Frances Fox Piven, Icon Of The Left

In the New York Times, they have a section that goes by the name “New York” on weekdays and “Metropolitan” on Sundays. This section contains next to no useful information about what is going on in New York and/or the surrounding area. Even local news staples like murders and fires rarely get covered. And if you want to learn about the latest corruption in City government, or important new laws coming out of the state legislature, you mostly have to look elsewhere.

But they have to fill the space with something. A fair characterization of the large part of it would be “support for our team.” To illustrate, yesterday’s “Metropolitan” section was totally dominated by a single article that contained nothing about relevant local news. Instead, it was, to put it mildly, a fawning profile of a woman named Frances Fox Piven. The headline was “This 86-Year-Old Radical May Save (or Sink) the Democrats.”

Have you heard of Frances Fox Piven? She first came to my attention way back in the 1960s, when she had become one of the early enlistees in the “War on Poverty,” and went around leading loud welfare “rights” demonstrations. She’s been doing variations of the same ever since. But I can’t say that I have closely followed her career. This Times profile fills in many details, and in the process makes clear that Ms. Piven is a true archetype of the species sometimes known as the Upper West Side progressive radical. I thought that readers here might like an introduction.

Here is how the Times chooses to introduce its piece:

On a recent afternoon, a crowd had gathered in the auditorium of the People’s Forum, a new event space in Midtown Manhattan. There was a picture of Lenin tacked on the wall, a shelf of books about Che Guevara and a cafe serving avocado toast. The young true believers and rickety old militants in attendance were learning history and strategy from Frances Fox Piven, a distinguished professor of political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.

So the old Commie earns her living as a “distinguished professor” at CUNY. In other words, she is paid by the taxpayers to inculcate Communism into the young generation. What is the level of pay? A site called “The Glass Door” puts the “base pay” for such CUNY professors at $210,000 to $226,000. That would put Ms. Piven somewhere around the top 2 to 3% of the income distribution. But how about the perks? Reading further in the Times piece, we learn that Ms. Piven lives in a “spacious apartment” near Columbia University in Manhattan. There is no such thing as a “spacious apartment” in that neighborhood that you can get on the open market for less than about $2 million to buy, or about $6000-7000 per month to rent. It would be a very safe bet that Ms. Piven has not paid that. Rather, the likelihood is that she either (a) has a long time rent-regulated apartment at far below market rent, or (b) has the rent paid by CUNY as part of her perks of the job (quite a common phenomenon for senior college professors in Manhattan). I don’t know which of these it is, but either way, Ms. Piven is getting multiple tens of thousands of dollars of additional, non-taxed income. In other words, her real income is around $300,000, which would be top 2%.

And then there is the proposition that I have asserted many times, which is that there is no one more angry and jealous of the top 1% than those in percent number 2, most particularly those of the second percentile who are college professors. Members of the professoriate view themselves as far smarter and more sophisticated than the grubby capitalists and businesspeople who are making the really big bucks, and can’t believe that the world is so unfair as to leave them in second class status to the dopes. So they are filled, even consumed, with anger. Does Ms. Piven fit that description? And how!:

“Since the 1970s, everything has gotten worse and worse,” said Ms. Piven. . . . There were very clear reasons for this. “Poor people,” she said, had been “humiliated” and “shut up.” Those in power now are “crazy.” “But they’re also evil,” she continued. “And they will be evil because they are greedy.” Only one thing would stop them, she said. “We have to be noisy, and difficult and ungovernable.”

So “those in power” are “crazy,” “evil,” and “greedy.” But wait, Ms. Piven, aren’t you one of “those in power”? Further on in the article, a “left-wing journalist and author” named Sarah Jaffe describes Ms. Piven as “obviously one of the most influential people I can think of.” She started her career in the early 1960s with Mobilization for Youth, “the New York antipoverty program that became a model for President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.” In later years her academic career “flourished.”

She received awards and held prestigious posts: honorary chairwoman of the Democratic Socialists of America; vice president of American Political Science Association; president of the American Sociological Association.

So who bears responsibility for the poor having been “humiliated” and “shut up” over the past 50 years? Perhaps the “most influential” people who designed and then implemented the annual $1.2 trillion of anti-poverty programs that then trap the supposed beneficiaries in poverty, even while these “influentials” receive salaries that put them in the top 2% of income earners? Believe me, this idea has never occurred to Ms. Piven.

You would think that there would be some basis to feel some liking, or at least sympathy, for someone like this who clearly wants, at least in her own mind, to improve the world, and to improve the lot of the poor. But I can’t get past the anger and the hatred of perceived enemies. And if I could get past that, I would expect someone who genuinely wanted to improve the world to have some sense of her own fallibility, some humility, some willingness to look at the results of programs (like “anti-poverty” programs) that have been implemented, let alone at the track record of socialism and communism, and attempt to learn something. No, you will not get that from Ms. Piven, or from any of the others of her species. They are true believers. No amount of failure of their prescriptions will ever budge them.