This January marked the first time since 2013 that the government shutdown. It wasn’t nearly as long as the one four years ago, however. In 2013 the shutdown lasted almost 2 weeks, with this lasting just less than three days. The circumstances were also different. Last time Republicans only had control of the House, while now they control the entire government. But what isn’t new is the desire for the blame game to dominate the news cycle.
The national conversation around this shutdown, like so many before it, comes down to, “Who do we blame this time?”
This constant political football is tiring, irrelevant, and completely avoids the greater lessons we could actually take away from each shutdown. Now Congress faces yet another government shutdown threat if some deal isn’t met over DACA in early February. Even if the government were to shutdown, the majority of those in D.C. will agree that everything that would be affected by a shutdown is a role of the federal government. And that in and of itself is a majority of the problem.
If most of the things Congress has to approve funding on were decentralized to the state and local level, or even privatized, shutdowns would be incredibly few and far between. Something that caught my eye during the January shutdown was a statement issued by George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
In a Facebook post, the historical home of America’s first President issued this statement:
WE’RE OPEN! The federal government may be closed, but Washington’s home never does.
Mount Vernon is a private non-profit organization run by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and does not accept funding from federal, state, or local government…
This statement is also echoed on the attraction’s website, ensuring on a donation page that Mount Vernon does not receive any government money from any level and is 100% privately funded.
This seems to fly counter to everything we are supposed to believe about historical preservations. We are told that the federal government is in the business of seizing and preserving natural or historical locations because private industry can’t be trusted to do this. And even if it can be done privately it would result in entry coasts equal to that of Disney World. Yet when you look at tickets on Mount Vernon’s website, they are no more than $20 per person, and that’s at most.
This inherent distrust of private industry to preserve areas of public interest without an obscene cost is based more on scare tactics than it is in fact or logic.
People wrongly assume the private sector will only do things in the public interest if it means they will make a quick buck. Whether this is accurate some of the time or not is irrelevant. The fact is that there is a demand for preserving locations of historic significance or natural beauty. This means that companies, non-profits, and other private societies/associations have a self-interest in preserving these locations while keeping costs.
The reason places like Disney World have such high entrance fees and why this is a lazy comparison is because Disney has tens of thousands of employees working the park to make it run smoothly. It also has maintenance expenses and is always building new attractions to pull in new customers. While a historic location like that of Jamestown in Virginia or even a natural beauty like the Grand Tetons in Wyoming would require manual labor and maintenance to keep up their value, it would be nothing like that of Disney World. Thus it is not clear thinking to believe private ownership would result in prices anywhere near that of Disney.
If National Parks were left to the private sector, far fewer people would feel the impact of a government shutdown whenever it comes around. People wouldn’t have to sacrifice their vacation just because Congress can’t budget. National Parks are only a small example of what could be separated from the Federal Government, but it does illustrate how easily something assumed to be a role of government could be privatized without harming the integrity of the location.
But let’s say a majority of people still won’t go for privatizing all non-essential federal land. That’s fine, but it should still not be left to the Federal Government. States and Localities can very easily transition into the authority over park services. This much was all but proven during the January shutdown in New York. Ironically, Andrew Cuomo, a man who loves growing Federal power, took authority as Governor of New York to ensure the Statue of Liberty would remain open to the public until the shutdown ended. It may not have been his intention, but Cuomo showed the world how easy it can be for anyone other than the Federal Government to take care of these beloved locations.
Of course, the greater idea is, not only would family vacations be safe from future shutdowns, but the power of the Federal Government itself would be dramatically reduced with the less land it controlled. The state of Nevada is almost entirely under Federal authority. No Federal government should ever have that much control of land.
Once people realize how easy it is to give power back to the states and the people through land, other government programs would quickly follow. When suddenly the only spending Congress is voting on is the Department of Defense and their own paychecks, government shutdowns will become a thing of the past. We shouldn’t wait for the next threat of a government shutdown to take back the power the Federal Government has slowly been accumulating for over a century.