Saturday, August 17, 2013

The near future of New York will be a trip to the past

Is New York the Next Detroit?

New York City Mayor Bloomberg is on his way out, and as sometimes happens when a politician heads for the exit, he let leak some molecules of truth...

“Avoiding the hard choices is how Detroit went bankrupt,” he said in a speech Tuesday, according to the New York Post. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, thinks that his successor as mayor will have a unique window to act, because all the major public sector unions are currently operating without a contract.

Mr. Bloomberg is talking about his successor in hypothetical terms. If a successor were to come in and act like a grown up for a day or two, New York City's fortunes might be marginally improved. Of course this isn't going to happen.

You probably aren't following the New York City mayoral race (or the comptroller race where the maniacal Eliot Spitzer has a real shot at being able to torture us again), and there is no reason why you should be. Every candidate is running to see who can best combine the worst aspects of David Dinkins ('90s disaster) and John Lindsay ('70s disaster). The only difference between the current candidates is weight and gender.

New York has been red hot for many years. Its economy didn't shatter as much in the crisis and has recovered better than much of the world. And New York City is now a hot place to work and live. No longer is it a commuter city full of Long Island and Connecticut residents. Brooklyn, once known for its pedigree and streetwise rap stars and street-hardened boxers, has become a white hot place full of families and couples intending to start families. You heard me right. People are setting down roots in Brooklyn with the intention of raising families there. In the old days young couples frolicked in New York for a few years, then moved to the suburbs when it was time for kids. Things have changed.

New York's crime rate has had a 20-year decline. When you cruise the sidewalks, your path is not constantly blocked by homeless people and scam artists. No one is carrying designated pick-pocket money to appease potential muggers.

I'm thinking that's going to change. Although Guiliani (especially) and Bloomberg are both horrible human beings, at least their initiatives occasionally overlapped with reality. New Yorkers are about to discover that 10% reality, 90% fantasy is far better than 100% fantasy.

What I think is coming is the most cynical breed of populist policing mixed with the most cynical breed of populist economics. In other words, higher taxes, higher crime rates, more public debt, and much worse public services. And don't think that the higher crimes rates will be because of fewer laws. There will be more asinine laws passed to generate revenue raising fines. And when it comes to crime, you can bet tax paying residents caught in wispy misdemeanors will be shamelessly inconvenienced and milked, while those benefiting from their taxes will be told they're the ones being ripped off. Yeah...that's going to cause some friction. Should crime rates spike, expect the next mayoral administration to issue lots of calls for "understanding." Muggings will probably be renamed "cultural exchanges."

We are going to see a wonky, liberal arts curriculum approach to governance, which will push much of New York's celebrated "creative class" (and its tax base) to flee. It will be an early '90s flashback. The younger people who have only lived here during the prosperity have no idea what the old New York was like, and given the mushy world they grew up in, they are the least prepared to handle it. Well-practiced criminals are not intimidated by anti-bullying slogans. They do not drop their weapons upon hearing ironic comments. And your Superman tattoos? Not scary to a dude with his strangled cell-mate's name carved into his neck. It brings to mind the younger Wall Street traders who had never seen a bear market before and had no idea what to do when 2008 struck.

Instead of the "hard choices" Bloomberg referenced, there will simply be a greater distribution of hardship to the net taxpayers of New York. This is how it always goes down. But having said all that, I still don't plan to leave. It is better to die in a place you enjoy than live long and prosper in Squaresville.

No comments: