You Do Not Owe Staying to a Failed City

New York real estate media is speculating that people may want to leave the city after the total failures of the city, state, and federal governments to protect public health at the peak of corona in March and April. I do not know if this is actually happening and if people actually are moving out, as opposed to just writing about moving out and complaining that bankrupt retail and restaurant chains are closing. But a number of busybodies, including Mayor Bill de Blasio, have already complained that it is somehow immoral to leave. And the only reasonable reaction to this exhortation is, what?

It’s 100% reasonable to leave a city that cannot provide basic services. The problem with white flight is not that it’s immoral to leave; it’s that it’s stupid to treat segregation as a service the city must provide, rather than education, health care, electricity, transportation, affordable housing, and so on.

A lot of New York’s problems have been well-known for a while. It can’t provide affordable housing to anyone – middle-class renters pay $3,000 a month for an apartment that should be renting for $1,000; everyone in New York knows this, even if many (e.g. homeowners) like this arrangement and some others don’t but have the wrong explanation as for why (e.g. left-NIMBYs). Trash on the street has always been a problem, but only recently have New Yorkers begun realizing it doesn’t have to be this way. Crime was at a historic low on the eve of corona, and even with the recent spike is at sub-2000s levels. Schools in New York are as I understand it good by inner-city American standards.

But the health issue is looming. Six months ago, New York seemed like a place with genuinely good public health. Some of it was cultural (e.g. the city is anti-smoking even by American standards, let alone European or East Asian ones); some of it is selective migration of healthy workers; some of it is high physical activity levels in a city where the majority of people do not own cars, which is a policy issue but one coming from investments made in 1900-1940 and not today. But the hospitals enjoyed good reputation and there is a fair bit of public health care in the city.

And then came corona, and it turned out that the city, the state, and the country all failed at providing basic public health. De Blasio told people to go have fun at bars one last time on the day he announced forced closures in March; Governor Andrew Cuomo outdid him by sending elderly corona patients back to nursing homes, prohibiting subway employees from wearing masks early on, and taking a long time to even acknowledge that masks were useful; and the less said of Donald Trump’s response from when Taiwan first warned the world about the new virus around New Year’s to the present, the better.

The issue isn’t even so much that in the future the city is likelier to have a big second wave. The experience of having heard ambulance sirens all night made New Yorkers take the crisis more seriously than people elsewhere; daily infections are flat and higher than in Europe (36/million people, the EU average is around 23), but so much lower than in the rest of the US. But rather, the total failure of government at all levels to deal with this crisis means it will likely fail to deal with other crises in the future. The US doesn’t have the state capacity to deal with a crisis that democratic East Asia or even Western Europe has, and New York is run as a bunch of fiefdoms at both the city and state level in which the person in charge is selected for political loyalty rather than competence.

The criminal justice angle in New York is even more frustrating. It’s not even that there is crime, or police brutality. Politicians are free to run as pro-police, as Rudy Giuliani and Mike Bloomberg did. But de Blasio ran explicitly on a platform of reducing police brutality, in which capacity he failed – NYPD has killed around 10 people a year every year since the early 2000s. Losing an election is understandable, and even winning the election but then losing in negotiations is understandable and politicians often find themselves having to explain a certain compromise. But de Blasio’s response made no acknowledgment of such compromise – he has no ability to exercise civilian control of the police.

You do not owe anything to a place. Places don’t have feelings, and people who base their entire personal identity on emotional attachment to a place are not worth bothering with. If the city works for you, then great! Move there if you can, stay if you’re already there. There are a lot of great things about New York – New Yorkers are curious and diligent people, even if the people governing them are neither of these things. But if it doesn’t, just leave. It’s okay. I’ll help you with some information about how to move to Germany if you want.


  1. Benjamin Turon

    If everybody leaves everyplace that has problems, then problems will never be solved. Often people bring their problems with them we they leave. New York City has been in bad places before, people came together, leadership emerged, and problems where addressed. A lot of the problems of New York City are problems of America as a whole. We can’t all move the Germany. And if we did without out solving our problems, we just be bringing our problems to Germany. And I don’t think Germany needs or wants that.

    You know sometimes loyalty to a community inspires and fortifies people to fix problems, and that is a good thing. A world were the rich and connected just pack up and leave for greener pastures people is not a world which will make it out of the 21st Century in a good way. Sometimes caring deeply about a place is the first step to fixing it.

    • Alon Levy

      “Problems were addressed.”

      Some problems. But for example construction costs have gotten worse, and even recent reforms are in the wrong direction.

      Loyalty to a community mostly makes people pretend that it’s fine for there to be trash on the sidewalk, because it makes the city real. Comes from the same place that leads loyal New Yorkers and Londoners to use the word “antiseptic” with disgust and then pretend that they didn’t just mass-manslaughter their own city out of unwillingness to become more like Tokyo or Seoul or Taipei.

      • Eric2

        It wasn’t garbage on the sidewalk that lead to high covid19 death rates in NYC/London.

        • Alon Levy

          No, it was solipsism and arrogance. Why are these Asians to tell us to wear masks and put infected people and their contacts in quarantine hotels?

          • Matthew Hutton

            The only ones who are really arrogant are those educated in the elite schools. The rest of the top 20-40% most educated people who weren’t are still some of the smartest people to have ever lived. Even if they don’t express themselves well (as I certainly don’t).

          • michaelrjames

            @Matthew Hutton: “The only ones who are really arrogant are those educated in the elite schools. The rest of the top 20-40% most educated people who weren’t are still some of the smartest people to have ever lived. ”

            And it is not really being “smart” versus being educated to be rational, curious and questing. The problem with the handful of elite universities is not only the dubious means of admission–as the recent convictions of celebrities caught bribing people to get their kids admitted or the likes of money & privilege we see in two of the last three presidents (Trump & GWB). But the state of mind of entitlement such students pick up at those institutions, and the web of connections and insiderdom they acquire and deploy to get into positions of power. Just a few days ago I pointed out a near-perfect case in Dido Harding who, having failed in running the covid-19 Test-Trace program (and the actual testing being outsourced to Deloitte!) has been promoted to run the new overarching National Institute for Health Protection, having the perfect qualifications of 1. Inherited privilege (family peerage, top schools, Oxford), 2. PPE from Oxford; 3. Powerful friends from Oxford days (no less than David Cameron who made her a Baroness when he was PM!) and now this latest ‘failing up’ appointment (and one of the most important and sensitive issues!). That is, all the ‘perfect’ qualifications except the most crucial one: any competence at the job. Not to mention any modesty or self-awareness of their own limitations, or any empathy with ordinary citizens. The same could be said of the past three UK PMs, all being ‘oxymorons’ (and Cameron being a PPE); none of these three were stupid but neither were they over-endowed with what one really wants and needs in leaders: the ability to think rationally and creatively of solutions to ‘wicked’ problems.

            Lest non-Brits think this doesn’t concern them they need to realise that it infects them too, with Bill Clinton being an Oxford-PPE (and Yale grad of course) and Australian PMs Malcolm Fraser, Bob Hawke, Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull (ie. 2 of the last 3 PMs); and let’s not forget that Rupert Murdoch was also an Oxford PPE. Both Clinton’s and Obama’s administrations had plenty of Rhodies (almost always PPEs). On the wider issue, it has been pointed out that Biden-Harris is the first time since almost forever that the candidates haven’t included alumni from Harvard or Yale.

