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Opportunities in the shutdown

ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Returning from a two-week trip to the East Coast at the beginning of July seemed to spell disaster.

Throughout the last few days of my adventure, Twitter updates and news headlines grew frantic and remained in a panic as the Great Shutdown of 2011 approached and ensued. Yet, despite the doom, I arrived home to St. Cloud in one piece, facing no emergencies along the way.

Perhaps it’s my appreciation for evolution blinding me to the horrors just around the corner, but the state government “shutting down” doesn’t sound like that bad of an idea. In fact, it appears to me as a perfect opportunity to appreciate the unseen.

(Hear me out: arriving to the liquor store closest to my house this past Saturday at 9:50 p.m. and seeing a “Closed” sign — due to the inability of the store to obtain a liquor license during the government’s nap — did affect me immediately and, needless to say, did not make my life better. [Whether or not the state should grant licenses for liquor sales is fodder for another piece. But I digress.] I do also understand the honest, pressing pains of many Minnesotans during the past two weeks. I am commenting, however, and I’m asking for your attention, not your donations, so please focus on my ideas.)

True source of peace, prosperity
While stalled salaries and postponed programming have real, negative effects — income for employees and their families, businesses connected to park tourism and children eating subsidized summer meals in urban areas, as a few examples — I would like to posture that this state stoppage has afforded area residents with plenty of opportunity to observe the true source of peace and prosperity in our modern Minnesota lives: trade.

By “trade,” I mean all the voluntary and cooperative acts that individuals choose throughout their days in the land of many, many lakes. This includes commercial transactions, community groups, volunteer organizations and, perhaps most important, the commonly ignored effects of a developing social order.

Despite their lack of a distinct decisionmaker, common social situations can serve as a model for the multiple fixes Minnesotans need in this time of a puttering government. Nearly-no-state conditions on highways, immigrant restaurants serving natives newfangled cuisine, localized slang and thousands of retail sales: these seemingly normal, mundane happenings — events and facets of our lives that go unmentioned by pundits, solution-providers and the media that cover the many problems that still plague our robust, relatively calm society — could contain answers.

Perhaps we residents of Minnesota could benefit from understanding the words of Adam Ferguson, an 18th-century Scottish philosopher who referred to advancements in human welfare arriving as “the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.”

We must remember that actions always have unintended consequences. In the realm of peaceful human cooperation, voluntary interactions and profit-seeking enterprises, negative unintended consequences tend to result in additional negative consequences on the original actors. Shrinking sales, souring reputations and low attendance at the next meet-up are some examples.

Intentions don’t always match results
Interested observers must also never forget that intentions are not necessarily results. When these fail to match up in the “private sector,” checks on future behavior abound. When the words and actions of a politician (or expert or pundit) do not match policies’ outcomes, what happens? Brainstorming for more potential solutions, a tougher time at the polls — or perhaps not much of anything.

My suggestion for Minnesotans is to take all this talk of shutdown solutions with a grain of wild rice.

Lasting, sound, agreeable solutions to societal wants and needs (low-income hunger, roads necessary for traveling and transporting goods, access to nature parks, etc.) will arrive as the consequence of people’s desire to serve each other through peaceful means, whether charitable or monetarily motivated.

Residents here need no more top-down, state-based fixes, especially when offered to solve top-down, state-based problems. These “answers” remove the incentive to innovate, expel all feedback in the form of prices and are based on the direct use or threat of coercive force. Commission plans and experts’ policy suggestions appear heaven-sent on paper, but I urge readers to mentally press on a few more steps and allow abstract ideas — backed by historical evidence — to invade their brains.

Let the new emerge
But what about the hungry children, the unemployed park workers and the suffering businesses? The solution of “I don’t know, let people figure it out,” leaves a salty taste in already unquenched July minds, I know. It is necessary, however, for the existence of perhaps the most powerful force in the whole of human history: emergence.

Remove the static institutions and discover adaptation. Let new orders develop. The results will surprise us — or pass by unmentioned. Either way, our lives will have improved.

