The Left Finally Admits ‘The Hunger Games’ Is About D.C.
It wasn’t too long ago that the novel The Hunger Games was all the rage, along with its bestselling sequels, films based on the novels, etc. As one might expect, left and right showed up on television and in op-ed pages with voluminous commentary about how Suzanne Collins’s tales were either about the soul-crushing cruelty of big government, or big business’s exploitation of the little guy. Readers can imagine which side of the debate right and left were on. The corrupt and hateful capital city in the novel was the epicenter of government or capitalism depending on one’s ideology.
Up front, it’s worth stating what was and is obvious either by design or by accident: Collins’s novels were quite certainly about the horrors of big government. The inhabitants of the Capitol city live exceedingly well thanks to the armed forces in their employ who exploit the impoverished citizens of Panem to their benefit. Figure that the actual games that animate each novel are themselves about the people with no voice fighting for their survival in order to entertain President Snow and others close to power.
ls are logically not about big business and/or ‘1 percenters’ exploiting the masses simply because businesses grow big thanks to them aggressively meeting the needs of their customers; usually with a smile. The armed forces in Collins’s novels were hardly smiling. They did the bidding of their political benefactors with a snarl.
In the world of capitalism, the American consumer “votes” each day on which businesses will grow, and which ones will perish. General Motors used to be the biggest company in the world until consumers deemed its products unworthy of their attention. Coca-Cola tried to give its customers what they plainly didn’t want in the form of “New Coke,” only for this global behemoth to quickly remove the unpopular drink from store shelves in favor of “Coca-Cola Classic.” Movigoers generally love Steven Spielberg’s films, but when he errs with projects like 1941, those same Spielberg fans stay home. Silicon Valley is arguably the center of 1 percenter-style wealth today, but the underlying reality is that just about every promising start-up seeded by rich venture capitalists in 2016 will be bankrupt by 2017. 1 percenter wealth springs from them relentlessly seeking to fulfill the needs of the masses, while faux government wealth is a function of force. Guns are frequently involved. Guns are everywhere in The Hunger Games, not to mention the sequels.
The American left has long persisted with the fiction that Collins’s Capitol wasn’t the home city of cruel political types living well on the backs of others, but a recent New York Times article unwittingly acknowledged what members of the right have known all along. Collins’s Capitol is clearly a metaphor for Washington, D.C., along with other shimmering capital cities made that way thanks to the productive pursuits of non-government workers in the real economy, and who generally don’t live near politicians.
Indeed, in an article titled “Newly Vibrant Washington Fears Trump’s Effect on Its Culture,” Times writer Jason Horowitz breathily described what a nice and shiny city formerly run down Washington, D.C. has become during Barack Obama’s presidency; the Obama era one generally not confused with the Reagan/Clinton boom period that ended the 20th century. Yet while the broad U.S. economy muddled along during Obama’s presidency, Washington, D.C. became rather fancy.
Horowitz worshipfully wrote about how First Lady Michelle Obama “has burned off her date-night meals at Washington’s new generation of acclaimed restaurants by peddling at SoulCycle.” And it’s not just the First Lady. According to Horowitz, “Obama administration staff members, their barhopping chronicled in the gossip pages, have hit the 14th Street hot spots hard.”
The Washington, D.C. of today is quite the contrast to the shabby one that a visitor would have encountered as recently as 2008. As Horowitz went on to point out, “Decades ago, Washington was broke and run by a mayor best known for smoking crack with a prostitute on a surveillance tape. Neighborhoods had not fully recovered from the 1968 riots, and an aging Georgetown elite still set the tone. The administrations of two Bushes and a Clinton in between hardly had an effect on the city.” So true. As my Naval Academy graduate father pointed out to my mother and me in 2005, and as we drove into Washington, D.C. from one of his class reunions in Annapolis, “After all these years, Washington is still so ugly.” Not anymore.
Horowitz added, “Mr. Obama’s arrival in 2009 coincided with an urban renaissance.” So true too, but not properly explained by Horowitz was the why behind the capital city’s revival. Horowitz predictably pointed to how “an influx of highly educated young, gay and diverse professionals gentrified neighborhoods, leading to an explosion in restaurants, bars and cafes.” Yes, that’s what happened, but missed by Horowitz is the broader truth that between 2000 and 2016, the dollar size of the federal government more than doubled. The influx of the talented that has Horowitz so rapturous has been a function of government spending that lured far too many talented people followed to D.C., and that shrank economic growth in the rest of the U.S. not Washington, D.C. The federal government can only spend what’s been extracted from the non-governmental parts of the economy first.
If anyone doubts the above assertion, including Horowitz, let’s imagine what would happen to Washington, D.C. if a Republican-controlled Congress with power over the purse at long last matches its rhetoric about the importance of small government with massive spending cuts. For fun, how about a return to the still way-too-high $1.8 trillion in federal spending levels that President Clinton and Congress oversaw in 2000? Figure that Americans were hardly in breadlines then, but the capital city was pretty run down.
Of course that’s the point. Horowitz is quite giddy about all the hipsters who’ve descended on Washington, D.C., but their arrival – and the city’s plainly visible improvements since then – was an effect of a federal government that’s grown way too large. Missed by Horowitz is that Washington’s economic surge occurred at the expense of economic growth in the rest of the U.S. If this is once again doubted, does anyone think Washington would continue to grow – or even maintain its present decadence – if federal spending were halved? Let’s be serious.
A “newly vibrant Washington” is evidence that Suzanne Collins’s novels were either unwittingly or on purpose about the growth of the capital city at the expense of everyone else. Here’s hoping Washington, D.C. becomes quite a bit less vibrant under President Trump. It will be a signal that Trump and Congress have done their jobs. As for all the hipsters who moved to D.C. in order to share in the bounty created by others, they’ll still be hip; albeit not in Washington, D.C. They’ll be advancing culture and culinary pursuits in other cities populated by people who are actually productive, as opposed to living off of the production of others.
Originally published on RealClearMarkets.