News From Greenwich Village

Undoubtedly, you have been hoping for some news from the crazy left-wing commune of Greenwich Village in New York City.  Fortunately, I have collected a few good items.

Unless you live here, you have very likely never heard of our state assemblymember, Deborah Glick.  Although she's been in the Assembly for some 25 years, she has mainly been known as a lackey of recently-convicted Speaker Sheldon Silver.  Certainly, nobody can name any bill in the 25 years on which she has voted contrary to the official leadership position.  And you would think that her seat is about the safest in the universe.  But recently a guy named Arthur Schwartz has announced that he will challenge her in the Democratic primary in September.  (Schwartz is known for serving a term as General Counsel of ACORN shortly before its demise, and currently for acting as counsel to the Bernie Sanders campaign in New York.)  Suddenly, Glick sees a need to show her face in the community, and thus a few days ago around came one of those taxpayer-funded newsletters touting her accomplishments.

There's a lot of humorous stuff here to give you a good laugh, but let me just pick my favorite:  Ms. Glick has been made a member of the legislature's "Anti-Poverty Working Group":

Almost 1.4 million people in New York are living in extreme poverty.  This includes a disproportionally high numbers [sic] of children, women, elderly and minorities.  The newly created work group will undertake an evaluation of the drastic increase of New Yorkers living in poverty and identify solutions to combat it.  It is our belief that a comprehensive approach is the only way to assist people to move out of poverty.  I look forward to formally working with my colleagues toward eradicating poverty throughout New York.    

Somehow Ms. Glick omits it, but let's start with this: a good rough estimate of what is currently spent annually in New York State by governments at all levels on anti-poverty efforts is $100 billion.  Now, you will never find an exact comprehensive number for that anywhere.  But here is a number for annual state and local "welfare" spending of $21.3 billion; here is a number for Medicaid of $54 billion; if we only get our pro rata share of the national pie, our annual food stamp and other federal nutrition spending will be about $8 billion; housing could easily be another $5 - 10 billion; and there's plenty more.  And yet, according to Ms. Glick, there has been a "drastic increase of New Yorkers living in poverty," and there are "almost 1.4 million people in New York . . . living in extreme poverty."  

Hey, Deborah!  You've been in the legislature for 25 years!  How can it possibly be that you guys spend $100 billion a year (that would be $2.5 trillion over 25 years) on anti-poverty efforts created and designed by you, only to see poverty "drastically increas[ing]"?  

According to the Census Bureau here, the official "poverty rate" for New York State is 15.9%.  Multiply that by a population just under 20 million, and you get about 3.2 million people in the state "in poverty."  At $100 billion of annual anti-poverty spending, that's over $30,000 per year per person in poverty, over $120,000 for a family of four.  The official "federal poverty level" for a family of four is $24,300.  We spend five times that amount on our "anti-poverty" efforts  for a comparable family in "poverty," only to see poverty "drastically increasing."  But then Glick, of course, represents not an average New York district, but rather one of the very wealthiest districts in the state.  And you know what that means:  it means that our "poverty" rate is much higher than the state average (the New York County (Manhattan) poverty rate is several points above the state average at 18.3%)(what???!!!) and we also spend far more than the state average on "anti-poverty" efforts (hey, a spot in a Housing Authority project in Chelsea is worth $50,000 to $60,000 per year in rent subsidies, just for starters), only to see none of the people ever leave poverty.

So, according to Glick, what we need now is a "comprehensive approach," which, if only we try it, will move us "toward eradicating poverty."  You mean it's that easy, and yet no one ever thought of it for the whole last 25 years you've been in the legislature wasting the $2.5 trillion?  Well, of course, we know that the answer to the question is that Glick is part of the disgusting state bureaucratic blob whose principal mission is to make absolutely sure that poverty will never go down so that funding can be maintained and enhanced and bureaucratic sinecures protected.  Is there any doubt that the recommendations of Glick's new anti-poverty "working group" will be more money for more anti-poverty efforts, none of which will ever remove anyone from poverty?

Something you may have seen yesterday was the open letter from 40 self-described New York "millionaires," asking and begging to have their taxes (and of course, those of all the other millionaires) increased in order to raise more money to fix the problem of poverty in our state.  Here is a copy of the letter from the Guardian, along with the names of all the signers.  The problem as they describe it:

It is a shameful fact that child poverty in New York State is at a record level, exceeding 50% in some of our urban centers. New York State has a record number of homeless families – more than 80,000 people – struggling to survive across the state. And far too many adults in our state do not have the work skills needed for the 21st century economy.  Now is the time to invest in the long-term economic viability of New York. We need to invest in pathways out of poverty and up the economic ladder for all of our fellow citizens, including strong public education from pre-K to college. . . .  

