The View From Here | Waking Up to a Different World

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It’s a truism of life that you never really know what you had until it’s gone. (That’s not exactly true, as more than one person has noted that the saying really means that you always knew what you had, you just didn’t realize that you could lose it.)

It applies as much to interpersonal relationships as it does to physical possessions: Sometimes, you can’t really appreciate something until its effects linger in a kind of relief, the something having already disappeared.

More often than not, the realization produces feelings of remorse. This will certainly be the case in the coming days and weeks when we collectively as members of the Jewish community of Philadelphia — joined by everyone else who call Southeastern Pennsylvania home — ponder the greatness of philanthropist Raymond Perelman, who at the age of 101 departed this world on Jan. 14.

His beneficence extended not only to such institutions as the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the National Museum of American Jewish History, the University of Pennsylvania, Drexel University, the Kimmel Center and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but it also enabled generations of Jews to explore their heritage and better their souls. He will truly be missed.

More generally, feelings of sadness following loss are far from guaranteed. More than once, in fact, I’ve gone outside during a neighborhood-wide power outage not to mourn the loss of air conditioning but rather to marvel at the serenity of the world when electricity and the noises its use produces are taken out of the equation. (Many people reported similar feelings when the enormous tragedy of the 9/11 attacks led to the closure of America’s airspace and the grounding of civilian aircraft for three days.)

If reporting in The Washington Post is to be believed, there are more than a few who are hoping for some positive effects from the sudden disappearance of government paychecks and certain government services.

More than three weeks into the longest federal government shutdown in U.S. history, the theory is that among a certain set of small-government conservatives who have been railing for decades on Capitol Hill and in the White House to cut spending on social welfare spending and the administrative state, 800,000 government workers not getting paid isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Their motive, according to the article, isn’t so much the building of a wall along the nation’s southern border with Mexico but rather the long-term contraction of the federal government. Yes, Congress and the president last week agreed to provide back pay to workers who have gone without since the shutdown began, but one of the effects, say observers, is that fewer people will seek government jobs in the future. Faced with the uncertainty of perhaps an even longer shutdown looming in the distance, the thinking goes, they’d rather be employed in the private sector.

That may or not be true, but let’s ponder for a second what the contraction of government has meant in the short term. In the first days of the shutdown, many of us were despondent over the closure of national parks and monuments, but unless we were used to collecting checks from the U.S. Treasury, we didn’t have a visceral appreciation for what was going on. Two weeks after the shutdown began, I noticed that security lines at Philadelphia International Airport were no longer than normal.

That’s not the case now. Tasked with essential jobs that meant they’d have to work through the shutdown but not get paid, Transportation Security Administration screeners across the country have called in sick. The resulting slowdown has affected air travel.

In addition to working without pay, air traffic controllers employed by the Federal Aviation Administration are ensuring separation between aircraft without the benefit of support personnel. FAA inspectors responsible for ensuring the safety of airframes, maintenance programs and pilot proficiency are largely house-bound, the agency now relying on “risk-based management” to decide who to employ — again, without pay — on any given day.

Maybe you don’t travel much. Do you invest?

Much of the Securities and Exchange Commission is furloughed, meaning that oversight of the securities industry is a shadow of what it was before the shutdown. Companies’ initial public offerings have ground to a halt; there’s no one at the SEC available to approve their applications.

The fact is — and it gets worse the longer the shutdown goes on — everything from the administration of federal courts to criminal investigations is at stake. Food inspections, energy infrastructure oversight, accident investigations, certain home loan approvals — these are all at stake.

Can government do its job more efficiently? Certainly. Does this country need a lasting solution to border security, immigration abuse and the plight of undocumented workers? Absolutely. But inaction is not a solution. It’s actually been a detriment.

Most people, whether they’re blue collar or firmly ensconced in the “1 percent” fail to appreciate all of the government programs and initiatives they’ve relied on through their lives. Just imagine what things would like if you woke up one morning to find every bit of that government support gone. l

Joshua Runyan is the editor- in-chief of the Jewish Exponent. He can be reached at [email protected] jewishexponent.com.

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