Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Power to Annoy

In a piece in today's WSJ, David Strom nicely captures the essence of how Minnesotans' nonchalant reaction to the state government shutdown surprised Democrats and left Governor Dayton little choice but to largely accede to the GOP budget plan. Minnesotans Shrug Off the Shutdown:

The battle should have been epic, but most Minnesotans were merely annoyed. Indeed the most serious concern that average citizens (and bar owners) seemed to have was that without a budget resolution, the legal supply of beer and cigarettes would soon run out because regulatory enforcement was deemed "essential," while regulatory permitting was not. Permits to purchase alcohol from distributors expire annually and cigarettes require tax stamps, both unavailable during the shutdown. Fishing permits were similarly affected, evidence that for most people it's not the government's services that matter most to daily life, but its annoying restrictions.

That last point can't be stressed enough. Instead of realizing how much they missed government (as Dayton was counting on), Minnesotans discovered how widespread government regulation was in areas with no apparent public interest. One hopes that the realization that their ability to buy their favorite beer at their local neighborhood liquor store depended on the blessing of one of the many cogs in the machine of state bureaucracy will cause citizens here to start asking more questions about the role of government and whether the real problem the state faces with its budget is a lack of money or a lack of proper priorities.