Mike Bloomberg said something the other day that should have seemed pretty innocuous. It would be a “godsend,” he said, if all the billionaires on Earth decided to set up housekeeping in New York City.
And why not? New York City has long been the home of wealthy, ambitious and powerful people from all over the world. We already have some of the world’s billionaires (including, of course, the mayor himself). Why not all of them?
Well, several Democrats, including one failed candidate to replace Mr. Bloomberg, assailed the mayor’s sentiments as evidence that he is out of touch with the vast majority of New Yorkers who are not billionaires. According to critics, New Yorkers should want fewer billionaires living here. The critics were unclear about precisely why New Yorkers should object to the presence of those who pay huge tax bills, create jobs, encourage entrepreneurs and invest in the city’s future.
Maybe the critics are just trying to score political points? Imagine that.
Brooklyn Councilmember Tish James, who is competing in a runoff election for the Democratic nomination for public advocate, suggested that Mr. Bloomberg’s statement proves that everything that has happened over the last 12 years has been designed by a billionaire mayor for his fellow billionaires. “This is exactly what’s wrong with the Bloomberg approach,” she said. She did not elaborate on how public school reform and low-income housing programs in her borough advanced the gold-plated agenda of the city’s billionaire class.
City Comptroller John Liu, the man who watches over the city’s books but proved to be incapable of monitoring his own campaign’s treasury, gave voice to his bitterness by complaining that the rich don’t pay enough in taxes. He did not indicate what the city would do if the wealthy chose to reestablish residence in the many municipalities nearby that do not have an income tax. Presumably, the city would feel more righteous without the rich and their lousy tax revenue.
Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio was more measured than Mr. Liu, which is a good thing although not necessarily a major accomplishment. Mr. de Blasio said New Yorkers “appreciate” that high-earners can “help build our economy.” But he also personalized the issue, charging, in essence, that Mr. Bloomberg rigged his policies to favor “his social circle” while “millions of New Yorkers” wished they could “get a job” and make their own contributions to the economy.
Luckily for all concerned, millions of New Yorkers already have jobs and are, in fact, contributing to the economy. Yes, the city’s jobless rate remains too high at more than 8 percent. But that figure will only rise if the casual demagoguery of the campaign trail is translated into punitive tax policy with the inauguration of new citywide officials on Jan. 1.
New York is not the Nicaragua of the 1980s, nor is it a city of Dickensian squalor. It is a city of rich, poor and the not-so-rich. It is a city that requires the talent and ambitions of all its citizens—including, yes, its billionaires.
If billionaires don’t spend and invest money here, some politicians might feel more virtuous. But a lot of New Yorkers will be a good deal poorer.