On Tuesday morning in Brooklyn’s 36th Street subway station, a 63-year-old black man popped a smoke bomb in a subway car and started shooting passengers. At the latest count, 29 people were injured, 10 were shot, five were in serious condition, but no one has died.
There was apparently little warning that this man posed a threat to society—other than a series of “bizarre threatening rants on YouTube” in which he said that he should have gotten a gun and “just started shooting motherf—ers.” Oh, and the FBI had the man on a watchlist, but removed him in 2019. Other than that, no clues.
The would-be murderer used a Glock (illegal in New York City) with extended “high-capacity” magazines (illegal in New York City). And no doubt we’re about to hear about how we need even stricter gun laws because gun laws work great but there never seem to be enough of them. (Gun laws, indeed, are just like government as a whole—which only fails at everything it does because we don’t have enough of it . . .)
It’s an odd coincidence that, just this past weekend, a friend asked me seriously if I would be bringing a pistol for protection on my forthcoming trip to New York. I told him I didn’t think it would be necessary. In reality, it may be necessary, and I certainly wish I had one, but I can’t take the risk. My chances of being caught in a subway shooting are (for the time being) infinitesimal. My chances of being mugged are real, but so would be my chances of having my life ruined if the police caught me with an illegal gun: I’m sure they’d announce me to the press as a white-supremecist whose terrorist attack they’d foiled. It is simply a case of fearing the government more than armed criminals. Or, to put it another way, I fear New York’s organized crime more than I do New York’s disorganized crime. That’s why I moved out of the city a few years ago.
Unfortunately, the government’s desires and ours are misaligned yet again: You might think politicians want a reputation for safe streets. But that assumes politicians get elected by the people, which is not the case in our modern-day Tammany Hall-style system. This is why, despite our having had the least popular politician in the whole country in Mayor Bill de Blasio, there was no chance whatsoever that a Republican would defeat his successor for mayor.
The more fundamental problem is that government today isn’t run by politicians—elected or otherwise—it’s run by officials. That’s why it was so easy to predict that Eric Adams’ government would be essentially identical to de Blasio’s.
And the problem with government officials (as “Yes Minister” explained so elegantly 40 years ago) is that they measure success by the size of their departments, the amount of money they have to spend, and the amount of power they wield.
Seen this way, two of the greatest tools for government success are crime and failure. Let’s face it: A safe and happy society has barely any need for government. Safe streets don’t create demand for a higher police budget, any more than good schools create demand for higher education budgets. A success in the eyes of the public might result in cutbacks, but there’s always a ready explanation for failure: “We didn’t have enough resources.”
“Resources” means your money and your freedom—these are what the government burns to keep warm.
So don’t be surprised when bad things happen in New York, or in any other corrupt, big-government town or state. Bad things need to happen. This isn’t to say the government goes around deliberately stirring up trouble (though there’s plenty of evidence that they do). Just don’t expect them to be good at their jobs. If they were, they wouldn’t have their jobs in the first place.