A Shutdown In Name Only

This is something I wrote about the shutdown. I didn’t post it at the time because I was so annoyed with everything having to do with the shutdown that my own piece annoyed me. Now that the shutdown is over, at least temporarily, I figured I’d put it out there. I think the point still stands.


There is a simple way to end the seemingly endless government shutdown. Shut down the government. It’s strange that that isn’t what we do. Instead we stop paying 800,000 people but keep all the essential functions of government working. It’s a baffling strategy and deeply immoral.

In theory, a shutdown is like a strike or a boycott. The whole point is to cause the decision makers enough pain to force them to either make the right decision or come to a reasonable compromise. Depending on how you look at it, that means that the shutdown must cause pain to the president and Congress, or to a majority of American voters, or both. The current partial shutdown misses its point utterly. It hurts the federal employees who are not being paid, their friends and families, and the people who depend on the money the federal employees usually spend. That’s an awful lot of people, but it’s not the right people.

The shutdown doesn’t hurt the president or Congress, at least not in any immediate way. They are still getting paid. Their supporters continue to support them. Also, while it is hurting a lot of people, it is nowhere near hurting a majority of the eligible voters. Most people in the United States can go about their day to day lives without noticing the shutdown. Their flights are still flying, their interstate highways are still drivable, their borders are still protected, even their taxes are still being processed. There is very little incentive for any of the decision makers to end the shutdown.

The immorality of the shutdown should be obvious. It is pointlessly hurting many innocent people. That’s pretty much what immorality is. It is also immoral in more subtle ways. Most importantly, during a partial shutdown, the government is forcing people to work without compensation. If any entity other than the government tried to do that, the Department of Labor would shut it down. The back pay that is promised after the shutdown is over doesn’t cut it. Because of the time-value of money, it literally isn’t worth as much as regular paychecks. Plus, retroactive pay can’t pay bills retroactively.

There should be two takeaways from this shutdown. Given the immorality of the shutdown, we should discourage the use of shutdowns as a political strategy. Also, if we do use shutdowns in the future, we should make sure they cause pain to the right people. The way to do both is to actually shut down the government during a government shutdown. All of the things that the government does for us should stop happening. The pain still wouldn’t be evenly distributed, but the people who need to feel pain would feel it. It would make a shutdown a last resort, and, if a shutdown ever did happen, it wouldn’t last long.

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