Urban Inequality – the Paris Syndrome, U.S. Style

After stepping off an Amtrak train in Washington DC, you drag your luggage down a ramp into a nice, modern, well-organized space with waiting areas, newsstands and mid-priced eateries, plus a few retailers such as H&M. Overhead signs instruct you to keep walking through this space to reach taxies and busses; you find yourself in a huge hall with marble floors and soaring coffered ceilings, where there are a couple of nice restaurants and, on a lower level, a food court. But you still haven’t reached the taxi line. Keep going and you will find yourself in the officially branded “Great Hall,” which has no discernible function but sure is impressive with its polished floor and yet another soaring, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Finally, on the other side of the Great Hall, you find the taxi line.

While Washington’s Union Station has three giant halls, other major Amtrak stations on the northeast corridor – Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Newark, New York, New Haven, Providence, Boston – barely have one between them. Their stations are all, to a greater or lesser degree, dumps. Philadelphia’s is the best of the lot, with a spacious art deco waiting area that, unfortunately, appears not to have been cleaned since it was opened in 1933. New York’s Penn Station may well be the worst major train station north of the equator—a crowded, dirty, cacophonous multi-level catacomb of unsightly corridors and passageways.

The same goes for subways—immaculate platforms and sky-high ceilings in the DC Metro versus cramped, decrepit, claustrophobic, outmoded transit systems in Philly, New York and Boston.

The Protection Racket

Of course, this transit dichotomy is symptomatic of a larger reality. In Obama’s Washington, bureaucrats and politicians multiply taxes and fines and regulations and rules and guidelines and mandates with the stated aim of reducing inequality. In reality they are retarding economic growth and dramatically increasing inequality by burdening America’s private economy with excessive regulation, even as Washington’s regulatory economy booms. The city is brimming with lawyers and lobbyists who, for a stiff fee, will stretch the tax code or “improve” a piece of legislation. (How do you think Denny Hastert got the $1.7 million he allegedly paid to a blackmailer?) Whereas the business districts of Baltimore and Philadelphia are shrinking into a pathetic, dilapidated core of banks and government offices, downtown Washington has block upon block of gleaming 10-story office buildings; interspersed among them are innumerable luxury hotels and fancy restaurants, not to mention ornate embassies and high-rent apartment buildings. And DC’s booming suburbs claim six of the ten richest counties in the U.S.

Rich Regulators

The 2013 median household income of the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area was $90,149, far higher than other cities; next highest was San Francisco at $79,624. Boston was $72,907, New York $67,194, and Philadelphia $60,482. So incomes were fully 50% higher in Washington than Philadelphia. Talk about “inequality.”

Call It the Paris Syndrome . . .

. . . . elites clustered in the capital, ruminating about inequality while making a mint taxing and regulating the real economy to death. Of course the national media are oblivious to the Paris Syndrome because they live in Washington and are out of touch with the real world beyond the Beltway. To them Georgetown – with its quaint tree-lined streets and immaculate ivy-clad townhouses – is a typical urban neighborhood. But nothing similar is to be found in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Wilmington, or Newark, whose impoverished citizens are supposedly benefiting from the torrent of regulation pouring out of DC.

Copyright Thomas Doerflinger 2015. All Rights Reserved.





About tomdoerflinger

Thomas Doerflinger, PhD is a prominent observer of American capitalism – past, present and future. http://www.wallstreetandkstreet.com/?page_id=8
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