Prestige is collective esteem—its nature is determined by how much esteem you collect, and from whom you collect it.

Some things are widely prestigious across America and the world, like Ivy League universities or being the President of the United States. Others are narrowly prestigious within specific countries, industries, and subcultures, like being a partner at a major corporate law firm, working for certain large software companies, or posting wildly popular YouTube videos.1

And while there are layers of meta-commentary on the nature, dangers, and benefits of something being prestigious,2 I have a narrower focus here.

I’m explicitly allocating my esteem toward those who engage with, and shape, New York City and State government, to the relative detriment of federal work. DC merits a prestige hit, and this essay is a limited, but well-deserved, one. By default, and holding a variety of life considerations equal, I regard working with the city and state as more interesting, consequential, and indicative of good judgment than going to work for the federal government.3

If you elect to work in DC: are you unaware of the impact and import of the other governments? Do you not want to have the civic ability to change your neighborhood (or do you just move to places where more capable people already created something great)? Do you not see the possibility of transformation at that layer? Are you unaware that laboratories of democracy are largely at the city and state level? Or are you just mindlessly following the wider cultural prestige gradients that end in DC?

Similarly, if your political discussion revolves around the blue-team-red-team mania of DC, but you do not know what the New York City Administrative Code is or what it does (or why it’s worth knowing about), your politics lack my esteem completely.

Working directly to shape the world’s capital, directing America’s First City, and making it even better is a task for the especially brilliant, daring, and discerning. Nowhere else will you find such a dense knot of important problems whose solutions would cascade around the nation and planet. Those who want the legacy prestige of Washington pay the price of being properly perceived by others. For the rest of us, we merely need a place in the five boroughs to stand, a lever long enough, and we will move the world.4



This post’s social media preview image was generated with DALL-E.

  1. You could use MrBeast as the quintessential example here, but any number of YouTubers have performed phenomenally well across cultures of all sizes and niche depth. ContraPoints is another good example—she’s (justifiably) accumulated prestige within a specific culture, but would not be recognized as prestigious by most Americans. 

  2. For example: the incentive structures that emerge when something useful also becomes prestigious. It then attracts people who want it merely because it is prestigious, who have no care for its useful attributes. As the prestigious thing attracts more prestige-seekers, it becomes proportionately more useless. There is always a balance to be struck here: prestige can be useful, but like fire, it is a dangerous tool that must be contained and watched. 

  3. There are plenty of exceptions to this. Obvious ones are policy realms that only the federal government controls. There are also intergovernmental policy domains that require working with federal partners. Less obvious ones are a variety of personal cost-benefit calculations that might take one to DC. But I’m not doing a bad-faith attack on anyone personally. You probably know if I’m not talking about you here. 

  4. A modified version of Archimedes’: “Give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I will move the world.”