Just in case any more evidence was needed that today’s Democratic Party is basically socialist in all but name, Mayor Bill de Blasio happily provided it in a recent interview with New York Magazine. Sounding eerily like the Sandinistas he once supported, the mayor of America’s largest city declared his love for heavy-handed central planning in surprisingly unguarded terms.
When asked about the enormous gap between New York’s rich and poor, the mayor responded:
What’s been hardest is the way our legal system is structured to favor private property. I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be. I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development.
This is truly terrifying stuff. Mayor de Blasio is shamelessly yearning for the same poison pill that made Venezuela the economic basket case it is today. His remarks would be a bit more tolerable if he were an easily dismissed crank, an adherent of the CPUSA or some Trotskyite or Maoist sect. But he’s a big-D Democrat.
As bad as de Blasio’s lurid wish list is, I suspect that it’s actually a few items too long. Zoning laws already determine which buildings go where and building codes already stipulate how tall buildings may be so those non-issues can’t be what keeps the mayor up at night.
Even de Blasio’s desire to dictate rents is already a partial reality. In 1947 the city enacted a bold rent control initiative to ensure that GIs returning from World War II could find affordable housing. According to the city’s Rent Guidelines Board website, rent control still exists in several municipalities across the Empire State “that have not declared an end to the postwar rental housing emergency.” Talk about fostering a permanent crisis!
Unfortunately, rent control generally makes housing crises even worse because otherwise willing landlords often choose not to rent out rooms for what the government deems to be fair prices. The city supposedly ended rent control in the 1970s on account of the policy’s deformation of the housing market, though it allowed a very generous grandfather clause that permitted continuously occupied apartments to remain rent controlled in perpetuity.
Forty years later and rent control is still alive and kicking in the Big Apple. Approximately 27,000 rent controlled apartments and 1,030,000 rent stabilized apartments exist throughout the city. That’s no small number. According to a 2016 report, only about 39% of all apartments in the city have unregulated rents.
So the city government still maintains some vestigial authority to dictate to its citizens how much they may charge to rent out their own stuff. Land usage and building height are even more controlled so I suspect that all three of these desires were intended to camouflage the most atrocious item on the mayor’s wish list: the authority to tell people where they must live.
The Left has an undeniable urge to herd people around like cattle. In years past they used forced busing to even out the racial composition of public schools, an experiment that left our urban centers in ruins. Now the Left has become even more audacious. I suspect that the ultimate goal is to prevent whites from forming a majority anywhere in New York, as they are in Staten Island today, or simply to drive them out of the city entirely. Progressive politicians want to render white people’s voice negligible so that they no longer have to respond to their concerns. That goal would be greatly advanced if the city government had the power to tell people where to live.
It upsets leftists that free people exercising free choice tend to unite with people of similar backgrounds to form communities. Always chafing against human nature, they think that every city block would look like the UN if only the forces of reaction could be defeated once and for all. It never occurs to them that people of similar backgrounds might choose to live together because of common values and shared assumptions.
These freely associating clusters almost always consist of people with approximately equal incomes because the rich and middle class don’t want to deal with poor people’s antisocial behavior and the poor are priced out of higher-rung neighborhoods.
Built on top of this economically compartmented landscape there are also ethnic, racial, and religious groupings. In New York, for example, the Chinese and Taiwanese live in Flushing, Dominicans in Washington Heights, and Jews in Borough Park. Leftists call these settlements “patterns of segregation” and they’ve appointed themselves the meddlesome correctors of the “problem.”
It’s not good enough for the city itself to be extremely diverse if said diversity exists mostly in enclaves. There must be diversity within the same borough, the same neighborhood, the same ward, even the same apartment building. This will require the government to intervene, to determine who must live next to whom.
De Blasio is right that shuffling people around is made substantially more difficult when they have property rights. But that’s a good thing. It’s what sets us apart from — dare I use the word? — the communists.
As suspicious as we Americans have traditionally been of communism — more suspicious than Europeans or Latin Americans, certainly — we tend to be wary of people who see private property as a barrier to their aspirations. Such people sound downright totalitarian to our ears — and they should. It was Karl Marx, after all, who confessed:
In this sense, the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.
But Bill de Blasio doesn’t want to abolish private property, does he? Actually, he does. Private property, when subjected to unlimited government control, ceases to be private. Under such a regime, we own nothing. We are mere stewards of government property, often saddled with the responsibility of maintenance without the benefits of determining how that property is disposed of.
When we don’t have private property, we don’t have any turf to call our own, no refuge from the long arm of the state or simply from people we’d rather not associate with. Property rights are the foundation of our freedom, a shield that we use to fend off intrusive government. Leftists don’t want us to have that shield because then people would be able to resist their collectivization schemes.
Conservatives, I believe, have done a poor job of articulating the virtue of property rights, perhaps believing that these rights are basically secure. They’re not. While progressives have been slowly chipping away at property rights since about the late nineteenth century, they have usually been smart enough not to admit it as brazenly as de Blasio did in his New York Magazine interview. More often they have tried to reframe the issue in other terms: as a temporary means of solving a housing crisis for veterans, as a blow against discrimination, as health and safety issues, etc.
But now it’s all out in the open. No more subterfuge: Bill de Blasio is admitting that private property is the problem.
One thing is clear: the distinction between public and private, between what we own collectively and what we claim for ourselves, is becoming increasingly hazy. I, for one, would like to maintain that distinction. We have a right and duty to fight back against these tiresome tinkerers. A man’s home is his castle and he ought to be free to live where he wants rather than where Bill de Blasio wants him to live.