            It is for these reasons that there have been recurrent serious suggestions to break up Oxbridge (or the US Ivy League). The counter argument is that this would destroy institutions that produce our greatest talent. But of course that is nonsense and is backwards. They don’t create that talent but merely skim the cream for themselves before anyone else can. The truly clever* don’t cease to exist and the dominance of these elites is merely a monopoly on such talent and then a self-fulfilling, self-sustaining system. The very ambitious (and their parents) feel obliged to do whatever it takes to get into these elite institutions, and then to conform to whatever mindset is deemed a requirement to qualify for the top jobs etc. No matter how genuinely clever and charming Clinton and Obama were, I would argue they fit this pattern.
            *overt cleverness is an over-rated quality in any case. I remember being in the presence of Fred Sanger explaining how he had a very mediocre academic record and it was a fluke he got into Cambridge where he proceeded to impress … almost no one. Until that is, he won two Nobel prizes … (and for seven years in the gap between the two prizes he published exactly … zero .. scientific papers). Both Boris Johnson and David Cameron were judged by their Oxford tutors to be amongst the cleverest students they had seen …

      • Jonathan Stone

        Or New Yorkers and Londoners could become a little more like Auckland, New Zealand, rather than Tokyo or Seoul or Taipei. Even being a little bit more like Syndey would be a big improvement. Your ethnocentric biases are showing.

    • michaelrjames

      @Benjamin Turon:

      You know sometimes loyalty to a community inspires and fortifies people to fix problems, and that is a good thing. A world were the rich and connected just pack up and leave for greener pastures people is not a world which will make it out of the 21st Century in a good way. Sometimes caring deeply about a place is the first step to fixing it.

      I strongly endorse those sentiments. Plus, contrary to Alon, I would say some cities–inevitably those in the “world city” class–are more worthy than others, or at least they may capture our hearts & minds. For valid reasons, being the cradle of our civilisation and incubator of its future. If they have given you something, career or personal/social, then you certainly should be willing to return something, not just wimp out in what seems a very American fashion of “not my problem” or the Hollywood trope of someone in total self-centred mode storming out saying “I can’t deal with this now” (which is “I don’t want to deal with it … ever”.)

      Re NYC, I’d say the current troubles could be a glass-half-full. Just as it feasibly could be for the US, however one would have to feel more optimistic that NYC is more amenable to real change as difficult as that is. In fact, the emergence of AOC is surely a good sign. Utterly ridiculous to put so much weight on one person’s shoulders but maybe all those warm & fuzzy things I’ve been hearing the last few decades–and inwardly cringing at–about millennials being different might have a tiny kernel of truth?

      In any case, I think now is actually the worst time to consider giving up on our big cities. As for Alon, your report could be a non-trivial contribution. Problems can’t be solved or tackled if we don’t even know what is at the heart of them.

    • Benjamin Turon

      I’m a bit tired of the negativity and resignation that things are so bad and unchangeable that the solution is to up sticks and leave. New Yorkers and Americans are like the frog in the boiling pot — things have been getting worse for decades (my entire life) but now the leaking ship is not just settling into the water, but is beginning to capsize — but perhaps the political and social conditions are ripe for change in direction, as it was for Progressives in the 1900s, the New Deal in 1930s, or Civil Rights in the 1960s. New York was in a real bad way in the 1970-80s (watch the film ‘The Out of Towners’… reruns of ‘Barney Miller’… “Ford to City: Drop Dead”) and yet was able to overcome multiple serious challenges and become a safe, vibrant, and growing global city.

      Sometimes yes packing up and leaving is the best solution for everyone, sometimes for individuals, and sometimes for communities that are in such a hopeless state that leaving is the best solution for most everyone, if not everyone. Yet leaving, especially immigration, is a very difficult and fraught decision. Hong Kong does many things well, yet from what I have read the ongoing political rest on the street had its roots long festering problems — including unaffordable housing — long ignored by the elite in government. The public demand for accountability in their government has now resulted in a crack-down by Beijing and lost of the rule-of-law in place of rule-by-law. If I lived in Hong Kong I would leave, but I don’t live there, its not my home. If even if Mr. Trump wins a second term, I’m not likely to moving to Canada.

      Some people are nomads with little roots in anyone place. Some people can change locations like romantic partners at a swingers club; but others feel towards their home community the same way some feel towards long-term romantic or family relationships. Their are toxic communities just like there are toxic romances and family relationships. But there are also trouble relationships than can be salvaged, or even need to be repaired for the greater good. If some feels the right decision is to leave then I respect that, but if they stay and fight, even in a seemingly lost cause, I will respect that too — be that moving to Canada or staying in Hong Kong.

    • Mike

      “If everybody leaves everyplace that has problems, then problems will never be solved.”

      That’s exactly what happened with white flight in the 1960s. Whites moved to the suburbs due to real or imagined problems, and settled just beyond the school district boundaries where integration busing couldn’t reach them, and then refused to invest in improvements in the central city in their own metropolitan area that could have solved these problems. New York City had a dose of it in the 1970s and Detroit still hasn’t recovered.

      Alon, you said yourself that New York City has a lower infection rate than most of the US. And New York State is not disenfranchising people or spitefully denying them healthcare as much as some of the southern states. So where would New Yorkers move to without leaving the US? Not everybody can emigrate, and even countries that accept a few thousand Americans a year would balk at millions of applicants all at once. Especially if many of them bring their American attitudes with them.

      And some people actually did stay put and improved their cities, both in the 1960s and now. They don’t “owe” it to the city, but they can have more influence on it if they or their parents grew up there, and anything they accomplish will benefit them..

      • Nathanael

        Two families I know have migrated from Texas to upstate NY due to the coronavirus mishandling in Texas. My friends in Phoenix are thinking about it.

        NYC has some problems, but they’re gonna get fixed. While the problems in Texas or Arizona might get fixed, they go *far* deeper and are *far* harder to fix. People are going to pick up and abandon Houston and Phoenix well before they abandon New York, and that’s as it should be.

  2. Jacob Manaker

    A standard argument against leaving: moving to Germany requires extensive formation of new social capital and (for knowledge workers) recertification. Similarly, acquiring citizenship in a new country is long and arduous, but unnecessary at home. Rather than desert New York, one could improve its governance. (I recognize that this is not what deBlasio is arguing…because improving New York governance probably starts with voting him out.)

    (Edit after refreshing: Oops, Benjamin scooped me on this one.)

  3. willsmusingsblog

    I think most people will find Westchester County or Long Island suits their needs, no need to get a German passport.

        • Mike

          “Seattle: The median asking price for a one-bedroom rental in Seattle, Washington is $2,049. (2019)”

          That’s a bit high; I would put the median around $1900-2000. My apartment is right near the median and it’s lower than that. The numbers are also skewed by the large number of new apartments, which raised the median, but that doesn’t mean existing apartments rose by the same amount. Although rents did rise 40% in the past eight years. It’s generally assumed you need $1500-1600 to find an apartment in the Seattle city limits if you’re not picky about location or amenities. I insist on frequent transit and the ability to do errands on foot, so I pay the median for that.

        • Mike

          So I wonder if other cities are also lower than the article says. But you’re right, it’s too high. Wages did not increase to the same extent as rents in the past ten and twenty years, and that means the lowest-income people are priced out of the city, and the problem has now spread to the entire metropolitan area. All across the US, in cities and suburbs and rural areas, housing prices are rising faster than wages, with the exception of areas that are depressed or losing population. I think it’s because the rising population and restrictive zoning reached a tipping point when all the slack in the market was squeezed out, like a checkout line in a store that can manage when there’s 2-3 people in line but grows exponentially when there’s five or more.

        • electricangel

          Is there anything you can think of that has caused supply and demand to go so far out of balance as to drive rents to a point where they are unaffordable?

        • Onux

          Median rent means half above and half below, so if the median is $1,000 there are a lot of one bedrooms renting for $700, $800, etc.

