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Posts Tagged ‘Shutdown’

I don’t care about the current shutdown battle, but I still feel compelled to add my two cents when people make silly arguments about the economy suffering because government is temporarily spending less money.

This is actually a two-part debate.

From a microeconomic perspective, there is some genuine disruption for affected federal bureaucrats, even if they eventually will get full – and lavish – compensation for their involuntary vacations. And some federal contractors are being hit as well.

There’s also a debate about the macroeconomic impact, with some making the Keynesian argument that government spending is somehow a stimulant for the economy.

I’ve endlessly explained why Keynesian argument is bad in theory and a joke in reality.

In this interview, I tried to make a more nuanced point, explaining that we should focus more on gross domestic income (GDI), which measures how we earn our national income, rather than gross domestic product (GDP), which measures how we allocate national income.

I’m not sure I got my point across effectively in a 30-second sound bite, but it’s a point worth making since people who understand GDI are much less susceptible to the Keynesian perpetual-motion-machine argument.

But enough from me.

Harold Furchtgott-Roth, in a column for the Wall Street Journal, analyzes the potential macroeconomic consequences of the shutdown.

Does the U.S. government shutdown endanger economic growth? It has led to missed paychecks… Yet these employees represent approximately 0.5% of all American workers… The effect of the furloughs on gross domestic product is likely small. …U.S. GDP is more than $20 trillion annually, or approximately $55 billion daily. The daily compensation of furloughed federal workers is about $52.5 million, or less than 0.1% of GDP. This figure does not include affected government contractors, but even doubling or tripling this figure yields only a small share of GDP. …The net effect of the partial shutdown on direct salaries and wages will primarily be to delay, but not reduce, income for the affected families. …Maybe that’s one reason the stock market, a barometer of expectations of future economic growth, has been unperturbed by the budget impasse. The Dow and the S&P 500 are up nearly 9% since the shutdown began Dec. 22. Experience also gives reason for optimism. The last major government shutdown occurred in 1995-96. It affected the entire federal government, not only part of it. Yet U.S. GDP growth increased from 2.7% in 1995 to 3.8% in 1996.

That final sentence is key.

The Keynesians are always predicting bad consequences when there’s some sort of policy that limits government spending.

But the real-world outcome is always different, as we saw with the sequester.

Steve Malanga, writing for the City Journal, takes a microeconomic perspective on the shutdown.

I’ve seen no evidence that the shutdown will affect me and my family. I’ve heard no friend, neighbor, or relative even mention it. Virtually everyone I know outside of my professional life seems to be going about their business. Still, I’ve taken a thorough look at press coverage over the past two weeks and found nearly 500 stories on how the closure is supposed to affect our lives. …The press seems intent on convincing the rest of us that we’re at risk… Many headlines stoking fear contradict the articles they introduce. A story in the Guardian, for instance, was pitched as a tale of the shocking impact that the shutdown would have on a small rural town. Though the paper tells us the town is “in the grip of a partial government shutdown,” readers find little evidence of it. “We really haven’t noticed anything,” City Manager Mike Deal confesses. …a story in the Bangor Daily News noted that the Small Business Administration, which hands out government-subsidized loans to firms, won’t be making them during the shutdown. Still, the story notes, that’s not going to make much of a hit on the local economy, since the SBA has made just 2,687 loans in Maine since 2010, for an average of just 27 a month. …a story in the Lafayette Daily Advertiser entitled, “How the shutdown is affecting local breweries in Louisiana.” The problem, the owner of Bayou Teche Brewing explains, is that the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau is responsible for approving labels for new beers, and the agency’s not working right now. “With every government shutdown that’s happened since we opened, we’ve had a beer needing label approval,” said Karlos Knott of Bayou. “And that results in beer we’re just having to sit on.”

Steve’s column reminds me of a piece I wrote back in 2013.

Which is why I wish one of the lessons we learned from the shutdown fight is that much of what government does is either pointless or counterproductive.

I’m not holding my breath waiting for that to happen.

Anyhow, no column on a government shutdown would be complete without some satire.

We’ll start with a sarcastic observation from Libertarian Reddit. Though it actually raises a serious point. I want to downsize Washington, but I don’t want any needless pain for bureaucrats. Yet shouldn’t we be similarly sensitive to the plight of folks in the private sector who suffer because of D.C.’s bad policies?

And it appears that government bureaucrats have figured out what to do with their hands now that they have extra time on their hands.

For what it’s worth, some bureaucrats engage in such recreation even when the government is open.

If you enjoy shutdown humor, you can find older examples here and here, and a new example here.

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I cared a lot about the 1995-96 shutdown and the 2013 shutdown because those were battles involving the size and scope of government.

But I don’t have a dog in the current fight over immigration and border security. That being said, I told Neil Cavuto that there are several fiscal policy lessons we can learn from the current shutdown fight.

A short TV interview just scratches the surface of an issue, so here are some additional details.

The first lesson is that much of what the government does is irrelevant to America.

