Monday, November 07, 2011

ALL THE GOOD THINGS HAVE BEEN TAKEN. Kia showed me this Megan McArdle column about the Occupy arrestees who spent a lot of money on rent and mortgages, and at first I couldn't see what was so awful about it, besides the usual awful McArdlisms, like compulsive goalpost moving -- you know, from some people having expensive homes to "a $795,000 one-bedroom apartment" to "the people at those protests-- [throatclearing]at least the ones who get arrested[/throatclearing]--really are, on average, unusually affluent." Like they moved to a park because the Hamptons were overcrowded.

But then I focused on this stuff:
Many New Yorkers believe that they should be given some sort of income tax abatement because of the expense of living there (with the lost revenue being made up from "really rich" people, natch). Slightly less affluent New Yorkers frequently believe that landlords should be forced to offer them "reasonably sized" apartments at a modest fraction of their income, because after all, otherwise they couldn't afford to live in New York...

...In fact, perhaps society should get busy making it up to you for all the hardships...

... After all, to state the obvious, that apartment costs so much because many, many people want to live in New York...

... Living in a blue state is a choice.
And then it hit me. She's not limiting herself to the simple point that some things are expensive and if you don't have the money you can't have it. She's talking about the desire to live in New York -- not just to move there, but to keep living there if you'd been there a while without getting rich -- as if it were the desire to live on Park Avenue -- no, better, to live in a fairy palace on a cloud, in fact, a palace and a cloud you wished to steal from your betters. It's not just that you can't afford New York -- it's that you're insolent to even think you should be tolerated there. You just don't deserve it.

If you've seen more than a few movies and heard more than a few songs and read more than a little history, you know New York's place in American culture. All kinds of people have lived there, cheek by jowl; not always comfortably, but enduringly. The poor haven't always had the best time of it, but they persist -- indeed, they still come by the boatloads to live there -- as do the middle-class and the rich. It's part of what even outlanders know and admire about it.

But over the past few decades, despite the legacies of an era when some more enlightened people ran the place, the city's been pushing the poor further out and giving them a harder time. And in recent years the middle class has been getting it, too -- by 2009, the Center for an Urban Future found, it took $123,322 to sustain a traditional "middle-class" life in the city. As the idea of raising a family in the city on a working-class job (with some comfort and occasional vacations, to boot) receded from living memory, those who would and should have been the backbone of the city learned to do with less, or to leave. And the rich, who had always had plenty, scooped up what they had to surrender.

To McArdle this isn't a tragic or even a negative development. It's the natural order of things, or maybe a course correction -- after years of everyone having at least a little something to live on, the Invisible Hand woke one day and realized that freeloaders and ne'er-do-wells were breathing some of the air He, in His wisdom, had reserved for the wealthy, and is righteously putting an end to it. After that He'll do something about their crazy idea that they're entitled to water -- once it's all been privatized, maybe they'll finally take the hint and just lay down and die, perhaps consoling themselves in their last hours with the Freedom of Religion, which the Invisible Hand is pleased to allow them, as it has no market value.

As someone who lived in New York for decades on the (relatively) cheap, I had a box seat for this turn of events. I knew what was happening was worse than unfortunate, but being in the middle of it, and very busy most of the time, and not wishing to be completely consumed by bitterness, I couldn't devote much time to thinking about the injustice of it. But some people have taken the time. Young as they are, they can see what's happening, because it's been accelerating so absurdly that you'd have to be blind -- or bought off -- to miss it. And that's why the worst people on earth are so mad to break them.

UPDATE. Amanda Marcotte rips it up.

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