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Lewyn Addresses America

A little politics, a little urbanism- I also blog 100 percent on urbanism at and

In Capital City, New York planner Sam Stein argues that 1) New York’s poor are being displaced by gentrification, 2) because capitalist land markets are irretrievably broken because real estate lobbyists control New York politics, and 3) the only real solution is socialized land use.  However, his argument rests on a factual house of cards.  Stein believes that New York is run by “the real estate state”- but in fact, New York’s city government is quite hostile to housing construction.

A large chunk of his book is devoted to gentrification.   Like many other leftists and socialists, Stein is obsessed with gentrification; he seems unaware of the fact that even in high-cost cities, gentrification is actually quite rare.  According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, only 3.2 percent of New York City’s census tracts have gentrified in recent years, and low-income households have been displaced in only 0.7 percent of the city’s tracts.  Even relatively affluent Manhattan has a 17 percent poverty rate – far higher than that of New York’s suburban counties.

Stein writes that cities suffer from a long-term process of “capital flow… first comes investment in a built environment; second, neighborhood disinvestment in property abandonment, and third reinvestment in that same space for greater profits.”   This statement suggests that gentrification only occurs in disinvested neighborhoods.   If this was the case, gentrification would occur most frequently in a city’s poorest (usually black) neighborhoods: for example, the West Side of Chicago.  But in fact, gentrification often occurs in neighborhoods that are not the most disinvested.  For example, a recent study of Chicago neighborhoods by Harvard Prof. Robert Sampson shows that black neighborhoods (which, in Chicago, tend to be the poorest) are far less likely to gentrify than white working-class and Latino areas. Similarly, many of Brooklyn’s recently gentrified areas, such as Williamsburg and Greenpoint, were historically white-working class areas.     These areas tend to be less poor than the most disinvested areas; in 2000, zip code 11222 (Greenpoint) had a 17 percent poverty rate, roughly comparable to the citywide average.   Similarly, zip code 11215 (Park Slope) had a 12 percent poverty rate in 2000- higher than its current poverty rate, but still below average for New York.

Nevertheless, he does get one key point right: where housing is scarce, lower-income neighborhoods are caught in a no-win situation.  If government makes the neighborhood more desirable (for example, by lowering crime or building an attractive park) people are willing to pay more to live there, creating at least some risk of gentrification- or at least hardship to the neighborhood’s existing residents.

But this trade-off is not equally painful everywhere.  In a few expensive coastal cities, exploding rents and housing prices are common- whether they involve the demographic shifts that characterize gentrification, or merely make life more difficult for residents of stable neighborhoods.   But in most growing American cities, population growth and relatively reasonable housing costs go together; although some neighborhoods are experiencing gentrification or disinvestment, most experience neither.   Over the 2010s, the fastest growing large metro areas, such as Austin, Raleigh and Orlando, have had relatively moderate housing costs.    In cities where housing is not so scarce, improvements are less likely to lead to out of control rents.

Smith repeats the common error that New York has tried allowing new housing, without favorable results.  He correctly admits that during the Bloomberg Administration, “White upper-income homeowners tended to see their blocks downzoned… while working class tenants of color tended to see their blocks upzoned.”   The logical inference from these facts is that by matching upzonings with downzonings, the city failed to add enough housing supply to meet demand.

But rather than reaching this obvious conclusion, Stein writes that “[s]imply adding housing supply does not necessarily drive down overall prices” because the lots that “were upzoned created the potential for more new construction than [downzoned lots].”  In other words, Stein argues: (1) some new housing supply was created; (2) housing costs rose; thus (3) new housing supply doesn’t hold down costs.

This argument is flawed because “some new housing supply” does not mean “enough housing supply to meet demand.”  Stein writes that 69,000 new housing units were built in New York City between 2014 and 2017- that is, just over 17,000 per year.  But according to a recent study by the Department of City Planning, the city added 700,000 new jobs, or 70,000 per year, between 2009 and 2018.  Thus, Stein’s own data shows that housing supply lags behind the supply of jobs.

Moreover, this level of housing production is hardly high by historical standards.  According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, 633,816 of the city’s housing units were built between 1960 and 1979- or over 30,000 per year, far more than in the alleged boom years of the past decade.  761,112 units were built between 1940 and 1959- or about 40,000 per year.   And these numbers actually underestimate the pace of midcentury building, because some unknown number of 1940-79 buildings have been demolished or converted to nonresidential use.

