The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Opinion

October 8, 2012

Marta Mossburg, columnist: America gets poorer as Washington gets wealthier

— Life used to be so simple. Our enemies were communists and greedy people lived on Wall Street and its environs. Now we battle “man-made disasters” around the globe. And if census data is correct, Hollywood needs to reset one of its favorite storylines because Gordon Gekkos now live in Washington, D.C., and its suburbs.

President Barack Obama harkened back to that quaint world only three years ago when he pistol whipped “fat cat bankers on Wall Street” in a “60 Minutes” interview.

“I haven’t seen a lot of shame on their part,” he said of those big-bank honchos who made “completely irresponsible” decisions. They are the same ones his Justice Department won’t prosecute and who fill his campaign coffers.

He added, “There is a culture there that feels that it’s always makin’ good decisions, and if it’s not, then it’s somebody else’s fault.” He always goes folksy when in campaign mode.

My money is on both D.C. and Wall Street when it comes to blame for the housing collapse and recession, but D.C. clobbers New York City as the capital of wealth.

According to census data released last month, seven of the 10 richest counties in the country flank Washington. Only two are in the New York City suburbs. All but one of the seven, coincidentally, voted for Obama in 2008. In 2000, four counties around D.C. made the cut.

Maryland, nestled next to Washington, is one of the most Democratic states in the nation and the wealthiest by median income standards.

The people who surround Washington know, as President Obama said, that entrepreneurs didn’t build their businesses, “somebody else made that happen” — government.

The problem with the nation’s new business model is that it does not spread the wealth around. It hordes it for those within a 45-mile radius of the Capitol.

As Vice President Joe Biden said last week, the middle class has been “buried” during the last four years. Median household income in 2011 was 1.5 percent lower than in 2010 and 8.1 percent lower than in 2007. Fifteen percent of Americans now accept federal food aid, up from 11.4 percent in 2009. And millions have given up looking for work and rely on federal aid. The fact that the number of people taking Social Security disability insurance has risen more than 20 percent since 2007 broadcasts the lack of opportunity out there in flyover country and everywhere else.

Not everyone is a federal worker or contractor in the D.C. area. But the sheer size of the federal government — about $3.8 trillion — makes it a gigantic lantern for special interests to buzz around. They in turn help to make it even bigger so as to carve out more breaks for those who can afford to be politically connected — and enlarge D.C. in process.

This culture has been festering for decades without much notice because the rest of the country was doing fine. But the data reveals we’ve reached a point where the most lucrative business in America is devouring the fruits of other people’s labor.

The worst part about the shift in industry is that the best and brightest minds go where the money is. Instead of inventing things and building things and finding ways to make life better for other Americans, those minds will be focused on how to most efficiently siphon tax dollars in a vicious cycle of ever-expanding government.

President Obama so far has not addressed the failure of Washington’s redistribution economy — probably because it’s much easier to blame “fat cats” for failure than to let go of a sacred belief in government. But America is going to be a lot poorer if Washington gets any wealthier.

Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives. Read her work at www.martamossburg.com. Write her at marta@martamossburg.com.

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