Posts tagged Michael Bloomberg

Metropolitan secession

(Via Serf City 2008-01-31.)

Here’s something I mentioned some time back during a conversation about secession, decentralism, and decoupling the revolutionary doctrine of secession from the noxious notion of states’ rights:

I mean, one kind of decentralist politics that you might endorse would be to advocate the secession of urban centers from the surrounding states and a decentralist order that’s partly based on people forming a network of poleis around these urban centers. Certainly there are a number of cities (New York, San Francisco, Detroit, Austin, Atlanta …) where enough people are disgusted enough with their state governments that this kind of idea might have some real traction. After all, the power of suburban and exurban and rural counties to lord it over cities through majoritarian control of the state government is, or at least ought to be, just as much a concern for decentralists as the reverse.

So it’s interesting to read that Peter Vallone, a City Council rep from Queens, was proposing something like that earlier this year—stressing, in particular, the way that Albany’s tax-eaters parasitically exploit the wealth that the City produces, and the futility of trying to make your voice heard in a majoritarian regime where you’re outnumbered and have no right of exit:

Emboldened by Mayor Bloomberg’s testimony in Albany this week that the city’s taxpayers pay the state $11 billion a year more than they get back, a City Council member is offering legislation that would begin the process of having New York City secede from New York State.

Peter Vallone Jr., a Democrat who represents Queens, is pushing the idea, and the Council plans to hold a hearing on the possibility of making New York City the 51st state.

I think secession’s time has definitely come again, Mr. Vallone, who spearheaded a similar push in 2003, told The New York Sun yesterday. If not secession, somebody please tell me what other options we have if the state is going to continue to take billions from us and give us back pennies. Should we raise taxes some more? Should we cut services some more? Or should we consider seriously going out on our own?

During a visit to Albany this week, Mr. Bloomberg called on lawmakers to give the city its fair share of tax revenue and said that the state took in $11 billion more from New York City than was returned in the state budget. Mr. Vallone says that the state’s demands on the city in worsening economic times now make it necessary to dissolve the political bands, which have connected them.

Not only is it about self-determination and self-rule, but it’s about fairness, Mr. Vallone said. It’s something we see every year in the budget. They take $11 billion from us and give us back a mere pittance and they make it seem like they’re doing us a favor to give that pittance back. Somehow they missed the point that that is New York City’s own tax money and we deserve it.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

Of course, Vallone is an elected Democrat, and like any politician, he takes a perfectly good radical idea and waters it down with stupid concessions to power: immediately after decrying the way majoritarian state government swindles people in New York City and denies them control over the fruits of their own labor, he goes on to propose that New York City ought to fix it by seceding from New York State, and then subordinating itself directly to the majoritarian rule of the United States federal government as the 51st state. I suppose there’s something to be said for cutting out the middle-man, but if you think that’s going to stop you from having billions taken from you and getting a pittance back, well, I have a fine bridge in the autonomous city-state of Brooklyn that you might be interested in buying.

And, like a politician, he proposes a stupid means to his stated ends:

Mr. Vallone’s legislation would create a commission to study the issue and then recommend whether to put it to a referendum. Since secession would have to be approved by the Albany legislators, its passage would be unlikely.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

The idea of holding a direct referendum is fine; but making that referendum contingent on a politically-appointed council of Experts is a waste of time and energy. If you want New York City to be free, begging Albany to let your people go isn’t about to work. You’ve got to just start talking with your people about getting up and leaving, whether Albany likes it or not. I mean, Christ. Supposing that you talked it up and got it organized and actually had enough people in New York City behind you, what are they going to do about it? Boycott Manhattan? Invade the South Bronx? Why wait on their permission?

The answer, of course, is that this is most likely half-sincere at best, and in large part an act of pointless political grandstanding by Vallone, which he would not be attempting but for the fact hat he can be sure it won’t go anywhere. But even if his plan won’t, it’s very interesting, and worth the attention of genuine secessionists and real revolutionaries, that a party hack from Queens figures there’s enough of that kind of sentiment in his neighborhood that he can exploit it for an applause line. And that other dissident city council members would be willing to endorse the same logic in the course of public political debate:

Another to council member, Simcha Felder, who chairs the Governmental Operations committee, said the bill will be considered this year.

It certainly has merit, Mr. Felder said of the proposal. Why in the world should New York City be held hostage to the state? It just doesn’t make sense.

Mr. Felder acknowledged that the bill would face many hurdles, but said it deserved a debate.

I think the people in New York City are very interested for the most part in it. The question is the people outside New York City in New York State who have been eating the fruits of our labor for all this time. They aren’t going to be ready to just say forget about it.

— Benjamin Sarlin, The New York Sun (2008-01-30): A Secession Plan Is Floated for New York City

So don’t give them the opportunity. Why choose a strategy that requires you to wait on them to get ready for your freedom? If the people in New York City really are very interested, then do what every successful independence movement in history has done: stop worrying about what the people who oppress and exploit you will say about it. Get talking, get organized, declare independence and then, if the state keeps trying to issue you orders, act like you mean it — by ignoring those orders and treating the people who issue them the same way you’d treat any other lunatic who thinks he’s Napoleon. Of course, a strategy like that is hard. Of course, it’s likely to fail. (Lots of independence movements have.) Of course, it will take years to organize and win even if it doesn’t fail. But it is a strategy that might possibly succeed, which puts it ahead of plans for having the city government petition the state legislature. And it’s also a strategy we can start talking about now. And talking about that may start a lot of other conversations that are worth having, about taxes, war, empire, and the rest.

