Bloomberg the Socialist Libertarian

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I don't normally get to read the New York Daily News, but my father-in-law gets it (he won't get the New York Times because he doesn't think it's worth buying a paper you can't read cover to cover), and it was the nearest reading material when I was eating dinner last night. There's a very interesting piece in yesterday's paper that gives what seems to me to be a very strange argument from Mayor Bloomberg. He thinks the U.S. government owes New York City more use of tax services because New York City pays a higher percentage of the tax pool than other places compared to the amount of money it receives in services.

When I first read this, I thought two things. First, the author of the piece sounds to me like the inverse of Senator Al D'Amato when he ran for the last time and got beaten by Chuck Schumer. D'Amato collected some quotes and sound clips Schumer had made as a Representative in Congress of a Brooklyn district about how he would bring home the bacon for Brooklyn, his district (although to be fair to D'Amato, some of the quotes were from Schumer's campaign for the Senate but given in Brooklyn). Then he aired them on TV and radio programs throughout the state outside the city. The tagline was "There's more to New York than just Brooklyn" or "There's more to New York than New York City". Either line played to the sense of the average New Yorker who isn't a NYC dweller that the city overshadows everything else to the point where living in New York just means living in NYC to many people. It captures some of the agony of having NYC not just diverting things from the rest of the state but actually controlling the state because of its huge size and influence. New York is a predominantly red state, with most of its area occupied by people whose culture is more like that of northern NH or even the deep South than it is like the city dwellers down near NJ. It's just that NYC has so many people that all the red counties have basically no vote in national or statewide elections.

Now Bloomberg comes along and serves as the foil for this guy's article turning that anguish around the other way, presumably deriving momentum from all the pundits on the national level who are doing the same thing. According to this article, the hicks, yokels, and boondoggles of such states as Alaska, Missouri, and Tennessee are taking all the money from the city. Douglas Feiden in this piece is the anti-D'Amato, not in the sense of being against him (though I'm sure he would be) but in the sense that he is D'Amato directed in the opposite direction. I don't know their hearts, but either one sounds like bigotry to someone on the other end.

The second thing I thought upon reading this piece is that Bloomberg's argument seems decidedly liberal for a Republican mayor. Of course, he's not a real conservative. He's more like Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzeneggar, Arlen Specter, and other social liberals who have somewhat libertarian views on economic issues and conservative views on foreign policy and law enforcement. Still, these are economic issues. Bloomberg is upset that money New York City has received from the federal government for extensive social programs has gotten smaller in the latest budget, while things that don't seem to him or to Douglas Feiden, who assembled most of the information in the article, to be helpful to New Yorkers are getting plenty of cash.

Then I thought through the argument some more, and I realized that it's not a liberal argument at all. It's a libertarian argument. It just doesn't sound like it, because it's not libertarianism about individual rights but about the rights of a city. The libertarian position is that my money is mine, something the Constitution gives me rights to possess as property, one of the only three rights recognized in the Constitution, along with life and liberty. They insist that any social program for the purpose of charity is simply stealing from any taxpayer whose money was used for it. They're right if the right to property is an absolute right. It's just that the mainstream political view in this country is that the right to property is not absolute but subordinate to the government's duty to carry out justice. Even libertarians agree with this, but they don't see social justice as part of the justice that counts here. They normally include just law enforcement and military strength for defense of U.S. citizens from external attacks.

This argument is slightly different, because it's not focusing on individual property rights. It's as if the money the residents of New York City pay to the federal government is collectively part of a pool that belongs to the people of the city, and then that collective indidivual is owed back government benefits proportional to what it's paid in. Two things strike me as really strange about this argument. First, you have to believe the city's collective rights are more important than individual property rights. Otherwise, what you will end up doing is saying the same thing about individuals. If I pay very little in, then I shouldn't expect much out of the system. If I pay more, I should expect more. Bill Gates, then, should expect a much higher benefit from the government than anyone else, since he pays so much. People who don't pay taxes, on the other hand, shouldn't receive government entitlements. They didn't pay in, so they should receive no more than what they proportionally have paid in taxes. That seems to be what Mayor Bloomberg's reasoning leads to.

Even if you don't accept the transfer to individuals, other collective entities should count. Huge corporations really should expect to be treated better than the little guy, so all those people who think the business world has Bush in their pocket have nothing to complain about even if they're right. Big Oil deserves more government loyalty. After all, they pay more taxes and don't receive their proportional return.

The second really strange thing about Feiden's presentation of the argument in the article, which may or may not be true of Bloomberg's own view, is that he picks out a number of the pork projects he wants to hold up against the cuts that will take money from programs that would help NYC, yet a number of them do seem to me to be a help or a potential help to the residents of NYC, and others seem to me to be perfectly legitimate projects given standard non-libertarian justifications for budgetary allotments. One item in his list is the soybean researchers in Iowa. He says that's a case of the hicks of Iowa stealing from the city-dwellers. How many Iowans use soybean products the way the average denizen of Greenwich Village does? Swine waste research makes the list. What is this? I don't know. Perhaps it would lead to better handling of sewage, a huge issue for New York City. Perhaps it will lead to study of organisms or chemicals in swine waste products, which could lead to medicinal treatments for New Yorkers. Who knows? Feiden certainly doesn't. Add to this the $250,000 spent to honor the tradition of rhythm and blues, something very important for African American history and for the cultural background of many people in New York City. Feiden spins this as a Nashville Dukes of Hazzard special for Hillbillies.

I'm also not sure what gets counted in the figure Bloomberg gives. He says New York City sends in $11 million of taxes more than it receives back in services. Is he counting things like the Pell Grants and Stafford Loans that help many New Yorkers go to college? That's a lot of money, given the cost of college nowadays. Is he counting the amount of defense spending that has gone to protect people who live in New York City? Is he counting the funds that have been used to clean up after 9/11 and rebuild the next Tower of Babel to the honor of the glory of man?

Even for some of the projects that have little to do with the people of NYC, what gives Bloomberg the right to say that sea lions and otters are unimportant and not worthy of scientific study? It may be that feeding the homeless should be a higher priority, assuming the probably false claim that the money that's been going there is being used effectively enough to be worth it. Still, what is the government's responsibility and why? There are strong arguments from the various spheres that the government supports that there isn't enough money going to that sector. Scientific research is one of those. NPR had a whole afternoon devoted to that right after the budget was passed. To call this a waste of money is going to alienate all the scientists who live in New York City who will be voting in the next mayoral election. Protection of endangered species would also fall into this category, but that's something for the hicks, yokels, and boondoggles. Liberals outside the cities (those on college campuses would probably make up the next largest group) would have a fit if they read this, but Feidan is sending this message on to the city dwellers, just as D'Amato sent his only to the hicks, yokels, and boondoggles.

The real irony here, though, is that New York is one of the least giving of all regions in the country. The northeast in general is pretty bad. Those who make the most money live in the northeast, but they also give the least to charities. All those hicks, yokels, and boondoggles give large amounts of money to charities, many of which are doing excellent work in New York City to make it a better place. Now in none of this am I trying to justify pork-barrel spending, and much in the bill really does fit that description. It's just that Feidan doesn't seem to me to have thought through many of the examples he brings up and probably didn't research Bloomberg's $11 million figure and most likely not taking into account many things that help New City residents that Bloomberg and Feiden just aren't thinking about. Add to that how silly the argument really is, and you have a pretty poor article.

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