RASMUSSEN: Finding the right balance between Washington and America

During the holiday season, many reflect on finding the right balance in their lives. As a nation, we’re in a season of searching for the right balance between individual freedoms and the role of government.

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The clearest indication that things are out of balance nationally is that the median household income in our capital city is 73 percent higher than it is in America. This reality was reflected and exaggerated in “Hunger Games,” where the capital city lived in lavish excess at the expense of those living horribly in the outlying districts. While the movie presents an extreme example of the problem, five of the nation’s wealthiest counties now surround the capital.

In America today, the median household income is $51,017. In Washington, it’s $88,233. This places the Washington, D.C. market second only to Silicon Valley. But Silicon Valley earns its wealth by producing amazing and innovative products that make life better and more convenient for hundreds of millions of people.

Washington’s wealth comes from a far less productive reality. The business of the city is nothing more than trading favors and influence. Silicon Valley earns its wealth by serving others. In Washington, the opposite expectation exists.

According to the Washington Post, its hometown “has been the beneficiary of a decade-long, taxpayer-funded stimulus package.” Federal spending in the capital region — funded by those of us in outlying areas — soared from $29 billion in 2000 to $75 billion last year. One small congressional district on the outskirts of D.C. received nearly as much federal funding as all 36 districts in the state of Texas.

The corporate competition for these dollars has become so absurd that one political scientist published a study titled “The Business of America is Lobbying.” This may be the way Washington sees it, but in most of America, lobbyists are viewed as less ethical than even Congress.

The unfortunate reality is that the Washington household income is $37,000 higher than the rest of the nation’s solely because the federal government is too powerful.

On the bright side, this gives us a great way to measure progress toward the goal of reducing the excessive power of the federal government. We will know proper balance has been restored when this $37,000 gap is eliminated and the median income in Washington matches the median income in America.

This is a much more comprehensive goal than simply focusing on federal spending. During former President Ronald Reagan’s time in the White House, the federal government consistently spent about 22 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, and it is projected to do the same next year.

Despite this consistent level of spending, however, the federal government is far more powerful today than ever before. Reasonable estimates suggest that the federal government directly controlled just over 27 percent of the nation’s economy in the 1960s. Today, thanks to the growth of regulation and crony capitalism, this figure has grown to 55 percent or even higher.

Focusing on the excessive income in D.C. does not tell us how to fight crony capitalism and find the right balance between the role of government and individual freedom. But it is a valuable tool for measuring our progress. If the income gap grows, we’re becoming more like “The Hunger Games.” If the gap closes, we’re getting closer to the American dream.


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