Train Wreck: Wealth Towers Over New York’s Crumbling Subways | Freddie


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

Related Post Roulette

122 Responses

  1. Avatar Francis says:

    Once you have a billion or so, a $50 million apartment isn’t all that much money. If I were one of those oligarchs, I’d have a handful of hideaways — London, New York, British Virgin Islands. You never know which government is going to be cracking down on tax fraud.

    Of course, the real point isn’t what’s illegal, it is what’s actually perfectly legal. Globally we seem to be in the process of creating a kind of neo-feudalism where a microscopically small group of people are capturing a shocking percentage of all the growth in Gross Global Product.Report

    • Avatar KatherineMW says:

      I think the latest numbers are that about 60 people hold half of the world’s wealth. It’s staggering.Report

      • Avatar James K says:


        Wealth, unlike income, can easily be zero or even negative, making percentage share calculations a little misleading. For example, there’s a good chance that you have more wealth than 50% of the world’s population combined.Report

        • That doesn’t affect Katharine’s point. Half the total wealth of the world, even taking negatives into account, is a staggering number, and 1/60th of that remains a staggering number.Report

          • Avatar KenB says:

            It would be truly staggering if it were accurate — the total world wealth is $240 trillion, so these 60 people would have to have an average net worth of $2 trillion each. But the richest person in the world has “only” about $88 billion.

            The statistic that Katherine is likely thinking of is that the 85 wealthiest people have as much as the combined wealth of the lower 50% of the world population.Report

            • Though James is saying that the wealth of 50% of the world’s population combined is a relatively small number that the wealth of a random Canadian commenter might exceed.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                Right. My household wealth was greater when I was an unemployed IT guy who never pulled down more than $15/hr than the first three years I was married to a doctor out of residency.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          That’s why they call it a mortgage, no?Report

        • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

          James K: For example, there’s a good chance that you have more wealth than 50% of the world’s population combined.

          Per the Credit Suisse Global Wealth Databook, table 3-4, zero net worth puts you above the average of the bottom third or so, since the debt of the bottom decile is greater than the wealth of the next two deciles. Although you would actually be around the 10th percentile, since only the bottom decile has negative wealth. To have more than the bottom 50%, you’d have to have about $1.8 trillion, which would make you the richest person in the world by a factor of 20 or so.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        KatherineMW: I think the latest numbers are that about 60 people hold half of the world’s wealth.

        First, you’re butchering that statistic. What it actually is is that 62 people have more wealth than the bottom 50% of the global wealth distribution. This is about $1.76T, less than 1% of global wealth.

        Note that merely having positive net worth means that you have more than the bottom third of the global wealth distribution. Part of the reason for this is that a lot of countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America have been ravaged by leftist or other non-capitalist economic systems, and people in those countries are living at a subsistence level and simply can’t afford to accumulate wealth. And some of it is that a lot of people just don’t have the discipline to save, even when they can. But there are also perfectly benign reasons why people with high earning potential and good financial habits might have zero or negative wealth, such as young adults paying off student loans. As Will points out, a doctor just out of medical school is one of the poorest people in the world in terms of current wealth, but is nevertheless in a very good long-term financial position.

        Also, wealth is distributed more unequally than income due to lifecycle effects. People tend to accumulate wealth throughout their lives. For example 14% of Americans over the age of 65 are millionaires, but fewer than 1% of 18-24 year-olds are. Which is to say, far more than 1% of Americans will be in the top 1% of the wealth distribution at some point in their lives.

        So how far down the global wealth distribution do you need to capture 50% of global wealth? About 1%. But keep in mind that that 1% is 70,000,000 people, about 30,000,000 of whom live in the US. Which is to say, nearly 10% of the US population is in that 1%, and as noted in the previous paragraph, considerably more than that will be in the global 1% at some point in their lives, perhaps a quarter or so. The cutoff for the global top 1% is $760,000. That’s net worth, not income.

        Which is to say, this is more a problem with lack of capitalism in poor countries, not with capitalism gone wild in rich countries.

        Edit: It’s also worth noting that wealth inequality in the US is greatly increased on paper by running Social Security on a pay-as-you-go basis, rather than as a system of personal accounts. If you really want to reduce wealth inequality on paper, convert Social Security to personal accounts.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

      @francis @katherinemw

      What I notice is that it really goes beyond the Big Sort. We are know in the ultra-niche short. This is not exactly an original observation. A few years ago there was a book about the rise of the global elite (perhaps more like a few million or so people than 60) who have more in common with each other than their fellow country men.

      This sorting also comes up when you talk about stuff like life-work balance. A while ago the Economist ran an essay by one of their regular writers. He wrote about how he loved his job and wishes he could spend more time than he currently did on his job. This would require bending the laws of time and needing sleep though. He is only surrounded by people who feel similar passions and intensities for their job and seemingly anyone who wants differently is outside his world and alien. All these people probably outsource the raising of their kids in the same way and send their kids to the same private school. The guy might not even know any upper-middle class educated professionals who moved to the suburbs for good public schools.

      I think all this sorting has a nasty effect even if unintentional.Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        One theory for the decline for most of the old European monarchies and aristocracies were that they were an international class in an increasingly national Europe. Most of them spoke multiple languages an many preferred French over Russian, German, or whatever other relevant language. They tended to marry each other rather than country people of lower status and socialize with each other more than country people of lower status.

        We kind of have the same thing now. There are varied collections of wealthy and affluent cosmopolitan business people and professionals that are increasingly isolated from ordinary people. The number of people in the international class is much higher and its form more complicated than the old nobility but it has some of the same features. They have a consensus on what society should look like with some variations more free trade, more immigration, less welfare state measures and other regulations and carry it out with efficiency. Austerity was an agreed upon policy even though it wasn’t what the electorate wanted in the wake of the financial crisis.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      If I had a billion dollars, I sure as hell wouldn’t have us citizenship. I’d have my money parked in various countries, and be resident in several others.Report

  2. Avatar Chip Daniels says:

    The hallmark of the 3rd World isn’t poverty, its the vast chasm between poverty and wealth.

    Like how the Burj Dubai, the tallest building in the most glittering capitol, floating in an ocean of petrodollars, has to truck its sewage out in trucks, because there is no municipal sewage system to handle it.

    Its not that Dubai lacks the money, and the world’s best engineers hail from that region. What’s lacking there, and throughout much of the developing world, is a civil society that can create and sustain a common infrastructure system.

    Have you ever spoken to a developer or contractor who marvels at how there is no OSHA, EPA, or building permit in China or the developing world? That’s because the oligarchy sees itself as separate and apart from the rabble, and sees no benefit to a municipal infrastructure.

    In all the midcentury “The American Way Is The Best Way” jingoism what they were referring to was the product of the New Deal, where poor farmers were provided with electricity, where poor city children were given municipal swimming pools, where sewage, storm drains, gas, water, subways, bridges, ports and dams were constructed for access by everyone, not just the wealthy.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    The NY Times has a weekly photoshoot of three apartments up for sale in NYC every week. Every now and then, they will blatantly say something like “this apartment is perfect for parents to buy for children.” In some ways, I find this admission honest in an admirable sort of way.

    Freddie is largely right here. Interest rates are at an all-time low. The rest of the world is largely begging us to take their money and give them bonds. We are kind of insane not to take this money and engage in massive infrastructure spending. It is not only NYC but Boston, Philadelphia, BART, DC’s Metro, and many bridges and roads all over the United States.

    Yet we don’t. The reasons I can think of largely relate to a fraying in the United States. We don’t view each other as countrymen but has occupiers of different lands. This is Jaybird’s high-trust/high-collaboratiob analysis. The US seems to be going through a moment where we are very low trust and this prevents us from doing things which might be (or are) extremely sensible like fixing up or massively aging infrastructure. This is not just a problem in NYC and other blue strongholds but across the U.S. Where was the bridge collapse from a few years ago? Minnesota? Wisconsin? It is also an intrastate problem because Andew Cuomo will criticize the MTA for their budget but find the money to do something absurd like the LaGaurdia link at Jackson Heights or Shea Stadium.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      Yes, very much this.

      James Fallows wrote an essay way back in the 70’s called the DETMAHOG theory of government, that there were 2 main classifications of government services, one favored by conservatives and one favored by liberals.

      The first one is called Deliver The Mail functions, the mundane functional things done by the Corps of Engineers and (at the time) the Post Office, where they built infrastructure , processed sewage, and delivered the mail. Conservatives he said, liked these because they were quantifiable and offered tangible benefits of wealth and stability.

      The second was Holy Grail functions like anti-poverty programs and discrimination, social justice sort of stuff where the goals were more ambiguous and difficult to measure.

      Yet today we are at such a state where the simple act of repairing and maintaining a public subway line is viewed by conservatives as not merely something that could not be done efficiently, but could not, should not be done at all full stop. The conservative movement has come to loathe the concept of Deliver The Mail functions.

      Except, weirdly, a fighter jet that the Pentagon doesn’t want, to fight enemies that don’t exist, all for the express purpose of transferring tax money we don’t have into the pockets of private individuals so as to provide them with jobs that only the government can create.

      Sully got one thing right- The conservative movement has become obsessed with the most Holy of Grails, seduced by the sheer impossibility of capturing once and for all the fleeting mirage of Security while scorning the mundane task of making the trains run on time.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

        The fraying started way back in the 1970s. The subways were arguably much worse in the 1970s considering the amount of graffiti in old photos. There are some lines with now newish trains that have clear automated voices, digital maps, and air conditioning during the summer. There was also the famous “Ford to New York: Drop Dead” headline.

