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Thursday, February 13, 2014


I have just come in from a vigorous forty-five minutes clearing ice and snow off my Camry and my wife's Yaris.  So it is perhaps appropriate, in an odd way, that I, the eternal optimist, should see a few shoots of Spring peeping up after this long winter of our discontent.  Bill de Blasio is elected Mayor of New York on an unabashedly progressive platform.  An odd outlier of a poll reveals that among Americans under thirty, socialism is favored over capitalism.  [The pollsters tactfully refrained from inquiring whether the respondents had any idea at  all what socialism might be.]   A South African friend sends me e-mail congratulations on drawing a large crowd in California to a talk on Marx [he had me confused with my former UMass colleague Richard Wolff, a leading Marxist theoretician, but his heart was in the right place, which is to say with Marx.]

In the old days, Marxists were prone to say "It has to get worse before it can get better."  In 1972, I was momentarily beguiled by this Hegelian tag-line into deciding to vote for Nixon against Humphrey on the theory that he would make things enough worse to bring on The Revolution, but when I entered the voting booth on Amsterdam Avenue just north of the Columbia Campus my body rejected this interpretation of Das Kapital and my right arm refused to pull the lever marked "Republican."  Well, Nixon won without my vote and it did indeed get worse, and then it got worse again, and then it got even worse.  But maybe we have finally hit bottom.  There does seem to be a genuine groundswell of anger at the banana republic inequality to which America has sunk.  Can it be that despite the obsession with Chris Christie and the coronation rites for Hillary Clinton there is something resembling a genuine upswelling of leftwing populist sentiment, a readiness once again to speak the language of unashamed class warfare?

Sigh.  One can but hope. 


Dani said...

Do you have a link for the poll about young voters? Very interesting.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Here it is, such as it is.

Matt said...

Bill de Blasio is elected Mayor of New York on an unabashedly progressive platform.

I mostly like de Blasio, but am very sad to see him hold such stupid views about horses (and carriages) apparently based on no evidence at all. (That is, there is no evidence to support getting rid of carriages in central part, unless you think "some people, including me, don't like it" is good evidence.) In some ways it's a trivial issue (though not to people who will lose jobs, and even less to horses who will end up as meat!) but it makes me worry, both that he thinks it's worth spending time on this issue, and even more so that he's willing to make this decision based on such an utter poverty of understanding and information.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I have to confess this issue has not been on my radar. I am unable to comment intelligently on it.

Matt said...

Obviously, de Blasio's stupid view about the Central Park carriages is a really small issue, all things considered. Even though I consider it wildly dumb and a black mark, I would still have gladly voted for him as opposed to his opponent in the general election (and perhaps in the primary, too, though I didn't follow that all that closely, given that I don't live in NYC any more.) But, as a person who likes horses and knows a bit about them, it did strike me as not just truly stupid on the merits, but troubling for a few reasons.

First, that he'd make the decision based on, at best, complete ignorance. Some claim that pulling a carriage is "cruel" for a horse, but that's, frankly, nuts, even apart from the fact that the carriage horses are closely regulated. Only someone who knows nothing about horses could think that. Obviously, the mayor of NY need not know anything about horses to do a fine job, but then, he should let someone who does know something inform him. The result will almost certainly be that these horses will go to slaughter if his proposal to replace the carriages with vintage electric cars (kind of dumb anyway, I think) goes through. Horses are working animals, and having a job is not only good for them (though that's true, too) but practically necessary. Unwanted horses don't go play in some idyllic pasture, as some suppose, but rather go to slaughter, if they are luck. (The unlucky starve to death.) So, that's one major problem, not just with the substance, but with the decision-making it evidences.

Another problem comes from the idea that the government ought to tell people that they can not longer run their business (for many of these people, their way of life) as they want because some other people have an essentially aesthetic preference against it. I don't think you need to be a libertarian to think this is, in general, a really bad thing. I might feel somewhat different about businesses that don't yet exist, but about existing, long-standing businesses that do not pose any public health or safety issues and don't pose any issue of cruelty to animals, for the government to say the business can no longer continue because of the aesthetic preference of some sub-group (or the Mayor) strikes me as a serious abuse of state power. That de Blasio doesn't see this for what it is makes me rather less excited about him than I would otherwise be.

Again, in some ways the example is a trivial one. The number of people who will lose their way of life, and the number of horses that will likely be killed because of it is small, compared to most actions governments take all the time. (Not some or trivial to those involved, of course!) But, to my mind, it evidences some pretty unpleasant tendencies on de Blasio's part. I very much hope they are exceptions.