          A year ago, among large growing cities (no small town or rust belt shells), median one bedroom was:
          Phoenix, $1,171
          Houston $1,269
          Charlotte $1,330
          Dallas $1,375

          Relative to median income, the most affordable big cities were Phoenix, Charlotte and Seattle (rent over $2k but median income high at $85k).

          The least affordable cities by income were Miami (rent under $2k but med. income only $35k), NY and LA.

          Eric2: According to Geotab, in 2019 the average commute in Dallas was 30 min, in Houston 31. In NYC it was 45 min.

    • john

      My own rent here in Baltimore is exactly $1000, actually, and it’s only gone up ~$10-15/year these last few years. Definitely well under the median, but since “median” means half the total is less than that, it’s a reminder that affordable places can be found. And I didn’t need to live in the ‘hood or rely on public assistance to find this (I just had to bypass the most popular gentrified neighborhoods). Although, it did take a while to find this place, and rents overall around here have gone up a lot in the last decade; quality housing at an affordable price is getting much harder to find, and there isn’t nearly enough to meet the demand, even though demand here is much less intense than in bigger, more popular cities.

      And also, many apartments here in the City and in the Baltimore County have minimum income requirements when you first move in (combined incomes count if two or more adults are moving in), which struck me as both odd and–in a depressing, cynical way–not surprising. Revealing a bit of my privilege here, but I don’t personally know if vouchers count towards the minimum, and since the majority of my neighbors are Black, (ditto for the tenants and staff in the majority of the complexes I checked out and didn’t settle in), this practice seems to be at least as much a class-based as race-based form of barely-legal discrimination. (Cue the plausibly-reasonable, thus effective, excuses about “keeping out trouble” and making sure tenants can pay the rent…) Majority-white suburbs farther out don’t have such requirements, and leasing office staff were surprised and confused when I brought it up.

      Dammit, going off track again…

      • Anthony

        “And also, many apartments here in the City and in the Baltimore County have minimum income requirements when you first move in (combined incomes count if two or more adults are moving in), which struck me as both odd and–in a depressing, cynical way–not surprising. ”

        As a former landlord and apartment manager, the reason for this is very specifically to make sure your tenants can pay the rent. The trouble and expense of evicting someone, even for non-payment, is pretty bad, and it’s money and time you’re never going to get back.

        • john

          I used to assume that was the reason (in most cases it probably is) and just expected to encounter such requirements, since ensuring the rent is paid is a perfectly reasonable requirement (I have both renters and landlords in my family). But then a few years ago, shortly before finding my current place, I looked into apartments in Harford County–rents are lower, though the commute is longer, there’s far fewer options to choose from, and everything is (overall) farther apart and generally less convenient, with very few and small areas that are not completely car-dependent. And leasing officers up there (but only in the more affluent, whiter areas like Bel Air) not only did not have minimum income requirements but looked at me like I had three heads when I asked about them. I also didn’t encounter any such requirements the previous time I considered Harford Co., in the mid-2000s when I actually worked up there. The areas that didn’t have minimums also had little low-income housing. So, while most places probably have income minimums for the neutral reason of getting the rent paid, it’s apparently not required by law in Maryland, and at least here there appears to be a demographic pattern to where landlords themselves require them–specifically, communities where significant numbers of people wouldn’t meet market-rate minimums, and significant amounts of public or voucher-friendly housing exist to shunt them off to. I don’t know if my anecdotal observations would hold up against hard data, though; I also don’t know if data on such requirements is publicly available without directly contacting a long list of landlords/apt managers. Might be worth looking into (though not this weekend).

          Still, even around here market-rate rents have been rising at a rate that is leaving too many, and growing numbers, of people in an artifically hard spot, and more (good-quality) housing needs to be built. (Or in the case of a surprisingly large fraction of existing rowhomes, older SF/duplex houses, and older apartments, renovated. Not all those old rowhomes are abandoned and falling down).

          • Henry Miller

            Land lords watt their rent to be paid, and the apartment not damaged. That race and where people want to live both correlate is a coincidence and not something to blame on racism.

      • Mike

        Requiring income at 2X the rent is common, and some higher-end landlords have started requiring 3X the rent. The federal definition of affordable housing costs is 33% of income, so that explains the 3X figure. But it doesn’t address the huge gap between the income limit for subsidized housing and the lowest market-rate rent available.

        Section 8 is usually voluntary for landlords: some accept it but most don’t. The ones that do are usually lower-end 1960s-70s buildings, or purpose-built affordable apartments. A few municipalities have passed laws prohibiting discrimination based on source of income, so all landlords have to accept Section 8, Social Security and other non-work income, and can’t restrict units to employees of certain large tech companies. But only a few cities have this. Given that Section 8 comes with additional requirements and bureaucracy for landlords and additional inspections, I’m not sure how well it works to say you must accept Section 8 and at the same time you get all these additional requirements if the tenant has Section 8. But elderly and disabled people are having a hard time finding housing because so few landlords accept Section 8 that something needed to be done.

        • michaelrjames


          Requiring income at 2X the rent is common, and some higher-end landlords have started requiring 3X the rent. The federal definition of affordable housing costs is 33% of income, so that explains the 3X figure.

          The 3x is the law in France (or was, not sure today). It is specifically to suppress high rents which it does. Paris is not cheap but much more affordable than London, especially if you compare like-with-like, ie. inner-London with intramuros-Paris, or Greater London (≈9m popn.) with Greater Paris (essentially Ile de France with ≈12m popn).

          • Alon Levy

            Still is, and lol at suppressing high rents, Paris was more expensive than wealthier and faster-growing German cities 4 years ago, before the new wave of housing started opening and flattening the rent curve.

          • michaelrjames

            You’re doing that thing again: not comparing like-with-like. Not just that they are German and second-tier German, and much smaller cities and entire cities versus the inner-city segment of a mega-city ( Paris). That’s before one attempts the impossible job of ‘pricing’ in the factors influencing renter’s choices of locality–you deny that they were factors in your own choice of living in intramuros Paris in the 12th arrondissement but you have never convinced anyone on that (and why should you bother!).
            Your own recent history shows the inappropriateness of those comparisons: you moved from inner-Paris to none of those German cities but instead to their prime- and biggest city, which has practically had a populist insurrection the past few years over rents such is the supply-demand crunch, aggravated by rapacious commercial interests, tourism-urbanicide and AirBnB.

            I wish I could get hold of arrondissement-level (or quartier-level) and commune-level rental data for Ile de France. It would be nice to be evidence based. Do you know of any sources? One thing I think I’ve noticed over the past decade or two, is the differential amongst the 20 arrondissements has narrowed, however it is not easier to nail down (per m2 data is far too crude; in the 16th you’re looking at 140m2 family apartments versus 40m2 2-pieces in the 12th, etc. Decades ago I collected data for a selection of arrondissements (from PAP, which today is probably far less representative) which showed non-linear relationship of apartment size to price/m2 and big differences between arrondissements but which narrowed at the top end.

        • Mike

          When you drop a 3X income requirement into a city with a housing shortage and little subsidized housing, the result is not to “suppressing high rents”, it’s shutting people out of the housing market. People who could pay the rent but don’t have 3X income.

          As for Seattle having a high median income, that’s because lower-income people were pushed out to the suburbs and higher-income people replaced them, so that skews the median upward.

          • michaelrjames

            Yet, Paris–even inner Paris–doesn’t have a housing crisis! Or even an affordability crisis.
            Of course it takes more than the single policy of the 3x rule. There is also a limit on rent increases. And a determination to keep Paris mixed, on SES/income, professions and families with children, via various schemes including purchase of apartments at market prices by the city and then rental at affordable rents to qualified workers. It also builds enough housing in greater Paris to avoid a demand crunch–supported by a massive regional rail and its expansion over the next decade. In a city about 3x the size of Seattle and about 30% bigger than NYC or London. Oh, and more tourists/visitors than any other city in the world, and being AirBnB capital of the world too (though that may change with new regulations).

