The US Census Bureau released its American Community Survey data, and once again a striking detail comes into focus. The five counties with the highest median income in all of America are all near Washington DC.
Although it has come to be expected, this is still an astounding realization. Some of our major cities are built around lucrative industries. New York City is built around Wall Street and the financial sector, a multi-billion dollar industry. Hollywood is built around movies and entertainment, a multi-billion dollar industry. Silicon Valley is built around the technology boom, an unprecedented event that is creating billionaires left and right.
Washington DC is built around the Federal Government, a trillion dollar industry.
It seems like this is discussed each time the new survey inevitably puts several counties surrounding DC at the top of the list. But I think many people are drawing the slightly wrong conclusion from this data.
The problem isn’t government employees per say. The median income in Fairfax County, the fifth highest in the area, is $106,870. Most government employees start off earning less than half of that. But as stated above, government is a multi-trillion dollar industry, and people come from all over the country to feed off of it.
The entire Federal civilian workforce costs about $215 billion (in 2016). Two-thirds of that cost is for employees in the Department of Defense, the Department of Veterans Affairs, or the Department of Homeland Security. With a yearly budget approaching $4 trillion, the combined cost of every single Federal employee outside of the Departments of Defense, Veterans Affairs, and Homeland Security represents less than 2% of government expenditures.
Don’t misunderstand me – the Federal workforce is far too large. But the problem isn’t that they get paid too much, it’s that they are asked to do too much. The five richest counties in America all surround Washington DC because the area is flush with high paid lobbyists and lawyers sent by businesses and interest groups to talk politicians and bureaucrats into giving their clients our tax dollars.
The solution isn’t to limit the pay for government employees, it’s to make their jobs obsolete.
But is that something any of us are truly prepared to do?
Limiting the power and scope of the government doesn’t just mean eliminating the easily mockable grants to study the mating habits of the Atlantic Flyingfish. It also requires eliminating tariffs, which are a huge means of picking winners and losers and providing corporate welfare at the expense of American consumers. But when politicians point to an empty factory and blame outsourcing, will we support free trade or big government?
The biggest expenses by far for the Federal Government are the entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These programs alone account for roughly half of the Federal budget and drastically impact insurance companies, hospitals around the country, and many other aspects of our lives. But when any politician suggests reforms, will we listen to the cries that they want to starve grandma and let sick people die, or will we stand up for the free market and fiscal sanity?
Democrats will largely ignore the findings showing how much wealth surrounds our Federal Government. Most Republicans will accurately point to it as a symptom of a hugely important problem. But almost no one, from either party, is willing to do anything about it. Are you?