Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Bloomberg's Blind Spot and the Blindness of Wealth

Joe Nocera has an essay in the November 6th New York Times noting something that many have long noted about Mayor Michael Bloomberg — his unwillingness to admit error, his pig-headedness or blindness, his conviction that he is always right. I do not share another of Joe Nocera's views about Bloomberg — that he is a great mayor, though I do think that Nocera's observations about Bloomberg's blindness are correct. Indeed, I believe the problem is worse than Nocera does and is indicative of a more serious problem.

Consider some of the other instances of Bloomberg's indifference to 'lesser' New Yorkers — stop and frisk, spying on Muslims, indifference to accidental electrocutions of pedestrians, construction accidents, flying to one of his several estates during a huge snow storm.

Bloomberg, like a huge percentage of American politicians and business elite, does indeed think he knows what's best for us. More so than many, and like a large percentage of the 0.1 percent, he also thinks he is just better than us. He believes that we owe him obedience, loyalty, and appreciation. This is a point made regarding many of the wealthiest Americans by Chrystia Freeland in her book "Plutocrats."

In direct opposition to many, I have always thought that Bloomberg should be disqualified from high elected office precisely because he is so wealthy. I do not believe, as many apparently do of Bloomberg, Romney and others, that a person is qualified because he is 'successful' in business (or that being wealthy is evidence of success in business; consider Wall Street post-crisis).

People were outraged by resources diverted to marathoners. How many could be housed in Bloomberg's five or six mansions?

How can a person worth many billions in any way grasp the circumstances of an average resident, even if he "came up from nothing" (something that is not true about Bloomberg anyway)? Some evidently do — perhaps Andrew Carnegie, George Soros. But we must ask what kind of person seeks to accumulate wealth on the scale of a Bloomberg. Can such a person be well-suited to hold office? What kind of indifference to others is required to hold such wealth when so many are so needy?

This is not an endorsement of strict egalitarianism, or even rough egalitarianism. It is a condemnation of radical inequality. Isn't it interesting that egalitarians are condemned as extremists but not those who embrace extreme inequality?

The mayor whom Joe Nocera considers one of New York's greatest has endorsed massive development projects, but has done remarkably little to address ongoing problems of the city's infrastructure or housing. Could someone who had ridden the city's subways for years allowed so little substantive improvement? Or someone who went to public schools spend so much time vilifying teachers? The answer, of course, is actually yes, but my contention is that someone of such long-standing, extreme privilege is too my removed from the live of the average to be able to govern well.