          • adirondacker12800

            Wikipedia says the estimated population of Paris in 2020 is 2,150,271 and the population of New York City, in 2019, was estimated to be 8,336,817

          • michaelrjames

            You’re doing that thing again: not comparing like-with-like.

            Above is what I wrote in an earlier post on this same thread you are responding to. But you’re still doing it.
            Various ways to compare like-with-like: You could compare one inner zone with the equivalent in these mega-cities. Thus Manhattan (popn. 1.63m, 2019) is very comparable to the 2.24m Parisians residing in inner-Paris (=intramuros-Paris; inside the Boulevard Peripherique; department 75). Or you could include the other 7+m New Yorkers in the outer boroughs and compare to greater Paris with its 4.5m residents in the first ring (Petite Couronne) of suburbs (total ≈7m), or the grand total of about 12.4m in the greater agglomeration (Paris + Petite Couronne + Grande Couronne; loosely = departments 75, 92, 93, 94 though Ile de France extends into departments 95, 77, 94, 78).

            The reality of this as a tightly integrated entity is obvious from looking at transit maps. Though the Metro system is often described as serving solely intramuros-Paris, it’s not actually true in that in total the Metro has 303 stations of which 59 stations (19.5%) are in the Petite Couronne; another 23 stations are right on the border, thus 81 stations (26.7%) serve the Petite Couronne. This is without counting the 33 RER stations within Paris and 9 in the Petite Couronne. Alon might know the figures but I’d guess from this that a very significant fraction of riders come from these extramuros zones. Then, the Paris Metro is in the process of greatly expanding extramuros and with RER expansion the whole region is becoming more tightly integrated.

            Of course you know this (and you know that I know that you know) and you’re just trolling. It’s for other readers who may not know. Oh yes, the burden I carry … for being a good netizen! For visitors it may be confusing. When they take the Metro (M13) to visit the Saint-Denis basilica (where a few thousand years of royals are interred), or (M4) to visit the flea markets at Porte de Clignancourt do they know they are no longer in “Paris” but in the Petite Couronne (to get to the Marché aux Puces most will take M4 and literally walk across the old mur, ie. the Thiers Wall that the Peripherique was built over). Ditto if they take M1 to La Defense. But if they take RER-C to Versailles they are in the Grand Couronne.

          • adirondacker12800

            Demographers have standard ways of measuring things. Tell us which one you are using.

  4. SB

    New Yorkers aren’t going to move to Germany.
    They are moving to more auto-dependent place.

  5. Eric2

    “The experience of having heard ambulance sirens all night made New Yorkers take the crisis more seriously than people elsewhere”

    I’m not sure this is true. Someone did the calculation, and apparently R0 in New York is slightly higher than in Sun Belt states. Nevertheless the infection rate is stable because there is a higher level of immunity due to infections in March/April.

    • Alon Levy

      Higher level is something like 10%. There’s no herd immunity in any urban area (as opposed to a specific community – I think Haredi Jews might be getting there in Israel, due to flagrant denialism, with the health effects you’d expect).

      • Eric2

        Looking at statistics from a month ago, the case reproduction rate was 1.0 (constant # of cases) in NY and 1.2 in Texas. Meanwhile NY had 30% of population infected while Texas had at most 5%.

        For NY, R0 = 1.0 / (1 – .3) ~ 1.4
        For Texas, R0 = 1.2 / (1-.05) ~ 1.25.

        This is just a calculation I saw someone else make a month ago, obviously these numbers are out of date and one can quibble about their accuracy. But in the big picture it still seems to be true.

          • john

            The only place I read about any researcher finding that 30% figure was a neighborhood in Queens, and that was the positivity rate from a sample of neighborhood residents who were antibody tested. IIRC. I don’t remember the article I read that, but a quick DuckDuckGo (pieprzyc Google) turned up this: ,
            Yup, the figure is specific to certain working-class neighborhoods that didn’t have the privilege of staying home, is skewed because the data comes from health clinics where sick people and their contacts came to get tested (selection bias), and the article is rightly filled with cautions about selection bias and other uncertainties.

  6. Matthew A da Silva

    Since only those with resources (economic, educational, social etc.) are those with the power to “pick up and leave”, the end result of this mentality is those with resources cordoning themselves off from those without resources. Pursuing one’s rational self interest and giving up on any form of intersectional solidarity is exactly what our enemies want us to do.

    I understand you consider yourself a “citizen of the world” and look down on any form of local ties, but the ties people form to places in the form of the communities they join and the relationships they nurture are the only thing keeping society from descending into one in which those who have the least resources to fend for themselves are stuck all alone.

    • Alon Levy

      The flip side of your pathologizing emigration is pathologizing immigration. I get this enough from Berlin left-spaces, in which the immigrant is a social problem that these leftists are proud of enduring, talking about how they volunteer teaching refugee children Germans in between complaining about Arab and Turkish crime and about how Neukölln left spaces in which I’ve never seen a person of color struggle to pay rent.

      The reality is, when things get bad, people get out. When Jews threaten to leave any European country that might invite the extreme right into the government, that’s not privilege, that’s fear. Ditto when queers flee rural areas where they’re subjected to violence (and the amount of bad-faith bullshit I’ve seen by Americans dunking on Glenn Greenwald for having emigrated to Brazil to be with his partner long before the US had gay marriage…). Maybe native-born Americans (and to a large extent Europeans) just don’t value their life very much?

      • Nathanael

        Oh, it’s a lot harder to get out than you think. Check your privilege. Having an employment record in a specific list of highly skilled occupations is the only consistent way to move pretty much anywhere in the world. If you don’t, getting out is likely not an *option*, particularly at this point. I mean you can always go as a refugee but you know how refugees get treated pretty much everywhere.

        • Alon Levy

          Except that I know Americans who managed to land entry-level tech jobs in Germany, but sure, please explain immigration to me, it’s not like I’m constantly surrounded by current and prospective immigrants of a variety of skill levels or something.

          • Onux

            Entry level or not, tech probably tops the “specific list of highly skilled occupations” Nathanael referred to as facilitating immigration (along with finance, academics, some medical fields). Being surrounded by immigrants in this case could just mean your experience is limited to a select slice of society (a slice that includes you). How many people do you know who immigrated from the US to Germany to take an entry level job as a janitor, a retail cashier, or a plumber?

          • Alon Levy

            Let’s start with, you don’t just get a job as a plumber in Germany, because it’s a regulated profession and you need to get certified. There is such a thing as working holiday, but I don’t think the US participates in that program (though Canada does and I think so does Australia), and I knew a few Eastern European baristas in Vancouver who were in the country that way.

          • Onux

            That’s not a great start because it demonstrates there is a barrier for a profession to immigrate to Germany, a barrier you did not face as an academic working and studying in the US and other places. Second, I picked three professions as examples. I will assume Germany does not regulate janitors, waiters, baristas, food prep workers, warehouse labor, etc, etc, etc yet people in those jobs in the US cannot just easily immigrate there or elsewhere because they don’t have the financial means, the local connections, or can’t get a visa from those countries which restrict immigration to those highly skilled or in fields with a labor shortage.

            Working holiday implies that after the holiday someone returns home, thus it is not immigration.

  7. Michael

    The “leaving the city” narrative is bunk. American cities grow during recessions because the pipeline to the suburbs & sunbelt is temporarily broken – jobs evaporate and construction stops. An alternative question worth asking is: was 2019 “peak american city” if defined by the concentration of talent/wealth in a handful of so-called “super star” cities? Maybe.

