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2012 October 31 Wednesday
New York City More Vulnerable To Disasters

I think societies should function really well. I think avoidable disasters ought to be avoided. I think major disruptions to human society are not necessary if the populace is only sufficiently smart, with long time horizons, and with strong desires to be responsible. Granted, the American people aren't sufficiently smart and lack other needed attributes and those attribute are in decline on average. But that's what I would prefer in the sort of society I'd prefer to live in.

A higher population density brings with it a greater need for highly reliable infrastructure. To pay for that infrastructure a large city is supposed to offer economies of scale and therefore more revenue. Yet the city of New York can't afford enough basic maintenance on its subway system, let alone prepare for a foreseeable hurricane. Or is the city just not willing to charge subway fares high enough to properly fund the subway system?

It would help, surely, if the fifth largest subway system in the world ó and by far the largest in the U.S. ó werenít operating under ever-worsening budget constraints. The system took a $1.1 billion budget cut in 2009 and responded by shutting many stations after hours, slashing the number of staffed fare booths and postponing or canceling planned repairs and maintenance. That just leads to more breakdowns, those too often weather-related. For all the pumps at the systemís disposal, they still canít handle a rainfall of more than 1.75 in. (4.5 cm) per hour without causing service disruptions.

A hurricane of this magnitude was expected and an even worse hurricane will eventually hit. This isn't a Global Warming story. A category 3 hurricane hit Long Island in 1938 and seriously wrecked Long Island. If a cat 4 hurricane hit Manhattan directly the latest disaster would look like small potatoes by comparison. New Jersey took the worst part of the 2012 hurricane, not New York.

New York City has a population of 8.3 million. It needs to spend about $1200 per person to prepare a proper barrier to protect it against a hurricane.

The Cuomo administration plans talks with city and federal officials about how to proceed. The task could be daunting, given fiscal realities: storm surge barriers, the huge sea gates that some scientists say would be the best protection against floods, could cost as much as $10 billion.

The city is too dense to operate well without subways. Yet that density does not supply enough money to maintain, let alone protect, the subways. Is that due to politics or economics? Does NYC make financial sense?

Update: It is truly amazing what you can find on Wikipedia. The current $2.25 NYC subway fare is, adjusted for inflation, about 4 times higher than it was in the 1910s thru about 1946. What caused this? My guess is union wages and union featherbedding. Or has the cost of operating NYC gone up for other reasons?

>

I'm wondering whether the continuing communications revolution is going to undermine NYC. Will the value of propinquity go down? Or will the various needs for close contact become disaggregated? In other words, will different smaller cities take on some of the specializations which are currently aggregated together in NYC? Already a lot of back office functions have been moved elsewhere. For what purposes is still NYC needed? Are those purposes better addressed in some smaller, comfortable, and friendly city?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2012 October 31 09:33 PM 


Comments
Mike M said at October 31, 2012 9:59 PM:

I submit that it's due to politics.

Look at the problems rent control has caused. Too many NYC residents want something for nothing and there are too many politicians willing to go along with the fantasy and then demand federal help when the fit hits the shan.

In regards to storm surge barriers, this may be a case of closing the barn door after the cows have already escaped. If indeed tis was a 100 year storm, the odds are overwhelming that the $10B will be wasted. However, if one believes that we have cycles of "warm Pacific/cold Atlantic" and cold Pacific/warm Atlantic" (that's different than "man made climate change") and that we are entering one of the cycles that predisposes to storms like this in the Atlantic, we may see more of the same and the barriers may prove cost effective. The question then becomes: Given that the federal govt (FEMA) may need to bail out NYC in the event of a storm surge, who should have to pay for the storm barriers? Obviously, NYC residents would like a federal subsidy, either in terms of recurring FEMA assistance when they are flooded or federal money to build storm barriers. By forcing non-residents if NYC to pay for these fixes, we are encouraging "bad" behavior by NYC residents. If you choose to set up shop in a dangerous area, that should be a part of your business decision and you shouldn't expect a bailout. If you cannot incorporate the cost of rebuilding in the price of your goods/services and remain competitive, you should set up shop elsewhere.

Mthson said at November 1, 2012 3:04 AM:

Cities make a lot of sense for high IQ people, where there are economic benefits to close proximity.


But low IQ folks are a massive drain. They have no real reason to live in cities, and they cost far more than they contribute to the budget.

When liberals for some reason want low IQ folks to live in expensive cities without having to commute in (rent control, public housing, blocking the gentrification of ghettos), crime radiates out from those low-IQ centers.

bbartlog said at November 1, 2012 7:14 AM:

'They have no real reason to live in cities...'
They have every reason to live in cities! The economies of density mean that it is possible to live without affording your own transportation, and housing (if unregulated) is also cheap. Think tenement slums. Now, it's also true that the modern welfare state makes the city even more appealing, because it eliminates the requirement for finding some sort of work - but mass migration to the cities (including lots of low IQ people) has been taking place since the beginning of the industrial revolution, so that's hardly the main driver.

Harlem said at November 1, 2012 8:56 AM:

"Or is the city just not willing to charge subway fares high enough to properly fund the subway system?"

Rides should be $10 a pop, at least. Seriously. Never going to happen though. Liberals will whine, blacks will whine, the usual.

Mthson said at November 1, 2012 12:18 PM:

Bbartlog,

From the perspective of an effective society, there's no reason for low IQ folks to live in cities.

The value of many people's work is less than the unsubsidized cost of their train rides and rent in multi-story buildings on expensive real estate.

Mass migration to the cities is very different if it's from a population with an average IQ of 90 instead of 100.

Ian said at November 1, 2012 12:59 PM:

New York real estate and financial wealth is heavily subsidized as well.

