What America needs is more snowstorms in Washington.
For the first time in memory, the federal government has closed for three straight days. “Snowmaggedon” has shut down Washington, D.C. and its suburbs. With the third storm within a week hitting the region, causing white-out conditions, even Uncle Sam can’t function.
In theory the government closure is costing all of us. Some 230,000 D.C. area employees stayed home, costing an estimated $300 million “in lost productivity per day,” according to federal officials. But is the shutdown really hurting the public?
Using the term “productivity” in the same sentence as “federal government” is a dubious exercise. No doubt, in the sense of performing a task efficiently, the Feds can be productive. Just watch how quickly and completely the IRS attempts to clean out the average taxpayer. That explains the joke about Washington’s preferred tax form of just two lines: “How much do you earn? Send it in.”
But government efficiency doesn’t mean productivity in a larger sense. That is, does government activity yield a better life for Americans? On net, the answer is no. The only problem with Snowmaggedon is that it has not affected the 85 percent of federal employees who work outside of the D.C. area.
About two million people, excluding the postal service and armed forces, work for the federal government. Most are engaged in counterproductive activity.
Start with the 652,000 work for the Defense Department. Overall, their mission is vital, one of the few necessary tasks of government. But much of what they actually do has nothing to do with protecting America.
Many U.S. troops — and the civilian employees who back up the armed forces — are tasked with defending America’s prosperous and populous allies throughout Asia and Europe. Why? The European Union has ten times the GDP of Russia; South Korea has 40 times the GDP of the North. Military personnel also engage in nation-building and other forms of what Michael Mandelbaum called foreign policy as social work. Idling employees supporting these tasks would reduce subsidies for the international welfare queens now leeching off of U.S. taxpayers and military personnel.
The Department of Veterans Affairs employs 280,000 people. Give this department its due: it may not be the most efficient bureaucracy available, but Uncle Sam has an obligation to care for America’s veterans. The number of employees could be pared by integrating the treatment of veterans into the private health system, but the special needs of vets will always require special services.
Homeland Security comes next with 171,000 personnel. It’s an important function, but does anyone believe the department, a bizarre mix of everything from customs to immigration to disaster relief, actually is keeping us safe? Are we better off because of the geniuses who decided that terrorists would surrender by forbidding people from going to the bathroom and using blankets? Who benefits when personnel dole out “emergency” aid hither and yon even to the improvident and foolish? It’s hard to know how many of this department’s employees actually do useful work.
Another 108,000 people work for the Justice Department. The agency is theoretically essential. But the bureaucracy of justice — laws, police, prosecutors, courts — should rest primarily at the state and local level. One of most significant and most dangerous expansions of national power in recent years has been the increasing federalization of the criminal law. Now you can go to federal prison if you dump fill dirt on dry land that has been defined as a “wetland.”
The department also is filled with social engineers, dedicated to using the law to reorder American society along more collectivist and multi-cultural lines. An entire division promotes the federal government’s racial spoils system and its extension to the rest of society. Then there are all of the department attorneys who spend taxpayer money defending the worst depredations of government, often in contravention of the Constitution.
Some 88,000 people work at the Treasury Department. A few folks are necessary to mind the Treasury, but most of the agency’s employees are busy supporting the outrageously lavish $3.7 trillion budget approved by Congress this year. Cut back the spending and the $2.2 trillion in taxes to be collected, and the department would shrink substantially. Reduce the Treasury bureaucracy’s other threats to liberty — foreign economic sanctions, domestic financial spying — and the workforce would shrink still further.
The Agriculture Department comes in at 82,000 employees. There may be one or two people there who perform a useful and constitutional function, but it’s hard to believe there are many more. This agency’s job is to pay off special interests and manipulate food markets. This Department should be permanently snowed in.
Next is the Interior Department with 67,000 employees. There’s no reason for Uncle Sam to own hundreds of millions of acres of land. Sell off the grazing range and timberland (technically the latter resides with the Agriculture Department, but the same principle applies). Open up nonessential park areas to energy exploration and development. Keep at most a few sensitive parklands of enormous symbolic significance — such as Yellowstone and Yosemite — in federal hands or, better yet, turn them over to environmental groups. The number of people needed in their current roles at the department is very few.
Health and Human Services is a spending behemoth, but employs “only” 64,000 people. Social services, like justice, should primarily be dispensed at the state and local level. Anyway, whatever the legitimate role of the federal government, HHS should not survive in current form. The agency incorporates a multitude of ineffective, duplicative, and overlapping programs. In general, Congress never shuts down a bad program; legislators simply add new ones. Shift back functions and revenue sources to the states, as Ronald Reagan proposed, and there’d be no need for this department.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?