January 12, 2019 Reading Time: 4 minutes

Some people are suffering. Some people don’t care. But for the pundits following the government shutdown, it’s been an epic battle.

The partisans of the president are cheering while the cabal of cheerleaders for big government is saying the shutdown shows how much we need and should love the state as we know it.

They are both wrong.

This shutdown is not showing us what freedom looks and feels like. It is not a libertarian experiment. It is showing us just how much government is doing that it need not do. It is inadvertently mapping out a solid blueprint for what needs to gravitate from the public sector over to private hands, so that the services thus rendered will be more reliable, competitive, and truly reflective of the public interest.

I’ve already discussed how and why the now-closed Smithsonian museums ought to be sold to private owners. Notice that George Washington’s home of Mount Vernon is still open. That’s because it is owned and managed by a private foundation.

Same for the Transportation Safety Administration. Its creation was one of many missteps following the 9-11 attacks. In retrospect, giving airline security over to a government agency was not brilliant. All the decades prior, security was privately managed, and if this had continued in the years following, we would be way ahead of where we are instead.

Instead of an 80 percent failure rate and the mass confiscation of cuticle scissors, we would be safer in flying without the endless delays and constant frustrations. Already 21 airports use private security, including the San Francisco airport. They operate on contract with the TSA. They do a great job. Even better: the airport and the airlines handle the bidding process. Not rocket science.

No More Beer Innovation

There are other, less obvious ways in which the shutdown is affecting enterprise. Consider beer. Every new craft beer and label has to be approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The Sin Police. Yes, still in business, all these years after Prohibition was allegedly repealed. You almost have to be in the industry to know the following, but they know it good and hard: the BATF must approve all new labels, formulas, expansions, and acquisitions. It’s nuts.

What that means is this: the wonderful plans of 7,000 microbreweries have been thwarted. They are losing millions in this shutdown. Boston Beer, maker of Sam Adams, told the Wall Street Journal that “we are trying to drink as much of this paralyzed beer as we can,” because “the only thing we can do is drown our sorrows.”

You can’t believe it, but because there will be a huge backlog when the government opens again, we might not be able to drink Sam Adams Summer Ale this year! True story.

The Journal reports that a brewery in Krebs, Okla., is sitting on a half million dollars’ worth of Oh! Fudge, a chocolate stout that everyone had been excited about. Now it can’t sell it.

Why should this matter so much? Because many of these breweries depend on new innovation for their profit margins. Sierra Nevada makes 150 new beers per year, sold mostly in small batches to fancy restaurants. It has an entire team that specializes in innovation brewing, and now it can’t get the job done.

Should government be in this business? Of course not. It’s absurd. That it can be shut down at all is an outrage. If this were left to private markets, this problem would not exist.

Go Private

The solution is a full turn against public funding and toward private provision. As for the public employees themselves, there will be plenty of jobs and reliable paychecks in security, museum curation, and beer inspection.

There are two wins associated with this: taxpayers are off the hook, and these services can never again be deployed as weapons in a blackmail scheme that forces the public to cough up ever more dough to fund what government should not be doing in the first place.

There is the final matter of the wall. What to do? We could get really visionary and have a constitutional solution. From the founding until 1875, the issue of immigration was left entirely to the states, who in turn face many options for managing the process in a humane way that is consistent with human rights, security, and commercial freedom. Yes, that could include a GoFundMe campaign. That seems like a better option than confiscating thousands of acres of private property through eminent domain.

The lesson of the shutdown: if you want a service to be unreliable, disregarding of consumer interest, overly costly, buffeted by political winds, and subject to extended outages, by all means, hand it over to be administered by government.

This shutdown is revealing not how much we need government but how much the government is doing that it should not be doing at all. The best way to deal with it is not through a promiscuous budget deal that throws around tens of billions left and right until every last politician in Washington is happy. The way forward is for the things that are shut down but still necessary for normal life to be put into private hands.

Jeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey A. Tucker served as Editorial Director for the American Institute for Economic Research from 2017 to 2021.

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