        Infrastructure is not very sexy and our public transportation infrastructure has been ignored for years/decades for a variety of very complicated and intertwining reasons (or simply because of racism for someone more radically inclined.) I think it is more complicated because car-oriented infrastructure is also cracking. Now we are paying the price or noticing how much work needs to be done to maintain the things.

        Here is one thing I have noted about liberal memes, they tend to miss the point and/or not be very good at rhetoric. One I see had a factoid that there are 640,000 bankruptcies in the United States every year because of medical bills but none in countries with socialized medicine. This might be true enough but if conservatives are philosophically and ideologically opposed to government healthcare, this fact does not matter. I often look at a lot of liberal talking points and wonder if they are supposed to do anything but preach to the choir. To be fair, I wonder the same about conservative talking points but care more about liberal ones because I want universal healthcare.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain says:

          An observation from my time as a state legislative budget analyst that I’ve made here before regarding state/local budgeting…

          De facto, there’s a pretty hard political limit on total state/local government revenues in the narrow range of 9-12% of state GDP. The very richest states go a bit higher, the very poorest a bit lower, but otherwise it’s remarkably consistent. People who say we should raise that to 15% or more in order to pay for programs ignore the reality that politicians who do so get voted out of office (hence the “political limit” moniker).

          If you compare state/local budgets from before the 70s to those of today, two things jump out: K-12 education takes up a much bigger portion of the 9-12% than it used to, and Medicaid. K-12 is probably an instance of Baumol’s Disease. Medicaid is new spending, and has grown at the rate of medical inflation for the last 50 years. Combine those with a hard revenue limit, and one or more of the traditional programs have to give.

          The same two are giving almost everywhere: public higher ed and infrastructure. Within infrastructure, maintenance generally gets short shrift. The situation is worst in places that aren’t growing: areas that have to build new infrastructure to accommodate growth can “hide” a bunch of maintenance in there. Eg, Colorado’s population has grown from 3.3M to 5.5M in the almost 30 years since I moved here — lots of new infrastructure was built, in many cases replacing old stuff that got retired (DIA replaced Stapleton, my suburb built a new water treatment plant and retired the old one, the old sewer backbone lines had to be increased in size to handle the new population, etc).Report

          • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


            I agree that it is a tricky problem but there are still really bad things that happen when infrastructure is given the short shaft. As you noted, this also happens in car intensive states and the disasters there usually end up being a bridge collapse. There are usually cars on the bridge as it collapses.Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain says:

              Complicate it further for some parts of the country with mobility. Detroit’s population declined by one-third from 1950 to 1980. If they had raised taxes/fees to pay the fixed costs associated with maintaining the city to something even close to best practices — replace the water pipes, upgrade the sewer system, bury the power lines, replace rusting bridges, etc — the increases would no doubt have chased even more people out. From 1990 to 2015, Colorado’s population increased by 2.2M. Much of that was immigration from other states. Over the same period, Michigan grew by ~700K (from a considerably larger base). Some of that difference is people moving from Michigan to Colorado and paying for my infrastructure expansion/maintenance, not Michigan’s.Report

      • Avatar Art Deco says:

        Yet today we are at such a state where the simple act of repairing and maintaining a public subway line is viewed by conservatives as not merely something that could not be done efficiently, but could not, should not be done at all full stop. The conservative movement has come to loathe the concept of Deliver The Mail functions.

        Chip, there are no ‘conservatives’ in New York City politics to object to repairing the subway or repairing anything else, bar that cop from Queens on the city council (who may or may not object to x, y, or z).Report

        • Avatar LeeEsq says:

          @art-deco, the subway, the LIRR, Metro North, and the corresponding bus system for the counties are under the control of the New York state government rather than the New York City government. Legislators from non-MTA counties have no problem not adequately funding the MTA while paying for their own infrastructure.Report

          • Avatar Art Deco says:

            No, it’s incorporated under the auspices of the New York State government. The governor appoints about 1/4 of the board. The rest are appointed by local executives or stakeholder bodies.

            The MTA would likely benefit from some amendments to its articles of incorporation, which would have to be the legislature’s work. Some of the more salutary ideas might require an amendment to the state constitution. That’s a tall order in New York. Again, ‘conservatives’ are not prominent in Westchester or Long Island politics either. Those politicians represent a suburban interest which is not invested in the idiocies propagated by Mayor deBlasio or creatures like Melissa Mark Viverito. They likely are resistant to these schemes. It’s the default assumptuion of most people in New York prosperous enough to own a house that whatever’s afoot is some insider scam to screw more property tax revenue out of them.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          Is the infrastructure better in Red states, where conservatives hold sway?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        The DETMAHOG theory of government seems to ignore a lot of American history. During the late 19th century and early 20th century, Progressives were mainly all about DETMA government rather than HOG government. Use hired professionals to police the streets, clean the streets, put out fires, and more. Jacob Riis didn’t want European slum clearances and European style public housing. He just wanted building codes to assume a bare minimal level of housing. A lot of the early economic regulations was just to make sure that working conditions were not too dangerous or exploitative. Many American conservatives thought that this was too much. The opposed internal improvements, infrastructure spending, in the early 19th century and they opposed economic regulations and safety measures during the Progressive Era and really up to the New Deal.

