The Shutdown is Over, But Who Really Won?

I can’t help but thinking that the biggest winner of this shutdown debacle is the American right wing.

Major media outlets (that I read) are portraying the Tea Party minority and the greater Republican Party as mindless crazies, hell bent on getting their way, no matter how destructive the methods might be. To an extent, this is true, but one has to consider the larger picture.

The extreme American right hates government. They hate that money is taken from citizens and put to programs that benefit programs they don’t like which represent ideologies they don’t like. If the Tea Party were granted three wishes, they would use them all to completely shutter the entire US Government, outside of the military and those functions which preserve and enforce property rights.

The shutdown halted many of the programs that American right wingers hate most. Poor people were unable to access welfare benefits. The NSF and the NIH were shutdown which affected me personally as I am currently applying for grants from both. The EPA and the CDC were both shut down. In the latter case, disease monitoring ceased and lab testing for rare diseases, some of which are ONLY available at the CDC.

And here is where it all lies. Shuttering grant funding agencies and labs which exclusively provide testing services impacts us not merely in the short term. By demonstrating once that a shutdown is possible, and further showing that it can and will happen again in the near future, people who use lab testing services, for example, will begin to explore other options. Everyone wants a back up.

This is where the Tea Party wins. This particular section of American politics wishes that state services were privatized. In the case of labs and grant support, I think that researchers in 2013 are savvy enough that they might just get their wish. Since the US Government has shown that we can’t depend on it, we will naturally start looking to the private sector to provide support.

The trouble is that the private sector isn’t necessarily interested in providing costly and underutilized services to test for rare diseases. There is no profit in disease surveillance, and very few tangible, short term monetary rewards for doing things like malaria research or health problems of marginalized populations in the US. The private sector might step up to replace at least some of these services, but they’ll do it in a patchy, inefficient and very costly and indifferent manner.

True, there are some private foundations which support research (Gates would be an example) but their contribution and focus is limited compared to that of the NIH, NSF, HHS, CDC and a host of other government agencies which support research and monitoring.

So, while the Tea Party and the Republicans may have lost the poltical battle and may even lose a few seats in the mid terms next year and might not even get the executive in 2016, they’ve won the ideological battle simply by forcing Americans to look for options to government provided services.

In short, we lost and the world loses, too.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

One response to “The Shutdown is Over, But Who Really Won?”

  1. Jim Pyke says :

    Is it possible that this could awaken greater political consciousness and activism in the grant-funded scientific research sector and in health-related regulatory/inspection/testing agencies?

    I realize that in a “perfect world” those science workers would be able to focus on their scientific efforts without having to spend additional time lobbying for their funding.

    Perhaps pushing the message of the value of their work – and the particular usefulness of government funding for it – would have good ripple effects through our culture, which is clearly having a bit of a crisis regarding the value of science and research.

    I’m just saying that if the value of something becomes invisible to people, they sometimes just go ahead and forget that thing is valuable. Maybe strategic – hopefully not catastrophic – reminders are needed.

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