Spreading Out The Federal Effect

Where are the richest counties in the United States, as measured by median household income?  You might think one of the counties in Silicon Valley, or one of the high-end areas in Connecticut, or around Boston, or the home to bustling computer, software, and internet companies around Seattle . . . but you would be wrong.

According to recently released census data, the top four counties in the United States for median household income are all located in Virginia and Maryland — and all just happen to be suburbs of Washington, D.C.  In each of those counties, the median household income doubles the national average.  Moreover, nine of the top 20 highest household income counties in America are suburbs of our nation’s capital.

washington-capitol-building-money-cash-620x348This shouldn’t really surprise us.  The federal government is by far the biggest spender in the country, and there are lots of people — lobbyists, consultants, media analysts, messaging advisors, and countless others — who make a lot of money advising other people and groups about how to get their share of the money gushing out of the federal spigot.  And because Congress and the vast majority of the federal agencies are headquartered in the D.C. area, of course the money flowing in to try to line groups up for a share of the money flowing out is going to be concentrated in the D.C. area, too.

This is probably one reason why, in this past election, there was a clear disconnect between the political punditry and the rest of the country.  People in D.C. looked around, sipped their $10 caramel lattes after their hot yoga sessions, saw housing values going through the roof, and thought things were going pretty well in the U.S. of A.  They were blissfully unaware of what it was like in the parts of the country between the coasts — and the anger that many people apparently felt for the fat cats in Washington who were gleefully lining their pockets while the rest of the country struggled.

What to do about the income disparity?  How about considering whether some federal departments and agencies should move out of the D.C. metroplex, to be closer to the folks that they are regulating?  Is there any reason, for example, that the Department of Agriculture shouldn’t be headquartered in Iowa or Nebraska, the Department of Energy shouldn’t be headquartered in Texas or Louisiana, and the Department of Labor shouldn’t be headquartered in, say, Cleveland or Chicago?  And why can’t the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Education, and the Department of Commerce be moved to some other locations away from the D.C. Beltway?

The census data makes clear that the federal government has a significant impact on wealth production.  The U.S. is a big country; why not take steps to spread that income effect around a little?  Maybe doing so would also bring the regulators closer to the people they’re affecting, and at the same time help to minimize the “inside the Beltway” mentality that appears to be an increasing problem in the country.

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