There and Here, Generation Greed Wants Everything but Refuses to Pay For Anything

Who, in a decade or two, will want the job of changing former President Donald Trump’s diapers, and who will have to pay for it?  

As I’ve said for years, The Donald is THE MAN of his generation.  A generation that came to interpret freedom as freedom from responsibility, to a greater extent than the generations before or after.  For those on the so-called “right,” it was freedom from social responsibility — to the community through paying taxes, to the planet by conserving natural resources, and even, it turns out, to those around them by wearing masks and getting vaccinated.  For those in the so-called “left” it was freedom from personal responsibility, to family members, or non-family progeny, when personal fulfillment, or sexual gratification, or just wanting to get high made that responsibility burdensome.  That has been the story, but not the fact.  In reality Trump, like the majority of his generation, was against any responsibility at all, social or personal.  Eventually, however, he and those of his generation will age to the point where they require custodial care, care that is either hugely expensive or personally draining to provide.  To be provided and paid for by whom?

I bring this up again because it would appear that in the UK, the generation that demanded lower taxes on itself is now demanding additional old age care for itself, paid for exclusively by the less well of generations to follow. Generations already on the wrong end of slashing social benefits for children, while putting a triple lock on a guarantee of benefits for aging adults.  Thus continuing to align Generation Greed’s economic, social and political choices with what, at least here in the United States, have been the personal and family choices of many, if not most.  All while engaging in a culture war to distract attention from what they, collectively, have done.  But there, unlike here in the U.S., generational inequities are at least talked about.

If you happen to be a comedy writer or comedic playwright, hold that thought about Trump’s last days.  I’ll have a suggestion for you at the end of this post, one that could bring 40 years of economic and social trends home to the later-born in a way that perhaps lots of boring data and analysis that you’ll have to get through first does not.

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“Affordable” Phonies Make Life Unaffordable for the Serfs

According to Merriam Webster online, affordable means able to be afforded: having a cost that is not too high.  And among New York’s Democrats and progressives there is always talk of having government policies make something affordable:  affordable education, affordable health care, affordable housing, affordable transportation, etc.  And yet observing 40 years of public policy in New York, I can think of only a handful of examples of policies that have actually made life, or a better life, less costly for the public at large.

When one examines the totality of public policies enacted in so-called Blue States, you see that the goal actually seems to be to make many things more expensive.  

Sometimes for reasons I agree with.  A developed country (and I’m not sure ours is) shouldn’t be making goods and services more affordable in the short run by making them more expensive, more dangerous, or more misery-inducing for the community as a whole, in the long run.  That’s what the builders of the “affordable” Surfside condo in Florida did by cheaping out on the building structure.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/behind-the-florida-condo-collapse-rampant-corner-cutting-11629816205?mod=trending_now_news_1

But mostly for reasons that would be impossible to justify if openly admitted.  To make some workers — those who work for the government, or are paid funded by government programs — richer compared other similar workers, at the expense of making those other similar workers pay more and become poorer.  And to make it more expensive to live in politically influential “liberal” communities, ensuring the less well off, their burdens and troubles, will be somewhere else.  The result is hypocrisy.

When Democrats and progressives say “affordable” what they really mean is “subsidized.”  Part of the cost is paid for by someone else, so it seems to be more affordable.  But since fiscal resources are not unlimited, even in New York City where we have the highest state and local tax burden and the most debt, the subsidies for “affordable” health care, education, transportation, housing etc. only end up going to the fortune few.  And many if not most of those few often turn out to be among those were already fortunate.  For the rest, somebody has to pay after all.  Often those who are already burdened by policies to make things more expensive – policies that lead to the need for subsidies to begin with.

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The MTA (and New York State and the New Federal Infrastructure Plan): Five-Plus Decades of Investing in the Suburbs and Disinvesting in the City

The era of large-scale federal infrastructure investment, from the 1950s through the 1970s, coincided with the era of suburban development and urban decline.  I don’t think that was a coincidence.  Cities had paid for their own infrastructure with local money, were still paying bonds for that infrastructure, and it was aging. The federal government then paid for brand new, up to date infrastructure for suburbs, and for rural areas that became suburbs, with taxes collected in part in cities, even as urban infrastructure declined.  Federal investment was limited to new infrastructure only at the time.  Most older central cities never recovered, and those that did only began to do so in the early 1980s, after the Reagan Administration cut federal investment and added local flexibility to how it was used.  More of it was then used to fix existing infrastructure, not just subsidize new suburban and exurban development.

