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Not All Will Suffer If The Government Does Shut Down

Nov. 14, 1995: A government shutdown forces the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington to close.
Doug Mills
Nov. 14, 1995: A government shutdown forces the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum in Washington to close.

[We asked NPR's Linton Weeks to think about some things that might benefit from a federal government shutdown. Here's what he reported back.]

We have all heard dire predictions surrounding the possible closing down of the federal government.

If the Republicans and Democrats cannot reach an across-the-aisle agreement, about 800,000 government workers — some 40 percent of the civilian workforce — around the country could be adversely affected.

No one is taking their hardship lightly. Nor the concomitant financial and psychological distress that would be visited on others who depend on the federal cashflow.

But there are, here and there, people and businesses who just might benefit from a large-scale closing.

There would be free parking in the District of Columbia, for instance, which can be a boon for local commerce. Federal employees would have to put down their Blackberries and talk to people (including their friends and family) face-to-face.

State parks would probably see more visitors if the National Park Service hangs out the "closed" signs. And IRS audits would abate.

If the Smithsonian museums are forced to lock their doors, whole bevies of water-bottle-toting tourists would be forced to find alternative educational destinations.

At D.C.'s International Spy Museum, staffers are poised for an increase in interest and attendance. "We are already in the middle of our busy spring break season," says Peter Earnest, executive director of the Spy Museum. "However, we would be prepared to welcome any increase in visitors resulting from a government shutdown and the closure of the Smithsonian and other institutions."

Granville Smith, who runs three Signature Cigars shops in the Washington area, tells local WTOP radio, "In the event of a government shutdown, I believe our business would probably go up. ... We have lounges in all three stores, and everybody would be looking for something to do."

Smith says, "It probably will hurt the lobbyists and the contractors more than the government workers because they won't be reimbursed, but they'll be here too, smoking cigars and enjoying life."

Checking the archives, we find that some places prospered during the winter holiday shutdown of 1995-96. "The town is jumping," the general manager Washington's Palm restaurant told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. "Today, they were lined up out the door for lunch. I couldn't believe it."

No one knows the side effects the shutdown would have this time around. And because there are federal workers all across the country, ramifications would be felt in many cities besides Washington.

In Denver — home to a huge population of federal employees — there could be widespread anxiety this weekend. Which, in a way, could prove beneficial to Larry Cappel's psychotherapy practice on the outskirts of the city.

Cappel, a Buddhist, offers guidance in stress management.

"My business tends to increase when there is stress in the general population, which includes federal workers," Cappel says. "If the shutdown gets over quickly then I suspect a lot of people will see it more like a short unpaid vacation."
Cappel says he already sees a lot of government employees "taking unpaid furlough days every quarter. If the shutdown stretches beyond a week I think people will start worrying."

After all the financial challenges of the last two years, he says, "I see that many, if not most Americans still live pretty close to the edge financially and most don't have a lot of resources to draw on if the paycheck doesn't come in."

Most people tend to look at their neighbors and co-workers to get a sense of how they are doing emotionally, Cappel says. "If they see others being upset they tend to 'follow the crowd' and get upset as well."

And for Cappel, that means more patients.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Linton Weeks
Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.
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