Shipping the good economists out?

How many of you even get that reference these days?  Here is the latest from DOA, from Liz Crampton at Politico:

The Agriculture Department is moving nearly all its researchers into the economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps – subjects of controversial Trump administration initiatives – outside of Washington, part of what employees claim is a political crackdown on economists whose assessments have raised questions about the president’s policies.

Since last year, employees in the department’s Economic Research Service have awaited news of which members of their agency would be forced to relocate, after Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue stunned them by declaring he was moving most of the agency to a location outside the capital. The announcement sparked claims that Perdue was trying to pressure economists into leaving the agency rather than move their families.

On March 5, the department began notifying people who were allowed to stay in Washington, but didn’t provide a comprehensive list, only telling employees in person if they made the cut.

But current and former employees compiled one anyway, covering all 279 people on staff, 76 of whom are being allowed to stay in Washington…

A USDA spokesman declined to directly address the employees’ allegation of political bias, but provided a written statement from Perdue saying that the moves were not prompted by the work being done by ERS.

In general I am reluctant to post this kind of report, because I find it difficult to know what is truly going on here, so do read this with an open mind.  Still, it seemed newsworthy.

I thank John Chamberlin for the pointer.


This move is long overdue and hopefully just the beginning of a dispersal of federal agencies to other locations. It's very much wrong that all these bureaucratic empires should be concentrated in a very small area around the capitol. In fact, there's no real reason why the congress should meet, in person, in DC. The technological changes that have occurred since 1789 have made it possible for the people's representatives to stay in close contact with their constituents while transacting government business through the miracle of electron movement. Move more bureaucrats out of DC.

Only 13% of Federal employees are in the "DC-MD-VA-WV Core Based Statistical Area"

If 200 out of 279 staff members under the USDA’s Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics’ Economic Research Service are devoted to “economic effects of climate change, trade policy and food stamps” then why would USDA need an Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs or an Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment? And why does the Under Secretary for Research, Education, and Economics need an Economic Research Service AND a National Agricultural Statistics Service AND an Agricultural Research Service? All these entities with duplicate missions and an Office of the Chief Economist above them to try to sort the mess out. Trump should fire Perdue immediately for taking such puny half steps and not just shutting down entire organizations and firing the lot.
As of March 2018, the Economic Research Service had 301 employees with average salary of $120,249 all of whom are located with in the Washington, DC locality pay area. For those unfamiliar with the federal pay system, base pay is boosted by locality pay which are allegedly set by comparing GS and non-Federal pay in each locality pay area, based on salary surveys conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, the results of these salary surveys are kept secret, and no one knows how BLS can manages to find jobs in the private sector that anywhere close to comparable to federal jobs. How many states even have a single private sector agricultural economist job? Anyhow, there are 46 separate metropolitan locality pay areas. All other employees in the contiguous 48 States are included in the "Rest of U.S." locality pay area. The Rest of US gets hind tit and are payed at the lowest rates, with a typical economist (let’s say GS-14 step 1) making $104,821 . In DC, the same figure is $117,191. So moving people out of DC saves salary dollars up front, and because the higher DC salary rates are used to compute retirement pay, a lot in the long run.
The federal government employs 4,388 economists (2,464) and their average salary is $123,789. There are dozens of states without a single federal economist. The more that can be moved out of DC the better.

Any large food service company from manufacturer to restaurant/retailers will have opportunities for those people.

Having worked for a large restaurant company during and immediately after grad school, before moving over to tech, most of the analytics people we hired and a decent share of the people we interviewed were right up the alley of USDA economists. Many had some sort of research connection to the USDA while they were in grad school.

There’s a market for these people, they have an empirical data analysis skill set that is in very short supply, and it’s pretty easy for them to get equivalent compensation (120k) with 2-3 years experience in private sector (with much higher earnings potential if they advance).

I don't doubt you, nevertheless BLS says that the average salary of an economist is $104,340 per year, that the US had a total of 21,300 economist jobs. BLS projects an additional 1,300 economist jobs by 2026, a 6% as fast as average job outlook. Meanwhile there are 100+ econ phd programs in the US pumping out over 1,000 new econ phds annually. About half go to foreignors, but I still find it hard to believe that with 500 new econ phds flooding the market each year, the salaries of federal economists can be justified by labor market demand.

Geographic agglomeration of still a thing. Why do all the tech people work in silicon valley/Seattle/New York (and Austin and Portland)? Because it is most efficient, even with our modern technology, to work in the same area as many others who do your mind of job. Why would the same not be true of bureaucrats, politicians, and the government in general?

