New Columbia

Since moving to Washington, I’ve been loosely following the push to transform the District of Columbia into America’s 51st state.

I think it that making the District a state would be bad for both the District and the country, and that if the status quo is unacceptable, it would be simpler and better for the District to be absorbed back into Maryland, just as the District’s western fringe was absorbed back into Virginia.

David Schleicher wrote “Welcome to New Columbia: The Fiscal, Economic and Political Consequences of Statehood for D.C.” in 2014, and I saw it after Tyler Cowen recently shared it. It’s worth checking out if you’re following this topic:

This Essay sketches some of the long-term economic and political consequences of making Washington D.C. the 51st State. The statehood debate has overwhelmingly focused on the same set of issues: the impact of statehood on the federal government’s structure. But if D.C. becomes a state, the most impactful change in its citizens’ lives would not be their new ability to elect members of Congress; it would be the dramatic shift in economics and politics that would come with the transition to having a state rather than city government. On the day “New Columbia” enters the Union, it would bear a constellation of features unprecedented in the nation: the only state wholly part of one metropolitan region, the only state without local governments, and the only wholly urban state. These features have deep implications for the advisability of statehood when compared to the alternatives of retrocession or the stateless status quo and also furnish a blueprint for steps to mitigate the risks and exploit the benefits that statehood would offer. Part I of the Essay will discuss the special fiscal and economic conditions that New Columbia would face. On one hand, statehood would better allow D.C. to take advantage of periods of economic success. In particular, a state of New Columbia would likely be free of the restrictive confines of the Height of Buildings Act, allowing for greater growth when demand for living in D.C. is high. Moreover, the District would likely also gain greater taxing power (although it would lose some forms of generous federal funding). Yet such benefits come at a price: as a single-city state, New Columbia would face drastic risks in times of downturn. The fact that New Columbia would be entirely in one economic region, and the fact that it would exclusively be the center city of that region, would mean almost necessarily that the state would face substantial financial risks in the case of regional and urban-form related shocks. This pro-cyclical effect makes the case for retrocession stronger, and also suggests reforms like a mandatory rainy day fund if statehood is achieved. Part II discusses the implications of New Columbia’s unique internal politics. As noted, New Columbia would be the only state without local governments. The absence of separate spheres for local and state elections would have at least two major implications for New Columbia’s politics and policy. First, as a state composed of an overwhelmingly single-party city, New Columbia’s elections would likely be decidedly uncompetitive. Even in the status quo, this absence of party-level electoral competition is a likely cause of many of the pathologies in D.C. politics, from excessive restrictions on growth to its persistent problems with corruption. To ensure the state of New Columbia does not share these defects, any move towards statehood should include reforms aimed at introducing more political competition. Second, and more optimistically, the unprecedented marriage of a city and a state government offers a powerful change for innovation. Historically, the relatively circumscribed legal power of cities has prevented them from pursuing a number of effective policies because such powers are the exclusive province of states. Further, big cities are often losers in state political fights. In this context, New Columbia’s fusion of city and state would provide many opportunities for policy flexibility and discovery unavailable to most big cities.

JUMP bike commute

I’m now heading downtown each morning to our new office near Dupont Circle. There’s no straightforward way to get from Georgetown to Dupont Circle by Metro, but there is by bike. When I left this morning, I opened Uber, pulled up the map of nearby JUMP bikes, and walked to P Street where I this bike was locked and ready for use.

JUMP Bike in Georgetown

This JUMP bike is one of the refreshed models, with a much simpler QR code-based reservation/unlocking process compared to the more cumbersome pin-code system of the JUMP bike I used last summer. I felt like a flew down P Street to Dupont Circle, and then Connecticut to the office. At 15 cents per minute, I ended up paying $1.75 after tax for the ten minute ride.

I’ll commute by JUMP bike as much as possible this summer, when I don’t walk.

Blue skies

I took this photo a few weeks ago while waiting for a Metrobus on M Street in Georgetown. A clear and resplendent sky, holding that plane aloft. What was its destination? Where are its passengers now? What triumphs and sorrows have they experienced since their time together in the skies?

Walking the Key Bridge

I’ve crossed the Key Bridge from Washington to Arlington, Virginia most days since moving here in September, because our office has had its headquarters in Arlington. But we’re moving into Washington today, and on Monday my commute will change as I start heading near Dupont Circle in Washington, by the Cathedral of Matthew the Apostle. That means my Key Bridge crossings will diminish significantly.

