Monday, September 24, 2012

The True Divide: Washington v. Rest of Us

The Washington region, as the chart shows (click to enlarge), since the Great Recession is now more sharply separated than ever from rest of the U.S. Seven of the 10 counties with the highest household incomes in the nation surround Washington D.C.

America’s three wealthiest counties--Loudoun, Fairfax, and Arlington--are all Virginia suburbs of D.C. Other Washington area counties in the top 10 are Howard, Prince William, Fauquier and Montgomery (see map--click to enlarge).

And among states, Maryland--not Connecticut, not New Jersey, certainly not Massachusetts nor California--has the nation’s highest household income level. The above chart and related information are from a Washington Post local news article by Carol Morello and Ted Mellnik. The authors also point out that the Washington region
is rife with the kind of residents that have thrived even in tough times. The area has the nation’s highest level of adults with college degrees. It also is high in shares of households that have two incomes and married couples who postpone having children until they establish themselves professionally.
“A big sliver of American society that generally does well tends to cluster in Washington,” said William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. “When people make the argument that $250,000 is middle income, that’s way higher than most of the country regards as middle income. But here in Washington, your next-door neighbor has that kind of income.”
“It’s to the Capitol’s advantage to have us divided among ourselves.”

--Attributed to Gale Hawthorne, character in Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games

Hawthorne's words come from an earlier post about how our ruling class--concentrated in Washington--divides the rest of nation to retain the spoils for itself. I am surprised and pleased that Ross Douthat, the conservative New York Times columnist, looked at the same chart I reproduce above, and drew remarkably similar conclusions, even down to the Hunger Games lesson:
like the ruthless Capital in “The Hunger Games,” the wealth of Washington is ultimately extracted from taxpayers more than it is earned. And over the last five years especially, D.C.’s gains have coincided with the country’s losses. There aren’t tributes from Michigan and New Mexico fighting to the death in Dupont Circle just yet. But it doesn’t seem like a sign of national health that America’s political capital is suddenly richer than our capitals of manufacturing and technology and finance, or that our leaders are more insulated than ever from the trends buffeting the people they’re supposed to serve.
Douthat understands how wrong this picture is, and how it must change:
For Mitt Romney and the Republican Party, what’s happened in Washington these last 10 years should be a natural part of the case against Obamanomics. Our gilded District is a case study in how federal spending often finds its way to the well connected rather than the people it’s supposed to help, how every new program spawns an array of influence peddlers, and how easily corporations and government become corrupt allies rather than opponents.
The state of life inside the Beltway also points to the broader story of our spending problem, which [is less about spending] on the poor [and more about] subsidies for highly inefficient economic sectors, from health care to higher education, and on entitlements for people who aren’t supposed to need a safety net — affluent retirees, well-heeled homeowners, agribusiness owners, and so on.
this president’s policies have made [our] problems worse, sluicing more borrowed dollars into programs that need structural reform, and privileging favored industries and constituencies over the common good. . . our government [is] running those deficits because too many powerful interest groups have a stake in making sure the party doesn’t stop. When you look around the richest precincts of today’s Washington, you don’t see a city running on paternalism or dependency. You see a city running on exploitation.
For more of this blog’s take on Washington v. the nation, please see:  

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