Stein especially opposes new market-rate housing in poorer neighborhoods, claiming that such housing  “went the wrong way: displacing people of color from areas where they had built power, rather than integrating segregated White neighborhoods.”  Thus, he seems to believe that market-rate housing inevitably displaces the nonrich- in other words, that real estate development is always a zero-sum game.

Stein’s argument seems to be as follows: market-rate housing creates a “rent gap” between actual rents and possible rents: if anyone who can afford market-rate housing moves into an area, landlords will discover that they can afford to charge more rent, and thus start raising rents and evicting tenants.    Thus, the only solution to gentrification is to keep poor people as rigidly segregated as possible from everyone else, lest better-off persons infect them with the virus of rising rents.  In Stein’s ideal working-class neighborhood, “any future development not only matches a planned community’s aesthetic patterns but also its income mixes.”  However, Stein does favor “inclusionary zoning [if it] were only used in rich White enclaves… forcing the wealthy to integrate a little bit.” It is not clear how “rich” a neighborhood must be to qualify for Stein’s proposals, or how “poor” a neighborhood must be to be shielded from gentrification.   However, Stein writes near the end of the board that he favors a moratorium on upzonings, which suggests that he favors no new private housing.

Thus, Stein appears to favor a one-way movement of poverty: poor areas must stay poor forever, while middle-class and upper-class areas can become poorer.  As long as better-off people can move to rich suburbs or to other parts of the country, the ultimate result would be a city that grows poorer every year- in short, New York in the 1970s.

In fact, the “rent gap” argument could be taken even further.  If any apartment more expensive than its neighbors raise rents, even a luxury apartment in a rich area raises rents, since new apartments are typically more expensive than old apartments.  Thus, the logical extension of Stein’s theory is that nothing should ever be built anywhere (again, other than low-income housing in better-off areas)- obviously an absurd result.

Moreover, economic data contradicts Stein’s assumption that new housing raises rents for other housing.  A recent study by Xiaodi Li of New York University examines new high-rises in New York City, finding that “for every 10% increase in the housing stock within a 500-foot buffer, residential rents decrease by 1%” because of increased housing supply.  Another study by economist Evan Mast examines new multi-unit buildings in 12 U.S. cities, and finds that “building 100 new market-rate units opens up the equivalent of 70 units in neighborhoods earning below the area’s median income. In the poorest neighborhoods, it opens up the equivalent of 40 units.”  This is because of new housing creates a migration chain: people who rent or buy new units don’t compete for older units, thus opening the older units up to less affluent households.

If new housing isn’t the answer to high rents, what is?  Socialism.  Stein writes that “socialized land” is essential, because “As long as land and buildings are bought and sold in a private market, there can be no truly democratic control over the city.”  Stein presents Cuba as a role model, claiming that the Communist revolution “did not blow up the colonial city; it took it, retained the beauty it created and transformed the social relations that had produced it.”  Havana’s glitzy tourist areas must make Cuba look like a tempting alternative to capitalism.  But in the Market Urbanism Report blog, Scott Beyer writes that outside these areas, many houses are “shacks… patched up with knotted wood, metal scraps, and thatching. “  He stayed in a 150-square-foot apartment where the showers and toilets did not work, and the ; roof was crumbling.

Not surprisingly, Stein also favors sabotaging private ownership of land.  In the short run, he favors rent control, restrictive zoning, and heavy taxation of landlords and land owners.  When you make something less profitable, you get less of it- so if the city follows Stein’s short-term prescriptions, it will reduce private housing supply.  Stein wants to make up for this loss by building more public housing- but a city that does the former without the latter will increase the number of homeless residents.  New York seems eager to do precisely that; the state legislature has strengthened rent control laws to drive landlords out of business, but seems far less eager to fund millions of new public housing units.  So under the current Democratic governor and legislature, we have the worst of both worlds- Stein’s hostility to private housing combined with conservatives’ apathy towards public housing.  This of course will lead to more rent-stressed New Yorkers and more people sleeping on the streets and in homeless shelter.  Then again, from Stein’s perspective this might be just dandy in the long run, since it will no doubt increase political support for public housing and socialism.


Big picture: the generic ballot average (that is the average poll asking voters to choose between a generic D and a generic R) shows a 7.5 pt Dem lead.  But in 3 of the last 4 midterms, the Democrats have underperformed the RCP average by between 2.5 and 3.5 points (2010 was an exception; the Dems were doing so poorly in the generic ballot than their slightly better real-world performance was a regression to the mean).   So if tradition follows precedent, which of course it might not, the Dems will lead nationally by between 4 and 5 points.

