City Journal Winter 2016

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Fred Siegel
The Middle Class and Its Enemies « Back to Story

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I have to respond to the comment on the Mount Laurel decision. Mount Laurel has been an unmitigated disaster for New Jersey, and as with other legislative decisions by the Kingdom of the New Jersey Supreme Court, has been illustrative of the law of unintended consequences.

Even assuming that Mount Laurel was exclusively "a remedy for exclusionary zoning" no one could have guessed that the major impact of the decision was its use as a tool by developers to force massive residential development in areas where the citizens didn't want such development. I've seen this first hand - developers seeking a "builders remedy" in Mount Laurel litigation, and know exactly how Mount Laurel has been used to compel large scale development in areas where it isn't wanted or appropriate.

Mount Laurel has also spawned enormous - ENORMOUS - amounts of litigation, taking away millions upon millions of precious tax dollars that could have been used for public good and putting the money into the hands of lawyers. As a tool for provision of affordable housing, Mount Laurel is a bad joke - its chief use as been as means by which developers force unwanted large scale residential development upon unwilling communities. The formulas put forward by the NJ Council on Affordable Housing or whatever it is called now, are understood by few, and the decision has aided no one but developers and lawyers - certainly not those seeking affordable housing, and definitely not increasing "diversity.".

Mount Laurel has also been a tool for corruption as so called affordable housing is often given by politicians to favored individuals. In fact, some Mount Laurel obligations are avoided through payoffs to cities such as Newark.

That there were unintended consequences as a result of Mount Laurel is no surprise - the same thing happened later with the N.J. Supreme Court's Abbott decision, which led to the complete waste of billions (yes BILLIONS) of dollars when the money mandated by the Court was run through a corrupt and incompetent agency. In fact, large areas of land purchased by that agency still lies vacant, waiting for schools that will never be built.

As for increasing affordable housing
in Essex County - I grew up in Essex County, in a city adjacent to Newark, still live near and have plenty of family there. I can say emphatically that Mount Laurel has had nothing to do with any increase in any increase in "diversity" or integration in Essex County. Essex County's enormous real estate taxes are the most important aspect of buying a house there, and these taxes impose far far more of a burden than any (non-existent)exclusionary zoning. My father lived in the Newstead area of South Orange - at the time he was forced to sell, his yearly real estate tax burden was $21,000/year - this on a house that sold for $550,000!

Those in Essex County government always blame welfare benefits for Newark residents for the high real estate taxes - this 50 years after the riots led to residents fleeing Newark en masse, especially the Jewish Weequahic area, which changed its complexion practically overnight. Oddly enough, even with the billions spent as a result of the Abbott decision, schools in Newark and nearby municipalities such as Orange, East Orange, Hillside, Irvington continue to be awful failures - could it be that money had nothing to do with the fact that the schools don't teach?

A half a century goes by since the riots, the government builds or finances some expensive commercial buildings and public facilities downtown but Newark remains the same - Kenneth Gibson, Sharp James, now Cory Booker, Newark is unchanged through all of them. Why?

But that's another story. The point is that when the NJ Supreme Court gets impatient, and decides to legislate you can be sure the consequences will be precisely the opposite of what the Court seeks to achieve. It's clumsy attempts at social engineering should be seen as an object lesson in not how to govern.

If the Obama Administration is following through on any aspect of Mount Laurel, then it is sheer stupidity, and certainly not a reason to vote for Obama. Just the opposite.
Fred Siegel's comments on the Mt Laurel decision and doctrine are extremely misleading. Mt Laurel was not fundamentally "an experiment in compulsory integration," but a remedy for exclusionary zoning on grounds of exclusionary zoning's interfering with the development of affordable housing. Whether or not it promoted or currently promotes black upward mobility is a red herring. The basic question is whether exclusionary zoning is justified, and whether Mt Laurel was or is a legitimate remedy for it. Siegel's comment seems to suggest that exclusionary zoning is a non-issue for him, so that the question of Mt Laurel's legitimacy as a remedy simply doesn't arise. This approach is typical of conservative discussion of this topic, but it evades what Mt Laurel was fundamentally about--affordable housing and the wrongness of exclusionary zoning, whether racial or otherwise. Exclusionary zoning is not a non-issue for those of us in New Jersey who have to live with it, with its consequences, and with the misguided attitudes invoked to "justify" it.