I pointed out that ordinary Americans don’t notice or care that departments such as Housing and Urban Development are closed because there’s no net value generated by such bureaucracies.

And polling data supports my assertion.

The second lesson is that some parts of government should be shut down permanently.

If people don’t care or notice that a department is temporarily closed, they probably won’t care or notice if it is permanently closed.

I think that message applies to bureaucracies that are affected by the current shutdown (such as HUD and Transportation) as well as to some of the bureaucracies that are unaffected (Education, Energy, Agriculture, etc).

The third lesson is that temporary shutdowns are not a money-saving exercise.

A shutdown does not alter the amount of entitlement spending and it does not change annually appropriated spending. And since bureaucrats always get back pay for their involuntary vacations, there aren’t any savings there, either.

Some argue (see here and here) that a shutdown gives the executive branch unilateral authority to save money. I actually hope that’s true, but I have very little reason to think the Trump Administration is interested in fiscal rectitude.

The fourth lesson is that a busy and productive Congress is a dangerous Congress.

I included the brief blurb by Senator Tillis prior to my interview because I don’t want a “productive” Congress.

I’m not being nihilistic. Instead, I’m making the simple point that America’s Founders had the right idea in creating a factionalism-based system that enables gridlock.

Last but not least, the fifth lesson is that bureaucrats should have less power over economic activity.

I mentioned that there wouldn’t be any threat of disrupted air travel if all airports got to use a privatized version of TSA.

But that’s just one small example. Tim Carney’s column in the Washington Examiner is a must-read on the issue of pointless bureaucratic impediments to commerce.

…the government shutdown is another lesson… Before now, if an out of state brewery issued a new seasonal, you could simply purchase it across state lines thanks to…Form 5100.31 approvals… Of course, if you’re a particularly skeptical type, you may have a question… Why in the world should a brewer need federal approval on new beer labels? Once we ask that question, a thousand analogous questions come to mind. And in the asking, we expose the trick in so many stories about the crucial work of our expansive federal government. The trick is that the government’s work is often made necessary only by needless federal meddling in the first place. …when some reporter tries to tell you to be grateful that the federal government is opening a gate for you, ask them why the wall is there in the first place.

Amen.

This is what I was trying to get across in the interview about business decisions being stymied until some bureaucrats signs off.

Let’s wrap up today’s column with a superb Reason video by John Stossel.

P.S. No column on this topic would be complete without adding to our collection of shutdown humor (h/t: Libertarian Reddit).

You can see other examples of shutdown satire by clicking here, herehere, and here.

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Well, we didn’t get the shutdown, which I think could have been a key tactic to get more budget cuts, so let’s at least enjoy some one-liners about the topic from the late-night comics.

  • A lot of people wonder what a government shutdown would be like. I think a lot more people wonder what a government running properly would be like. – Jay Leno
  • The shutdown would mean that all non-essential workers would stop coming to work. I’m OK with that. Why do we even have non-essential workers? – Jimmy Kimmel
  • It looks like we’re heading for a government shutdown. And you thought Joe Biden had nothing to do before. – Jay Leno
  • The most embarrassing part is that by the weekend, our government could be shut down, but Moammar Gadhafi’s government could still be working. – Jay Leno
  • Due to the budget impasse, the federal government may shut down next week. There will be another season of “Jersey Shore,” but the U.S. government is still up in the air. – Conan
  • If Congress can’t agree on a budget by midnight Friday, the government will shut down. Democrats are demanding to tax all of the people’s money and use it to fund abortions, while the Republicans want to sell the country to Exxon Mobile and relocate gays to Puerto Rico. – Jimmy Kimmel
  • All government services may be shut down next week, which could really make the DMV inconvenient. – Jimmy Kimmel
  • It turns out the White House might have to lay off staff members if the government shuts down on Friday. It’s really bad news for non-essential workers — you know, interns, pages, Biden . . . – Jimmy Fallon

Last but not least, these aren’t shutdown jokes, but they’re worth sharing.

  • President Obama said he plans on running for re-election against the Republicans. After the tax cuts for the rich, the bailouts for Wall Street, and the bombing in Libya, I already thought he was the Republican candidate. – Jay Leno
  • President Obama announced his re-election campaign, though it’s not really a surprise. He did all the things that make it official: He filed the paperwork, redesigned his website, and printed another fake birth certificate. – Craig Ferguson
  • President Obama’s approval ratings are so low now, Kenyans are accusing him of being born in the United States. – Jay Leno

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Among advocates of limited government, there is growing unease about the fiscal fight in Washington.

This is not because anything bad has happened. Indeed, Democrats thus far have been acquiescing – at least on a temporary basis – to conservative demands for $61 billion of spending cuts over the rest of the current fiscal year. This is remarkable after 10 years of endlessly expanding government.

Here’s what Jennifer Rubin wrote at her Right Turn blog.