Given that Dems are more concentrated in a few urban districts, will this be enough for them to take the House? suggests that the Dems need almost a 6 point lead to retake the House, so if I am right about likely Democratic underperformance (which I might not be given the likely higher-than-usual turnout) the Democrats will fall short of taking the House, probably by just a few seats.  But they could gain a few more or a few less, and I don’t think we will know on election night because there are a lot of close races in California and some of them could take days to count because California counts its absentee ballots slowly.

My guess: Dems gain 20 seats, for a total of 215 to the Republicans’ 220.


Most races are not particularly close. There are only two strong opportunities for a Democratic pickup (Arizona, Nevada) and four for a Republican pickup (Indiana, North Dakota, Florida, Missouri).  There are also several races where one candidate is ahead in every poll but not by much- Tennessee, West Virginia, Montana, Texas, New Jersey.  I am going to assume that every election in the latter category follows the polls, and focus on the half a dozen real tossups.

ARIZONA- Democrat Sinema leads in the RCP poll average, but not by much.  However, the early voting favors Republicans to a much greater extent than in most other close states; 42 percent of early voters are registered Republicans and only 33 percent are Democrats, the biggest Republican lead in any swing state (see ).  Unless independents go Democrat by an overwhelming margin this may be an insurmountable Republican lead.  So I think Rep. Martha McSally holds the seat for the Republicans.

NEVADA- If I just looked at poll data Sen. Dean Heller would be reelected; he leads by 2 points in the RCP average.  But the only poll from the last week or so shows Democrat Jacky Rosen retaking the lead.  Also, registered Dems lead in early voting, and Democrats have a history of overperforming poll results in Nevada.  In 2012, Heller led by 4 pts in the RCP average and only 1 pt on election day. So I’m reluctantly calling this a DEM PICKUP

North Dakota- Dem incumbent Heidi Heitkamp is losing in every poll, so this is a REPUBLICAN PICKUP.

Florida- Dem incumbent Nelson has a paper-thin lead in most polls.  Republicans lead in early voting but by less than in 2014.  I am reluctantly calling this for the Democrat, but realistically there is a really good chance I could be wrong.

INDIANA- Two of the last three polls show Democrat Joe Donnelly ahead.  But in 2016, an Indiana Senate election broke heavily R at the end, as undecided voters in this Republican state came home to their party.  So I suspect the same will happen this year.  R PICKUP

MISSOURI- Claire McCaskill won in 2012 against very weak Republican opposition, but this year she has a solid establishment Republican opponent in a state that has become very Republican.  Of three October polls, one shows a tie and two show a paper-thin Republican lead. R PICKUP

TOTAL – 3 Republican pickups, 1 Democratic pickup.  Senate Total: 53 R 47 D


Lots of party changes. The following seats seem at least moderately safe for the incumbent party:

Dems- RI, Mass, Minnesota, Colorado, Oregon (actually kinda close but consistent D lead), California, Hawaii

Reps- NH, Vt, Mass,  Md, SC, Ala, Tn, Ark, Tx, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona

Some seats that might switch:

Maine- D PICKUP, Dems have lead.

Ct- This may be close, but most polls show a lead for Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont.  In both 2010 and 2014, Dems slightly overperformed the RCP polling average so I am calling this a D HOLD.

Ga- Most polls show either a tie vote or a Republican lead.  I think Republican Brian Kemp will pull it out without a runoff; Republicans slightly overperformed the RCP average in all three of the last three gubernatorial elections, as undecided voters came home to the majority party.  R HOLD

Fla- The polls show Democrat Andrew Gillum ahead, usually by 2 or 3 pts.  I find it hard to imagine a super-progressive black Democrat taking a Trump state after 20 years of GOP governors.  But Obama actually overperformed polls in Florida, and the Republican doesn’t seem all that impressive.  So I am reluctantly saying D PICKUP- hugely against my better judgment.

