Thursday, September 23, 2010


  OK, this is one of those not totally thought out theses, so bear with me. I was reading an article about Linda McMahon, the republican candidate for Senate in Connecticutt, when I started to think about working in government as aspirational vs bureaucratic. What does this mean? I don't have any real data, but from observation I think that the city governments of, say, New York and Washington DC are full of ivy league grads, of people with degrees from the Kennedy School, fancy law degrees. Even relatively entry level project assistant type jobs are appealing to aspiring policy wonks. In contrast, I would guess that the city government of Peoria or Lancaster are full of locals, who perhaps do not have as fancy credentials. Although the size of the city is related to how desirable jobs in its government may be to non-locals with fancy degrees, it is not totally correlated - Chicago, I would guess, is a big city where jobs, at least historically, are given more to locals than to outsiders with fancy degrees. There are also smaller and poorer cities - Newark comes to mind, where locals leave to get fancy degrees, and return to try to change things around.

One obvious question is - how do fancy degrees change the way people run the government? Perhaps governments full of mostly locals are more prone to corruption? Perhaps they are better attuned to local needs, and less likely to pay attention to public policy fads? Certainly people with fancy degrees have been hopping on the charter school bandwagon, for better or for worse.

I have been blabbering about city governments so far, but does this apply to state governments? State capitals are so often in undesirable places to live that jobs there might not attract as many policy wonkish people as they otherwise would. I know that one of the only paid government internships available to undergrads is (or at least was) one working in Sacramento for various parts of the CA government, because undergrads wouldn't work there for free. That should mean that states with capitals in major cities (Alabama, Massachusetts, Minnesota...) have a different sort of work force than the others - and I don't know if that is true. This might also effect people who run for state office, which certainly effects the pool of candidates who might run for Congress or Senate. If locals without aspirations of policy oriented careers fill certain jobs, does this leave a big whole for CEOs and rich people to run for office?

Reading this, I realize that I have no idea about anything that goes on in the South. I am not sure if any of this remotely applies there; I don't know that the value of a fancier degree from the north is same in applying for jobs there, I don't know if there are equivalent Southern schools which provide policy wonks, I don't know if general small government feelings make policy wonks irrelevant there.