Public Policy Forum Blog

Public Policy Forum hit by government shutdown

There’s a concept in economics known as a multiplier, which basically says that the initial impact of some action induces a secondary effect that may be even larger than that initial impact. Like a ripple effect.  The same principle applies to the federal government shutdown.  Because federal public employees aren’t able to work, nongovernmental workers who rely on being able to coordinate or interact with the federal government are also unable to do their jobs, and so the effect cascades through the economy. 

Until last week, I never considered myself to be one of those people.  You see, I’m a graduate student at a private university and the Norman N. Gill fellow at a local governmental research organization. My research focuses on local charitable giving trends.  I’m investigating how those of us in the Milwaukee area change our philanthropic behavior based on the economic environment.  Do you see what I mean? I’m all about local. I laughed in the face of a federal shutdown. I was invincible.

I was also exceptionally, unequivocally, and inexcusably wrong.  The multiplier effect snuck up on me when I least expected it.  Suddenly, I, too, became a victim of the shutdown.  It turns out that the local data I need is collected and processed by federal agencies, whose databases remain as closed as our national parks and monuments.  Immediately, my productivity ceased.  My years of education, expertise in my field, and experience all counted for nothing.  The resources I depend on to do my job were gone. 

And it’s not just me.  Federal information drives cutting edge research at labs and universities around the country.  Federally supported nonprofits administer housing, healthcare, and education programs to our seniors, our children, and our veterans.  Those nonprofits, the populations they serve, and the families they support have also been, in a very real way, shut down.

So, it’s not just the 800,000 furloughed federal employees who are affected.  It’s much, much bigger than that.  Shutdown isn’t a federal issue.  It’s multiplied far beyond that, and it echoes loudly into every hospital, school, business, and home in the country.  My name is Phillip, and I have been shut down.

Phillip Laper