UNDERSTANDING WASHINGTON

by Ryan Avent

Yesterday, over at TAPPED, Tim Fernholz commented on a Joel Kotkin piece from the Washington Post's Sunday Outlook section. Kotkin writes about cities a lot, despite the fact that he doesn't seem to like them very much. And based on his Sunday piece, he really seems to dislike Washington. I think Fernholz is on the right track in his understanding of the piece, but I think Kotkin deserves a little more criticism than he got.

Big error the first in Kotkin's piece is the idea that Washington only grows at the expense of other places. He is right that in the past few months, there has been a direct transfer of power from places like New York and Detroit to Washington (though it's not as if Washington forced itself on industries in those cities; rather they came to the capital cap in hand). But for the most part, Washington has grown because the country has grown, in size and influence. This is entirely appropriate; perhaps there are libertarians out there who would argue that the nation's regulatory and administrative apparatus should have kept its 19th century dimensions through the remarkable American ascendence of the 20th century, but that is, in the main, a fairly extreme position.

Even were Washington siphoning off power from other major American cities, it would have a long, long way to go to catch up with other prominent capitals. Places like London and Paris dominate the scene in their respective countries in a way that is entirely unimaginable in America. As much as I love Washington, I have to say that if Kotkin believes that "the transfer of cultural power to Washington will also accelerate," then he needs to get out more. Yes, Washington is cooler now than it was when the most hated man in the world was its public face. It will never be more than one node among many in the nation's vast cultural network.

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