How Progressives See New York

It's been a while since I have written about what progressives see when they look at New York.  But Maggie's Farm this morning gives a pointer to an article in the current New Republic that is an extreme example of the genre.  The article, by Amy Rose Spiegel, is titled "Who Killed New York City?".  Spiegel's piece is actually a review of two books -- "Vanishing New York" by Jeremiah Ross, and "Arbitrary Stupid Goal" by Tamara Shopsin.  Perhaps I should mention that an uncle of Ms. Shopsin's is a near neighbor of mine in Greenwich Village.

Just to set the table, here is my own take, from my "About" page, of the overall nature of change in Greenwich Village and New York City in the time I have lived here since the 1970s:

When I moved to this neighborhood in the 1970s the old buildings were here, but there were public safety issues and overall a slight air of seediness.  The subsequent years have seen renovation of older buildings, an influx of wealthier residents, and great improvement in the quality of the stores and restaurants.  Public safety has improved dramatically.  All in all, it has been a great place to live and raise a family.

 What's not to like?  Well, if you think like that, you are not a New York City progressive!

Let's get a few choice quotes from Spiegel's article (mostly from her summary of Moss's book):

Moss’s Vanishing New York is a history of how “wholesome” and corporate America caulked over the dark cracks and corners that once distinguished New York’s spirit, life, and community from the rest of the country’s. The book is an effortful reference for how New York morphed from a syncretic collection of diasporas—both extra-national and of the identity and mind—into a bland sovereignty of the mega-rich. . . .  [Moss] demonstrate[s] how 20th-century New York buckled under mercenary policies and institutions designed to benefit the rich. The 21st-century city became punitive, extraditing, and sometimes carceral toward the poor, nonwhite, and queer—and, now, to the middle class, like citizens with independent businesses of interest to real-estate vultures, or those living in subsidized residences, or in black areas. “Working-class and lower-income black, brown, and immigrant people [are] exiled to the suburbs as more affluent whites take the cities … the colorized suburb now receives the brutal treatment the inner city once did—neglect, predatory lending, and militarized policing that too often ends in the murder of black people.” New York’s role has flipped with suburbia’s: it is now closed to those without means. . . .  The city became untethered from its people and their homes, free-falling skyward in the luxury developments coaxed up by the global-finance billionaire Mayor Mike Bloomberg from 2001 until 2014. Glassy new buildings grayed the city’s appearance, affordability, and feeling. 

So, according to Spiegel and Ross, it just couldn't get more horrible.  But is any of this remotely connected to reality?  Where do these people get this stuff?  Certainly not by looking at any readily-available data or statistics.  Nor is there any examination of the plethora of progressive policies and redistribution programs that have been in effect throughout the period in question.  How could all of those programs have failed so miserably?  And if they didn't work, why will the next set of similar efforts do any better?

I could go on forever about this, but let's just consider a couple of those statements from the Spiegel piece in some detail:

“Working-class and lower-income black, brown, and immigrant people [are] exiled to the suburbs as more affluent whites take the cities . . . .

It is true that there has been a recent influx of some more affluent whites into a few neighborhoods of the City that previously were either lower-income areas (Lower East Side of Manhattan, Williamsburg and Bushwick in Brooklyn), or industrial or business areas (Long Island City in Queens and Downtown Brooklyn).  These areas constitute maybe 5% of the City's land area at most.  Look at the overall demographic data for the City and you find that this influx of affluent whites into a few areas is so small in the overall picture that you can't even find it.  Here is a link to a Wikipedia compilation of demographic data for New York City by race and borough for the censuses from 1900 through 2010.  Non-hispanic whites declined by about 500,000 from 1980 to 1990, another 350,000 from 1990 to 2000, and another 75,000 from 2000 to 2010.  Over that period, the percentage of non-hispanic whites in the City's population went from 52% to 33%.  The number of blacks grew by about 350,000 between 1980 and 2000, before registering a slight decline of about 40,000 between 2000 and 2010.  Hispanics have increased rapidly, by almost a million people and 10% of the population, with the rapid increase continuing right through the 2010 census (and beyond as far as I know).  Asians have also seen significant increases, even more so in the most recent years.  When you look at these numbers, you realize that these New Republic people just don't have any idea what they are talking about.

[New York] is now closed to those without means. . . .     

Again, try to find this in any data that you can locate.  It's funny, but the "poverty rate" reported by the Census Bureau for New York City for the most recent period available (July 2016) is 20.6%, a good 7 points above the full U.S. rate of 13.5%.  I have been very critical of these numbers, but they are the official numbers.  If you are going to take the position, in the face of these numbers, that "New York is closed to those without means," don't you owe us at least some explanation of how it could be that the official data show New York with proportionately far more "people without means" than the rest of the country?  And how is it that New York's huge suite of programs to assist those "without means" and help them to live here -- public housing for 500,000 people, other housing subsidy programs for hundreds of thousands more, rent regulation for another 2 million people, welfare, Medicaid, food stamps, etc., etc. -- don't seem to be doing any good?  What is the next set of coercive government programs you are proposing that is supposedly going to work, when the previous dozens of programs have failed so disastrously?  And, if you believe that the City's proper role is to welcome those "without means" and to improve their lives with government programs of various sorts, how exactly do you make that work without also attracting a critical mass of the affluent to pay the bills?

So no, none of this is remotely connected to reality.  These are the ravings of people afflicted with some combination of extreme and irrational guilt because of their own prosperity, combined with jealousy for those they think are too wealthy.  Why?  I can't explain it.  But it's the official New York mentality today.