What about moving the American capital out West?

If the US capital would move to the West coast where would it be located? Would this make more sense as China/ India grow in power? How would US policy change if at all having a West coast perspective if such a thing exists? What if it had moved previously at some point in our history? Is there anything that would have played out differently?

That is a request from George, a loyal MR reader.

It has become increasingly clear that the D.C. bureaucracy and policy world will be able to thwart most of what the Trump administration might have been thinking of doing.  In this particular case I see much upside in that, but still it is a dangerous precedent.  The political culture of the ruling capital city should not always hold such sway.

The longer-run problem, of course, is that putting the national government in a city makes that city “more professional” in a way that also will turn the city more toward the Democratic Party, noting that many cities in America are fairly Democratic to begin with.

Increasingly, I am a fan of the idea of distributing our government across various cities and regions of the country. so here are a few suggestions, focusing on the West:

1. The agencies concerned with economic regulation would go to Salt Lake City, Utah.

2. The offices concerned with science policy, including the NIH and NSF, would be relocated in or near Silicon Valley.  I believe the ability to absorb the dynamism would outweigh the rent-seeking problem.  There is already plenty of venture capital in the Bay Area, and the lure of government funds is relatively non-corrupting there.  Rents are high but the total number of staff is not enormous, so give them each a big raise.

3. The Department of Agriculture would go in Honolulu, Hawaii.  It would be harder to get to, and once you were there you might just go swimming.  An alternative would be Twin Falls, Idaho “…near the site where Evel Knievel attempted to jump across the Snake River Canyon in 1974 with a rocket-powered motorcycle.”

4. The National Endowment for the Arts would be put in southern California, so as to be reminded that America’s heritage is one of popular culture.  This would be one of the agency moves easiest to pull off.

5. The defense establishment would be clustered near Los Angeles as well, where there has long been a military connection and also a talented pool of engineers and numerous airports and access to the ocean.

6. I see New York City capture of the Treasury as an overrated issue, so if it must go out West I am fine with Denver, Dallas, or Houston, cities with a fair number of direct flights to back east.  San Francisco would work in the abstract, but rents are too high there.

7. The presidency goes to Sacramento, which is already a major capital and has enough space for something larger and better-guarded than the White House.  It is also not too close to the other parts of the federal government, and it would lower the relative status of the governor and legislature of California, to the benefit of America’s largest and richest state and bellwether of our future.

It is hard to predict how big a change all this would make, or how much of the change would be due to decentralization per se, rather than the movement westward.  Maybe those living in the western part of the country would feel less like outsiders, while those marooned in the East simply would go insane.  New England would be the new Rust Belt, and in some ways it already is the current Rust Belt.  Foreign policy would be more Pacific-oriented, mostly a good thing if believe in doing something rather than nothing, but that could backfire as well.

Virginia real estate would be worth less.

As for moving the federal government out West earlier in American history, I don’t see how one might run a bureaucracy where a professional major league baseball team cannot be supported.  So we’re talking 1950s or later, and even up through the 1960s.  Probably the main effect would have been to ruin California even more quickly than turned out to be the case.


Judges and elected representatives have been the reason that Trump cannot do whatever he wants. (Which is a good thing. Right? Agree or disagree with Trump, the much heralded strength of the US system is checks and balances.)

What could some policy wonks in DC possibly have to do with this so early in the presidency? They don't even know who's making decisions yet. Who to lobby.

Also, state and national capitals should never be in the same city. For a whole bunch of reasons.

Interesting to think about though.

This is drivel isn't it?

Wow! So much Straussian content to this post. I'm surprised no one has jumped on it.

"Probably the main effect would have been to ruin California even more quickly than turned out to be the case."

The objectionable issue isn't the existence of checks and balances. It's the left-right asymmetry. Obama, who's about as left of American center as Trump is right, was able to significantly alter policy much more during his first two years. Not only that but Republicans have a larger majority in Congress, SCOTUS and governor houses in 2016, than Democrats had in 2008. Yet Trump is getting checked to a much greater degree than Obama was balanced.

And I say this as someone who didn't vote for Trump. But doesn't that strike you as a little... strange. Like checks and balances work, but for some reason they seem to work stronger when pushing left than right. It's one thing to temper the whims of the mob. But consistently imposing an ideological bias in how you temper them starts smelling pretty anti-democratic.

Left vs Right doesn't not describe your observation so much as establishment vs anti-establishment.

Well, maybe if your definition of establishment heavily leans on DC bureaucracies. Which in turn are overwhelmingly left of the American center. For example let's not forget that at the time of Obama's election Wall Street was quite establishment, and America's largest and most powerful industry. However the Democrats handily neutered at those establishments with Dodd-Frank, repeated DOJ lawsuits, administrative regulation, etc.

'Well, maybe if your definition of establishment heavily leans on DC bureaucracies. Which in turn are overwhelmingly left of the American center. '

Well, since the Pentagon and CIA headquarters are technically in Virginia, I guess you are technically correct, in an utterly meaningless sense. You may want to check out what is the single largest part of the not quite precisely located in DC bureaucracy. Unless, in time honored MR commenter fashion, you wish to argue that the Pentagon and CIA are filled with far leftists radicals.

CIA has always been full of leftist radicals.

'CIA has always been full of leftist radicals.'

As proven by their long term support of Castro, right? Though calling George Bush a leftist radical is kind of amusing - it also probably explains why he was Reagan's VP, for that matter.

"As proven by their long term support of Castro, right?"
To be fair, they did not a good job at overthrowing him, but it is hard to tell treason from incompetence. It is as if Castro got its life expectacy raised every time the CIA failed at killing him.

Whoa... are you actually saying Wall Street has been neutered? That would be quite a shock to, well, absolutely everybody who works on Wall Street.