Good thing that people who work in the department of agriculture dont have to work in the same area as people who do agriculture. That would be super punishing for them!

It depends on what your goal/mission is. The tech workers want to work together to make better and more effective products. The Government bureaucracy wants to work together to make a more complex and stifling bureaucracy. That is why government workers should live and work among the citizens and not in a bubble.

'IBM alone has had tens of thousands of employees in every business function working in fully distributed teams for like 15 years. Yet people constantly ask, "how will remote working actually work? If only we knew!"' - a recent tweet

IBM may not be the best analogy...their stock price is the same today as it was on July 2, 1999. Not exactly a glowing review of distributed team productivity.

IBM stock today is 10x what is was in 1993.

IBM's stock price is the same as it was in 1999. And the "fully distributed teams" have only been in existence for "like 15 years." Thus, anon's point holds.

So IBM's stock price is the same as it was near the peak of the dot com bubble is what I am hearing.

It's interesting to look at a revenue chart of the top tech companies of 1999 compared to the top tech companies of today. IBM is still #5 in revenue but has fallen below Adobe and Oracle in earnings.

"This move is long overdue and hopefully just the beginning of a dispersal of federal agencies to other locations."

The key to FDR to LBJ's political success. The best way to buy votes. The best way to raise living costs and thus living standards and the benefits of higher costs and spending.

The moving of much of NASA to Texas made no sense from a business stand point. But it did make air conditioning a standard cost of living for half the US, since expanded to almost all the US.

Hi, I am Elias Drysdale from Russell County, Virginia. I think the greatest literary tour de force of the year is Mr. Larry Rohter's biografy of famous Brazilian narional hero Marshal Rondon. It is sobering to think how much we didn't know about our Southern allies. Did you know Mr. Roosevelt (Teddy, not Franklin) joined Mr. Rondon in an bold exploration?

Only 13% of Federal employees are in the "DC-MD-VA-WV Core Based Statistical Area"

How many of the 87% of federal employees not clustered in the DC area are postal employees and military? Sure, some justice department people are distributed around the country,here, for instance. But almost all agency headquarters are near DC.

The OPM data specifies "Federal Civilian Employment" which excludes uniformed military. From the same link, there 609K postal workers total, so if I'm generous and assume only 9K in the DC-MD-VA-WV region, that still leaves 1.75M Feds outside the DC area, nearly 5 times as many as in the DC area.

This article:

excludes postal workers. But civilian employees connected to the military look like another big chunk of jobs that probably doesn't pay like a Washington bureaucrat.

"Federal civilians are 15 percent of the workforce in the small metropolitan area near Robins Air Force Base south of Macon, Ga."

As Brian Donohue has already commented, many Federal employees outside the National Capital Region are associated with military installations, what the Navy calls the "shore establishment" (full disclosure: I worked as a civilian employee of the Navy in Crystal City, VA, from 1981 to 1996).

Most military installations have a small cadre of military officers in key management positions, with the vast majority--including much of the management structure--being civilians. When I worked at NAVAIR, I worked in a 400-person organization that had four operational divisions and one administrative one. The front office consisted of a two-star, an SES as his deputy, and an additional military officer at the O-6 (Navy Captain) level. The four operating divisions were headed by SES with military deputies at the O-5/O-6 level. There were a sprinkling of other military at the working level, but even so, they constituted less than five percent of the workforce.

Military were probably about ten percent of the total organization of 5000 or so, including most of the top management, but even so, that's not a lot. Now, we were in the National Capital Region, but there were many analogous organizations that weren't, notably including the Air Force, whose equivalent to our organization was in Ohio, at Wright-Patterson AFB.

But my point is, if you sift through the "outside DC" civilian employees, I think you'll find that the preponderance are civilians working for the military.

Thiago/Winthrop/Drysdale has to be someone who knows Tyler and Alex. I can't imagine why else he'd be spewing his nonsense on this particular backwater blog.

His endless amounts of spare time, intense willingness to feign interest in a very random and useless subject (Brazil), and poor grammar suggests an academic. My money is on a TA in Tyler's department.


I don't know what you mean.

"His endless amounts of spare time"

Maybe I type faster than you do.

"willingness to feign interest in a very random and useless subject (Brazil)"

Brazil is not useless. Maybe you should read Mr. Rohter's book.

"And poor grammar suggests an academic." Or a foreigner.

I've long thought that the Supreme Court should be moved to Detroit. Separation of Powers would gain. Reality-based judgements might gain too. Diversity among member of Scotus might also gain. Win-win-win.

Oh, come on. Everybody on SCOTUS went to one of TWO different schools. How much more diversity do you need?

