New York’s mayoral election is a lesson to us all

Aristotle referred to democracy as a ‘deviant constitution’. And the election of Bill de Blasio as New York’s mayor ought to give pause to anyone wishing to take issue with this put-down.

On the assumption that cold reason is a better cognitive tool than hot air, let’s consider the facts.

Under Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, the city’s previous two mayors, New York did in two decades something I would have bet couldn’t be done in a thousand years. It became a clean, safe, prosperous place.

In fact in my, lamentably rather long, lifetime I can’t recall a single major city undergoing a similarly amazing transformation.

When I left Manhattan in 1988, some parts of it were life-threatening, many more nose-pinchingly squalid. As to the acres upon acres of combat zones in the other boroughs, the less said about them the better. Those interested in the gory details could do worse than read Tom Wolfe’s novel The Bonfire of the Vanities, for whose verisimilitude I can vouch with a clear conscience.

Then Giuliani became Mayor in 1994 and worked a miracle. His politics were mostly liberal, but many of his policies weren’t. Specifically, he declared ‘zero-tolerance to crime’, a term he interpreted in the broadest possible sense to include even things like graffiti, panhandling, begging and vagrancy.

Giuliani gave New York’s finest wider ‘stop-and-frisk’ powers, then built more prisons and filled them to the brim.

It goes without saying that civil-rights fanatics immediately espied a racial bias in the groups whose members were stopped and frisked. Their ensuing indignation was predictably not attenuated by the demonstrable fact that those groups accounted for 90 percent of the crime rate.

Had the drop in crime been less spectacular, they would have carried the day. As it was, Giuliani managed to hang on – and press on. He privatised some public services to their vast improvement and gave more autonomy to local government, which became more efficient as a result.

His successor Michael Bloomberg, another man displaying an unlikely combination of liberalism and pragmatism, continued the same policies and also introduced sweeping reforms in education. School funding was made contingent on results, and results improved drastically.

The upshot of it all was that New York became a better place to live. Its crime rate dropped below that of most other major cities in the USA and the world – for example, to half the rate of London in most categories. (The chances of getting mugged in London are now 25 percent higher than even in the notoriously dangerous Harlem.)

One would think that, when it was time for Bloomberg to go after three consecutive terms, the next mayor would gain office on the promise of more of the same. Alas, one would be mistaken.

For Bill de Blasio won the race on the promise to undo everything his predecessors had achieved. He’ll punish the rich with taxes, betray the poor with re-nationalisation and hamstring the police, which will predictably turn New York into the hellhole it was for so much of its history.

Now that we’ve considered the facts, de Blasio’s landslide victory seems rather counterintuitive. But then any reasonable intuition is useless when applied to the workings of modern democracy.

Putting it simply, when democracy isn’t counterbalanced by other methods of government it turns into a snake biting its own tail. Thomas Jefferson (who, along with most of the Founders, was no champion of democracy) put his finger right on it: “The Democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.”

Unfortunately, when franchise is unqualified and democracy is unchecked, politicians find it hard to resist buying the votes of many with the money of some.

This inexorably undermines the organic distribution of wealth in a free economy where many earn increasingly higher wages and few make increasingly greater profits. This is replaced by an enlargement in the size of groups making a living without earning it, and the consequent plunder of wealth actually earned.

The entitlement group is bound to continue to grow, for human nature is such that the availability of unearned income and the number of those desiring it exist in a symbiotic relationship.

The process of redistribution, rather than being organic, has to become coercive: wealth producers are forced to part with greater and greater proportions of their wealth to support the expectations of greater and greater numbers of those who feel entitled to consume without earning.

When their numbers reach a certain critical mass, democracy stops working even on its own limited terms. Reason no longer applies, and destructive policies have a greater chance of electoral success than reasonable ones.

The election of Bill de Blasio shows that, for all the efforts of his predecessors, New York has reached this critical mass.

Since it’s easier to destroy than to create, one can confidently predict that in a few short years the city will revert to its former unappealing persona – no doubt to the thunderous applause of The New York Times and the three major TV networks (American answers to The Guardian and the BBC).

You may choose to believe that what happens in New York has little to do with you. Or else you may choose to agree with me that in this instance New York must be treated as a microcosm of the West at large. It’s certainly not the only place where the critical mass of folly has been reached.

In more concrete terms, if you think that the likes of Red Ed can’t carry the British electorate, think again. After all, unlike de Blasio, he won’t even be campaigning against rival policies boasting a record of great success.





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