Now it is 50 to 70 years later and the infrastructure of the suburbs is aging.  And because of lower densities, and thus more liner feet of road, water pipe, and sewer pipe per taxpayer, it will be more costly to replace with local taxes.  Some in the Strong Towns movement believe the suburbs are facing the sort of infrastructure decline the cities faced 50 years ago as a result. 

https://granolashotgun.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/teachers-pipes-and-pavement/

An issue that will be most acute in private communities responsible for their own local infrastructure, where people live so they can control who walks on their streets and not share a tax base with pre-1960 neighborhoods. Who will pay up when private sewage treatment plants fail and have to be replaced?  Did you hear about what happened at that collapsed Florida condo, where residents had argued for years about paying for fixes before disaster struck?

The older generations who live in these suburbs are used to getting things, but not fully paying for them.  The “I’ve got mine jack,” tax cut generations.  And here we have another federal infrastructure bill, enacted by suburban and Sunbelt Baby Boomers according to their preferred lifestyle, a lifestyle that poorer Millennials cannot afford and the global environment cannot sustain, to be paid for by those Millennials in the future, because most of it going to funded by soaring federal debts. With higher levels of governments (federal and state) making the choices as to how even the future money of city residents will be spent, how will New York and other older cities fare this time?

As an analogy this post will compare the suburban and city projects that the MTA promised in the Program for Action, released in early 1968 when it as formed, with the system expansions and maintenance of existing infrastructure that actually took place in the five-plus decades since.  And go from there.

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The Board Of Elections Misdirection: The Problem Is The Upcoming State Election, Not the Recent City Primary Election

The recent New York City primary election saw the usual grousing by New York City politicians about the performance of the New York City Board of Elections, the one government agency operated specifically by New York City politicians.  

The complaints are disingenuous.  Yes the DOE initially miscalculated the ranked voting totals, but this was the first time the city had used ranked choice voting, and any time you do something new there are going to be problems the first time you do it.  Nor is ranked voting itself a problem; without it we would not know the outcome of any of the primary elections as of the day I am writing this, and party nominees would be determined by a second runoff election in the heat of late July, when even most of those who showed up the first time wouldn’t bother.  Instead, we have already had an “instant runoff” based on the voters’ second, third and fourth choices.  

In addition, you don’t have the kind of “voter suppression” in New York that you have in other states, at least not intentionally.  Thanks to additional New York City– specific reforms, moreover, there were actual city elections, with lots of choices on the ballot. Those reforms include term limits, which create open seats, public campaign financing, and ballot access reform, with fewer signatures required to run for office.   If the political/union class didn’t succeed in stopping non-partisan elections in NYC, and getting rid of most minor parties in New York State (the should have prohibited the cross-endorsement of incumbents instead)…

https://www.cityandstateny.com/politics/2020/11/only-two-minor-parties-in-new-york-will-keep-their-ballot-access/175486/

There also might have been a real election in November, when everyone shows up, as well.   As it is, at least for members of the Democratic Party, people may not be happy with the election winners, but at least they had a real choice and thus vote.

The real scandal of the Board of Elections is that in cases where there is an incumbent, it is part of a system intended – to an extent matched nowhere else in the U.S. – to ensure that there are no elections.   Not as long as the incumbents do what the special interests order them to do, so those interests don’t create an actual election themselves.  New York doesn’t have voter suppression; it has candidate suppression, something that turns voting into a fraud.  So don’t expect candidates for New York State Assembly, New York State Senate, and the House of Representatives to come knocking on your door in spring 2022 – unless you yourself chooses to do your civic duty as a citizen in a democracy and run for one of these offices, and somehow sneak on to the ballot (as I did in 2004). Meanwhile, the choice for Governor is shaping up to be awful.

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Education in New York: Stop Trying, Stop Lying, Pursue Alternatives

Year after year, deal after deal, the United Federation of Teachers continues to jack up the cost of providing even a decent education for NYC’s children, by ordering its politicians to irrevocably allow them to work fewer years, fewer hours with children, and fewer days, with less accountability, and get paid more for it compared with the people who don’t matter.  No matter how high spending goes, no matter how high taxes go, no matter how much other needs are neglected, no matter what other services are cut, it is never enough.  Even after doubling to a level far above just about anywhere else, as shown in my prior post.

And since that works out so well for them (or at least some of them), and because they have developed such a sense of entitlement that they are completely incapable of enlightened self interest (the belief that in the long run self-interest requires accounting for the needs of other people too), it will never, ever, get any better.

After the 2008 25/55 pension deal for NYC teachers, the last straw and the deal that ended “school reform” in New York, I thought about what could be done for seven years.  

And the title of this post is the formula I came up with.   All you have to do is start with a blank state, without the UFT contract, its repeatedly retroactively enriched pensions (that might have been increased again last night at 3 am in secret but can never then be reduced), the bureaucratic mess coming down from the state under UFT/NYSUT orders, and the Department of EducationEarly Retirement, and you’ll see that for far less money than was spent in NYC in FY 2019 (and vastly less than today) it would be possible to have a class size of 12, with teachers who are paid more in total compensation than the average person who is paying for them.  Like the U.S. health care system, for which we are already paying as much as developed countries do for universal health care, if New York’s school system didn’t already exist no one would dare to suggest it.

