Many people are cynical about government, with good reason. They see leaders who don’t care about getting a job done, who just maneuver and finger-point and yell to puff themselves up and put someone else down. They read about tunnels and transportation terminals that cost three times what they were supposed to, are opened for business years behind schedule, and need endless fixes.

These realities are not enough for the rich and the reactionaries. They drown us in propaganda attacks on government and demands to get it off our back (actually, their back). Of course, the huge corporations they own keep the lid on the destructive politics in their executive suites, about investments that turn out to be waste, about their screw-ups.

Sometimes, though, the rot in corporations cannot be covered over, like when Pacific Gas and Electric in northern California let gas pipelines decay, did not inspect them per federal law, and actually phonied up safety checks – until the explosion of a 30-inch gas pipeline under residential San Bruno tossed homes into the air, injured dozens of people, and killed eight. That’s what happens when a complicated gas network is run for the benefit of stockholders.

The shutdown of the federal government has done at least one good thing. It showed us that 800,000 rank-and-file workers who make the federal government go every day do a vital job. They do it so well that we forget their service – until half these people are locked out and the other half must work without a paycheck.

* Prospective buyers cannot purchase the home they chose because they cannot get federal mortgage paperwork.

* Mothers cannot feed their children. More than 2,500 grocery stores had to stop taking food stamps because the shutdown put their renewal applications in limbo. In March the reserve fund that backs the food stamp program runs out and families will not get their allotment of coupons.

* Long-planned weekends and vacations in our glorious national parks are canceled – or taken amid garbage, locked restrooms, and roads closed by unplowed snow.

* Travelers waiting for a passport do not know whether they will get it before their scheduled departure.

* Air traffic controllers worry about their next house payment while they keep planes from colliding with each other. Meat inspectors try to juggle family finances in their head while they go to packing plants and make sure our meat is not going to make us sick.

Federal workers are dedicated folks like the clerks at Social Security, and they are highly skilled professionals like the meteorologists who make weather reports more accurate every year.

They don’t have profit-sharing. They are not graded on a curve with ten percent of them tossed out every year as Jack Welch did to the salaried staff at General Electric.

The workers of the federal government have fairly good job security, except when the President locks them out. They get regular raises based on seniority.  Their working years earn them pensions and retirement health coverage.

In return, the people of the United States get all the services that keep a modern economy humming.

Basically, socialism means that we will run our economy in institutions that work for society, not for the profit of rich owners. Basically, socialism means no rich and no poor, a good wage for every job, full employment, and common prosperity for all.

That sounds a lot like an expansion of the bulk of the federal government – the government that the President’s shutdown has snatched from us for weeks.

The United States is capitalist. The shutdown teaches us that capitalism today cannot get along without a good dose of socialism.

The shutdown demonstrates that the American system of government is crumbling. It served business well for more than 200 years while it kept the population from considering alternatives. No longer.

By the way, it turns out that every big innovation by Apple, for example, as well as the Internet itself, was developed in federal research labs or in university and other labs funded by the federal government. Apple makes the phones look sleek and manages their production in sweatshops in China.

The government shutdown has been a terrible thing. But it makes you think about socialism.

Charles Andrews is the author of The Hollow Colossus.
This article first appeared in Dissident Voice.