Should Washington, DC, Become a State?

Washington DC License PlateIf you visit Washington, DC, one of the things you may notice is the license plates on local vehicles.

While the inhabitants of the District of Columbia pay federal taxes, they do not have voting representation in Congress – just one delegate whose votes do not count. So since 2000, after approval by the Mayor and City Council, DC residents have had a choice to use their license plates as a form of protest. “Taxation Without Representation” harkens back to the causes of the Revolutionary War and the principles under which it was fought.

The creation of a federal district was outlined in the Constitution, Article I, Clause 17 which allows Congress “To exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over such District (not exceeding ten Miles square) as may, by Cession of particular States, and the Acceptance of Congress, become the Seat of the Government of the United States, and to exercise like Authority over all Places purchased by the Consent of the Legislature of the State in which the Same shall be…” This allowed Congress to create a federal district over which they had power as it would not be part of a state.

As Washington, DC has grown, so has the frustration of its population. Its citizens were not allowed the right to vote in the Presidential election until the passage of the 23rdAmendment in 1961 which gave the District three Electoral Votes for President. But still, they have no voting representation in Congress.

Activists in Washington, DC are now trying to get the city approved as the 51st state. With a population (estimated at 693,000 in 2017) greater than Vermont or Wyoming, its residents argue that they deserve two Senators and a Representative as much as any states are entitled to them. They argue that the residents pay taxes, serve in the military and contribute to the welfare of the nation as a whole, so they should be entitled to the same rights.

Those who oppose Washington, DC becoming a state explain that there was a reason that the framers of the Constitution did not want the federal district to gain too much power. In Federalist #431, one of the authors of the Constitution and future President James Madison, explained that if the capital were in a state, that state would have too much power as members of Congress would be beholden to it as part-time residents.  However, Madison also writes that while not part of a state, the federal district’s citizens “will have had their voice in the election of the government which is to exercise authority over them.” This part of Federalist #43 is used by supporters of DC having representation in Congress to show that it wasn’t the intent for them to be disenfranchised.

In the election of November, 2016, DC voters overwhelmingly approved a referendum to make Washington the nation’s 51st state.2 To get around the Constitutional requirement that the federal district be under the control of Congress, the referendum carved out the area of the city with the White House, Congress and many of the federal departments as “federal district.” But the rest of the city would become the state of “New Columbia” with two Senators and a Representative. The referendum passed with over 78% of the vote.3

While she can’t vote on legislation, Eleanor Holmes Norton, DC’s delegate to the House of Representatives, did introduce a bill, H.R.51, the “Washington D.C. Admission Act” which would admit Washington, minus the federal properties, into the Union as the 51st state. While it is very unlikely it will pass through Congress right now, the groundwork is being laid for the possibility that the State of New Columbia will add its star to the American flag sometime in the future.


Discussion Questions

  1. Is using a license plate an appropriate form of protest? Why or why not?
  2. What are the strongest arguments in support of Washington DC becoming a state?
  3. What are the strongest arguments against Washington DC becoming a state?
  4. Do you support statehood for Washington? Why or why not?
  5. There is an argument that in order for Washington DC to become a state with representation, a Constitutional Amendment would need to be adopted allowing such a change. Do you think the current proposal, to carve out a federal district out of the federal buildings downtown and let the rest of the city become the new state, is allowable or do you believe the Constitution would have to be amended?  How do you support your position?


Featured Image: A sign supporting D.C. statehood on display outside an early voting site in Washington. (Susan Walsh/AP)
[1} Madison, James. Federalist #43. (1788)
[2] Davis, Aaron C, “District voters overwhelmingly approve referendum to make D.C. the 51ststate.” Washinton Post, 8 November 2016.
[3] “Washington, DC Statehood Referendum (November 2016). Ballotopedia.,_Statehood_Referendum_(November_2016)


Trade War: What Is It Good For?

This past Friday, President Trump announced a new round of tariffs on $200 billion dollars’ worth of goods from China, increasing the rate from 10% to 25%. On Sunday, China announced retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion dollars’ worth of US goods increasing to a rate of 20-25%.1 The so-called ‘trade war’ between the US and China has been ongoing since the summer of 2018 and there is no clear end in sight. So, what does all of this mean?


