I was on the outskirts of New York recently, and was surprised at how grim much of it is. I have been there before, but the ugliness only struck me in passing. Off in the distance you can see two clusters of towers- midtown and downtown Manhattan, the Emerald City of dreams for so many. The rich wonderland is a very small area- encompassing only parts of Manhattan, which has some quaint and historic ugliness, some ugliness with the glamor of the Naked City, and some just plain ugliness like Queens. The wonderland extends outside of Manhattan in some areas of Brooklyn, since artists and many upper-upper-middle class professionals can’t afford Manhattan.
But the rest of it? Go outside the wonderland and you may as well be in Baltimore or Wilmington. There are your charmless but respectable areas but lots of grim, ugly, and rundown areas that- I would like to call them slums, but they aren’t that poor. They are ugly because the people have little money but also because they don’t care. Penury need not be ugly- there are plenty of places in the third World where some bright paint and some flowers make it pretty. And the poor there either seem to be doing something useful or relaxing in a civilized way. The inhabitants of the outer boroughs seem to be engaged in a lot of angry, pointless loafing and wandering, even angry and pointless idle conversation. Truthfully New York is a few Elois supported by a vast herd of Morlocks.
And yet all is in accordance here. Everybody is happy as hell to be a New Yorker, even though that means vastly different things. The centimillionaire in Midtown and the pants on the ground kid in Queens have much the same idea as to how society should be run and ordered, briefly expressed in their mutual support of Obama. It’s thought strange that rich people would be liberals, but geography is not taken into account.
The greater New York City metropolitan area is the home of money for the US and one of the top homes of money in the world. There is no good reason for rich people to want to live there- San Diego is a much more logical place- but that is how it has worked out historically. It was a harbor, then a trading center, then a financial center, and just kept growing. Regardless of what anybody says about internet connectivity, most real business is done face to face. And so the area centered around Manhattan, extending over the Hudson to northern New Jersey, and extending like the fingers of a claw north along the Hudson, and out into Connecticut and Long Island, is a massive metropolis of finance and communication.
Such a community requires a tiny number of Masters of the Universe, as Tom Wolfe styled them, but many more knowledge workers, technical people, support people, and service workers to take care of their needs. The infrastructure must be vast. The required population can’t be drawn from the nation itself, but must largely be imported, creating additional complications. Many will be poor and ignorant. All this creates the need for a large and not paternalist, but maternalist government.
The rich are happy to pay for this because it’s needed to support their center of business and lifestyle. The masses are liberal, so if the rich are going to lead them and control the government they have to be liberal too.
From a pragmatic standpoint this is what it is. All large cities reflect the same factors. The problem comes from the fact that this model gets forced on society in general. The middle class don’t need this and do fine in their own communities. The rich and poor need each other and this is the basis of their political alliance. Large cities aren’t nice places. New York is actually small by world standards, the typical big city is a Third World megalopolis like Mexico City or Sao Paolo, with upwards of twenty million living in vast slums. Sao Paolo is so congested and dangerous that the rich get around in helicopters. New York was dangerous, back in the much romanticized 70’s and less romanticized 80’s.
But the rich needed their polis to work, and so the permissive liberalism that ruled up through Dinkins was replaced by the authoritarian liberalism- it has to be called liberalism, it certainly isn’t conservatism- of Giuliani. This kind of liberalism was what ruled into the early 60’s in the New Deal coalition. But in the later 60’s the city decided to get funky, with liberal patrician Republican mayor John Lindsay. The underclass was allowed to run wild, and while some people found this chaos charming, and there is even some nostalgia for it- see the TV series “Life on Mars”- it eventually got to be too much. Permissive liberalism peaked in New York under black mayor Dinkins in the early 90’s, but people got fed up. William Bratton became transit police chief in 1990, and began a zero-tolerance policy for the petty crime that plagued the subway. Mob prosecutor Rudy Giuliani was elected mayor in 1993 and made Bratton police commissioner. Order was restored.
Giuliani put the pimp hand to the mob with the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which casts a broad net over members of organized crime, or indeed any organization where crimes are routinely committed. It extends the reach of the prosecutor quite a bit over what Anglo-Saxon law historically permitted. The witness protection program allowed the law to make criminals witnesses and completely remove them from the community.
The trademark of the NYPD is the “stop and frisk.” Numerous individuals, at the discretion of beat cops, are searched for weapons. Liberals think this violates the Fifth Amendment; like RICO, it is an aggressive extension of criminal law, but “constitutionality” is a highly flexible concept, and the safe and efficient functioning of the Emerald City is at issue.
But “law and order” is conservative, isn’t it? Giuliani was a jack-booted fascist! And a Republican, on top of it! This brings us back to the strange split in liberal politics that occurred in the early 60’s. What we call conservatives in the US are simply the right half of the New Deal coalition. The New Left hated no one more than the anti-communist liberals like Hubert Humphrey. The lower class whites, country and city, North and South, Catholic and Protestant, supported all kinds of government control and government subsidy, but the idea that this extended to tolerating criminal activity and social disorder enraged them. This rift has never yet been restored, except in the pragmatic way we see in New York City.
This same type of social organization is seen, in a less orderly fashion, in Chicago. Chicago is much more violent and corrupt than New York. And yet the rich put up with it because again, Chicago is a long established trading center. Chicago still has the permissive liberalism of the 60’s, but survives due to its importance. Steve Sailer notes an incident that perhaps signals that the elite of Chicago may be taking the same attitude as those of New York.
Simple, straight permissive liberalism still rules in most cities. Philadelphia would fall in this category. Permissively liberal cities that don’t have a strong trading position have fallen apart. There is no reason why the auto industry should be centered in Detroit or Flint. What does Cleveland make any more, or Akron? Pittsburgh has shrunk to a regional center.
All big cities these characteristics to some degree. It’s almost the definition of what a city is. But most cities are really just big towns. At some size, though, the city draws together too many disparate and possibly conflicting elements. The gentle liberalism to which many Northern Europeans are inclined no longer works.
I suspect New York has gone “back to the future” with authoritarian liberalism not only due to the needs of the elite, but because blacks are a less important part of the coalition. Blacks seem to be much more important politically in Chicago than in New York. In the black hole cities, whites are simply gone, because they can’t cope with the overwhelming violence of blacks, their electoral power, and because they have other options.
Is the megacity with its complex and expensive government bureaucracy and social welfare system sustainable in its Western social democratic form? Blue city liberals make much of the fact that these rich urban centers contribute in taxes than they receive in payments. Rural areas certainly receive a lot of government spending, in indefensible things like agricultural subsidies and defensible things like highways. But much of the patronage money government doles out goes straight to cities, a spending model pioneered in the New Deal to link big city machines directly to the federal government. As Barbie said, math is hard. But it seems to me if big government didn’t have the suburbs subsidizing the big city there would be no objection to it.
The pyramidal civilization belies the idea of democratic government as autonomous individuals working together to govern. It’s practically medieval. Government in the West will be undergoing big changes, but the return of authoritarian liberalism as a governing strategy seems unlikely in most places.