Mitch LeClair is the editor of The Peg Leg Update.

Comments (7)

  1. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/13/2011 - 09:13 am.

    A couple of points:

    The response is muted in part because the most critical public services, including policing, schools and state-funded health care, continue largely unaffected, on orders from the courts. Those functions, account for more than two-thirds of the state budget.

    The dispute is only affecting a small minority. But the longer it lasts, the more severe the consequences will become. Larger numbers of Minnesotans will find themselves denied routine services. Temporarily unemployed state workers will struggle to make ends meet. Businesses that serve the state government or have lots of civil servants as customers are already said to be laying off staff.

    I’ve got some true words for you: Government shutdowns are political theater that don’t save money but rather cost money.

  2. Submitted by myles spicer on 07/13/2011 - 09:50 am.

    “Take the shutdown with a grain of wild rice”?????

    This commentary is absurd — tell that to the newly unemployed, both inside government and those who lost their jobs through the ripple effect. Lack of a paycheck goes beyond pain, it a a massive trauma for those now trying to pay rent and put food on the table.

    Yes, those who urge “smaller government” truly got their wish. This is as small as it gets!

  3. Submitted by Mark Lutter on 07/13/2011 - 11:09 am.

    I wonder if these commentators understand what government is. Government, by definition, is a territorial monopoly of force. Excuse me if I do not feel pity for the newly unemployed parasites. They might have to get jobs that actually benefit society rather than living off the institutionalized theft that is government.

    “If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion.”
    F.A. Hayek

  4. Submitted by Richard Schulze on 07/13/2011 - 02:22 pm.

    I’m getting tired of caring about people who live in their libertarian fantasy land of “self reliance” and “personal responsibility,” all the while free riding on an economic and political infrastructure that is not of their making.

  5. Submitted by myles spicer on 07/13/2011 - 02:49 pm.

    I heartily agree with Schultz in his comment about the Lutter comment. In fact there is not and has never been a correlation between a robust, healthy vibrant society and the size of government. Government as a percent of GDP has numerous statistics about this.

    Want to live in one of the best societies on the globe? You might consider the Scandinavian countries for health, education, and content.

    If your goal is a country as perhaps Mr. Lutter desires? Them the places for him might be Turkmenistan…Haiti…or Chad. Cheap government, and very little of it. Bueno suerto.

  6. Submitted by Mark Lutter on 07/13/2011 - 06:01 pm.

    You can ignore my points all you want, it does not change reality.

    There are two ways to gain wealth, free voluntary trade and production, or the economic means, and theft, otherwise known as the political means.

    “In fact there is not and has never been a correlation between a robust, healthy vibrant society and the size of government.”

    And yet there it has repeatedly been established that there is a huge correlation between economic freedom and prosperity.

    Further, there is nothing wrong with living in an economic infrastructure not of your making, that is called freedom and property rights. As to the political infrastructure, how is that working out? I am 22, do you expect me to receive any Social Security, because I don’t. Europe is embroiled in a debt crisis precisely because of the continual lies of politicians. America is not far away.

    But to go back to the basic question. All other points are trivial compared to this. How can force create prosperity?

  7. Submitted by myles spicer on 07/14/2011 - 08:36 am.

    Sorry Mr. Lutter, I do not need a lesson in Capitalism. I am 78. I have run my own SUCCESSFUL businesses for 55 years. I owned ad agencies for 45, and now (even at my age have abusiness with 155 employees). I do not rely on government for my success.

    BUT…I am a citizen as well. I am comfortedd by regulatory agencies that attempt to protect my food, environment and safety. I respect a government that provides security in our older age (Soc Sec): and some saftey on health care (Medicare). I do not object to taxes, and would pay moer if we could imporve our nation’s infrastructure now in decay and decline.

    No, to demonize government is not a path to a robust society, at least not in the 21st century. And that is precisely what the far right has done. As Grover Norquist said: “I do not want smaller government, I want to take in the bathroom and drown it”. That is not an enlightened position.

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