I suppose "full of" was this misleading term, but what I meant is that there has always been a powerful left-liberal wing of the CIA. They funded the Congress for Cultural Freedom, Tim Leary, Gloria Steinem; that kind of thing. Cord Meyer, for example was head of the united world federalists. Of course they supported a Western led liberal globalist empire. That they split with the soviets in the 40's doesn't make them right wing.

"That they split with the soviets in the 40’s doesn’t make them right wing."
The same way the neocons are not rightwing because they broke apart with Stalin in the 30s and with Trotsky after he died?

Obama, who’s about as left of American center as Trump is right, was able to significantly alter policy much more during his first two years. Not only that but Republicans have a larger majority in Congress,

In the first half of Obama's first term, Democrats had a 257-178 advantage in the House. Republicans today have a 241-194 advantage, and their House caucus includes a faction (the Freedom Caucaus) that's been repeatedly antagonistic towards the party leadership and had no Democratic analogue in 2009-10.

Also in that first half of Obama's term, the Dems had a majority in the Senate that varied between 58 and 60 votes (fluctuating due to how long it took to certify Franken's election in Minnesota, Arlen Specter switching parties, and Ted Kennedy passing away and eventually being replaced by Scott Brown). That put the Democrats close to, and for a while over, the 60-vote supermajority necessary to overcome a filibuster. The Republicans today have a much narrower 52-48 majority in the senate.

Then of course there's the fact that Obama had won the election with 53% of the popular vote, beating his opponent by 7 percentage points, and he came in in the midst of an economic crisis, giving him a mandate for immediate and sweeping action. Donald Trump in contrast got 46% of the popular vote, 2 percentage points fewer than his opponent. This doesn't make a difference in terms of the constitutionality of his election, of course, but it affects how his political capital is rated by both the bureaucracy and by other elected officials. There also is no pressing crisis that seems to call for immediate radical action.

Thanks for the reminders.

>Donald Trump in contrast got 46% of the popular vote... it affects how his political capital is rated

Oh, right. I forgot about the "political capital" provisions of the US Constitution, and that the formula for it is based on popular vote.

Let that be a reminder to you who think that such assertions are just deeply hilarious whining from the Hillary Camp, endlessly bitter from losing what she herself called "the most historic election of our lifetimes."

Thanks for bringing it up!

Do you remember the part about how he actually got less votes but people respect the results of the election?

He got less votes right?

Like, less than the other option.

"Not only that but Republicans have a larger majority in Congress, SCOTUS and governor houses in 2016, than Democrats had in 2008. Yet Trump is getting checked to a much greater degree than Obama was balanced."

You know, Obama actually got Obamacare approved by Congress instead of not being able to talk to jis own party and going twitter about how George W. Bush was wiretapping him or how the CIA was conspiring against him. It is almost as if who gets elected president actually mattered to the success of the president's agenda. Go figure, elections do have consequences.

You may want to double-check your math.

Democratic senators after 2008 election: 60
Republican senators after 2016 election: 52

Democratic representatives after 2008 election: 257
Republican representatives after 2016 election: 241

"Obama, who’s about as left of American center as Trump is right"

So I guess you've just given up on reality grounded statements in favor of word salad?

Is Trump really right-wing at all? He was a life-long Democrat until what, 5-10 years ago?

Americans who care about politics have no sense of proportion. My coworker told me that Trump is an "ultra-nationalist". Donald Trump is probably in the top five least "nationalist" presidents in US history.

He was nothing of the kind. He was a registered Republican from 1969 to 1985. After than, he alternated between a non-partisan registration and a Republican registration.

Donald Trump is probably in the top five least “nationalist” presidents in US history.

Whatever your assessment of this as a policy, all Presidents serving between 1890 and 1920 and all serving since 1965 have tolerated high levels of immigration. Every president since 1933 has favored a liberal trade regime. All presidents in the last century bar Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover have favored an 'internationalist' foreign policy. Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford deferred to Henry Kissinger, a cosmopolitan advocate of Metternichian realpolitik. Jimmy Carter's whole shtick (especially after his departure from office) incorporated liberal doses of confessional discourse. BO is frankly post-American.

Maaybe Obama at a personal level is as left as Trump is right.

But for practical purposes, how did he govern?

Not that "left" at all. Ever heard of a Bernie Sanders supporter who has especially amazing things to say about Obama?

Mmmm. Governed pretty far left.

Especially on guns right?

I mean, just look at his record on guns.

After Al Franken was finally seated in June (I think) of 2009 the Democrats had a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. The GOP is no where near that-- and it matters very much in a way that their "extra" majority in the House cannot compensate for.

The problem is not that Trump cannot do what he wants. The problem is that he cannot do what he promised the voters, what he was elected on, and what every grown up who has looked at the question admits that he has the legal right to do. The Courts are making nonsense excuses up to prevent him doing what he has every right to do.

That is unacceptable. As is breaking the law by leaking information designed to damage him by people who claim to be politically neutral and professional bureaucrats.

If I were them, I would play by the rules and obey the law. Because otherwise the rules may change and the Left won't like that.

Bingo...Trump and Ryan failing at their stupid healthcare bill is politics as usual. Dems filibustering Gorsuch (if they do it) is politics as usual. Dems refusing to vote for Trump nominees is A-OK in my book: politics as usual. Even the NY Times printing lies on their front-page and CNN running their daily 2-minute hate is A-OK! It's legal.

Current Article III court behavior is not okay.

What's better a rogue shadow government that refuses to obey the dictates of the executive when they think those orders are immoral, or an obedient shadow government that meticulously obeys the orders of an authoritarian idiot?

Well the authoritarian idiot is no longer in office, so I'd rather government employees to obey the lawful orders of the official elected to give them.

When you promise things that break laws, that contravene the constitution, and which are unlikely to reach agreement among a majority of either house of congress ...

