Government Shutdown

The Upside of the Government Shutdown

The shut-down elements that are attracting much of the news attention turn out to be fairly easily replaceable.


The government "shutdown" is starting to feel a lot like the sequester — a lot of alarmist warnings that the sky is going to fall, followed by business pretty much as usual.

That's not to minimize the genuine inconvenience or worse for those government employees who have been furloughed, or for cancer patients involved in clinical trials at the National Institutes of Health, an institution that House Republicans voted to fund but that Senate Democrats are holding hostage.

But for most of the rest of us, it turns out that the government can "shut down" and life goes on pretty much the same as it did before. Now there's a valuable insight that it's almost worth having the government shut down to discover.

As the Washington Examiner's Byron York has reported, only about 17 percent of the government is actually shut down, as measured by expenditures. So it's not a full shutdown as much as a slimdown or a partial shutdown.

But even so, the shut-down elements that are attracting much of the news attention turn out to be fairly easily replaceable.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics failed to issue its employment report for the month of September. But NPR managed to come up with five alternative measures, including the ADP payroll report, state data on unemployment claims, the PNC Financial Services Group's Autumn Outlook Survey, and a report by an outplacement company about planned layoffs.

The New York Times had an article about how tourists in Boston were upset that Faneuil Hall, which is run by the National Park Service, was closed. The Times did not mention that a short walk away, other sites on the Freedom Trail of historic Revolution-era Boston, like the Old State House (run by the private Bostonian Society) and the Old South Meeting House (run by the private Old South Association) remained open. No wonder the president of Americans for Tax Reform, Grover Norquist tweeted, "It may be time to discuss how many federal gov parks could be handed over to states that are more competent to run them. Or privatized."

"Government Shutdown Negatively Impacts Students' Ability to Conduct Research," was the headline over a news article in the Harvard Crimson. One student complained that "The panda cam at the D.C. Zoo is shut down, and watching the panda cam is a good study break." Word apparently had not reached Cambridge about the panda cams still up and running at the zoos in Atlanta, San Diego, and Memphis.

Another Harvard student complained, "The Library of Congress website has been down, and that has impacted my research for my thesis…It's stalling my project." In fact the Library of Congress Web site appears to be up, but if it isn't, the web sites of the New York Public Library and Harvard's own Widener library, both with collections nearly as vast, remain online.

If there's an upside to this shutdown, it is the opportunity it provides to take federal government services that are assumed to be necessary and put them under new scrutiny. Can we do without them? Are these things that can be done better, or as well, by state or local government or by the private sector, either for-profit or not-for-profit?

These are questions that are asked too little in Washington and in the rest of the country in normal times. Part of the eagerness in Washington for a swift end to the shutdown stems from the fear that Americans might conclude that they can get along okay without the 17 percent of government that is closed.

NEXT: Kenyan Government Official: Six Suspects Behind Nairobi Mall Attack

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  1. You will not question the wisdom of our Lord and Savior Barack H. Obama Jr. You shall be rebuke and proscribed for your heresy.

    1. “Crucify him on ‘The Tree of Woe'”!

    2. Very thoughtful

  2. I say we keep “shutting down” government piece by piece and see just how easy it is to live without an overbearing and unlimited state breathing down our necks.

    1. I’ll betcha collection of taxes will be the last thing shut down.

  3. If it was a real shutdown, we could homestead the national parks.

    1. The National Parks are closed, but the National Forests are open. Why is that? One suspects that it’s because the government simply can’t close them down but would if they could. The high number of access points simply makes doing so impossible.

      1. Are there fewer access points into the parks?

        1. Unless you’re into parkour/free running, I would guess so.

          1. I don’t think you have to parkour into Yellowstone…

            1. The National Mall is a big, rectangular lawn. Even at full capacity the NPS would have to hire contractors, probably from the NFL, to keep people off of it.

  4. How long before the government has to actually start spending less money? That should be the end game here. The iRs collects more than enough money to service the debt (for now) so they should stop talking about default and get to work cutting spending.

  5. The irony of the shutdown is that instead of getting less government, we got more.

    Instead of having free at-your-own-risk hiking in national parks, they close the gates and put up barricades to prevent people from using them. Instead of having fewer food inspections, they just stop people from producing food. Instead of having no export control, they stop people from exporting anything.

    1. That’s because they’re irrational and insane. They enjoy inflicting pain on others. It’s really a case for CSI.

      1. Make that Criminal Minds.

    2. Instead of letting drug research and production proceed without permission, they just stop allowing new drugs.

    3. Yeah nobody ever said a government shutdown equals an all libertarian society getting enacted.

      1. Whew! At least we don’t have to worry about Somalian war lords, then.

        Still, USDA inspections are out. Better not eat any agricultural products until this blows other. Because we all know that, absent inspections, it’s all green eggs and ham and e coli by now.

