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The Shutdown: a Good Start?


I’m hearing a lot of negativity — constructive negativity, but negativity nonetheless —  from my comrades on the libertarian left, concerning the US federal government’s “shutdown.” As the Center for a Stateless Society’s Kevin Carson notes with reference to “furloughed” government employees, “[S]ome of what government workers do — for example cops who enforce drug laws or brutally shut down Occupy protests — is illegitimate per se. But much of it is stuff — delivering mail, putting out fires, protecting people from actual assaults on their persons and possessions — that there would be a need for even in a free society. … These people are not our enemies.”

And across the more general political left, there’s quite a bit of attention paid to the negative specifics of the “shutdown.” One of those “create your own memes” that’s getting considerable web-play goes “US Government Shuts Down! LOL, Not the Killy Parts!”

The US armed forces are still occupying Afghanistan and staging abductions in Libya and Somalia.

The FBI and IRS are still kidnapping alleged entrepreneurs and stealing their stuff.

The Capitol Police are still gunning down unarmed mothers who make wrong turns in Washington, DC.

I beg to differ with my comrades, though.

Yes, the “shutdown” is weak tea — only 17% of the federal government, much of it in the “social safety net” areas that are likely to produce exactly the “please, please, please end the shutdown” backlash the politicians want, and much of it already crumbling over creative interpretations of the law.

Still, it’s a good start.

The era of the Westphalian nation-state, including but not limited to the United States, is coming to an end. My prediction remains that the US in particular, in anything like a form we’d recognize as such, is down to low- to mid-single-digit decades before it gives up the ghost.

The US can go out one of two ways.

One way is for it to gently phaseout, perhaps with things like this “shutdown” being made permanent and other government activities coming under the ax in future “shutdowns” until it just gently slips away to sleep and never wakes up again.

The other way is a la Romania, with a few bitter-ender “security personnel” making desperate runs for Dulles and planes out of the country from a cratered Capitol Hill, trying to get there ahead of a large crowd sporting Molotov cocktails and an exceptionally ugly attitude.

There’s probably not a lot that anarchists like myself can do to directly affect which of those endings transpires, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try for the gentler landing.

And that, in turn, calls for a little tough love for “furloughed” employees, recipients of welfare, etc.

The state is bad for everyone. That includes its employees, and it includes those who currently depend on government’s alleged largess just to get by.

When an alcoholic runs out of booze, you don’t offer to run to the liquor store for more. You offer to help the alcoholic find a program for overcoming addiction.

When an abusive spouse kicks his or her victim out of the house, you don’t assist the victim in begging to be taken back. You help the victim find another place to stay, so as to get started on a new, better life.

Ditto the “shutdown.” We shouldn’t be trying to get those government employees called back to work, or to get those government agencies to start cutting checks again. We should be doing our best to encourage and help both sets of victims transition to the voluntary sector for good.

Thomas L. Knapp is Senior News Analyst at the Center for a Stateless Society (

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.

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