... you will find out that the USA does not accommodate tyrants. Which Trump is not. Because he cannot be.

A few months ago, this was not a sure thing for many people. Pretty sure, but not sure.

If the courts are finally starting to overrule the promiscuous use of executive orders, which have become like imperial edicts in a monarchy, then so much the better. Serious policy changes should be legislated not just decreed willy-nilly from the Oval Office.


In fact, I beleive one of the arguments that Trump supporters made for electing Trump was exactly this. Trump will be so despised that he won't get cooperation from the legislative or judicial branches on his objectives. Executive authority will FINALLY be rolled back.

Apparently some of those people were kidding.

But they are not doing that. They are not revisiting Roe v Wade. What they are saying is that the Republicans cannot do anything they were elected to do. Not that the Democrats can't usurp powers not their own.

A decision based on mind reading and a willful refusal to obey the law.

Serious policy changes should be legislated not just decreed willy-nilly from the Oval Office.

We'd need a serious legislature and not a playpen for obstructive interests. At a minimum, the filibuster would have to disappear. Better yet, have the Senate elected by caucuses of House members and assign it the task of vetting and recomposing administrative regulations, with no involvement in statutory legislation or budgetry.

The moral, spiritual, and cultural heart of the United States is really Las Vegas, so it makes sense to move the capital from it's old colonial home.

"So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high water mark — that place where the wave finally broke, and rolled back.”

We're all wired into a survival trip, now; no more of the speed that fueled the sixties.

"so as to be reminded that America’s heritage is one of popular culture."

Watching TV coming out of "Hollywood" I guess popular culture is very multicultural with 10% LBGT.

Unless as suggested, Vegas still defines women as sex objects leading rich men around by the.... but I think Vegas influence has waned as its "excess" has become so mainstream that many country music shows today would shocking to Vegas visitors in the 60s.

Remembering the evangelical preachers attacking rock and roll in the early 60s, I can't imagine their reaction to country of today out of Nashville.

The moral, spiritual, and cultural heart of the United States is really Las Vegas,

No, Vegas is Vegas because the rest of the country has no interest in being Vegas.

CIA Headquarters should be relocated to the Pine Ridge Lakota Sioux Reservation in South Dakota to pump up the Native American economy.

Thread winner!

I was fixing to mention South Dakota. Why put ANY of the federal government where it's already congested and crowded and expensive to live? I think just outside Rapid City would be great (close to Mt. Rushmore). It could be like Brasilia without the high modernist architecture. Let all the various agencies decide. Awesome infrastructure project!

The modernist architecture is what really puts Brasília apart.

That and being the capital of a shithole larger than the Roman Empire at its largest

No, it is not. Brazil is a strong, properous and happy nation. Its people is hospitable, kind, strong and accomplished more than any other people. Its art is second to none, it invented the typewriter, the airplane, the radio, the computer, a superior kind of X-ray device and a superior kind of pay phone. Brazil is the greatest exporter of bovine meat manking has ever know and it supplies the world, i.e. Red China, with iron, soy and meat. It is one of the biggest economies in all history. It has been predicted that Brazil will lead mankind in the final battle against evil and then the Hidden One will reign over the nation for 1000 years.

Yes, it is. Brazil is a world leader. As Mr. Kissing said, as Brazil goes, so goes South America. Mr. Dean Acheson praised Brazil for its fight against totalitarism. Mr. Lyndon Johnson praised extravaganrly former Presidet Costa e Silva, saying he was the firmest ally America had. Monsieur Victor Hugo praised our last Emperor. And so on and so forth.

Yes, Brazil is an indispensable country and has an important role in building a fair, peaceful, prosperous world. As formwr Brazilian presidential candidate Ruy Barbosa said, Brazil fights for world peace.

Brazil has as many aircraft carriers as Russia.

And it runs better.

Indeed. Brazil's aircraft carriers are glorious. Brazil's Navy terrorized the Paraguayan aggressir out of its mind.

I have already prevailed. http://smbc-comics.com/comic/you-suck

Not sure if this was intended as jest or not, but using federal employment to encourage economic development makes sense. Among President Clinton's most commendable actions was his directing federal agencies to hire and train welfare recipients. See: http://www.nytimes.com/1997/03/09/us/president-orders-agencies-to-train-those-on-welfare.html Rather than simply transfer wealth to residents of Mississippi, for example, the win-win alternative would be to transfer federal jobs there from Northern Virginia and other areas where federal employment has produced the highest income counties in the nation. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_highest-income_counties_in_the_United_States

What would be the likely result of that? A bunch of people moving from NOVA to Mississippi, house prices increasing and the poor people moving away? I guess that would make Mississippi LOOK better but would any actual people be helped?

At least some of the people who would be hired to work for the new Department of X headquarters in Biloxi would be the locals in Mississippi.

Even if it just meant working as janitors and cafeteria staff. Those are real jobs. They help support families.

Putting so much of the federal government's employees in one place is distorting for the US economy.

Biloxi will be below sea level soon!

(You global warming denier).

In the meantime it is too vulnerable to the Brazilian aircraft carrier.

Also, Brazil is building a nuclear submarine.

Why all the different handles? Are you being blocked or something?

4. is the only suggestion I really disagree with. I agree with the sentiment, but Hollywood doesn't need more subsidy. If we have an NEA at all I feel it should be for funding high culture or other forms of art with less immediate commercial viability. If we're restricted to the west, I would choose Victoria, British Columbia. Is there any inviolable rule that says federal agencies must be based in the US? In BC the NEA would output more East Asian inspired art, and generally Canada has more experience in selecting quality media in the shadow of the American behemoth.

I doubt they would get a building permit for the renovations in Victoria.

