Plenty of people felt ill effects from the recently concluded partial government shutdown. But Thomas Donlan notes in his latest Barron’s column that most people saw little to no impact in their daily lives.
Bond and stock markets, of course, are not the only judges in the continuing contest between the government and the people. All citizens—who constitute the ultimate estate—also reported on the importance of certain government offices to their well-being.
For example, routine inspections of most foods, domestic and imported, ceased during the shutdown. Many federal inspectors were furloughed, and the rest responded only where there was a reason to suspect a health and safety problem.
As far as anyone has reported, however, there were no consequences to public health and, more importantly, no fear of such. Americans still shopped at supermarkets; supermarkets still bought from their usual sources; and food producers and handlers, both foreign and domestic, continued to use their customary standard of care.
Perhaps we should not leap—as economist Milton Friedman did 40 years ago—all the way to the conclusion that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and similar regimes of inspections and regulations are unnecessary, but we should understand, as he did, that government inspectors are not as important as they would like us to believe. Even the biggest corporations already know that poisoning the customers is a very bad way to do business.
Many other great and small functions of the federal government also ceased during the first two weeks of October without being missed and without causing popular alarm, which was, we hope, part of the lesson to be learned from the experience.
The important result of the two-week government shutdown has been to take away another bit of Americans’ confidence in government and respect for their leaders. Most Main Streeters were like Wall Streeters, going about their other business with barely a glance at the televised theatrics in Washington. To a large extent, this is healthy.