Friday, February 26, 2021

Peggy Noonan on New York City's Future

I am not going to offer too much commentary on Peggy Noonan’s Wall Street Journal column. Posted today, her thoughts are markedly close to my own. She is pessimistic about New York City’s future. As am I. Her reasons echo my own, expressed here on numerous occasions.

Besides, when Noonan is on her game, she is on her game. One does well to heed her analysis of the current state of the city.

She notes well that the pandemic has broken a human habit, a way of life, a way of doing business. And, habits do not merely snap back once the crisis is over:

In the past year the owners of great businesses found how much can be done remotely. They hadn’t known that! They hadn’t had to find out. They don’t have to pay that killer rent for office space anymore. People think it will all snap back when the pandemic is fully over but no, a human habit broke; a new way of operating has begun. People will come back to office life to some degree, maybe a significant one; not everything can be done remotely; people want to gather, make friends, instill a sense of mission; but it will never be what it was.

Walking around the city shows the amount of devastation caused by the shift away from in-office work.

The closed shops in and around train stations and office buildings, they’re not coming back. The empty towers—people say, “Oh, they can become luxury apartments!’ Really? Why would people clamor for them, so they can have a place in the city and be near work? But near work has changed. So you can be glamorous? Many of the things that made Manhattan glamorous—shows, restaurants, clubs, museums, the opera—are wobbling.

And now, the numbers:

Here are some numbers from the Partnership for New York City, a business group. The city has lost 500,000 private-sector jobs since March, 2020. Tens of thousands of small businesses, and 5,000 restaurants, have closed. Less than 15% of office workers are back in the workplace they left a year ago.

Think about it, less than 15% of office workers are in their workplaces. Think about that for a few moments.

And, of course, tourism has collapsed:

Tourism, an approximately $70 billion industry, won’t be back until theater is back. When? Judith Miller had a good piece in City Journal on how Broadway’s older houses can’t be retrofitted for social distancing and still make a profit. No one is sure theatergoers will rush back. Theater will be reborn—man will always have shows and stories—but as what? 

Whatever comes—hybrid productions, tape and live, or more small and intimate theaters—it will have a whole new profit structure and financial realities. Show folk will tell you: A lot will depend on what the unions allow. Can they be nimble and farsighted? Or will they think everything is just an unending 2019?

Ah yes, it all depends on what the unions will allow, and what the politicians can do. If our future depends on the unions and the local politicians, we are royally fucked.

As for evidence of the exodus, here it is:

The Partnership for New York City reports 300,000 residents of high-income neighborhoods have filed change-of-address forms with the U.S. Postal Service. You know where they are going: to lower-tax and no-income-tax states, those that have a friendlier attitude toward money making and that presumably aren’t going hard-left. Florida has gotten so cheeky that this month its chief financial officer sent a letter inviting the New York Stock Exchange to relocate to Miami.

While politicians want to increase taxes, a policy so stupid that even Gov. Cuomo sees its futility. Besides, the city budget is about to collapse completely. If you thought that public transport was third world, just wait. And, of course, let’s not ignore the crime problem.

That’s the long-term project. In the short term, New York needs to hold on to the wealthy—the top 5% percent in New York pay 62% of state income taxes—and force down crime. If you tax the rich a little higher, most will stay: There’s a lot of loyalty to New York, a lot of psychic and financial investment in it. But if you tax them higher for the privilege of being attacked on the street by a homeless man in a psychotic episode, they will leave. Because, you know, they’re human.


Sam L. said...

I gave up on Peggy years ago. I cannot imagine she's gotten any smarter over the years. I could be wrong, but once burned, twice shy.

NY and NYC: The STUPID is STRONG in these ones. Fat, dumb, and happy is not a good way to go thru life.

Me, I'm in my secret underground Fortress of Solitude.

KCFleming said...

In addition to breaking habits with city work and life, government has broken trust in stable continuity.

That is, the State can and will shut down large cities whenever it wants and you can’t do anything about it.

Why stay?