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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Make a government shutdown a permanent tradition

Government always evolves until its sole function is to do things that don't need to be done.

W hat if they shut down the government and nobody cared? Well, they did, last week. The news media, I guess, probably reported on it, but they have such low credibility that many people just wondered whether it was really true.

Assuming for the sake of argument that it is true, the real danger is that, if it continues, we might figure out that we don't really a government at all. People are afraid their own pet cause won't get enough attention if left to the public. And in some cases they're right, because their cause isn't important enough.

Government shutdown sign
Proposed government shutdown sign

In a free society, a cause provides its own driving force. People want to explore space and to be protected from cancer. These causes will generate their own funding because people want it to happen. If a cause is motivated primarily by laziness and envy, people will recognize that, and in a free society it won't get funded.

What does the federal government actually do with all that money they grab from us? They pass laws that make it harder for us to live our lives in peace. The tasks we created government to do, like defending the country from invading hordes, they can't be bothered with. Most of our tax money goes to redistributing wealth and bribing people for votes.

Government tasks that people approve of, like funding cancer research and cleaning up the environment, come mostly at the expense of public-spirited activity. These things would be done anyway, as they once were, if the motivation for doing them hadn't been sucked away from us. Yet somehow, when government does try to do something useful, it never gets finished.

Take cancer. Cancer is a tough biological problem, but those of us who work in science know that the current system is incredibly inefficient. Academic researchers spend most of whatever time is left after faculty meetings writing grants—trying to weasel more money out of the government. Only about one in ten of these grants get funded, so grant writing is practically a full time job for most of our top scientists.

Pharma companies won't spend money on basic research these days, because they can't compete with government. Entrepreneurs won't bother sending up satellites unless the government pays for it. As Albert Jay Nock pointed out way back in 1935, people don't give as much to the poor, because that's now the government's job. Government funding is why the poor will always be with us, and it's why the electric car companies that get the most government funding are, despite the hype, dead last in technology.

Not to pick on Tesla, but their growth is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies. If Tesla is the wave of the future, then our future will be an economy where companies exist for the sole purpose of sucking money from the taxpayer. Do we really want government bureaucrats to make the decisions that investors should be making?

It also has a devastating impact on information and truth. People spend vast amounts of energy spinning vast ideological spider webs whose sole purpose is to justify new ways for the government to take money from one group and give it to another. In a world where government adhered to its only legitimate purpose, these ideologies would be exposed as fraudulent. Those who create them already know it, which is why they demand their policies be imposed by force and resistance suppressed by censorship.

This is the world we're creating. Luckily, backing away from it is painless. We don't have to abolish government completely. Just privatize it bit by bit.

This is not just something it would be nice to do. The federal government is over $20 trillion in debt, and it has no intention of ever paying it back. Sooner or later, even if by some miracle we get a succession of Donald Trumps, that $20T will bring down our currency and America will no longer be a wealthy or a powerful nation.

The obstacle is the vast numbers of people who benefit from our pork-based economy. But private colleges do phenomenally well. As for public ones, the more the government supports them, the more it erodes their incentive to contain costs. Private trash collectors dispose of garbage in an ecologically sound way, not because they're forced to, but because nowadays that's what people want. But government always evolves until its sole function is to do things that don't need to be done.

That's also why the people crying most about a government shutdown are the ones with the most unpopular causes. Sometimes we need those, but the best thing that could ever happen is for the shutdown to become a permanent tradition. We should gradually extend the shutdown until government is forced to stick to those things only government can do.

jan 21 2018, 7:32 am

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