$5B for Wall is Chump Change Compared to Torpedoes in Productivity

Think what you will about a wall, a fence, or whatever you might call it. I’m an American citizen, and I’ve just finished my dinner of wonderful Mexican tortas ahogadas while south of that line on a map.

The shutdown’s fallout goes far beyond a wall or $5 billion dollars to pay for it.

Spending by the US federal government hovers around $4 trillion dollars each year.  (Check out projections by the Congressional Budget Office here.)

With federal spending estimated at $4.7 trillion for 2019, $5 billion is chump change at about 0.1%.

During a shutdown, federal employees like the somewhat disgruntled yet dutiful TSA workers I met on my way to Mexico earlier today suffer demotivating lack of pay. Surely some of these workers will, or already are, finding non-government employment.

In the competitive labor market we live in, the best and most capable government employees are going to look elsewhere. Meanwhile, I doubt ‘essential’ workers are operating at any semblance of top productivity given uncertainty and growing resentment. Not to mention … don’t we have a constitutional amendment outlawing this? Oh it’s a confusing world.

So, doing some back-of-the-envelope math, the government has stewarded over more or less $420 billion in outlays during 33 days while firing on less than all cylinders.

Meanwhile, the government is almost surely going to issue backpay at some point. So, everybody’s going to get paid pretty much the same amount for working at diminished productivity or not at all.

Similarly, employee retention will likely take a hit. If so, we’ll see money diverted away from accomplishing the business of government back into hiring, training and the necessary acclimation time it takes new workers to learn and become adept at their roles. Retention issues mean there will be gaps in which some tasks won’t get done efficiently, correctly or on time. Work will be duplicated or redone as well.

Taxpayers, is this really how you want the spending of your money managed?

Now, we see all kinds of posturing on both sides. Trump is afraid of backlash if he breaks a campaign promise — not that I think the good folks here in Mexico are in any hurry to pay for his wall.

Meanwhile, opposition leadership seems all too content to let the games go on as we lose untold billions in lost productivity and operational inefficiencies. When better border security becomes cheaper than the shutdown’s productivity losses, the debate’s premises do change. Is better border security wrong when it’s cheaper, or is there too much moral hazard in such a rationalization?

Wouldn’t it make sense for Democrats to just give Trump his wall and stop wasting money? Wouldn’t it make sense for Trump to say, “let’s table this a while”, so that the business of government can go on with less interruption?

To add to the fog, we see Trump pushing for ’emergency action’ that might further weaken separation of powers in America.

Both sides find themselves too committed. Too much political capital is at stake. Both sides look a bit like kindergarteners, and the American people are losing.