Once obtained, the maintenance and growth in the value of the RE and financial wealth is subsidized and doesn't require valuable work. You could transfer title to a retarded person or a child and it is likely to be maintained and to grow.

The "work" expended to obtain the RE and financial wealth is often rent-seeking activity, which has negative value and is less than the value of the RE and financial wealth obtained.

Ian said at November 1, 2012 1:39 PM:

$10 subway fares wouldn't work. Not because welfare recipients wouldn't be able to afford the fares, but because the 20 and 30-something year-olds who get sucked into New York to work for free (i.e. intern) and for very low wages in various service jobs wouldn't be able to afford it.

Mthson said at November 1, 2012 2:35 PM:

Ian, if companies have no longer tricked the public into subsidizing the expenses of their interns, then the companies have to pay them, or set up satellite offices in more reasonable locations, or let them work from home or a co-working space.

In free markets, when you remove subsidization, companies and people respond rationally.

Harlem said at November 1, 2012 6:27 PM:

"Not because welfare recipients wouldn't be able to afford the fares, but because the 20 and 30-something year-olds who get sucked into New York to work for free (i.e. intern) and for very low wages in various service jobs wouldn't be able to afford it."

You can always walk. Or live and work somewhere else...

Anonymous said at November 2, 2012 4:46 AM:

$2.25 is the fare, not the total cost of operations. The tax subsidy is $1.11 per ride. Has that subsidy changed since 1910? http://transportationnation.org/2012/08/23/mta-suburban-passengers-get-7-per-ride-subway-riders-a-buck/

Justinian said at November 2, 2012 11:56 AM:

A feature of modern america is how parasitic the cities have become.

During the industrial revolution people moved to the cities because that is where the factories were. The cities existed because they produced wealth and had products to sell to the rest of the world.

The cities were efficient structures of productivity.

Since the dawn of the pillage and redistribute welfare state, cities are becoming more like tumors sucking the nutrients from the rest of the nationís body. Full of welfare dependents, government offices, and finance. The same parasitical political power also tends to make efficient manufacturing within those cities uneconomical due to myriad regulations.

The last job I had was at a manufacturing laboratory of a biotech company that made products used in DNA sequencing.

It was a building that was surrounded by nothing but cattle pastures for miles around. The remote location was chosen because the property taxes in the nearby city are prohibitive. All the workers lived in the city and had to endure a 40 minute commute each morning and evening.

The company is an international firm and we would often get high ranking visitors from the Asian branches who inspected the facilities. After they landed at the airport and got driven out of the city to the location they would frequently be in utter amazement at how ridiculous the scene was. A lone industrial building in the middle of absolutely nothing but cattle pastures.

So much gross inefficiency like that is now structured into our lives just deal with the insanity of grasping governments with their political power base in large urban centers.

Justinian said at November 2, 2012 11:57 AM:

A feature of modern america is how parasitic the cities have become.

During the industrial revolution people moved to the cities because that is where the factories were. The cities existed because they produced wealth and had products to sell to the rest of the world.

The cities were efficient structures of productivity.

Since the dawn of the pillage and redistribute welfare state, cities are becoming more like tumors sucking the nutrients from the rest of the nationís body. Full of welfare dependents, government offices, and finance. The same parasitical political power also tends to make efficient manufacturing within those cities uneconomical due to myriad regulations.

The last job I had was at a manufacturing laboratory of a biotech company that made products used in DNA sequencing.

It was a building that was surrounded by nothing but cattle pastures for miles around. The remote location was chosen because the property taxes in the nearby city are prohibitive. All the workers lived in the city and had to endure a 40 minute commute each morning and evening.

The company is an international firm and we would often get high ranking visitors from the Asian branches who inspected the facilities. After they landed at the airport and got driven out of the city to the location they would frequently be in utter amazement at how ridiculous the scene was. A lone industrial building in the middle of absolutely nothing but cattle pastures.

Fred said at November 2, 2012 3:37 PM:

"It was a building that was surrounded by nothing but cattle pastures for miles around. The remote location was chosen because the property taxes in the nearby city are prohibitive."

Sprawl is due to urban property taxes not being high enough, not due to them being too high.

Low property taxes raise rents and property values, which leaves more rent to be capitalized into bank loans, which means more lending to bid up property prices, and more land speculation. As a result, business and industry has to spread out to seek lower rents and property prices. Higher property taxes lowers rents without affecting supply, since the land is always there and fixed. This means the urban land will be better used. Businesses and industry that use the urban real estate to create valuable goods and services will replace speculators for control of the land.

To reduce sprawl, urban property taxes should be raised, and other taxes such as income and sales should be lowered.

Justinian said at November 2, 2012 7:00 PM:

"Sprawl is due to urban property taxes not being high enough, not due to them being too high."

...........


"To reduce sprawl, urban property taxes should be raised, and other taxes such as income and sales should be lowered."


The facility in which I speak of is in a State that is widely known for having very high property taxes in compensation for not having a state-wide income tax.

Fred said at November 2, 2012 9:45 PM:

There are no "very high" property taxes anywhere in the US.

The highest property tax as a percentage of property value appears to be 2.9%. The highest property tax as a percentage of income is 8.5%. See this table: http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/22/taxes-homes-property-forbeslife-cx_mw_0122realestate_table.html

There are high income taxes everywhere in the US, even in the few states without state income taxes, because Federal income taxes are so high.

ErisGuy said at November 3, 2012 8:48 AM:

NYC will never spend its own money for useful engineering projects. Those will happen only when others pay for them, at union+mafia rates.
NYC has more important athletic, artistic and environmental goals on which to spend its money and energies. Maintenance? Protection? Bah.

Scott said at November 4, 2012 6:16 AM:

So why didnt high IQ and future time orientation protect Japan from the Fukushima disaster?


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