Blow and Krugman

In “The (Un)Democratic Party” Mr. Blow says superdelegates and caucuses contribute to the skewed political structure of the party.  Prof. Krugman, in “Cities for Everyone” says in New York, some are trying to do something about spreading the new urban bounty.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

There are two prominent features of the Democratic Party’s presidential selection process that are thoroughly undemocratic and undermine faith in the party: superdelegates (which favor Hillary Clinton) and caucuses (which favor Bernie Sanders).

As the New York Times editorial board explained: “Superdelegates are party bigwigs — 712 Democratic leaders, legislators, governors and the like. They can vote for any candidate at the nominating convention, regardless of whether that candidate won the popular vote. These unpledged delegates make up 30 percent of the 2,382 delegates whose votes are needed to win the nomination, and could thus make all the difference.”

Let’s start there. Superdelegates, whose votes are not bound by the millions of individual voters, make up nearly a third of all delegates. That, on its face, is outrageous.

It’s no surprise that superdelegates were created by establishment elites to increases their own power. Superdelegates were invented by a Democratic rule change in the early 1980s after the nomination of George McGovern in 1972 and the devastating loss of Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan in 1980, precisely to help the establishment prevent the nomination of insurgent candidates of whom the establishment disapproved. (Sanders is nothing if not an insurgent candidate.)

As The New York Times reported in 1981: “Gov. James B. Hunt Jr. of North Carolina, who heads the latest Democratic rule-changing group, an unwieldy, 29-member agglomeration of the innocent and the experienced, describes its task as one of writing ‘rules that will help us choose a nominee who can win and who, having won, can govern effectively.’”

The article continued: “Much of this year’s deliberations have seemed infused with a desire to deny future nominations to political reincarnations of the Jimmy Carter of 1976.”

So today we have an establishment structure that equates a single establishment vote with thousands of citizen votes.

As Tom Foreman wrote for in 2008 when the role of superdelegates was also being hotly debated: “A few decades ago, Democratic leaders felt that sometimes, Democratic voters were choosing poor presidential candidates: campaigners who couldn’t win elections, or even if they could, they didn’t please Democratic kingmakers.”

This system is unjust, in part because those superdelegates are not prohibited from declaring their loyalty before voting has ended. At the very least, they should be barred from committing before voting is completed in their own states.

Without this prohibition, the establishment puts its thumb on the scale and signals its approval and disapproval ahead of Democratic voters. How can this be defended?

This cycle, nearly three months before a single vote was cast, The Associated Press found that at least half of all those superdelegates (359) had already committed to supporting Clinton. Only eight had committed to supporting Sanders. Clinton’s popularity among superdelegates has only continued to rise. This is not to say that superdelegates can’t switch allegiances, but the initial, premature declarations are the real problem.

Then, there are the caucuses.

As Zachary Roth wrote for MSNBC ahead of the Iowa caucuses: “The tightly limited hours are perhaps the most glaring problem — especially at a time when Democrats are emphasizing the importance of expanding access to voting, and are responding to the needs of working people.”

He continued: “The restricted hours are increasingly out of step not only with the direction of the Democratic Party, but also with broader economic trends. Many of those who will be shut out are likely to be low-wage workers, who typically have little control over their schedules.”

This says nothing of the burden caucuses put on families without child care, students and senior citizens.

It’s the height of irony that the caucuses have favored Sanders, the candidate promising to decrease income inequality and fight for higher wages.

So far, the Democrats have held 21 primaries, including Democrats abroad, and 14 caucuses in the states and the territories. Clinton won 16 primaries but just four caucuses, while Sanders won 10 caucuses but just five primaries. For context, Democrats will have a total of 19 caucuses in the states and the territories, while the Republicans have only 13. (North Dakota doesn’t hold a caucus or a primary, while Colorado and Wyoming hold only informal caucuses, where constituents vote for delegates, not candidates.)

Furthermore, caucuses dispense with the privacy and anonymity of the voting booth and have the potential to inject an element of peer pressure into the democratic process. People should be free to vote with their conscience — and in private! — and feel no pressure whatsoever to bend to the consensus of the community.

