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No Deal, New York

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eye on the news

No Deal, New York

The many problems with Maya Wiley’s $10 billion proposal May 25, 2021
New York
Politics and law
Economy, finance, and budgets

New York’s mayoral candidates have advanced plenty of bad ideas, from proposed cuts to the police budget and bans on new fuel pipelines to Maya Wiley’s $10 billion “New Deal New York” plan. Past experience shows that ill-conceived ideas from fringe candidates can still exert some influence on the policies of the ultimate winner. Adopting Wiley’s plan, however—which risks New York’s economic recovery by misunderstanding how the city’s economy really works—would be a major mistake.

Wiley’s proposal borrows the New Deal’s name and cites the Works Progress Administration as its model, but it most resembles a local version of President Biden’s national infrastructure plan—and shares many of the same flaws. Financed by borrowing, the plan claims to “address the City’s critical infrastructure needs through investments that also put City residents back to work and stimulate the economy,” employing 100,000 New Yorkers in the process. No doubt investing in parks, roads, and pipes would be smarter than, say, spending money on yet more subsidized housing. But like Biden, Wiley would not only count child care as “infrastructure” but also insist that local residents do the work, in Central Harlem and the South Bronx, specifically. “Targeted hire policies are one of the most effective strategies for bringing good job opportunities to underinvested and overlooked communities and ensure that local residents receive local jobs,” the plan says.

Such messaging misconstrues why these neighborhoods struggle. Large capital projects require employees with the skills to complete them, which these low-income neighborhoods often lack—a failure not of the market but of failing city schools and troubled families. Wiley, the former counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio, wants to obscure the true roots of the problem.

Her plan also misunderstands the city’s economy. No mayor should try to make good jobs exclusive to a given neighborhood. Around the country, and especially in the New York area, communities export some residents to jobs elsewhere and import others. No one in Scarsdale, New York, or Summit, New Jersey, or Westport, Connecticut, believes that all jobs should be local. The city’s own economic research finds that it has 41 percent of the region’s 10.6 million jobs, “slightly higher than the city’s share of the region’s population.” Whether in midtown, Wall Street, or the employment belt along I-287—or, for that matter, Silicon Valley—good jobs aren’t limited by geography. The right approach to matching the poor with employment involves a robust economy and reliable transportation, not public patronage.

In assuming that poorer communities will be better off with self-contained economies sustained by the government, Wiley inherits the perspective of her late father, George Wiley, whom she often cites as an inspiration. Though she describes him as a civil rights pioneer, the elder Wiley was also a skeptic of capitalism, leading the National Welfare Rights Organization and helping the city’s population on public assistance balloon to more than 1 million. His own story illustrated the tragedy of the belief that only political action can uplift the minority poor—he abandoned a career in chemistry, in which he’d received a doctorate, for political activism.

New York needs a robust capital budget, but not at such expense or subject to such restrictions. Such borrowing will lead only to higher taxes, lower investment, and an exodus of the city’s population. If the next mayor is to succeed, he or she must avoid such temptations.

Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images

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