        A decent percentage of the American public has hated DETMA government since we were founded. They saw it just as much as a threat to liberty as HOG government. Opposition to infrastructure spending isn’t really that unique in American history. Same with opposition to any basic public services like public parks or building codes.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck says:

        “the simple act of repairing and maintaining a public subway line is viewed by conservatives as not merely something that could not be done efficiently, but could not, should not be done at all full stop. ”

        Do you feel it’s appropriate to just go out and hire the first person who says they can get the job done?

        Or is it important to make sure that we hire someone who doesn’t exploit their workers by underpaying them or not giving them a break of no less than one half hour that is no earlier than one hour after the start of the shift and no later than one hour before the end of the shift, who doesn’t refuse to hire black/gay/transgender/female/nonwhite/democrat/disabled persons, who doesn’t buy materials from Congo or Israel or North Carolina, who uses state-of-the-art accounting software so that we can see exactly where all their money goes, who can show that they are providing a cost estimate that doesn’t exceed the industry standard, etcetera?

        Because the things you say conservatives think “should not be done at all full stop(*)” are the latter things, not the former thing. If you wanted to just give some guy money and get a good bridge, conservatives would be OK with that. If you want to use that money as a hook to drag those dirty, sweaty construction workers kicking and screaming into the new age of social justice, that’s a different story.

        (*) and don’t say “full stop”, it’s tweeReport

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          Those are our only choices, hiring anybody with a good sales pitch versus featherbedding patronage?

          What about a third option, of a no-bid contract to a firm with close connections to the executive in power with no accountability or oversight?

          Are conservatives down with that*?

          (*) “Down with that”, like “full stop” is one of those hip sayings that all the kids nowadays are using. Sort of like pointing both thumbs up and saying “AYYYYYY”.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            I’m not sure if this is a response to my post. I’m not even sure it’s a response to much of anything at all.Report

    • Avatar notme says:

      It is not only NYC but Boston, Philadelphia, BART, DC’s Metro, and many bridges and roads all over the United States.

      All of those cities are free to issue bond/borrow to pay for infrastructure.Report

      • Avatar Francis says:

        Regional infrastructure has beneficial impacts that frequently range far beyond the jurisdiction of the taxing agency. Also, planning cost-effective regional infrastructure frequently requires the participation of a multitude of agencies that, especially on the East Coast, can cross State boundaries.Report

        • Avatar notme says:

          I agree. However, that doesn’t rebut my comment that the cities can pay for it if they believe that it is so important for them to have it.Report

        • Avatar Saul Degraw says:

          Even the Bay Area has cross county issues with BART which goes into four, maybe five counties. There is a new train for Sonoma and Marin. NYC’s commuter transit covers multiple states and lines.

          You can commute from Vancouver, Washington to Portland, OregonReport

    • Avatar j r says:

      Freddie is largely right here. Interest rates are at an all-time low. The rest of the world is largely begging us to take their money and give them bonds. We are kind of insane not to take this money and engage in massive infrastructure spending.

      I wiol say this every time and I’ll expect no response every time: what about rollover risk?

      It’s great that interest rates are low, but what are they going to be when it is time to refinance. Because none of that new debt is going to be paid off. It’s going to be refinanced with new debt when the time comes.Report

      • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


        That is a valid point that should be taken into consideration. Yet crumbling infrastructure is a problem and we are rapidly aging out of everything. This is not something that is a public transport or city issue. I mentioned a bridge collapse. How willing are we to have more bridge collapses? Are we willing to put up with potentially being trapped in subway tunnels as trains break down? How much productivity will be lost through crowded and delayed trains during the morning hours?

        What is your solution? We need roads and trains to transport goods.Report

  4. Avatar notme says:

    Ah yes, another anti wealth screed from Feddie.Report

  5. Avatar James K says:

    Apart from not liking expensive residences very much, I’m not sure how they factor into Freddie’s argument. It’s not a cabal of often-absent super-rich that are preventing the subway from being maintained – its that the middle class voters don’t want to pay for it.Report

    • Avatar j r says:

      Come on, James. Why would you get in the way of these nice people’s scapegoating? Not very sporting of you.Report

    • Avatar Damon says:

      Buying lux manhattan apts is just a way to stash cash and prevent it from being confiscated by the super wealthy.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Clarification: The super wealthy foreigners.Report

        • Avatar Damon says:

          The majority yes, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one or two americans did it as well.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            you can find one or two Americans doing just about anything. But in order to stash the money they’d have to be buying luxury condos in.. England I guess or some other non-American venues.Report

            • Avatar Damon says:

              True, I should have written my post better.

