The current government shutdown is moving into its third week as I write this and has now won the prize for longest shutdown in history – truly America is being made great again. The longer it goes on the more Americans it affects. Already we are seeing multi-hour queues at TSA checkpoints as more and more unpaid but “essential” federal employees are quitting or calling in sick. Many IRS agents have been furloughed and that agency is operating at minimal capacity (although I think that would bolster support for the shutdown!). And for the first time ever I have been personally impacted by one of these shutdowns insofar as my genealogical hobby has been halted by the shuttering of the doors at the National Archives.
The popular stereotype of anti-government libertarians might lead one to believe libertarians are rejoicing. Although there might be a wee bit of schadenfreude, for the most part that is not the case since (a) libertarians oppose the state, not government (a critical but important distinction that even many self-described libertarians are oblivious to) and (b) temporary disruptions do nothing to advance that goal for the same reason your employer doesn’t hire a replacement every time you go on vacation. But – when a poorly performing employee does go on vacation sometimes it provides an opportunity to demonstrate to management that a temporary replacement is actually doing a better job – or that maybe we don’t need that position after all (i.e. no one noticed that the job not getting done).
For example during this shutdown many local businesses around Yellowstone National Park have banded together and voluntarily taken over the duties of the local park service (removing trash, cleaning bathrooms, maintaining roads, etc).
Why? Because it is in their mutual self-interest – all those tourists coming to Yellowstone also spend their money at those local restaurants, hotels, and shops. Indeed, this is the model that answers the perennial “but who will build the roads?” question – businesses that want to make it easy for customers to find them, that’s who.
Likewise the TSA disruption should make all question why exactly airport security is an arm of the federal government? Do we really want air travel in this country to be held hostage by the whims of those bickering children in Washington? Up until the incidents of September 11 airport security was a completely private affair. 9-11 was certainly not a failure on the part of that private system (unless of course you believe a federal TSA agent would have (a) stopped the guys with the box cutters because (b) they knew box cutter = destroyed buildings). Again, airports and airlines have aligned incentives in that both would be culpable and liable if they allowed dangerous individuals on board a flight. They should be allowed to choose the best most competent agency to handle security, rather than being forced to accept a single monopolistic agency (TSA) that can’t be fired no matter how poorly they perform. Due to the “crowding out” effect caused by nationalization (as with the TSA) there exists no viable competitors that could take over during these short-term disruptions (because by their nature they are short term – who would start a business that could only get operate once every year or two for a week or two?).
Hopefully this current shutdown will serve as a “teachable moment” amongst the general public who will begin to question why the federal government must control endeavors that can quite easily be managed by the private sector.