At the time of this writing, parts of the federal government have been shut down for almost a month. Perhaps we’ll all get a refund on our taxes, though it’s more likely this time without government will cost us more in the same way that food without additives or preservatives costs more at the grocery.
Last year, “Tax Freedom Day,” the day when all of our tax obligations to federal, state and local authorities were met, was 19 April. Government spending in the US then, consumes about a third of the productivity of its citizens. Very little of that money, however, goes to compensate federal workers. Though the federal government is the nation’s single largest employer, excluding soldiers and postal workers, only 2 million Americans work for the government, or approximately .6% of our population.
During the partial shutdown, about 420,000 federal workers will work without pay, and approximately 380,000 will be furloughed. We grieve for those workers and their families. They do not deserve to be political pawns in this current contest of egos. Perhaps Congress can tell us why, given that the salaries of government workers are such a small fraction of the federal budget, the choice was made to withhold their pay but still meet other obligations.
Speaking of Congress, members will receive their paychecks on time (though Congressional staff members will not). About 100 of the 535 members of Congress have elected not to be paid during the shutdown, but fear not; about half of the members of Congress are millionaires, so they’ll be just fine.
Every day now, someone from mass media predicts impending doom should the shutdown continue. Government, it would seem, has become essential to our survival. Apparently we are in a codependent relationship with our own government. How and why this happened is a long story with numerous points of contention, but as for the “who,” that much is clear. Democrats and Republicans did it.
Every successive administration along with every Congress in living memory has managed to increase the size and coercive power of government, speeches and campaign promises aside. Quite recently that trend has begun to reverse. Partial credit for the slight reduction in the size of government can be given to the current Administration, but the reasons are more complicated and that is a story for another time.
If we are indeed at risk because of the sudden inactivity of our dysfunctional government, common sense would suggest that we need to return that portion of the economy appropriated by government back to the free market. However, if one should refer to that process as “privatization,” an adverse reaction would be triggered in those who prefer to socialize the economy.
The irony and the hypocrisy are palpable. Some of the same democrats who vilified President George Bush for his overreach when Homeland Security and the TSA were created are now predicting doom unless these very same agencies are restored to their full might. Some of the same republicans that helped orchestrate that huge increase in the size of government are pointing fingers at “tax and spend” democrats. Partisan politics trumps common sense as well as our national interest.
Ostensibly, this clash of egos is about border security, and again, the stink of hypocrisy is enough to peel back your lips. Just a few years ago, Senators Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Chuck Schumer and a number of Democrats who now appear to oppose President Trump’s initiatives, all voted for the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The bill passed with bipartisan support. Now some of the same democrats who voted for the act have referred to any effort to impose a physical barrier at the border as “immoral.”
As for the Republicans, the US Chamber of Commerce, a conservative leaning organization which has historically supported Republicans and conservative Democrats, has lobbied repeatedly to block restrictions on immigration in order to maintain a continuous supply of cheap labor. Very little support or acknowledgment could be found among the Republicans for President Obama’s record deportation of our uninvited guests, or his expansion of detention facilities to hold them.
The point is, our elected leaders have been too busy spinning, posturing and seeking political advantage to make any real effort to solve the immigration problem. Republicans want to appear tough on securing the borders to play to their base, but without doing anything that would jeopardize the flow of cheap labor desired by their corporate masters. Democrats want to appear compassionate and avoid offending potential voters, but when they hold the reins of power they discover, like President Obama, the harsh realities of waves of human migration.
At the extremes we have at one end a President who, in order to fulfill his campaign promises, is threatening to declare a national emergency, seize private property and invoke military powers in order to bypass our system of government. This is a solution which may appeal to the extreme right today, but wait until a Democrat president does the same thing or worse in turn. At the other end of the spectrum are the young liberals calling for open borders and evoking discredited theories of socialism to solve the nation’s problems, all to be paid for under “modern economic theory,” which holds that sovereign governments have an unlimited ability to pay their bills simply by creating money.
It’s a circus, but the entertainment value diminishes in direct proportion to the human suffering it causes, not the least of which is the fear and anger driven like a wedge between partisan factions. If it isn’t the greatest show on earth, it certainly is the most expensive.
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