The damage often done by on-duty non-essential personnel

Seton Motley President, Less Government
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Welcome to Day One of the federal government partial shutdown.

Big Government advocates are as we speak struggling to identify and amplify the alleged horrors that ensue when arms of the nearly-$4-trillion-per-annum Leviathan are unfunded.

One of their favorites is bemoaning all of the employee furloughs that take place. But few things better make the argument for smaller government.

These are the “non-essential” employees. Workers so vital their employers classify them as unnecessary. Try this: Ask every private sector business with whom you interact this week how many non-essential employees each of them has. And enjoy the hilarity that ensues. We all know the grand total for all of us will be a combined zero.

The Feds have 800,000. (I’ll pause while the staggering stupidity of that washes over you.) President Barack Obama’s White House has six times as many non-essential as essential. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has so many Unnecessaries, EPA chief Gina McCarthy said that a government shutdown “will mean that EPA effectively shuts down.”  Won’t that be horrendous.

What do all of these 800,000 people do when they are un-furloughed and fully funded? When not making rap videos, or Star Trek videos, or Gilligan’s Island videos — they make more and more regulations. Idle bureaucrat hands are the devil’s playground. Under President Obama, they have been Disneyland.

We are of course part of a great and growing global market. When the non-essentials excrete regulations that affect other nations, things get even worse.

Like with trade. The harder we make it for other nations to access our markets, the harder they will make it for us to access theirs. These non-essentials have been piling up tons of trade regs too. They do not do so in a vacuum.

“Trade Wars” actually aren’t about trade – they are about government trade policy. If people are trading freely, there isn’t a war, there’s commerce. The wars only happen when governments get involved – placing tariffs, regulations and subsidies in the way of the flow of goods.

It becomes a regulatory arms race. A government imposes another subsidy or tax. So several others in response impose new subsidies and taxes of their own. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Several decades of this accumulated inanity later and you have the nightmare mess that is large swaths of the current global market. This is not something that can be undone in piecemeal fashion. We all got us into this — we all need to work to get us out.

This is where the World Trade Organization, usually a colossal waste of space, can actually be of some good use.

Let’s take one commodity as an example: sugar. The world’s sugar-producing nations need to sit down together, each with a copy of everyone else’s lists of protectionist sugar policies. And start horse trading.

“Brazil – how about if you get rid of this subsidy, we’ll each get rid of one.”

“Mexico – if you get rid of this tariff, we’ll each get rid of one.” 

Let the subsequent discussions ensue. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Working together to tear down trade impediments makes a whole lot more sense than working unilaterally to continue building them.

And someone needs to make sure the non-essentials understand this – when they are back from their back-paid vacation.