    I think that’s just an equation: are the “expected aggregation benefits” (my term) greater than the cost-adjusted quality of life? My take is that quality of life has improved markedly in much of the urban USA over the last 20 years or so. And now there’s just a bigger roster of neighborhoods with the convenience & amenities able to attract & retain talent.

  8. Jo

    Taiwan was the first to warn the world? Sounds like a politically convenient rewriting of history to me….

    • Alon Levy

      I mean, it was! At the time it warned the WHO (which ignored it), the PRC was still arresting doctors who spoke out about the existence of the virus.

  9. adamsusaneck

    Hi Alon,

    I just graduated from Columbia with a masters in architecture. I had a job lined up with a firm where we were going to be designing ADA retrofits for the subway. That fell through when COVID hit and now the retrofits are on hold indefinitely. I am not optimistic about the future of capital work on the subway.

    “I’ll help you with some information about how to move to Germany if you want.”

    So… any advice? Can I take my dog?

    All the best, Adam

    On Tue, Aug 11, 2020 at 20:27 Pedestrian Observations wrote:

    > Alon Levy posted: “New York real estate media is speculating that people > may want to leave the city after the total failures of the city, state, and > federal governments to protect public health at the peak of corona in March > and April. I do not know if this is actually happ” >

  10. Charles

    I am interested in leaving this entire country. I already left a dumb city to intentionally move to the middle of nowhere were i can have closer access to the outdoor recreation i love but now i think im done entirely w/this country.

    So, im open to ideas on how to move to Germany/EU? Im a 20 year engineer in internet backbone stuff and my partner is a Veterinarian. The problem is that we are typical American’s in that we only speak English. So, maybe the UK is our best bet.

    Anyway, this post really resonated me and thanks for all the work you do. First time commenting but long time reader.

    • Gag Halfrunt

      The UK has left the EU, so Ireland or Malta are your only options for an English-speaking EU country.

      If you have any recent ancestors from an EU member state, you might be able to get citizenship there, which would enable you to live and work anywhere in the EU.

      • Charles

        Yes, good point re: the UK vs the EU.

        My parents are actually both european – one is Italian and hte other Dutch. Ive looked into what it would take to get dual citizenship and it seems difficult if not impossible. My parents are die hard GOP supporters and have flatly refused my requests of help with original documents. Also, i tihnk my dad became a naturalized US citizen before i was born here in teh USA and if i read the Italian website correctly that takes away my chance of citizenship via him.

        Holland looks like a harder ‘in’ than Italy. So, thats why i was thinking of just trying to get a job somewhere where my lack of language skills wont be a handicap and getting a Visa that way.

        • michaelrjames

          @Charles “Yes, good point re: the UK vs the EU.”

          Yes, worst possible time to consider the UK. Not just because of Brexit’s practical outcomes (which can only be imagined but none are good) but the appalling status of politics and division, and it has to be said, sheer idiocy and denialism amongst too many of the population that led to Brexit. I have a well-established bias on this subject, which as a scientist and with a decade living in multiple UK cities over the 80s-90s I will claim is evidence-based and just confirmed a million fold by their worst outcome in Europe over Covid-19, but on so many things the UK is a dump. Despite the PR you see in media & movies etc London is an awful city unless you are very well off (and even then, if you dislike a class-based money-culture …). Your reason for stumbling into such a place (language), and considering it as a “first step” is very dangerous–you might end up there for the rest of your life. Better to deal immediately with whatever difficulties are going to occur. In your field–and many technical professions–I doubt language is as big a barrier as you imagine. For example The Netherlands is substantially ahead of your other parental origin, Italy, and for many people English is a co-first language. There are reasons why so many Italians continue to migrate elsewhere, why they have dysfunctional politics, poorer healthcare (despite long lifespans) and terrible Covid-19 outcome. Having said that, many people love Italy (though I suspect much of this is from a short-term visitor perspective) and the north (Milan, Genoa) is more like the rest of northern Europe (though it, not the poor south, copped the worst of Covid-19). I’d probably agree with your parents if you chose to go back to Italy!

          With your background, it seems clear to me: The Netherlands. I think you’ll be able to overcome your parental reluctance, especially if you get serious.

          But here’s the thing: as an American you can live in the EU (Schengen members, which is most of them) for 90 days (in any 180 day period) on just the tourist visa you get stamped in your passport upon entry (wherever in Schengen you enter), no justification needed. You should definitely try before you buy. Find a cheap place that has good transit (most places). It might even be a good time to try Amsterdam (though anywhere in the Randstad is good) because the death-by-tourism and by AirBnB has subsided. You could try the UK at the same time, then you might understand why people like me dislike it so much. As an Australian I was probably still under the influence of myths from the Swinging Sixties, with London’s Kangaroo Valley (Earls Court) etc to only discover that at least by the 80s it was utterly different. Independent of Brexit (which is 4 months away though I reckon it will have to be delayed) the UK (and Ireland) has never been part of Schengen, so it has the dubious ‘benefit’ of time spent there doesn’t eat into your 90 day Schengen visa (you can come & go on a Schengen visa, cumulative elapsed non-contiguous time spent inside the zone is what matters). If you are contemplating such a life change, you should take a 90d timeout and rather than do the usual Europe discovery thing by racing frenetically around trying to see everything, choose one or a few places to live for most of that time.

          For me there is no contest: France. Because it has a nice mix of Mediterranean joie-de-vie/vibrancy/weather and northern European order. It also better fills your needs for “outdoor recreation” with the best in Europe, being the biggest country in the EU with the best wild areas, rivers, national parks (in the news this week is the growth of the Camargue–Rhone delta national park–pink flamingo population which has always been the Mediterranean’s biggest colonies). [BTW, the UK fails abysmally on this count too–I don’t mean flamingos but in accessible genuine wilderness, not to mention the weather.] Even Paris is very well provisioned with giant forests-national parks within the Ile de France (one of Europe’s top climbing sites is in Fontainebleau forest–250km2, three times the size of inner-Paris). Paris claims to have the EU’s biggest tech incubator; even if it is not true (probably not true) Macron wants it to be and is putting money into it so there may be opportunities for the likes of you (don’t dismiss it; Paris is an economic powerhouse). The French provinces are terrific and there are wonderful provincial cites, including ones that have a lot of tech (and will be English-language based) like aerospace in Toulouse (fabulous city) and Bordeaux, or Grenoble (hi-tech) and Montpellier (med biotech; another very desirable ‘lifestyle’ city and on the Med) etc though I’d avoid the eastern-med (Cote d’Azur) as it is overdeveloped. But I also worked briefly in The Netherlands and if the lab I worked in was in Amsterdam instead of Rotterdam I’d have probably gone there instead of Paris though the reality is that Rotterdam, while not pretty (having been bombed flat in WW2 and rebuilt in ugly 50s style), is a perfectly acceptable city.

          • Charles

            Thank you very much for your thorough reply. Im thinking of the english speaking world because my partner is a doctor and that is a huge part of her life and moving somewhere where she would both have to learn a new language and then gain whatever credentials are required to be a doctor might be too much.

            On the other hand if the USA continues on its way to some combination of apartheid South Africa meets N. Korea, with a large helping of fascist Germany anything would be better than here.

            I fully agree w/your reading of Italy. My father is Sicilian and while i love Sicily its a mess for a lot of reasons as is Italy in general. If we were to go to Italy it would most certainly in the far north of the country. Holland is a nice little country and, youre right, the English skills of the folks there are outstanding. I heard a lot of Dutch spoken as a kid and once upon a time my listening skills in Dutch were quite good so i imagine that i would regain those skills if immersed in the language.

            Honestly, ive never considered France. But you make a compelling case.

