I cannot remember a time when New York’s Governor and New York City’s Mayor taken together pose a greater threat to liberty and prosperity. Last week each proposed a dreadful policy. Governor Andrew Cuomo succeeded and Mayor Bill de Blasio failed. The different outcomes tell us a lot about what makes some statist proposals more likely to take effect and how to resist them.
Cuomo got his Labor Board to hike the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast food workers throughout the state. I will not repeat my general arguments against substantial minimum wage hikes. But even minimum wage advocates concede that such sector specific wages will distort the labor market and create a less efficient mix of businesses. Moreover, any law that requires paying someone at McDonald’s in Troy, New York $15 an hour while someone working at Home Depot in New York City $9 an hour is patently irrational given the much higher cost of living in the city.
For his part, de Blasio proposed capping the growth of Uber in New York City ostensibly because the extra cars on the road were causing congestion, but in large measure because the taxi companies are some of his biggest supporters. Even if city streets were becoming more congested it is not economically rational to single out Uber. There is no reason to believe that the customers it serves are getting less benefit from driving around New York than those who take taxis or drive themselves.
What is interesting, however, is that the city council shelved this proposal.
New York Mayor De Blasio has been waging a war against charter schools – a reactionary attempt to protect the interests of teacher unions at the expense of poor and minority children. Happily De Blasio has already suffered a reversal of fortune at the hands of his own party and that reversal provides good news about the structure of democratic politics and its capacity to sustain liberty enhancing reforms.
On Tuesday, the governor of New York State, Andrew Cuomo, also a Democrat, attended a rally of charter school supporters in Albany—an obvious riposte to De Blasio’s decisions to take money and property away from charter schools. Cuomo has ambitions to be President and it shows that even Democrats who count public unions as part of their coalition cannot ignore the crisis in public education and the need for reform.
Because the decline of public schools is rooted in no small part in centralized bureaucracy and in the power of teacher unions, solutions take the form of injecting more competition by such means as charter schools, vouchers and merit pay. These forms of competition are liberty enhancing and can help improve standards and increase innovation, particularly in big cities, where the jurisdictional competition afforded by different suburbs is absent.
One might think that teacher unions and bureaucrats as powerful interest groups could thwart these reforms, because they help only diffuse and relatively powerless groups like parents and students.