The City’s Fiscal Fiasco

Perhaps the most compelling untold story of the Giuliani years is how the Mayor, despite his reputation as a tough, reform-minded, fiscally conservative manager, is leaving the city in shoddy financial shape. During his second term, city spending has increased at three times the rate of inflation, and New York is facing a budget shortfall of $2.4 billion in the fiscal year after Mr. Giuliani leaves office. While this might seem to give ammunition to the Democrats who are positioning themselves to succeed him, the truth of the matter is that they will be even less equipped than he is to confront the root of the problem.

As recently reported by Richard Lowry, editor of National Review, on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times, the city still operates on a “Depression-era economic model.” “Public-works Keynesianism seemed like a brilliant idea 60 years ago, when the New Deal was new,” he writes. “But it put the city on a fiscal treadmill of ever-rising spending, taxes and debt.”

Why hasn’t the city been able to break this crippling cycle? It is largely because of the absurd power exercised by the unions, which hold much of city government in their pockets and whose leaders stifle reform and innovation whenever it threatens their comfortable status. While Mr. Giuliani achieved miracles in crime control, making New York the safest large city in the U.S., he was unable to assemble the political clout to take on the unions. The result, Mr. Lowry writes, is “fat contracts that keep the city payroll large, taxes high-and, not coincidentally, public-sector unions powerful.” New York’s unions have consistently crushed new, entrepreneurial initiatives, whether it involves schools, hospitals or other essential city services which are so badly in need of reform. And so New York has been falling behind the rest of the country economically over the last 30 years. Mr. Giuliani was no friend to the unions, but even he was unable to stem the tide: The city’s annual debt service has risen from $2.8 billion to almost $4 billion since he moved into Gracie Mansion.

If a Democrat succeeds Mr. Giuliani, the unions’ power over the city will likely only grow, since Democrats have the unfortunate habit of falling all over each other to kiss up to the unions. New Yorkers who do not wish to live in a city mired in high taxes and massive debt must take the candidates to task, and demand that our elected officials stop putting union priorities ahead of the interests of the city.

Bush’s War on Nature

Anybody who has ever escaped the concrete, asphalt and glass of midtown for a lunch-time walk through Central Park knows all about the restorative powers of nature. A stroll past the Great Lawn or the Sheep Meadow will almost certainly improve your outlook, if not your fortunes.

This isn’t New Age gibberish, but 21st-century science. An article in the American Psychological Association’s Monitor summarizes research by psychologist Rachel Kaplan and her husband, Stephen Kaplan, a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, which shows the correlation between nature and well-being, both mental and physical. One example: People who can see some green from their office window report higher degrees of health and emotional contentment. Other research indicates that children with attention-deficit disorders are calmer in green settings, while another study showed that patients recovering from abdominal surgery healed faster, with fewer complications and less need for pain medication, if their hospital rooms had a view of trees versus a brick wall.

The Monitor piece ought to be required reading in the Bush White House. It has become abundantly clear that George Bush and his so-called environmental advisers are in the thrall of industries that regard nature as an obstacle to profits. The President is intent on rolling back the progress this nation has made in preserving open space, keeping our air and water pure, and protecting natural areas from exploitation. In the course of doing so, the Bush administration has made Christine Todd Whitman, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, look foolish as she lurches from one position to another.

The vast majority of Americans intuitively understand the ameliorative power of nature. It is a crime that the current administration is recklessly endangering the health of future generations.

The New You Isn’t So New

Have you ever noticed that as each year passes, you are getting wiser, more self-aware, more interesting and nicer-but that your friends and loved ones just seem stuck in their old patterns and flaws? What’s wrong with these people? you ask. Well, to put it gently, you may actually not be getting better with each passing year-you just think you are.

A study done by two social psychologists in Ontario, Canada, Dr. Michael Ross and Dr. Anne Wilson, found that people have a deep need for the illusion that their current self is far superior to their past self. Individuals consistently claimed to be more competent, mature, socially skilled, tolerant and less boring then they used to be-even though there was no empirical evidence to show it. The subjects in the study also reported that their family members and friends had for some reason not advanced along with them. Why the need for such self-delusion? As reported in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the researchers found that people “may benefit psychologically from criticizing a distant, earlier self, especially on attributes that are important to the present self.” This illusion of self-improvement also allows one to shirk responsibility for earlier unsavory actions: That was the old me.

It may be that maintaining a myth of self-growth serves an essential function in society, by helping people get out of bed in the morning and face the day with optimism. But when it comes to your friends and intimates, don’t forget: They secretly think you’re as self-involved and disconnected as you think they are.