Welcome to Washington, D.C.: Like The Hunger Games, But Without The Laughs


Glenn Reynolds' latest column in USA Today notes the striking (read: depressing) similarity between the fictional universe of The Hunger Games and today's landscape:

You know the story: While the provinces starve, the Capital City lives it up, its wheeler-dealer bigshots growing fat on the tribute extracted from the rest of the country.

We don't live in The Hunger Games yet, but I'm not the first to notice that Washington, D.C., is doing a lot better than the rest of the country. Even in upscale parts of L.A. or New York, you see boarded up storefronts and other signs that the economy isn't what it used to be. But not so much in the Washington area, where housing prices are going up, fancy restaurants advertise $92 Wagyu steaks, and the Tyson's Corner mall outshines -- as I can attest from firsthand experience -- even Beverly Hills' famed Rodeo Drive.

Reynolds links to a recent Ross Douthat col in the NYT that also has a Hunger Games theme, but the Instapundit emphasizes that the current concentration of wealth in the greater Washington, D.C. area is a predictable and fully lamentable result of first concentrating power in the region:

Things started go go downhill with the federal expansion under the New Deal, and then really took off after the "regulatory explosion" under President Nixon, who created such entities as the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety & Health Administration.

It's no coincidence that as the federal government morphed from an entity that did a few highly visible things well, to one that did a whole lot of not-so-visible things less well, respect for the federal government plummeted even as the political class' wealth climbed.

Reynolds' prescription for change? "Return to the Constitution." Which is, alas, easier said than done. Though state-based experiments in democracy are definitely taking hold in the wake of the 2012 elections. Whole thing here.

I trotted out The Hunger Games analogy back in July while being interviewed about my summer reading for C-SPAN; I was also reading John Barry's Roger Williams' biography, which is all about the origins and necessity of limited government. Reason has been charting the Washington wealth boom since at least early 2009, when Radley Balko noted that

America's wealthiest counties ring a city where the chief industry is government - and the entire region's only getting richer. That doesn't seem like a trend that bodes well for the health of a market-based economy.

On point here: In 2009, we interviewed the economic historian Robert Higgs, who had written an introduction to a new edition of Arthur A. Ekirch's great The Decline of American Liberalism, a bold classical liberal reading of U.S. history from colonial times through the 1950s. In Ekirch's telling, our national experiment had always been a struggle between forces of centralization and decentralization (of political power, wealth, geography, knowledge, you name it). It's a book that is as relevant today as The Hunger Games, and well worth reading. Higgs' explains why: