EDITORIAL: The imperial city

Washington prospers while the rest of America suffers

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Times are great. Unemployment is down, income is up and economic growth continues - only if you live in the national capital region. For the rest of America, tough luck.

The District is flourishing, according to the most recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. The Washington metropolitan area has the fourth-largest gross domestic product (GDP) in the country and is at the top of the list on a per capita basis. In 2010, the local economy grew by 3.6 percent, mostly in the government and professional services sectors. Personal income rose 3.7 percent - 28 percent higher than the rest of the country. The current dollar GDP in the D.C. area rose every year from 2007 to 2010. Surprise: The recession skipped Washington.

The White House touts national unemployment at 8.2 percent, but in the capital region unemployment is running at 5.8 percent. Area residents who find jobs elsewhere also discover they generally pay less. In D.C. incomes keep rising.

The wealthiest citizens of the federal city are doing well indeed. Nationally, it takes an annual income of $387,000 to be part of the much maligned top 1 percent of earners, but to be counted among the District’s 1 percenters requires pulling down a whopping $617,000 per year. The District’s wealthiest have completely lost perspective on how privileged they are. A Washington Post/Sentier Research study quoted a member of local high society saying he lived in a “typical, stereotypical, upper-middle-class neighborhood,” though he owns a million-dollar home and just returned from a business retreat on billionaire Richard Branson’s private island. When people in the heartland complain that the people in Washington have lost touch with the rest of the country, this is what they are talking about.

There’s no reason for Washington to have emerged as an economic powerhouse other than the fact that it is the seat of government. This is deeply troubling. The wealth flowing into Washington is taken from the rest of the country and doled out after the locals take their cut. The District enjoys this arrangement, but it is based on the use of taxpayer money or amassing increasingly huge amounts of public debt.

Every major poll shows a strong majority of Americans think the country is on the wrong track. Confidence in Washington to do the right thing is low. A July 2011 National Journal poll showed that 58 percent don’t believe “the government in Washington D.C. will make progress over the next year on the most important problems facing the country.” This does not reflect a dissatisfaction with the scope of government in general, as a March 2011 Gallup poll showed that state and local authorities scored well on the question of whether they had too much power. Fifty-eight percent said Washington had too much power, and only 9 percent said it should have more. This should give President Obama pause as he attempts to find new and creative ways to circumvent Congress and wield power unilaterally. Meanwhile, the imperial city continues to fiddle with the economy while the rest of the country burns with growing resentment.

The Washington Times

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