(Mike Chamberlain/The Cranky Hermit) – Las Vegas Sun publisher Brian Greenspun advocates blackmail for solving the stalemate that nearly led to the “shutdown” of the federal government. Greenspun’s weekly Where I Stand column was written before the deal that averted the federal government shutdown but not published until today.
With one exception, perhaps, of essential military travel, there is no reason why we have to keep the planes in the air if saving taxpayer money hangs in the balance. Simply put, air travel is not essential.
So, what the president should do is give some needed time off to the air traffic controllers. Let them sit at home just like the workers at the Commerce Department, the Health and Human Services Department and so on. Although all of these services may be essential in my eyes, I understand that others may disagree. That’s America. But we still don’t need air travel.
Sending the air traffic controllers home will shut down the airports. When that happens, we can have a real, engaged discussion about whether we want government to have a role in our lives and what that role should be. In short, are air traffic controllers essential to our lives? When we reach that decision, we can then ponder the larger question: How much support do we give to an ideological minority in Congress that dreams nightly of a government shutdown?
Regarding Greenspun’s specific example, one could argue that air travel is not “essential”. One could make an equal argument that it is not “essential” that air traffic control be performed by the government.
There are other countries, Canada for instance, that have privatized the air traffic control system. The example Greenspun uses is a case in which the federal government has usurped a power that could just as easily, and undoubtedly more efficiently, be done by private entities, then points to the importance of that activity to justify the importance of government. It is a circular logic that is frequently used by big government proponents to expand the scope and power of government while also making the people more reliant upon government.
But Greenspun’s proposal has even wider, more sinister implications. Rather than convincing us of the necessity of the federal government and the importance of avoiding shutdowns, Greenspun has demonstrated why so many of us believe that government intrusions into our lives must be scaled back. The potential for the type of blackmail in pursuit of political goals that he proposes should frighten every freedom-loving American.
Should we allow the government to control our movements by supporting large-scale public transportation projects if politicians, government unions and other political actors could disrupt our lives in the future by threatening shutdowns in order to achieve political goals? After all, if air travel is not “essential” then neither is ground travel.
Should we turn more control of our health care system over to the government if these same groups could use threats of withholding care they deem not “essential” in order to advance their political ends?
The more we allow government to intrude into and control our lives, even in well-meaning ways, the greater the chance we will be used as pawns in political battles. The consequences of government shutdowns are not evidence of the importance of government in our lives but of the necessity of reining in the scope and power of the government.