I was in Target the other day and noticed their motto: “Expect More, Pay Less.” That sure is a hell of a lot different from New Yorkers under the age of 60, and in particular under the age of 40, will be paying into and getting from the federal, state and city governments over the next 20 to 40 years. At the federal level because of four decades of future selling by Generation Greed that have left us with a massive national debt and underfunded old age benefits – underfunded despite later-born generations already being required to pay in more while being promised less. At the state level because New York City shares a tax base with Upstate cities and rural areas with extensive needs and dwindling resources, and suburban areas with more power and greater entitlement. And at the city level because one politician after another has cut deal after deal to cash in the future, to further benefit already-advantaged unionized public employees and contractors, who are cashing in and moving out.
The theft has occurred, the money is gone, and “Expect Less, Pay More” is inevitable. In fact a New York City in the 1970s-style institutional collapse is highly likely, and not just in New York City. So what will our “leaders,” still beholden to the same interests and generations and still promising to hand them even more, say about this? I want them to be forced to admit the truth. And let me tell you what I don’t want to hear.
I don’t want to hear it’s our fault, unless by “us” you mean those in my generation, the Generation Apathy that followed Generation Greed, and the fault is not having done the deed, but rather failing to do anything to stop it.
And yet that is one the explanations that is circulating.
At the federal level, you hear the Millennials deserve to be worse off. They are entitled, and are all art history majors who partied and did drugs instead of studied, it is said. They expect participation trophies instead of competing to win, it is said.
The data on educational attainment and anti-social behavior by generation debunks most of that, except for the last one. And Generation Greed competed to win by stealing the future from the generations coming after, in large part by rigging the game. They won, but do no not want to hear about who lost as a result, and how.
At the state level they say it is our fault because New York City residents are a bunch of undeserving parasites who take too much money out of the rest of the state. That is a rationalization for the fact that the rest of the state was a net drain on New York City even when the city as flat on its back, let alone now.
And at the local level they say it is our fault because New Yorkers don’t pay enough in taxes, didn’t pay to fund their pension promises, didn’t provide cops, teachers etc. with enough “support,” and are such lousy people who are difficult to service – criminal, stupid, poor.
It is simply not true that New Yorkers have failed to pay enough, at least in total. If there are those whom one could argue should be paying more, that is more than offset by others who should be paying far less. Adding it up, the state and local tax burden is higher here than just about anywhere else.
And including Social Security, which Nevada public employees don’t get, no one has paid more for public employee pensions over the decades than New York City residents.
Those are just facts, based on data submitted to the Governments Division of the U.S. Census Bureau over the decades, before that data started getting examined more closely, and the governments started scamming what it said.
And while both the state and local tax burden and transit fares were cut in the 1990s during the Giuliani and Pataki Administrations, that “paying less” was made possible only be selling off the future. Since 2002 New Yorkers have been “paying more” as a result. And the Millennials never got any of the benefits.
No one anyplace in the United States has been more supportive of, and provided more resources to, the public sector and publicly funded enterprises than New Yorkers. We shouldn’t be asked to pay more, or accept less. But secretly that is exactly what is coming.
Just this week, as preliminary city and state budgets were being released, there was an immediate attempt to blame President Trump and the federal government for any and all problems. Trump and the federal government are to blame for many things, but that is separate and in addition to any city and state fiscal problems that exist, or will develop.
At the federal level Trump has gone the scapegoat route, a path well trodden by Republicans for 40 years. All the money is going to those welfare people, it was said. All the money is going to foreign aid, it was said. All the money is going to illegal immigrants, it is said. All the money was stolen by the Chinese and Mexicans as a result of bad trade deals, it is said.
Just what all the people who took all the money, including many who nonetheless feel needy because they cashed in their own future to “live richly” in the past, want to hear. It is not true, and I don’t want to hear it.
Next up, some might to blame recently hired public employees. Even though they are stuck with promises of less in pay and benefits compared with those who are cashing in and moving out, who benefited from retroactive pension increases. New York City’s public employee and contractor unions will like that just fine. Because it provides an “us against them” narrative to distract attention from the fact that the victims of their past self-serving deals include their own later-hired and future dues paying members.
They keep deferring costs, and advancing revenues, handing out goodies to those who have already taken too much, and tax breaks to those who have already spent a lifetime putting in too little. All hoping to cover up the consequences until they are out of the city, out of the state, “grandfathered” into being exempt from all the sacrifices, and/or off the planet. Leaving only their debts behind.
But there will be someone still here to face the music.
For four decades my voting policy has been don’t vote for any Republicans at the national level, because they have been waging an economic and fiscal war on everyone born after 1957 for that entire time. Don’t vote for any Democrats at the local level, because they are completely controlled by the producers of public services, whom they continue to privilege, ever more and irrevocably, at the expense of taxpayers and less well off consumers of public services. And don’t vote for any incumbents of either party with regard to the State of New York, for both reasons.