No offense intended. But very likely it just wouldn't happen. And I don't think they would intend offense by it either. And interesting idea too ... maybe later?

More regular Seattle/Victoria ferries would help.

Is the west coast really that much closer to Asia than the east coast?

LA - Beijing is 6,254 miles
DC - Beijing is 6,928 miles

LA - Delhi is 7,990 miles
DC - Delhi is 7,485 miles

It's a fun thought experiment, but it doesn't seem to matter much...

As for decentralizing the federal government, that might be a better idea

That's a good point but I was actually thinking more in terms of time zones and assuming the world economy shifts to China/India then a 7:00 AM start time there would mean a 4:00 PM California time which has some overlap in a typical working day vs East coast time lagging behind at 7:00 pm

Not really overlap when in Asia it's the NEXT day

See the maps for Polar Route at Wikipedia. The logical choice for optimizing most geographical proximity considerations is Alaska. (Consider also global warming in fifty years.)

The only "major" federal agency that's HQ outside of the beltway currently is the Center for Disease Control at Atlanta, GA. So what was the justification beyond "cooties"? Had any economists studied how such distance affects its funding/effectiveness?

Both the Social Security Administration and the Center for Medicare Services are headquartered inside the Baltimore beltway rather than the DC beltway. It's only 30-40 miles away, but I felt compelled to point it out for the record.

CDC was created during the depression to eradicate malaria, which was at its highest concentration in Georgia.

LBJ got most of the space program put in the South (Huntsville, Houston, etc.) to benefit Southern voters. It doesn't seem like a terrible way to do things.

R & D was assigned to Huntsville in 1948, when Johnson was a rank-and-file member of the House. The site selection for Mission Control in Houston was undertaken in 1961, when Johnson was VP and his influence was at a low ebb.

During the war, the federal government happened to purchase LBJ's father-in-law's East Texas property for an ordnance plant. He may have been rank, but I'm not sure he was ever file.

It's a wildlife refuge now, except for the parts where they're dealing with unexploded ordnance or something.

When the capital moves away, will Cowen still be saying "our" government? 'Cuz we don't talk that way in the provinces.

Average starting salary of a 33-year old post-doc (PhD) scientist at the NIH is $43,692 a year. With 5 years experience, that increases to $53,160.

They'd need a hell of a raise to live in Silicon Valley.

I also like "the ability to absorb the dynamism." The what again? If the government had that ability and/or if the place had the ability to transmit it, shouldn't we move the entire government there?

This is the problem with list-making posts.

I don't think Silicon Valley can handle a huge influx of federal employees. The economy is already overheated here as it is.


Why not Michigan? Large state, falling behind economically, very low share of federal employees. Maybe they deserve to host the Department of Commerce.

Greater DC already has less than 20% of the federal workforce. St Louis has huge offices for several departments. Major research hubs are widely distributed. Military bases are in every state. Smaller offices are all over.
Spreading out the legislature/cabinet just seems inefficient - any innovation that might result is better done at the state level.
If an unstated goal is to get rural areas to like government more, I think it'd just exacerbate the divide - seemingly unaccountable neighbors with stable relatively well paid jobs.

DOT has a huge facility in Oklahoma City, or at least did when I was briefly a contractor for NHTSA in the 90s.

If I were The Donald, I'd send SCOTUS as far away from me as I could (the Aleutians?)

I would send all three branches and their bureaucratic fiefdoms to the Yellowstone supervolcano and wait.

I assume we can't ship our government to our worst enemies.

I think the Capitol should be in Fairbanks.

And Congress should be restricted to meeting twice a year for two weeks in February and two weeks in August.

+1 to both comments. I was going to say Barrow, Alaska, but only during winter.

Maybe Death Valley during summer? Moving the Congress around would help reduce the resident political class.

Your suggestions epitomize complacency! A random permutation of you agency/locale pairing would likely be better. Arts to Twin Falls, Finance to Honolulu, and Stanford can be the Aggies for a change.

'It has become increasingly clear that the D.C. bureaucracy and policy world will be able to thwart most of what the Trump administration might have been thinking of doing.'

The idea that most of the federal government seems actively or passively opposed to using a religious test to determine what happens to their fellow citizens that are members of that religion, is something to celebrate as showing how the U.S. system of government is still functioning in the fashion intended by the Founders. Particularly after America's experience in using an ethnic test to round up citizens and place them in camps, the idea that D.C. bureaucracy and policy world do not want to participate in a similar action, particularly one based on groundless fears leading to American citizens having their rights and property removed without due process, seems quite comforting at this point.

As a German I was chatting with yesterday as we sunbathed at a local lake remarked, when talking about Trump and the Muslim ban, Germany is very sensitive to this sort of government action, after killing millions. I agreed, but also pointed out that the U.S. does not have any where near the horrific history of Europe when it comes to religiously motivated hatred being used to whip up mobs or motivate inquisitors.

While the Puritan religion of the 17th century has been transformed to the corporate capitalism of the present day and no longer exists in its previous form, its world view persists. The Puritan concept of the virtue of work, particularly work performed by others, and punishment, the Puritans enthusiastically hung witches, flourishes in the American psyche today. Perhaps the most pervasive Puritan idea is that of predestination, which justifies treating classes of individuals as incorrigibles. The morbid Puritan religion, the basis for the US experiment itself, has been secularized but its tenets remain in force.

'The morbid Puritan religion, the basis for the US experiment itself'

Almost as if Virginia, and its connection to making money through exporting tobacco, is not the basis for the U.S. experiment itself. I realize that for many Americans who did not grow up ensconced within the Commonwealth of Virginia's public school systems, the dour johnny come lately Pilgrims are assumed to be central to what America is today, but Virginia's history is considerably more central to the growth of Britain's colonial realm in North America. And whatever one may claim about Virginia and its history, Puritanism was never a part of it - and Puritanism played essentially no role in the thinking of any of the founders from Virginia.