When I left our Arlington office yesterday, a late afternoon shower had just passed and the sun was coming out, and I decided to enjoy a walk home.

Overcast on Dumbarton

I visited Epiphany for mass this morning on Dumbarton Street, and on the way home walked past this:

A green car on Dumbarton Street in Georgetown

Take a moment and put yourself in my shoes taking the photo—there’s without looking left or right, there’s no way to tell you’re not looking right into the past. This same scene could have existed nearly fifty years ago: same house, same fence, same car, same street, etc. And eventually, even when cars like this are converted to electric and homes are running off of clean geothermal or solar, the scene could still otherwise be the same, a little window for looking out into another time.

A preaching that awakens

I’m at the Cathedral of Saint Matthew the Apostle in Washington for a wedding. It’s a beautiful day for it, and appropriate for sharing this sort bit from Oscar Romero:

A preaching that awakens, a preaching that enlightens – as when a light turned on awakens and of course annoys a sleeper – that is the preaching of Christ, calling: Wake up! Be converted! That is the church’s authentic preaching. Naturally, such preaching must meet conflict, must spoil what is miscalled prestige, must disturb, must be persecuted. It cannot get along with the powers of darkness and sin.

Late spring in Georgetown

It feels more like summer than spring, and I’m thinking about things to do this summer. A visit to Washington’s Aquatic Gardens is on the list, and if I make it, it’ll be inspired by Horace Gregory:

There is a stirring of grey light overhead,—
These are the Water Gardens, green paths
That walk between the waters, and the white lotus
Where at its center the sun shines inward
To the root. And here are sleeping lilies,
And that grey presence is a fallen tree
Raising its leafless arms
Above the water.

Pale green, pale ochre,—
Here one discovers five seasons of the soul:
Spring, summer, autumn, winter, and the season
Of light where the spirit lives,
Tibet at evening or at early morning
In the grey light that cannot fall
From the sky at noon. It is where
Reeds and grasses contemplate
The heavens, the multiple smiling
Creatures within the clouds,
The gods and lesser gods behind
A veil of rain.

One could believe
That the heat of summer is unknown here,
That the white lotus conceals the sun
Beneath the snow.

Above us a steel blade.

Washington, DC living expenses

Elly Yu writes that a “modest yet adequate” living for a family in the Washington, DC area requires annual income of at least $105,000:

…this cost is being driven largely in part by the rising price of childcare and housing, experts say.

The Economic Policy Institute’s “Family Budget Calculator” measures the income a family needs to cover basic living expenses, including housing, food, child care and transportation. The budget is based on figures from 2017.

Of the top 100 metro areas in the country, D.C. had the 10th-highest costs in the country for a two-parent, two-childhood household. The San Francisco metro area ranked 1st with an average cost of $148,440. The median family income for the D.C. region was $113,810, in 2017, according to American Community Survey. …

The budget doesn’t include expenses like student loan debt or saving up for rainy day funds.

Gould says the cost of childcare, which has been rising much faster than inflation in recent years, is one of the drivers of rising living costs. According to the calculator, childcare for a family with two children (one four-year-old, and one older school-aged child) costs on average $1,762 a month. …

The costs do also vary throughout the region. In the District, the average income a family of four needs to make is higher than the metro region at $123,975. In Prince George’s County, the figure is $90,824 and in Arlington County, the figure is $113,915.

Housing and the cost of childcare are consistent drivers of rising costs of living, meaning that it makes sense to make a home ideally both where there is family and where the cost of housing is inexpensive. Even if earnings are far lower, quality of daily life is likely to end up being much higher. Daily life can be less frenetic, involve less stress over finances and debt, incorporate family and extended family in a more consistent way, and require little or no professional childcare costs.

We have the means to construct these sorts of lives, but socially and culturally our economic and corporate habits haven’t yet changed to reflected that the technology enables for a distributed workforce in most cases. We don’t all need to be living in the same few expensive metro areas in order to physically work together in high-rent offices in most cases.

Morning in Georgetown

A little seen from earlier this week, after morning mass at Epiphany in Georgetown. How many little moments like this do we miss, because we haven’t constructed our lives in a way that gives us the time or the space to have such moments?

I think little experiences like this are an essential antidote to the politics-as-religion mania of our time.