Government Shutdown

Don't Look For Grown-Ups To Fix the Government Shutdown

President Obama and Speaker Boehner act like children


With the government partially closed for over two weeks now and the debt-ceiling deadline upon us, the pundits are demanding that the "grown-ups in the room" finally put a stop to the childish goings-on in Washington.

That would be nice—except there are no grown-ups in the room. If you seek evidence, just look around. Politicians, from President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and House Speaker John Boehner on down, operate at a level of irresponsibility that we don't tolerate in children. It's the nature of government.

Let's start with the money politicians spend: Like children, they don't have to earn it. It comes to them without effort. But unlike children, they have others take it by force through taxation. If you don't believe me, tell the IRS "no thank you" the next time it calls for donations.

If they aren't satisfied with the proceeds from taxation, politicians have unlimited power to borrow money, which makes government look less expensive than it is while sending the bill to future generations. Politicians make a show of imposing a limit on borrowing, but they can raise the limit at will, threatening dire consequences if they don't.

Behold the gross irresponsibility. The money keeps flowing to the politicians no matter what they do or how big and costly their blunders. Even if people knew how badly the political class screwed up, they couldn't cut them off without risking lives of misery and perhaps prison at the hands of the government's armed henchmen.

But it's even worse, because people untrained in the economic way of thinking will have difficulty tracing bad consequences to the politicians' bad decisions. If you're an unemployed unskilled worker, you may not realize that politicians who passed the minimum wage are responsible for pricing you out of a job. Similarly, if you'd like to escape wage employment and work for yourself, you might not realize that politicians have placed a dozen tollgates on the road to self-employment as a favor to special interests.

Tracing economic effects to their public-policy causes is no easy matter. It requires economic understanding, which most people lack. Politicians take advantage of this, such as when they blame rising consumer prices on greed rather than on their central bank's inflationary policies. They have a thousand ways to cover their tracks.

Again, behold the irresponsibility this engenders. If you knew you had a guaranteed flow of income no matter what you did, you might conduct yourself very differently from how you conduct yourself now. As Lord Acton famously said, power tends to corrupt. It also attracts the corrupt.

Politicians also fail to operate at a responsible adult level to the extent they believe society can be molded according to their whims. Societies aren't made of clay. They are complex networks of interaction among individuals using their particular knowledge in pursuit of their personal goals. Social engineering is people manipulation backed by force, which requires a level of hubris that no mature person would possess. Yet politicians engage in it every day, free of responsibility for the consequences that come from disrupting people's lives.

Some readers will want to contest my claim that politicians are essentially unaccountable. Don't they face the voters regularly, and doesn't that keep them on the straight and narrow? To see the answer, we must get beyond naïve civics-book analysis.

We've already seen how the obscure path from political cause to economic effect helps to shield politicians from accountability. But that isn't all. Even though politicians' decisions can cost people their jobs, their freedom, and, in the aggregate, billions of dollars—think of the housing and financial debacle, which resulted from bad political decisions—what's the worst that can happen to the officeholders responsible for a disaster? At most they might lose the next election. Oh the horror! On the other hand, incumbents have great advantages in elections and don't often lose. Can you sue politicians for damages? Can you prosecute them for theft? Of course not. So where is the real accountability? There is none.

The upshot is that politicians are more irresponsible than children — children don't have credit cards. So if you're looking for grown-ups, look anywhere but government.

This column previously appeared at the Future of Freedom Foundation.


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  1. So what’s not to like about the way things turned out?

    1) Orange Julius has been humiliated and will probably shown the door.

    2) We (and others who think that these guys are there for their protection) got to see the thuggish state in full flower at the various parks and memorials around the US.

    3) We get to watch progtards lament that their health care costs double!

    4) We get to do it all over again in 4 1/2 months.

    Absolutely awesome!

    1. 5) Naked man plays guitar at OFA protest.

    2. “Orange Julius”

      +1 cloture vote

    3. I don’t like the 4.5 month intermission. During this intermission, a shitload of horrible legislation will be enacted. The debt ceiling theater prevented things from getting worse for two whole weeks!

    4. I’m not happy about it. Extremely short-term and limited gain, while the shit-bag who caused the grief associated with it ends up smelling like he came from somewhere other than the septic tank.

  2. “they couldn’t cut them off without risking lives of misery and perhaps prison at the hands of the government’s armed henchmen.”

    Only when they fear their government and not the other way around. I guess why that’s why they don’t trust me with my guns.

  3. I think we all know the adult solution can only ever be to give the President a blank check.

  4. I don’t understand what Republicans get out of constantly folding to the Democrats’ demands. They will still be portrayed as baby-killing women-enslaving anarchists even when they ultimately do whatever the Dems say. If you are reviled no matter what you do, doesn’t that take the pain out of making the hard decision to actually be conservative? What the hell is wrong with them?

    1. Because I think deep down there isn’t much difference between them.

      The kind of guys running for office (R) are the same kind of guys as their “opposition” (D). They just might have a tad more economic knowledge (but not the guts). But without the guts to stand up to the Dems, Teachers union, Lawyers lobby, Military Industrial complex and all the little neocons thirsting to spend and control, nothing is apt to change.

      Richman is quite right. With Ron Paul gone from Congress, there aren’t many adults present.

    2. I don’t understand what Republicans get out of constantly folding to the Democrats’ demands

      Well they might lose elections for doing unpopular things as Welch and Suderman keep telling us?

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