This can be seen in the fact that Virginia's state seal looks like this - 'The great seal of Virginia is based on a design described in the convention of 1776: "Virtus, the genius of the commonwealth, dressed like an Amazon, resting on a spear with one hand, and holding a sword in other, and treading on tyranny, represented by a man prostrate, a crown fallen from his head, a broken chain in his left hand and a scourge in his right. In the exergon the word Virginia over the head of Virtus, and underneath the words "Sic Semper Tyrannis."' http://www.statesymbolsusa.org/symbol/virginia/state-seal/seal-virginia (They do not note that Virtus's left breast is exposed, for those unfamiliar with the image.) As is often the case when it comes to such things, George Mason was involved in creating the great seal of Virginia, desiring to avoid a coat or arms, while calling on classical allusions.

The most prestigious institution in the western hemisphere is a creation of, and monument to, Puritanism. Of course, that would be Harvard University, the centerpiece of the Massachusetts Bay and the ideological uterus of both the American Revolution and the War Between the States.

A lot of the time we compare the history of the United States (as well as other superpowers), to the history of Rome. This move in Roman history would be analogous to the movement of the capital from Rome to Constantinople under Constantine. For centuries, Emporers had been growing distant from Rome, the Senate only being of a symbolic nature (a worthless and dangerous symbol). By the time of Constantine, the seat of the empire was de facto wherever the emperor happened to be at that particular time. Him choosing to settle down in Constantinople had little immediate impact on the politics of the country. However, the duel centers of power did allow for ambitious men to separate the empire into sections controlled by essentially warlords and was another one of the billion reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire.

In our current situation, we have presidents spending less and less time in the White House, spending their days on the permanent campaign. The decreased time spent on actual governance degrades the presidency, allowing for the election of incompetent leaders who will use the instability of the country to gain political power.

Now, we are obviously not in a place where every few years we have a new rebellion. Heck, I would be lying if I said we were passed Augustus in the history of Rome. It seems to me that the United States still has its best days in front of it.

Nor do I think that this is bad policy (note that I am from Seattle, Washington). I just thought that seeing the world from the view of one of the most successful civilizations in history might be useful.

If I gave actual arguments against this policy, they would be: spreading bureaucracy out tends to allow for greater diseconomies of scale, it would be a huge shock to the economy, and federal agencies should be using technology to reach broader demographics not the movement of headquarters.

I don't think it is as easy to "exploit instability to gain political power" as seem you think it is, in that the incompetent leader does it. Time to bone up on your Machiavelli, and I don't mean Osso Buco at that little place on Pine St.

Nitpicking, but Rome actually had two capitals in its later years, and Diocletian had set that up a generation before Constantine (who however did found Constantinople and make it the eastern capital). Rome remained the nominal capital in the West although the late emperors tended to reside at Milan or Ravenna, closer to the frontier which was crumbling under the migrations of the Germani.

This reads like Tyler trying to control the government in weird underhanded ways by micromanaging agency locations.

If we were to take this seriously, the capital cannot be in California, as other states would object to making California too powerful. Washington state is too far north, and the name is confusing. So, Oregon it is. Not Portland. Build a new capital from scratch like Canberra, or take over Eugene.

"Build a new capital from scratch like Canberra". [SNIP]

Just, don't.

Ask Thiago about Brasilia

In fact, Brasília is nowadays acknlowledged as one of the most beautiful, interesting and cosmopolitan cities the world has ever seen. However, building a city ex nihilo in thw middle of nowhere was very expensive. You may not have that kind of spare money.

Brazil moved the capital West in the 50's and it made Brazil stronger. Nowadays, thevnew capital is thiught to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.

People do Wonder why it hasn't totally collapsed, yes.

It is not true. The buildings are awesome and the city was thoroughly well--planned.

It is true. The buildings are awful and the city was terribly planned.

No, it is not. Brasília is an inspiration for all the world and is the most rationally planned ciry in the world.
People come from all countries to see how a great city looks like.

Yes, it is. Brasilia is a dire warning for all the world and is the most irrationally planned city in the world. People from all countries avoid it so they don't have to see how a terrible city looks like.

No, it is not true. Many people from around the country visti Brasília to learn how to build a great capital. Even today, Brasília still looks like a futuristic city, the ideal place to sjoot a movie based on a book by Mr. Asimov. The design is bold and the planning wise and far-seeing.

Yes, it is true. Many people from around the country visit Brasilia to learn how to avoid mistakes building a great capital. Even today, Brasilia still looks like a garbage dump, the ideal place to shoot a drug dealer based on a book by Cormac McCarthy. The design is timid and the planning foolish and shortsighted.

No, it is not. Brasília streets are among the largest in the world and the city pioneered a ration system where each sector specializes in one economic activity (printing sector, the hotels sector, the hospital sectors and so on). That way people always know where to find what they want and can rarionalize their movements. The city aged well and the popularion is pretty hapy for being able to live in the jewel of Brazil's urbanistic crown.

Y'all are acting like the federal bureaucracy is somehow indigenous to the greater DC area. It isn't -- people come from all over the country to work those jobs. If the agencies were moved elsewhere, you might shake some people off at the margins but you would still get the same sort of people from all over the country coming to work for them. Just because the CDC is in Atlanta doesn't mean it's dominated by Southerners.

That's not the point Tyler is making. In my observations, based on the people I went to college and law school with and who were itching to go to DC and take federal jobs, the federal bureaucracy attracts talentless individuals with sociopathic tendencies. Concentrating these people in the capital is not conducive to a healthy society.

Well it does have a positive side. For one thing, it proves the old saw that every cloud has a silver lining is true even about a thermonuclear holocaust.