New York City ALLies: how many people do you know who are very interested in the idea of an independent New York City, which is no longer held hostage to the state? Remember that interest and sympathy and idle wishes are enough to start with: conviction and solidarity and organization are things that you can build by getting people to take the idea seriously, by educating them about it, by dispelling their ars, and by showing them that another City is possible. So, are there possibilities in doing anti-imperialist education, outreach, and, ultimately, organizing to free Occupied New York from the Empire State?

If so, let’s talk about how to do it. Maybe we can start in the comments here. Free the New York 8,274,527, and all political prisoners!

See also:

Free Riders

Governments — local, state, and federal — spend a lot of time wringing their hands about the plight of the urban poor. It’s never hard to find some know-it-all with a suit and a nameplate on his desk who has come up with a government program that will eliminate, or ameliorate, or at least contain, the worst aspects of grinding poverty, especially as experienced by city folks, and especially as experienced by black people, brown people, immigrants, or other people marked for the special observation and solicitude of the State bureaucracy. Depending on the frame of mind, these programs may be more aimed at doling out conditional charity to deserving poor people, or they may be more aimed at bringing more at-risk poor people under the surveillance of social workers and medical experts, or they may be more aimed at beating recalcitrant poor people up and locking them in cages. (Most programs involve a combination of at least two, and possibly all three.) But one thing that they will never, ever do is just get the fuck out of the way and let poor people do the sort of things that poor people have done from time out of mind to help themselves scratch by.

There are too many ways to list them all here. But one notable example is the way in which city governments constrain and control taxi cabs. In principle, anyone who needed to make some extra money could start a part-time cab service with a car they already have, a cell phone, and some word of mouth. That’s good money for honest labor providing a useful service to willing customers, all under the direction and control of a single independent worker, who can put as much or as little into it as she wants to in order to make the money she needs. And so what do the statesman in city governments do? They create tightly regulated, tightly restricted cartels on taxi service, impose arbitrary numerical limits and financial barriers to entering the cartel, and hit anyone they catch operating outside of the cartel with exorbitant fines or jail time.

One of the worst offenders is New York City, in which all taxi service are regulated by a central city commission, and the city enforces an arbitrary cap on the number of taxi cabs that can pick up passengers off the street. The licenses (medallions) for serving willing customers without John Law punching your head are closely controlled by the city government; a handful of new ones are occasionally auctioned off by the city, and existing ones can be bought and sold by existing license holders — usually at a cost measured in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Lots of poor people have a car laying around that they could use; not a lot have a few hundred thousand dollars.

Just in case those expenses and legal barriers to entry weren’t enough, I find that Mayor Bloomberg has decided that your taxi needs high-cost high-tech GPS and payment systems — whether or not you, as a driver, wants to lay out the time, money, and lost work to install and maintain it, and whether or not you, as a rider, want to pay the fares needed to cover the expense. Why would they need that? Well, hell, why not? Bloomberg knows what you need or want to pay for better than you do, anyway.

Right after Labor Day, a slew of New York City taxi drivers protested plans to roll out credit- and debit-card payment systems in the back seats of all 13,000 medallion cabs.

They feared they would lose money on tips if passengers didn’t pay in cash.

But proponents, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, outnumbered the protesters.

Supporters say the ongoing program will better serve customers and actually help bring in more money for cabbies.

— Investor’s Business Daily (2007-09-06): Wireless, Cashless Payments Come To The World Of Taxi Drivers

So, thanks to the supporters, the cabbies will be treated like imbeciles who do not know how to conduct their own business, and also like conscripts who do not have any say in the conditions of their own labor. Well, in any case, somebody is sure to get a sweet deal:

It certainly will help bring in more revenue for San Jose, Calif.-based VeriFone Holdings (NYSE:PAY) PAY. The company is a leading maker of point-of-sale terminals and wireless systems.

VeriFone — in partnership with MasterCard’s MA PayPass — was the first firm approved to provide the wireless systems in New York’s cabs. The systems make use of an ATM-style interface to accept credit and debit fare payments.

The company’s back-seat screen monitors also deliver news, weather and tidbits on restaurants, night life, hotels and other attractions. An extra bonus: Like billboards, they bring in revenue-generating ad money.

Every year, we find a free ride on a new segment of the economy that is going electronic, said Doug Bergeron, VeriFone’s chief executive.

— Investor’s Business Daily (2007-09-06): Wireless, Cashless Payments Come To The World Of Taxi Drivers

In this case, it is a free ride indeed. Who needs to actually go out and sell a product when you can get government cartels to force clients to come to you?

I wish the independent cab drivers well. If Bloomberg shoves this corporate welfare screwjob through, I would encourage them all to go on a permanent strike from officially-licensed cab driving. New York City already boasts a vibrant and growing fleet of gypsy cabs, and an influx of new labor and resources into the counter-economy would be something to welcome.

(Link thanks to Austro-Athenian Empire 2007-09-07: Unto Him Who Hath.)

Further reading: