Just before the French government shutdown of 1789, then-Queen Marie Antoinette, when told that her starving people were begging and demanding bread, supposedly said “Let them eat cake.” Historians dispute this claim but there was a shutdown.
It surprised many contemporary observers, lasted longer and was followed by others — that also surprised the so-called experts. Flash forward to the winter of 2018-2019 on this side of the Atlantic. It’s already history, but you were there.
Roughly 800,000 federal workers — veterans or victims of the most recent shutdown — are still waiting for pay denied them during the 35-day long affair. Some were forced to work without pay (which is sort of illegal in the private sector) while others were forced to stay home over Christmas, also without pay. Politicians in the White House, Congress and the Cabinet, many of whom are millionaires, didn’t miss a paycheck as they worked to solve the crisis they created.
But like aristocrats of olden times, many current government officials were baffled by the strange, sometimes rowdy and downright undignified behavior of testy civil servants during the shutdown. Individuals and unions demonstrated all over the country. But much of the attention, naturally, was directed at Washington, D.C., headquarters for Uncle Sam. People here, furloughed government workers with IDs and their families, were actually going to soup kitchens and food pantries within sight of the U.S. Capitol, which must have looked good on the Moscow six o’clock news. The thing is that so many high-level officials who are pretty-well off were genuinely shocked at the crass behavior of normally mild and meek civil servants. Rude and embarrassing behavior just because they didn’t have money for food or rent because the government that forced them to work couldn’t, wouldn’t and didn’t pay them.
In an interview with CNBC, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross expressed surprise that feds would go to food kitchens and homeless shelters.
“Well, I know they are,” Ross said, “and I don’t really understand why, because as I mentioned before, the obligations that they would undertake, say borrowing from a bank or credit union, are in effect, federally guaranteed, so the 30 days of pay that some people [800,000!] will be out is no real reason why they shouldn’t be able to get loan against it.”
Problem solved, right? Next shutdown, get a pay day loan. All your problems are solved, sort of.
Except maybe not. Because tens of thousands of federal workers actually did that already and will still owe money when the government eventually pays the money it owes them.
One more thing …
Feds weren’t spending all their time moaning and complaining and hanging around soup kitchens. The number of hardship withdrawals from Thrift Savings Plan accounts jumped 25 percent in January. That is people borrowing from their 401K — their retirement nest egg — and missing out on the big January gains in the TSP’s C and S funds that month. Maybe people should stock up on cake for the next time, cakes and payday loans?
Nearly Useless Factoid
By Amelia Brust
Coney Island’s first rollercoaster, the Switchback Railway, was one of America’s first such amusements and opened in 1884 for a nickel and traveled at 6 mph. Unlike today’s rollercoasters, riders sat sideways in the carriage.
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