Is the landslide election of Mayor Bill de Blasio a sign of ideological change, or the result of other processes?
The New York Times, in its endorsement of his candidacy, wrote that
“The rise of Bill de Blasio, New York City’s public advocate, has been remarkable. In a clamorous primary campaign against better known, more seasoned candidates, he won the Democratic nomination without a runoff, by appealing directly and doggedly to struggling New Yorkers who see a city of lofty wealth rising out of their reach. With the election only 10 days away, Mr. de Blasio is polling so far ahead of the Republican, Joseph Lhota, that commentators have already anointed him leader of a national rebirth of left-wing populism.”
This remarkable document contains not a single mention of the word ‘pension.’ It contains many endorsements of increases in spending. There’s one sentence referring to ‘budget holes to fill and deals to strike with dozens of testy municipal unions,’ without discussing how those details will be achieved.
The Times’ endorsement mentions an ad run by de Blasio’s non-entity Republican opponent, reproduced below:
The ‘biker gang’ angle may seem extreme, but even in 2006, I once had to shove a girlfriend into some bushes off of Prospect Park West (in De Blasio’s neighborhood, no less) as we walked home around midnight because a biker on a neon-painted Japanese cycle was riding the sidewalk in an attempt to escape from two cop cars racing down the road. We were unharmed, but had I been slower to react to the sound behind us, there would’ve been a messy collision and a punchy New York Post headline.
Before Mayor Bloomberg left office, he published an op-ed in the Daily News warning of an impending pension crisis:
“Right now, our country appears to be in the early stages of a growing fiscal crisis that, if nothing is done, will extract a terrible toll on the next generation. Here in New York City, over the past 12 years our pension costs have gone from $1.5 billion to $8.2 billion. That’s almost a 500 percent increase — when inflation totaled only 35 percent.”
It shouldn’t need mentioning, but Bloomberg’s tenure in office, dating to 2001, coincides with that expansion in pension costs.
While he may be a capable administrator as democratic-republican leaders go, any increases in municipal performance can be partially attributed to that explosion in compensation of public employees. While the city budget has been temporarily balanced for the first time in years, that doesn’t factor in the pension issue, which Bloomberg has correctly attempted to shed some light on as he conveniently returns to the private sector.
Diplomacy with NYC’s many public sector unions has come off on the wrong foot, as de Blasio’s visible criticisms of New York’s stop-and-frisk policy have incensed the police union. Many of the city’s unions are operating on expired contracts, and negotiations are unlikely to proceed well, unless the new mayor is able to finagle some sort of bailout from Washington to keep underfunded pensions hale.
The typical destructive pattern that we see occur in the failing blue cities, like San Jose or Cleveland, is that the inability of the city to maintain incredibly expensive public services leads to a rapid decline in those critical services. Because these services are monopolies, and most cities work aggressively to maintain those monopolies for the public worker unions, the city rapidly decays. As the cities decay, there are fewer and fewer capable leaders willing, ready, and able to take the temporary leadership positions offered by the democratic state.
The obvious example is Detroit, but similar narratives have played out in mid-sized cities around the country. New York has been able to delay the reckoning longer than most thanks to its privileged status as a global center for finance and commerce (and that many of its major corporations were recipients of unprecedented bailout spoils), but it can’t delay the reckoning indefinitely.
Nonetheless, de Blasio is Wall Street’s chosen man for the task ahead of him, and there’s no way at all that the people backing him aren’t far more aware of the impossible political task in front of him than my amateur’s survey of the city finances show. This may also just be because it was obvious that he was going to win, and it makes no sense to bribe the loser, because strings on the losing puppet are useless to puppeteers.
The problem is not so much that the oligarchs are conspiring to control the populist from the shadows (this is democracy’s oligarchic tendency), but that the oligarchs have become corrupt, degenerate, doddering, and stupid. The ability to allocate capital effectively doesn’t render mastery of political affairs: the German capitalist elite who sent Lenin on a sealed train full of gold bricks to Russia didn’t realize their short-shortsightedness until it was too late.
The pressures that the city will encounter over the next decade bring to mind the scene in ‘Dark Knight Returns’ in which Bane, the villain, snaps the neck of his financial backer:
It’s worth it to note that both that movie and De Blasio’s campaign were based on the same novel by Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities.
This suggests an occult force of sorts, as literature flows with film, reality, and propaganda.
The ‘two cities’ in the novel are pre-revolution Paris and London.
In ‘Dark Knight Returns,’ the two cities are the above-ground city (a polis barely held together through lies) and the subterranean city inhabited by Bane’s hidden army and Batman’s cave.
The ‘two cities’ of De Blasio’s New York is the primarily white upper middle class, and the primarily Mestiso and Black underclass. It’s easier to understand de Blasio’s politics as an alliance between the high upper class and the impoverished versus the remainders of the middle and upper middle classes. This is a common theme in neoreactionary writing, so there’s not much need to discuss the historically common alliance between opportunistic, leftist members of the upper-crust allying with the worst elements in society against the middle classes.
