ROBBINS: Beltway Empire

Washington’s prosperity comes at the country’s expense

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Party on, Washington. The D.C. metropolitan area once again tops the list of the wealthiest regions in the country. In the borrow-and-spend capital of the world, increasing amounts of taxpayer money are coming to the District and never leaving.

According to the latest Census Bureau figures, the median income in the United States declined 1.3 percent in 2011 — the second straight year in which the average American family grew poorer. Not so inside the Beltway, where the good times kept rolling. Washington metropolitan area incomes climbed 2.6 percent, to $86,680, far beyond the national average of $50,502. With average civil service salary-and-benefits packages reaching into the six-figure range, it’s not hard to guess why area incomes are 71 percent higher than those of other Americans.

There’s no jobs recession in the federal city. In August, D.C. unemployment was 5.5 percent compared to the national rate of 8.1 percent. The country as a whole has not enjoyed an unemployment rate below 6 percent since the supposedly bad old days of the George W. Bush administration. Unemployment in Washington consistently has tracked well below national averages because apparently there always is room for more government.

The homes of Washingtonians reflect the elevated compensation. National capital area houses are worth twice what homes go for in the rest of the country. The area also boasts twice as many million-dollar houses as the national average. According to Zillow, home prices rose 7.4 percent in the District in the past year, four times more than in the rest of the country.

All this has happened even though Washington is not a center of industry, agriculture or entertainment. Nonetheless, it boasts the highest per capita gross domestic product in the country. In 2011, the District ranked No. 1 at $174,500 — 3.7 times the national average and 2.5 times second-ranked Delaware. Part of the reason for this incredible output is that Washington takes care of itself. President Obama’s “stimulus” spending spree doled out $978 per person in Virginia, the lowest average in the country. Just across the Potomac, the stimulus money gushed at $7,603 per D.C. resident. This self-distributed largesse was three times the amount given to the top-ranked state, Alaska. As they say, charity begins at home.

Washingtonians may be proud of their outsized prosperity, but these numbers should be seen as a warning. The capital area increasingly is populated by a privileged group owing its prosperity directly or indirectly to the government. This creates an inward-looking dynamic in which decision-makers gauge the nation’s health solely by Washington’s wealth. This is a false prosperity, based on dollars taxed, taken, borrowed or printed — but not actually created. It drives a wedge between inside-the-Beltway Brahmins and the people they supposedly are sent there to serve. It’s no wonder Washington’s limousine liberals think the economy is humming along under Mr. Obama’s big-government policies. After all, no one they know is hurting.

James S. Robbins is a senior editorial writer at The Washington Times and author of the forthcoming book, “Native Americans: Patriotism, Exceptionalism, and the New American Identity” (Encounter, 2012).


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