              There is “stash” as in Stash cash in foreign countries so the gov’t where I live can’t get at it. and

              Stash cash in “investments” that at least hold their value or appreciate and have a fairly liquid market and position it into a different type of taxation (cap gain vs income)Report

              • Avatar North says:

                Yeah, what we’re talking about is mostly a symptom of really shitty financial and political systems in other countries. Setting aside how they get it (very often plunder) the wealthy in Russia, China, the Middle East etc… have crap political systems (now that they have the swag they are targets for plunder) and crap financial systems (if they invest at home the swag’s likely to vanish or turn into monopoly money). So, they want to store it somewhere that their domestic politics can’t reach it, in a currency that’s reliable and where it’s not enormously visible. Thus sinking it into real estate in the US and England.

                The rich in the US and England don’t have the same incentives. Contra some right wing memes they aren’t very worried about their wealth being plundered, they’re not very worried about their currency becoming worthless and they don’t care much about making it less visible. So they invest in other things mostly because if you factor out those considerations real estate is illiquid and has a lot of transaction costs.Report

    • Avatar Saul Degraw says:


      I think it was just more of an ironic image thing but it is generally that Americans don’t want to pay for infrastructure, yes.Report

    • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

      Yes, it is middle class voters who have been convinced that things like an estate tax on the ultra rich is somehow unfair.
      So the article intends to suggest that taxing them would provide funding for the subway.Report

      • Avatar notme says:

        Yes, it is middle class voters who have been convinced that things like an estate tax on the ultra rich is somehow unfair.

        Did it ever occur to you that maybe no one “convinced” them. Maybe they decided on their own that no one should have to pay the gov’t just b/c they die. Such liberal smugness to assume that these folks are tricked or fooled or convinced that something is wrong. I’m sure you think that if these poor souls were just properly educated they would understand why a death tax is necessary and even patriotic.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          The fact that you use the term “death tax” is itself a rebuttal to your argument.Report

          • Avatar aaron david says:

            How is it a rebuttal @chip-daniels? Just asserting it doesn’t make so, for left or right.Report

            • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

              Not me coined that term when he decided all on his own without convincing by anyone, to oppose the estate tax?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I think it’s easy to be somewhat Kantian on this.

                “When I die, what percentage of my goods do I want to go to Maribou?”

                If the answer is “all of them” and I am then asked “when so-and-so dies, what percentage of his goods do I want to be redistributed?”, shouldn’t my answer be “similarly, none”?

                If Kant doesn’t work (has he ever worked?), then we’re stuck in a position where it feels like our thumb is on the scale.

                It’s very easy to say something like “*THEIR* thumb is on the scale. Shouldn’t *OUR* thumb be on the scale?”

                Too easy. That way madness lies.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Kant work, Kant drink, Kant die.
                (Yes, Kant does work… but only on the most extreme cases. )Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                It’s easier to be utilitarian about this.

                Take Prince. If he had a spouse and/or kids, the law and common sense says that they are the ones that determine what to do with his tangible and intellectual property. But siblings and half siblings? The lawyers are going to get well paid, at the least. (from personal experience, estate lawyers settling modest uncontested estates can make over 250 dollars an hour)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The utilitarian blade swings too close to us, though.

                Shouldn’t our taxes be higher? There are homeless veterans, after all. There are hungry children. There are refugees being bombed in one of those shitty countries over there.

                You make $40,000 a year… that’s FOUR times the average income of the planet. Do you really need to consume as much as you do?Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                I do. But not those people making 41,000 dollars a year.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Dunno about Kant, but the idea of property rights needs to be examined more.

                Why do we say we own what we own? What moral theory demands legitimacy be given to inherited wealth?

                In the movie About A Boy, Hugh Grant plays his patented cad, a wastrel who has never worked a day in his life because his father wrote a single hit song, a silly holiday tune, back in the 1960s.

                As a result of that fluke, and copyright laws, the Grant character lives on a endless flow of wealth which he has never earned or worked for.

                The absurdity of that prompts a question- why do we grant legitimacy on that wealth?

                Suppose it were given to the public domain?

                What I’m getting at here, is the idea that property rights are not fixed, but flexible, and grow weaker as the wealth grows larger. At subsistence level, property rights are very strong, but as the wealth grows higher, they grow weaker and the public rightfully claims a larger and larger share.Report

              • Avatar Kolohe says:

                At the subsistence level, property rights are extremely weak (which is both a cause and effect of subsistence level economics) then get fatter as everyone does, then get weaker again as people grow too fat.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Seems to me like this is something that could be fixed by tackling copyright law rather than taxing Maribou for what she gets after I die.

