Does the prosperity of the capital region color the perspectives of the journalists and lawmakers who live there?
Over at Harper's, Thomas Frank has an interesting essay that touches, among other things, on the destructive disconnect that exists between Washington, D.C., and the rest of the nation. I've written about this growing gulf from a political perspective. I've written about it from a media perspective. But Frank writes about it from an economic perspective and expresses quite eloquently what those of us outside Washington, D.C often think of what goes on there.
Frank's piece, "The Bleakness Stakes," isn't yet freely available online. But here are the graphs which caught my attention. He's writing about how the District of Columbia ranked as the most "positive " place in America based upon an economic poll by Gallup in August. Frank writes:
Washington's optimism isn't that hard to understand, really. The D.C. metro area, when measured by median family income, is the richest in the nation. Six of the ten most affluent counties in America are Washington suburbs. And thanks to the federal government -- the gift that keeps on giving -- recessions almost never happen here. In fact, D.C. real estate prices are actually going up...
While the familiar critique of Washington insularity gets some important facts wrong -- most federal employees are, for example, paid considerably less than people doing equivalent work in the private sector -- it gets the big story right. Washington is indeed out of touch with the suffering of the nation.
Let us venture even further down this path. The peculiar economic makeup of the Washington area makes the city a kind of naturally occurring Potemkin Village, an illusion of prosperity that has persuaded its resident journalists and pundits and policymakers to credit all sorts of unsound economic ideas.
I don't know about the Potemkin Village analogy -- there are places of horrible poverty within the District of Columbia. But I think Frank is rightly touching upon a perception (and thus a reality) that most Washington power brokers, including too many of its media leaders, aren't detached enough to see clearly. Most Americans detest Washington because it seems so immodest without having any justification for being so; because the people who run the country, and the people who pontificate about the people who run the country, act like they have all the answers when, clearly, they don't.