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The Big Apple's Communist Past Stirs Nostalgia

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Few people outside New York City noticed that Bill de Blasio was sworn in for a second term as mayor of the Big Apple, as the Usual Luminaries did not show up for the occasion. However low-key the ceremony might have been on that freezing January day, it was significant one thing: the political leadership of New York once again is looking to unabashed socialism as the guiding light (or, perhaps more appropriate, darkness) for the city’s future.

Declared the New York Times in an editorial:

You dance with the one that brung ya, as the saying goes, but Bill de Blasio sees no reason to embrace the maxim. Bill and Hillary Clinton gave him a vital kick-start in politics and, fittingly, Mr. de Blasio chose the former president to swear him in as New York’s 109th mayor four years ago. Times change. For his second inaugural, on Monday, the Clintons were well in his rearview mirror.

Instead, the swearing-in duties fell to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont by way of Brooklyn, who, not coincidentally, was Hillary Clinton’s chief rival for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. It was Mr. de Blasio’s way of saying that even a pretense of Clintonian centrism was in disfavor at City Hall and that “a new progressive era,” as he called it in his remarks, ruled the day. Mr. Sanders may not have brung him to the dance, but he now had the mayor’s heart.

Having grown up in Brooklyn in an era when the main topic of discussion among his peers was whether one was a Stalinist or a Trotskyite (Sanders proudly chose to side with the mass-murderer Trotsky, in contrast to the mass-murderer Stalin), Sanders no doubt feels a kinship with de Blasio, who recently called for an end to private property in New York during a self-congratulatory inter:view with New York Magazine:

What’s been hardest is the way our legal system is structured to favor private property. I think people all over this city, of every background, would like to have the city government be able to determine which building goes where, how high it will be, who gets to live in it, what the rent will be. I think there’s a socialistic impulse, which I hear every day, in every kind of community, that they would like things to be planned in accordance to their needs. And I would, too. Unfortunately, what stands in the way of that is hundreds of years of history that have elevated property rights and wealth to the point that that’s the reality that calls the tune on a lot of development.

… Look, if I had my druthers, the city government would determine every single plot of land, how development would proceed. And there would be very stringent requirements around income levels and rents. That’s a world I’d love to see, and I think what we have, in this city at least, are people who would love to have the New Deal back, on one level. They’d love to have a very, very powerful government, including a federal government, involved in directly addressing their day-to-day reality.

De Blasio and Bernie Sanders are not the only people who long for a truly socialist New York. Last fall, as the 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution approached, the New York Times waxed nostalgic about the days when the city was “the capital of American communism.” Indeed, the “Newspaper of Record” portrayed communism as a “lost cause,” a movement that brought hope, even as the NYT actively covered up millions of deaths in the Ukraine resulting directly from communist policies that New York intellectuals, union activists, and journalists so revered.

It is obvious that de Blasio wishes a return to the strict rent control that led to thousands of abandoned apartment buildings by the early 1980s and turned much of the New York City into a dystopian landscape made famous in the “Death Wish” film series. Indeed, policies that a generation of socialists pushed upon the city from the 1930s until the 1990s led to a financial crisis in 1975 (when the city illegally sold bonds to pay off previous bonds, a “privilege” granted only to the federal government) and a crime-ridden city until things began to turn around about 25 years ago.

(New York City does have some remaining rent control as well as “rent stabilization” policies, but city government has not been as hostile to privately-owned housing today as it was 40 years ago. While the de Blasio administration did proclaim a one-year freeze on rent increases in 2015 – a good start to bringing back the “good, old days,” but not enough to destroy the housing stock, at least not yet – nonetheless it will take a number of years to re-create the housing hellhole that was New York when the fictitious Paul Kersey hunted down muggers and murderers in the Big Apple.

While one doubts that de Blasio will be able to single-handedly return New York City to its dystopian past, there is no doubt that he wants to invoke the same policies that led the city into serious decline in the first place. Like so many other hardcore socialists, de Blasio understands absolutely nothing about commerce and he believes that central planning enforced with outright state-sponsored violence can replace a society built upon private enterprise and make it even better.

The French intellectual Tallyrand once said of the Bourbon dynasty: “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.” Politicians like Bill de Blasio take Tallyrand one step further: they learn nothing but forget everything.

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William L. Anderson is a professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Frostburg, Maryland.

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