            WW2 is still first person history in my family. My mother comes from an old and rich Dutch family and she lived under literal Nazi occupation as the local SS officer and his staff moved into her family’s home and kept my mother and her family on as “help”. I had uncles that were killed by the German’s and so on. My fathers father was an illiterate peasant who was cannon fodder and actually killed by the USA when Sicily was invaded in 43.. So the fact that my parents are pro Trump i find continually shocking but no longer surprising.

            Basically, i just want to get out of this country before the worst happens and in the end ill move anywhere and do anything. My GF and i are not dumb, we have some money, and we know how to work. That will have to suffice.


          • michaelrjames

            Fine. And your qualifications and work ethic will give you a comfortable life wherever you choose. But then that is also true for the US. My point was that if you care about other things, leaving the US for the UK is distinctly a frying pan to fire scenario.

            Here (below) is a piece in today’s Atlantic mag. Warning: it is almost 6,000 words and a bit of a slog. It describes the covid-19 disaster well enough but I was disappointed that it didn’t really describe the long-simmering (4 decades) dysfunction that led to those stuff-ups, and the Brexit vote and the current failure to ensure an ordered Brexit, and the fact that the UK has the worst inequality in the EU. The one thing I did learn is the first plausible explanation as to how Germany, alone in the West, avoided the aged-care disaster: “Also unlike Britain, which has ducked the problem of reforming elderly care, Germany created a system in 1995 that everyone pays into, avoids catastrophic costs, and has cross-party support.” It is exactly this that has caused the second-wave breakout in Melbourne, Australia: “As Premier Daniel Andrews has pointed out, on Wednesday there were 1929 active cases in aged care, of which only six were in Victorian government–run facilities. So private aged-care facilities – regulated by the federal government – account for the remaining 1923 cases.

            Why the pandemic revealed Britain’s national illness
            Tom McTague, 12 Aug 2020.

            The raw figures are grim. Britain has the worst overall COVID-19 death toll in Europe, with more than 46,000 dead according to official figures, while also suffering the Continent’s second-worst “excess death” tally per capita, more than double that in France and eight times higher than Germany’s. It did not protect its oldest and most vulnerable, who died in nursing homes in appalling numbers. It allowed the disease to spread throughout the country rather than isolating it in one area. It failed to close its borders in good time, abandoned contact tracing too early, set targets that were missed, designed government programs that didn’t work, and somehow contrived to let the three most senior figures overseeing its pandemic response, including the prime minister, catch the very virus they were fighting. Now it faces the worst recession of any developed country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and is once again taking a gamble by easing its lockdown at a relatively early stage.

            Much of the focus has been on Johnson: an apparent manifestation of all that has gone wrong in Britain, a caricature of imperial nostalgia, Trumpian populism, and a general lack of seriousness. Yet this was not simply an issue of inept political leadership, inept or otherwise: Johnson stuck closely to a strategy designed and endorsed by the government’s experts, leaders in their fields and respected internationally. Even if the prime minister did make serious mistakes, the country’s issues run far deeper. The British government as a whole made poorer decisions, based on poorer advice, founded on poorer evidence, supplied by poorer testing, with the inevitable consequence that it achieved poorer results than almost any of its peers. It failed in its preparation, its diagnosis, and its treatment.
            BRITAIN’S UNWILLINGNESS to address systemic problems is not confined to health care. Since at least the 1970s, growing inequality between comparatively rich southeast England (including London) and the rest of the country has spurred all parties to pledge to “rebalance the economy” and make it less reliant on the capital. Yet large parts remain poorer than the European average. According to official EU figures, Britain has five regions with a per capita gross domestic product of less than $25,000. France, Germany, Ireland, Austria, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Sweden have none. If Britain were part of the United States, it would be anywhere from the third- to the eighth-poorest state, depending on the measure.

            I’d promise to not flog this dead horse anymore but I am notoriously weak on such resolutions:-)

          • Gag Halfrunt

            The UK left the EU on 31st January this year. “Four months away” is the end of the transition period, which the UK government has already decided not to extend. (The deadline for seeking an extension has passed, so there can be no U-turn.)

          • michaelrjames

            @Gag Halfront : “The UK left the EU on 31st January this year.”

            Except nothing changed because the period up to 31 Jan 2021 is “transitional” and BAU. You’ll know when it has actually happened when the roads and rail around Dover are totally gummed up, and the shops and pharmacies and hospitals etc run short of critical items. Currently about 1.6 million trucks per year carry tariff-free goods via the tunnel, and I don’t know how many freight trains (lots), all of which will have a currently undetermined alternative procedure in place on the second day of 2021.

            As to: “The deadline for seeking an extension has passed, so there can be no U-turn.”

            Sure, until there is. I am certain Michel Barnier and others on the EU side have shown willingness to grant a delay, on the pretext of the pandemic (which is a pretty good reason…. though the real reason is the Brits inability to negotiate; remember the last time they were granted an extra year, by Donald Tusk who turned to the press at the conclusion of the press announcement and advised the UK: “use the time well”. They didn’t.). However it is also true that the Europeans are extremely weary of the never-ending misery and inability of the Brits to decide what they want (other than a free lunch) and would like to see it over. And you may be right, that this toxic so-called government may well choose to do a Thelma & Louise despite the massive self-damage inflicted. On the day (night) I wonder, in order to avoid the press, if Boris will retreat to his Oxfordshire cottage like he did in the hours after the Brexit referendum result? Well no, today he has the official hideaway of Chequers which is where he sent his then pregnant partner when he came down with covid-19 after touring covid-10 wards maskless, which I suppose was his first self-immolation. His claimed near-death experience is supposed to have generated a renewed appreciation of the NHS (despite his government’s decade of defunding and outsourcing). Sure, if you believe that I guess you can believe nothing will change on 31 Jan, or that it already has happened.

  11. mlewyn

    I read this and I ask “compared to what”? Compared to an European city or Israel, I’d say Alon may have a pretty good argument. Compared to NYC’s U.S. competitors, not so much. And if you think 10 people killed by cops is a lot, I’d say your familiarity with the United States leaves much to be desired. (See, which shows that NYPD is much less lethal than most U.S. police departments).

  12. Lee Ratner

    Have you ever considered that there might not be enough votes for the policies you think will make New York City or any other big American city more livable and pleasant. Everybody knows that rents and housing costs in America’s big metropolitan areas are ridiculously high. They are also extraordinarily high in other metropolitan cities like London, Paris, etc. The NIMBY coalition still seems bigger and more politically powerful than the YIMBY coalition. The policies that will bring rent down like liberalizing zoning, making construction easier, and building more housing are not popular.

    Same with transit. America needs more transit. Remaining entirely car oriented in most of the country is getting harder and harder. Politicians don’t want to punish Americans out of their cars though because Americans like driving or build transit fast enough to replace cars. There simply aren’t the votes. You need the votes to do something.

    • Mike

      The problem is both the raw number of votes, the fact that many people who might want more housing and transit don’t bother to vote, their votes are suppressed, the existing laws and regulations are stacked against them so they have to be revised, and the people who support the status quo have outsized influence. People who think their single-family neighborhood shouldn’t change and use the ubiquidous parking think they’re just getting their fair share, when in reality they’re getting extraordinary subsidies that all of us are paying for. And they had a supermajority of votes until recently, and now they still have power beyond their numbers. But a lot of it is because they vote every election, while those who support more apartments and subsidized housing and better transit tend to vote only in presidential elections or not at all. If voter suppression were eliminated and everybody felt a duty to vote (in Australia it’s compulsory although you can mark “No opinion” or the equivalent), things would certainly go in a better direction. It’s debatable how far it would go, but things that were close to 50/50 would get over the threshold.

