Tuesday, October 1, 2013

#ShutStorm: Why I Coined That Term for the Gov’t Shutdown

The Twitter hashtag I coined the other day -- #ShutStorm -- to describe the current squabbling over the federal government’s (partial) shutdown appears to be pretty popular.  But to be clear: it’s not the government shutdown I regard as a crisis.  It’s the ongoing disaster called government that is the crisis.

Six brief points:

1. Shutdowns like this have occurred 17 times over the past four decades.  The politicians and the media freaked out, as they always do.  For the rest of us, if we are not duped by the hype, life goes on.

2. Cops, fire, weather service, mail, military, utilities, air traffic control, and prisons stay funded even during a so-called “government shutdown.”  That’s already far beyond the very limited functions the Constitution sets out for the federal government.

3. A glimpse at the math shows that we cannot reasonably reopen the federal government at all.  The federal government is already $16 trillion in debt, with each citizen owing something on the order of $40,000, and it would be insanity to pass up this opportunity to take a small step closer to fiscal survival.  Keep it “closed” permanently.

4. This is a scuffle far larger, really, than either the Democrats or the Republicans: All over the world, from the Middle East to China to Latin America, people find that government takes a vast portion of the populace’s wealth and then mismanages it, perpetually bogged down by partisan spats, inefficiency, corruption, cronyism, and outright theft. 

With technology and culture more fluid than ever, surely by now it’s time to abandon government altogether as a way of doing things.  Humanity can accomplish more through voluntary action, whether commercial or charitable, individualistic or collaborative. 

So long as we respect each other’s right to control our own bodies and property, we do not need rulers.  In fact, we’ll be better, kinder people for not expecting to rule or be ruled.

5. There is no question that whatever political faction you’re in, you can point to stupid things done by the other side(s).  I’ve certainly been in my fair share of partisan squabbles and will seize this opportunity to make a renewed effort to rise above them.  Governing is a crime in which we have all been implicated thus far.  If we focus on score-settling, it will never end. 

Once government exists, it inevitably becomes a perverse locus both of people’s lust for power and of their noblest dreams of reforming the world.  Since 7 billion people inevitably, always, disagree about what the world should look like, they will inevitably end up fighting over who gets to wield that power.  Better to eliminate it and let people go their own, voluntary ways. 

After all, if you saw a dozen people in the street outside your home going about their days, pursuing a dozen different life plans, you wouldn’t say, “I will ‘help’ them by forcing them all to be bound together as a chain gang so that they have no choice but to come up with a single itinerary for the whole group!”  Yet that is roughly what forcing people to govern each other inflicts upon us all.  Even if you told yourself you meant well, you would be regarded as a socially-destructive psychotic if you did such a thing.

So, too, should we regard any apologist for government, really -- and they are legion.  Even within the ranks of ostensibly anti-authoritarian, anti-government political factions, the siren song of government seems always to be faintly heard:

•So-called “liberal-tarians” within the libertarian movement devise schemes for maintaining just enough government to pursue politically-correct notions of “social justice.”

•Mainstream “minarchist” libertarians often passively accept that government is all right so long as it is kept to “legitimate” functions like cops, courts, defense, maybe roads.  They should know that government can make a giant, corrupt boondoggle out of anything and stop courting disaster. 

•“Fiscal conservatives” claim to prefer markets to socialism, yet their enthusiasm for markets is rarely consistent enough to end expensive corporate and bank bailouts paid for by the taxpayer -- especially when they care about little aside from near-future stock prices.  Some cheer for the costly military-industrial complex, which is little more than welfare for warmakers, warmakers kept in business by the subsidizing of overseas arm sales (and the attendant subsidizing of conflict and chaos).

•The “anarchists” found at Occupy Wall Street and countless anti-globalization rallies claim to hate the state but seem to be pleased by the idea of it giving them bailouts to match the bankers’ -- or by the idea of governments slapping still more regulatory restrictions on global trade to “rein in” corporations.

•And, more obviously, the liberal tradition that began with limits on government has long since mutated into a creature that glorifies nearly every expansion of the state.

But constant carping about “hypocrisy” becomes moot once government is gone and free individuals are left to do whatever they like (guided by whatever philosophy of life they prefer), from run businesses to attend Burning Man, from launch a website to worship Jesus or Allah.

6. Disillusioned former Reagan administration official David Stockman shocked Bloomberg TV’s Trish Regan this week by telling her the shutdown will have no appreciable effect on the economy (h/t Mike Vine). 

Indeed, without even sharing the full-fledged libertarian ideology of folks like me, Stockman has concluded that we have little fiscal choice at this debt-ridden point but to end the welfare state as we known it...and the warfare state...and the Federal Reserve that keeps dispensing dollar bills to disguise the fact that no accompanying increase in actual wealth is occurring. 

Terrified about what would happen if the illusion were punctured, the Fed now makes its mission the maintenance of that illusion (as Stockman will explain to the Manhattan gathering called the Junto circa 8pm, October 3, 2013, at 20 W. 44th St., and I plan to attend).

Yes, our pseudo-capitalism is as dysfunctional as semi-socialism.  The current state of affairs is no one’s ideal -- not your side’s, nor the other guy’s.  Government never will be.  Instead of accepting this misery as a “necessary evil,” let’s get rid of it (peacefully).  Now seems as good a time as any.

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