The Milken Institute has published an overview white paper on the topic. The Empire Center has a comprehensive report on New York State’s pension issues, also. Much like private sector companies laid low by pension costs, the programs that cities like New York have relied upon to maintain public services at a high level give experienced employees an incentive to retire early, while the costs make it more and more difficult for those cities to hire new employees.
The impacts of this aren’t immediate, and rarely become apparent for years. In this New York Post article, Bloomberg defends the reduction in NYPD staff by 6,000 from its peak at the beginning of his term:
“The NYPD expects to have an average of 34,800 cops in the current fiscal year, which began July 1 .
At its peak, in 2001-2002, it had 40,700 cops.
The Police Department budget is $4.6 billion, more than any other agency except for social services and schools. “Spending more money is not something . . .” the mayor said, stopping midsentence to conclude, “We don’t have the money.”
Fewer police officers means an effective reduction in manpower, which enables competitors in the bazaar of violence to take up control of the streets that the police have forsaken. Matt Taibbi recounted a similar dynamic in his masterful article about the collapse of Camden, NJ to the civilizational standards of Sub-Saharan Africa. Camden is less than 100 miles southwest from New York City, and just over the river from increasingly-chaotic Philadelphia.
The New York Times says that de Blasio’s inauguration shows a strong ideological shift in the city government. I suspect that it’s more that no one who is actually serious about running the city would want to take office during a time when all financial projections show an inevitable crisis with the public sector unions.
What is true that the intellectual class, fermenting in all sorts of leftism, is gaining more influence, and preparing to take advantage of the inevitable crisis. The commercial elite is simply attempting to ride the tiger, feeding it chunks of raw meat to induce docility in the meantime. To the extent that greater resources can be finagled through financial chicanery and deception from the rest of the country, they will do so to keep the city together for as long as they can.
The notion that a far-left figurehead would make the negotiations go easier is perhaps plausible, but it’s unlikely that the union leadership will be so easily mollified by de Blasio’s highly educated blend of multi-culti signalling. In this series of ads, he staked out a promise to ‘end stop and frisk’.
Stop and frisk targets minorities primarily, but I was once stopped-and-frisked not too far away from where I was almost run over by that motorcycle, probably because I was wearing a hoodie at 2 am in the freezing cold. The policy is a covert form of ethnic war, fought by the NYPD essentially on behalf of the inhabitants of middle class and better neighborhoods.
It’s how the border between neighborhoods like Spanish Harlem and the Upper East Side are enforced. It may not be an official border with crossing guards, but patrolling squad cars on 5th avenue don’t permit the typical Barrio resident to casually stroll below 96th street without harassment.
It’s possible that the NYPD will simply retract to guard the most expensive neighborhoods, leaving gentrifying pioneer whites to fend for themselves in border territories that they’re conquering economically for their kale-chewing tribes.
The kale-chewing tribes usually don’t comprehend how important the NYPD’s aggression is important towards making their economic expansion possible. What they see is the temporary cheap rent they get on rent while changing the composition of the neighborhood. What they don’t remark upon much is the suppressive force that the NYPD applies to make their settling behavior possible.
It’s easy to understand the impetus of the existing upper class to kick away the ladder that they used to climb to their positions of power within the city. Ambitious social climbers can be devoured by savages in the outer neighborhoods of Manhattan and the other boroughs, taking care of potential competition.
This isn’t the typical behavior of New York’s bourgeois upper class, which is typically characterized by tight mentor-mentee relationships, but the changing character of that elite has made it more short-sighted. One could also say that the shortening of time preferences exemplified by the permanent zero-interest-rate policy adds to this: the price of money tells people to value the present over the past, and given that the political elite is largely commercial, they tend to downplay the importance of politics.
The increasingly international monied elite may see New York as a mere choice location for a pied a terre rather than a homeland worth preserving and defending. That the faltering Brooklyn Nets team was purchased by a transient Russian oligarch speaks for itself as to the shifting political character of the city’s current elite. Indeed, M. Prokhorov lives in Moscow, and his team plays in a stadium named after a London investment house.
This is foolish and short-sighted politics, but those are the means that they have chosen to achieve their ends.
Geographically, the propertied elite is insecure, and reliant upon spending massive amounts of public funds on security. Recalling those police from the ‘frontiers’ will temporarily maintain security in the areas that the elite cares about, but that means that the barbarians will have their territory to themselves again. Reducing stop-and-frisk makes it easy for them to go on raids of SWPLdom, winning fame and money for their tribes with each knocked-down grandma or gang-raped trophy wife.
Since there is little cultural closeness between the city’s commercial elite and the NYPD, it’s unlikely that said police force will be motivated by patriotism for neighborhoods run by people that condescend to their ‘type.’ The increasingly foreign character of the city elite also reduces the cultural closeness between the warriors and the merchants.
Whereas the elites of the former generation could speak in the same accent as a police officer and make a typical New Yorker joke when passing by, the modern police officer has a chillier and more separate attitude than they have had before.
