Thursday, September 9, 2010

D.C. Will Never Be Cool

I happened to be in NYC on Tuesday.

Just a little after 4:00, I was near the East River. And then it started.

A string of helicopters headed toward Wall Street. It was quite a sight to see. Some were small, others looked very well outfitted. Some were probably rented, but some were, for sure, owned by the Wall Street players that they were about to pick up. In all there were maybe only a dozen, but where else do you see in a 15 minute period a dozen helicopters picking up execs after a day of work?

Wall Street is much more than the headline making operators that play footsie with D.C. There are many very smart people that make money in all kinds of ways that have nothing to do with corrupt dealings with government. I know. I have met many. In fact, such individuals are spread throughout NYC. High energy people, who through skill and perseverance have something special going for themselves in the Big Apple.

But the helicopters, for some reason drove that point home to me.

In D.C., the helicopters you see are the President's helicopter and the decoys that fly alongside him. The only other helicopter is some kind of observation/spy helicopter that appears in the air whenever the President is moving on the ground.

That's really the difference between D.C. and NYC. In D.C. it's about the one man in power and the others serving that power. Those serving will often deny reality to serve that power. It corrupts many in the bureaucracy, and across the spectrum, even some of those in universities. An economist in D.C, for example,. may serve power by justifying an outrageous government scheme that will benefit only the political elite. He knows a policy may be absurd, but that's how you climb the D.C. ladder.

In NYC, the story is different. The helicopters are there to pick up men who through will and intelligence have succeeded to the point where they can own their own helicopters. They won't be voted out of office, and though some may fail down the road, most will  continue with their success.

Further,  in NYC you don't achieve success by sucking up to power and putting your brain into denial of reality. You succeed by recognizing the reality in front of you and finding a way to do something better so that more money flows your way. Economists in NYC, for example, do not succeed by sucking up to the power elite. They succeed by by being better forecasters. Peter Schiff is successful because of his ability to understand reality and help others protect their wealth because of his knowledge.

Nouriel Roubini, also in NYC, while not as skilled a theorist and forecaster as Schiff, still does a decent job and is well compensated for it.

If Schiff and Roubini, as NYC economists,  started spouting the nonsense on economics that comes out from White House economists, they would be out of clients in no time.

None of the energy and skill that is NYC will ever be transferred to D.C.

NYC is about creativity. DC is about the sellout.

Gawker's Alex Pareene understands this:

Everyone in New York is sad because DC is so much cooler now, because we lost all the money and they have President Cool Guy. Well don't worry. DC still sucks.

DC isn't cool. It's boring. The hip and cool new DC residents brought to town to work for the Obama administration? Uh, they're "hip" and "cool" in a really, really relative sense. Like, cooler than 50-year-old Heritage Foundation senior research fellows.

DC is boring. It's small: 591,833 residents, with a "daytime population" of a million. (Some like to enlarge the "metro area" to include Baltimore, making it the fourth-largest such area in the country, which is like claiming Philly is a part of New York) And if you're counting the whole metro area, you're counting people who live in the least cool places in America: the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Sure, 30 years ago DC had Bad Brains and Minor Threat, and today it still has, uh, Ian Svenonius (the Sassiest Boy in America!), but the intervening years have gentrified the hell out of a quarter of the city proper and kept the rest in abject urban poverty, more or less. Not a great recipe for "cool"!

There's no "creative class" of monied young jerks showing up in DC with the express purpose of wasting their funds making indie dance music, starting literary journals, or even buying researching jobs at Vanity Fair. The biggest celebs are TV pundits. There is no DC equivalent of a Beatrice Inn, except maybe the entirely non-exclusive (and so old!) Cafe Milano.

And even if we're just talking about DC stealing New York's thunder with the death of the financial sector, trust us: they're not going to enjoy the spoils of obscene imaginary wealth with the same flash as our bankers once did.

Your DC congressional staffer is typically a well-meaning (or formerly well-meaning) dork who dresses and drinks like he did in college. Or they're just fratty assholes. The career bureaucrats managing the money at Treasury and the Fed? No bonuses = no bottle service.
Yeah, they are uptight in D.C. They can't be seen ordering bottle service or talking economics that isn't some version of Keynesian interventionist, "save the Fed" economics, because  in DC it's about sucking up to power rather than recognizing reality. And that means that compared to NYC, DC will never be cool. Cool is never about sucking up to power or taxing the common man's income on your way to more suck up closer to the top.

Face it. D.C. doesn't have it's own song like New York, Chicago and L.A. It doesn't even have it's own accent. You know someone is from NYC, Boston, the Midwest or the South instantly after they say a few words. What's D. C.'s accent? Nothing, zero, which aptly reflects the sucking up to nothing of the place.


  1. Contrarian-take: NYC is ground-zero for the inflationary economy and will crash and burn along with that great macro trend.

  2. Uh, you don't think that maybe a few of the fraudsters who blew up the economy might not be aboard some of those choppers?

    Not to dispute your main point (with which I fully agree), that DC is full of a stultifying, uncreative, merit-less, functionary class.

    I've lived among these types for too long, and I can say that although there are some who are genuinely nice folk, there are few to none who could make it on their own if their government/agency/institute/lobbyist paychecks stopped coming regularly.

  3. As a born and bred New Yorker, I loved your column. New York is still the capital of the world, which is why so many hate and envy us. By the way, I read your blog every day; it's indispensable.

  4. @Ralph Raico

    Thank you for the kind words. I'm honored.

  5. Uh, have you been to DC? It's not just the Hill, and for anyone into politics, despite the pervasive corruption, it's an exciting place. "Gentrification" means safe, clean, and attractive. DC is a park city. NYC is a concrete wasteland with a big park in it.

  6. Yeah I'm a native NYer and I agree we've got the edge on creativity over Washington for sure, but as for the black hole called wall street ...
    The helicopters are there to pick up men who through will and intelligence have succeeded in power vacuuming up the backwash from DCs overflowing septic tank.

  7. ""Gentrification" means safe, clean, and attractive."

    More like sterile. DC has no character.

  8. from CJ Maloney:

    You are damn skippy right with all this!

  9. "'Gentrification'" means safe, clean, and attractive."

    More like sterile. DC has no character.


    I'd have to agree with this. The years I was in the United States were all spent in DC or the metro area.

    It is very clean and attractive. But that's only so that visitors get a taste of the sucking (foreign dignitaries, children on a school trip, state governors).

  10. WOW, I mean NYC is overcrowded, overpriced, filled with assholes, and dirty. DC is much cleaner and spacious. Not everyone in DC is a gov't blockhead either -- there are tons of start up private companies. I actually know of several executives that have private helicopters at their homes in Great Falls, VA, and fly all over the city to avoid traffic. You have wicked creative people starting companies, fixing the economy, lobbying, engineering, and there's plenty of cool shit to do and an awesome night life. NYC may have DC beat in some areas, but DC has NYC beat in some areas too. BTW, DC has the highest AMI and is most educated city in the country...