Here is the opening of the 1975 Mt Laurel decision:

No part of Siegel's dismissive comment addresses the opening passage of the decision. And the first sentence of the decision says it all: action was brought against Mt Laurel on grounds that its land use regulations unlawfully excluded low and middle class families from the municipality. Is Siegel denying that that was so? Is he denying that it matters? Does he think that a focus on race can make the underlying legal-economic issues go away?

I wouldn't deny that there was a racial element to the decision as well. But it was there because there was a racial element to exclusionary zoning, which the decision sought to rectify. Again, would Siegel want to deny that exclusionary zoning was (and in some cases, probably still is) an instrument of anti-black racism in New Jersey? Siegel writes that Mt Laurel did nothing to improve black upward mobility. Maybe not, but then, what is the explanation for the obvious fact that (say) suburban Essex County is much better racially integrated today than it was 20 or 30 years ago? Is he entirely sure that Mt Laurel had nothing to do with that outcome?

The Obama Administration's actually following through on the logic of Mt Laurel would be a reason for voting for Obama, not against him.
One supposes that a good book review tells little about the book, but manages to either entice or repel the reader. So, this is a good review. But, I am curious about the black Mayors' opposition to suburban inclusion, just not enough to buy Kurtz's book. (Is it because including the suburbs would bring with it the white voters there and, so, make minorities of the black inner-city folk once again?)
I'll try to be very brief: The Left used to be synonymous with Labor; now it's those who live on government largesse or mandates (e.g. EEO lawyers, homeless advocates, Women's Studies professors). This has left the broad middle of America without a political party.

Both parties say the way to help the middle class is to help their core constituencies -- give minorities a hand-up and they'll join the middle class; or cut taxes for business and they'll hire more workers. Neither party is talking about how competition from illegal immigrants or H1-B recruits is what's keeping the recent graduates unemployed.

Jobs has become a mantra like Peace -- they're all for it, but treat it like the inevitable outcome of implementing their ideology.
The Ghost of The Kingfish would never permit such an atrocity . As to Princeton , every day , in every way ,the Ivies embarass themselves .
"Placing the cart before the horse, they see bourgeois, middle-class behavior as the product of a middle-class environment—instead of the cause of it."

This fallacy identified by Mr. Kurtz is also at the root of the federal government's failed Section 8 housing welfare scheme.
Unfortunately, it is simple-minded rhetoric like Carville's that appeals to Obama voters. "Everybody knows" that it is huge deficits and government spending that stimulate a prosperous middle class. A healthy, productive private sector has nothing to do with it. (Sarcasm alert for the economic illiterate.)
The problem is quite simple: People believe there is no such thing as "economics." There is only sentiment and feelings and hopes and dreams and wishes, but not "economics." In order to believe in lies like the minimum wage and deficit spending and the stimulating effects of bailouts one must actively and sincerely believe there is no such thing as "economics." If people ever pull their heads out of rectal defilade and accept that there is such a thing as "economics" we might survive; I'm not holding my breath.
"We have met the enemy, and he is us.'
What you refer to as third world marxism, others refer to as a specific brand of anti-colonialism... of which President Obama's father was a follower. I don't believe the President wants to use the middle class to uplift the poor. I think he wants our entire country to be less wealthy from the top down, so that we are more like the rest of the world...
Take a good look at the Indian Reservations around this nation and you will see your future under Obama.
I belong to the White, Male, Christian, Straight,Conservative Reservation.
Lefties like Carville and Greenberg really do dwell in alternate universes. If the only entity powerful enough to stand up to the financial elites is the federal government, then why the FDIC? Truth is, a depositor run can wipe out any bank no matter its size, and any state bank regulator can do a great deal of harm, as well.

So does Carville's argument rely on ignorance or a rejection of facts? That's the big question if we're to understand people who live in alternate universes. Then there's the next question: What do we do about them? The reason government is not accountable is that voters don't hold it accountable because voters don't know or accept relevant facts. Should those of us who know the basics and pay attention have to suffer because we share a country with ignoramouses like Carville and Greenberg?

