Addicted to Government?


New York Unbound, edited by Peter Salin, Cambridge, Mass.: Basil Blackwell, 218 pages, $19.95

Like most people who live in and around New York City, the authors of New York Unbound are somewhat exasperated with the state of city life but deeply optimistic about its future. E.S. Savas, professor of management at Baruch College, probably says it best:

"New York is a paradox. It is exciting and vibrant, a mecca for immigrants seeking the American dream and an incubator of innovative entrepreneurs. At the same time, the quality of life for most New Yorkers is undeniably mediocre. Schools are failing, crime is commonplace, streets are filthy, transportation is a test of endurance, drug addiction is a curse, teenage pregnancy is rampant, public incivility and foul language are the norm, ugliness assails the senses, housing is in short supply, and derelicts line the streets."

In other words, New York provides both the best and worst of contemporary America. What encourages the contributors to this volume is the faint hope that the success of the Reagan Revolution, so visible beyond the shores of the Hudson, might somehow penetrate that mystical barrier that separates New York from the rest of the country.

The most encouraging and insightful essay is from Nathan Glazer. Like any good, honest fellow, Glazer is willing to admit he was wrong. Twenty years ago, he says, he predicted that blacks and Puerto Ricans would work their way out of poverty and into the middle class, the same way other ethnic groups before them had. Now he realizes he was mistaken. Far too many blacks and Puerto Ricans have become hopelessly enmeshed in the welfare system (Puerto Ricans even more than blacks, although few people realize it). They are not going anywhere—until someone reforms welfare itself.

However, Glazer notes, the corollary that nearly everyone is now drawing in New York—that the new Asian, Caribbean, South American, and Middle Eastern immigrants who are flooding into the city will follow in the footsteps of blacks and Puerto Ricans—is also mistaken. The new immigrants are following the old path, resisting dependence on welfare. They work hard, save money, hold their families together, start their own businesses, put their children through school, stay off welfare. "In the United States, people are poor because they are lazy or want the government to take care of them," Glazer quotes one Dominican woman. "No one needs to be poor in the United States if they work hard." (Every Palestinian, Pakistani, and Liberian cab driver I meet tells me the same thing.)

Thus, blacks and Puerto Ricans will remain a special case. But they are not going to have much influence on those who come after them, according to Glazer. On the contrary, he says, there is likely to be considerable friction between blacks and the newcomers, as black hostility toward Koreans already indicates.

Beyond this, however, the future of New York looks fairly bright. What ails the city is what ailed the country 10 years ago—too much government. New York's addiction to rent control, of course, is legendary. What is remarkable—as Harold M. Hochman points out—is the number of other areas where the city government also practices price fixing. New York now controls the prices of 16 different consumer items, while demanding licenses and permits for 600 to 700 different ways of making a living. Poland hardly does better.

In fact, there is very little wrong with New York that a good dose of privatization wouldn't cure. Jose A. Gomez-Ibañez makes an excellent case for deregulating bus transportation as a way of solving rush-hour traffic problems. Savas makes the familiar case for vouchers in the schools. Even Mark Willis, deputy commissioner for planning at the Department of Housing Preservation and Development, is ready to admit that government planning doesn't work—an admission that would probably cost him his job if anyone were willing to take it seriously.

On the other hand, there are some real clinkers in this volume. Paul Goldberger, architectural critic for the New York Times, seems to be here only as an example of what New York is up against. He wants people in New York to stop building all those tall buildings. Frank Macchiarola, former chancellor of the New York Board of Education, also puts on a muddled performance, hoping to solve New York's problems through "a system of care and commitment" and more "efficiency and responsiveness in government."

What you have to realize, though, is that, as far as New York is concerned, even assembling a quorum for a slim volume like this is quite an accomplishment. After all, New York is the place where people talk about "The City," not just as the municipal government, but as some kind of mystical entity capable of providing everything to everybody if only we feed it enough money and find the politicians who will run it right.

Another 20 years of Republican prosperity in the rest of the country may eventually awaken New Yorkers to the realization that something is going on out there. Until then, as Louis Winnick predicts: "New York will muddle through…Though [this] is neither a dazzlingly successful outcome nor a hopelessly failed one, New York is still likely to remain the nation's primary business and cultural center, a proving ground for the creative, and magnetic north on the compass of the world's immigrants."

