 2013. Arizona Public Radio reports that National Park Service workers have been told to report as usual to Grand Canyon, though some will be sent home, others will be stationed at the gates to turn people away, and still others will be sent to the overlooks which are outside the park gates and remain open. Somebody was also detailed to pull NPS Websites offline to emphasize just how shut-down it is. Clearly, the apocalypse is upon us. Or…maybe the good folks at the NPS and their colleagues elsewhere are concerned that we all might discover just how much we don't need them.
Tunring people away from the gates of national parks might be a high-visibility outcome of the not-really-a-shutdown, but it's not much of a demonstration of how much we need our vast government bureaucracies. When Arizona went through its own budget crunch in 2010 and closed 13 parks, a private company, Recreation Resource Management, offered to take over the seven largest of the parks and pay the state for the privilege. The company said it would even consider taking over some of the smaller money-losers as part of the package.
State park officials were not thrilled, as you might imagine. I don't suppose the National Park Service wants to be shown up, either. As a matter of fact, (shhh…don't tell anybody) lots of parks are already run by private companies who handle everything but law enforcement—let's face it, collecting money at gates, maintaining campgrounds, running shuttles, and flipping burgers for hungry tourists are not really core government functions beyond the competency of the private sector.
And yet parks seem to feature on everybody's list of government shutdown-related disaster. The Huffington Post's Adam Goldberg warns us that we'll have to do without:
NATIONAL PARKS, MUSEUMS (AND PANDAS!): The country's national parks would be forced to close without a government funding deal, as would Smithsonian Museums, disappointing countless potential visitors. But humans wouldn't be the only victims of a shutdown. The National Zoo would close and turn off its panda cams, which means no more livestreaming of adorable pandas.
The Atlanta Zoo's (privately funded) panda cam is still up and running, by the way, if you need a fix.
Goldberg also warns that food inspectors, EPA bureaucrats and and public health specialists will go away. Maybe this is our chance to discover if we ever needed them? Or, if we ever needed them provided by the federal government, anyway. Perhaps we've grown just a tad too dependent on federal bureaucrats and services that even the federal government labels "nonessential."
Once started, government programs are notoriously difficult to end because they develop a constituency that likes getting its goodies and soon can't imagine life without a tax-funded agency. The constituency for ending any given program is rarely as motivated as those who come to rely on that program.
But, right now, the government is suspending a few programs of its own accord. We already know that some (we're looking at you, park management) could be carried out privately, and perhaps even earn revenue for depleted federal coffers. It's a good time to learn how many other could disappear from our lives without really being missed. What services we can live without is something we sincerely need to explore at a time when the federal government is doing far more than we can afford.