Don’t put the state capital too far away sorry Albany but Austin is fine

In this paper I exploit a novel and rich data-set with biographical information of US state legislators to investigate their sorting based on remoteness and attractiveness of the state capital. The main finding of the chapter is that in more remote US state capitals the legislators are on average less educated and experienced. The results are robust to using different measures of remoteness, based on the spatial distribution of the population, and controlling for other characteristics of the legislatures. To identify the causal effect of capitals’ remoteness, I use instrumental variables relying on proximity of capitals to the state centroids. Finally, I also find that legislators’ education affects public good provision and corruption.

That is the abstract of the job market paper of Giuseppe Rossitti from the London School of Economics.


"I look for the effect of remoteness together with the average level and quality of education of state legislators on three outcome measures. These are the number of bills initiated per legislator per day of session, a measure of public good provision and a measure of corruption in the public sector."

The first two are a measure of activist government, which apparently coincides with a more "professional" legislature. I'll happily trade a less active government for more corruption.

I'm in a similar boat.

If 'less professional' means 'not looking to stick their noses in every freaking corner to find more things to control' then I'm fine with our less professional legislature.

But it just goes to show where the study's biases are - they are supporters of the 'we must do something, this is somethings, therefore we must do this' style of governing.

Another addition to the mountain of reasons AK's capital should be in Anchorage

Alaska has it's own deep state. The voters voted to move it and money was provided to buy the land on which to build it and in fact that land was bought and platted... way back in 1976. Still waiting. The Alaskan politicians liked being inaccessible to the voters.

Yeah... I'm glad you found this. Ruins the thesis in my opinion.

Why Albany two hours from NYC?

FWIW from Wikipedia:

"[...] It became the capital of New York in 1797 following formation of the United States. Albany is one of the oldest surviving settlements of the original British thirteen colonies, and is the longest continuously chartered city in the United States.

"During the late 18th century and throughout most of the 19th, Albany was a center of trade and transportation. The city lies toward the north end of the navigable Hudson River, was the original eastern terminus of the Erie Canal connecting to the Great Lakes, and was home to some of the earliest railroad systems in the world. In the 1920s, a powerful political machine controlled by the Democratic Party arose in Albany. In the latter part of the 20th century, Albany experienced [...]"

Recently, both houses of the NY legislature went Democrat - evidence of the gullibility and ignorance of the electorate and the politicians.

the original British thirteen colonies

New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut were all originally colonies of the United Provinces of the Netherlands, given up as consolation prizes in the Treaty of Breda to the UK for its loss of the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

The NYS legislature was alway Democratic in recent years, but there were renegade Democrats who didn't caucus with the Democrats. They eventually reconciled (not without penalty).

In Alaska the capitol is not only spacially remote (we have half the land mass of the contiguous US after all) it's not even on the road system! Only lobbyists can afford to visit the legislature regularly, which I'm sure is a feature rather than bug as far as they're concerned.

Brazil for all its riches does not share its natural resources with equal distribution. The pantanal is actually more verdant than the Amazon. It throttles one's sense of disbelief. Disbelief is hard to understand, it surpasses incredulity, it's a wink at a Homeric nod, a slight deference to the wild boar.

Sure, but Brazil built a modern capital in a desert.

So did Arizona. So did Utah. So did lot's of other places. Its not exactly a difficult achievement.

Ýet, Brazil created what many consider to be the most impressive capital the world has seen.

Ditto for Montana, Wyoming, Vermont, and a few others. So about 15% to 20% of the sample size had nothing to say about the theory, there was no alternative hypothesis.

Huh, what?

"The Montana State Capitol is located off of I-15, using the Capitol exit 192"

^^This is the opposite of "not on the road system". The Alaska road system connects Anchorage and Mat-Su valley noth to Fairbanks, and south to Kenai (amongst other routes and destinations), and effectively connects about 80% of the state's population. In contrast, there is *no* US highway or State road to Juneau, the state capitol. Zero; none. Only accessible by plane or boat.

Alaska has 22% of the land area of the contiguous US.