+1 DC is a pimple on the body politic where the unctuous congregate to improve the world by removing themselves from it.

Worse from a time zone perspective, US west is about 15 hours behind Beijing time. East coast is 12 hours. I'm in Asia and trying to keep in contact with west coast is a pain. East coast can get by with beginning and end of day synch ups.

That's because you're keeping up with the US but if the US were trying to keep up with you then it'd make your life easier. I was assuming the roles would change as Asia becomes an economic powerhouse.

Assuming the world economy shifts to China then a 7:00 AM start time there would mean a 4:00 PM California time which has some overlap in a typical working day vs East coast time lagging behind at 7:00 pm

It's extremely convenient when the overlap works easily in both directions.

I've found that 12-hour timeframe convenient in both directions, and the bi-directionality of it is especially convenient.

Maybe not enough to play a huge role in where the economic weight ultimately ends up. But it's a lot easier to do business with people when it's not OBVIOUSLY one or the other is taking the subordinate position in every communication.

8 or 9 o'clock is reasonable on either side of the clock. So have all communications around those times. Neither is obviously more or less subordinate.

Trump should propose breaking up the CIA into several pieces and scattering them to the winds.

It has become increasingly clear that the D.C. bureaucracy and policy world will be able to thwart most of what the Trump administration might have been thinking of doing.

..but eI think you might be surprised by Trump's success in spite of their opposition.

The Canadian government moved its department of Veterans Affairs from Ottawa to Prince Edward Island, a remote and underpopulated region, in the 1990s. This did nothing to affect rent-seeking or the types of people working there. The core bureaucrats still work out of the capital and are as venal and short-sighted as ever.

"It has become increasingly clear that the D.C. bureaucracy and policy world will be able to thwart most of what the Trump administration might have been thinking of doing." Yep, that D.C. bureaucracy thwarted the repeal and replace of Obamacare. It isn't the bureaucracy that stands in the way of the Trump administration, it's the unpopular ideas they brought to D.C. Cowen has resorted to defending those unpopular ideas by arguing that they aren't what they appear to be: that allowing ISPs to sell a customer's browsing history wouldn't really be an invasion of privacy, that repealing net neutrality rules wouldn't really result in discrimination among users of the internet, that tax cuts benefiting the wealthy wouldn't really benefit the wealthy. Diffusing government agencies across the country may appeal to Cowen because it would enhance the power of private (i.e., special) interests at the expense of the power of the public interest. Would Cowen recommend that GMU disburse its departments across the country? How about sending the economics department to Omaha, the math department to Houston, the history department to Savannah, the law school to Cincinnati. Pack your bags you are moving to Omaha!

rayward March 31, 2017 at 7:07 am

Would Cowen recommend that GMU disburse its departments across the country?

Steve Sailor has written about making the Ivy League spread out across the country. And why not? They are sitting on massive endowments. Those should be spent for the public good. Why not make Harvard support education in poorer regions? Make them open a campus in Mississippi for instance? They can take over a failing Historically Black college perhaps. More students would get an excellent Harvard education. More Harvard academics would get to meet real Americans. It is a win-win. I can foresee Princeton-on-the-Tombigbee. Brown-on-the-Sagavanirktok. Cornell-on-the-Bois de Sioux. And of course Yale-on-the-Okeechobee.

There is no downside to this at all. Those endowments are for charity, right? They are for furthering education, no? Make 'em spend.

Washington DC does not have the right to vote, unlike a state or its representatives. If departments were distributed to states, it might be hard to cut back a department because a representative or Senator had an interest in seeing the department grow.

Ever try to do a base closing.

I can't believe that this is an economics blog and nobody is really considering the transaction costs of such a scheme.

Just look at the German situation after reunification, more specifically after deciding to make Berlin the capital again.
Tons of tax money was spent in order to phase out Bonn as the capital, although there is still government business there.
Putting national policymakers in different regions is just inefficient and ineffective. Let alone travel costs etc.

It's not really an economics blog any more, more a blog that vaguely disapproves of pluralist societies where leadership is weak and the weak get to survive.

Don't short change them. It also disapproves of having a border. Also, it contains book advertisements.

Some of you don't know tongue in cheek when you see it.

You mean you don't want to move to Omaha? They have real good steaks.

I was waiting to get the point on the list where we moved some agency to Canada.

FEMA will be moved to Regina, Saskatchewan to be more centrally located in the event of a national emergency.

This was tongue in cheek? Really? - 'It has become increasingly clear that the D.C. bureaucracy and policy world will be able to thwart most of what the Trump administration might have been thinking of doing.'

It must be an interesting time to not be certain which way the wind is blowing anymore.

I had high hopes before I saw your suggestions. It's an idea that could do some good for dying cities. Some, like Buffalo, are probably better off just disappearing, but New Bedford isn't going anywhere, so why not boost its prospects with the Department of Education?

If there was no Buffalo, then where would Canadians stop for rest when taking the short-cut to the West coast?

"Some of you don’t know tongue in cheek when you see it."

Aren't you supposed to say "BAZINGA" at the end?

You're not that funny.

Again the world clamors to know what Art Deco, most humorless man on the internet, finds funny. Gotta be Jack Benny or Henny Youngman.

It is often hard to distinguish

A tongue in cheek


A foot in mouth.

#2: is really misguided.

The most remarkable development of the last years is Biotechnology, and it is almost 100% Made in America. Scientists around the world contributed, but the place where it happened was the USofA. People should be proud of GMOs.

Coding is done everywhere, but biotech is commercially made in the US. Russia banned GMO food. In Norway, the nordic paradise, they do the mental gymnastics of accepting the science consensus of anthropogenic global warming but distrust the science consensus of GMO relative safety when compared to "natural" options. Norweigan politicans killed biotech over there. In most of old Europe the anti-GMO attitude is the same.