When interests take more and more out, and/or put less in, by selling off the common future, the losers eventually include almost everyone. When I was in college, the victims were all in their early 20s or younger. But today the victims are everybody age 61 and under, though it is and will be worse off for you, on average, the later you were born and the lower your educational attainment is.
In English grammar, the plural of I is we, but the plural of you is also you. So I say to Republican and Democratic politicians, you did it.
But wait a minute, I didn’t do it, I just got there, and they did it! And I’m against it!
No, you did it. Plural you. All of you.
On the economic and public policy front, what has happened has taken place over a long series of economic cycles.
When things are up and the money is rolling in, those on the inside take care of each other first. There is, to quote Bill DeBlasio, “plenty of money” so no one needs to be made worse off to pay for it. Republicans cut taxes for the rich and corporations, often with the acceptance of Democrats. Democrats pass public employee pension increases for their union supporters, often with the support of Republicans, and increase the number of public workers relative to work done. Both put through special tax exemptions and benefit increases for today’s seniors, the richest in history. CEO and top executive pay goes up, because of the “shareholder value” that is created.
But when things are down, none of these interests give anything back.
Instead taxes are increased, services cut, the poor neglected and abandoned, public benefits reduced, the infrastructure allowed to deteriorate private sector wages and benefits cut.
Due to “circumstances beyond our control.”
Especially for the later born and the later hired, since they won’t miss what they never had, and won’t find out they never will have until later. With none of the above discussed in the press. Things have kept ratcheting and ratcheting, over decades.
As they said during the 1970s divorce wave, “children are resilient,” something those now over 60 apparently still believe will be true about later-born generations when the reach old age themselves. You think life expectancy is falling now? Wait a decade or two until poorer and less advantaged generations, already dying in greater numbers in middle age, hit old age.
As the Russian proverb says, “the shortage will be divided among the peasants.”
A friend once gave me this book Hardball, a book about politics by Chris Matthews. It is a book of excuses for hack politicians. One of them is that if you give someone something they are only grateful for a while, but if you take something away they remember it for the rest of their lives. So the smart political move is to keep giving to those who already have more, and take things away from the future, and those who don’t have it yet. Sorry kids.
So when things get tough, what you get is something like a quote from perhaps my favorite work of fiction, Bread and Wine. If it’s fiction it was something I was assigned to read, decades ago. Here is a conversation between a revolutionary, hiding out disguised as a convalescing priest, and a landowner, in Southern Italy while Mussolini was in power.
Don Pasquale: Look, the yield from arable land is hardly sufficient to pay the men’s wages, though these have gone down to four or five lira a day, which is not much. And I have to pay taxes. For several years I have been wondering why I go on cultivating the land.
Don Paolo: It’s the slump. Everyone talks about it everywhere.
Don Pasquale: It’s bankruptcy. But for the family pride that prevents me from selling land that has belonged to the Colamartinis for centuries, I should have gotten rid of it years ago in my own interest. Land no longer pays. I have an old house hear Lama that used to be a stable, and I’ve let it. Would you like to know what I had to spend to fulfill the legal requirement? Exactly six more times the wretched rent. You think I’m exaggerating? There are no fewer than fourteen charges to be set against it. Here’s the list: stamp duty, transcription charge, tax on numbering agreement, notary’s fee, registration tax, tax for copying agreement, charge for formal transfer of lease, copies for the registrar and parties to the agreement, various costs and postages, receipt stamps…
Don Paolo: What you are saying seems to me to confirm that private property has had its day. Are you not of that opinion?
Don Pasquale: I don’t know. Before being reduced to this state I resorted to many expedients, some of which were not very dignified, and I’ve thought about it night and day. Well, Father, I don’t know what to do.
Don Paolo: How do the small landowners fare?
Don Pasquale: As I do. The difference is that they and their families sweat blood on their plots of land all year round. That does not prevent every cafone from aspiring to be a small landowner, though those who achieve it are worse off than the others. Actually land needs an unlimited amount of money.
Don Paolo: If cultivating the land doesn’t pay, then why were farm laborers who wanted to expropriate it gunned down?
Don Pasquale: Those shootings were justified, but that doesn’t’ mean they were sensible or that they solved anything. The landowners who keep cultivating their land are simply madmen obsessed by a fixed idea. Because what else can they do?…
Don Paolo: Are laborers any better off?
Don Pasquale: They are in a bad way too. If they stay here and go on hacking away at the soil, it is only because emigration has been stopped.
All the same they are better off than I am. Flesh used to suffering doesn’t feel pain.
There you have it. The executive/financial class, the political/union class, and Generation Greed feel their pain, their needs, very acutely. They have a fixed idea of what they deserve and how they are to live, and don’t want to be forced to change because their lifestyle and years in retirement relative to years worked were unsustainable.
They are in the room, in Washington, Albany and City Hall, and everyone and everything else is on the menu. After all, the peasants are used to suffering.