I think they should just get rid of economists period. Having studied economics should be seen as a negative in hiring decisions

Similar thoughts: The Fed employs, say, 900 economists. Given the Fed's stellar record of abolishing the business cycle/mitigating financial catastrophes, does it need to recruit 10,000 more economists, or fire all economists? Seriously.

Send them all off on icebergs I say!

You're going to need more icebergs.

IDK, the Fed's dual mandate is full employment and low inflation. Right now it looks like they're doing a bang-up job!

Wrong. Donald Trump's immense genius made all that happen, not the dopey Fed. Fire the economists! #maga2020

It probably merits consideration for the location offices new federal offices for new programs, but it seems pretty obvious that the move is being done to gut ERS, which it has attempted to do in past budget bills, and replace the staff and make the location a political football to be traded for something else.

Politico is known for its unbiased coverage of the Trump admin.

You're right, it is, although that might be hard to believe if you read Breitbart.

Do *you* read either?

Of course, and this website as well.

But, you have to be careful.

Here's why.

Let's say you want to be you believe you get that way by watching MSNBC and Fox News. But, ironically, this doesn't lead to balance or all news. You react in a more polarized fashion after watching the other side. Instead, get some balance by watching CNN. Or, mainstream TV channels.

Also, get information widely....JapanTimes, Der Spiegel, London newspapers, Financial Times, WSJ, NYT, Wapo, academic papers. And, read books. Attend lectures if you can.

Plamus, tell me where you get your information.

Right. A heavy barbell with equal weights at each end is "balanced" so long as it sits on the floor. But when you lift it you are at risk that the slightest off-center hand position will cause you a severe injury.

I asked because when you said "You're right, it is, although that might be hard to believe if you read Breitbart." it sounded like you dismiss out of hand not just anything Breitbart may publish, but also anyone who would believe anything there - you did not say "only Breitbart". Also, that means you either dismiss Breitbart without reading it, or that you read Breitbart :)

As for me, pretty much the same sources you list, minus TV. I find TV way too slow for information absorption, and way too diluted with opinion and commercials.

I look at Breitbart from time to time and see uninformed teenagers with acne rewriting what they read on RT and Infowars. Not worth the time or attention because there is no news. It's just opinion and a rewrite of agitprop. Pizzagate. There is more content in the National Inquirer, and besides there are often scantily clad females there as well.

By the way, Plamus, you might want to go to Politifact and do a search of the number of times Breitbart is called out for false or misleading stories.
Here is the link: For being a pimple in the world of journalism which no one takes seriously they score very, very high on falsehoods.

A related quote from Mitch Kapor:

"New research validates a favorite saying of mine: Genius is evenly distributed by Zip Code, but opportunity is not"

Oh, sorry. That was just Mitch catching up on old Raj Chetty.

Still, from the standpoint of concentrations of expertise .. there is a flip side, and a corresponding brain drain.

Of course, there is absolutely no evidence of that and it is transparently not true. But I guess that is a benefit when you are trying to signal your loyalty to Stalin.

The article may be 2 years old, but it is definitely about evidence.

It's not difficult to know what's going on. If you read the work ERS does on, say, food stamps, you'll see that they embed a lot of assumptions in it - which they're transparent about, they're not dishonest about the methodology - the way you would expect a group of researchers which doesn't include a lot of conservatives to do. And then their work gets quoted, and most people aren't going back to it to actually look up what the terms they use mean/what they're derived from. By relocating, they hope to change the work that ERS is doing as the researchers decide not to relocate. It's up to you what kind of story you think this tells. Is this a legitimate pushing-back on an unelected, anti-Republican civil service? Is this the kneecapping of legitimate research that makes Republican policies look bad? I'd say some from column A and some from column B.

>>Is this a legitimate pushing-back on an unelected

Most quality researchers are not elected to public office. That's probably a good thing.

How are we supposed to have an effective apparat without apparatchiks?

More seriously this is a good thing. There has developed a Green Zone mentality among Western governments, the notion that putting people as far away as possible from the people and places they affected by their decisions the better.

Democracy means voters get to change the government when they feel like it. This has proved upsetting to many people.

Workers voted for Trump because they thought he was going to pay more workers more money while cutting living costs.

Ie, big houses built by high wage workers selling for $40,000, like back in the 60s.

Trump failing to delliver is upsetting.

I voted for Trump because I’d rather be lied to by a narcissistic blowhard who ALSO has the courage to call out China (and the immigration industrial complex) than condescended to by a hyper-politicized, who couldn’t live her pockets fast enough. And who certainly wouldn’t call out China and the immigration industrial complex.

