To Fix Washington, D.C., We Must First Destroy It

Conservatives have long complained about the size and scope of the federal government, especially since its prolonged, self-aggrandizing phase began in earnest after World War II. They’ve offered countless legal solutions to reduce the feds’ intrusions into both the affairs of the states and into our individual lives—almost none of which has resulted in any practical reduction in federal intrusiveness as Leviathan grows ever larger and fatter.

As the nation developed, the cities that grew up around seaports—Boston, New York, Charleston, New Orleans, as well as the cities along the Ohio, Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and on the Great Lakes—became centers of population and commerce; there was gold in them there wharves. Later, the Gold Rush gave birth to the West. But county seats and state capitals also became sources of prosperity, as a growing democracy slowly (and then suddenly) bureaucratized to meet the challenges of a huge geographic area and international conflict. Today the gold lies in tax receipts and government jobs.

It is no accident then that the wealthiest counties in the United States are now the Maryland and Virginia suburbs near the District of Columbia. Or that the top salaries of federal bureaucrats, $164,000 per annum, now rival the salaries of senators and congressmen. Far from simply being the seat of government, Washington has become a gigantic money-churning machine, enriching not only public officials but also its legion of camp followers along K Street and elsewhere who have set up shop along the Potomac. It’s a vicious cycle, and all at taxpayer expense: the more it costs to live in or around D.C., the higher salaries and perks will rise, and the higher prices businesses will charge.

So why not break the cycle where it starts, by decentralizing D.C. and dispersing many of its functions and personnel around the country? In the Internet age, there’s no reason why the federal workforce has to be concentrated in the District, where it has become a metastasizing economic cancer on the rest of the nation. If presidents can work from Warm Springs, Georgia, La Casa Pacifica, Ronald Reagan’s ranch, Martha’s Vineyard, or Mar-a-Lago, so can everybody else.

Other countries have already done it, most prominently the Federal Republic of Germany. From its National Socialist period, the Germans learned to fear too much government power in one location, so while the capital moved from Bonn to Berlin after reunification, the national DMV is in Flensburg; the Federal Court of Justice lies in Karlsruhe; the Federal Administrative Court is in Leipzig; and the central bank is in Frankfurt.

And yet, in a vastly larger country, we persist in the quaint notion that the tiny District of Columbia, carved out initially from Maryland and Virginia (Virginia eventually got its land back), must be the physical locus of government, when there’s 3,000 miles of America lying just off to the west. So imagine this:

  • Move the Energy Department to Bismarck, North Dakota (pop.72, 000). With the fracking boom and the reflowering of American energy independence, this department should be located where the action is, and the long, cold, dark winters in a land of no snow days would keep them at their desks, instead of goofing off.
  • Move the Department of Transportation to Detroit, Mich. The Motor City practically invented transportation in the United States, and its current hard times would be greatly alleviated by the sudden infusion of cash and workforce. Despite its current shabby state, Detroit boasts some of the finest residential architecture in the country and at very reasonable prices.
  • Move the Department of the Interior to, well, the interior: how about Lebanon, Kansas, the geographic center of the contiguous United States? If tiny Lebanon (pop. 218) is too small for sophisticated Beltway tastes, one of the larger cities nearby would do, such as Grand Island, Nebraska, conveniently located just off Interstate 80.
  • Move the Agriculture Department to somewhere where actual agriculture takes place. Cedar Rapids, Iowa, perhaps, or Stockton, California. The Golden State’s long-suffering Central Valley can use all the economic help it can get.
  • Move the Education Department to Davis, California. Long before there even was federal Department of Education, the University of California was one of the glories of American education. By moving the feds to Davis, where one of the most radical UC campuses is located, they’ll get a first-hand look at what went wrong, and understand the dangers inherent in turning campuses ideological.
  • Move the Federal Bureau of Investigation to Kansas City, Missouri. The FBI’s always been a Midwestern organization at heart, and the Bureau made its bones chasing Midwestern bank robbers in the 1920s and ’30s. Kansas City was the site of the infamous 1933 massacre, which forced the FBI to start arming its agents after they were attacked and killed by Pretty Boyd Floyd—it would be a highly symbolic place to station a new, reorganized, and honest Bureau.

And that’s just for starters.

The economic effects should be obvious. Property values would instantly rise in economically distressed areas of the country, and ancillary businesses and services would start and thrive. Relocated workers drawing current salaries would experience an instant boost in purchasing power in their new red-state homes. And should they only wish to rent, and keep their houses in the D.C. area, they can do what congressmen do now—fly home on weekends with all the money they’re saving.

There would be other significant changes as well, including in state voting patterns. Electorally, the concentration of federal workers in the northern Virginia suburbs has flipped the state from red to purple, if not actually blue, and their dispersal would help restore Virginia’s natural balance. Should a given department relocate to a blue coastal state, then a bunch of new liberal voters won’t make any difference in the Electoral College anyway.

Further, while an infusion of left-oriented public servants might at first cause concern in the hinterlands, no doubt the profusion of latte shops and expense-account restaurants that would spring up in their wake would help improve the quality of life on the Plains. And there’s always the chance that, with exposure to how real America lives, works, and thinks, more than a few would see the light, understand the meaning of the Bill of Rights, buy a few guns, and undergo a miraculous conversion to original American values.

In Vietnam, as the saying went, we had to destroy the village in order to save it. Can patriotic Americans do any less for Washington, D.C.?

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About Michael Walsh

Michael Walsh is a journalist, author, and screenwriter. He was for 16 years the music critic and foreign correspondent for Time Magazine, for which he covered the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union. His works include the novels As Time Goes By, And All the Saints (winner, 2004 American Book Award for fiction), and the bestselling “Devlin” series of NSA thrillers; as well as the recent nonfiction bestseller, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace. A sequel, The Fiery Angel, was published by Encounter in May 2018. Follow him on Twitter at @dkahanerules (Photo credit: Peter Duke Photo)