Who’s to blame for government shutdown? It depends
If you were spending a thousand dollars and were asked to spend an additional buck-50, would you make a fuss? Have you noticed that the government has been partially closed down for three weeks? Do you think you’ll much notice when it’s fully up and running again?
If you were one of the government workers who didn’t get paid Friday, you undoubtedly did notice. But the job market is vibrant; maybe you should get another job. It might even lead to a net gain in gross do- mestic product and societal wellbeing.
President Trump wants a wall and Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer don’t want to give it to him.
So, who is to blame for the shutdown? Thoughtful observers of the contemporary scene (TOCS, for short) might say that the intransigence exhibited by the three principals and their supporters is the reason the problem has not been quickly resolved.
But TOCS are rare these days. So, if you are a Republican, you know it is the adamant and unreasonable behavior of the Democrats that has caused the problem. And, if you are a Democrat, you know that the feckless president is to blame for keeping the government shut down.
But, does one side have more right on its side than the other? TOCS tend to equally apportion the blame, but, as already noted, they possess a dispassionate objectivity that’s not much in evidence these days.
A wall will provide border security, claims the president. “No, it won’t,” argue his detractors.
If we ignore the bickering for political advantage, is it possible to evaluate the usefulness of a wall in providing border protection? A costbenefit analysis is, indeed, conceptually possible but difficult to implement.
As Ross Perot made popular some years ago, “the devil is in the details,” and an assessment of the cost and benefit details of a wall cannot be easily computed.
Of course, TOCS would argue that we should at least make the effort. But that’s bringing some economic sense into a political debate that has no use for such considerations or calculations.
Here, we can do no more than suggest the possible usefulness of a cost-benefit analysis. But, let’s at least acknowledge that walls can keep people (or armies) out (or in). A few noteworthy examples might be mentioned.
Israel has built a wall to keep Palestinians, including some terrorists, out. It hasn’t guaranteed safety for all, but it has helped. Some, of course, have objected to the symbolism that wall projects.
A second example is the Berlin Wall that long kept “freedom seekers” from escaping to the West. It, too, didn’t work perfectly, but from Aug. 13, 1961, until Nov. 9, 1989, some 28 years, it effectively served its purpose. Walls work well, but, like everything else, maybe not forever.
And, of course, we must mention Hadrian’s Wall and the Great Wall of China, both built to keep the barbarians (although different peoples were cast in that role) at bay.
We might also note the many charming cities of Europe that still have remnants of once-protective walls, supplemented sometimes with moats. Not only did these walls work well for a while, but many are now Michelin-starred tourist attractions, suggesting that we should always take the long-run view when considering our walls.
And, here in the United States, even in our nation’s capital, we have gated communities, sometimes with attractive vine covered walls.
President Trump is asking for $5.7 billion to build his wall. That’s a lot until you compare it with a federal budget of about $4.4 trillion. If you are not Jeff Bezos, you might find it difficult to think in terms of billions and even he may have some difficulty getting his mind around trillions.
For some perspective, please go back to the question posed in the opening paragraph. If government expenditures were but a thousand dollars, the president would be asking Pelosi and Schumer for another buck and a half. That ain’t much.
But that would give the president a political victory. And, we don’t want to do that. So, let’s keep the government shut down for a while longer and see who blinks first.
As poet Robert Frost wrote, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall … [but] Good fences make good neighbors.”
The Library of Congress is closed during the partial government shutdown that has gone on for more than three weeks over President Trump’s $5.7 billion request for border wall funds.