                Of course, pragmatically, we cannot change copyright law because it has been captured.

                Estate law has not yet been captured… so, therefore, we should go after that.

                Even if “Everyone right left and center agrees that the estate tax is a nothingburger- it affects only a tiny sliver of families, generates very little revenue, and is a blip on the radar of things that affect America.”Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                The idea is to get people imagining things differently, not fix a funding hole.

                Imagine a world in which estates under 4 million dollars are exempt from taxation, but the tax grows larger with each incremental rise in the wealth until somewhere around a billion dollars in valuation, everything above that is effectively deemed common property.

                Would that be unjust, in which a billion dollars was the maximum that anyone could possess?

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, it’s just to change the way that people think about things and not actually change the way that the world is?

                Why not just legalize pot?

                It’d be cheaper, change more minds, and the world would get a lot more stasis.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman says:

                How much lithium in the tap-water would successfully address this?Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:

                I don’t care who coined the term, saying that just using it is its own rebuttal is weak tea if you can’t explain why is it’s own rebuttal. He can opposed the estate tax for what ever reason he wants, and in fact calling a death tax pretty much describes it, a tax that is paid upon death by the surviving family members.

                It may be a political term of art, much like Assault Weapon or Death Panal, but it works, and as I said, describes its methodology and reasoning pretty well. Whether or not @notme came to his own conclusion about this is immaterial, as we all read and consume others opinions in our urge to help refine our thoughts regarding political matters. But if you can’t actually form the rebuttal to this point, well it seems that you don’t actually have a reply that moves the conversation along.Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                His point was to assert that millions of Americans came to their opposition to the estate tax unaided, while using the term invented specifically for the purpose of persuasion.

                Everyone right left and center agrees that the estate tax is a nothingburger- it affects only a tiny sliver of families, generates very little revenue, and is a blip on the radar of things that affect America.

                Yet millions of Americans have been convinced that this is a grievous injustice, something that demands urgent attention. This is the result of a nationwide political argument that the opponents won fair and square. By means of a long determined and sustained public political campaign they managed to persuade millions of Americans to their cause.

                Tying this back into the original article, I assert that there is a direct link between the idea that we should not tax the estates of the owners of those towers, and our inability to create funding for subways.

                What links them is the campaign of extreme individualism, a rejection of common space and collective effort.Report

              • Avatar notme says:

                First, many folks were against estate taxes even before the term “death tax” was coined. The term death taxes just brings to the forefront the reality of what an estate tax actually is. It isn’t about protecting the rich, I don’t think anyone’s estate should be taxed.

                Second, if I give a person facts and they draw their own conclusions based on their own knowledge, beliefs and biases, I haven’t convinced them of anything. So if someone tells me that when I die the gov’t may take part of my stuff and I decide on my own that isn’t right, they haven’t convinced me of anything.Report

              • Avatar aaron david says:

                “Everyone right left and center agrees that the estate tax is a nothingburger- it affects only a tiny sliver of families, generates very little revenue, and is a blip on the radar of things that affect America.”

                “What links them is the campaign of extreme individualism, a rejection of common space and collective effort.”

                So, a big nothingburger is going to help bring our populous together? Make us all love common space and collecive effort?

                How? What is the causal method here? Collective pain? No, that cant be it, as this only effects a handful, by your acount. By soaking the rich? But if it such a small amount, a nothingburger, how will that effect this? Wouldn’t we need a lot more rich, with a lot more to tax to make this happen? But how would we create this wealth-to-tax? Intergenerational estates? No, that can’t be it…

                I know, how about, instead, we have the government put together a budget for for repairs, issue bonds to pay for them, and cut back on other things they have been blowing money on for years! Maybe get the people to trust them with money!

                I know, crazy idea, right?Report

              • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

                Hey, if you want to cut the F-35 program and divert that 1.5 Trillion into infrastructure, I’m all on board.

                The estate tax isn’t a silver bullet to bring about justice.

                To do that we will need a sustained program of tumbrels and guillotines creating common spaces, figurative and literal, like public broadband, curtailing IP laws and so on.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Well an estate tax is a really ineffective way to get wealthy people’s money anyhow, it never produced a lot of revenue in the big budget picture. You could go for higher capital gains maybe or higher taxes in general or especially higher real estate taxes on those luxury condos and it’d probably be a better route to take.

        But while it’s a cute narrative trick to compare the new skyrises to the under repaired subways it has very little policy meaning. You can run around whack-a-moling at new development all you like but you won’t get a single extra dime for the subways. Hell, you’ll probably end up with less.Report

        • I suggest a law that all cars have to be brought in for safety inspections once a year, and the government gets to keep all the change it finds under the seat cushions.Report

        • Avatar Chip Daniels says:

          It’s only a narrative trick if you are insisting on a policy discussion of infrastructure funding as relates to zoning or something.

