Locals could be forgiven for yawning this fall when the U.S. Census Bureau crowned Washington America’s richest metro area. After all, it was a year full of accolades that track with economics. Washington finished first in happiness, second in physical fitness, and fifth from the bottom in stress. No wonder: Regional unemployment was vastly below the national average, sales of million-dollar houses were up by a third, and personal income jumped by 3.7 percent. Unsurprisingly, United Van Lines said the area ranked tops among destinations for moves. Even the local lobster-roll truck announced plans to double its fleet. And, for once, the District’s narrative tracked with the region’s. Though D.C.’s unemployment far exceeds the suburbs’—it’s slightly over the national average—good times rolled for real estate owners, among other swells (beer bars now have their own sommeliers, for Chrissakes).
Economists can list a bunch of reasons for Washington’s prosperity, but the biggest may be that the federal government remains a much more stable business than the dubious private-sector employers in foreclosure towns like Las Vegas and Cleveland. Which makes one wonder why our prosperity hasn’t become subject for right-wing demagoguery. Tea partiers managed to fire up crowds with rants against non-existent death panels, after all. Accusing bureaucrats of inflating a boutique-cupcake bubble while the rest of the country prepares for double-dip recession ought to be simple. And yet, in campaign-trail discourse, “Washington” just remains a byword for socialistic paper-pushing rather than a caricature of excess. Sometime soon, some enterprising righty will figure it out. Until then: Sommelier, your most expensive can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, on the double!