Trade War: What Does It Mean?

A trade war usually centers on two nations with a trade imbalance. A trade imbalance occurs when Nation A imports more from Nation B than Nation B imports from Nation A.  Such imbalances are normal since it’s impossible for any trade relationship to ever be 100% balanced. However, when the imbalance gets too extreme it can start having a negative effect on the economy of whichever country is importing more goods. Generally speaking it essentially means that one country is getting more benefit out of the trade relationship than the other.

One way to offset this imbalance is by imposing tariffs. Tariffs are a fee that countries can place on certain goods, typically on imports. For example, let’s say a shopper who lives in Nation A goes to the supermarket to buy apples. Apples from Nation A are $2.50/lb while apples from Nation B are $2.00/lb. Naturally, the shopper buys the cheaper apples from Nation B, as do most other shoppers. As a result, Nation B’s apple growers make money, Nation A’s apple growers do not.

To address this problem the government of Nation A might impose a 30% tariff on apples from Nation B. When that shopper goes back to the grocery store to buy apples, Nation A’s apples are still $2.50/lb but now Nation B’s apples are $2.60/lb. That shopper now chooses to purchase Nation A’s apples, along with most other shoppers, and now Nation A’s apple growers make money while Nation B’s do not.

trade war occurs when rather than yield to the pressure of tariffs, a country imposes its own tariffs instead. In our example, after Nation A imposes the tariff on Nation B’s apples, Nation B responds by placing a similar tariff on Nation A’s oranges. Both countries try to get the other to back off from tariffs by making it too costly to continue.


The US-China Trade War

With the US and China now embroiled in a trade war the question becomes: ‘Why?’ The Trump Administration has argued that tariffs on Chinese goods are necessary to decrease the trade imbalance between the US and China and will have the effect of growing the US agricultural industry and creating job opportunities in the US.2

However, many experts are skeptical of this plan. The President’s own economic advisor, Larry Kudlow, has stated that while the tariffs will ultimately do more damage to China’s overall economy, the US agricultural industry has been and will continue to be directly damaged as farmers are no longer able to sell soy beans, corn, and pork to Chinese markets.3 Many economists also point to the fact that whatever the goals of a trade war, the immediate result is that prices for consumers rise in both countries, meaning for most Americans the only observable effect of the tariffs will be that their grocery bills cost more.4

The trade war has also produced a precipitous effect on the stock market which opened at a two-month low on Monday as a result of China’s retaliatory tariff announcement. However, many economists argue that these dips in the stock market are usually only short-term.5

Ultimately though, the President’s trade war may be poorly timed if the goal is to restore balance in the US-China trade relationship. While China continues to depend on foreign exports for things like steel, oil, and heavy industrial goods (airplanes, cars, etc.) the Chinese government has also been laying the groundwork for a massive shift away from an export-driven economy to a domestic-focused economy as Chinese consumers gain more wealth and ability to purchase goods.6 While the trade war may be accelerating their timeline and making the transition more risky, the decline in access to foreign goods may wind up boosting Chinese domestic industries as the Chinese government had planned.


Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think the government should be involved in regulating trade between countries?
  2. Under what conditions, if any, is it acceptable for the government to impose tariffs?
  3. If it means the economy of the country as-a-whole will improve is it acceptable for the administration to continue the trade war even if it has a negative effect on a specific industry/group (ex. farmers)?
  4. Should the goal of the government always be to protect domestic industries or to pursue policies which make goods cheaper and the economy more efficient?


Featured Image: Associated Press; Andy Wong
[1] Swanson, A., Bradsher, K., & Sullivan, E. (2019, May 13). China Retaliates With Higher Tariffs as Trump Defends U.S. Approach. Retrieved from
[2] Trade wars, Trump tariffs and protectionism explained. (2019, May 10). Retrieved from
[3] Newburger, Emma. (2019, May 12). Kudlow acknowledges US will pay for China tariffs, contradicting Trump. Retrieved from
[4] Trade wars, Trump tariffs and protectionism explained. (2019, May 10). Retrieved from
[5] Wearden, G. (2019, May 13). Trade war: China hits back with new tariffs on US goods – business live. Retrieved from
[6] China showing some steel as industry avoids effects of trade war tariffs. (2019, February 14). Retrieved from