Government Shutdown

The Government Shutdown and Our Permission Society

Many private harms caused by the government shutdown are due to its own insistence on meddling in our lives

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Federal law requires employers check the citizenship status of anyone they hire to make sure any new employees are allowed to work in the United States. To facilitate the process, the Department of Homeland Security offers E-Verify, a free online service that cross-checks information from employment forms with the Social Security Administration and from other government records. Some states (and federal contractor guidelines) require employers to use E-Verify to check potential employees' legal status.

But E-Verify has been rendered "unavailable" by the government shutdown. The site states that during the shutdown, employers should make sure the familiar I-9 forms are still filled out as required, but E-Verify checks and deadlines are suspended until the shutdown ends. Nevertheless, the DHS has no control over enforcement of state hiring laws, making private employers skittish about hiring at all.

Some (particularly libertarians) might get excited about the shutdown of the invasive, bureaucratic functions of our federal government. But the shutting down of the government does not void the thousands of federal laws and regulations already on the books. It may make enforcement of them even more scattershot and unpredictable than they already were, but they're still there. In a society where the government demands we seek permission from them to engage in acts of commerce, the inability of businesses to actually comply is a good demonstration of the dangers of too much bureaucracy and regulation.

Last week, craft brewers became the poster children of this consequence. The Associated Press noted on Oct. 9 that the closure of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, part of the Treasury Department, has put the brakes on development of new small breweries. The bureau approves breweries, recipes, and labels, or at least it did until the shutdown:

Mike Brenner is trying to open a craft brewery in Milwaukee by December. His application to include a tasting room is now on hold, as are his plans to file paperwork for four labels over the next few weeks. He expects to lose about $8,000 for every month his opening is delayed.

"My dream, this is six years in the making, is to open this brewery," Brenner said. "I've been working so hard, and I find all these great investors. And now I can't get started because people are fighting over this or that in Washington. … This is something people don't mess around with. Even in a bad economy, people drink beer."

We'd starve without the government, because they've all but outlawed letting us feed ourselves.
Credit: Eric in DUB / Foter / CC BY

In the Pacific Northwest, the shutdown could ruin the king crab fishing season. The crabs will still be there, of course, but fishermen cannot get government permission to catch them. From KIRO TV in Seattle on Oct. 5:

Capt. Moore Dye of the Western Mariner fishing vessel said his crew was just preparing to leave the fisherman's terminal in Seattle. On Saturday morning, his crew worked on loading dozens of pots onto the boat.

"The king crab season is like the Super Bowl of crab fishing. It's short, it's a lot of money, really fast," Dye said.

But with the possible delay in the start of the season, challenges arise when trying to meet specific deadlines for shipments to Japan, the largest buyer.

"It'll more drive up the price for us to catch it. Because we have to sit around with the engines running, guys are sitting idle, so it could add up," he said.

The government is so involved in our lives that even basic commerce—simply hiring people—is threatened by political jockeying. Democratic Sen. Harry Reid attacked Republicans as "anarchists" for bringing about the shutdown. Nothing could be further from anarchy than fishing boats sitting idle, waiting for a government functionary to give sailors permission to work. And yet, the common response is anger about the government shutdown, not anger about having to jump through so many hoops in the first place. Even before the shutdown, it would take months for the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau to approve permits for craft breweries.

Of course, should the crab fishers attempt business as usual, they would undoubtedly find that the parts of government that enforce the regulations are still working. The federal employees with the ability to punish are still on the job. 

Such is often the case when municipal governments face cutbacks as well. Citizens may discover it can take months to navigate government bureaucracy and workers point the finger at staff cuts. But fail to jump through the hoops, like small businesses in non-functional Detroit have attempted, and the bureaucrats and enforcers will come to shut it down.

Government has cleverly made itself impossible to live without because officials have made it illegal for nearly any commerce to take place without its extensive permission structure. The ultimate consequence of such broad government intervention in all aspects of the economy reinforces the idea that we cannot shut down or cut back government, because the regulatory structures and laws still exist. 

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38 responses to “The Government Shutdown and Our Permission Society

  1. Exactly. Government sets itself up as a single point of failure, creating systemic risk. Yet, it sells itself on promises of security. Go figure.

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  2. Most people don’t even understand this. Too many people believe we are subjects of government. You can’t win when that mentality dominates a culture.

    1. Yes, and a corollary to this observation of the statist mentality is looking at a problem and its proposed government “solution,” shrugging, and saying “there’s just no other way to do this!”

      1. My sneakers are wearing out so, Thank Our President, I just learned that Federal Shoestore #12, next to the Post Office, is expecting a shipment in my size next February. Since I’m a financial supporter of my local Party Officials, I expect I’ll get on the short list to receive new sneakers at the bargain price of only $500.

    2. We aren’t subjects. Government is just all of us, working together!

      Working together to keep everyone under watch, under control, and overregulated, that is.

      Nothing has ever been accomplished, anywhere, without government. Just look down under your feet at that road! Do you think you could build a road without Government!? No, it would be impossible! You couldn’t even get the permits approved!

    3. Most people don’t even understand this. Too many people believe we are subjects of government. You can’t win when that mentality dominates a culture.

      The problem is that too many people believe we are citizens when in fact we are the government’s subjects. The word citizen makes it all sound so consensual.

  3. re: permission-based society

    The common retort is, “good!”

    Which makes me sad.

  4. The bureau approves breweries, recipes, and labels

    Is that before or after all the state/local hoops-to-jump-though and permissions-to-be-granted?

