Proximity and Power

The American magazine asks an interesting question with an obvious answer:

Why do the headquarters of state teachers’ unions tend to be so close to state capitol buildings?

Authors Jay P. Green and Jonathan Butcher write:

If you stand on the steps of a state capitol building and throw a rock (with a really strong arm), the first building you can hit has a good chance of being the headquarters of the state teachers’ union. For interest groups, proximity to the capitol is a way of displaying power and influence. The teachers’ union strives to be the closest. It wants to remind everyone that it is the most powerful interest group of all.

. . .

In Nebraska, the state teachers’ union office is only 210 feet from the capitol building. In Pennsylvania, it is only 312 feet away. In Alabama, Delaware, and South Dakota, the teachers’ union headquarters is about 500 feet away.

As we said, the answer is obvious. As the authors conclude:

The teachers’ unions don’t want people to think they can lose. They want to impress folks with their prime real estate and well-heeled lobbyists. But eventually it is hard to sustain really bad ideas in public policy—and the teachers’ unions have embraced some really bad ideas. Eventually the “puffery” of well-placed offices succumbs to the substantive pursuit of good policy. In the end, the power of the teachers’ unions may be, in the words of Chairman Mao, little more than a paper tiger—or a well-placed building.