The Government ", declared Ronald Reagan in his first investiture speech," is not the solution to our problem, the Government is the problem ". And since then, Republicans have echoed this rhetoric. Somehow, however, they have never put into practice the radical reduction of the Government that their ideology demands. But now Donald Trump is, in effect, applying at least in part the drastic reduction in the functions performed by the Administration who has long claimed his party. If the closure lasts for months – which seems quite possible – we will have the opportunity to see what the United States will be like without a series of public programs that, as the right has long insisted, we do not need. Let's forget about the wall: let's think about what is happening as a great and beautiful libertarian experiment.
Seriously, it's amazing how many payments the Federal Administration is leaving or will soon fail to make on things that, libertarians insist anyway, we should not spend the taxpayers' money. For example, checks to farmers will not come out; But libertarian organizations such as the Cato Institute have long denounced agrarian subsidies as another form of clientelist capitalism. Entrepreneurs are furious because the Small Business Administration does not grant loans, but libertarians want the body to be completely eliminated.
If the closure lasts until March – which, I insist, seems very possible – the money for the food stamps will be exhausted. But Republicans have long been deeply hostile to the coupon program. Mitch McConnell, majority leader in the Senate, has denounced it because "it makes it excessively easy to be unproductive".
The closure has drastically reduced the operation of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which, among other things, tries to prevent food contamination: routine inspections of seafood, vegetables, fruits and other foods have been interrupted. But there is an old conservative tradition, from Milton Friedman, who condemns the existence of the FDA as an unwarranted interference in the free market. The strange thing is that neither the Trump government nor its allies in Congress are celebrating the real or possible termination of public services that their ideology states should not exist. On the contrary, they are immersed in frantic administrative and legal maneuvers, trying to mitigate the cuts in these programs. Why?
Voucher. We should not be completely cynical (cynics, yes, but not completely). Although there may be a non-state solution to a problem, anyone may worry that it will take time to implement it. Maybe someone thinks that private companies could take over the role of the FDA in food safety, but these companies do not exist today and can not be created in a matter of weeks. So even the real libertarians would not have to celebrate the sudden closure of the public administration.
That said, the truth is that libertarian ideology is not a true force within the Republican Party. It is rather a cover for your true program. In the case of its leaders, this program aims to redistribute income among the upper scale, and in particular to help important donors' interests. Republican politicians may invoke the rhetoric of the free market to justify tax cuts for the rich and benefits to the poor, or the elimination of environmental regulations to increase the profits of the most polluting companies, but the freedom of the market itself They do not really care. After all, the party had no problem accepting the tariffs imposed by Trump.
On the other hand, the philosophy of the base of the party is, in essence, a great Public Administration for me, but not for you. Take a shot at the vagabonds that live on social assistance, but do not touch those agricultural subsidies. It is telling that the central element of the protracted Republican war against Obamacare was the false claim that it would harm Medicare (health care for retirees).
And what happens is that many of the spending cuts that are causing the closure greatly affect, and very obviously, those grassroots voters. Small entrepreneurs are much more conservative than the whole nation, but they really miss those public loans. Rural voters opted for the Republican Party in mid-term elections in which the Democrats prevailed, but want those checks. McConnell may have ruled in the past against food stamps, but his sudden interruption would have catastrophic consequences in the most republican parts of his state.
The only part of the closure that Republicans seem not to care much about is the suspension of payments to federal public workers. Maybe the party believes, like Trump, that these workers are mainly Democrats. But when the effects of default begin to be noticed, it is possible that even that indifference disappears. In any case, the fact that the distance between the alleged ideology of the Republicans and their reaction to the closure is understandable does not make it innocent. If a party claims, year after year, to believe that the public administration is the problem, not the solution, and then complains bitterly when the administration stops delivering the checks, attention should be paid.
And if you have your own libertarian inclinations, you should ask yourself if you are happy with what is happening when the government partially disappears. Knowing that the foods they are consuming now are more likely than before being contaminated, does that possible contamination of freedom smell them?
Paul Krugman is a Nobel Prize in Economics.
© The New York Times, 2018.
Translation of News Clips.