    1. They seem to go hand in hand, and sometimes the hand gooses you by surprise.

  5. If a shutdown actually resembled the absence of government in some fashion people might get a taste for what it would be like to be allowed to do things without official permission.

    We can’t have that.

    1. I’ll bring up my compromise “solution” to the shutdown again: agree to raise the debt ceiling and fund the ACA for one year. But the government stays shut down for one month, and during that time the private sector is allowed to step in and fill any government role that people want to try to take on. At the end of that month the government is only allowed to reopen the things that no one else is now taking care of.

      I know it is a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, but it would be oh so fun.

      1. Actually both sides should really favor having a government shutdown resemble anarchy.

        The people who think you need government for everything would get to run around pointing at all the shit government wasn’t protecting you from – unsupervised hiking, unpermitted fishing, unregulated drug sales, uninspected food, unsubsidized insurance, farming, education, research. All sorts of horrors. And then they could point you all sorts of “look at the awful things that happen without the government to save you” instances.

        If they could come up with any. It’s almost as if they are afraid that the world WOULDN’T end without the government subsidizing and regulating everything. They have to make a shutdown into a police state because they are afraid that if it was more like an anarchy people would like it too much.

    2. That’s why enforcement actions seem to be going up during the shutdown. The moment people realize that most of the rights they enjoy are inalienable, government is doomed.

    1. I have to say that it bothered me that the film of Vendetta made the fascist government much more of a Right Wing thing where the graphic novel was clear that there were elements of both Right and Left wing in it. But, sadly, that’s Hollywood for you; still carrying water for the Great Leftist Dream.

      1. It’s amazing how that myth goes; “Lookout! Those people who want limit government power will give you total state control. But if you elect those would constantly seek to increase the government’s power, it’ll be freedom and prosperity for all.” The myth itself is nothing special, but pervasiveness of it is like a disease.

        A disease that killed no less than 260 million people last century.

  6. Only the Massa is permitted to rent out his slaves. The slaves have never been permitted to rent themselves out.

    Nothing strange about this at all. Is and has always been a central feature of slavery.

    1. Don’t oversimplify; the would-be Aristos don’t want Slaves; Slaves require much more attention than Peasants.

  7. The Associated Press noted on Oct. 9 that the closure of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, part of the Treasury Department, has put the brakes on development of new small breweries. The bureau approves breweries, recipes, and labels, or at least it did until the shutdown:

    More proof that nothing in the government is actually shut down. All it means is that the hammer is on delay mode, and if we catch you moving after we get back from our vacations and collect our back pay, you’ll get a friendly SWAT raid from our enforcement bureau.

    The word ‘shutdown’ is utter bullshit, and if the mainstream press had a critical brain cell, they’d be calling it something else. Perhaps “bureaucratic suspension” or “Regulatory cryo-sleep”.

  8. “My dream, this is six years in the making, is to open this brewery,” Brenner said. “I’ve been working so hard, and I find all these great investors. And now I can’t get started because people are fighting over this or that in Washington. … This is something people don’t mess around with. Even in a bad economy, people drink beer.”

    Hey Mike, tax us, regulate us, set us free?

    Nanobrewers can apply for a separate brewery license that costs just $240 a year, rather than $1,200, and can serve beer without the usual requirement that the brewery function as a “brew pub” by also selling hot food.

    Neel said the nanobrewery license has been helpful in getting his new business off the ground, but distribution headaches may lead him to exchange it for a full-blown beverage manufacturer license after just over a year in operation.

    Nanobrewery licensees are required to self-distribute their product. That frustrates Neel, who would like to take advantage of the transportation network and sales force of a distributor.

  9. The government is so involved in our lives that even basic commerce?simply hiring people?is threatened by political jockeying.

    You do realize that to some… nay, to many, this is a feature, not a bug.

  10. Freedom means asking permission and obeying orders.

    1. That belief is how people reconcile themselves to support the likes of Obama.

      1. in the name of freedom of course…

  11. essentially the federal government is so intertwined into the responsibilities of the states and citizens that it can’t do those federal things it’s required to do in the constitution.

  12. Yo. Fuck gummint.

  13. States do 2 things very well: Enforcement and punishment. If we wat freedom, we have to keep government on a leash.

    1. Keep government on a leash that it holds the monopoly right to hold onto, is what you’re saying.

      You want governance to be tempered by freedom? Then you must abolish government and any political machines that monopolize enforcement and punishment.

  14. Tasty looking sea spiders are holding my attention hostage.

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  16. Can you imagine the squeals of outrage should some wag of a Republican offer a bill explicitly suspending all Federal regulations any time a ‘shutdown’ is in force?

    1. They should like that.
      They would get to point out how awful it is without all those regulations, and make their case for why they should exist again.

      For instance “Look at all the litter and forest fires we have now that people can hike without government supervision! We need to bring back the park service to protect us from unpermitted campers.”

      It’s almost like they are worried that nothing bad would happen.

  17. What’s wrong with you all? People are dropping dead left and right because NO FOOD INSPEKSHUNS!!! and you are making light of it. Why, probably 50,000 people will die of food poisoning in the next week if we don’t get the regulators up and running.

    1. Don’t forget all the childrens that will die without food stamps…

  18. I guess the Executive Branch expects us to be grateful that it hasn’t said, “There wouldn’t be any food if not for us; therefore, destroy all nonessential food (i.e., food not destined for Our Servants).”

  19. Just shut the whole thing down, government is a bad tumor that could come off with the flick of a knife.

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