Ohio- Democrat Cordray has taken a small lead in most recent polls in this open seat state, and there doesn’t seem to be a strong pattern of one party outperforming polls in close elections (unlike in Georgia) .  D PICKUP

Illinois- Republican Gov. Rauner has never been popular.  D PICKUP

Michigan- Democrat Gretchen Whitmer has a small but stable lead in this open seat race. D PICKUP

Wisconsin- This is the one governors’ race (other than Florida) I am really uncertain about. Scott Walker is tied with the Democrat in the most recent poll, after trailing for most of the year. Walker came from behind in 2014 and I suspect he’ll do it again.  R HOLD

Iowa- RCP shows no October polls in this race, so your guess is as good as mine.  But early voting trends seem heavily Democratic, and the only polls out there show the Democrat taking the lead from incumbent Gov. Reynolds.  D PICKUP I guess.

Kansas- Virtually every poll in RCP shows a 1 pt lead for one of the candidates; this is a Republican state but Republican Kris Kobach won a narrow, bitterly contested primary and is too far right for the state.  A Dem-leaning independent has 9 percent or so in the vote in most polls; I suspect most of his support will distintegrate at the last minute, throwing the election to Democrat Laura Kelly.  D PICKUP

South Dakota- This open seat race is close, but the most recent poll shows a very slight lead for Republican Kristi Noem.  R HOLD

New Mexico – In this open seat, Democrat Michelle Grisham has a consistent lead D PICKUP

Nevada- This seems close but Democrat Steve Sisolak has a paper-thin lead in the most recent poll, and Nevada Democrats often outperform polls.  D PICKUP

Alaska- This seat is currently held by an independent who is not running again.  Republican Dunleavy has a narrow but consistent lead R PICKUP

Total + 8D 25 D 25 R (probably the only area where Dems exceed expectations!)






In 2004, I taught a summer session at Cardozo Law School in NYC.  Below is an account I wrote of my housing adventures, which I dug up from a now-extinct blog: 