A senior Senate adviser wisecracked, “A month ago, they said they couldn’t possibly cut a dime. Then they said the $4 billion [in] cuts in the first CR were a non-starter. Now they’re bragging about cutting spending?” It is a remarkable turn of events and another sign that Reid was bested in this round of budget battling. Twice now he capitulated to House Republicans.

This analysis is right, and it is very similar to what I wrote back on March 2 regarding the first short-term agreement.

So why, then, am I worried?

I’m nervous because the fiscal fight is evolving in a bad direction. In that March 2 post, I warned that “Republicans should be very careful about having their energy dissipated by a series of diversionary battles over short-run spending bills.”

That prediction, unfortunately, seems to have been rather accurate. Democrats have reluctantly agreed to some spending cuts, but their decisions perhaps could be characterized as a rope-a-dope strategy – tactical retreats designed to regain control over the field of battle and win the ultimate fiscal war.

The elephant in the living room, of course, is the threat of a government shutdown. Republicans seem terrified that they will get blamed if there is a stalemate and this leads to a shutdown of the non-essential parts of the government. And they are terrified of this outcome even if they have approved a budget and the stalemate exists solely because Harry Reid has blocked their budget in the Senate and/or Barack Obama has vetoed their budget.

I’ve already explained, in an article for National Review Online, why GOPers should not allow themselves to be blackmailed on this basis. The 1995 shutdown was a big policy success. Republicans did not get everything they wanted, to be sure, but the final result was real fiscal restraint – a four-year period where government spending grew by an average of less than 3 percent.

Moreover, the shutdown was hardly a political setback. Democrats on Capitol Hill were defecting to the GOP side during the fight, and the political people in the Clinton Administration were genuinely concerned that they might not be able to sustain the President’s veto. Some GOP political operatives thought, after the fight was over, that they lost because Clinton polled better than Gingrich, but this certainly didn’t keep Republicans from comfortably holding the House in 1996 and actually picking up seats in the Senate.

So what happens now? Republicans basically have two choices of how to proceed. Both options have some risk, but one approach almost surely leads to failure.

1. Draw a line in the sand and pass a strong budget with cuts and meaningful reforms, even if it means the Democrats block the spending bill and cause a shutdown.

Upsides – This approach is more likely to lead to an outcome that reduces the burden of government spending. Moreover, it surely would trigger more activism from libertarians, conservatives, and other supporters of limited government. A victory based on this approach (or even a draw) creates momentum for both the FY2012 budget resolution battle and the debt limit fight.

Downsides – The left, including the establishment press, will portray the GOP negatively. More specifically, they will claim Republicans are “shutting down the government” because of supposedly extraneous issues like abortion (i.e., the funding controversy over Planned Parenthood), the environment (the debate over the “rider” provision to curtail the EPA’s power grab), or healthcare (defunding Obamacare).

2. Do everything possible to avoid a shutdown, even if it means higher spending and no reform.

Upsides – There is no risk of being blamed for a shutdown.

Downsides – This French-army approach basically means that Republicans give up on fiscal policy for the next 21 months. Surrendering to avoid a shutdown means the burden of spending is higher. It means no program reforms or eliminations. Because of this precedent, it is highly unlikely that the GOP could attach meaningful fiscal conditions to the debt limit. Similarly, the loss of momentum would carry over to the budget resolution, undermining chances for fiscal reform in the 2012 fiscal year budget. Last but not least, the “base” would be very disappointed as activists from the Tea Party and elsewhere begin to conclude that fighting against big government is a fool’s errand.

Even in the most ideal scenario, using the line-in-the-sand strategy, fiscal conservatives in the House will not get everything they want. The real issue is which side has the upper hand in the negotiations.

The fight-rather-than-surrender approach gives the GOP leverage. They almost surely won’t get $61 billion of cuts, but they’ll be much closer to that number than with the French-army approach. They won’t succeed with all the “riders,” but they’ll make progress – perhaps temporarily setting aside the Obamacare issue in exchange for clipping the EPA’s wings, or gutting Planned Parenthood but letting NPR off the hook.

Politicians inevitably are worried about the political consequences of any strategy. That’s harder to judge, but they can protect themselves by not making it seem as if they welcome a partial shutdown. I explained in the National Review article that there are several lesson that Republicans can learn from 1995 that can help them prevail in 2011.

First and foremost, Republicans should keep passing bills to reopen the entire government. They should stress that they want the government open and explain that it is only closed because of Harry Reid’s obstinate support for big government and/or Barack Obama’s use of his veto pen on behalf of special interests. …Keep passing bills to reopen the parts of the government that voters actually care about, such as VA hospitals, the Social Security Administration, and national parks. …Remember that a government shutdown generally puts more financial pressure on the Left. If there is a lengthy showdown, Democratic constituencies begin to squeal. …In 1995, Republicans had to deal with a very hostile press corps. There was no Fox News, no Internet as we know it today, and no cadre of talk-radio hosts to augment Rush Limbaugh. So while it is true that CBS, NBC, ABC, CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post will regurgitate Democratic talking points, many voters will have access to conservative news sources, something that was not the case in 1995.

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