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Make D.C. a swamp again: Trump is scaring progressive hipsters away, he should send federal workers after them

Glenn Reynolds

By Glenn Reynolds

Published Dec. 12, 2016

Make D.C. a swamp again:  Trump is scaring progressive hipsters away, he should send federal workers after them

Donald Trump ran for president on the slogan "Make America Great Again!" And he's also promised to "drain the swamp" in Washington. But maybe the way to do that is to make Washington a little less great. Because as Washington has prospered over the last several decades - to the point where people are making Hunger Games comparisons - the rest of the country hasn't done as well.

So perhaps it's time for a role-reversal. I propose that over the next several years, we transfer a lot of federal employees out of the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, to parts of the country that aren't doing so well economically. This would provide a boost to places like Buffalo, New York, or Quincy, Illinois, or Fresno, California, while getting federal bureaucrats out of the D.C. bubble.

This is, of course, a step beyond the kind of thing that The New York Times was worrying about after the election, when it ran a piece worrying that a "newly vibrant" D.C. would suffer under a Trump administration, as progressive hipsters left for greener (or bluer) pastures. But while fewer hipsters is always a plus, what I really hope would happen is a reduction in the population of lobbyists and senior bureaucrats.

A few decades ago, Washington was a sleepy town, famously mocked by JFK for being a combination of "northern charm and southern efficiency." You could dine at the fanciest restaurants on a senior civil servant's salary, real estate prices were reasonable, and the cultural life was, well, pretty lifeless. This is what we should aspire to for D.C.'s future, but it all changed in the 1970s.

The early 1970s, under President Nixon, saw a massive expansion of the federal bureaucracy that scholars of administrative law (like me) call the "regulatory explosion," marked by the creation of such regulatory bureaucracies as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, etc. This huge increase in federal regulation led, quite swiftly, to a matching increase in lawyers and lobbyists. (Jonathan Rauch has some stunning charts on the magnitude of this explosion in his excellent book, Demosclerosis.) That increase, naturally, led to a big increase in restaurants, bars, and culture.

By the time I was a practicing lawyer in D.C. in the late 1980s, the restaurants were much fancier (I used to see "Wonder Woman" Lynda Carter and her banker husband at the swanky 21 Federal restaurant on a regular basis). Now, of course, they're fancier still.

A few years ago I was dining in Washington with a friend from Hollywood, who looked at the menu offering $92 Wagyu steaks and remarked that this was the sort of extravagance that you used to see in Hollywood, but now you saw it more in D.C.

This increased "vibrancy" is great for people who live in Washington - well, it's great for the ones who live there and have a lot of money - but it's not a good thing for the country. The nation's capital shouldn't be a place of extravagance and vibrancy, because those are basically byproducts of graft. It should be boring.

So here's my plan: During the next four years, the Trump Administration - and Congress - should plan to move at least 25% of the federal workforce located in the Washington, D.C. metro area to other locations around the country: Places that are economically suffering (which will have the advantage of making federal workers' salaries go farther) and that need the business. Should Trump get another four years, he should do it all over again.

That would mean that in 8 years, the population of bureaucrats in the Washington, D.C. metro area would be roughly halved. That would make Washington less vibrant, but more affordable - and those bureaucrats working out of offices in the hinterland would be brought closer to the American people.

Drain the swamp? Well, it's a start.

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Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, is the author of The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself and is a columnist at USA TODAY.

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