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Shutdown Theater

A Commentary By John Stossel

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Government wants you to play a role in the "shutdown" of the federal government. Your role is to panic.

Republicans and Democrats both assume that shutting some government is a terrible thing. The press concurs. "Shutdown threatens fragile economy," warns Politico. "Federal workers turn to prayer," laments The Washington Post.

If the public starts noticing that life goes on as usual without all 3.4 million federal workers, we might get dangerous ideas, like doing without so much government. Politicians don't want that.

They'd rather have us worry about how America will cope.

President Obama gave a speech where he actually said we need to keep government open for the sake of people like the person working for the Department of Agriculture "out there helping some farmers make sure that they're making some modest profit," and the Department of Housing and Urban Development "helping somebody buy a house for the first time."

Give me a break. Farmers don't need bureaucrats to teach them how to make a profit, and Americans can buy first homes without HUD helping a chosen few. Americans would make more profit and afford better homes if they didn't have to spend a third of national income on federal taxes.

Bureaucrats, acting like bullies, protest the partial closures by doing things like cutting off access to public parks -- even privately funded ones. Federal cops block access to outdoor war memorials and much of Mt. Rushmore. They block access to motels and order people out of private homes that happen to sit on federal land. The Washington Free Beacon reports, "The closure of a Virginia park that sits on federal land, even though the government provides no resources for its maintenance or operation."

This is shutdown theater.

It's similar to the fake "austerity measures" in other countries. We're told that Europe's slow economic growth is a result of "austerity" embraced by European governments.

But there hasn't really been any austerity. England, where a "conservative" government is in charge, increased  government spending by 4 percent.

"Austerity" in Greece -- supposedly so drastic that the public has little choice but to riot in protest -- meant changes like reducing mandatory severance pay to one entire year (instead of two!).

In the U.S., Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cal.) told CNN the federal government has cut so much spending that there's just nothing left to cut: "The cupboard is bare! There's no more cuts to make!"

What? The federal government spends almost 4 trillion dollars! The government cupboard overflows! We fund entire cabinet departments that are worse than useless. The Labor Department interferes  with actual labor. Commerce would flow more smoothly without Commerce Department bureaucrats channeling money to their cronies.

The government hasn't cut spending -- it never does. After the last shutdowns, politicians even voted to award retroactive pay to government workers who didn't work. Bet they do it again this time. The federal government remains the biggest employer in the country. President Obama says so with pride.

Compare this to what happens in the private sector in tough times: AT&T cut 40,000 workers. Sears cut 50,000. IBM: 60,000. They weren't easy decisions, but they enabled the companies to stay profitable. With fewer workers, leaner companies found more efficient ways to get things done.

And the rest of us barely noticed. We expect change and adaptation in free-market institutions. But it doesn't happen in government. Government just grows.

Maybe the ugliest part of this story is that the city that whines most about suffering through the shutdown, Washington, D.C., is now the richest geographic area in America. Washington got richer while the rest of America didn't. Over the past 12 years, median income in the U.S. dropped about 6.5 percent -- but not in D.C.! There, it rose 23 percent. Four of the five richest counties now surround Washington, D.C.

No wonder politicians and bureaucrats are convinced big government is essential to keep the economy going -- it is essential to keep them  going.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network, and the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." For other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.

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