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Comparative Public School Spending from FY 1997 to FY 2019: In New York The More They Get, the More They Feel Entitled To, and The Less They Provide in Return

Let’s start this post the way the prior one ended, with the quote from the ACLU, referring to the level of public school funding in New York in FY 2019.

https://www.nyclu.org/en/news/ny-cheating-its-schools-out-billions-dollars

Every year, the government of New York shirks its legal responsibility to adequately fund our public schools.

In 2006, the New York State Court of Appeals ruled New York was violating students’ constitutional right to a “sound and basic education” by not putting enough money into its schools. The court ordered that schools were entitled to $5.5 billion more in unrestricted state funding, known as Foundation Aid….

But year after year, state lawmakers substituted politics for the Foundation Aid Formula, shortchanging schools and hurting students who need the money most.

That is, simply put, not true.  In the 1990s New York City school spending was low, in part because a state school aid formula discriminated against the city’s children.  Judge Leland DeGrasse ordered the city’s school aid to be increased by $1.9 billion, based on the low funding levels of the time.

https://trellis.law/judge/leland.g.degrasse

As a trial judge, he ruled against New York’s system for financing public schools in Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State. Ultimately, the decision, which sought to overhaul the state aid-to-education formulas, was appealed to the New York Court of Appeals, which resulted in an additional $1.9 billion in state aid awarded to New York City schools.

I know this history because I provided data to the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, the same kind of data that will be discussed below.  Much to my disappointment, however, CFE turned out not to be interested in either fiscal equity or better schools – just a richer deal for those working in the public school system.  So despite another $1.9 billion (and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion and another $1.9 billion) they kept suing. In exchange for political support for his election for Governor, Eliot Spitzer then settled the suit for even more money.  No judge ever ordered it, or found that was what was required. It was a political deal, with a massive increase in pension benefits for teachers as part of the same deal, not better education.

That deal, which multiplied by a bunch of prior retroactive pension increase deals (now starting up yet again), was for me a kind of last straw. So what was the level of school spending in NYC, by category and compared with other places and the past, in FY 2019 when the ACLU claimed that the people of New York were cheating those who worked in education out of $billions?  Read on and find out.

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Census Bureau Public School Finances Data for FY 2019: New York’s Sky High Spending Per Student Is Soaring Further As Enrollment Falls

The U.S. Census Bureau released its annual elementary and secondary school finances data for FY 2019 on May 18th2021, and as usual I have downloaded and compiled it.

https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/school-finances/newsroom/updates/fy-2019.html

Anyone else could do the same – any media source, any government agency, any public policy analysis organization, any politician, any candidate for Mayor of New York City or City Council – if they were willing to see what it shows.  And any could send postcards to everyone in New York City with the following information.

In FY 2019, the New York City school district spent $31,578 per student.  That was more than double the U.S. average of $15,569, and higher than the averages of $29,451 for the Downstate NY Suburbs, $22,782 for New Jersey, $19,707 for Massachusetts, and $23,686 for Connecticut.  These are high-wage high-cost of living areas on the Northeast Corridor, but adjusted downward for this factor New York still spent $24,764 per student, still 59.1% higher than the U.S. average and higher than the $23,906 for the Downstate Suburbs, similarly adjusted, and $23,622 for the Upstate Urban Counties.  The average for the Upstate Rural Counties, at $25,058, was slightly higher.  On instructional (ie. teachers) wages, salaries, and benefits alone, the New York City school district spent $18,229 per student.  That is $364,577 per 20 students, and $218,746 per 12 students.

In FY 2019, the people of New York City and State were being sued for underfunding their schools, and cheating their teachers, out of $billions of additional dollars.

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DeBlasio’s Last New York City Budget: He Predicts Even More Inequality and Gentrification, or Else NYC is Toast, Because Those Cashing in And Moving Out Will Take More Off the Top No Matter What

Mayor Bill DeBlasio released his last budget recently, and it assumes that pre-pandemic trends will continue.  The rich will continue to get richer and the stock market bubble will continue to inflate, thanks to the federal government doing whatever it takes, regardless of the long-term cost, to prevent asset prices from going down.  Despite higher and higher taxes, the rich will stay in New York City and just keep paying.  So will hundreds of thousands of young adults, who will continue to live in less and less space for higher and higher rents and accept higher taxes, fees and fares and diminished public services, including crowding and unreliable service on the subways no elected official is in charge of.  More and more economic activity and educated workers will be concentrated in New York City compared with the suburbs, and in metro New York compared with the rest of the country.

