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Shangri-la on the Potomac

An article about how Washington DC and the surrounding area is booming on the back of government spending is creating a bit of a buzz. Grizzled veterans of lobby groups and the dynamics of how spending decisions are made will not be remotely surprised, of course. Even so, this is the sort of article that sums up so much that is bent out of shape of Western societies and their bloated public sectors. And it also highlights how, in such an economy, so many of those who call themselves “contractors” and “consultants” are in fact dependent to a significant degree on the taxpayer for funds, not on anything resembling laissez faire capitalism. (There are similarities with London and Brussels, of course, though in the case of London, it is not just the centre of political power, but of financial and other sorts of power too, such as in the arts and entertainment business).

And this quote is chilling, if it highlights where young people think the action is:

“Aside from its wealth, the single defining feature of über-Washington is its youth. Most of the people who have moved to Washington since 2006 have been under 35; the region has the highest ­percentage of 25-to-34-year-olds in the U.S. “We’re a mecca for young people,” Fuller says. One recent arrival says word has gotten out to new graduates that Washington is where the work is. “It’s a place where a ­liberal-arts major can still get a job,” she says, “because you don’t need a particular skill.””

Marvellous, as Clint Eastwood says in his movies.

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9 comments to Shangri-la on the Potomac

  • Paul Marks

    Before World War II many business enterprises did not like to hire “college boys” (meaning Liberal Arts Graduates) because they had inflated heads (thought they should run the business – over the heads of people who had been there for years, working their way up from the shop floor) and had lots of crazy ideas (collectivist ideology) as well as having “no useful skill”.

    However, in the post war prosperity companies hired lots of college boys as managers (whole layers of management were invented that no one had thought of before – or stuff got renamed, such as a few “pay clerks” became hundreds of “HR Managers” to deal with the endless new government regulations) . This leaves out the “cult of the lawyers” of course – with the endless increase in government regulations since the New Deal most companies have to have “legal departments” – one reason why small traders find it hard to become large companies (they can not afford to have “legal departments” so regulations prevent the poor becomming rich).

    Once cutting edge companies (such as the Ford Motor Company – see “The Wild Wheel” and other works by G.G. and others) became full of these managers – who spent their time having meetings with each other.

    Indeed one of them (Robert McNamara) even became head of the whole company – till he was kicked out (“promoted”) into government where he had equal success as Defence Secretary, and then President of the World Bank.

    Well times of changed.

    Some parts of the financial sector can turn to the government and Federal Reserve for help (a lot of people [including ME when I am in the grip of one of my dark rages] forget that not all parts of the financial sector can do this – some parts of Wall Street and The City are still honest). And some companies outside the financial sector (for example General Motors) can get bailouts and sweetheart deals also.

    But most companies (even big ones such as Ford) can not depend on this to survive.

    So they have to get rid of a lot of the utterly useless (indeed harmful) layers of management (and other such) that were built up when things were easy.

    But what happens to all the Liberal Arts graduates?

    Especially when (unlike Germany and Switzerland) so many Americans and British young people now have college degrees (thanks to the orgy of government subsidy for higher education) and (let us not be shy of telling the truth) college degrees in subjects that do not give them useful skills.

    Well expanding government (and expanding lobbying and “community activism” groups) give them an alternative to cleaning toilets or sweeping the streets (or selling car parking tickets, at an amusement park, with me).

    A well paid and comfortable alternative.

    And the ideology they were taught at college (and High School) tells them they are doing GOOD – that they are not parasites at all.

    Places like Northern Virginia are becomming dominated by such folk (which is why Comrade Barack carried Virginia in 2008 and still thinks he has a chance in 2012).

    Allthough, by the way, much of the entertainment industry is dominated by such folk to – as is much (although not all – see above, there are areas of the financial world that are NOT subsidized) of the financial world.

    So “welfare dependents” are not just the underclass (the people Charles M. “Losing Ground” writes about since the 1960s).

    They also include the vast local, State and (especially) FEDERAL payroll – and much of the entertainment (subsidized indirectly by FCC,and union regulatioins protecting them from competition) industry people (and education people in the subsidized private universities) and much (although not all) of the financial sector.

    Indeed much of the people with (supposedly) more “moral capital” who Charles M. wants to go out and advice the poor (advice the poor on how to get more government subsidies?).

    “But Paul – if you add all these groups together they are not just Washington D.C., they are the majority of the population of the United States…..”

    I know.

    I know.

    I KNOW.

  • veryretired

    Re-read the description of the mental state of the young metallurgist in Atlas and you will have a very good picture of a large part of this growing nomenklatura.

    They have been told since childhood how totally wonderful they are in every way, and now they’re out to save the world.

    Heaven help us survive all these good intentions.

  • RickC

    I live in a small town in eastern Tennessee here in the U.S. At the supermarket recently a woman at the checkout was telling the young woman working the register, apparently they knew each other, about her daughter having recently finished college. She was very proud that the daughter, who apparently wanted to “make a difference” in the world had recently acquired a job in D.C. I literally had to bite my tongue to keep from spouting off something very negative.

    Needless to say, I agree with vr.

  • 'Nuke' Gray

    Someone told me that the majority of Washingtonians, up to 90%, were of the Afro-American persuasion. And that this was recent- when victim-politics first came up. Is this one of those self-segregating principles, or just statistical anomaly?

  • RAB

    Same thing happened in Cardiff.

    I grew up in Cardiff. When I was a youth nothing happened there, it was a difficult place to get to with a car until the Severn Bridge was constructed in 1965. Even after, all entertainment pretty much stopped at Bristol, so us Taffs had to catch the train there to see the Mothers of Invention, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull etc at the Colston Hall, and run like buggery for the last train home from Templemeads.

    Now we have two bridges and an Assembly, and the Assembly makes work for idle hands to do, and profits on its perifery.

    When there was just one Secretary of State for Wales and a Welsh Office situated in the Civic Centre, addicted to cream buns and the tea trolley rolling round twice a day, who’s motto seemed to be ” If in doubt do nothing” well we were well served and untroubled. But now they have a pretend Parliament and an English paid for budget, well things are booming!

    All the ancilliary trades down at what used to be called Tiger Bay and housed Cardiff’s tiny ethnic minority, and have been bulldozed and swept away, have been replaced by high class hotels and restaurants and bars, all suckling vicariously on the pubic teat made provident by the Assembly being just across the road.

    It is a mirage of course, but Cardiff and Wales hasn’t seen through it yet.

  • Darrell

    Too many chiefs and not enough indians. We’ll just hire mexicans to do the dirty work.

  • Laird

    “If in doubt do nothing” is a wonderful motto for bureaucrats and legislators everywhere. I would add a corollary: “If not in doubt, still do nothing.”

    There, I’ve just solved about 90% of the world’s problems.

  • Mike James

    Would it be a good idea to substitute the term “billpayer” for “taxpayer”?

    As a sort of change of mindset thing, is what I mean by that.

  • That article makes it sound all a bit “Hunger Games,” no?

    Welcome to Panem…