Recession? What Recession? Working in DC, it seems as if there isn’t one.
A DC tourism association reports this week that overall visitors to the nation’s capital were up 3% from 2007 to 16.2 million, and international visitors were up a dramatic 22% to 1.4 million in 2008. The Washington metro area’s unemployment of 6.2 percent also trails the national average, which is nearly in double digits.
My own anecdotal observations support this statistical data. The Pentagon City Mall on a recent Saturday afternoon was jam packed with people making purchases; there was even a long queue if one wanted to buy the new iPhone. Every day, especially in the summer, Washington’s metro system is full of tourists, both from the heartland and abroad (each group is easily identifiable, with the former dressed down in shorts and t-shirts, while the latter look too fashionable to be the typical staid Washingtonian).
The Obama administration has proposed spending $400 million to fix up the grounds of the National Mall, the DC tourist’s favorite destination. Maybe we need these renovations to impress all the new foreign visitors that are coming? To be sure, the landscaping of the National Mall does not compare to the Jardin des Tuileries of Paris or Regent’s Park of London, but it’s loaded with taxpayer-funded “freebies” of museums and monuments, a feature that apparently keeps ‘em coming.
The overall economic staying power of Washington is no doubt due to the largesse of its principal tenant and reason for being, the federal bureaucracy. In a Cato Institute study entitled “Political Centers as Parasite Economies,” Richard K. Vedder explains that this phenomenon goes as far back as Rome, and is now repeated in America, where more
productive, private citizens in outlying regions of our nation and states are financially burdened to pay for a parasite public economy of lawmakers, lobbyists, contractors, and bureaucrats in the political centers.
Perhaps if we are going to have so much federal redistribution, we should, out of fairness, relocate more of the federal bureaucracies to other parts of the nation. In this age of intra-office e-mail, why do all the secretariats and ministries need to occupy the same ten square miles? The millions of tourists visiting the mall certainly wouldn’t miss the carbuncles known as Health and Human Services and the Department of Energy, for example, and these spaces could be developed into more museums celebrating multiculturalism. Though federal expansion will certainly be his legacy, none of the bureaucracies are on the newly promoted Obama-themed tour of DC. Washington’s tourists won’t miss them, but its taxpayer-supported employees sure would.