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Mayor Bloomberg’s cool New York

March 28, 2012

An interesting article by Mayor Bloomberg in today’s FT in the sense of what it tells us about the incentives driving our 21st century world.  The mayor is proud that New York was recently rated the most competitive city in the world and he offers us his take on the best strategy to maintain it.  Every city, he says, is in a dire competition for “intellectual capital and talent” and to succeed cities “must continuously find new ways to meet the future demands of a talent-driven market”.

“Talent”, it seems, is one of the most common buzzwords we hear in today’s business discourse, right next to the equally holy “competition”, “capital”, “investors”, and “markets”.  What Bloomberg says certainly has a bit of logic inside the dismal confines of the “market”, but if we step back just a bit, some serious questions arise.

New York’s a great place; a great place for some that is.  According to a recent report, one in five New Yorkers live in poverty while inequality in Manhattan is higher than anywhere in the United States, itself one of the most unequal of nations.  The average income of the top 20% in Manhattan is almost 38 times the bottom fifth: $371,754 to $9,845.  30% of children under 18 live in poverty and 44% of renters divert more than one-third their incomes to housing.  Life is certainly quite competitive for many New Yorkers.

There seems to be two New Yorks: the one in which Bloomberg is mayor is south of about 95th Street in Manhattan along with a few oases in the outer boroughs; and then there’s the rest.  In a reasonably moral world, you’d think the prime directive for a leader of a city experiencing widespread misery would be to assure “disaster funds” are raised immediately to alleviate the vast suffering.  Radical changes would necessarily be on the table and we’d hear loud demands for federal assistance.  The contrast to reality couldn’t be starker, though, as Bloomberg focuses only on the outer glitter.  “The cities of the future will be cool, creative and in control” the article’s title tells us.  Do we find an ambitious effort to eliminate poverty in his hyper competitive city?  No, we find instead that “one of our most ambitious efforts has been a competition among world-class universities to build a new applied science and engineering campus”.  Such is the logic of capitalism that funds are never, and can never, be applied to where they’re most needed.

Bloomberg gives us a good example of the propaganda supporting the illusion our 21st century political economy is civilized.  While major parts of his city burn, he and his “talented” gang of friends revel in the glitter of Wall Street and Broadway.

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