The Washington Post dusted up a small storm last week with its revelation of the post 9-11 "shadow government." It turns out that the Bush administration dispatched "100 senior civilian managers" to live and work secretly outside Washington. This group was christened to act as the new government in case Washington was suddenly incinerated in a terrorist attack. This plan was dubbed "Continuity of Government."
It's still in operation, working night and day for you and me. And you thought that bureaucrats were mostly lazy bums earning big salaries for doing nothing! Here we have 100 people, the cream of the crop, going to work every day prepared to take over leadership of the world's only superpower in the event of an emergency.
And as they wait patiently for this dread and unthinkable opportunity, they, well, they wait and wait and wait. What do they do while they wait? Probably even less than what they did before they became the shadow government. Do they take lunch breaks? Do they rotate vacation time? Will their terms rotate in office? Tell us more!
It's hard to imagine the scenario under which they would take over the country (world). Let's say that Washington really was incinerated. As difficult and alarming as this sounds, we live in times when horrible realities confront us every day. It is time that we deal frankly and honestly with the ugly prospect.
The first thing that would happen is that your personal income would rise equal to the 40 percent you currently pay Washington in taxes. Because there would be nowhere to actually send the checks — excise taxes, income taxes, and payroll taxes would be meaningless. Instead of having to wait for politicians to give us "private accounts" for some portion of Social Security, we'd get real privatization with no FICA at all.
The country would be immediately vulnerable to attack by terrorists! On the other hand, there would be no one to enforce sanctions against Iraq, pay the troops in Saudi Arabia, or fund the settlements on the Gaza Strip, so the terrorists would lose their rationale for suicide bombings and the like. They might just choose to go home to their wives and kids.
All sorts of laws—like the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Civil Rights Act—wouldn't be enforced. Discrimination would be rampant! On the other hand, everyone would have freedom of association, so every employee could be sure that he or she was hired for good reason, and not for just keeping the lawyers at bay.
We would fail to experience the glories of Bush's proposed tariffs on steel. Trade quotas couldn't be enforced. Goods would come pouring into the country. A huge range of prices would come tumbling down. Not only steel but cheese, butter, milk, sugar, flour, and meat would be so cheap that bums could eat like kings of old. Gas prices would plummet as taxes were eliminated and foreign gas flooded our shores. And oil companies could drill all over the former federal lands. I say 10¢ a gallon, how about you?
All sorts of special interest groups, from the teachers unions to the lawyers lobby, would be out of luck. Instead of getting laws passed to reward themselves at our expense, they would have to compete on the open market. By necessity, schools would have to be managed and funded locally.
Think of the public service announcements on television of which we would be robbed! Women wouldn't know to get breast cancer exams, kids wouldn't be warned against drugs, and we wouldn't receive hourly sermons on the latest PC moralizing from DC. Instead, the airwaves would be full of ads pushing things we might actually want to buy.
Antitrust laws wouldn't be enforced! Microsoft and every other company would suddenly find itself free to offer whatever product it thought we could use and at any price we would be willing to pay, without fear that it would be prosecuted as a predatory price cutter, a predatory price increaser, or a predatory price fixer.
What would happen to the banks? Without federal guarantees for deposits, banks would suddenly have to reevaluate their loan portfolios and start calling in loans from borrowers whose projects are too risky. Banks would have to keep much higher reserves on hand in case lots of people suddenly showed up demanding their money. Indeed, without the Federal Reserve emitting fiat paper, there would be no inflation and no business cycle, and gold, silver, and copper would return to circulation.
The welfare state would crumble! The truly needy would find themselves having to persuade others to help them. Those able-bodied types who have been living off the system would have to reevaluate their lives and actually go out and work for a living.
Because this whole nightmare scenario is too terrifying to contemplate, Washington has thought ahead and named this shadow government to make sure that our incomes remain low, prices remain high, welfare dollars continue to flow, terrorists continue their revenge rampage, and business continues to be shackled.
There may be one hitch. How can the shadow government be sure that people will obey? After all, we don't immediately bow down to some guy who claims to be a GS-14. We would be faced with an odd situation of 100 guys suddenly announcing to us: "We're from the shadow government and we're here to help you."
Ask yourself what the signers of the Declaration of Independence would do. Surely they would want "continuity" above all else.
March 7, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Mises Institute