I visited 18 places, made 6 offers, and spent about two months on and off looking. My original plan was to find a doorman building for under $1000. Needless to say I got neither (though since I am staying for only a month I can afford more than I thought anyhow, and besides it is pretty close to 1000- basically 1000 plus utilities). Here’s the chronology:
Mid May: Make first visit; initially was planning to stay from June 1 to mid August.
Visited one place on Wall St (45 Wall) that I really liked, and a few hours later emailed my first offer. (I had been told that they were not sure whether they actually needed a roommate yet, as one roommate’s summer plans were unclear). That night my offer was rejected because the roommate in question decided to come to NYC in June instead of September, so they really did not need another one after all. The other places (in Ft Greene, Astoria and Weehawken) I was underwhelmed by- all lacked a/c (or there was a/c in a living room that was not close enough to cool the bedroom). Lesson learned (lesson #1): ask about a/c before you visit a place if you insist on that.
After that weekend, it occurs to me that I may not need a place in June after all because I would only be in NYC for 8 or 10 days in June (could stay with friends for most of it). So what I decide to do is limit myself to day trips or places that looked real good.
A bit later in May- Visit a place in West New York (near Weehawken, a inner ring suburb with low crime rate and beautiful view of Manhattan skyline) which turned out to be awful. I didn’t realize that going a few blocks inland is the difference between good and not so good areas. Lesson #2 learned: In Jersey stay near the water, because just as in NYC a few blocks can make a huge difference.
A bit later still in May-! Visit another place in Weehawken (doorman loft bldg, on south side of city towards Hoboken) that I adore. Unfortunately the roommate who is showing the place is not the roommate who is making the business arrangements; the latter is off in Alabama doing summer theatre. A couple of hours after my visit, I begin negotiations with an email, stating that I want the place but need to know whether it was available till the 15th (since the roommate showing the place did not know of this fact). I go home to wait for a reply, and call the Ala. roommate telling him to read my email. Two days later, I get an email from the latter saying he rented the apartment to someone who had looked at the place earlier (and who presumably had emailed him roughly simultaneously). (PS I do not criticize Ala. roommate; it sounds like he did exactly what I would have done in his place).
So I count this as rejected offer #2.
first couple of days in June- Now semester is seriously beginning. I visit a couple of places – one in Ditmas Park (a part of Brooklyn with beautiful single family Victorian homes and seriously decrepit apt bldgs) and one in Upper West Side. Ditmas Park place is tempting on paper- apt all to myself w/security guard in front, all for only 750 or something like that. Downsides: lessor wants it rented all the way till end of August (which reduces my fiscal benefit) and no a/c in apt. I walk through the neighborhood at night, get VERY mixed vibes especially as I approach nearest subway stop (Newkirk on B line I think). I decide to get up VERY early next morning, visit second nearest subway line (Foster on F line) and walk through. Foster area seems much nicer than Newkirk and as I approach apt am seriously thinking of taking it. Then I talk to someone walking her dog outside building, and pepper her with questions. She has almost nothing positive to say about the building or its management or the neighborhood- drug deals go on near Newkirk, some of the apartment house s near the one I was interested in are full of scuzzy people, and worst of all, the management is hostile to sublessees. I realize that this woman has saved me from a terrible fate and thank her. That night I visit a place on the Upper West Side- doorman building but not in great shape, and I would have to have a/c-less room and limited kitchen privileges, because a 1 BR has been cut up into one room with the kitchen and dining room (where my seventysomething Russian roomie would live) and I get the bedroom. I am glad to leave. Lesson learned: even in doorman buildings you cannot count on air conditioning. Lesson learned #2: roommates are better situations in some ways than pure sublease. Why? (1) landlord might hate sublessees, and use as excuse to throw out everyone and charge higher rent; (2) (and this isn’t really related to Ditmas Park thing) it generally occurred to me that if a pipe bursts you want someone who can fight for you with the landlord,! since the landlord is not going to be all that interested in doing much for a sublessee who will only be there for a month.
June 8-9: My original plan is to visit a place on the 8th (Tue.) in Riverdale that looks wonderful on paper, then take it if I see no negatives. But I learn at last minute that roommate has to work from 8 AM to 10 PM that day; she says let’s talk Wed. So I make other arrangements- see places in Soho (nice but only till 8-1, and sublessor’s attitude towards pets seemed quite grudging), Union City (nasty nasty nasty), and finally a place in Jersey City (the Newport complex) that I really like. Everything seemed wonderful- roommate very nice, Newport very nice. But Riverdale seemed so tempting – major Jewish area with at least one very interesting and unusual congregation I have read about, while Jersey City very non Jewish by NYC standards (though it still has a couple of congregations- probably fairly Jewish by Atlanta ! standards!) Plus, would be Newport roommate was going away f! or next couple of days so I figured if I waited 24 hours no one else would get Newport place. So what happens on Wed June 9? I spend all day waiting for a phone or email from the Riverdale lady. I never hear anything. I leave phone messages and still never hear anything. (I gather she doesn’t have phone or email access where she works, or maybe she suffered some unfortunate accident, Heaven forbid).
By Wed 9 PM I give up on Riverdale, call Newport person. But her cell is off, so I hear nothing.
So on Thursday morning (June 9) I email . . .
offer #3 to Newport person right before I go to airport for nephew’s bar mitzvah. I figure she hasn’t been in Jersey City since I visited her so how could anyone else have snapped up apt? She emails me back saying that though I am still her first choice she has made other appointments. And on Friday the 10th she emails me saying that a coworker wanted the room, and that (presumably! as a matter of office politics) she could not say no to him. (PS Again, I would have done the same in her place). Lesson learned: If you see a place you like, MAKE AN OFFER IMMEDIATELY (or at least within several hours). DO NOT WAIT A DAY. EVEN FOR ROOMMATE SITUATIONS, EVEN ON THE JERSEY SIDE, COMPETITION IS STIFF.
So then I spend five days in Atlanta (for a nephew’s bar mitzvah), come back the night of the 15th. I only have a couple of days to look because then I am going to Carbondale, Ill. to look for apts THERE for the fall. (Of course, I have no memorable stories about that experience- in a town of 20,000 there are simply not that many choices, especially for people with pets who don’t want ten times as much space as they need).
So all I really have to play with are June 16 (Wed) and 17 (Thurs.) Wed. night I visit a place in Battery Park City which I like. Brimming with confidence, I wave my checkbook at the roommates and make . . .
offer #4. The roommates respond that they have othe r people to talk to and will make no decisions till the weekend; they are in the proverbial catbird seat because it is such a desirable place. Lesson: Even if you make an offer it might not be accepted, because roommates may feel free to take some time to pick the person they like best.
On Thurs. I visit a place on the Upper West Side (OK but doesn’t go all the way through 8-15; also visiting was a waste of time because even though roommate who showed me apt thought pets were OK, he learns otherwise after talking with other roommate). (Also visit place in Long Island City, but they only wanted long term roommates; we had a slight communications breakdown) Then I visit a very nice place (the Pennmark in Midtown) and make
… offer #5. Next morning they accept. So as of June 18, I think all is well – starting around July 4 I have a place.
But it isn’t. The departing Pennmark roommate was closing on a condo, said it would be done! by early July so I would move in long before my Philly lease expired July 20. On June 30 I get email from Pennmark roommate saying there has been a snag; a document needed for closing was not available and the seller needs a couple of weeks to find it. But at this time he still had some hope of closing before the 20th. On July 4 I get email saying whole situation is kaplooey and that I should find other arrangements.
So by this time I am desperate- I only have 16 days before Phila. lease goes poof, and by going through (key source of potential deals) I notice most people not only don’t want a roommate ENDING August 15, many of them want someone STARTING August 15. So between July 4 and July 11 I sent out 125 emails (only 4 of which led to appointments, though 2 or 3 others would have had I not settled on a place). By contrast in May my email to appointment ratio was one out of ten, because a lot more people are willing to rent to someone for two and a half months than for one month. And I am looking at different places: while in May I wanted either doorman buildings or buildings in one or two super safe suburbs, now I just want anything in a relatively nice area. So on July 7-8 I see four places (one in Upper East Side, one in Upper West Side, one in Harlem, one in Stuyvestant Town in far East Village – first two are walkups, only Harlem is doorman building). Instead of making an offer, I ask whether they have additional appointments (subtle code for “are you ready to make a commitment if I am?”. Everyone has additional appointments.
On Friday the 9th I email UES roommate saying essentially “You are my first choice” …
which of course is offer #6. Since she has option of picking someone long term, I make point of saying that in mid August zillions of people will be graduating from law and business schools, so it is not like she has sacrificed her chances of finding long term roommate. I expect to get a rejection email on Sunday or Monday but instead first thing Monday morning she says yes by email, and suggests we speak about an appointment on Tuesday to pay rent checks etc.
We don’t get to speak on phone till Monday at 1, and she says she has to fly out of town at 8:30 (which means at airport at 6) (We had originally thought she would go out of town later in the week). I realize it is now or never for both of us. I run to the train station, take NJ Transit train to NYC (Amtrak would have been faster but it is SO expensive and I think I have plenty of time), do not get into NYC till 5:10. Cabs no good for me because it is rush hour, raining and I don’t have the cash anyhow. So I take subway, planning to go up west side subway line from railroad station (at 33rd and 8, very far west) then crosstown to apartment. But disaster strikes- my subway train turns out to be an express train and at 5:40 I am at 125 st and STILL on the west side. I take train back down to 86 st, take crosstown bus, and get off it ex! actly at 6. Am terrified that I have missed roommate, especially since I call her as soon as I get off bus and don’t get a response. I walk to apartment, thinking terribly gloomy thoughts. At 6:05 or so I get to apartment on 83rd st.
At this point, the story SHOULD say: she was at the door packing luggage in her cab to the airport, and I gave her the check (and she gave me the keys) right as she was about to climb into the cab to the airport. That would be a great story and a fittingly suspenseful end to the whole apartment drama.
But the real story is more boring: her flight was delayed till 11 PM or something, so we had a leisurely visit. I gave her a check, dropped off some clothes, and went home to Philadelphia to do some more packing.

I wound up living in the UES with this woman for the grand total of a month (from mid July to mid August). 

Of course, this story would probably be less thrilling today (in 2018) for a couple of reasons: first, the city is much safer so I would have been less picky about neighborhoods; second, I would have airbnb as a back up option.

The debate is here.   My notes:

Opening statments- Dietl is shouty man.  Malliotakis focuses adequately on DiBlasio’s weaknesses (subways, homeless) and DiBlasio on the city’s strengths (crime).

On homelessness- non incumbents complain about status quo.  (I like Dietl’s line praising pre-K spending under DiBlasio).  Malliotakis goes with laundry list strategy, sounding “inside the Beltway.” DiBlasio brags about 900 homeless off the street, which doesn’t seem like a lot.   He also emphasizes legal services to fight evictions- but if you make it harder to evict, doesn’t that impose costs on landlords that might be reflected in higher rents?

After an exchange on inequality, DiBlasio lists key achievements: pre-K, low crime, declining poverty.  Hits Malliotakis on minimum wage.  Malliotakis shifts debate to schools, campaign contributions from developer.   Seems like both candidates evading each other’s attacks.

DiBlasio gets question about 20 percent increase in city spending.  Responds by saying city reserves high, lists good things he’s done with money.   When asked about history of nonpayment of taxes, Dietl sounds slightly unhinged.