By 1900 something similar happened with physics. Remember the famous photo of the Solvay Conference with Plank, Curie, Lorentz and Einstein? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solvay_Conference

America is having the same momentum with biotech. Tyler should be rising the status of bio-scientists, not coders :/

The consistency in the AGW and GMO positions is caution when it comes to complex things we do not understand with high certainty.

In the case of AGW, this becomes a no-brainer, where caution is on the same side as the weight of evidence.

In the case of GMO, caution does not have strong substantiation from risk-weighted scientific analysis. But we're dealing with many unknowns and complex things. So caution is not crazy.

Also, things like Monsanto screwing a bunch of impoverished Indian farmers suggest to many people that upholding alternatives, both through market preferences and political dimensions, is not dumb. Like, Monsanto literally wants a captive market, right? So are you pro-GMO or not in a time where the number of credible competitors to Monstanto are few in number?

Caution plus caution.

What's the problem with Monsanto exactly?

On the basis of multiple, repeated and ongoing efforts to patent nature itself, some people believe that if they were allowed to, they would end up with some devious monopolistic plans. Something along the lines of owning all rights to seeds, and thus having the food production of the planet in its grip, to milk us all as completely as possible.

So, that's not going to happen, because we're not dumb enough to let that happen.

For example, people will get up in arms as soon as a company that large and with that historical record makes a move in that direction.

Which is why the possibility that that merger with the big German company will go through is concerning.

Uh... what?

They patent their new seeds that they invent, right? No one is forced to use those seeds?

So maybe they will have all the best options, get 70 year patents like media content owners recently secured, and then yeah .. there would be a veneer of market freedom in a market with no practical alternatives.

I don't think we're going there. But that's because people are doing something to prevent it, not because Monstanto would not happily take us there if they could.

I would take those stories about Monsanto with a grain of salt.


The issue is that genes can spread by the wind in grain crops.

So your neighbour plants Monsanto seeds.

In a few years time Monsanto comes by and says that their intellectual property is in your crop and thus you must pay, because the evidence says that you stole their seed technology.

So I don't think the facts of the story really matter beyond Monsanto even having tried to pull that off. Whatever any court said or whatever any misinformation was diffused beyond that point, the observation that "Monsanto would if they could" is pretty firm.

Anyways, I'd understood the suicide story to be anecdotal in many ways. To put a number out like 250,000 suicides and then to claim that everything is hunky dory because that insanely high number is an exaggeration ... I dunno, it stinks of all manner of manipulation at the same time.

I believe their plants are designed not to reproduce?

Some of them.

There's an entire class of conspiracy theories related to that.

I believe that Matthew Yglesias had an article on how we should relocate non-security related agencies to Rust Belt cities. In much the way that we are seeing private sector companies open "feeder" offices in low cost areas with entry level staff, agencies could relocate most their staff to a low cost area and keep the more senior officials in DC. One suggestion was Detroit.

I generally like this concept.

The over-centralization of government offices in one city tends to create a dangerous group-think mentality that undermines effectiveness.

Moving the Department of Agriculture's HQ to St. Louis or Indianapolis would provide a much needed economic stimulus to these cities and cut costs for taxpayers.

Side advantage, people would be less inclined to hop from one post to another if it meant having to move to another city. We could build a coherent, professionalized federal agency where people dutifully climbed through the ranks instead of jumping between agencies, lobbying firms and Congressional staffs.

At a minimum, we should test this out with at least one major agency and see how what the results are. If we're wrong, we can always bring the Dept. of Ag. back to DC.

To sum up the article, privatize the government.

California has too much in this scheme. President to Reno.

While there is a fantastic Earth-2 where the capital is Las Vegas, if you told me that in the year 2100 the United States capital (or de facto capital) would be west of the Mississippi, my guess would be Cheyenne Mountain.

Ideally, we would see a King Lear model of permanently shifting government, with senior officials roving from state to state in a fruitless search for love and respect, attended by prescient fools. And, finally, gazing into the void.

Medieval and Renaissance era kings moved around a lot-- but mainly because given lack of proper sanitation their castles became unlivable cesspits swarming with vermin after a few months of the royal Court being in residence.

Be fair. 157 direct reports to the President: each state gets 3, DC keeps 3, Gitmo gets 4.

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." (T.S. Eliot) Go West, DC, far, far West. So, the chains of islands that are Hawaii, or the Aleutian islands in Alaska? Then thinking fifty, a hundred years into the future, consider global warming (man-made or otherwise) so, the Aleutians. But those might be flooded when the ice caps melt. So more inland a bit. Or because the Bristol Bay are is flat and swampy, a lot. So at last we arrive at Kenai, Alaska, "Alaska's Playground". Lots of hunting and fishing and so on. For quick air travel, the polar route allows has fast access to the Far East and Scandinavia. Which departments? Department of the Interior, of course. But also any departments that function better the further they are from DC. Really, really further.

We should move the federal government to the ugliest, most undesirable land in America, so that the rest of us can enjoy the nice places.
I suggest annexing Canada, and putting the capital in Winnipeg Manitoba.

A major reason that this is unlikely to happen is that the people who are most likely to support it are least likely to welcome Canadians into the American voter pool.

Also, the punk rockers of Winnipeg would have to be crushed severely before a major political centre could be established there.

If Canada was annexed the punk rockers could escape and go to places where punk rockers are properly appreciated like New York.
Why do you think they are so pissed off? They have to live in Winnipeg!

I know you like to take risks, but I do think that earthquake danger should keep important federal agencies out of California.

And why is nothing going to the South? Maybe Department of Energy should go to Texas. And Department of Education to Alabama. Immigration to Miami. Civil rights division to Atlanta. Commerce can go to Gary, Indiana; it might then rethink industrial and trade policies. Labor should to to Detroit.

