Five Winners From a Government Shutdown

A blog about business and economics.
Sept. 24 2013 10:33 AM

Five Winners From a Government Shutdown

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Rats getting rich.

Photo by OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images

There's an excellent chance that as of Oct. 1 the federal government is going to run out of appropriations and "shut down" since House Republicans say they'll only fund the government if the Obama administration agrees to cancel the Affordable Care Act. This will mostly be a large inconvenience to millions of people around the country. But it's not apocalyptic, and it should produce some winners like these five groups:

1. Washington, D.C.'s rat population: In practice, the District of Columbia's budget process is controlled by the mayor and the D.C. Council. But as a matter of law, the D.C. government is an instrumentality of the federal government so when federal appropriations lapse, the D.C. government also lacks spending authority. That means suspension of many garbage collection and street cleaning activities. Terrible for city residents, but great for animals that enjoy feasting on garbage. Good for you, rats!
2. D.C.-area bar owners: The big problem with owning a bar is that you're stuck renting the same sized space seven days a week. Consequently, your facility is always too small on Friday and Saturday nights when lots of people want to drink and too large on Monday and Tuesday nights when demand is low. Massive furloughs of federal workers means lots of people with extra time on their hands to sleep in and get their drink on—alcohol is the best way to soothe the pain of garbage-infested streets. Back in 2011, area bars were prepping their shutdown drink specials to take advantage of greater demand but a last-minute agreement canceled their schemes.
3. Regulatory scofflaws: The Environmental Protection Agency's chief warned this week that the agency would have to effectively shut down without appropriations, meaning it's Spring Break for polluters. Of course you're not going to construct an entire coal-fired power plant while the EPA isn't looking for a week or two. But it's a great chance to dump a bit of toxic waste on the DL. And the basic principle here applies generally—if you've been itching to hire some laborers for a project that doesn't meet OSHA standards, October will be the time to do it.
4. Netflix: Furloughed workers can't be drunk all the time. In fact, after the initial fun people are going to need to start pinching pennies. These aren't just days off, they're unpaid days off. That means lots of binge-watching.
5. DSCC Chair Michael Bennet and DCCC Chair Steve Israel: The nature of the electoral map is that the 2014 midterms will be fought on Republican turf. If things just fall down on the basic party lines—abortion bans and tax cuts versus tax the rich and legal abortions—the landscape favors Republicans. Democratic House and Senate candidates will be eager to have concrete examples of Republican tactical extremism and rigid adherence to ideological orthodoxy causing basic problems in people's everyday lives.
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Unfortunately for you, if you're not already a DC bar owner, a garbage-loving rodent, a Democratic Party political operative, or a streaming video service it's probably too late to change things up today. So the regulatory scofflaw angle is the one you're most likely to want to work. Got something illegal you want to do? This is your chance. The flipside, of course, is that if there's something you want to do that isn't illegal, you're going to find you have a hard time getting the paperwork filed and the permits squared away.

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