Thoughts on Government Shutdown

Growing up in China, I have always been told about the coveted “metal rice bowl”, which is a common metaphor used to describe government jobs. A metal rice bowl cannot be broken; just like a government job cannot be jeopardized. The perk of being on the payroll of a Chinese state-run facility or institution is that it provides a modest but secure flow of income. I had assumed that this rule applies to government jobs around the world, which is in fact largely true. Just, as I learned today, not in the United States.

Let’s first take a step back from comparing the U.S. government from the Chinese government, which seems a bit unfair considering how China is a single-party state, and the only scenario in which the CCP is going to shut down is if it is being physically dismantled by an enemy force. Let’s look at some other democracies in the world and try and understand why those governments don’t tend to pull their own funding as a childish political tactic.  It turns out that for the most part, parliamentary systems such as Great Britain (and most European countries) ensure that the same party controls the legislative and executive branches of government. Even in non-parliamentary democracies, such as Brazil, the executive branch tends to be strong enough to prevent these kinds of ridiculous struggles.[1]

I admit that I am not a pro in understanding the nuances of American politics, but of this much I am certain: a government so factionalized it is willing to shut down its services as bargaining leverage frankly needs a hard slap in the face. Get its priorities straight. Why is it that politicians in America are OK with furloughing thousands of government employees (as in, suspending them indefinitely without promise of retroactive pay) to stop the implementation of a law that they had already passed. WHY? And what’s the end game?

Perhaps the real consequences of this government shutdown is only that people can no longer visit national museums, national parks (unfortunate for Yosemite, which just turned 123 today), national zoos or national monuments, which do not seem all so dramatically catastrophic as embodied by the term “government shutdown.” But what does that matter? It looks bad. Other countries are concerned. And confused, like I am right now. This is a genuinely bizarre and amusing situation. But at least it’s the United State’s own business. However, the debt-ceiling deadline is right around the corner. If this bitter trend of disagreement continues to cloud that debate in about two weeks, the consequences may be catastrophic not only for America but the rest of the world as well. Now is really the time for Washington to get it together and stop embarrassing itself.


[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-24342521

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