That in itself is saying something.

William Tucker is a fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of The Excluded Americans: Homelessness and Housing Policy, published by Regnery Gateway.

NEXT: Damn It! I've Got the "Altruism Gene."

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “hoping to solve New York’s problems through “a system of care and commitment” and more “efficiency and responsiveness in government.””

    Hank, check the back 40 and make sure the unicorns haven’t run off again.

  2. New York, New York. High on my list of shit holes I hope never to visit. Miles ahead of Dhaka, Bangladesh in the rainy season.

    1. You really should visit. New York is a magical town. For about a month. About then, you start to see the problems that your tourist mind glazed over.

      I spent a year on assignment in New York, and it was…interesting. It’s a town you feel could be so much better, but it isn’t. They just can’t get it right! There are times when it really clicks, but those times are dwarfed by the day-to-day of life. New York is a town that just can’t get its shit together.

      1. It’s full of shit for brains!

  3. Ahhh New York, only New Jersey and Gary, Indiana can outdo your stench. Seriously, does your incompetent government paid garbage service pick up trash in Chinatown?ever?

    I can’t believe some asshole argues against building tall buildings in a city already full of them. Listen fuckbag, one way to naturally lower the egregious cost of housing in that city is for more buildings with more room to be built by greedy assholes. Supply and demand, mother fucker. Obviously there is a demand since so many vagrants line and shit in the streets (I would too if I slept in a rain soaked cardboard box and ate my dog for dinner).

    Of course, the real answer for New York citizens’ problems is the same answer that Cleveland’s citizens already know. Just leave. Just. Fucking. Leave. There is plenty of open space is this country. North Dakota has one of the lowest costs of living AND one of the lowest unemployment rates. 640,000 people live in North Dakota which equates to 9.3/sq mi. New York has 27,532/sq mi . Look at those numbers. Would you rather live with 9 friends and family members or 28000 assholes, some of which wouldn’t mind raping your mouth in your sleep? Would you rather pay $300 for rent or $4000. And hell, if you like New York, feel free to live there, just realize your government exasperates every goddamn problem it attempts to consider solving.

    Sure, it’s boring and cold in ND and most of the people adhere to the British dental aesthetic, but traffic is non-existent and your children don’t have to grow up seeing bums jerk it in the streets while developing an inflated sense of superiority because they live in the “best city in the world.” If one can argue that cities are good things (I can’t because masses of people, on average, suck god’s balls), I”m sure New York is not it and has not been it for years. Sure, Ghouliani brought the island under the violent boot of his masturbatory police state, but you can only clamp down so much until people rebel in new ways or leave completely.

  4. I grew up in NY and went to college in the south. It’s a great place to visit- but why make six figures, give half of it away, and live check to check and create zero wealth while renting? My parents bought a house downtown in the 80s for my dad’s business and sold it in 2005. Now they run it as a Nevada corp. over the internet. The smart NYers leave. Great place to visit during holidays though.

  5. NYC may have its share of problems like any other large American city. Dallas, where I live, has plenty of issues of its own. I always have a good time when I visit New York though. I have many friends there and I know some great places to hang out. I’d never live there because it’s too crowded and I can’t stand cold winters.
    Los Angeles I’ve had mixed reactions with. It’s got its positive qualities but a lot of people from there think just because I’m from Texas I’m some inbred redneck.

  6. I don’t even like to visit anymore – there is just nothing good about it – and anybody who wants to live there is insane. Everything costs triple, and you get half of what you expect, plus the people are about as nasty as you can find outside a supermax penitentiary.

    Oh, and they will break their addiction to government as soon as Lindsey Lohan dries out for good.

  7. I only recently moved here. The first thing that gets you is the stench.

    I’ve always wondered as a libertarian how the city of New York is such a functioning and powerful economic center for the country in spite of the taxes and regulations. I only recently learned that its government doesn’t actually function, and the private sector keeps chugging along despite the government doing everything it can to choke economic vibrancy.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.