*line her pockets, stupid inconsistent rural wifi

" I'd say some from column A and some from column B."

I agree and that's probably a wash. But the long run tax dollar savings in moving them to cheaper areas is a win for the taxpayers. I really don't much care that the researchers are upset about having to move out of the Capitol and possibly live among the plebes.

The regional cost uplift for the DC area is not that big a part of GSA wage scales.

The cost of setting up offices will be at least ten times the savings in annual wages.

"The cost of setting up offices will be at least ten times the savings in annual wages."

Awesome, that's better government! Spending a little up front to save money in the long run.

Perhaps now you will understand in practice what some us grasped in theory long ago.

Despite the name of the blog, it feels like Tyler is in the not-necessarily-creative destruction camp. The revolution(s) that we are moving towards at this point are not going to be marginal.

USDA economists are unnecessary to Americans, as is the USDA itself

Agriculture isn't even mentioned in the U.S. Constitution.
That should spark a bit of questioning in even casual USDA observers.

The federal interest in an agriculture department didn't arise until the mid-19th... with a tiny office in the U.S. Patents Office concerned with seed development & science.

Now we have a vast, corrupt Federal bureaucracy primarily concerned with subsidizing large agricultural & food corporations, protecting them from competition, and assuring that American consumers pay very high prices for food and commodities. The Food Stamp program is outrageously misdirected, inefficient, and expensive -- overlapping 2 dozen other Federal welfare programs, that are similarly wasteful.

How many economists are needed in D.C. to perform the above USDA functions?

So .. you are saying farm subsidies should come straight from the president?

They're ultra vires, like much of the federal government.

"Now we have a vast, corrupt Federal bureaucracy primarily concerned with subsidizing large agricultural & food corporations, protecting them from competition, and assuring that American consumers pay very high prices for food and commodities. "

Food costs in the US are the lowest in the world as a share of GDP.

What are you proposing the supposed savings from cutting foood costs by your policies on? Paying higher (imputed) rents for housing?

Paying more money for medical care to treat the much higher costs of the obesity your policy of cheaper food to drive up food consumption produces?

The Agriculture Department was originally founded in order to assist farmers in producing crops effectively. Land grant colleges were also created for this purpose. Their mission has come to an end in this regard in that all the information needed for successful farming and ranching is now available in the private sector. The Dept. of Agriculture now administers millions of acres of federal land, with the help of the Dept. of the Interior. They also work to increase international trade in American farm products, a role that farmers should administer and finance themselves. It's not the duty of the feds to see that US farmers can sell bacon to the Israelis.

>I find it difficult to know what is truly going on here

The USDA is squandering WAY too much money on useless economists, and worse, is paying them to live in the most overpriced region of the country. The Feds are finally addressing this.

You're welcome! It's great when I can help you out.

So weird that you guys would think that and be utterly silent on $16b in new subsidies.

I'm old enough to remember when a few million for public radio was too much.

I want principled republican rule, including a government so small it doesn't really matter who runs it. I'm told that's impossible, crackpottery, even racist.

So since I can't have principled republican rule, then I want my team to win. And I'd rather have the money go to farmers in the Midwest and Sunbelt than the urban bolsheviks at NPR, who hate me and think I have too much social and economic clout. This is the future you chose.

That's transparently horrible. Since you can't have principles, you will just be unprincipled.

Man up, for God's sake.

And let you and your ilk toss me into the cannibal pot? No thank you. The only reason the Left likes "principled conservatives" is because they're politically neutered..

You seriously don't get it?

You *imagine* the things you need to imagine to justify immoral behavior.

Give me a single good reason for a conservative white male to support NPR. They're not objective, and they despise me and my values. Eff 'em.

The Left doesn't reward principle; it rewards its people, which is why they've captured the institutions. After many decades of losing the culture war and the institutions, the Right responds with Trump and the Left (and ideological Right) is wetting its pants. Like I said, it's the future you chose.

You are trying to dial it back from "urban bolsheviks at NPR, who hate me" and "the cannibal pot" but that is obviously the crazy talk that drives you.

Not a cost-benefit analysis of NPR footprint and mission.

Yes, the Left made Republicans choose Trump. Apparently Republican voters have no moral agency.

No, that's not what he's saying. Of course Republican's have moral agency. They just don't care if their decisions upset the Left. Anymore than Democrats care if their decisions upset the Right.

Both sides care about their base and the marginal voter. Everyone else is a secondary consideration.

Fake centrism is another disease of our time, and another way for the weak willed to avoid moral responsibility.

Just imagine an abstract center where everyone is reasonable and no one has agency. Look out right, beyond the right-centrists, until you find the loony right. Look out left, beyond the left-centrists, until you find the loony left.