          The thrust of the narrative is that our society has chosen to favor the wealthy while losing the cohesiveness of a common vision.

          And an estate tax does more than provide funding. Breaking up inherited power is important in its own right.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman says:

            And an estate tax does more than provide funding. Breaking up inherited power is important in its own right.

            Now all you have to do is convince the public of that.

            I actually favor the estate tax. I even think the current rates are about right. People, though, who have no compunction about “taxing the rich” are not generally in favor of this way of doing so. Nor are democracy’s super-delegates, the wealthy. So I suspect political capital would probably be better spent elsewhere.Report

          • Avatar North says:

            I’m lukewarm at best about the idea of breaking up inherited power being something we need to worry about as a matter of public policy. The wealthy seem pretty good at dissoluting their own fortunes over a couple of generations with little interference from government.

            Also once you adopt breaking up inheritances as a primary goal then you have to start policing what is done with the fortunes pre-death otherwise the wealthy will simply engineer an pre-mortem inheritance to get around it and that’s a hair-raising level amount of trouble and incentive imbalance to be going through.Report

          • Avatar notme says:

            And an estate tax does more than provide funding. Breaking up inherited power is important in its own right.

            According to whom? Liberals who think it’s the gov’t’s job to right all wrongs and make us all “equal”?Report

          • Avatar pillsy says:

            I’d think people who insist on the importance of “equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome” would be all for a very aggressive estate tax. Strangely enough, it rarely plays out that way.Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      Are the middle class capable of funding infrastructure? What is the current debt load of the middle class and why is it, what it is?Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain says:

        Let me put my asbestos underwear on here…

        Sure. Just make the decision to restrict the Department of Defense’s role to protecting the territorial integrity of the country, with appropriate use of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans in doing so.Report

        • Avatar Joe Sal says:

          You had me at “restrict the Department of”. I have a broader proposal to cut to the bone, ha.Report

          • Avatar Michael Cain says:

            The federal budget has a problem similar to state budgets. Five line items make up a large majority of all federal spending: Defense (including veterans’ benefits), Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (including CHP+), and interest on the debt. Beyond that, you’re just futzing around the edges. Wiping out the Forest Service doesn’t make a significant dent, and just shoves the costs of fighting forest fires on federal public lands onto the state/local governments.

            While I was a budget analyst, I spent one day helping oversee a group of bright young high-school students doing a state budget exercise. The people running it had us give the students a simplified version of the Colorado budget and then took away a half-billion in revenue (when things went south in 2007, we had a billion-dollar hole). Since TABOR meant tax increases couldn’t go into effect for eight months, and then only if approved by the voters, they had to negotiate among themselves to come up with the necessary spending cuts. Late in the day, one of them stood up and declared, “This is impossible!” I was honest in my response: “Welcome to my world. You wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve been called incompetent to my face in the last month because I haven’t produced a miraculous solution.”Report

            • Avatar Joe Sal says:

              Government isn’t a solution. It is a big problem created to solve a smaller problem.

              More than once I’ve had to take budgets to CEO types or civil managers. The CEO types, it’s typically repeating product lines and asking what business he is in before the fog is lifted and the direction is clear. Civil managers are thoroughly screwed, ask them what business they are in and it devolves down to everyone is in everyone elses business.

              Wiping out the forestry service is for chumps, wiping out the IRS, now that sounds like a good start.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                The IRS had a budget of $12 billion. That’s a couple of lost jet fighters.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                meh, if the 12 billion kills the 3.2x trillion, plus the debt generation we can surely lose a couple jet fighters right? good start


              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

                The government is going to steal your money, that you made with absolutely no help from the larger society totally on your own, no matter what the name on the letterhead is.

                You can’t run a nation of 300 million via charity.Report

              • Avatar Joe Sal says:

                ah, the larger society helped you, so you must buy into stupid stuff collective society does, trite. usually has the blah, blah social contract blah

                after all the pooch fornicating is over, charity may be the high road.Report

              • Avatar notme says:

                How much has the IRS wasted on conferences, bonuses and investigating conservative groups?Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                As you know, Bob, more resources were wasted investigating the non-scandal than by the IRS itself:

                “In January 2014, the FBI told Fox News that its investigation had found no evidence so far warranting the filing of federal criminal charges in connection with the scandal, as it had not found any evidence of “enemy hunting”, and that the investigation continued.[11] On October 23, 2015, the Justice Department declared that no criminal charges will be filed.[12][13]”.Report

              • Avatar notme says:

                Really, I don’t see any dollar amounts in your response so I have to say BS.Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                I actually gave you more credit than that…

                The amount wasted by the IRS was zero. Any amount investigating it would therefore be greater.Report

              • Avatar notme says:

                The amount wasted by the IRS was zero.

