At a time when Americans are convinced that foreign aid is a significant part or the budget—the median answer in one survey in 2010 was 25 percent of the budget—it’ll be a good object lesson for people to see that government means planes landing safely, meat being inspected, Yellowstone being kept open. Yes, most of what the government does is write checks and defend us, “an insurance company with an Army,” so the saying goes. But it does a lot more. …

But if agencies and departments can’t or won’t juggle their books, hey, let people see what government really means. As with sanitation or teacher strikes in big cities, it won’t necessarily endear taxpayers to feds, although being furloughed is more likely to prompt sympathy than going on strike. But it would at least be a teachable moment. There’s something sobering about aircraft carriers that won’t sail and forest rangers who won’t be paid to protect. …

It’s easy to forget that government workers include Seal Team Six or the nurse at Veterans Affairs or the border agent.

That’s not to say that government doesn’t piss away lots of money. But it’s worth being clear-eyed, going into the age of austerity, about what it is we’re paying or not paying for.