Is NYC really the city of the 1%?
A column in the weekend Financial Times by Simon Kuper (“Priced out of Paris”) has gotten lots of attention for its claim that the world’s great cities have been grabbed by the 1% to the exclusion of everyone else. For support, Kuper turned to Saskia Sassen, a distinguished Professor of Breathless Generalizations at Columbia, who concludes: “The capture by a very small number of cities of a lot of the excitement and wealth produced by the system – this is a problem.”
Well yeah, but…. I can’t speak about the other cities, but this rather flattens the detail about New York City, the place I know best. Yes, the rich have been running rampant over the place, and in a particularly rich bit of symbolism, it’s been governed by a member of the 1% of the 1% of the 1%, Michael Bloomberg (net worth: $27 billion, which is about half the city’s annual budget), for a dozen years. I even wrote recently about how the elite plans the physical and social environment of New York City very effectively, as it has for many decades (“How the 1 Percent Rules”—not my proposed title, which was “Planning the Imperial City”). But, really, there are a lot of the 99% here too, and it does no one any good to overlook that.
As I wrote back in December 2011 (“NYC: more unequal than Brazil”), for all the glitz, New York City is full of people with very modest incomes. The city’s median income a couple of years ago was $28,213, on a par with Greece. The poorest tenth of the city’s population has a cash income (not counting public benefits) of under $1,000.
What are the rest of us? Chopped liver? One of the crimes of the 1% is effacing the lives of the 99%, and it’s not helpful to repeat this sort of thing uncritically.
Who does all the work in NYC? Not the 1%, What aspect of the lives of the richest people there is not supported directly by those of modest means? Many years ago, my grandmother took care of the children of one of the super rich in Manhattan. People like her do the same today. They drive them around, cook their food, clean their clothes, answer their phones, teach their children, clean their houses, do their lawn work, you name it. Around the world, the labor of millions is used up so that the few can live in splendor.
“Saskia Sassen, a distinguished Professor of Breathless Generalizations at Columbia” I want this job.
Suggesting that there will be no middle class people left in Paris is a bit silly of him. What may be true is that they’re getting sick of small apartments and of their kids having to work as interns for years before getting a hint of the type of paid job that meets their expectations. And unable to pay for bourgeois lifestyles on a bohemian salary. Also true that the working class has been largely priced out of the small area of central Paris, which is officially contained by a ring road and with planning restrictions preventing high-rise blocks of flats from being built. Paris still needs those people within commuting distance but just prefers (it seems) to keep them on the other side of the peripherique and outside of the city as officially defined.
Just taking this very literally – 8.245 million people live in New York City proper. 313.9 million live in the United States. 8.245/313.9 = 0.026; 2.6% of Americans live in New York City (and the percentage is nearly identical if you go by households as well as individuals). Which means that even every single person in the richest 1% of American individuals/households lived in New York City they’d still be outnumbered by a 3:2 ratio. And that would leave every American city populated solely by the 99% – Miami and Los Angeles and Washington and Chicago and San Francisco and Seattle and Dallas and Houston and St. Louis and…you get the picture.
Let’s try and look clearly at the real problems afflicting our cities.
I was wondering what Doug would think of that article. It claims that Brooklyn is being priced out of reach for the upper middle-class. Any truth to that? I assume that they are referring to the desirable sections, as with Manhattan.
“It’s dialectical. Friend and enemy are the same person from different perspectives.
Agamben locates in the spectacle ‘something like a positive possibility’ that we can use against it. The spectacle is destructive because it expropriates ‘the possibility of a common good.’ For Hegel, it was the ethical urgency of freedom understood as submission and service to a higher order. His mistake, as Marx made so clear, was in the idealism of his vision of this order, an idealism for which the disorder of market, worker, and rabble are just so many moments of the Idea. Hegel’s Spirit is at home in the world only because he doesn’t see the war at home.
And if we stand Hegel on his feet? His description of submission ‘to the external order and life of service’ sounds a lot like an abstract rendering of class war. The one percent is likely indifferent to the rest of us, and may even feel kindly toward one or the other of us as individuals, but that is coupled with its obedience to the impersonal system of property, finance, and debt in which we are trapped. The rest of us go along in much the same way, misled into hesitation and compliance to protest lamely, ‘They only call it class war when we fight back.’
It’s always class war.”