Tuesday 7 March 2006

Do nations need capital cities?

In today's Scotsman there is an article by Ken Houston who is concerned about the implications of moving government jobs out of Edinburgh.

I have mixed feelings about this. Firstly of course, most of these jobs shouldn't exist at all, at least in the public sector. Once they've been privatised we'll see soon enough whether the remaining jobs should be in the capital or elsewhere. Let the market decide. Secondly, I can sympathise with taxpayers outside of Edinburgh who must be rather annoyed that so much of their money is being spent in one city, albeit one in which I live and undoubtedly benefit from its capital status. On balance though, I think that I favour the decentralisation of public sector employment.

Mr Houston makes another point:

The benefits of relocation notwithstanding, all should recognise that an economically buoyant Edinburgh is in everyone's interest: you cannot have a vibrant country without a vibrant capital city.
Is this correct? I don't think so - Edinburgh's (and London's) prosperity is to some considerable extent caused by governmental spending at the expense of the rest of the country.

Think about this: If Bern were to disappear off the face of the earth, would the rest of Switzerland continue more or less as before? I suspect that the answer is "Yes".


David Farrer said...

Comments made on previous template:

I'm not totally sure why EU serf would say that the state sector is "unproductive". In Scotland, the state sector does health, education, water supply, criminal investigation and prosecution and a large proportion of housing. In what sense can the production of goods like these be regarded as "unproductive"? What about parts of the private sector that are entirely or largely paid for by the state - private prisons, criminal defence, and a large part of the housing sector? Are these "productive" just because they're done by private entities? Why are banks "productive" but hospitals and schools "unproductive"?

6 April 2006, 22:13:58 GMT+01:00
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Neil Craig
Edinburgh's unique problem is that it is all listed. Thus it becomes more difficult & expensive to build new offices & houses (& Parliaments) thus all costs spiral. We should have gone for Stirling which has an older claim, is geographicly central, not built up & is not Glasgow or Edinburgh.  
Airdrie would work too but doesn't have quite the historical antecedents.

22 March 2006, 16:32:13 GMT
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The Pedant-General in Ordinary
All the above exhibits are extremely good examples of Federal systems with a strong sense of subsidiarity. Even the Governors of States in the US have to defer to the mayors of towns in matters that affect only that town. 
this simply isn't the case in the UK, even with devolved govt. We just have another huge "central" bureaucracy. 
But EU Serf, as always, has a salient point....

13 March 2006, 23:25:56 GMT
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EU Serf
Moving the unproductive sector out of Edinburgh would free up resources that could be used in the productive sector. So Edinburgh would probably gain as well. 
Don't forget that in Germany's glory days, the capital was Bonn.

13 March 2006, 11:35:35 GMT
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Wild Pegasus
Malta has, according that reliable indicator the UN, the world's happiest people. 
A warm island with beautiful beaches in the Mediterranean crawling with stunning dark-haired women has the world's happiest people? Knock me down with a feather! 
- Josh

9 March 2006, 21:27:14 GMT
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David Farrer said...

David Farrer
Mrs F&W and I spent a day there a few years ago. Very enjoyable it was - a bit of commerce and no sign of politicians.

9 March 2006, 20:39:25 GMT
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Peter Briffa
Malta has, according that reliable indicator the UN, the world's happiest people. It is also doing very well economically. No one in their right mind would describe its capital Valetta as "vibrant". It basically goes to sleep after dark.

9 March 2006, 19:33:19 GMT
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Robert Speirs
As a resident of Tallahassee, Florida, I don't know how I feel about it being "relatively insignificant" but I can't argue the fact, since it's in the same state as Miami, Palm Beach/Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville, each of which is around ten times Tallahassee's size. 
And there's no doubt Florida's prosperous without a "vibrant" capital city.

8 March 2006, 18:17:22 GMT
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Also, you don't get 'economic buoyancy' through tax payer funded spending sprees on so called public 'services' and public 'servants'.

8 March 2006, 12:44:41 GMT
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"all should recognise that an economically buoyant Edinburgh is in everyone's interest:" 
Isn't this just the self serving mirror image of the devolution argument? All the UK public money is spent in the south east...

8 March 2006, 10:11:35 GMT
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Wild Pegasus
Exhibit A: The United States of America. 
Washington probably isn't one of the top ten cities in the country, and America is undoubtedly strong. 
Scotland, though, is more like an American state than the US (in terms of size and political power). 
Exhibits B-G: California, Illinois, Pennsylvania, New York, Texas, Florida 
All of these states have huge strong cities and relatively insignificant state capitals. Yet, these are arguably the 6 strongest states in the union. 
Edinburgh should be a great city, but it doesn't need to be a great government city for Scotland to be great. 
- Josh

8 March 2006, 04:12:02 GMT