Say "both sides" three times and snap your fingers twice.

That's it. No matter what happens you were noble in your disdain.

What does that word salad mean?

I would hate to be mistaken for a centrist. Centrism is just naked authoritarianism.

I think he's saying he's a fake centrist.

Something just bit my ankle!

Was it a mouse?

"After many decades of losing the culture war and the institutions, the Right responds with Trump."

Apparently Democrats choose their candidates; Republicans have theirs thrust upon them by this cruel world.

I'll own my choice just fine. If I'm ever in need of an earnest master debater, I'll be sure and vote for Jeff Flake.

He was the only one of the 20 Republican candidates who offered any resistance. If there was a better candidate who had a backbone maybe he/she would have won the nomination instead of Trump.

So all the Republican candidates were lousy?

Yeah, I agree with that.

Well, that and Hillary. Let's face it Hillary being such a terrible candidate is what gave Trump the win. I'm doubtful he can win re-election if the Democrats can field a candidate acceptable to the Marginal sub-urban voter.

The Federal budget contribution to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting runs about $435 million a year.

Its a disgrace that we borrow money to fund this entirely discretionary item. $1 is too much.

TBF, that particular argument cuts in a lot of directions. Why does the government still tax labor when it's just going to sell all the bonds it needs? How does anybody justify the F-35 with $22T in debt?

Taxes should be set at a rate to pay for necessary and legitimate expenses. CPB is neither.

Defense is both. Whether the F35 is a wise or efficient choice for defense is another issue.

If CPB supported the US military instead of the enemy it would help. Buuuuuuuuuuut they don’t.

Oh goodie, let's do "$435 million is too much, $16 billion is fine."

That will totally convince everyone that this is about fiscal responsibility and not partisan warfare.

Politics has always been about rewarding supporters, punishing opponents. Also, NPR does kinda suck.

Politics, if it does that, should keep it in the shadows, and do it with a certain embarrassment.

Doing it front and center kind if takes the brakes off.

Sometimes I do worry that Americans are becoming fine with graft, on the theory that some day they'll get their share.

($20+ billion for new moon missions is also b.s.)

LOL. "Democracy is a reverse auction of stolen goods, just be discreet about it!"

If I understand the Alchian-Allen effect and Cowen's analogy correctly, then shipping the quality economists (Apples) out of DC will result in the hiring (consumption) of more quality economists (Apples).

I think it is established in more than apples. Everybody knows that things like relocations reduce the competency of a workforce.

The best apples have more options.

As I understand the Alchian-Allen effect, shipping the quality economists out results in a lower opportunity cost for hiring the quality economists. The quality economist will still cost more than the lower quality economist, but the cost of the quality economist will become relatively cheaper after being shipped out and, hence, more of them will be hired. Cowen can explain this much better than I.

It's a question of perspective. The USDA loses good apples. Other DC region employers gain them.

I don't think you understand the principle

I've certainly seen it in action. More than once.

In one case an employer moved the operation, employees stayed put, and entered competition with him. They actually won a lions share of the business.

If I understand the effect, this business of economists has nothing to do with it.

It is based on the fact that transportation costs are the same for good apples and bad apples, so when you add that by shipping them the price of good apples relative to bad apples is lower at the destination than at the source.

It is kind of a stretched metaphor (or maybe it was just a joke). The relocated economists are the ones who experience the cost, not the "buyer."

@rayward - good one, I think this is a thread winner, indeed, Google confirms it: "Colloquially, the Alchian–Allen theorem is also known as the “shipping the good apples out” theorem (Thomas Borcherding),[5] or as the “third law of demand."

But am I the only one who has noticed that the A-A theorem never appears to hold? I go to California... their California wines are much better than the California wines we get here in DC. I go to Maine... their Maine lobsters are better than the Maine lobsters we get in DC. And so on.

@Ricardo - Quality slips in shipping? You cannot duplicate a CN or NJ or NY pizza outside of those regions, even if the A-A theory holds in general.

"The announcement sparked claims.." That is reporter speak for "i want you to believe this is a thing so i maybe found someone somewhere who said what i want you to believe and im presenting it as if it is some widespread, important thing."

So moving out of DC is a punishment now? Who knew.....

I work there sometimes. Most people are from somewhere else, and being in DC is a necessary evil to get the extra $ it brings.

I would assume uprooting one's family, the time and expense of moving, finding new friends, etc. is the cost (or punishment as you state it.)

Not having to move there in the first place is the bonus. Think longer term.

"Researchers" are being moved to Kansas City, Indiana, and RTP in North Carolina after these locations bid to become centers for agricultural research. Making it a bit harder for Congresspeople and lobbyist to entice researchers with "benefits" does not on the surface seem like a negative thing. Regulatory capture is an issue and perhaps a relocation could reduce the risks.

These locations are not awful and if they keep the same salaries they will tend to see their net incomes rise. Why should these locations be unable to recruit objective researchers? Will they need to start offering higher compensation packages or will the lower living costs attract more applicants? A newly graduated Economist might find it much easier to start a career in an area with lower housing costs.

Perhaps some of the current researchers see themselves as too integrated into the current political structure. In which case, the country might be better served by people with a fresh perspective.

I don't see the big danger of agricultural researchers being closer to agriculture centers.

I know quite a few federal employees: economists, and otherwise. I know very few of them who WANT to live in DC, given the congestion and expense. So why do they? Because they are married to OTHER federal employees, or married to people who make a living serving the federal employees. It's well and good to say "this economist's salary will be worth more in the RTP" but the question is "can this economist's spouse keep their same job in the RTP?" This will not only impact employees already at the USDA, but recruiting as well. All else equal, some people would rather live in the RTP than DC, but many economists marry other future economists or future PhD-level researchers before they graduate. Currently, the easiest place to get a joint placement for two economists/PhDs is DC.

Good point for the transition, but going forward the economists will just graduate school, meet and marry different people. Transition cost, not permanent. This could also help with the assortative mating issues - low birthrate among the smartest, and inequality - for those who care about such things.

"...graduate school, meet and marry different people..."

As I mentioned above ("before they graduate"), the people I'm talking about are marrying (or at least identifying future spouses) BEFORE they graduate. PhDs aren't completed until late 20s at best, frequently mid-30s. Many people with a desire to "meet and marry" have already done so by that point.

Thus it's not a one-time transition cost. Either future researchers don't marry their peers b/c they know it will make joint placement harder, OR they will continue to marry the same people and then, on the margin, select away from places where it's harder to achieve joint placement. Given the latter is much likelier, the talent pool of PhDs that the federal government can draw from will decrease, or else salaries (taxpayer cost) would have to increase to offset the negative amenity of one spouse taking a lesser job than they otherwise could get.

"Many people ..." and many do not. Almost a third do, so 2/3 do not.

True, but that is a problem for most people in this country. Being the trailing spouse means tough choices. Smaller towns have a very difficult time getting married medical professionals to relocate etc.

Depends on how you value leisure time, time with family, etc. The second spouse may have more options that are non-monetary if the family doesn't have to pay the higher expenses of DC.

The skill set should be transferable to other jobs unless you want to claim that the skills are either so specialized they offer little value outside of government work or perhaps that the Federal government grossly overpays some employees. RTP has a demand for high tech workers and academics but pay scales might be lower (especially benefits).

Perhaps having government employees learn how most of the rest of the country lives isn't a negative.

Lastly, if the market for economists is so small, that so few employers outside of the Federal government find value in the degree, perhaps there are too many, or too few good ones. Not to be too harsh, but perhaps the market should dictate the value and the Federal government is distorting what a free market will pay for a given skill set.

Lastly. lastly, perhaps the best Economists are already competing in the markets away from DC and only overpaid Economists (those unable to compete in more open markets, thus their reluctance to move) remain in DC.

"Currently, the easiest place to get a joint placement for two economists/PhDs is DC."

So? Government is run for the benefit of its citizens, not its employees.

One hypothesis H0 is that this move is a sincere effort to move more functions out of Washington closer to constituents. The other hypothesis H1 is that the move is a cover to squeeze out certain researchers for ideological reasons. Under H0, if the researchers in question decline to move, then they will be replaced by new hires *located in the new locations*. Under H1, when the researchers decline to move, then they will be replaced by ideologically friendly researchers and those researchers will be *placed in DC* (because the claim is that placement in DC is a perk denied to specific researchers for ideological reasons). The coming months should provide us with observations to distinguish these hypotheses.

A confounding hypothesis, that messes with H0 and H1, is that DC is a superior place, even with extra costs, to say Kansas. Most surveys rank DC area in the top 10 of places to live. So even Breitbart loving economists might prefer DC over Kansas.

Bonus trivia: the US Patent Office once thought about moving the Patent Office to Kansas from DC, something analogous to Boeing moving HQ out of Seattle to Chicago, but I suppose due to blow-back nothing came of the idea. GS federal workers have their pay adjusted by locality, so there's no strong incentive to move to Kansas unless you really value the Midwest lifestyle.

It's a reasonable wager that the actual complaint has to do with granular features of their work situation or with activities heretofore hidden from outside observers. The latter are things they shouldn't be doing and the former is of no interest to anyone but them. (The research in re Food Stamps / SNAP I'm going to wager was to provide talking points to defend the program, about which cue Mandy Rice-Davies).

I heard that George Mason University is moving its economics department to Columbia Mississippi. Get those eggheads out of the beltway bubble.

LOL, well no pun intended, moving GMU to Columbia, MS might in the long run color their thinking to a more rural, Southern bias, at the expense of, if they don't adjust salaries, enriching the GMU professors. You can buy a mansion or old plantation in the Deep South for about what you pay for a modern, ordinary, Fairfax VA house these days. In the long run having high-income people move to the area arguably will raise real estate prices a bit, if others follow (an interesting research question, I'm sure lots of natural experiments exist in history to test this hypothesis) Lots of water and mosquitoes though.

Bonus trivia: "Columbia [MS] was named for Columbia, South Carolina, from which many of the early settlers had migrated. The population was 6,603 as of the 2000 census."

"Columbia [MS] was named for Columbia, South Carolina, from which many of the early settlers had migrated. "

Because SC just wasn't humid and buggy enough for the Scottish immigrants.

Tyler and the rest of his department shouldn't have a care, so long as they don't go barefoot to the privy.

Why would Virginia move one of its state universities to a small town in Mississippi?

And why, in your mind, is a small service center near the Mississippi - Louisiana border equivalent to Kansas City or Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill?

I dunno. Try reading the original blog post. Then engage your brain. Then get back to me if necessary.

They just got them one of them govermint eee-conomists down the road in Pixley, but I guess us folks here in Hooterville don't count for nothin no-how.

I don't understand your folksy reply, but suspect it's intended to be insulting to wide swaths of America.

I also do not understand your point, if states outside DC are appropriate for government economists, shouldn't they also be approporiate for university economists?

Yes, I think we should restore civil service to the time when they were patronage jobs, controlled by ward bosses, and doled out as favors and bribes to friendly partisans and idiotic sons-in-laws of important contributors. The entire staff should turnover completely every time the political leadership changes.

That'll be a freaking hoot for sure.

That's the paradox of modern democracy: the private sector is wealthy enough to support a government that can extract sufficient taxes and credit that people can get rich off of it. You could systematically decimate the government every few years but I have no idea how you'd go about that.

The argument for a Jacksonian spoils system is it means voting really can change the government.

I'd be curious to hear examples of how replacing an entire civil service top to bottom every four years improves outcomes.

We already tried that, especially at state/local levels, and the corruption and paralysis was what led to the professionalization of civil service.

Not that it hasn't gone too far with careerists and revolving doorists. But, I'm pretty sure that scorched earth is an approach that we would regret.

Generally speaking, scorched earth approaches are tantrums, childish impulses that usually only result in scorched earth and not much else.

"That'll be a freaking hoot for sure."

Why do you hate democracy?

Such a bureaucracy would mean that elections actually meant something.

A Democratic dominated "civil service" needs a good periodic house cleaning.

It's already been tried. Led to the opposite outcome you indicate here.

Comment on the Alchian-Allen effect or "shipping the good apples"...I had totally forgotten about this! It reminds of the fascinating subject that was once called "price theory" and taught by the likes of Becker or Alchian or Allen. If you are in econ academia, you know that the price theory material was mostly eliminated from the graduate curriculum in favor of axiomatic, mathy "modern micro theory" (Jele and Reny). What a shame....Young PhD's can now "prove" the existence of some theoretical equilibrium, but know very little actual microeconomics...

Rings true to me, as a layman. They also used to teach business cycle theory in economics back in the days of great grandpa, but sadly don't any longer. You can deconstruct any sinusoidal wave like a business cycle (or any smooth function actually) to a series of sine waves using Fourier series / transforms, hence the genesis of kondratieff cycle, kuznets swing, kitchin cycle, juglar swing.

Bonus trivia: could attempted suppression of business cycles by economists be the basis for dissent by a whole school of thought? Yes, they are called the Austrian economists. Ironically, since the Keynesian multiplier is about zero and money is largely short term neutral, neither fiscal nor monetary policy has much real effect, so neither the proponents nor the critics have much of a point. Both are being fooled by randomness. Actually even business cycles are nearly statistically the same as white noise. We may be at a permanently high plateau with this current expansion!

Money is long term neutral, not short term neutral. If new money is entering the pipeline, you want to get it first.

I happen to agree that moving federal services out of the capital is a good thing. I also think downsizing the government is a good thing. But this isn't the way to go about it. Moving a couple of hundred economists out of Washington won't save the taxpayer a nickel.

