Wednesday, January 24, 2007

What does DC home rule have in common with the war in Iraq?

Both are inspired by the same flawed idea that democracy is always and everywhere the best form of government. We know the results in Iraq: tens of thousands of casualties. And we know the results in DC: Marion Barry. Sure, we've got a sober mayor now, who wants to "take over the schools," whatever that means. But Marion's always there, on the City Council now, tempting him with the crack pipe. I say the nation's capital should be treated as an experiment. I like the charter schools, but we need to go further. We need to try out some other forms of government. And we need to stop interfering with foreign governments.

There's a simple solution here: Pledge to the world that when we topple a dictator, we will then make him mayor of DC. Mayor for life, even. Imagine what Saddam would have done with DC's crime emergency. Or just think what fun we could have with Kim Jong Il as mayor, bumping into him on the metro, etc. In fact, I hear Kim's not buying his own propaganda anymore, so he might even agree to this arrangement. Then we could stop yakking about 6 party talks.

There's nothing but upside here, people. Let's make it happen with a constitutional amendment. Who's with me?

Nota bene: Yeah, some of you will remember how I originally argued for this war, but that was before I met this man. And, appropriately, under this proposition I would have had to live with a tyrant.

Addendum: It's comforting that many of the smartest people I know also fell into this trap. And, they too, as Washingtonians, would have been stuck with a tyrant.


Megan said...

Will, you need to brush up on DC city history. We had a dictator in the form of the financial control board. It worked in the short term, but I'm not sure it would have worked for longer. Then DC went back to the abridged form of democracy Congress stuck it with.

The DC government is already a test lab- for Congress! There's a lot of resentment about how congressmen from faraway states can and do dictate how the DC government is run. Congress interferes in everything the tax base to what road repair projects get funded to the schools to whether or not you can make a right turn on red.*

You want an experiment- how about the DC government be allowed to run itself, without having its budget approved by Congress (who like to tinker with it), without having the congressionally-imposed mandate that two seats on the DC Council go to non-Democrats, and without the risk of being hauled before Congress whenever you try something new.

While they're at it, why don't the 13 executive branch police agencies take care of all the motorcades, blocked roads, etc. and let the Metropolitan Police protect the people of DC?

I think one of the reasons people kept re-electing Marion Berry is because he ticked off Congress so much.

*I'm not kidding about the right-on-red issue. 20-odd years ago when the idea was introduced, the DC government resisted and resisted until Congress threatened to take all their road funds away. DC caved by allowing right-on-red from 4-7 am. A fine example of Congress interfering in something that is a state or local issue everywhere else.

Joshua said...


Here is the information on the Austrian doing some work in the Economics of Religion whom I briefly mentioned last night. Great to meet you! Look forward to talking more.

Will McBride said...

Megan, I would be all for home rule if we could first put together a local constitution which limits government. I think the framers left DC without voting rights because they saw the inherent conflict of interest and selection problem: Washingtonians always want more government because it is in their interest, either because it helps their political career or helps the local economy.

Megan said...

Why should DC be different than New York or Phoenix or Boston? Shouldn't the people be able to write their own local constitution to limit government or not per their desires?

I think you're mixing up the federal government with DC local government. Yes, the federal government is good for the local DC economy. How the scope of the DC local government affects the local economy would be the same of any large city.

The federal government enacts rules* that negatively affect the local DC economy that other large cities don't have to deal with. Since Congress is messing around with DC, doesn't DC deserve to have an advocate with full voting priviledges?

*Example off the top of my head: Per federal law, no buildings can be taller than the Washington Monument, limiting the size of office buildings and thus limiting the number of people who can work in DC. Anything government and anything non-profit is exempt from property taxes, and the annual payment is nowhere close to what to tax receipts would be. Congress completely nixed the commuter tax, which other cities use, so people who live in in MD and VA but use DC services during the day (mostly roads, but also things like fire & ambulance service) don't pay for them.

Megan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Will McBride said...

Megan, to repeat myself, DC is different from other cities because its residents have a greater incentive to increase the size of the federal government. The principle goal of the framers was to limit the size and scope of government. Read some Federalist papers, eg #10, if you don't believe me. Thus, DC is underrepresented by design.

That being said, I hate the way Congress oversteps its Constitutional limits in every way it possibly can. Surely the framers did not intend for Congress to micromanage DC the way it does. I think DC should have more control over its finances, but not neccesarily any more control over the federal agenda, ie not any more federal voting rights. I know, this begs the question: who then advocates for such a change? Unfortunately, this is a constitutional problem that should have been ideally set up in our "constitutional moment", ie the founding. That's when the rules of the game can be set up with minimal strategic concerns. All players are behind the veil of uncertainty, about the future that is. Now we're SOL, bascically, because of the conflict of interest I mentioned.

I'm generally not so fond of democracy, and I think municipal democracies are especially problematic in this country. All exhibited terrible results in the 20th century, including Boston and New York. They lack constitutional restraints. And that probably doesn't provide a solution for all time either.

Government is essentially problematic and gets in the way. That's why this post is not entirely in jest. I think dictatorship, or maybe even random assignment of control, produces results about as good as democracy. I actually have a paper on how democracy could be resurrected, which I'll eventually spring on everybody.