New York City’s budget will exceed $100 billion for the first time this year. Everything is open and above board, as you’d expect: The budget is broken down into eight separate documents and five supporting documents. The “Expense, Revenue, and Contract” portion, for example, is 781 pages. If you fancy a little light reading, you can browse it here.
Of the money New York City plans to spend, about two-thirds comes from actual city taxes and revenues. The rest is a gift: $15 billion from the state, and $22 billion from the federal government. This is going to be used in a variety of constructive ways. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced, for example, he would spend $234 million cleaning up parks and graffiti. So at the very least New Yorkers can look forward to having the world’s cleanest parks by this time next year.
After all, how could you possibly spend $234 million on a goal and fail to achieve it?
The best way, of course, is not to have goals: There are no “failure standards” for these expenditures, no way of judging success, no performance targets to be met. So forgive my cynicism if I suppose that quite a lot of money is going to end up lining peoples’ pockets. The New York Post reported in 2019 that de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray spent $900 million of public money on a mental health initiative and could show neither tangible results nor any accounting of how the money was spent.
But my main objection to someone like McCray spending hundreds of millions of dollars in New York City is that such a big chunk of that money is coming from taxpayers who don’t live there. It’s bad enough that New Yorkers are saddled with this trash. But why should New York’s Chirlane McCrays be sponsored by Missouri’s farmers?
The vast majority of American wealth is concentrated in the cities. So even if you believe in “spreading the wealth,” it should be cities that help subsidize the poorer countryside. Why does the reverse happen so often?
Politicians don’t seem to think that it does happen. Ex-governor Andrew Cuomo is on record complaining that New York only receives 90 cents in federal spending for every dollar of taxes “it” sends the federal government. He is a little confused of course, because New York doesn’t send the federal government anything—its taxpayers do. And then the federal government sends some of that money back to the neediest communities, like New York City, to pad budgets that are funded through additional parallel taxes levied at the state and local level. If Cuomo’s understanding of taxes were correct, it would be “fair” for the federal government to tax New Yorkers at 100 percent, just so long as it spent all that money on New York’s government.
The history of socialism is not just a history of oppression, murder, and pillage—it is specifically a history of the poor countryside being extorted by wealthy cities. Paris under the Revolutionary Council couldn’t feed itself, and it didn’t know how to produce anything, so it had to “tax” (steal) what it needed from rural France, which led to the uprising in the Vendée which the government’s monopoly on force allowed them to put down with incredible brutality.
In Soviet Russia, the Bolsheviks discovered that they, too, had no idea how to produce food or wealth. But, like the French revolutionaries, they knew how to steal. Trotsky was commissioned to organize a “food army” the purpose of which was to confiscate the entire farm crops of rural communities and feed the cities. This led to the 1919 peasant revolts in the mid-Volga and the Ukraine, which allowed the Bolsheviks in turn to demonstrate the first-ever use of air-dropped chemical weapons on civilians. But the central party apparatus had a certain expensive lifestyle to maintain, as noted in a 1919 report on the secret police: “Almost all the personnel of the Cheka are heavy cocaine users. They say this helps them deal with the sight of so much blood on a daily basis.”
Socialism in America has been more insidious. The ramping-up process was gradual, and the overall effect is not yet as extreme. But we have accepted the basic principle that cities do not need to live within their means—they can spend whatever they want and our rural communities will be forced to take up the slack. This may explain why, as has been noted, there are no “blue states,” only blue cities. You can’t be a good leftist unless you have someone else’s money to live on. And most of the country is busy paying for the lifestyle of the small remainder.
Since we’re going to need a constitutional convention soon anyway, to ban (among other things) voting by mail and the unlimited use of the interstate commerce clause, I’d like to propose the following: That it be illegal for federal or state governments to remit any tax dollars to state or local governments.
If you’re a wealthy city or a wealthy state, great. But live within your means. If the poor places can manage it, so can you.