David R. Henderson  

Washington Snowstorm and Community

Fighting With Numbers... Explaining Aggregate Demand an...
One of the things I hated most about living in Washington, D.C. during the two-and-a-half years that I was in the Reagan administration was the way almost everyone there "breathed, slept, and ate" government. Of all the people in the United States, people in Washington have the hardest time understanding community because so many of them work in and/or support the most anticommunity organization in the country, the federal government. I rarely felt, for that reason, at all connected to my fellow residents. There was a coldness in many of them that I have never seen in any other community I've lived in. There's good reason for the popularity of this expression: "If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog."

Despite all this, I remember one great night when I bonded with some of my fellow Washingtonians. It was during a snowstorm, when the snow was creating ice on the road at rush hour and turning the trip across the Potomac into a huge traffic jam. On the bridge, I saw a car stuck on the ice with its wheels spinning. I got out of my car and ran over and pushed the car to get it moving again. The driver stuck his head out of the window and thanked me. In that one moment, there was a connection between us that I had never felt in that town.

Excerpt from my The Joy of Freedom: An Economist's Odyssey.

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CATEGORIES: Economics and Culture

COMMENTS (8 to date)
Lifelong DC Resident writes:


As a private-sector Washington resident, I think that says more about you than DC as a city. It's a great place to live. You can find nice, warm people as well as cold bastards, just like in any other city in any other country. Some of the great people work for the government, some in private sector.

I went to college in California. It's not like you are living in a perfect community with happiness and smiles all around, either.

I don't know who you thought your friends were, but my experience is exactly the opposite. NOT everyone 'breathes, sleeps, and eats' government. But it sounds a bit like you did. Maybe you should have gotten out more.

Dave K writes:

As he drove away, he thought, "Suckers!"

Ryan writes:
says more about you than DC

Actually, the cliche says it all. Cliches don't come to fruition out of thin air. I've never heard one say, "If you want a friend in Scranton, PA, get a dog."

Steve Miller writes:

Wasn't it JFK who said that Washington is a city of Southern efficiency and Northern charm?

David R. Henderson writes:

@Steve Miller,
Yes, I think it was JFK.
@Lifelong DC Resident,
You don't do nuance, do you?

Michael Foley writes:

I live in D.C., and we had just such a snowstorm Wednesday. Unlike you, I was disappointed in what I saw.

Yes, people did get out and help push - but not very many. Why were people so reluctant to help when the benefits were so plain to see?

Economics teaches us to seek understanding rather than condemning, so I conjectured ideas about public goods, value scales, etc. Maybe there's a good explanation. At the time all I could think was, "what's the matter with you people? Get out of your car and help!"

David R. Henderson writes:

@Michael Foley,
I did provide an explanation. At least I thought I did. It has to do with the lack of Washington community, which, in turn, has to do with the Washington mindset.

Jeff writes:

In my experience, neighborliness, at least in the suburbs, is largely a function of real estate prices. Where they are high, both parents work and don't mix much with the neighbors. In less-expensive suburbs (e.g., Cleveland or most Southern cities) you find many more stay-at-home moms. The neighborhood kids play at their houses, and parents get to know their neighbors.

That said, it does seem that many in the DC area have higher opinions of themselves and their own importance than are justified. I saw less of this in other areas (San Diego, Cleveland, Chicago and more Army bases than I can remember) where I've lived.

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