The Shutdown and Liberty

If President Trump holds firm on the shutdown until January 20, 2021, he will have struck the greatest blow for liberty and against bureaucracy in American political history.

To achieve this, all that he to do is nothing.

In doing this, he will have overturned a classic slogan of American politics: “You can’t beat something with nothing.”


Trump is exercising his legitimate constitutional right to do nothing. All he has to do is do nothing until January 20, 2021. For a New Liberty: The... Rothbard, Murray N. Buy New $4.99 (as of 04:40 UTC - Details)

These days, Congress does not get around to passing a real budget. It just keeps passing budget extensions that last a couple of months. There is not enough agreement in Congress to produce an annual budget any longer. Gridlock is here.

These extensions are called continuing resolutions. They are now permanent. Wikipedia reports:

Between fiscal year 1977 and fiscal year 2015, Congress only passed all twelve regular appropriations bills on time in four years – fiscal years 1977, 1989, 1995, and 1997.Between 1980 and 2013, there were eight government shutdowns in the United States. Most of these shutdowns revolved around budget issues including fights over the debt ceiling and led to the furlough of certain ‘non-essential’ personnel. The majority of these fights lasted 1–2 days with a few exceptions lasting more than a week.

The article provides a list of these continuing resolutions since 2001. It goes on for pages.

Congress will to have to agree on a budget extension in order to put a bill on Trump’s desk. This is highly unlikely today. The government has entered gridlock. This will not change for two years. If, somehow, it passes a continuing resolution, he will have the option of vetoing that bill. If he vetoes it, it will take a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress to override his veto. The House may do this, but the Senate probably will not do it, at least not the first time he vetoes a bill. So, all that Trump has to do is nothing. It is legal. It is constitutional. It may be bad politics, but it is good economics. It is good for liberty. The longer the shutdown goes on, the more that the federal government will be disrupted. That surely would be good for liberty.

The Democrats in Congress are not going to budge on their refusal to fund Trump’s wall. My assumption is that he will back down. But he is going to delay this as long as he can, emotionally speaking. Pressures will be brought on him from Republicans, especially in the Senate, to back down. The political consequences of shutting down parts of the government would probably be catastrophic for the Republicans in 2020. The Federal Reserve’s engineered recession will hit, and the Keynesian media will blame the shutdown. But he seems not to care for now.


The partial shutdown of the federal government began on December 22. Have you noticed any difference in your life? I notice no difference whatsoever in mine. Only if you are a government employee are you feeling any pain.

A small fraction of the government has actually been shut down. There are 800,000 civilian employees on unpaid leave, but most of them are still coming to work. There are about two million civilian employees of the U.S. government.

Then the CIA, and the intelligence agencies are still on duty and being paid.

Employees of the TSA have been furloughed. But most of them are coming to work on the assumption that they will eventually receive their presently frozen salaries. About 50,000 IRS agents have been called back to work at no pay. In short, the federal government is treating its workers like dirt. It is making promises to these workers that may not be able to be fulfilled for months. “Trust us!” It all depends on how long Trump and the Democrats decide to play chicken with each other. The Ethics of Liberty Rothbard, Murray N. Best Price: $9.63 Buy New $19.00 (as of 02:25 UTC - Details)

If it goes on for several months, tens of thousands of these workers are going to take other employment offers. They will not have any choice in the matter. They have to pay the bills. They’re going to get jobs that do not pay anywhere near as much money as the federal government pays. They’re going to have to re-enter productive society. I am reminded of the scene in Ghostbusters where the main characters are fired from the university. Harold Ramis’ character is unconcerned. Their scientific work will go on! Dan Ackroyd’s character is worried.

Personally, I liked the university. They gave us money and facilities. We didn’t have to produce anything! You’ve never been out of college. You don’t know what it’s like out there. I’ve worked in the private sector. They expect results.

The great threat to the federal government today, which includes Congress, is the threat that the American public will not notice any significant disruption of their lives because of the furlough of 800,000 workers. The disruptions lie ahead. With respect to the furloughs of the employees of the Internal Revenue Service, there could be serious disruptions of the government’s plans if these people don’t come back to work within the next four months. It will disrupt the collection of taxes.

This would not be as great a threat as it is, had the government ever been able to revamp its computer system. But that modernization program has been going on for at least 25 years, and it has not led to any significant improvement of the IRS computer system, which is left over from the 1960’s. This is one of my favorite headlines of all time. It is from 1997. IRS admits its $4 billion modernizing is a failure. Official says computers don’t work; agency wants to contract out tax returns.

The longer that the shutdown goes on, the more unpopular Trump will get. That is not my concern. Not discussed by the mainstream media and most of the other media outlets is the fact that most Americans will not notice that these people are not working any longer. Some of them ought to be out of work. Their departments ought to be shut down. We don’t know how many departments there are in the federal government. There has never been a detailed survey of how many departments there are, and how many employees are in each department. The government is not interested in releasing that particular statistic.

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