Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What if we lost 17% of the Private Sector?

What follows is my Op-Ed in the November 1, 2013 Orlando Sentinel.  Enjoy!
Lost in the recent debate over the impact of our partial government shutdown has been perhaps a more important question concerning the role of government in our lives in comparison to the for-profit private sector.

During the recent debacle pitting Tea-Party Republicans against Democrats and the more moderate wing of the Republican party, we all were given a “sky is falling” narrative on how a prolonged shutdown of nonessential government services, combined with a rapidly approaching default date on our national debt obligations, would cause another recession rivaling the “Great Recession” of 2007-2009.

So, with only seventeen percent of the government out of service, we all managed to wake up each day, go to work, pay our bills, find food and gas where it is normally sold and get our television programs delivered each evening.

What, on the other hand, would happen if instead of 17 percent of the federal government closing up shop for a couple of weeks or so, we instead saw the same percentage of the private sector close its doors?

Consider this.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, last year, out of the nearly $16 trillion Gross Domestic Product, $395 billion (2.46%) was money spent on cars and car parts.  3.48 % ($558 billion) was spent on computers and software while $828 billion (5.18%) was allocated to food and drink from stores.

That is only 11% of the GDP, but one can only imagine what life would be life if for 16 days (the length of this year’s government closure) we all had to go without food and drink from stores, computer services and batteries for our cars – to name a few.

What if we lost – for only 16 days – the $434 billion (2.71 %) of our spending on gasoline?  Like you, I survived the closing of Yellowstone National Park.  I am not sure I would survive pushing my car to work.

Losing the $709 billion (4.43%) restaurant business might not sound like a big deal, but one look at the waistline of our fellow Americans would suggest that a 16-day closure of fast-food establishments might create a riot that our $1.8 trillion health care industry would not be able to handle.

Speaking of health care, which is the largest component of our GDP, how many of us would like to see no drug stores, no surgeries, no emergency rooms or new bandage shipments for more than two weeks?

The point of all this is to shed some serious light on the fact that of the two entities – government and the private sector – the latter is much more vital to our day-to- day survival, convenience and happiness.

There is no way we could live without those who do things for profit.  We need men and women to unlock the doors of their businesses each and every day so we can make it through that day.

We have seen that government – the only institution allowed to acquire money by force – tends to supply us with many things that are not essential to our well-being but are punitive to our wallets.  NBC Nightly News also showed how, in the absence of government, many examples of neighbors helping neighbors by delivering food and other household items to families impacted by the shutdown.

Our national debt only 20 years ago did not top $5 trillion.  It is three-times that figure today.  What we have received for that debt – expensive wars, a bloated and liberty-eroding Department of Homeland Security, skyrocketing welfare rolls and failing services in education, health and our basic infrastructure should be ample proof to every American that losing the federal government from time to time is not only not a big deal, but losing more of it, for longer periods of time, but just be the ticket to a more prosperous and productive America.

The same cannot be said if our entrepreneurs don’t show up for work.  They would be sorely missed, and the rest of us would be in big trouble figuring out how to grow our own food and dig for crude oil in our backyards.


  1. Geez, Jack. Have you forgotten that you speak from a position of privilege here? Between 15-20% of Americans never "see" drug stores or the inside of a doctor's office because they have no health insurance. On top of that your and my paychecks come straight out of a government office, and provide us with the opportunity to purchase health insurance at reasonable cost. You and I can be sure that our salaries will keep coming as long as we adquately perform our jobs. Why? Because we work for the state of Florida. That is something that I never see you acknowledge in these essays berating government spending. It smacks of "I have mine, the rest of you can stand in line for the crumbs." I'm pretty sure that you don't mean it that way but it's difficult to ignore that you don't seem to include yourself among those who benefit from government spending.

  2. Russ,

    Since when I have ever said that 100% of government spending is wasted? I would argue that government spending on liberty-loving capitalists who instill a love of our Constitution and free markets in young minds is a proper use of taxpayer dollars.

  3. Ah. So you get to decide when government spending is legit. Is it also proper use of taxpayer money to pay the economists who don't indoctrinate their students as you do, who strive for a more objective approach to the discipline? Who might, for instance, require their students to work from both the WSJ and the NY Times, or some other more liberal organ?

  4. Obviously, you could not see the humor in my response to you.

    No, Russ, I do not get to decide.

    As a quasi-employee of the taxpayers of the state of Florida, charged with teaching the science of economics, I do just that. You can, having never been in my classroom, accuse me of indoctrination. That is what you folks do. It is fine.

    You have no idea how many times I have exposed my students to Paul Krugman and others and have shown them data on how many of the more socialistic nations have happier people than Americans are.

    I don't need to defend my teaching style to you or anyone. There are plenty of liberals my students will encounter. There is nothing wrong with them having one Austrian economist in their four years in college.

    I repeat my offer to have you put your money where your mouth is and have a debate at Valencia. You can even pick the topic, the place, the time, etc. If you are so convinced that I am doing a bad job - expose me to the college in a public setting.

    1. You're right. I'm not in your classroom so it's unfair of me to judge in that regard. But in looking at your class descriptions online I see that the required materials and videos all have a conservative bent. It just seems to me that as college instructors we owe the students the requirement and expectation that they will be thoroughly exposed to all sides of whatever subject is being taught. Where else will they get that and how else will they learn to think for themselves if not in a college/university setting? Certainly not in the chatrooms or other public media, where misstatement and hyperbole and outright falsehoods on both sides predominate. Why not also have students read/critique the New York Times economic articles? Would the students learn the "wrong thing" if they did that?

  5. As a student of his, I am grateful to have received the benefits of Professor Chambless's knowledge in Economics (Austrian or otherwise), Capitalism and Liberty. There are far too few teachers/professors teaching this viewpoint and far too many teaching purely from a liberal point of view. And if you ever decide to debate him, good luck and please send me an invite.