The New York Press did me a great favor last week, making it much easier for me to explain this notion I have of a free and independent New York City by writing an article about it. The piece itself isn't terrific; it's flawed by the author's apparent inability to decide whether he wanted to make a serious case or just indulge in a Swiftian exercise. But it's a start, and it makes the basic materialist argument for why this is an idea worth taking seriously:
Money—who's making it, who's taking it—has always been and always will be the only argument for American rebellion; it was the predicate for the original New World secession from the English empire in 1775. If taxation without representation was the complaint then, it remains the rub today. Mayor Bloomberg's office claims that New York City sends as much as $11.4 billion more to Congress than it receives in services. The current hacks in the White House opt—among many other indignities—to blow our prodigious revenue on the occupation of Iraq, which as of May 2004 had cost New Yorkers $2.1 billion. The darker burden, of mortal consequence, is the vast terrorist recruitment the war has spawned, with New York—dense, vital—still the most coveted target.
The city's match with the state government in Albany is equally rapine. The New York State legislature for the most part represents the ingrate pawing of upstate cretins while netting an estimated $3.5 billion more annually from hardworking city taxpayers than it returns in spending on city services and infrastructure. Queens Councilman Peter Vallone Jr., who in 2003 floated a secession proposal for the establishment of New York City as the 51st state, claims that independence from the Albany thieves—the first step in secession from the odious United States—would gain the soon-to-be Free Republic of Gotham a billion-dollar annual budget surplus, with vastly reduced business, property and personal income taxes.
This is the obvious corollary thought, and counter-argument, to the "fuck the blue states" tax code change now under consideration in the Republican Barad-dur. As noted in yesterday's entry, this runs counter to once-cherished Republican principles of federalism... but that's a drawing-room argument, of no particular utility where the rubber hits the road. If we want to defend our priorities, which for me and, I'd guess, most other New Yorkers have to do with local services conducive to our quality of life rather than Bush's cherished programs to comfort the comfortable, enrich the donor class and impose Rev. Dobson's worldview as widely as possible, we have to fight for them.
The Press article digresses into an explication of how secession became discredited in the eyes of Constitutional law, and hints at ways to remedy this. Again, a drawing-room argument. The point is the money; the money is our leverage. What is interesting, though, is the author's story about how he tried to make this case to a bar full of discontented Brooklynites:
Drinking heavily and disgusted with the fraud that Lincoln and history have perpetrated on the American people, I posed the idea of a New York City secession movement one evening in a Brooklyn bar. I presented my arguments, as laid out above. I spoke first to the financial interest. Assuming both that Councilman Peter Vallone's numbers are correct and that Wall Street, our principal asset, continues its residence here post-secession rather than fleeing to New Jersey, I offered that New York would be a kind of Hong Kong off darkened China—a money mecca, but also a hub of trade, books, news, movies, advertising, art, fashion and free-thinking. Why, I asked, should New Yorkers, galvanite forces of growth and creativity, remain the fleeced animals of a corrupt regime 200 miles away that wastes our wages and workforce in a criminal war? I talked about legalizing marijuana, psychedelic mushrooms, acid, ecstasy and prostitution. (Casino gambling, however, the province of hypocritical moral degenerates like Bill Bennett, would be punished by 5000 years in prison).
I was explaining how all of this and more could be done when a nasty tone shot into the conversation. These were hardworking drug addicts and alcoholics, but also Medicaid and Medicare and other federal-aid recipients. They were wary.
I said that a popular referendum, led by drunks like themselves, could go to the polls in a super-majority and demand the establishment of a secessionist republic. There was more suspicion. The idea of going to a voting booth scared them, and anyway it all sounded like a lot of work. Secession is legal only among states, and the city's secession from the state requires the approval of the larcenous state legislature and the U.S. Congress—pretty much spelling doom for "legal" secession in any case, as both bodies are recognized chambers of corruption, indecency, mendacity and calcified interest, and would never approve the departure of a money machine like New York.
Yet there resides a higher law, as Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence. This is the moral law that says that governments "are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." No one in my Brooklyn bar understood the concept. The patrons cried out, "But I'm an American! We're Americans!" Things went badly.
After escorting myself into the night, I understood that a New York City secession movement is hopeless. People aren't ready for it. Yet I can't help but think of what Tom Paine wrote in his explosive pamphlet, Common Sense, in 1776: "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason."
I think the national Republican party is on a course that could be succinctly described, in terms of how public policy treats "blue" communities like New York, as "taxation without representation." If our politics remains self-correcting, as has historically been the case, this won't matter: in 2006 or 2008 we'll change course. If the DeLay/Norquist/Rove effort to build an enduring Republican national majority has succeeded, however, and we keep losing, then at some point more drastic remedies will seem less like overreaction and more like, well, common sense.