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.