UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT SHUTDOWN
’35days of chaos and hurt, all for nothing’
By Carlton Joseph
The longest government shutdown in United States. history ended on Friday when Trump decided to accept the proposal that was offered, in December, at the beginning of the shutdown. A former White House official remarked: “He allowed 35 days of chaos and hurt, all for nothing, I’m so glad people will start being paid, but this could have been done in December.”
A little historical context is necessary to understand the standoff. Republican party leaders have long talked about slashing the size of government, reducing the social safety net and privatizing whatever they can. Ronald Reagan’s administration spoke of “starving the beast” of the federal government to achieve his desired policy outcomes. His plan was to deprive the government of tax revenue, reduce its ability to function and cut spending on medicare, medicaid, social security, housing programs and welfare. Paul Ryan, the former House speaker, called social security a “Ponzi scheme.”
Some conservative columnists are arguing that the temporary shutdown of parts of the federal government is a good argument for the permanent shutdown of parts of the federal government. As Fox television personality, Steve Doocy puts it, “a lot of people across the country don’t even notice that part of the federal government is shut down.” And Rep. Louie Gohmert said that ” the government shutdown should continue until hell freezes over, if funding for a southern border wall isn’t secured.”
These theories of “not needing government” were quickly abandoned when some IRS workers were called back to work because Robert Broeksmit, Chief Executive Officer of the Mortgage Bankers Association, wrote to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin asking to “make these guys essential.” Also, many air traffic controllers calling in sick at key airports along the Eastern seaboard, made it difficult for planes to land safely at places like New York’s LaGuardia Airport.
The most devastating result of the shutdown was how quickly federal workers had to seek financial assistance. Many were looking for temporary work or applying for unemployment insurance and while others sought help from charities,crowd-funding websites, pawnbrokers and payday lenders. A chain is as strong as its weakest link. It is unacceptable that federal workers and contractors, responsible for the smooth operation of the US government, are so poorly paid that they do not have any savings and live from paycheck to paycheck. This situation must be corrected since workers can be compromised by foreign entities.
Another ridiculous aspect of the shutdown was the way the major media outlets treated the event. The political environment is so volatile that watching the news is very stressful. The shutdown is treated as a fight between Trump and Pelosi, totally ignoring that it’s about people’s lives. It isn’t just federal workers who were directly impacted by the furlough and bipartisan disagreements; it’s also their families, our communities, and those who rely on their salaries to make their own ends meet.
The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office on Monday estimated that the shutdown cost the US economy $11 billion. Most of that will be recovered, but not all of it. Some $3 billion in economic activity has been permanently lost.
Let me introduce the concept of game theory to this shutdown. It assumes that agents make rational decisions at all times, and is the study of how people, companies or nations determine strategies in different situations in the face of competing strategies acted out by other agents or players. The pundits, on both sides, of this shutdown must be ignored if we have to develop a society that benefits most of its citizens.
After Trump agreed to open the government, Ann Coulter said: “Good news for George Herbert Walker Bush. As of today, he is no longer the biggest wimp ever to serve as President of the United States.”
This irrational behavior must be ignored.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)