In the seventies the voters of Alaska approved the move of the capital from isolated Juneau to the more accessible Matanuska Valley. Legislators from Southeast effectively cancelled democracy by denying any funding for the move.

Remoteness is in theory an effective screening tool. Who wants to become a state legislator? How about those with combined high levels of

(t1) desire for a high status lifestyle,
(t2) genuine concern for the public interest.

Who is most willing to move to Harrisburg, PA? (I admit empirically this seems kind of wrong.) Screening across a multidimensional type space for genuinely public-minded people seems far more important to me than inducing higher “quality” types to become legislators regardless of their motivations.

I was amused by the reaction of NYT commenters when Trump floated moving one of the federal departments from DC to Denver or Omaha or wherever it was. This would gut the department! Well, it might—even public servants have their limits.

Any model that assumes two types tends to feature one straw man. Why not include t3 {popular but incapable} and t4 {power-seeking but incapable}.

Ah, since two dimensions are insufficient to describe people in their full complexity it’s a safe bet that one dimension is best.

No. Unless you are completely reductionist, it is reasonable that people have various motivations which differ in kind. That you can’t put them neatly or at all into an explicit model doesn’t mean they don’t exist. You can pick other words if you like, how about “exploitative motive” and “all other motives”.
>You can’t precisely define those sets

One dimension is best, and guess what, it’s years of education!

Springfield, IL’s remoteness from population centers has had the effect of making it a den of vice and iniquity.

I've never had any fun there.

Perhaps the cost of having lower educated officials is worth it if the benefit is less class concentration in the ruling classes of the state. A political class not as directly beholden to the cultural and business center of the state is not entirely a bad thing.

Agreed. I don't really see how "less educated and experienced" is a bad thing, especially when it comes to democratically-elected politicians...

Those who want the less-educated in power should have no problem with having their own doctors and lawyers less-educated as well.

Dumbest thing I've read all day (and I've been on Twitter).

It doesn't stop Albany, Sacramento, or Springfield from being beholden to elites. Or DC for that matter.

Remoteness is not what it once was. It's a drive of no great distance or duration from most state capital to the biggest city in the state (when they aren't the same)-- Juneau is the one exception. And even Juneau is well connected to the rest of the state by phone and data links.

If you look at the Illinois state code, you can tell it was written by lawyers with dismal drafting skills. New York and Wisconsin are both better in this regard.

They should also study the placement of the flagship state university. Illinois suffers on this front as well.

You forgot Calizuela and the propaganda machine we call UC Berzekely.

Yeah, John Yoos new book sure is a bloody communist rant. And to think the Marxists in Sacramento only pay him 400k a year to put out that propaganda. Disgraceful.

As if the token conservative is what defines the median faculty member of Berkeley.

I'd have to think that political and economic geographers have studied that, but I'm not up on their research. This recent research on state capitals is intriguing but as the comments say far from airtight.

Flagship universities are I think easier to analyze. A lot of states locate them in small college towns that are far from the population centers (and typically somewhat central geographically), but they should instead put them in or near their largest cities.

Both the city and the university benefit from this. The Univ of WA, located just a little bit north of downtown Seattle, has produced multiple Nobel prizewinners whereas the Univ of OR, almost three hours south of Portland, is a second-tier flagship university. We can see how even non-flagship universities benefit from being located in major metropolises: UNLV is arguably more well-known than the flagship University of Nevada, and UCLA attracts more applicants than Berkeley does.

Conversely the city benefits from having the university provide trained workers, brainpower, and talent that creates start-ups. If Bill Gates had attended high school in Portland instead of Seattle, he'd probably be a lawyer or something now and somebody else would've founded Microsoft and located it in the Bay Area or somewhere. But because the UW is in Seattle, he could sneak into their computer center at night and teach himself programming. If he'd been in Portland, all he would've had would've been the resources of Portland State University ... did they even have a computer on campus then, and could they have afforded to let some random high school student sneak in at night?

It's because state capitals have a very low tax base. Duh. All those government buildings and no taxes. And then if you add the state university, often located in the capital, and all those not for profits "advising" state legislators located in state capitals, more no taxes. That's why state capitals have bad roads, bad schools, and bad attitudes. Ironic, isn't it?