      • Jason

        Perhaps the system needs to be reformed? In Taiwan, to ensure high turnout rate, elections for all levels of the government below the national legislature happen together. In one day you vote for your county, city, district, and village.

          • michaelrjames

            Doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Except for some econocrat who thinks only that it is “cheaper”. The reason most elections are separate is to avoid the sweepstakes phenomenon–where some overarching issue with the top-level body eliminates any real difference in policy or quality of candidate etc in lower-level. In most places, including Oz, federal, state and local-city elections are all separated (by the constitution I believe and setting election dates by the feds and states always tries to avoid proximity with the other to avoid these contaminations. In the US they effectively try to avoid the phenomenon with the senate one-third elections.

          • Jason

            Avoid sweepstakes phenomenon, at what cost? If only 20% of people ever come out to vote for city election I can’t believe it will represent the people meaningfully, and nobody is ever going to take a day off to vote for the village chief.

          • michaelrjames

            @Jason: ” If only 20% of people ever come out to vote for city election I can’t believe it will represent the people meaningfully,”

            1. Try running elections efficiently like most of the world.
            2. Try running elections on Saturday like most of the civilised world.
            3. Like one civilised country (the same one that gave the world the secret ballot) make voting compulsory (or technically: turning up at a polling station).
            4. Eliminate gerrymandering.
            5. Don’t vote for civil positions like Chief of Police or Dog Catcher. Like things aren’t politicised enough ….

          • Nilo

            By comparison Parisian turnout was 58% in the last Pre-Covid mayoral election. Sweden’s general elections had an 87.1% turnout. A 30% bonus is a lot to throw away to get rid of sweepstakes, and simultaneously compulsory voting is definitely a lot farther away than far less dictatorial voting reforms.

        • Henry Miller

          You can make people vote, but you can’t make it an informed vote. I don’t know why people voted for Trump, but I know several people who voted for the female which is a non informed vote. (don’t read this as stating everyone voting for Hillary was not informed, only that some small number admitted to it)

          If you don’t have an informed vote it is better to stay home, you won’t help the right person win (accept by coincidence). Unfortunately this is a high bar that nobody has claimed to solve.

          • michaelrjames

            @Henry “You can make people vote, but you can’t make it an informed vote. …”

            That is the most contorted, perverted and plain false argument one could make. I mean, so a vote for Hillary was uninformed but one for Trump (by blue-collar voters!) was informed? Will we have a government-appointed official to decide that? Some rando like you? (Or me; if I had the power I would immediately disenfranchise half of the bloggers on this site:-) Why do you think Republicans everywhere try, and succeed, to suppress the vote, make it difficult to register then difficult to get to the polling sites and create logjams there, or defund the postal service, disenfranchise anyone with a criminal record, and gerrymander outrageously?

            One cannot force people to be informed but disenfranchising voters doesn’t improve that, it compounds it because it asymmetrically affects minorities and the less wealthy, employees versus employers etc. Which is why Republicans do all those dirty tricks (Gerrymandering has been bipartisan historically but California, the biggest state and biggest blue state, has reformed and there are serious moves by Dems everywhere to reform it, to permanently outlaw it.) These various fixes are calculated to provide Republicans with a built-in advantage of several points every election, and that’s before considering the loaded SCOTUS.

            Like democracy itself, as the Churchill maxim goes, there is no perfect system but compulsory voting is better than anything else. One thing is clear, it would have never given Trump victory and also GWB would never have won. One can wave one’s hands towards a few exceptions like Sweden and make unsubstantiated claims (of correlation not cause-and-effect) but are you seriously saying that the US electoral arrangements aren’t disastrously defective and undemocratic?

    • Eric2

      There is plenty of money for transit in the US. The problem is that it’s mostly wasted on projects that are massively overpriced and often of little value in the first place.

      • Lee Ratner

        The street car debacle that many cities are doing is bad. Investing money in BRT or true light rail systems would be better but you still need to get people out of their cars. A lot of people don’t want to do that. So there needs to be some stick along with the carrot. Politicians don’t like giving stick to voters.

        • Eric2

          The stick is traffic. Usually it’s there even without any efforts from politicians.

          • SB

            Congestion traffic is a prisoner dilemma. Everyone would be better off it there are less cars on the road but no one wants to stuck in on a slow bus.
            Rapid transit solves the speed problem but that has much higher upfront costs.

          • Lee Ratner

            SB, exactly and it takes a lot longer to build rapid transit. I’m also going to argue that past a certain population point, somewhere around one million, having a public transport system based solely on buses doesn’t work. People seem to generally behave themselves better in different types of rapid transit than bus transit in the United States. There are behaviors on the MUNI buses that rarely happen on BART or MUNI light rail like playing music out loud or having booming conversations or even out and out verbal fights. This rarely happened on the NYC subway during my life in NYC, which was most of my life until my late 30s. People might moan and groan about traffic but they don’t like the unpleasant experience that transit can offer either. At least in a car, you happen to be by yourself usually. Saves on the drama.

        • Henry Miller

          Most transit in the US is so bad there is no stick that will get people on it. Forget about needing sticks to get people to ride (which as you point out isn’t even politically feasible anyway) and focus on getting a system that is worth riding.

  13. Aaron Moser

    “But if it doesn’t, just leave. It’s okay. I’ll help you with some information about how to move to Germany if you want.

    Shoot I have German citizenship and I have no desire to move there. I like countries that have free speech

    • Alon Levy

      Germany has free speech. Americans overfocus on the fact that Holocaust denial here is illegal and underfocus on stuff like “if you say something negative about the police, will the police refuse to protect your event?” or “if you as a nonprofit criticize the mayor, will the city arbitrarily pull your funding?” or “if your newspaper criticizes the president, will the military stop buying tech services from you and switch to a competitor?”.

      • Aaron Moser

        “Americans overfocus on the fact that Holocaust denial here is illegal” yes because Holocaust denial is the only and absolutely only type of speech that is banned. Please I am not fucking 12 years old

        • Alon Levy

          It… is. Non-Nazi racist speech is 100% legal. Communist speech is legal. Islamist speech is legal. It’s legal to call for BDS and also to say BDS is anti-Semitic. Pornography is legal, and a sex store advertised all over Berlin during the peak of the lockdown. Nudity in non-porn film is legal and isn’t subject to MPAA censorship. Extremely risque humor, including Holocaust jokes, is legal. Savage attacks on politicians are legal and civil servants aren’t expected to be loyal to thin-skinned politicians and cold-shoulder critics. Everything except Nazism is legal.

          • df1982

            It’s illegal in Germany to walk around with a T-shirt displaying a PKK symbol. The way the Bundesverfassungsschutz monitors the left is truly chilling. And all public officials (including professor-level academics) have to sign a statement expressing their devotion to the existing constitutional order. So it’s not just Nazism.

          • Alon Levy

            And yet Berlin is full of Kurdistan stickers. And there are no arrests of people who engage in lolzy-violent left speech at left-wing protests (e.g. Bob Avakian signs calling for revolution). Actual arrests only happen in very narrow circumstances involving actual Nazism, and I don’t even mean generic AfD slogans even though AfD is currently under monitoring too, I mean signs blaming the Jews for corona.

      • df1982

        It’s obviously easy to put up a sticker somewhere and avoid being caught by the police. But “actual arrests” (and charges) have happened to people brandishing PKK symbols at political protests – i.e. expressing support for a democratic, feminist organisation that is struggling against Islamic fundamentalism in Syria/Iraq and neo-fascism in Turkey. And the FRG has prior form in this kind of repression, e.g. the Radikalenerlass of the 1970s. The irony is that anti-Nazism was the pretext for introducing these restrictions on free speech, but they were implemented by a state bureaucracy that was absolutely permeated with former Nazi party members (and there are still plenty of neo-Nazis lurking around in the police, army and secret service).