                According to whom, you?Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                The IRS scandal and the reaction to it among rank-and-file Democrats is an indicator that the criminality goes all the way down.Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                Will’s right – I like having you around. You’re not stupid. It’s interesting exploring the limits of what that means.Report

              • Avatar El Muneco says:

                Moderators, feel free to delete my previous comment. I should be better than this.Report

              • Avatar Art Deco says:

                “In January 2014, the FBI told Fox News that its investigation had found no evidence so far warranting the filing of federal criminal charges in connection with the scandal, as it had not found any evidence of “enemy hunting”, and that the investigation continued.[11] On October 23, 2015, the Justice Department declared that no criminal charges will be filed.[12][13]”.

                Yeah, Lois Lerner took the fifth and John Koskinen was playing hide the ball with congressional committees and the inspector-general because nothing happened.Report

          • Avatar DensityDuck says:

            It’s so cute how people think “defense spending” means tanks and planes and guns.Report

    • Avatar trizzlor says:

      I read Freddie’s argument as saying: the fact that the wealthy are more interested in purchasing apartments that will sit empty than supporting the city’s crumbling, over-used infrastructure shows how out of whack their priorities are. They should be encouraged to re-think those choices. It sounds like most criticism here has just assigned the worst possible definition to “encouraged” and gone from there.Report

      • Avatar Jaybird says:

        Is there a way that we can create (or improve upon) some kind of concept of group membership that imparts a sense of responsibility on the parts of group members?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        How many of these apartments are actually empty? I’m sure some of them are at least some of the time… and maybe a few are empty most of the time… but it is also important to recognize that NYC has a resident’s income tax and people who live here but can claim residency elsewhere can save a decent chunk of change. So these people might have multiple residences, most of which are empty most of the time, but it is possible that the NYC location is not actually the empty one.Report

  6. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Recently the Atlantic had a review of new book on the politics of taxing the wealthy and making them pay their fair share in the United States and Europe. It turns out that absent massive total war, it’s not easy to do so.Report

    • Avatar Joe Sal says:

      Even if the wealthy were heavily taxed, all the machinery is in place to ‘spend’ those tax dollars back to the wealthy in the end.

      Until the engines of rent seeking are dismantled, this doesn’t get better. Hell there is almost an unsung dare to raise taxes.Report

    • Avatar notme says:


      Liberals always say “pay their fair share ” but never are specific what that is. A “fair share” is so generic that no reasonable person could possibly disagree.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      LeeEsq: Recently the Atlantic had a review of new book on the politics of taxing the wealthy and making them pay their fair share in the United States and Europe. It turns out that absent massive total war, it’s not easy to do so.

      By most conceptions of fairness, they’re already doing so. They pay the most both in absolute terms and as a percentage of income. Certainly they pay far more than the cost of the government services they consume. I guess if by “fair share” you mean a wildly disproportionate share rather than a merely heavily disproportionate share, that statement could be correct.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “Certainly they pay far more than the cost of the government services they consume.”


      • Avatar Morat20 says:

        They pay the most both in absolute terms and as a percentage of income.

        Really? How do they manage that, with capital gains so much lower than income tax?

        I mean there’s a reason Warren Buffet said he paid a smaller percentage than his secretary did.Report

  7. Avatar Kazzy says:

    The author knows that the subway stops on Wall Street and at the World Trade Center and on the UES and UWS and in TriBeCa and SoHo and other areas largely populated by obscenely wealthy people, right?Report

  8. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    Where I think this is going, is a rebuttal to all the people who say “oh, the reason housing costs are so high is the regulations that restrict building! If only you would let developers build more places then housing costs would go down!”

    And what we’re seeing in New York is “no, they really won’t, because even at current prices we haven’t found the market-clearing price yet”.Report

    • Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:


      If neoliberals actually want to get rid of the zoning restrictions they hate so much, they’re going to have to give up some efficiency and put in some soft form of rent control, whether it’s through subsidies or other forms of redistribution to create a coalition of voters that can push changes through.

      I mean, here in Seattle, instead of trying to defeat socialists like Sawant in the city council, developers should be making a deal with them so they can get around single family home owners.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      Well, there are two arguments for building more housing. One is the argument you made above. The other is that the ultra-wealthy and wealthy are going to move into the desirable cities whether we like it or not. Upper mobile young people aren’t going to decamp into the burbs simply because you aren’t building condos in New York, San Francisco, Seattle, or Portland. They aren’t going to move to Kansas City, Omaha, or Little Rock either. Same with the global elite. If you don’t allow the building of wealthy people housing than they or property developers would just by existing stock and refurbish it into wealthy people housing at the expense of less than wealthy people. The latter is how gentrification started in the first place.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Ah yes because New York is a paragon example of letting developers build as much as is practical without massive distortionary interventions.Report