Light D.C. Snow Reveals Federal Worker Contempt For Taxpayers

Story Stream
recent articles

When the federal government was partially shut down in October, those living in and around Washington, D.C. hardly noticed. Traffic was still awful, and it was because only 13% of the federal government was actually closed down.

The ‘teaching moment' for those of us who don't work for the federal government, but who must shoulder the economy-suffocating burden that is its existence, was the introduction of a perhaps foreign phrase "essential and non-essential government employees." D.C. was still choked by traffic precisely because 8 or 9 out of 10 federal employees had been deemed "essential."

"Essential" and "non-essential" employees is a foreign concept to those of us who don't work for government given the simple truth that there's no such thing as a "non-essential" private sector employee. Businesses that retain "non-essential" employees are soon out of business, by definition. That's the case because in the private sector competition for always limited capital is fierce. Businesses that waste it on unnecessary workers achieve low returns and are either starved of capital on the way to extinction, or are bought by other businesses with a stated objective to clean house of that which is "non-essential."

Perhaps even more ironic to the vast majority of Americans who thankfully don't work for government is this notion of "essential" employees. We don't get it. Joe Montana quarterbacked the San Francisco ‘49ers to four Super Bowl wins, but when his effectiveness was seen as in decline, he was let go in favor of Steve Young. Michael Eisner oversaw a thirtyfold increase in the value of Disney stock during his time as CEO, but when it became apparent to the Disney board that his skills had begun to wither, Eisner was pushed out. At Goldman Sachs, despite a grueling interview process just to get a job there, the firm to this day relieves itself of the bottom 5 to 10% of its workforce on an annual basis.

Back to the "non-essential" federal workers who didn't come to work during the shutdown, lost on an increasingly tone deaf political and federal employee class is how very obnoxious the existence of "non-essential" employees was to the much-fleeced electorate. Implicit was the communication that "We're so careless with your money that roughly $350 billion of it annually goes to workers whom we don't even need."

What was comical and sad about this at the same time was the commentary from the always fraudulent economics profession asserting how very much the economy was being hurt by the non-payment of non-essential federal workers. Economists and their reliably dim parrots in Congress and the media said the economy had supposedly lost $24 billion in stimulus for the non-payment of non-essential federal workers. By that impressively dim illogic that the economics profession is expert at spouting, Peru, Haiti and Zimbabwe have weak economies simply because they're not employing enough non-essential government workers. Who knew that the federal workers who ‘toil' in ways non-essential, and whose paychecks we shout, have all this time been stimulating the U.S. economy just for showing up. 

Back to reality, the question that should sicken all readers, but must be asked, is what we've lost. Figure the federal government's view that only 87% of its workers are essential is probably a wildly optimistic assumption on the part of the feds. Since it is, let's be generous and assume in a very lowball way that just 25% of federal activity serves no discernable purpose. If so, what we've lost is gargantuan. Economic growth is all about the leap, it's all about experimentation, and entrepreneurs need capital to experiment on new ideas. Since they do, the ‘ask' in this instance is how many Microsoft, Intel, and Google style companies were strangled in their infancy by a capital destroying federal government running a monumentally expensive national and international jobs program?

Sadly, the story gets worse. Indeed, what was just described doesn't even begin to tell a horrid tale of economy-asphyxiating federal waste, all on your dime. For readers who don't know, a light snow, one so light that the snow didn't even stick, recently hit Washington, D.C. In response to what was a very light snowstorm, the federal government was shut down.

What's interesting about the above is that per the shutdown in October, D.C. residents shouldn't have noticed. Figure traffic was still heavy during October's shutdown thanks to all those "essential" government workers coming in to work, and logic would dictate much the same in response to the latest. That would be true if logic or care about taxpayer money factored at all into the calculations of federal workers.

Apparently neither is a factor. Though inconsequential as mentioned, the very light snowstorm and subsequent government closing occurred in concert with roads and streets in D.C. that were largely empty. Those of us who work in the private sector know this, and we do because we come into work no matter the weather. In a private sector world where every employee is essential, there's no such thing as skipping work because the weather's bad.

What must be asked in this case is where were are all those "essential" government workers amid the recent weather-related shutdown? Word in October was that their public service was too important, and would have to continue despite the inability of Congress to agree on a budget. Really? If so, why have the commercial areas of D.C. been so quiet during the this weather-caused government closing; the only businesses open seemingly those reliant on profits for their existence.

What all this tells us is that "essential" and "government employee" is a rather vague concept. Federal workers claimed an "essential" quality in October back when they were trying to justify their monumentally expensive existence, but on a light snow day they essentially told taxpayers "Nevermind, we're not that essential even though you pay us high wages and benefits. We'd prefer to stay home on your dime. All that talk of being ‘essential' workers was an exaggeration."

More bothersome about D.C.'s empty streets is what they say about what federal workers think of those who make their paychecks possible, including pay on snow days. It tells us the impressive contempt federal workers have for all of us rubes who pay their salaries. We work to please our bosses and shareholders, while federal workers whose cushy existence we make possible don't care what we think.

Oh well, readers should remember this should budget talks become heated in the future on the way to a federal shutdown. If another is to take place, we should be well aware that the government's definition of "essential" is nothing of the sort. Indeed, on a light day of snow when the federal workforce largely stayed home, life went on. Can we pay federal workers to stay home for good?



John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Political Economy editor at Forbes, a Senior Fellow in Economics at Reason Foundation, and a senior economic adviser to Toreador Research and Trading ( He's the author of Who Needs the Fed?: What Taylor Swift, Uber and Robots Tell Us About Money, Credit, and Why We Should Abolish America's Central Bank (Encounter Books, 2016), along with Popular Economics: What the Rolling Stones, Downton Abbey, and LeBron James Can Teach You About Economics (Regnery, 2015). 

Show commentsHide Comments

Related Articles