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Shut Down the Government Every Year

As the dogs of Capitol Hill took their regular evening constitutional, their handlers anxiously discussed the news of the day: government shutdown, not seen for over a decade, might again come to the imperial city. “I hear they might not even pick up the trash,” one said, as he scooped up his pooch’s dropping, gingerly placing it in the blue New York Times bag that had protected that morning’s paper. At least the collection of dog waste is handled by the people themselves.

Some federal workers were excited about a day off, while others bemoaned the loss of pay. But some found the idea of shutting down the nation’s largest employer exhilarating — what would the day be like, free from the supervision of Nanny State?

Instead of federal shutdown as an inconvenience, perhaps it should become an annual ritual. Hill staffers gathered the laptops around the kitchen table and hastily drafted HR 1788, “A Bill to Authorize National Shutdown Day.” Unlike other holidays, National Shutdown is no fun if the date of observance is known far in advance, so the bill calls for a computer algorithm to select the date at random, announcing it only a few days in advance and thus ensuring that the holiday won’t be used for a weekend in Cabo. National Shutdown would instead have the character of a traditional day of rest — like Sundays were until very recently in most European countries, a pause in the week when most productive economic activity was suspended.

Imagine the silence when the noise from overhead jets and adjacent highways stops for 24 hours. The provisions of the proposed National Shutdown Day recognize that it is not just federal workers, but also federal infrastructure like the Interstate Highway System, which is a blessing from the state. (Norman Mailer proposed such a monthly day of rest — “Sweet Sunday” — during his campaign for mayor of New York in the the 1960s, but he was laughed off as a nutter.)

To sweeten the deal for skeptics, the Feds would send out a rebate for what they would have spent during the National Shutdown. For fiscal year 2010, my back-of-the-napkin calculation suggests this is at least $30 for every man, woman, and child. Sure, they would be stuck at home, but a family of four could easily pay for a very nice Sunday dinner. And they would realize that the world doesn’t stop turning —  even when its largest Leviathan takes a rest.

about the author

Lewis McCrary, executive editor, began his career in journalism as an editorial assistant and later senior editor at The American Conservative. Before returning to TAC, he was managing editor of The National Interest and Robert Novak Journalism Fellow at the Fund for American Studies. His writing has also appeared at RealClearPoliticsThe Atlantic, and Next City. An alumnus of The Catholic University of America, Cambridge, and Georgetown, he now resides in central Indiana with his wife and two young sons.

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