When asked about how to cut spending, Malliotakis talks about how she has brought spending home to her district in Albany (not exactly an answer).   Ultimately she does answer by answering a question with a question.  Not her strongest answer.

On transit, Dietl incoherent.  Malliotakis calls for more MTA spending, points out that the city appoints people to the MTA board.  DiBlasio blames the state.

On crime, basic exchange is as follows: DiBlasio says “crime down”, everyone else says “is not.”   Facts are here.

Malliotakis comes out against closing Rikers – why not fix what we have rather than building a bunch of new jails? Also, a jail on an island inherently a good idea- people can’t escape as easily.   DiBlasio pivots to “we’re doing more on rehabilitation”.

DiBlasio asks others: did you really think Trump would be better? I’m not sure Malliotakis says she’s answered the question in other places.

When asked about segregated schools, DiBlasio a bit vague.  Other candidates don’t really address this issue, and focus on education generally.

Moderator asks “who will control developers from gentrifying the city?”  (Stupid question- assumes new housing is bad unless its government-subsidized).  Dietl calls for extorting money out of developers.  Malliotakis focuses on giving stuff to nonprofits.   Complains about campaign contributions to developers.  Both too far left for me on this issue.   This is an area where we really could have used a Libertarian in the race.

Debate finishes with some accusations about immigration, not much of which I understood.

Winner:  Not Dietl.






I am happy to announce that I now have tenure at Touro Law Center.

It seems to me that liberals and conservatives often make very similar arguments.  For example, I occasionally hear or read the following argument from the Right:

“Black people should stop worrying about trigger-happy police because more blacks are killed by criminals.”

And from the Left:

“Americans should stop worrying about Islamist terrorism because more Americans are killed by cause X.” (Cause X can be a lot of things, ranging from car crashes to falls in bed; I don’t think there is one cause liberals are fixated on).


This year, several of President Trump’s appointees have been approved on party-line votes.  In particular, there was a significant mass mobilization of Democrats against the Sessions and DeVos nominations, if my Facebook news feed is any guide.

Why do Democrats bother?  They weren’t going to get enough Republican votes to defeat the nominations, and even if they had defeated the nominations, there is no reason to believe that President Trump’s next choice would be more ideologically congenial.  I’m not sure that (from a liberal perspective) Sessions is any worse than whoever a President Cruz would have appointed.*  And since DeVos endorsed Jeb Bush, I think she’s probably more moderate than whoever President Cruz would have appointed.  So if the goal of this mobilization was to move justice or education policy to the Left, the effort spent on these nominations was a complete waste of time, and would probably have been a waste of time even if these nominations had been defeated.

So here’s an alternative explanation: the goal of political parties isn’t to be ideologically coherent, but to win elections.  How do you win elections?  Not just by persuading centrists, but also by motivating your base to organize, give money, vote etc.  And what does that?  A good fight with the other side, whether a winning fight or a losing one.  So Democrats were spoiling for a fight with Trump- if it hadn’t been Sessions and DeVos, it would have been something else.

To draw an analogy: the Obama stimulus plan probably wasn’t that different from what President McCain would have proposed.  But Republicans successfully mobilized their base to fight it.  Why?  Because Republicans needed a fight.



*Though from a libertarian perspective he is much more problematic.

I know its a little early, but I feel inspired.

For the Democrats’ leading Wall-Street basher (to the tune of the Underdog theme)

When bankers in Wall Street appear

and break the laws that they should fear

And steal from all both far and near

The cry goes out from East to West for

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Voice of lightning

Roar of thunder

Fighting all who rob or plunder

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

Elizabeth Warren (Chorus: Senator Warren)

For a Republican Senator who seems to have lost his voice in recent months

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

Conservatives lulled asleep, wake up little Marco and weep,

Trump’s wiping out NATO and we’re in trouble deep,

Wake up, Little Marco..

Well, what can we do for Poland,

What can we do for the Czechs?

Are we going to protect them from Trump’s friend Putin

or just throw them under the bus?

Wake up, Little Marco, wake up!

President Trump hasn’t been so hot

Sucked in by the Kremlin’s plots

America’s not leading the free world

our reputation is shot

Go to Iowa, Little Marco

Go to New Hampshire and run again

Wake up, Little Marco! Wake up!