        • Alon Levy

          Some might refer to the PKK as “an organization that has engaged in terrorist bombings in Turkey” and to YPG as “people who voluntarily ceded territory to Assad in Syria,” but they probably are also filthy Zionist globalist banksters who think that blowing up buses in Tel Aviv is bad or something. But no, that does not get policed, despite what you may have heard from some Germans who claim to be intersectional feminists and have zero people of color in their groups. It matters that Berlin is full of these stickers whereas Nazi ones get removed, because Germany is actually good about policing neo-Nazism but not other things.

          EDIT: the issue of neo-Nazis in the police and army is real, but it’s 100% wrong to talk about it in any comparative sense; Germany is a lot better at purging neo-Nazis than the US or France. The issue here is similar to Sweden’s income mobility. Swedes will tell you that their country is run by 18 wealthy families and Americans will tell you that theirs is the land of opportunity, but in reality Sweden has far more income mobility than the US. This pattern is because Swedes as a political culture don’t think the rich are unusually moral or deserving so they focus on undeserving rich heirs and have built tax, welfare, labor, and education systems that equalize opportunities, whereas Americans think the rich are unusually moral and deserving so they focus on stories of entrepreneurial success and haven’t done any work to actually equalize opportunities. By the same token, Germans are unusually sensitive to Nazism in the state, so they look for it everywhere and will cite stories of an army unit that was disbanded because it had too many Nazis or a prosecutor who was dismissed for being too friendly to neo-Nazis, whereas Americans and French are less sensitive to this and therefore don’t think much about it while the police is full of people who recreationally beat black people.

          • df1982

            A cursory google search will turn up multiple news reports of court sentences for people charged with displaying YPG symbols (one even involved a parliamentarian). The law is not consistently implemented but that is often the point of politically repressive laws: they are held in reserve and whipped out when it is felt expedient to do so. Given the state of human rights for Kurds in Turkey I would say a strategy similar to that of the ANC in apartheid South Africa is a reasonably legitimate one to pursue ( And if you think the PKK is somehow in bed with the Assad regime then you really have no idea.

          • Alon Levy

            A cursory Google search will also turn up multiple news reports of YPG collaborating with Assad, e.g. in the Siege of Aleppo.

          • df1982

            It’s almost as if there was a far worse enemy that they needed to focus on defeating.

          • Alon Levy

            Almost, but not quite, first because Assad is massively more lethal than ISIS, and second because YPG’s collaboration with Assad was in areas nowhere near ISIS bases of operation but rather in the Siege of Aleppo and in northern Aleppo Province near the Turkish border.

  14. Henry Miller

    Leaving is not that easy. You leave not just the problems of your city, but also the reason cities exist in the first place. The city you live in (even if it is a ghost town of 20 people!) is where your family and friends are. You can move within the city without problems, but moving elsewhere will be hard on your personal life.

    When I live near my family it was a regular thing to visit them. If I needed help for a project I could call them. I also built up a network of friends who like to do things with me. Then I moved, and lost that network. Over time I built up a small network of friends, but not like I had. Then I moved again and lost it and have to start over. I try to visit my family, but that is where my vacation goes instead of trips to some tourist thing (there are many tourist things, not just whatever you just thought of). My kids wish we lived closer to my family even though they were born far away. They know they do not get the time with grandparents their cousins get and are jealous.

    There are times and reasons to move. It isn’t always safe to remain where you are. Sometimes the opportunity is compelling. However don’t lose track of the cost and tell everyone else it isn’t a big deal. It is a huge deal to move. Much better to make your city better if that is possible.

    Dont get grass is greener syndrome. Every city has problems. You might not know them. You might miss identify them. But they exist and you will need to deal with them.

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  16. John

    Not to quibble with minutia, but the idea that the city is anti-smoking is belied by the prevalence of smokers by comparison to pretty much other major American city. For those of us from west coast cities, when it comes to smoking New York seems positively European, in its prevalence, public acceptance, and crossing of class/education boundaries (even in Southern cities this last aspect isn’t really there).

      • Nathanael

        Well, compared to TOBACCO STATES, yes. Outside the tobacco states, even in the rest of the South (Texas, Florida), smoking rates have dropped to very low levels nationwide and NYC is on the high side.

  17. Matthew Hutton

    London is full of people who can manage complex projects in complex organisations, why can’t they put that to good use in the public sector and not the (boring) banks?

      • michaelrjames

        That (consulting pays more), plus the public service especially at the highest executive levels has been totally politicised over the past 4 decades. Anyone interested in serving the national interest or the greater good has long been purged or kept below a glass ceiling. Those at the very top, like department heads, are now on contracts that are awarded on naked partisan political basis and can be terminated at any time on the whim of those political partisans some of whom couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery. (Google ‘Christopher Grayling’ for a perfect example in the UK.) It’s weird because this has managed to create something akin to communism as practiced in the PRC or Russia or Belarus …. or I suppose, sadly, today’s Hong Kong.

        • michaelrjames

          I wrote: “awarded on naked partisan political basis”.
          The past week has seen a perfect example. Boris has appointed Dido Harding (Lady Harding to you plebs) to head the UK’s National Institute for Health Protection despite that she was running the contact tracing operation in the UK (Test & Trace) which has been a comprehensive failure. But then she has friends in the very highest places. Her friend David Cameron ennobled her in 2014, to Baroness Harding though her family already has a hereditary peerage (her father is the 2nd Baron Harding of Petherton). Of course she went to the best schools, then Oxford where naturally she did a PPE* alongside Cameron, and then a Harvard Biz School-MBA which makes her the ‘right’ person to transform the NHS suitable for American business.

          This is what “failing up” looks like. The Tories have reached the point where they don’t even hide their blatant cronyism. For example in the last royal list, Boris put his younger brother Jo forward for a peerage. But perhaps because this new National Institute for Health Protection is likely a move towards privatising the NHS, her appointment has created a furore, especially after her very public failure at covid-testing. Nu-Speak has been mastered as Boris and his bunch laud the NHS while simultaneously defunding it over the decade of their rule.
          No mystery why their covid response was so bad and why the NHS is such a mess.
          *Here’s my rant on how PPE destroyed the UK:

      • Matthew Hutton

        I think the public sector could be more flexible, for example they could waive people’s stamp duty for moving house for public sector roles (which would disproportionately benefit the senior ones that lack talent), or they could allow people with senior roles the ability to opt out of the pension schemes – this is because mortgages stop people on, say £200k a year dropping to £100k a year plus an amazing pension because they won’t be able to renew their mortgage, and they could also have a better working culture.

        I also agree that the naked partisanship of senior positions needs to go.

        • Matthew Hutton

          The reason to mention stamp duty is that if you’re earning a massive salary at a bank you’ve probably bought a large expensive house near a station, and if you buy a cheaper one in the next village for your shorter hours public sector one it’s a huge amount of the cost.

          • Matthew Hutton

            Let’s say I work for a bank on £200k a year and have bought a £1.5 million house with a £1 million mortgage. Then 2 or even 5 years later I decide I want to take a public sector job on half the pay. Then I have to pay a massive amount of transaction fees to move house so I can afford the mortgage payments and/or remortgage my house.

            And due to high stamp duty for moving and continual price rises if I have a £200k a year job it makes sense to buy that super expensive home – even though it makes it more difficult to switch jobs to one on lower pay.

  18. adirondacker12800

    The problem with white flight is not that it’s immoral to leave; it’s that it’s stupid to treat segregation as a service the city must provide

    The city doesn’t control mortgage regulations, the state and federal government do.

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