Monday, September 29, 2008

Orchestrated Crisis

Contrairimairi has forwarded a Discover the Networks post concerning the "Cloward-Piven strategy", which aims to overthrow capitalism by making impossible demands on the welfare state. Why leftists are intent to overthrow the current system is unclear to me because we are well on the way to achieving their totalitarian socialist goals.

According to the article, Cloward and Piven argued that potential welfare recipients should be encouraged to flood the system. That happened and capitalism did not fall, although my home city of New York became a corporate ghost town as all the industrial headquarters left and moved to Atlanta, presumably where government programs were not so generous. The article does not point out why, if Cloward and Piven were so effective as Mayor Giuliani claims, their success was limited to New York, Chicago and similar rust belt cities, but not the South. Perhaps Cloward and Piven were on the payroll of the Houston Chamber of Commerce?

The article points out that Cloward and Piven's idea led to an explosion of welfare benefits in the city. But this did not harm capitalism, as the article claims. It harmed New York City, which went bankrupt and had to curtail welfare benefits. The large corporations moved to Atlanta and Dallas. The statistic that the article gives of one in two New Yorkers having been on welfare is scary, but it begs the question as to why the city was unable to create jobs in the first place and why the welfare programs were not curtailed. This would seem to be a failure of New York's political choices. It is more convenient for Mayor Giuliani to blame Cloward and Piven than to blame himself for not reducing the city's budget by 35%, but what do you expect?

The welfare recipients could have been given brooms and told to sweep the city and welfare rolls would have fallen, but public sector unions objected and the city's politicians, including Mayor Giuliani, preferred to honor the Sanitation and other unions rather than re-build a great city. That is due to Progressivism, not Cloward and Piven.

Welfare was as much a result as a cause of the bankruptcy of New York City. Urban renewal, a bipartisan scheme, was doing harm to the City for two decades before the city's bankruptcy. You can eliminate welfare by demanding people get a job, but if you have a Progressive Republican like Robert Moses, the guy who ran urban renewal and a host of other city programs for 40 years, driving jobs out, you don't create jobs in the first place. Even in the past couple of years, with all of New York's economic decline, the leaders pass laws to harass Wal-Mart rather than repeal laws that discourage business formation.

Moses condemned many small businesses and destroyed about 20 neighborhoods along with low-rent tenements, replacing them with ugly city projects. The projects in turn engendered crime, further squashing small business.

The most important effect of Moses' road and apartment building was the neighborhood destruction and the eviction of about 3% of the city's population through eminent domain. Many neighborhoods were torn asunder by superhighways that cut through them, demolishing the customer demand base for small businesses.

Another important factor was the prevalence of public sector unions that had appeared in the 1960s. These made considerable demands on New York's budget to which both Republican and Democratic administrations acceded. As well, construction codes and a corrupt New York law known as the Wicks Law encouraged criminality and sub-quality public construction. Construction in New York is an open pit and an important source of economic decline.

As well, the Port of New York, which had been dominated by the mob for decades moved to New Jersey. Most of the port jobs were lost because of containerization. This also contributed to the bankruptcy. Instead of thinking in terms of laissez-faire policies to stimulate economic development, Robert Moses, Nelson Rockefeller and the Democratic administrations saw government-sponsored development and transfers to wealthy developers as the way to progress. But their Progressivism failed.

The dismal subway system, also due to policies of Robert Moses (and the "nationalization" of this once-private system in the 1930s) makes life in the city unbearable, further driving trade away.

The wonder is that people are willing to live in New York City at all. With high rents due to rent control and corrupt construction rules and probably the worst transportation system of any large city in the world, along with high taxes due to welfare, and an economy that is over-regulated and characterized by subsidies to big developers, it is a testimony to the city's cultural strengths that it continues to survive, albeit in a much more limited way than 40 years ago. It is no longer the center of new ideas as it once was.

I spend about half my time in New York City and the subway trips I take to Brooklyn and NYU twice a week are twice-weekly nightmares. I don't have to go to horror films. Just get on the subway, watch the rats and inhale the vomit. Truly a wonderful town.

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