Irwin Stelzer in the Sunday Times: Leftist mayors? We've been there, done that
jones118 at SPAMlineone.net
Sun May 14 06:41:32 MDT 2000
May 14 2000 ECONOMICS
WHAT LARKS! As Americans who care about London watched in horror, the voters
of London had good fun, electing Red Ken as mayor. Unfortunately, in the
process of sticking their thumb in the eye of the prime minister, Londoners
have shot themselves in the foot - as any New Yorker can tell you.
New York has had its time under the rule of left-leaning mayors. And it
found that mayors matter, even though they share power with other bodies -
the city council and the state government in New York's case. They matter
for two reasons. First, their specific policies determine the city's ratio
of crooks to honest folks, of educated to illiterate children, and of
tax-paying workers to welfare recipients.
Equally important, a mayor sets a tone that determines whether big companies
will find his city a good place in which to do business, or a place from
which to flee; and whether families will face and surmount the difficulties
of bringing up children in a crowded urban setting, or flee to the suburbs.
Let's consider the economic consequences of New York City's long period of
left-wing rule. The number of Fortune 500 companies making their homes in
New York fell from 140 in 1947 to 31 now. As Myron Magnet, editor of the
influential City Journal, points out: "With the information revolution, all
those companies whose great skyscrapers made them appear eternally rooted in
the cities no longer had to be there in order to be near their suppliers,
customers or bankers."
So they left, in the case of New York taking with them an estimated one
But just as New York discovered that perpetual prosperity was not guaranteed
to it, so it later discovered that decline can be reversed. What politicians
have wrought, other politicians can fix.
The crime story is too well known to require detailed repetition here. Mayor
Rudy Giuliani, whose value system and priorities are the opposite of
Livingstone's, introduced "zero tolerance" policing, and suddenly New York's
citizens recaptured their streets from the muggers and crooks and squeegee
men. To accomplish this, Giuliani had to face down charges of racism, and
back his police to the hilt when they took on rioters protesting against one
thing or another. He had no sympathy for window smashers and cop bashers.
Less well known is the role "reinventing government" has played in the
revival of many American cities. In place of jobs for the boys, mayors such
as Stephen Goldsmith of Indianapolis introduced competitive tendering by
private firms for everything from pot-hole filling to bus repairing, with
savings estimated at 25% to 40%. And Giuliani took on the public-sector
unions to try to wring from them some value for taxpayers' money.
Then there is education. New York's mayor has little direct control over the
city's schools, sharing authority with the Board of Education and the state
government. But he can influence the selection of the school chancellor, and
use "the bully pulpit" of the mayor's office to shame teachers, principals
and educrats into making at least some reforms in a system that has spent
more money for less education than any in America, with the possible
exception of the state schools in the nation's capital.
As for the homeless, Giuliani quickly established that homelessness is not
an "alternative lifestyle" available to all who would use the city's parks
as bedrooms, its rail stations as living rooms, and its doorways and alleys
The renaissance these policies have brought to New York and other cities is
obvious to residents and visitors alike. Young, high-tech entrepreneurs are
willing to set up firms and raise families in New York; the streets on a
summer's evening are alive with shoppers and strollers; the theatre is
thriving. So great is the demand for housing right in the centre that
property prices are soaring and once-derelict districts are being
gentrified, with high-ceilinged former manufacturing space the
conversions-of-choice for the city's glitterati.
Londoners take note. You now have a mayor whose natural instincts are to
limit the activity of the police, and to sympathise with lawless rioters.
You have a mayor and a new layer of government that will have a budget of
£3.5 billion a year, with the mayor already searching for new sources of
revenue. You have a mayor who likens the taxpaying, job-generating
businesses that sustain the city to Hitler's Nazis, and who is more likely
to see the homeless as warranting public assistance than as a blight on the
In short, you have New York City in the dark days of its decline under a
series of mayors whose instincts were similar to Red Ken's, whose compassion
for all save the taxpayer was limitless, and who thought their main job was
to appease the myriad self-styled "victims" of racism, poverty and assorted
forms of discrimination.
Lay that alongside the trends Charles Murray has earlier described in these
pages and which he reiterated last week at The Sunday Times seminar, The
Growing Threat of the Underclass, and you have the beginning of what could
be the end of swinging, prosperous London. The number of unsocialised (no,
Ken, that doesn't mean right-wing) children is bound to rise as the
illegitimacy rate races to and past 40%. Lacking parental restraint on their
behaviour, these youngsters can and will run wild, unless the tone set by
the mayor, and communicated to the police and the teachers in the schools to
which his constituents send their children, is one of unsympathetic
Crime up, the homeless in control of the streets, cost of government rising,
indiscriminate compassion. We New Yorkers have been there, done that. It
almost made our city uninhabitable. Those of us who love London, and spend a
great deal of time here, hope there is a big gap between Livingstone's
pre-election rhetoric and his post-election performance.
stelzer at aol.com
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