The proposal is for an increase in marginal tax rates on income above $665,000 (the cutoff for the top 1%) of up to an additional 3.15% on the highest incomes, which the authors claim will raise some $2.2 billion per year.  The authors see this as their "fair share" in a spirit of "shared sacrifice."

Really, how could anybody be so easy to dupe as these dopes?  Their incremental $2.2 billion is barely 2% of current annual "anti-poverty" spending in New York.  (And my calculation of "anti-poverty" spending didn't include public education.  Add that in, and the $2.2 billion is more like 1.5%.)  Can't a single one of them have the critical thinking capacity to ask how it could be that the $100 billion per year that we are already spending still leaves us with that 50% child poverty rate in some areas, yet supposedly another $2.2 billion will fix something?  Believe me, it won't take our "anti-poverty" bureaucrats until breakfast to figure out how to make an additional 2% in their budgets disappear without getting a single person out of poverty.  Does anybody really believe that they can make $100 billion a year disappear, but if it's $102 billion suddenly they will be motivated to cure poverty and wind down their no-longer-needed agencies?

And of course, if these 40 people, or some of them, are seriously rich (and clearly some of them are), then they don't make their money through taxable income.  For example, one of them is Steven C. Rockefeller, a great-grandson of John D.  Is there any chance that a meaningful part of the increase of his net worth in a given year comes through taxable income, versus (non-taxable) increase in the value of pre-existing assets?  Go ahead and increase the marginal tax rate to 100%.  You won't touch him!  He'll only notice to the extent that the new rates keep a few of the tacky nouveaux riches out of his clubs.  Meanwhile, he'll get a good laugh that the rubes fell for his sleight-of-hand.     

In other local news, our community newspaper called The Villager carries an article in its current edition reporting on a presentation by a guy named Jeffrey Trask focusing on the history of our local subsidized "artists" housing project known as Westbeth.  Westbeth is a collection of big formerly industrial buildings on the Greenwich Village waterfront (it was the home of Bell Labs, until they moved out in the 60s).  In the late 60s the buildings were converted to residences for artists.  The idea was to give a start to struggling young artists, who would then move on and make room for others:

[T]he project was intended as an arts incubator; artists were supposed to live and work there for five years, then move on, making room for a new group of artists.   

Really, the naivety is touching.  With deeply subsidized rents, the project struggled financially from day one, and of course, literally no one ever moved out.  Why in heavens name would anyone move out of a deeply subsidized apartment in the best neighborhood in the City?  From a different article in The Villager in 2009:

Almost 38 years later, Westbeth is still home to original tenants like Maile and Duberstein, as well as other longtime residents. Neil reported that about 60 percent of the tenants are over age 60 and half of those are older than 70; therefore, out of about 750 residential occupants, 30 percent are more than 70 years old.    

Add seven more years to that, and you can see that virtually everyone in this project collected on a lifetime rent subsidy.  The 2009 article gives the turnover rate as 3 to 4 apartments per year -- less than 1%.  Basically, the original tenants are all staying until they die.  Trask's take:

Although treasured by its residents and widely admired as a “noble experiment,” Westbeth never fulfilled its original promise, Trask said. By the time the project was complete, rent for loft space in the city had risen beyond the means of most artists, so residents did not move out of Westbeth after five years as originally planned. Trask concluded that Westbeth was a social success but did not succeed financially.    

Yes, the socialist model of subsidized public housing that is a financial disaster and transfers huge public resources to middle class people who don't need or deserve the subsidy, is nevertheless a "noble experiment," to be "treasured."  Who could have known?  Who could have suspected that people given a multi-tens-of-thousands of dollars per year rent subsidy available in only the one location will never move out?  (How big is the rent subsidy?  A new development along the waterfront about a mile south -- one of the few that is a rental rather than a condo -- has rents averaging about $10,000 per month.  This article gives the Westbeth average rent as $750 per month.  That would make the average rent subsidy to the Westbeth tenants over $100,000 per year.  And these people never had any claim to be poor!  How can this possibly be a good idea?)

Don't worry: no politician in New York will ever suggest that the Westbeth tenants should have to give up their subsidy, or any part of it.  After all, this is a "noble experiment" to be "treasured."  Like, say, the perfect fairness and justice that have been achieved in Cuba, or North Korea.

UPDATE, March 27: 

In cheerier news, the spring flowers have arrived in the tree gardens along Bleecker Street.

Here's a closer view of one of the gardens.

If you haven't been by recently to see our beautiful corner of the City, there's no time like the Spring!