Thursday, April 7, 2011

Nonessential Nonsense

     This morning on CNN there was a federal employee being interviewed who said that if the government shuts down she won’t have money to buy food for her daughter. At first, one thought shame on CNN for exploiting a human tragedy to advance a liberal agenda. But then the lightning struck. People working in the private sector live with the possibility of layoffs every day of their lives. They know they have to keep three months’ income in the bank to cover emergencies. By contrast, this public sector employee had apparently not planned for any disruption in pay, any furlough or layoff or even just reduction in hours. Why not?

     Though she apparently does not have any cushion in the bank, one has to wonder if she has an iPad or a plasma screen television. Perhaps she has been as frugal as possible, but odds are she simply has been living beyond her means. Too many of us are guilty of that life plan, which isn’t a plan at all. Have we not heard the old children’s story of the ant and the grasshopper? The ant, who worked hard and saved, built up enough resources to last the winter. The grasshopper, who lived beyond his means and did not plan for the future, wound up destitute. Living beyond one’s means used to be thought of as a character flaw. Whether or not it’s thought of that way any longer, it is still a moral failing. And when the country as a whole lives beyond its means, we all share the moral blame.

     If nothing else, the current melodrama about shutting down the government at least suggests one way to begin economizing. If the government shuts down, so-called nonessential personnel will be sent home. In another lighting strike, the following question flashed through the brain: If they are not essential, why do we pay them to begin with?


  1. "If they are not essential, why do we pay them to begin with?" And with $14 TRILLION is debt, that is indeed the question, sir! ;)

  2. T. Paine, yes, that is the question. I suppose the distinction is between the people needed for full operations and the minimum needed for a skeleton crew in emergencies. Still, the rhetorical point regains its force when we think about the functions that are nonessential. Government cannot protect everyone from every bad blow in life. People have to look after themselves. Too often, people only rise to the occasion when they are forced to. I wonder, if the shutdown had gone through, how many federal workers would have started listening to Dave Ramsey about building a rainy day fund. The best savers I know are all products of the Great Depression.