Michael Bloomberg should be called “Iron Mike” because he is tough as nails, more than a little authoritarian, and has gotten a lot done in his two terms as Mayor of New York City.
Before using his millions to get himself elected mayor, Bloomberg made billions supplying the banking and finance industries with information indispensable to their machinations by displaying them on his computer terminals, which he rented to stock brokers and hedge fund operators at a price the rest of us cannot afford.
Now he’s convinced the City Council to allow him to pursue a third four-year term. In his quest, he faces the same problem that Vladimir Putin had to confront when he came up against the two-term limit in Russian law. Putin installed a pliant member of his entourage as president and made himself prime minister while abrogating to himself the powers of the presidency.
“Prime minister of New York City” does not sit well on the tongue. Beyond the euphemisms, there is a problem. The citizens of New York have voted twice on different referendums to have a two-term limit on the office. Now that the City Council is setting aside the two-term limit, New Yorkers will learn, like their fellow city dwellers in Moscow, that their vote counts only when they cast it the right way.
Vox populi and Bloomberg’s Putinesque traits aside, what has been done to New York by its mayors over the past six decades is a story that’s relevant to the rest of the nation. New York has evolved from a production economy to a service economy.
Sixty years ago New York City may have been the largest manufacturing center in the world. It had few of the dramatic smokestack industries you once saw in Pittsburgh’s steel mills or Detroit’s automobile factories, although it had a few big, visible companies such as Otis Elevator. But the city nurtured thousands of small manufacturing enterprises–machine tool shops, specialty metal fabricators and jewelers. It was the epicenter of the garment and printing industries. Once upon a time there was nothing a person might want made that some small company in New York City couldn’t make.
Today this once-enormous manufacturing base is all but gone, run out of town by decades of mayors and city administrations bent on favoring banks, venture capitalists, law firms, accounting firms, stock brokers and the rest of the apparatus of finance. And that takes us to Mayor Bloomberg and Willets Point.
Willets Point is a sixty-acre area near LaGuardia Airport, which the Mayor wants to raze to make way for the usual sterile mix of shops, convention center and apartments. To be sure, Willets Point is an eyesore, but it is teeming with jobs and enterprise.
A work day at Willets Point was described by the Village Voice:
There were no tourists watching as the metal gates went up on the corrugated-tin auto body shops, muffler repair outfits, and scrap dealers in this part of Queens. Workers took up their posts on the street to spot customers driving by, asking them, “Hey, Papi, what you need?” Massive earth movers growled to life in the bay used by Tully’s Construction, and diesel-fired dump trucks plowed through street-width puddles toward Evergreen Recycling. At Feinstein Iron Works, a guy positioned a machine to bore into the end of a steel beam, while over at Bono’s, a man in a cloth mask stacked bags of sawdust as they came off a conveyer belt. A driver for United Steel Products tossed his lunch bag into the flatbed he’d steer to a work site.
At the same time the City is destroying the small industrial enterprise that creates employment, it is subsidizing Manhattan real estate. This year it is handing out a half a billion dollars in subsidies to organizations who do not need them, some of which are as frivolous as Major League Baseball. Gotham has bet big on the service economy, particularly the finance part of it, and as a result there could be a loss of 165,000 jobs in the next couple of years.
What New York City has been doing, so has the nation: misdirecting capital, energy and invention away from productive enterprises into activities that put no food on the table. With nothing to sell to foreigners, we have become a nation that borrows from them to pay for both necessities and luxuries. A nation that cannot earn its own living is in for a long, painful decline.