It's because state capitals have a very low tax base. Duh. All those government buildings and no taxes.

The term 'very low' does not mean what you fancy it means. In the case of Albany, state HQ employees account for about 16% of the local workforce. That aside, even when you have a very inflated state sector, as you do in Tallahassee, the implication is that you rebalance your local revenue sources between property and sales taxes.

I asked a similar question to Alain Bertaud on Conversations with Tyler! Though Alain didn't have a strong view on whether the political capital should be combined with the business capital.

My impression is that state legislators like the remote locations since it shields them from public scrutiny.

I actually spent some time looking into this issue a while ago. The USA is actually somewhat unique in avoiding locating its governments in whatever the largest city of the country/ state is.

However, most state capitols are located quite close to the geographical centers of the state populations and so the locations make some sense.

Ironically, the big exceptions to the rule are the states with the largest populations:

California population center closer to Bakersfield, not Sacramento

Texas population center close to Washington on the Brazos, though Austin is not too bad

Florida population center between Orlando and Tampa, near Lakeland, not Tallahassee

New York population center closer to Newburgh further down the Hudson Valley than Albany

Pennsylvania population center closer to Reading than Harrisburg

Illinois population center closer to Joliet than Springfield

Mid-sized states though are not that bad, with the bigger exceptions (most off center) being Wisconsin, Washington, and Nevada.

You are on to the serious issue here, Ed, although you failed to nail why it is the case. Only about 12 or 13 states have the state capital in the largest city, and indeed in most states the capital is nearer either or both the population and geographical center of the state, if not right on it. I think where this comes from is fear of those not in the largest metro area of letting it have too much political power, so getting the capital somewhere else, anywhere else, although not in all states has that been what went down.

In some of your cases you are off because of history. So in Florida when Tallahassee was made the capital, it was near the center of population, which was then all in the north. Also in Wisconsin, most of the population was (and still is) in the south, where Madison is at the center.

In many cases, notably with Albany, Sacramento, and Harrisburg, the state capitol location made a good deal of sense early in the state's history but the population center moved elsewhere in the state.

Neither Wisconsin or Florida was really like that. Though before air conditioning, Florida's population was located in northern Florida, Tallahassee was still somewhat too far west, and runner up St. Augustine, which had been the territorial capitol, or Gainesville where the flagship university is located would have made more sense. Madison was the result of real estate speculation/ scam and the population center of Wisconsin is to the northeast, closer to Appleton.

"legislators’ education affects ... corruption." That's poorly written. I can't tell whether he means it's harder to catch highly educated politicians being corrupt, or less educated ones.

As usual the Brazilians didn't best. Place (or relocate) the capital somewhere that no one wants to be and their friends, family, and social networks and other temptations to corruption and favoritism to ingroups) won't be constantly nearby. What better than putting it smack dab in the middle of a jungle several thousand miles away from where every who is anyone is and wants to be?
Don't bother pointing out the obvious fact that Washington DC was built from scratch (by slave labor of course) in a swamp. The point is that the Brazilians RELOCATED the Federal Capital and built a new city out of savage jungle to provide the People with more representative and better government.
Americans could learn a lot from Brazil if they (Americans) were less arrogant. Relocate the national capital to North Dakota and watch the improvement that ensues.

I’m surprised no one has mentioned Boston. Geographically remote, yet the magnet city where everyone would prefer to be. Plus, the far flung reps get to soak up the sweet, sweet per diems to ‘travel’ to a place they would probably be anyway. I’m not sure about education and experience, but I don’t think Mass reps come second to anyone wrt corruption.

MA is bad, but they're amateurs compared to IL when it comes to corruption. This is true both at the city level and the state level, where the progression seems to be: state rep ==> governor ==> prison.

Memo to potential members of the Texas Lege: you get your wife to take out a loan and buy a house or condo in Austin, then you pay her your lodging per diem in rent. Stay in a few terms, reap the sweetest imaginable pension.

But never forget the mantra, sacred to both parties: you're doing this as a noble sacrifice for practically nothing.

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