The citizen bases his economic principles upon the assumption that national economics rules should be scaled up versions of his home budget or, if not, why not? If he cannot, or should not, borrow without
regard for plans to repay then how can the government do it? Or at least reveal its plans to repay. If these pundits could explain that
difference then they would be rendering a service indeed. If not they
should admit that they cannot.
Jonathan Alter's claim about a "transfer of wealth" from the middle-class to the wealth is sheer nonsense. The reality is that, as far as wealth goes, we are more equal today than we have ever been in history. The real wealth of a society is the goods and services that it produces. And more goods and services are available to the average person today then ever before.

Think in fifty years, what the average person will have. Things only available to billionaires today will be available to them, along with wholly new forms of goods and services that are not even available to the super rich today, just as today the average person can get much improved versions of things that used to only be available to the rich and things that flat out were not available to the rich in the past.

Alter believes that wealth is a fixed pie, and that for a larger percentage of the total wealth of society to be held by a particular portion of society means that they must have stolen it from the less-wealthy portions of society.

I am just making an example, but if in 1960, the wealthiest 1% controlled 40% of the total wealth in society, while in 2012, the wealthiest 1% controls 80% of the wealth, it doesn't mean that everyone else got poorer. It just means that, although much richer, we are more unequally rich. That will happen when you have lots of creation of goods and services in society, as it mints new millionaires and billionaires. That 80% controlled by the 1% in this example would mean a lot of new wealth for society was generated. More wealth was created from 1980 - 2008 then it the previous 200 years combined so that's not surprising.

And the middle-class hasn't gone anywhere, it's just moved. The income that constitutes being "middle-class" today is higher then it was in the 1950s and 1960s as incomes keep increasing (wages have been stalled due to healthcare costs going up and household incomes have been stalled, but per capita incomes have constantly increased). The major things hurting people right now are the cost of healthcare, higher education, and the lousy economy, none of which have anything to do with supposed wealth or income inequality (another misleading term).
Wow! So great to see both books juxtaposed. I keep saying that the only leadership that will work upcoming is the one that holds accountable those who caused the 2008 collapse , from the idiots who wanted to give everyone the right to own a house straight on through to Corzine. Without this accountability there is no sense of hope for the people to know that America is a land for all its people. It'd be nice to see another juxtaposition of the
British meddling in U.S. matters across the board.
From the NY Post (May 9th):
“The housing challenges of Westchester are economic, not racial,” Turner said, decrying the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s efforts to “socially engineer communities block by block.”
Westchester has run into continuing opposition over its efforts to implement a $52 million settlement with HUD to build “affordable” housing in affluent towns and market it “aggressively” to non-whites.
The deal itself was overripe, struck absent any evidence of discrimination against qualified minority homebuyers.
The whole point was to bring moderate- and low-income housing to affluent towns — or, as Deputy HUD Secretary Ron Sims put it, “to remove zip codes as a factor in the quality of life in America.”

America’s middle class is certainly shrinking, but then, strangely enough, so is Europe’s. Who would have guessed that Republicans were also responsible for robbing innocent suburbanites living outside of Madrid and Hamburg? But these “blame books” are fodder for Americans only during our brief election seasons, which now drag on 2 years or more. Identical economic woes occurring beyond the boundaries of Republican Party rapacity are ignored and, furthermore, they don’t constitute a frightening pattern also overtaking various European nations. Acknowledging a similar pattern working within the worldwide confederacy of Modern Welfare States would detract from the political message, so the Carville book is priced in dollars, not euros or yen.

And our cities certainly need saving if the Democrats wish to maintain their vote the straight ticket urban power bases. In San Francisco, registered dogs currently outnumber kids enrolled within the public schools. And since dogs can’t yet vote as Democrats, urban areas without children along with their missing parents aren’t a good long term portent for Democratic bastions boasting 20 story cliff dwellings partially filled with young singles and aging, twice married professionals. The suburbs, with their two income homeowners and the 28 year old son or daughter still living in their childhood bedroom, make tempting targets for political annexation. But that’s an unrealistic fear. Cities like Detroit need – make that desperately need - money from outside their boundaries and an Obama second term would be partly concerned with supplying that money.

Laughably transparent gimmicks like urban farming are the chosen vehicles for providing cities such as Detroit with another Washington style bailout. Having many square miles of now deserted neighborhoods, the trick will be to convince Americans voters their tax dollars will provide legitimate farm subsidies to unemployed former auto workers anxious to return to the land. Whatever works, works. Mayors of big cities don’t want educated suburbanites on their voter rolls, they simply need their tax dollars to fill depleted treasuries.