"offices concerned with science policy, including the NIH and NSF, would be relocated in or near Silicon Valley". Silicon Valley used to be about actual technology, now its mostly really just media. When's the last time either Google or Facebook actually innovated something inhouse that had real world consequences as big as a reusable space launcher? It's all rent seeking now ...

The real actual technology center is the SoCal aerospace industry - Musk was able to staff SpaceX with engineers pretty much just lying around the area. But he's slowly moving to Texas, and the rest of the industry in SoCal is decamping to Missouri, Alabama and other parts ...

Socal has slowly been losing military and aerospace for decades and it is the most underrated reason for Calfornia conversion of red to blue from 1988 to 2000. This military spending was one of the reasons California was so red through 1988 and between the military cutbacks and moving away, there was a lot less support for Republican Presidents after 1988.

Between 1990 and 2010, California lost 2 million white residents and gained roughly 7 million Hispanic residents.

Presumably some large fraction of those 2 million white residents were in the military industrial complex and left the state/retired elsewhere.

The parts of the production process which are intensive in land will be located in places where restrictions on land usage are few.

I think most of the people involved in the process would still rather be near to the ocean/beach. So most activities will probably stay in California, even if the launches end up all in Texas.

This post has made me very confused about Tyler's feelings about California. I feel a followup post is in order.

Europeans are doing these things to various degrees on various levels of government.

My impression is that it works OK with largely autonomous administrative bureaucracy (the NEA) but not policy driven ones (Treasury). Germany tried it after moving the capital from Bonn to Berlin, some ministries stayed behind (defense probably the most prominent). Split wasn't very practical as political leadership was either isolated from their staff or absent central policy making in government/Parliament

Waste of time. Your problem is not where the capital is located or agencies are located. It's with institutional architecture and practice which provides many avenues for obstructive veto groups, has no respect of local autonomy, and allows conspiring judges and lawyers to seize discretion whenever they care to. You really need constitutional amendments to repair this, and a war on the legal profession.

William Z. Foster in *Toward Soviet America* (1932) suggested that under communism, the US capital would be moved from Washington to a Midwest industrial center: "The national Soviet government, with its capital in Chicago or some other great industrial center..." http://www.marxistsfr.org/archive/foster/1932/toward/06.htm

Why not try hiding it?

"I don’t see how one might run a bureaucracy where a professional major league baseball team cannot be supported."

Was this humor? Washington DC list two major league baseball teams and went without for thirty-some years before stealing one from Canada.

If you move the office of the presidency to California, does the District of Colombia become a state? Is it absorbed into Maryland, Delaware, and West Virginia?

Re: The Department of Agriculture would go in Honolulu, Hawaii. It would be harder to get to

Yes, but everyone would want to.

"The political culture of the ruling capital city should not always hold such sway."

The status quo represents some sort of rough compromise between thousands of competing views of what policy would be best.

The Trumpists focus on the parts they don't like and, like nihilists everywhere, think that if only they could burn down the status quo something more to their liking must surely spring up. They are morons. The competing visions have not gone away and in a democracy all those competing visions get a say.

Trump would sue for lost income on his DC hotel.

Would DC become part of Maryland?

Could the Capitol and the White House be leased as amusement parks?

We know moving some IRS functions to Ohio led to the IRS being used for political purposes, so we probably shouldn't consider this idea.

Ohio also had the case where the Joe the Plumber was targeted by state employees by leaking his information. Something in that state is wrong.

Cincinnati workers were mad that they were blamed for that. Direction came from DC for that.

Analysis by anecdote.

The idea has merit, but not perhaps to the extreme shown here. From its early years South Africa based its executive in Pretoria, the legislature in Cape Town and the judiciary in Bloemfontein. Were the USA to consider something similar we might leave the executive in Washington, D.C. but move the legislature to, say, Austin TX and the Supremes to perhaps Missoula, MT. Alternatively let's relocate everyone to the center of the country. That's a point about halfway along the Nebraska/Kansas state-line. Think Brasilia.

Moving everything to within range of China's nuclear arsenal makes perfect sense.

For which reason I don't think any serious people will discuss this.

Which means that actually more openness on the subject has much prospect for improvements. Because maybe it actually would make sense to do that. (Not everything though.)

Albuquerque could handle many federal functions, up to and including the Presidency. Great climate, extremely low costs, and plenty of available land. It doesn't have the problem of already being a state capital. It already has a large airport complex, which could be upgraded comparatively easily. It's close to Mexico, which like it or not will be a major player in determining the U.S.'s fate over the next 100 years. Also comparatively close to China/India/etc. Corruption is low. And the food is good!

I'm in favor, especially if we can put the State Department at the bottom of the ocean a few miles out from Los Angeles, where they can't overthrow any more governments or start any Middle Eastern civil wars. If dry land is a must, Alcatraz is the next best thing.

I'm pretty sure it was NATO resources deployed upon chains of command originating from democratically elected heads of state that caused Libya (for example), and not the State Department.

Do you think 15 million people hitting the streets daily until an election was secured in Egypt was the work of the State Department?

Also, I thought the general understanding was that the CIA plots the civil wars and coups and the State Department plays good cop. They are diplomats, right?

I think the main misunderstanding related to the brainwashing that Clinton caused Banghazi, whereas NATO bombs (to prevent civilian killing) probably would have been dropped either way, especially once the dictator's club in the Arab League lent their extremely legitimate legitimacy to the intervention.

A friend of mine suggests relocating Congress, but none of the executive or judicial branch, to North Platte, Nebraska... to provide an incentive for them to spend six months of intense effort doing their job so that they can go home.

The DC area is now the richest in the nation, because of the government. That alone is enough reason to "share the wealth".

I utterly disagree with every single thought and sentiment expressed in this post.

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