Government Shutdown

Reminder: The Parts of the Federal Government Authorized to Shoot You Are Still Functioning

The federal "shutdown" doesn't lead to anarchy. It won't even lead to less government spending.


Boris Roessler/dpa/picture-alliance/Newscom

As the government shutdown dominates the news and partisan posturing today, you might be thinking we're temporarily freer from the oppressive hand of The Man. Don't celebrate. The feds who carry around guns and arrest people are almost all still working.

Bloomberg has gone through the list of federal agencies to determine the breadth of the shutdown. Here's what they had to say about law enforcement:

  • About 83 percent of the Justice Department's 115,000 employees will continue to report to work if the government shuts down, according to the department's contingency plan. Criminal litigation will continue without interruption; non-essential civil litigation is to be curtailed or postponed.
  • The Federal Trade Commission will suspend antitrust investigations not related to mergers. Merger reviews by the FTC and the Justice Department will continue. The agencies say they will go to court to challenge deals if necessary.
  • Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have enough money from sources like fines and filing fees to continue most operations through Feb. 9, according to Jackie Koszczuk, a spokeswoman with the Administrative Office of the Courts.
  • The Department of Homeland Security will remain largely unaffected, with 87 percent of its 232,860 employees deemed exempt from the shutdown. The department includes the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Coast Guard and the Secret Service.

The federal drug war will see no reprieve. Nasty, heartless immigration enforcement tactics will continue.

Some libertarians may see any closure of the government as a win, but the Cato Institute's Jeffrey Miron explains that this partial, temporary shutdown does nothing to reduce the size and scope of government power:

To begin with, shutdowns are (presumably) temporary. The average length of previous government shutdowns was seven days. And if history is a guide, then most of the suspended expenditures for salaries, benefits, and the like will be paid retroactively. If you think a shutdown helps keep the budget in check, you're wrong.

Shutdowns also have zero effect on entitlements like Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, which continue automatically unless Congress explicitly amends them. Shutdowns only influence discretionary spending that has to be reauthorized every year. Because entitlements constitute the large majority (roughly 67 percent) of federal expenditure, and because this component is growing at an unsustainable rate, shutdowns cannot have any meaningful impact on the budget deficit. And even with discretionary spending, around half is exempt given that many Department of Defense and Department of Homeland Security functions are exempted from the shutdown, because they are considered "essential" services.

I would add that because, unfortunately, large chunks of America's market interactions require permission from federal bureaucrats, extended federal shutdowns end up harming private economic activity. The guys with guns are at work. The guys with approval stamps are not. A shutdown means the government can't give you permission to do things, but it can sure as heck still stop you.

The last time we had a federal shutdown, in 2013, I detailed some of the completely private economic activity hampered because people couldn't get permission to do their jobs. Craft brewers couldn't get labels for their products approved and thus couldn't introduce new beers into the market. Fishermen couldn't get permits for the latest season of crab-catching in the Pacific Northwest. We'll probably see more stories like this if the shutdown drags on. As I noted back then:

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.

The Trump administration may have scaled back some regulations, but the regulatory state is still enormous. Many, many people will find their private economic activity impaired by the shutdown.

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  1. My neighbor retired from the Navy and got a civilian contractor job doing the exact same logistics work for a lot more money. He was hoping to receive his furlough notice today, get a bunch of free time off, and then pick up his back pay later, because that’s how it works.

    Government shutdown = some urgent grandstanding, and nothing else.

    1. Government shutdown = some urgent grandstanding, and nothing else.

      Hey, at least it’s not a fiscal cliff!

    2. I have some friends that work for the federal government around here. They basically get a paid vacation. Man, why do I have to have scruples?

      1. I told you you were gonna get scruples if you kept messing around with them skank hos.

        1. Next time I am at the massage parlor, I will have be more specific than asking for someone that has mastered the intricacies of Kant.

          1. Make sure you’re pronouncing “Kant” right, too.

            1. thatsthejoke.gif

  2. STUPID.

    Of course shutdowns are harmful. But the point is they show WE DON’T NEED GOVERNMENT. And the mention of craft breweries just proves the point. Please, think a few seconds before writing.

    Welcome to New Somalia!

    Still Shillin’ for Jill 2020 approves this message.

  3. Of course Reason would post a story pining for the shutdown to be over, and of course ShackleFRAUD would write it.

    Maybe those trying to engage in economy things who find they’re thwarted by the lack of an on-duty federal overseer might start to think maybe we don’t need all these bureaucrats and say to themselves maybe it would have been a good idea voting for that guy who, like me, didn’t know what Aleppo was and wanted Nazis to make gay wedding cakes. You just never know what object lesson will spark that libertarian moment. Come on!

    1. The federal “shutdown” doesn’t lead to anarchy.

      I don’t think even the ardent anarcho-capitalists think ‘shutdown today, anarchy tomorrow’ is the ideal option producing the most stable anarcho-capitalist outcome. A hard crash is rarely preferrable to a gradual decrease in power, combined with intermittent outages.

      1. SHUT IT DOWN!

        SHUT IT DOWN!

        SHUT IT DOWN!

        1. tach it up

          tach it up

    2. In general, I’m seeing a lot of disillusionment among my peers. They all happily voted for the Messiah in ’08 and ’12, and they weren’t complaining when he powered up the pen with his sweeping EOs, but now that Trump has it? Oh, man.

      “We can’t let them have that much power in the first place! The next guy is going to be some asshole who can do whatever he wants!”

      Yes. Yessss. Let the hate flow through you!

  4. Man, the world is going to come to an end if this keeps up!

    “DOW JONES INDU AVERAGE NDX 26,098.16 Real-Time Quote As of 12:02pm ET”

    We LAUGH at your ‘government shutdown! Ha and HA!

    1. It’s like you never experienced a Dow Jones high before. You know what’s coming, sooner or later.

  5. Craft brewers couldn’t get labels for their products approved and thus couldn’t introduce new beers into the market.

    You motherf*@%ers! If this isn’t essential then I don’t know what is!

    Although, “No Label Anarchist Stout” kind of has a nice ring to it.

    1. FYTW Imperial IPA

      This would be a good idea for a contest, name the next no label craft beer offering during the shutdown.

        1. I prefer the version that is (Ayn) Randalled with Liberty Hops

          1. I like the Who Is John Malt stout.

  6. The article makes good points — a government “shutdown” isn’t really a shutdown and will save a negligible amount of money in the long run. What’s more, in the past they’ve come back singing kumbaya and everyone feels good about the government and the bipartisanship it took to get everyone talking. The Schumer-visits-the-White-House story was written by most outlets as feel-good prose.

    I see the shutdown doing a net harm to our cause because people will come back saying shit like “See? The constitutional republic endures!” The best we can hope for is more disillusionment, which will probably only come from Trump doing something idiotic.

  7. From the header on the NWS website: “Due to the Federal Government shutdown, and most associated websites are unavailable. However, because the information this site provides is necessary to protect life and property, it will be updated and maintained during the Federal Government shutdown.”

    1. Yeah, they turn off informational websites. They don’t just leave them up and un-updated, they turn them off.

      It’s all a big, pissy temper-tantrum thrown by babies who will never grow out of it.

    2. Maintained for whose consumption? And what a waste: servers are still online, with network access – just their homepage frozen with the middle finger raised just as you described. These guys are like the cable company: yank your service in a hearbeat, but take days to fix anything/get it back up and running.

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