All this will offset the extent to which DeBlasio’s (and all the other NY politicians) public union and contractor supporters will continue to get richer and richer, compared with other workers.   Other workers whose lower pay will keep the cost of living down for public workers and retirees, as the overall inflation rate remains below the long-term trend.  Based on these assumptions, the total city budget will grow more slowly than the total personal income of NYC residents over the long term.  Even if the average New Yorker continues to become worse off, because there will be more and more working adults.

But if that is what has happened, and will continue to happen, then why have NY’s state and local taxes been increased, over and over, and risen as a percent of personal income?  Instead of falling.  Why are debts continually increasing, and with interest payments rising as a share of city residents’ personal income despite rock bottom interest rates (also assumed to be permanent)?   Instead of debts being paid down.  Why does the Mayor plan to hand early retirement deals to city workers age 55 and over yet again, to “prevent layoffs,” after having already agreed to no-layoff guarantees? And why, in this Mayoral campaign, is no one asking questions about any of this – in the place with the highest state and local tax burden in the country, where the media is full of claims that we deserve even less in return because we aren’t paying enough – notably by the police and teachers?

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Graphic Summary: 2017 Census of Governments, Employment and Payroll

Back in late 2019, I published a tabulation of data from the employment and payroll phase of the 2017 Census of Governments.  The data included full-time equivalent (full time workers plus part time workers converted into full time workers based on hours worked) state and local government employment, by function (police, parks, schools), per 100,000 residents of each area.  The population data was taken from Local Area Personal Income spreadsheets from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.  For the population of the rural areas of New York State as a whole, I subtracted New York City, the Downstate Suburbs, and the Upstate Urban Counties from the state total.  All this sort of data usually gets revised as new information becomes available.  But when the new population data was released, soon after I had completed the entire effort with spreadsheets, tables, charts and posts, what I found was a shock.

Somehow the population data for New York City had been altered – and inflated, thus reducing apparent NYC government employment per 100,000 residents. This wasn’t the usual correction. It turns out that in the old data, all the state’s counties combined didn’t add to the New York State total! Since I had gotten the population for the rural Rest of New York State by subtraction, the population of that region was underestimated by a significant percent, causing the region’s population losses, and its government employment per 100,000 residents, to be exaggerated.

I immediately published revised versions of the large spreadsheets with data for all government functions.  And now, I have gone back and altered the spreadsheets on individual government functions, the tables, the charts, and the posts on those functions, as well. The changes aren’t great enough to alter any conclusions.  I changed many numbers, in the tables, charts and text, but very few words.  Right is right, however, and the data linked here has now been fixed for that BEA error.

Having made that effort, I have decided to publish a graphic summary of the employment and payroll phase of the 2017 Census of Governments, along with links back to the more detailed (and now corrected) posts.

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Homeless Hypocrisy Always Has A Home in New York – and Elsewhere

Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced the NYC subway would return to 24/7 service, following a shutdown that was supposedly about cleaning to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but coincidently followed an act of arson, allegedly by a homeless person who has been charged with murder, that left a subway train car destroyed and a train operator dead.

https://www.thecity.nyc/2020/3/27/21210390/motorman-s-death-in-subway-fire-adds-to-transit-worker-fears

Multiple sources told The City that authorities discovered a charred shopping cart with a possible accelerant inside the second car of a northbound No. 2 train that filled with smoke and flames as it pulled into the Central Park North-110th Street station at 3:14 a.m — around the same time as three other fires in and around the subway system.

More recently, another train operator has been suspended for photographing homeless people in the subway, and putting out the photos on Twitter.

https://www.thecity.nyc/2020/11/1/21544690/nyc-subway-motorman-mta-first-amendment-homeless

Recently there has been an article calling for the very limited number of public restrooms in the subway to be re-opened.

https://www.thecity.nyc/life/2021/5/2/22411841/nyc-subway-bathrooms-closed-pandemic-reopening

The article is exclusively about having the subway be the place that homeless people use the bathroom. Not about having subway restrooms for use by anyone else.  And not about having restroom facilities available anywhere else for homeless people to use the bathroom.

If not for past debts and pension increases, along with the need for more and more city workers to do the same (or less) work during the DeBlasio Administration (cops, teachers), the city might have the $ required to rent storefronts with restrooms and other services specifically for the homeless throughout the city.  Then it would just be a matter of deciding in whose neighborhood to site them.  The City apparently believes the subway is that neighborhood. The subway and jail — that’s the de facto homeless policy, except for now not jail.  Elsewhere the policy is exclude and ship away to somewhere else.

But then trying, and failing, to figure out what to do with troubled and troubling people like this has a very, very long history in New York – and elsewhere.  One filled with failure and folly.  Yet you have people today saying the same things, proposing the same things, that were tried and failed years ago.  If you are under 50, don’t know this history, and are prepared to face some tough realities, read on and follow the links below.

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