Washington, [DC,] though, is something else. It is now the nation’s leading consumer per capita of fine wines, and while the price of housing there hasn’t quite hit Manhattan and San Francisco levels, it is among the nation’s most expensive, far outpacing expensive California locales such as Los Angeles and San Diego and almost anything between the coasts.
The District of Columbia, the wealthier precincts of which are disproportionately populated by young professionals not averse to taking the subway, is not an especially remarkable automotive market. But Virginia and Maryland, where those Millennial apparatchiks will move once they’re making real money, are fairly rarefied: One in five new vehicles sold in those states is from a luxury marque (about a third higher than the national average) with BMW leading the way, because D.C. is exactly that douchey, and Mercedes-Benz in second place. Aston-Martin is unusually popular in Virginia; Bentley sells unusually well in Maryland.
We know what drives California’s lifestyles of the rich and famous: technology, and for that we are grateful, which is why people admired Steve Jobs even though he was as much of a hard-assed capitalist as Henry Ford or J. P. Morgan. We know what drives New York City, too: finance, to no small degree, but also advertising, publishing, media, and fashion. Maybe you do not admire those industries as much as you do Silicon Valley’s technology innovators: Nobody says you have to, but those Wall Street jerks and book-peddlers and fashionistas do perform a useful — and, indeed, irreplaceable — role in the modern economy. Miami is doing well, too, and we know what drives that economy, too — the DEA is no doubt on the case. (Kidding! But not entirely kidding.) Houston has an economy that makes sense when you understand it, and so do Los Angeles, Chicago, and Denver.
What drives Washington?
One thing that drives the capital and its environs is those very large federal paychecks, which now amount to about $90,000 a year in money wages and just under $125,000 a year in total compensation. Washington pay has long been above the national average, but it is pulling away. In 2000, the median compensation for an American worker at large was about 74 percent of the median compensation for a federal employee; today, the average working taxpayer makes only 55 percent of what the average federal tax-eater makes. Our would-be class warriors talk about “transfers of wealth” and “transfers of income” when they mean mere changes in those metrics, but in this case, there is a literal transfer, with the most fearsome agency of the federal government — our corrupt and politicized IRS — raiding our households and businesses to support $1,000-a-night La Tur habits in Washington.
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The problem is that if you add up everything legitimate Washington does in the way of keeping the peace, securing property, and enforcing contracts, you can account for — if you’re really generous – maybe 20 percent of federal spending, which is the real measure of federal activity. The rest is straight-up transfer of income and wealth from one political constituency to another and a whole lot of Harry Reid cowboy-poetry festivals and research involving getting monkeys high on cocaine. All that money sloshing through the pipes creates conditions where it is easy — and irresistible — to siphon a little off, legally and or otherwise. And that is why you see Hill staffers who put in ten years at modestly-paid jobs and then go to work at lobby shops that pay them enough to drive a Bentley and live in one of those horrifying weird $3 million suburban piles in Arlington.