New York State Needs a War on Poverty

A few months ago Arthur Levitt–Bloomberg groupie, former SEC Chairman, and quintessential Wall Street liberal—interviewed Grover Norquist, anti-tax activist and bête noire of Wall Street liberals. At the end of the interview Levitt asked “Grover, do you think it is ever appropriate for government to help poor people?” Norquist archly reminded Levitt that Obama-style liberalism had been a disaster for poor people, although government workers had made out just fine. (I can’t quote exactly because for some strange reason this part of the conversation disappeared from the podcast.)

Levitt typifies the earnest liberal for whom good intentions outweigh dismal results. Exhibit A is upstate New York, which for decades has been pauperized by Democratic politicians pandering to rich New York City liberals and Public Employee Unions. High taxes, oppressive regulation and political corruption have deindustrialized a region that once upon a time was an economic powerhouse. The Erie Canal, the most successful infrastructure project in American history, created a string of prosperous cities stretching westward from Albany—Schenectady, Utica, Rome, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo. For decades now, these cities have ranked near the top of lists of the fastest-shrinking cities in the U.S. Buffalo has shriveled from 580,000 in 1950 to 261,000 in 2010.

Inequality, New York Style

When liberals ponder the scourge of inequality in earnest convocations at the 92nd Street Y, they need only glance up the Hudson to find an egregious example. The five richest counties in the state, all in the New York City area, have median household incomes of $82,181, on average. That’s twice as high as the average median household income of the 18 poorest counties in the state. Where’s Thomas Piketty when we need him?

Driving this pauperization is rank corruption in Albany—so rank that Andrew Cuomo had to shut down his own anti-corruption commission when it began snooping too close to home. Where else but Albany can a politician serve in the Legislature while pulling down a six-figure salary from a law firm whose main business is–lobbying the Legislature!

Frack That

The apotheosis of New York liberals’ pauperizing pandering is Andrew Cuomo’s opposition to fracking. Albany regulators are “studying” it to death simply because it is opposed by rich liberals like “river keeper” Robert Kennedy Jr. Done properly, fracking is not risky. Tens of thousands of wells have been drilled in the U.S., and fracking has had no discernible ill effects in neighboring Pennsylvania. It would create thousands of the “good paying middle class jobs” that liberals claim to crave while reducing carbon emissions by helping to substitute clean gas for dirty coal. And it has a far more benign environmental footprint than bird-slicing windmills or solar fields blighting thousands of acres.

Having quashed fracking, Cuomo needed some economic development fig leafs to appease upstate voters ahead of the election. To create the misimpression he is “doing something” about jobs, he created a tax abatement plan called “Startup New York” with a huge in-state ad budget. And as a pathetic substitute for fracking, Cuomo is expanding casino gambling in upstate New York. He claims three or four new casinos will “serve as attractions to bring visitors to the region through tie-ins with the local tourism industry, business community and entertainment venues.”

Cuomo’s casino timing could not be worse. This is 2014, not 1980. There are already several hundred casinos in the U.S. including dozens in the Northeast. The glut is so bad that three casinos will close in Atlantic City this month. If they are ever built, Cuomo’s casinos can hire experienced employees recently laid off in AC.  Only a political aristocrat with zero private economy experience—apart from pressuring Fannie and Freddie to buy more sub-prime mortgages, when Cuomo ran HUD in the 1990s—could come up with such a dumb “job creation” plan.

A New War on Poverty?

There is a solution to Cuomo’s venal incompetence—a new “war on poverty” led by free-market conservatives from Sunbelt states. In the 1960s condescending northern liberals, many funded by elite outfits such as the Ford Foundation, descended on southern states such as Mississippi, Alabama and the Carolinas to “fight poverty.” To the extent they were fighting racial discrimination, they did much good. When it came to actually “fighting poverty” they were of little or negative value, because they were all about income redistribution, not economic growth and job creation.

Anyhow, it is time for the Sunbelt to return the favor. Capitalistic activists from Texas, Oklahoma, Arizon, Louisiana and Florida should invade the “Empire State” and stage a “freedom from poverty summer” to fight remorseless pauperization by King Cuomo and New York City liberals. Rick Perry should lead the fight; the Koch Brothers should fund it. The campaign should push for lower taxes, public employee pension reform, and a pro fracking energy policy that would create jobs and cut carbon emissions.

At the end of the campaign, Arthur Levitt could invite Rick Perry onto his radio show to explain how he saved average hard-working New Yorkers from the depredations of Albany and New York City.  Hopefully NPR’s “Brian Lehrer Show”—which has an abiding interest in inequality and anti-poverty programs—will also host Governor Perry. NPR listeners would learn a lot, if they didn’t faint first.

Copyright Thomas Doerflinger 2014. All Rights Reserved.


About tomdoerflinger

Thomas Doerflinger, PhD is a prominent observer of American capitalism – past, present and future.
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