Frequently noted traits of new Mayor Bill de Blasio are that he gets a lot of sleep and is always very late for everything. Those may actually be good things, given that probably the best we can hope for from this guy is that he just never does much. And indeed, the first two weeks of his term have seen remarkably little in the way of actual actions coming out of the mayor's office. So far, so good.
But can it last? All indications are negative.
In the area of actual activity from the mayor himself, he showed up today in Queens to give a speech occasioned by the death of an 8-year-old boy hit by a truck. That was clearly an appropriate activity for the mayor, but being who he is, de Blasio used the moment as usual to demonstrate his complete detachment from reality. Here's the money quote:
The goal is literally to reduce fatalities on our roadways to zero. That is our singular focus.
Put that one into the same category as eliminating income inequality, making apartments in Manhattan "affordable," and keeping every single broke hospital open indefinitely. And in typical bad politician fashion, he was completely prepared to use the tragic moment of this boy's death to advance a cynical government-growth initiative, in this case more speed and red light cameras for the city. ("We're going to fight for the home rule right to install speed cameras and red light cameras . . . .") Those have been repeatedly shown around the country to be ways to enhance government revenue with no, or even negative, effect on safety.
So far there's been no actual mayoral action on the charter school front, but the talk is ratcheting up to a level such that it's hard to believe that action will not soon come. Today's Daily News carries a report that makes clear that de Blasio's big pre-K initiative is at least in part about helping his friends in the teachers' union by crowding non-union charter schools out of existing Department of Education real estate. Here is the Daily News's quote from new schools chancellor Carmen Farina:
I think right now we need space for our own [public school] kids; you're going to have a large pre-K initiative. Where are we going to put some of those kids?
Meanwhile the Daily News also quotes a spokesperson for the Alliance for Quality Education, on the subject of whether de Blasio will hobble the charter schools by squeezing them out of their space, as saying:
"The mayor made it very clear," said Zakiyah Ansari, advocacy director for the Alliance for Quality Education and a member of de Blasio's transition committee. "It's about equity; it's about fairness."
For those who haven't heard of it, AQE is a teachers' union-backed front group that always manages to advocate for the union position by saying it's about "equity" and "fairness." In fact, the teachers union position is actually about some combination of more money, less work, less accountability, and less competition for unionized teachers, and the kids be damned. No surprise, then, that Ansari is on de Blasio's transition committee.
In the category of things de Blasio has talked about endlessly but that are not specifically his turf, we have the minimum wage. Crain's New York Business reports today that a "coalition of leading liberal groups" (they identify the Working Families Party and the SEIU) is starting a push to have the state legislature give authority to raise the minimum to localities. Presumably that will be the precursor to a push for a minimum wage increase in the City, which would be likely to sail through the City Council and de Blasio. Hey, guys, if you believe it works to reduce poverty or income inequality, why not raise the minimum wage to $1000 per hour?
For those actually interested in the economics of the minimum wage, economist David Henderson has some useful data at the econlib blog (relying in part on a study from Sabia and Burkhauser). One thing that few people realize about the minimum wage is that very few of the workers who earn it live in households categorized as "poor" by the "poverty" data. The reason is that they are second and third earners in households that may well be quite well-off. Here is some of the Sabia/Burkhauser data:
- Only 11.3 percent of workers who would gain from the increase live in households officially defined as poor.
- A whopping 63.2 percent of workers who would gain were second or even third earners living in households with incomes equal to twice the poverty line or more.
- Some 42.3 percent of workers who would gain were second or even third earners who live in households that have incomes equal to three times the poverty line or more.
Then, of course, there are the people who lose their jobs when the minimum wage rises, and turn into zero earners. Sabia/Burkhauser use estimates of 468,000 to 1.4 million fewer jobs (nationwide) if the minimum wage goes up by $2 per hour. Combine the two phenomena of few minimum wage workers living in poverty to begin with and of minimum wage increases adding new people to poverty by zeroing out their income, and you are left not even knowing whether an increase in the minimum wage will increase or decrease measured poverty or income inequality. But get ready for minority-youth unemployment rates in the range of 40-50%.
Meanwhile, how is de Blasio doing at delivering basic city services? You would think that two weeks is not enough for things to start falling apart. But there is a very odd phenomenon going on around our Manhattan neighborhood: nobody is picking up the discarded Christmas trees. The drill here to get rid of a Christmas tree has been that you just put it out on the sidewalk, and (at least during the Bloomberg years) the Sanitation Department comes around every couple of days and picks up the trees to take them away for mulching. This year suddenly nobody is picking up the trees, and hundreds of them have accumulated on the streets of our neighborhood over the past couple of weeks. Somehow this seems ominous.