Fairfax County USA

Fairfax County is one of the richest and fastest growing counties in the United States. According to the 2000 Census Fairfax’s median household income is $90,937.00, which is the highest in America, and the population has grown 18.5 percent since 1990. The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce likes to boast, “Fairfax County has rural roots. As recently as the 1950s it was the leading dairy-producing county in the (State). Now it is a world center of commerce and trade, and the technology hub of the US East Coast. More than 4000 technology companies have offices here, including leaders in aerospace, e-commerce, Internet services, software development and telecommunications. It is the home of the Internet, with more than half of the world’s Internet traffic crossing northern Virginia’s borders daily.”11 Fairfax has a population of just a little under one million, and it is interesting to note that there are 32,000 Volvos and Mercedes-Benzes – one for every 30 people in the region.12

Despite the wealth “people look at their paycheck here and don’t feel very rich,” said Stephen Fuller, a public policy professor at George Mason University who studies demography in the Washington area. “We’re so busy working, and our kids are so busy that we have more cars. We eat out more often and so on. We spend all our money living well, but not ostentatiously or like wealthy people.”13 It’s an area where “people actually talk of luck in landing a nice three-bedroom house for under $400,000; where well-to-do parents form a nonprofit (corporation) to build their children ($90,000) playgrounds; where economic opportunity draws technology workers from around the world; and where middle and lower-income families struggle to keep pace.”14

It’s also a place where parents spend large sums of money on high school proms, birthday parties, and school homecomings. “At West Springfield High, parents decided they wanted to send the class of 2000 off in style, so they raised nearly $60,000 for its all-night graduation party. They hired the Pat McGee Band, a Richmond group with several major-label recordings to its credit, and gave out door prizes such as televisions, bikes, and stereos.”15

In Fairfax County, the excesses of others make those who earn good money, at least in comparison to almost any other place on Earth, complain they simply have not got enough. A couple who makes $90,000 a year, Lisa and Steve Pagliocchini, complained, “I look around me and I see people with $400,000 houses and two beautiful cars and two kids, and I wonder, ‘What am I doing wrong?” said Lisa. “It’s not like we don’t have any money. It just doesn’t go that far anymore.”16

Fairfax County takes pride in its public schools and its students have always scored far above the state and national averages on standardized college entrance exams. It’s a county where well over half the population has at least a college degree, but it is also a place that sees new problems facing a venerable past. To service the many needs of the winners of go-go capitalism there has been an increase in jobs for low-skilled, service workers. Many of these workers are recent immigrants with children.

Subsequently, “Fairfax confronts a host of new, expensive demands that some of its neighbors do not. There are more students from low-income or impoverished homes. The number of children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches skyrocketed to more than 30,000 this year, doubling in a decade…Over the same period, the number of students not fluent in English more than tripled, and the number of special education students more than doubled.”17 Fairfax County has 200 public schools and its 2002 School Board Budget is $1.49 billion, and this budget includes a deficit of $23.6 million.

“Here in Fairfax County schools – one of the nation’s biggest and best districts in one of the wealthiest counties in America – 15,000 students learn in trailers (mobile classrooms).” According to Fairfax County School Board Representative Stuart Gibson, “In the last five years, we’ve seen 20,000 new students – most school districts don’t even have 20,000 students total.” Stuart added, “A majority of the new students are immigrants. The average cost to educate a student is $7,750. The average cost to educate an ESL (English as a Second Language) student is $10,470, and the ESL population has tripled in the last 10 years.”18

Added to the increasing number of students with special needs Fairfax County, like school districts around the country and in many other countries, is having trouble retaining teachers. This is partly due to the fact that the cost of housing is simply more than County employees can afford. It has become something of a mid-level mantra in Fairfax government that those who work for the county can no longer afford to live there. High school teacher Dave Blakely recently told the local newspaper, “I live in Leesburg (a town about 45 minutes drive from where he teaches), and the reason I live out there is because that’s where I can financially afford housing.”19

Blakely, along with 4000 other Fairfax County teachers involved in a work-to-rule protest, made it clear he was seriously thinking about teaching at another school next year because of his frustration at working for wages far below those of most everyone else in the County. “The starting salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree usually falls below $35,000. Teachers wait tables, work at department stores, tutor scores of students. Others even run their own businesses on the side.”20 Fairfax County hires “about 2,000 new teachers a year. A few years ago, 80 percent of Fairfax’s teachers had 20 years or more experience. Today, 65 percent have five years or less experience.”21

Fairfax County epitomizes the riches, the desires, the contradictions, the competition, the inequalities, the frenetic pace, and the emerging problems of “go-go capitalism.”

What is ‘go-go capitalism,’ and can you expect it in your town soon?

In a speech delivered in May 2000, then US Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, reflected on what people are calling the New Economy. “The notion is ‘both palpable and amorphous – more often declared than defined,” he said. “But if there is one fundamental change at its heart, it must be the move from an economy based on the production of physical goods to an economy based on the production and application of knowledge.”

The New Economy, Summers said, seems to behave differently from the agricultural and industrial economies of earlier eras. “Consider the classic Smithian model of wheat: when prices rise, farmers produce more, consumers buy less, and equilibrium is restored at a lower level of demand.” This classic model of economics, Summers said, is a “negative-feedback” economy – one that is bounded by near-term constraints of supply and demand. An analogy, he suggested, might be a thermostat, which will shut down the furnace when your house overheats.22

“By contrast,” Summers observed, “the information economy will increasingly be a positive-feedback economy.” In the traditional economy new technologies and products start out expensive and rare, and only gradually become cheap and common: think of refrigeration, the automobile, the long-distance call. In the New Economy, additional capacity seems to become available so quickly and inexpensively (think of the microchip) that traditional supply constraints are almost trivial. “In such a world,” Summers said, “the avalanche, rather than the thermostat, becomes the more attractive metaphor for economic policy.”23

The New Economy, or what I call go-go capitalism, runs at full throttle and it uses the world’s best thinking to seek out profits at all costs. Speed and cleverness are the keys to being a winner in go-go capitalism.

Edward Luttwak, Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington DC, captured the essence of go-go capitalism in 1996 when he wrote, “nowadays there is only one economic orthodoxy, taught and proclaimed by almost all academic economics, happily celebrated by Wall Street and corporate managers, and fully accepted by Democrats and Republicans as well as the mainstream parties of Europe. This is the faith that ‘turbo-charged capitalism’– accelerated change fueled by global free trade and domestic deregulation — is the only way to run an economy.”24

Robert C. Goizueta, former CEO of Coca-Cola, stated the logic of go-go capitalism with particular clarity. “Businesses are created to meet economic needs,” he said. When they “try to become all things to all people, they fail…We have one job: to generate a fair return for our owners…We must remain focused on our core duty: creating value over time.”25 Profits reign supreme. All is secondary.