This is about punishing a group of people who gave the "wrong" answer to a question. It is about rewarding another group who gave the "right" answer. No matter where you land on the 'Socialism - Libertarian' scale, you shouldn't like this.

Exactly. Tyler is going to withhold judgment to see if this little kabuki is actually motivated by a Trump administration desire to strengthen the climate economy research department, or is merely a partisan example-making and red meat exercise.

Cue the Cheech and Chong "good thing we didn't step in it" routine.

One would think an academic technocrat like Tyler would want to defend professional independence and insulation from partisan retribution and patronage. But apparently he responds to a different agenda these days.

There "good" economists?!?

“This was a clear politicization of the agency many of us loved for its non-partisan research and analysis,” a current ERS employee told POLITICO, claiming that department leaders picked those whose work was more likely to offend the administration and forced them to move “out or quit.”

Contrary to the ideologues and poodles who would defend this practice, it's not good to have such politicization in government departments essential to effective government. Notice I'm not braying on about the size of government, which is not relevant to my point. It's not surprising people hide their identity when commenting. I'd be ashamed of claiming authorship of such views as well.

The cries of bureaucrats in the comment section here ("Banishment from Rome is ghastly and cruel!") has settled the matter for me. Move 'em out.

Let me try this one more time. If they aren't needed, why move them? If they are needed, why move them ? It's a waste of money either way. There are good reasons for businesses, government departments, etc., to be located near each other, or do you think Silicon Valley happened purely by chance? If you hate people, fine, but don't cost me money and common sense as a consequence.

Again, lacking information. Anti-Trump attack, probably.

I just made a few points which you didn't bother to answer. Trump is a horse's ass, but, instead of hating anything he does, if he's right on an issue, I'll give him a standing ovation. If he picks a decent person for the Fed, I'll say so. You're just another anonymous poodle / ideologue. Get a spine.

Send them all to China and have them convince the communists that honesty and free markets are best.

Two thoughts:
1. Even with the change in cost of living salary adjustment and depending on the choice of new location, these employees might have an improvement in lifestyle by avoiding the extremely high cost of living in the DC area.

2. The ability of the spouses of these economists to find comparable employment in the new location may be challenging.

Moving agencies out of the National Capital Region has been an aspirational objective of conservatives since before I was born. From that perspective, nothing to see here.

Furthermore, though I imagine most here don't remember, during the Clinton and GWB administrations, Congress enacted a number of base closures and realignments under the aegis of the Base Closure And Realignment Act, often referred to in the biz as BRAC, and often used as a verb ("I hear your organization is moving to Fort Huachuca!" "Yeah, we've been BRACced.") There was some talk of BRACcing civilian agencies, but--astonishingly!--it went nowhere.

On a more political front, getting rid of civil servants who won't see things your way is difficult given the layers upon layers of legal and administrative protections they have. But--at least for the highest-ranking civil servants, the Senior Executive Service--one can always move them to different jobs. SES sign what are called "mobility agreements" as part of their accession to the Senior Executive Service, on the premise that they are "super-executives" who can do any job, and thus where they should serve is at the pleasure of the agency head.

When I first came to work in DC in 1981, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman was getting a lot of pushback from the senior leadership in the Navy. Dealing with the admirals was, well, not too difficult--they understood the concept of civilian control of the military to their core--but many SES thought--like some of today's senior FBI and CIA types much in the recent news--that "they knew better" and thus were entitled to--in effect--refuse to carry out the Administration's will.

So Lehman used the mobility agreements to turf these guys out of the comfortable little nests they'd been lining for decades and moved them out of the area. Most of them resigned instead. Buh-bye! Don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out!

A political act? Yep. A justified one? Only if you believe the elected administration has a right to enact its agenda.

If OTOH you think nothing should ever change just because we voted in a new guy (or gal) and that lifers in the civil service know best...not so much.

"In general I am reluctant to post this kind of report, because I find it difficult to know what is truly going on here, so do read this with an open mind."

Ah, Professor Cowen...

What is going on here is POLITICS. What's the matter? Are we to be shocked, SHOCKED that there is POLITICS going on in this town ?!?

As a well-known community organizer observed a decade or so ago, "Elections have consequences." And if the question is whether unelected civil servants--no matter how much wiser and cleverer than their political overlords--should be allowed to oppose the elected administration's policies, I for one applaud the administration for taking this on.

As used to be said when I first came to DC, "Personnel is policy." You can't get anything done unless you staff the effort with people who are committed to it.

And I speak as a former civil servant (1981-1996) myself.

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