Indeed, the Boston Globe editorial page argued for the elimination of caucuses last month, saying: “In a caucus, voters who aren’t physically able to sit in a school gymnasium and debate the merits of their candidate with their neighbors get shut out. And obscure rules that vary from state to state governing delegate allotment and proxy balloting make for confusing inconsistencies when tallying results.”

For a Democratic Party that prides itself on the grand ideals of inclusion and fairness, the nominating process is anything but.

And now here’s Prof. Krugman:

Remember when Ted Cruz tried to take Donald Trump down by accusing him of having “New York values”? It didn’t work, of course, mainly because it addressed the wrong form of hatred. Mr. Cruz was trying to associate his rival with social liberalism — but among Republican voters distaste for, say, gay marriage runs a distant second to racial enmity, which the Trump campaign is catering to quite nicely, thank you.

But there was another reason associating Mr. Trump with New York was ineffective: Old-fashioned anti-urban rants don’t fit with the realities of modern American urbanism. Time was when big cities could be portrayed as arenas of dystopian social collapse, of rampant crime and drug addiction. These days, however, we’re experiencing an urban renaissance. New York, in particular, has arguably never been a more desirable place to live – if you can afford it.

Unfortunately, ever fewer people can. That’s the bad news. The good news is that New York’s government is trying to do something about it.

So, about affordability: In the first quarter of this year, the average apartment sold in Manhattan cost more than $2 million. That number will come down a bit. In fact, the buying frenzy has already cooled off. Still, such numbers are an indicator of a housing market that has moved out of the reach of ordinary working families. True, prices slumped during the national housing bust of 2006-2009, but then they began rising again, far outpacing gains in family income. And similar stories have been unfolding in many of our major cities.

The result, predictably, is that the urban renaissance is very much a class-based story. Upper-income Americans are moving into high-density areas, where they can benefit from city amenities; lower-income families are moving out of such areas, presumably because they can’t afford the real estate.

You may be tempted to say, so what else is new? Urban life has become desirable again, urban dwellings are in limited supply, so wouldn’t you expect the affluent to outbid the rest and move in? Why aren’t urban apartments like beachfront lots, which also tend to be occupied by the rich?

But living in the city isn’t like living on the beach, because the shortage of urban dwellings is mainly artificial. Our big cities, even New York, could comfortably hold quite a few more families than they do. The reason they don’t is that rules and regulations block construction. Limits on building height, in particular, prevent us from making more use of the most efficient public transit system yet invented – the elevator.

Now, I’m not calling for an end to urban zoning. Cities are rife with spillovers, positive and negative. My tall building may cut off your sunlight; on the other hand, it may help sustain the density needed to support local stores, or for that matter a whole city’s economic base. There’s no reason to believe that completely unregulated building would get the balance right.

But building policies in our major cities, especially on the coasts, are almost surely too restrictive. And that restrictiveness brings major economic costs. At a national level, workers are on average moving, not to regions that offer higher wages, but to low-wage areas that also have cheap housing. That makes America as a whole poorer than it would be if workers moved freely to their most productive locations, with some estimates of the lost income running as high as 10 percent.

Furthermore, within metropolitan areas, restrictions on new housing push workers away from the center, forcing them to engage in longer commutes and creating more traffic congestion.

So there’s a very strong case for allowing more building in our big cities. The question is, how can higher density be sold politically? The answer, surely, is to package a loosening of building restrictions with other measures. Which is why what’s happening in New York is so interesting.

In brief, Mayor Bill de Blasio has pushed through a program that would selectively loosen rules on density, height, and parking as long as developers include affordable and senior housing. Th

e idea is, in effect, to accommodate the rising demand of affluent families for an urban lifestyle, but to harness that demand on behalf of making the city affordable for lower-income families too.

Not everyone likes this plan. Sure enough, there were noisy protests at the City Council meeting that approved the measure. And it will be years before we know how well it has worked. But it’s a smart attempt to address the issue, in a way that could, among other things, at least slightly mitigate inequality.

And may I say how refreshing it is, in this ghastly year, to see a politician trying to offer real solutions to real problems? If this is an example of New York values in action, we need more of them.



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