After the election, my Democratic friends suggested that the Electoral College should have exercised its independent judgment to protect the nation from President Trump, while Republicans argued that the Electoral College was meant to protect us from domination by California (which, because they voted heavily for Hillary Clinton, is now apparently not part of the USA).

It seems to me that my Democratic friends are right in suggesting that the Electoral College was originally designed to exercise independent judgment.  (Hamilton said so in Federalist 68). I thought to myself: who would such an Electoral College have picked in recent elections?

Answer: Nobody who actually got elected.  Hamilton wrote that under the Constitution, “there will be a constant probability of seeing the station [of the Presidency] filled by characters pre-eminent for ability and virtue.”  Presumably he meant people who were experienced (“pre-eminent”) and scandal-free.  Trump doesn’t pass this test (inexperienced, not very virtuous), nor do Obama and Bush (OK on the virtue front, but probably a bit less eminent and experienced than Hamilton envisoned), and Clinton (a bit weak on the whole virtue thing).  So who would a less populist Electoral College have picked?

To narrow down the field, I am going to assume that my imaginary Electoral College was limited to  people who actually ran for President in a given year (so no Paul Ryan or Elizabeth Warren).  And I’ll avoid having to make stark ideological choices by limiting this thought experiment to candidates in the winning party (which also eliminates 1996, 2004 and 2012 from my sample, since incumbent Presidents were unopposed within their party in these years).

2016- Lots of Republicans to choose from – even if I limit myself to people whose campaigns lasted to the NH primary, we have Bush, Trump of course, Cruz, Rubio, Jindal, Christie, Huckabee, Santorum,  Kasich, Carson, Fiorina, and Paul.  I can’t imagine my hypothetical assembly favoring people with as little experience as Carson or Fiorina.  Paul, Rubio and Cruz had only been in the Senate for a single term, so I think their relative lack of experience would weaken them (unless of course you assume that our Electoral College had a distinctive affinity for the distinctive views of any of these gentlemen).  Jindal is pretty unpopular in Louisiana so I think he wouldn’t make the cut, and Kasich’s infamous temper might have been a problem.  Bridgegate would sink Christie. Huckabee and Santorum are scandal-free and have enough experience to be plausible choices- but I think an assembly of the Great and the Good would prefer someone who served as the governor of one of our largest, most diverse states (Florida) and was, I think, reasonably virtuous.  I refer, of course, to John Ellis Bush.

2008- Clinton, Obama, Richardson, Kucinich, Biden, Dodd.  Someone as ideologically extreme and flaky as Kucinich seems like a hard sell to me, and Obama was too green.  Richardson was slightly tainted by the Wen Ho Lee affair, Dodd by the Countrywide scandal, and Biden by the plagiarism mini-scandal that ended his 1988 campaign.  Hillary Clinton’s major scandals were far in the future, so my guess is that (assuming an Electoral College that had evolved to accept women) an Electoral College would have preferred Sen. Clinton to the other Democrats.

2000- Six Republicans made it to New Hampshire: Bush, McCain, Forbes, Keyes, Bauer and Hatch. I can’t imagine an Electoral College selecting the three nonpoliticians (Forbes, Keyes, Bauer) and Bush was somewhat experienced but still not as grownup as the rest.  That leaves McCain and Hatch. I don’t think anyone can match Orrin Hatch for virtue, but on the other hand John McCain is one of the lions of the Senate as well, and his scandals (the collapse of his first marriage and the Keating Five affair) were very much in the past by them.  My verdict: either McCain or Hatch; if you assume a tie goes to someone actually capable of getting people to vote for him, I’ll go with McCain (who was essentially the second-place finisher within the Republican party, while Hatch’s campaign went nowhere).

1992- Clinton, Brown, Kerrey, Tsongas, Harkin.  Not Clinton (sex scandals), not Brown (general weirdness) or Harkin (too populist).   Kerrey had only been in the Senate for a few years.  Paul Tsongas was a relative moderate with an inspirational life story of retiring from the Senate due to cancer and then going into remission.  I think my hypothetical Electoral College would have been happy to elect Paul Tsongas.

So in Bizarro World, we have Presidents Tsongas, McCain, Clinton and Bush.  Would they have served more effectively than the  people who actually won?  I think Tsongas would have been pretty good but would have died of cancer at the end of his first term.  (He in fact died Jan. 18, 1997; if anything the pressures of office would have shortened his life). It is hard to imagine McCain pr Orrin Hatch being worse than Bush.  As far as Clinton and Bush, I think it is a bit too soon to tell.