Snowed Under in Washington, DC

The nation’s capital was buried in snow over the past week by two massive storms that blanketed the District of Columbia and much of the East Coast. Baltimore, New York, Philadelphia and countless other cities and towns likewise were hit hard by stiff Arctic winds and record-setting accumulations of the white stuff.

But the news media has focused its attention on Washington, where “Snowmageddon” has stranded most of the capital’s 230,000 federal workers at home or in downtown hotel rooms and brought the business of government to a virtual standstill.

Reports estimate that every day Washington is shut down “costs” American taxpayers $100 million in lost productivity. But what exactly does the federal government produce? Nothing to speak of, as a matter of fact. The business of government by and large involves extracting wealth from the private sector and then redistributing to favored political constituencies what is left over after paying the generous salaries of federal workers and covering the bloated overhead costs of running the wealth-transfer machinery.

Mother Nature has frozen the grasping hand of government, at least temporarily, and, as a result, the private economy should thrive while Congress is unable to legislate and bureaucrats are unable to regulate.

It always amused me, when I was an economist at the Federal Trade Commission, to hear radio and TV announcements on snow days that “only essential employees should report to work.” Shouldn’t that also be true when the sun is shining and the streets are clear?

William F. Shughart II is Research Fellow and Senior Fellow at the Independent Institute, the J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University, past President of the Southern Economic Association, and editor of the Independent book, Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination.
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