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The Consequences of a Government Shutdown

The following commentary comes from an independent investor or market observer as part of TheStreet's guest contributor program, which is separate from the company's news coverage.

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The economic consequences of a government shutdown can't be calibrated on a spreadsheet with an economic model. It all depends on who wins public opinion -- congressional Republicans or the president and Democrats.

Federal spending is out of control. From 2007, the last full year before the financial crisis, to 2011, the second full year of economic recovery, spending has jumped $1.1 trillion, or 40%, when a $200 billion increase would have satisfied inflation.

For any other country, a deficit exceeding 10% of GDP would force austerity by sending interest rates on government bonds through the roof. Alas, the U.S. prints the world's currency -- the dollar -- so it can inflate its way to solvency, and the bond market is starting to take that bet.

Enter the Tea Party, that troublesome bunch of youngsters pushing elder Republicans to stand up for fiscal solvency, end the madness or halt funding for the government.

Closing federal offices for a few days won't have a great, lasting impact. When they reopen, checks will go out. What counts, though, is whether the newly elected conservative majority in the House of Representatives keeps its mandate as measured by the polls.

Through 2012, the projected cumulative deficit is $11 trillion, and House Republicans are crafting a plan to cut that figure by $4 or $6 trillion -- reports vary on the amount. The means are hardly attractive -- vouchers for poor folks to purchase health care and block grants to the states to replace and reduce much of federal Medicare spending. That would morph President Obama's vision of universal coverage into a victimization plan for the poor and even bigger budget crises for the states.

Americans pay too much for health care, spending 18% of GDP for less effective service than the Germans and Dutch receive spending only 12 percent. Instead of taking on higher U.S. drug prices, bloated health insurance and hospital administrative costs, and malpractice abuse, Republicans will tell the poor and the states to bargain with the big guys directly. Good luck with those ideas.

As for Social Security -- hush, Republicans have a secret plan! The GOP will save money, but so far it not revealed how. Private investment accounts, the favorite among free marketeers, would leave brokers smiling but the old poorer, judging by how most IRAs have faired since 2000.

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