Sitting in traffic on the Capital Beltway, I started wondering at what point the city just seizes up due to the overload. I was at one of the well known choke points that is just about impossible to avoid, but there are few spots around the beltway that are ever moving at maximum speed. The snarl I was in was at 7:30 PM, which is not all that unusual for DC. The fact is, the major highways around the District are well beyond capacity and there is not much that can be done about it.
It’s not just the beltway or inside it. Northern Virginia has traffic that reminds me of Los Angeles. In fact, the area is a lot like LA now. They say Washington is Hollywood for ugly people and the residential areas now have a similar vibe. It’s that feeling that the people who laid out the roads and neighborhoods were always in crisis mode, putting down streets and houses in an effort to keep pace with the flood of new people. The result is large scale suburban chaos.
Hassling through traffic, I started thinking about the new idea liberals have to reconnect with the little people in flyover country. They want to relocate chunks of the government to the hinterlands.
America’s post-industrial Midwest is far from being the country’s poorest region. To find the direst economic conditions in the United States, one generally has to look toward Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta region, the Rio Grande Valley, and a smattering of heavily Native American counties in the Southwest and Great Plains. What the Midwest’s recent economic struggles bring, however, is not just large-scale political salience but a particular kind of fixability.
The poorest places in the United States have been poor for a very long time and lack the basic infrastructure of prosperity. But that’s not true in the Midwest, where cities were thriving two generations ago and where an enormous amount of infrastructure is in place. Midwestern states have acclaimed public university systems, airports that are large enough to serve as major hubs, and cities whose cultural legacies include major league pro sports teams, acclaimed museums, symphonies, theaters, and other amenities of big-city living.
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But industrial decline has left these cities overbuilt, with shrunken populations that struggle to support the legacy infrastructure, and the infrastructure’s decline tends to only beget further regional decline.
At the same time, America’s major coastal cities are overcrowded. They suffer from endemic housing scarcity, massive traffic congestion, and a profound small-c political conservatism that prevents them from making the kind of regulatory changes that would allow them to build the new housing and infrastructure they need. Excess population that can’t be absorbed by the coasts tends to bounce to the growth-friendly cities of the Sunbelt that need to build anew what Milwaukee, Detroit, and Cleveland already have in terms of infrastructure and amenities.
A sensible approach would be for the federal government to take the lead in rebalancing America’s allocation of population and resources by taking a good hard look at whether so much federal activity needs to be concentrated in Washington, DC, and its suburbs. Moving agencies out of the DC area to the Midwest would obviously cause some short-term disruptions. But in the long run, relocated agencies’ employees would enjoy cheaper houses, shorter commutes, and a higher standard of living, while Midwestern communities would see their population and tax base stabilized and gain new opportunities for complementary industries to grow.
Now, the idiocy of this lies in the general snottiness of the article. Matthew Yglesias is known for being one of those smug stupid people the managerial class is so good at producing. Even so, it would be a good way for solving what is becoming a critical problem in the Imperial Capital. There’s simply no more room. We’re full. In fact, we’re beyond full. Shipping out some of the agencies to places without a lot of people would fix two problems.
Obviously, it ships the people out of the capital, alleviating some of the congestion. Sending Housing and Urban Development to Detroit would be good for Detroit and good for the capital. Detroit has a need for urban development so putting the urban developers right there in the Motor City would be a marriage made in heaven. Even better, Detroit has lots of slums that were in no small way created by the idiocy of the Department of Housing and urban Development.
Now, a lot of government is already spread all over the country. Social Security has a huge facility outside Baltimore. West Virginia is dotted with Federal buildings thanks to former Klansman and US Senator, Robert Byrd. Alaska also has a lot of government due to the vast amount of natural resources that need managing. Still, some states, like Maine, have almost no big Federal installations. Putting the Department of Interior in Caribou Maine would be great for the state economy.
The major benefit of distributing these departments would not be economic. The real benefit is they would lose their value as nesting places for the army of tax eaters and their private sector analogs. If a middle management job with the government meant a posting in Caribou Maine, current temperature -18° C, I’m thinking many of those jobs would go unfilled. Even better, if that department secretary had to phone it in for cabinet meetings, I’m thinking Congress loses interest in them.
Let’s hope the Progs get their wish and we ship the plague of Washington out to the rest of you!