It’s not every day that I read Glenn Reynolds and Matthew Yglesias and find that they’ve independently come to the same good idea — get large parts of the government out of Washington. Here’s Reynolds:
So here’s my plan: During the next four years, the Trump Administration — and Congress — should plan to move at least 25% of the federal workforce located in the Washington, D.C. metro area to other locations around the country: Places that are economically suffering (which will have the advantage of making federal workers’ salaries go farther) and that need the business. Should Trump get another four years, he should do it all over again.
That would mean that in 8 years, the population of bureaucrats in the Washington, D.C. metro area would be roughly halved. That would make Washington less vibrant, but more affordable — and those bureaucrats working out of offices in the hinterland would be brought closer to the American people. Drain the swamp? Well, it’s a start.
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.
Glenn’s plan is extraordinarily ambitious. A fifty percent population drop would be mean a massive worker displacement, and a relocation of that scale is most assuredly outside the capabilities of our bloated bureaucracy. But the basic idea — relocating agencies to struggling heartland cities — is sound. Memphis, for example, could use 20,000 new white-collar jobs. And civil servants would benefit from the lower cost of living and — more importantly — the experience of life outside the DC bubble.
Spend much time in DC and you’ll note that — aside from the activists and staff who’ve recently arrived from flyover country — that the entire city is soaked in the same kind of coastal sensibilities that dominate New York and San Francisco. That means the government of all Americans is dominated by the culture of some Americans, and that’s not healthy. Reynolds and Yglesias are on to something. Perhaps it’s time for a broader discussion.