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A Lesson for Arlington’s Worthies

Because of Arlington’s affluent economy and its location next to the nation’s capital, it’s highly unlikely that Arlington County would ever become the Baltimore of Northern Virginia. Nevertheless, a recent article about the city of Baltimore in the Wall Street Journal on the July 5, 2008 provides food for thought. The article by two university economics professors in the Baltimore area addresses the question of whether:

“Baltimore deserves the Third-World profile it has developed because it has expanses of crumbling, crime-riddled neighborhoods populated by low-income renters, an absent middle class, and just a few enclaves of high-income gentry near the Inner Harbor or in suburbs.”

They write that in the 1950’s Baltimore:

“was a prosperous, blue-collar city of about 950,000 with a median family income 6.6% above the national average. Back in the good old days, Baltimore had a smaller percentage of residents living in poverty (22.7%) than the nation as a whole (27.8%), and a greater percentage of families (23.1%) earning a middle-class income of at least $44,600 in today's dollars than the rest of the country (19.1%).”

Besides spending 61% more per person than the surrounding county, the city’s population today:

“is almost 50% smaller, and about 40% of families with children live at or near the federal poverty line. Among the country's 100 most populous cities, Baltimore ranks a shameful 87th on median household income.”

The professors then go on to explain why taxes are to blame for Baltimore’s rot, noting that:

“Politicians, in short, reason that because physical capital cannot typically be picked up and moved, it is immutable. Wrong. It depreciates. Fail to replenish or improve it, and it decays to uselessness.”

Let’s hope that Baltimore’s worthies learn the lessons the professors are teaching. In addition, Arlington taxpayers need to be ever watchful of where our political elite are leading the county.

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