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The staffing concerns of the playground for the rich

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, November 8, 2011 12:06 EDT
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You know, it would be nice if intellectually vapid who got their jobs because their editors had a moron quota to fill would recognize their incredible luck and react with humble gratitude. But of course, if Megan McArdle did that, her job of being the Marie Antoinette of the Atlantic would probably disapper. After all, there are a number of other featherheads who have never spent a day wanting in thei life willing to pen broadsides against the poor for having the nerve to demand bread when there's so much cake to eat. 

As you're aware, there are many who loathe Mayor Bloomberg because they—we—suspect he's trying to turn New York into a playground for rich people, and the rest of us can go hang. McArdle gives up the ghost by straight up claiming that New York City—with all 8 million residents!—should really be seen as a very large gated golf community that is reserved solely for millionaires, and anyone who complains about that should go move to a trailer park in Oklahoma and live off killing squirrels. If you think this is an exaggeration, check out her claim that life in New York is and should be a luxury item, like a yacht. (Via Roy.)

Many New Yorkers believe that they should be given some sort of income tax abatement because of the expense of living there (with the lost revenue being made up from "really rich" people, natch).  Slightly less affluent New Yorkers frequently believe that landlords should be forced to offer them "reasonably sized" apartments at a modest fraction of their income, because after all, otherwise they couldn't afford to live in New York…..

There's a sort of irritating supposition in all of this that living in New York (or San Francisco, or Boston) is something that just happens to you, like getting cholera.  And that therefore high incomes, expensive real estate, and so forth, somehow don't count for the purposes of assessing how well off you are relative to the rest of society.  In fact, perhaps society should get busy making it up to you for all the hardships…..

Living in a blue state is a choice.  If coming to New York meant that you had to put four people in a three bedroom apartment that's uncomfortably far from a subway line, instead of buying a nice little condo in Omaha, this does not mean that you are not "really" better off than your counterpart in Omaha; it means that you have chosen to consume your extra wealth in the form of "living in New York" rather than in the form of spacious real estate, cheap groceries, and an easy commute.

Let's count the assumptions:

1) That the entire city moved here to participate in the glamor of living in New York City, except perhaps a few trust fund kids born in penthouses in Manhattan. McArdle claims she used to live here, and so I find it surprising that in her entire time here, she never once spoke to a native New Yorker. In fact, that's technically impossible, unless she had a single driver take her solely to the homes of other transplants (where only other transplants were invited), and never entered a restaurant, subway car, bank, or grocery store. My guess is that she spoke to lots and lots of native New Yorkers, but most of them registered to her as the staff of this well-appointed resort she lived in, and not really people per se. So she can simply ignore their existence for the purposes of her Scarlett O'Hara-style rant. The irony here is that McArdle is herself a native New Yorker. Maybe growing up here really honed her skills at not seeing other people who aren't so privileged. 

2) That the exact same jobs available in New York City are available in Omaha, Nebraska. Hell, I'm a writer and can, in theory, write from anywhere. In practice, however, working out of New York or D.C. makes a huge difference for your career. But even the technical ability to work from anywhere is simply not true for everyone, especially not everyone of the people that McArdle considers "people", i.e. the professional class. A lot of people with middle class jobs come here because that's where the jobs are, especially if they're in a field like the arts or politics of some sort—jobs that have a lot of cachet but don't pay rich people salaries. Sure, we can indulge in the increasingly virulent American game of "who do you think you are anyway?", but the fact of the matter is that these people, along with working class people, are required to make New York a pleasant place for rich people to live. Without them pumping life into the culture of the city, you, a rich person, may as well move to a golf course gated community. Which brings me to the next assumption she makes. 

3) That New York City doesn't need the working or professional class to be what it is. The reason rich people flock here is because of the amenities and the culture, which non-rich people provide. McArdle, who clearly can't perceive you as a human being unless you have granite countertops and space for a large but expensive wine collection, may not notice that. Perhaps she thinks those rock shows perform themselves, those paintings are conjured by magic in the air, those shop girls helping you buy nice clothes are just fancy robots, those ever-interesting restaurants have ghosts preparing and serving the food, and those cabs and subway cars work by automation. But they don't. Rich people even require the rest of us to be hanging around the streets to add color to their exciting New York lifestyles. Again, without the rest of us, there's no reason to live here. McArdle snootily suggests that people should pay a premium for living in such an interesting city! Too bad she doesn't think that rule applies to the rich. Since they benefit from living here, they should also pay their fair share. 

I'm not surprised when McArdle snots about how she's glad she moved away from here. I'm sure that D.C., where there's more space to push the working class to the margins so the McArdles of the world don't have to rub shoulders with them, is much more her speed. Reading her piece (and Bloomberg's fucked up petulant claims that the poor brought this financial disaster on the country, and not the rich bankers) had the opposite of its intended effect; she sold me on the idea that we should levy a tax on millionaires and spend it solely on subsidized housing for the poor, with an aim towards driving down the rents on everyone else. I loved Roy's take so much that I just want to quote a chunk of it here:

She's not limiting herself to the simple point that some things are expensive and if you don't have the money you can't have it. She's talking about the desire to live in New York — not just to move there, but to keep living there if you'd been there a while without getting rich — as if it were the desire to live on Park Avenue — no, better, to live in a fairy palace on a cloud, in fact, a palace and a cloud you wished to steal from your betters. It's not just that you can't afford New York — it's that you're insolent to even think you should be tolerated there. You just don't deserve it.

Never underestimate how much not having to endure shared breathing space with those they perceive as beneath them motivates conservatives, especially of the "libertarian" stripe. It was the basic urge underpinning the outrage over health care reform—much of the propaganda about it basically centered around the argument that precious you may have to share waiting rooms with them. That you may even be examined on the same tables. It's unsurprising that this naked loathing for the not-so-privileged is coming out in waves as a reaction to Occupy Wall St. So let's take a moment and be thankful the weather is nice this week, giving the protesters a little boost to keep on not moving. The longer the stay, the more petulant the wingnutty tantrums like McArdle's and Bloomberg's get, and the more the rest of us can see them for who they really are. 

I'll add that McArdle was laying down this foot-stomping as part of her insinuations that the Occupy Wall St. protesters who can afford NYC housing prices have no business being down there. Which, of course, demonstrates the conservative deliberate misunderstanding of the whole thing; they keep insisting that it's a pity party thrown by the poor for themselves instead of a targeted protest of a corrupt economic system. I thought this post neatly dismantles the claim that you can't speak up against horrible wrongs unless you yourself are on the verge of starving to death:

If you believe that your betters are tilting the playing field not through luck, not through accident, not merely through hard work, but through the greasing of palms and the escaping of the same rules that apply to you—then I think it's fine and appropriate to speak up. 

This is a similar logic to those who suggest (say) American women shouldn't complain about disparities in the United States because, hey, Afghanistan! Burkhas!  It's a logic that allows the people at the top to deflect the complaints (merited or not) of people in the middle and even people near the bottom—in in deflecting, serves those people at the top quite well.

And just to make the whole situation more irritating, McArdle issues a disingenuous denial of what she's doing:

So yes, the people at those protests–at least the ones who get arrested–really are, on average, unusually affluent.  (Or at least, their parents are).  Whether that matters is a different question I won't opine on.

Oh nonsense. You just dropped a bazillion petulant, spoiled words whining about how only the rich can and should be able to live in New York. If you really weren't offering an opinion about the right to protest the corrupt system, here's an idea: why not avoid offering an opinion by not offering an opinion?

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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