Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Essential Services"

     The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary. – H. L. Mencken

     I’m fascinated – in the sense that a horror-movie fan is fascinated by gory slayings – by the phrases governments use to clothe themselves in righteousness and indispensability. You’ve already seen me rant on “compelling government interest,” a phrase that’s been used to legitimize one invasion of our liberty after another. Here’s another: “essential services,” a phrase by which the Omnipotent State means us to assume that the “services” so described are...well...essential. And maybe, just maybe, they might be...but to whom?

     It’s a subject worthy of a few CPU cycles, if you have any to spare on a Sunday morning.


     “Gentlemen, you see that in the anarchy in which we live, society manages much as before. Take care, if our disputes last too long, that the people will come to think they can just as easily do without us.” – Bejamin Franklin, to the other delegates to the Constitutional Convention

     It’s been noted, here and elsewhere, that during the “government shutdowns” we’ve all been instructed to fear, approximately 85% of all federal workers are still at work...whatever “at work” might mean to a federal “worker”...and 100% of all federal “workers” are guaranteed to receive their full salaries, including for the duration of the “shutdown,” when the “shutdown” is over. In other words, the “shutdown penalizes the government and its drones only to the extent of a brief delay in paying 15% of the federal workforce. Everything else about the Carriage of State, with the possible exception of payments to holders of federal debt instruments, rattles on as it had before the “shutdown.”

     Doesn’t sound too fearsome, does it? Why, you may ask, doesn’t the “shutdown,” which has been painted in such garish colors, actually shut something down? The answer is always “essential services.”

     There’s a notable lack of specificity about those “essential services.” That’s probably because so few Americans would agree with the list of nuisances and make-work tasks bundled under that heading. So it’s worth asking explicitly: what “services” does the federal government provide that a majority of Americans would agree to classify as “essential?”

     National defense? Well, yes, I think we could get majority concurrence on that one. But what others? The Postal Service is autonomous today. The interstate highway system pretty much “serves” us without need for human supervision, despite the occasional pothole. Would anyone much care whether the alphabet agencies were furloughed in their entirety? How about the staffs of our elected federal legislators? Surely the 535 elected nostrum-spouters in the Capitol could go without their regularly scheduled tongue baths for a few days without soiling their diapers, no?

     Not according to Washington’s definition of “essential.” In Washingtonese, it appears to mean “whatever we choose to do, regardless of whether it benefits anyone but ourselves.”

     There’s a moral in there, somewhere.


     An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public. – Charles Talleyrand

     At this point in the deterioration of the American Constitutional order, there’s an irrefutable case that the federal government is a lethal parasite upon the American people. Subtract the military and the border patrol, and what’s left that any private citizen, not an employee of the federal government itself, really values? Granted that there are millions of pensioners and layabouts who really like their monthly checks, but were the federal apparatus uprooted and cast into the flames, would they need them? Consider in this light the enormous increase in the cost of living imposed on us by the federal government: first in our tax burden, and after that through regulation, inflation, and the federal protection of coercively maintained unions. Isn’t it probable that even the millions of retirees who subsist on Social Security alone would find other means?

     A Man From Mars, looking disinterestedly at the federal government, would immediately conclude that “it’s got to go.” Not only is it a parasitic organism; it commits some horrendous crimes. I’m not talking about the A-Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ponder the murders of Randy Weaver’s wife and son, or the massacre of the Branch Davidians at Waco. Try to find a justification for them.

     The redefinition by Washington of “essential” is essential only to Washington itself. With only the two exceptions already noted, every service private Americans genuinely value is provided by a lower level of government, usually a municipality or county. Yet we’ve been taught – quite successfully – to fear a “government shutdown” above condemnation to Hell. But that’s rather convenient for those who value their ability to mulct us for their personal benefit and the benefit of their cronies, isn’t it?

     Apologies, Gentle Reader. I got up on “the wrong side of the bed” this morning. It doesn’t much help that my driveway is a shambles, that my lawn has been ruined by the same people who ruined my driveway, that my hands hurt as if they’d been smashed by a closing car door, or that Rufus has just drooled all over my only clean pair of jeans. I’m sure I’ll be better soon. Tomorrow, perhaps.

2 comments:

Andrew Pryzant said...

I think it is time for the founding of the 2nd American republic and the overthrow of the 1st. Perhaps Trump is the man to do this necessary task.

Eric Fithian said...

It sounds as if you should put the drooled-on pants on, go outside, wash down the driveway, soak and squeegee the pants, and also water the lawn (assuming you have some grass left...) !
All of those activities Most Definitely have tangible, positive results-- quite unlike the putative output from D.C. and its environs.
I have long maintained that someone could turn the D.C. area into a radioactive, smoking pit, and all that would do is stir the rest of us up. It would not remove an essential hub of the country (unlike Paris, Madrid, Rome, Mexico City, or even London)...