The police correctly perceive that the intellectual class on both the right and left has contempt for them. The neocons, like R. Giuliani, who lionized the police and gave them special political powers that superseded the American constitution, have fallen from political and judicial favor. The press which reflexively praised the police during the Giuliani years and the aftermath of 9/11 has become hostile and distrustful.
The rise and fall of Bernard Kerik is a good metaphor for the rapid decline in the NYPD’s national status. It is easy to imagine how Kerik’s political fall might play in the mind of a typical New York detective today. Kerik’s failure to retain his political position shows that there are limits to how far a mere cop might climb.
It’s hard for the police to retain the trust of the people in that, so often, any interactions with police among the middle classes have been to be stopped and searched at subway entrances, as if they were terrorists. The special powers given to the police to spy upon the local Muslim community — of special appeal to the police given how many officers died in the 9/11 terror attacks — may be rescinded from them by the new mayor, as he has promised to.
Many of the current members of the city elite and middle class are arrivistes, unaware that many of the neighborhoods that they enjoy were once nearly-ruined danger zones under the pre-Giuliani administration.
Economic power and state force conquered this territory from its previously disordered state. Rolling back the force and hoping to rely upon economic power alone discounts the impact of force. Civilized territory does not remain so merely because it has already been civilized once. It must be maintained by both economic dynamism and willingness to defend itself with force.
These aren’t problems that any leader within the current political system can solve. It’s one thing for a scholar at a conservative foundation to write up pat solutions, or ex-politicians to backseat drive for current ones, but it’s another thing entirely to achieve them.
A bailout or ‘backdoor bailout’ can delay the failure of American cities, at the cost of undermining broader political cohesion and mis-allocating resources to unsustainable social arrangements.
Chronic political miscalculation is what characterizes polities suffering from acute kinglessness.
The founding editor of Jacobin Magazine, Bhaskar Sunkara, interviewed de Blasio on many of these issues, throwing softball after softball, and the Mayor responded with expressions of sentiment and few specifics.
On the topic of ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ a Communist agitation, de Blasio said
“I think there were other available locations that could have been identified. The location that they were using did become a problem. I think it was appropriate to say that that had to change. There were other alternatives than to simply clear them out without giving them a place to continue their work. I think that the way it was done excluded the media. Which to me was a very chilling thing. It was a very troubling precedent. City Hall decided to keep the media at bay and not fully observe or know about what was happening. I think that’s unacceptable.”
He chastises Bloomberg for suppressing media coverage of the Communist agitation, and suggests that when he’s in power, he will do whatever he can to permit them to have a more public platform to ‘air their views,’ which are reprehensible.
The city will decay, and eventually fall out of control. It may be that the Federal government will see better propaganda value in bailing out the city either overtly or surreptitiously, but this strategy will not be tenable for much longer. Imagining that a president would bail out New York, but not either California, Chicago, or Illinois is a stretch. The political left has an expansive coalition that is expensive to finance. Over the decades, more promises have been made than can be kept.
When the moderate political left fails, the intellectuals, agitators, and thugs will fill the power vacuum in the cities. The official power coalition will collapse, and a mob of hungry people will take its place.
To consider the ethnic demographics of New York City, Blacks and Hispanics combined outnumber Whites by 8%. The former two groups are disproportionately targeted by the latter group by the police, whereas the former two groups disproportionately target the latter group’s civilians in crimes.
De Blasio has staked out a public position as being willing to cede property and resources from Whites to Blacks and Hispanics in the hope of promoting peace among the city’s factions. The message is clear: whites will be bled to pay for the borrowed funds and promised pensions for the public sector unions. If and when the payments can’t be met, those who feel entitled to those funds will extract their hundreds of pounds of flesh.
While the collapse of many of America’s smaller cities hasn’t provoked many remarks by the Cathedral’s media organs, it will be hard to continue the propaganda blackout in the country’s media capitol. The Cathedral has a strong incentive to not alarm the productive class, to encourage them to remain docile, making automatic 401(k) contributions, and paying their income taxes on time.
Over the next few years, new and more sophisticated deceptions will be floated to prevent the sort of panic that lead to the historical dynamic that lead from the passage of Civil Rights legislation to the massive urban disorder of the late 1960s and early 70s, which the federal government enacted the Drug War to counter.
Jim predicts Civil War II resulting from this degenerative ratchet, and I agree with his assessment. The question is not so much how to preserve America’s cities, but when it will be opportune to reconquer them from their new masters, if we even have the opportunity to do so in this century.
As Jim writes:
If the overclass/underclass alliance comes out on top, then either anarcho-piratism, as after the fall of the Roman Empire in the West, or else the left singularity continues to the next crisis, whatever that may be.
The outcome will be ultimately determined by battles, but before the battles, the urgent mission of building a cultural coalition that can be triumphant must be pursued. Assembling a mob of mobs that dislikes the other mobs will be insufficient for this purpose. What’s necessary is a new social order, one that will be both expensive and perilous to construct.