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Letter to a Manhattan Resident

eye on the news

Letter to a Manhattan Resident

A view from that big country outside New York November 14, 2014
Photo by Alex Barth

I am a resident of Greenwich Village in Manhattan. Recently, I received a letter from an oddly named group calling itself “The Rest of the Country.” Since the letter is not addressed specifically to me, I thought the senders wouldn’t mind if I shared it more widely.

Dear Manhattan Resident:

We could not help but notice that we voted very differently out here than you and your Manhattan neighbors did in the recent midterm elections. We sent large Republican majorities to the U.S. House and Senate, and also elected large majorities of Republicans to state governorships and legislatures. But in Manhattan, Democrats prevailed by huge margins in every one of 25 races for U.S. House, statewide offices, and the state legislature. In the races for New York governor, comptroller, and attorney general, the Republican candidates each got only about 13 percent of the vote in Manhattan. In 22 races for federal and state legislative offices, the Republican candidates got less than 10 percent of Manhattan’s votes in six of them, and less than 20 percent of the votes in another seven. And in five of the 22 races, including two of the four for U.S. House, no Republican candidate ran at all. The most successful Republican contender in Manhattan got 32 percent of the vote in an Upper East Side assembly district. His Democratic opponent won with twice as many votes.

Out here we regularly read newspapers and watch television news reports emanating from Manhattan. We understand that you think we are stupid, if not immoral, in our failure to support the “progressive” public policy agenda of your Democratic politicians. But given the huge disparity between our patterns of voting and yours, we thought we should explain how we see things.

By per capita income, Manhattan is the richest county in the country. In New York, and in Manhattan specifically, you have put in place more government programs to address poverty and income inequality than has any other state or locality. You have higher taxes than any other jurisdiction. You have a vast array of housing programs, from extensive low-income public housing, to rent regulation, to multiple “affordable housing” initiatives. Your welfare programs are the nation’s most generous. You have the most generous Medicaid program, too. And you spend almost double the national average per student on K-12 education.

Yet, even with all those programs and all that spending, according to Census Bureau statistics, Manhattan’s poverty rate is above the national average. And in a recent study of income inequality broken down by congressional district, a Manhattan district, NY-10, was shown to have the highest income inequality of all 435 districts in the whole country; and another Manhattan district, NY-12, came in third.

For us, Obamacare was a major issue in the recent election. From reading various media treatments of Obamacare coming out of Manhattan—for example, an extensive New York Times evaluation on October 27—we know that you think it appropriate to assess that program by looking only at whether households are “better off” based on their post-subsidy premium costs. This approach treats the huge government subsidies and expenditures in the program as somehow free money that will be paid by someone else, maybe the tooth fairy. We think that over the course of our lives we will have to pay the subsidies ourselves through our taxes, and that it is impossible for most people to come out ahead in this kind of grand shuffling of our money through Washington.

You appear to believe that you can light up Times Square on a calm night with solar and wind energy. Out here, where we actually produce energy that works, we know that such a thing can’t be done. Meanwhile, the progressive operatives that you have helped put in office in the past—including President Obama and his EPA—are trying to close down our coal industry, put our energy producers out of work, and raise dramatically our costs of electricity. If you wonder why a state (West Virginia) that hasn’t had a Republican senator in over 50 years would suddenly elect a Republican by a 27-point margin, this is why.

Though you seem not to notice, we are dismayed by the dramatic decline in the fortunes of non-white Americans during the six years of Obama’s presidency. According to data compiled by the Financial Times, median incomes for non-whites during this period have declined by 5 percent, and median net worth for the same group has declined by 20 percent—all supposedly during a time of economic recovery. We think it’s obvious that these declines are associated with the huge increase over the same period of means-tested benefit programs, particularly food stamps and Medicaid, whose eligibility criteria provide powerful incentives to low-income populations to minimize income, avoid saving, and spend down assets. We do not understand why you are not as dismayed by this situation as we are.

We hope that you will consider these matters carefully and that you will try to understand how we can see the world so differently from the way you see it. And we trust that after careful consideration you will soon come around to supporting policies of smaller government and more personal freedom, like the rest of us do.

Very truly yours,
The Rest of the Country

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