      2. It should. The problem is our government really thinks that without them, we can’t even be allowed to WALK AROUND OUTDOORS.

        That’s how incompetent they think the average citizen is. We can’t even be allowed to look at an open-air memorial without supervision.

        It really exposes what our benevolent leaders really think of us.

        1. Exactly. they believe the original big lie taught in government schools – the government is here to help you – and then take it to extremes. So for a long term solution, get the feds out of education completely, just as in the US Constitution…

  6. Obviously the government thinks that providing us with regulators and monitors to watch our every move is a SERVICE they are generously providing us. And if we refuse to pay for it, they’ll just have to stop us from doing anything at all. For our own good, of course.

  7. So, if the government is shut down, how are the Obamacare sites even up and operating? Have they been deemed “essential”?

    NIH is telling people that they can’t sign up for clinical trials, that trials for new drugs are being indefinitely postponed, that research samples are being thrown out, etc. But people can sign up for insurance? On what planet is that consistent?

    It’s clear that they don’t keep what is essential and shut down what is not. They keep what they want, and shut down what they don’t.

    1. I’m kind of new to this site but let’s see if I can’t take a shot at answering your question:

    2. Jerry Brown threatened something similar in CA. Sac started loudly screaming about how they were going to de-fund schools, fire departments, and police departments (you know, the things most people actually want from local government), because current taxes couldn’t cover them.

      No mention as to what all these other programs are that need this funding so much more badly and than the teachers, firefighters and police, but I’m going to speculate that they would garner less sympathy from the voting public.

    3. I think funding for the ACA was already set aside. Don’t ask me how.

    4. Obama declared the ACA implementation an “essential” government function. Hence, the exchanges stay open.

  8. Don’t want to minimize the effect of the shutdown you say?

    You neglected to mention that over 800,000 federal employees are out of work, lawyers at federal courts and the court of international trade have multi-million dollar cases on hold, OSHA inspections, get vaccines from the CDC, and I could go on.

    Bitter and want better? Visit:

    If you want to see more of what will actually be affected:…..y-everyone

    1. Ew, read some of the comments. I’m going to take a shower – to smell better than myself.

    2. The shutdown of services that actually do have some value (don’t confused that with them absolutely having to be done by the government) is problematic. But the 800,000 federal workers you mentioned are now on paid vacation. I could deal with that if I were a federal employee.

    3. How about let’s NOT give those federal employees back pay? Let’s add a tiny bit of risk to an otherwise risk-free job. When you take a federal job, realize that you might not get paid during a shutdown.

      PLENTY of people will still apply for those jobs.

    4. Hear that? That sound was the 11.3 million unemployed Americans who won’t suddenly return to work and receive back pay when the shutdown ends not feeling a great deal of sympathy.

    5. Right …
      Having a federal bureaucrat rubber stamp your international trade deal is a “service”, not an unnecessary imposition.

      Having your business inspected by OSHA is a “service” not a regulation preventing you from doing business.

      Having the CDC approve your vaccines before your can distribute them is a “service”.

      Sure ….

  9. Wow… the statists/big gov’t types really are grasping at straws now

  10. I heard park Rangers have been telling people they can’t stop and look at Mount Rushmore?

    If Obama really had balls and meant what he said, he’d furlough his own salary.

    But of course, he’s way too cynical a politician with remedial leadership skills to do that.

    1. Soon they’ll be filling in the Grand Canyon with shotcrete.

  11. The more relevant question may be “What is the down side of the government shutdown?”

  12. The interesting question is what is the upside of Reason magazine going against the grain of all non-Tea Party media, all economists, a reasonable estimation of the political consequences, and sanity to promote the view that the shutdown is a good thing in some way (and it’s all Obama’s fault).

    It’s a pity that all the fevered ranting about George Soros that used to be popular among rightwingers somehow seems to discredit anyone pointing out that the Koch brothers are behind the pro-shutdown Republican “strategy” to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.

    1. I’m pretty sure that the Koch brothers shut the government down personally. And i find thinking about it absolutely fascinating. I drew a Glenn Beck-like chart on a chalkboard in my house, showing exactly how the Koch brothers are undermining the system.

      It’s pretty much all I think about, day in, day out.

    2. Shorter Tony: Everybody who agrees with me agrees me! What the fuck is up with you non-conformist assholes?!

    3. Sorry, did you say something? I was on the phone with the Kochs clearing up some pay-per-post stuff. Just contract stuff, no big deal.

      Where were we again? Ah yes, monocles, Somalia, and child-labor!

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  14. The Upside of the Government Shutdown

    Wait, what’s the downside again?

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