MASKO: How not to grow New Haven’s economy

After many weeks of grueling campaigning, both of the candidates for New Haven’s Ward 1 aldermanic race still give me serious reservations as to their understanding of New Haven’s economic struggles.

The dispute remains and will remain undecided over whether New Haven’s Ward 1 alderman exists only to be a voice of Yale students in city government and whether it is necessary or even desirable for a candidate to have a vision for the city as a whole. Both candidates, Vinay Nayak ’14 and Sarah Eidelson ’12, though, have taken the initiative on this matter and decided to create platforms that reach far beyond the confines of Yale. They do this — either out of genuine concern for Yale students or out of a drive toward wider-reaching political evangelism — with the idea that an impoverished, depressed or dangerous New Haven has serious repercussions on Yale student life.

Both candidates have agreed that foremost among the city’s concerns is long-term economic stagnation and unemployment. As the campaign has progressed, it has seemed more and more that neither of the two candidates understands this city’s economic troubles and their causes.

It is true that an effort to revitalize this city economically should begin in City Hall, because the stranglehold exerted by that body on the city’s business is a main reason for the problem in the first place. A couple of each candidate’s policy stances, though, make clear that they either fail to understand the problem or, more distressingly, don’t particularly care.

First, disturbing in both Eidelson’s and Nayak’s campaigns, is a tacit acceptance of New Haven’s huge problem with illegal immigration. In a post on his website about the recent labor compensation disputes involving several New Haven restaurants employing primarily illegal immigrants, Nayak berates the involved businesses for not paying a proper minimum wage. Meanwhile, he never goes after the business owners for what they should be berated for: hiring illegal help.

Of course, there are far more people to be blamed than just the business owners. What about the city government of New Haven — those who have made New Haven one of the most attractive cities in the United States to be an illegal immigrant, even while the city’s job-creation economy has taken a nosedive?

It would be a sign of good sense and allegiance to the taxpaying citizens of New Haven for Nayak and Eidelson to help alleviate the city’s unemployment problem by cracking down on illegally held jobs to create fairly compensating employment for New Haven’s taxpaying citizens. (Hint: maybe stopping handing out free ID cards would help.)

Second, the craziest platform position of this campaign: Sarah Eidelson’s compulsion to extend living-wage ordinances beyond city government jobs. New Haven suffers from unemployment and underemployment well above the national average, much of it long-term. Eidelson almost seems to imply that the poverty of New Haven is due to some kind of institutional exploitation of the working class by underpaying employers, a problem requiring correction by a living-wage ordinance.

The problem is just the opposite! There are no employers! New Haven does not have a vibrant, dynamic jobs market that offers social mobility and a decent quality of life, and this is no accident — city government is set up so that it remains this way. Through the years, our government has proved so invested in preserving its own pre-eminence that it has forgotten about the real needs of its citizens. People need to be gainfully employed, something government abets best by self-restraint. In light of their policy positions counterproductive to job creation, one is left very unconvinced that either candidate is truly committed to economic recovery in New Haven. Instead, they seem resigned to a continued state of mediocrity for the city.

I write because I’ve grown to care for this little city we live in, and I want to see it succeed. I doubt the candidates will take ideas like mine seriously. It is very hard for liberals to see economic hardship without needing to put it within a framework of classist oppression and exploitation, the core belief behind each of the three policy positions I just addressed.

It is hardest of all when, as in the case of New Haven, the real bogeymen are liberals in government themselves. Today’s New Haven has been built on the ideas of hundreds of Vinay Nayaks and Sarah Eidelsons, just as enthusiastic, just as well-intentioned. It is time for New Haven and its politicians, both young and old, to take a hard look in the mirror.

John Masko is a sophomore in Saybrook College. Contact him at john.masko@yale.edu.

Comments

  • The Anti-Yale

    *Nayak berates the involved businesses for not paying a proper minimum wage. Meanwhile, he never goes after the business owners for what they should be berated for: hiring illegal help.*

    Maybe we need a [Fugitive Immigrant Act][1] too and a new Harriet Beecher Stowe to write*Uncle Barry’s White House.*

    [1]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fugitive_Slave_Act_of_1850

  • bcrosby

    Wow, there’s a lot of crazy here. To begin with: the notion that living wage ordinances necessarily lead to high levels of structural unemployment is simply not true. Consider, for example, Santa Fe, NM, home to one of the most progressive living wage ordinances in the country as well as enviably low unemployment: http://www.bls.gov/eag/eag.nm_santafe_msa.htm. We on the left are constantly that any improvements to people’s working lives – be it 8 hour laws, minimum wage, strong labor unions, health and safety regulations, etc., etc. – will somehow utterly shatter the economy and ruin any prospects of social mobility for the toiling masses. Well, it hasn’t happened yet – and in fact, the woefully underregulated U.S. economy now provides lower rates of social mobility (at least for those on the bottom of the income scale) than the social democracies of Germany and Scandinavia. Masko should take his fellow students seriously enough to drop this disingenuous rhetoric of common-sense solutions and cop to a position just as ideological as the one he accuses Sarah and Vinay as having.

    Moreover, the attack on undocumented immigrants is remarkably naive. The recent example of Alabama makes it clear that simply kicking all undocumenteds (and plenty of documented Hispanics as well) out doesn’t solve unemployment problems – unemployment markets are a little bit more complex than that. Even setting aside Masko’s remarkable disregard for the humanity of New Haven’s undocumented immigrant population, it’s utter foolishness to believe that New Haven’s unemployed would be magically fit for all the positions which undocumented immigrants are currently filling. Such a position also ignores the vital contribution which undocumented immigrants make to New Haven’s culture and economy (some of them are even, to trot out the already-tired Republican talking point, “job creators”).

    Let’s be real: this column tries to masquerade as nonideological, offering data-driven solutions to New Haven’s economic woes. It is anything but nonideological, however – it buys uncritically into an ideology which has been and continues to be used to legitimate attacks upon the rights of workers and poor people, an ideology which played a not-unsubstantial role in the economic meltdown from which our nation is finally beginning to recover. Ironically, Mr. Masko’s column is indeed a case study in “How not to grow New Haven’s economy.”

  • Frashizzle

    Lol @ bcrosby’s comment:
    – Santa Fe’s living wage ordinance only works because A) it’s not very high: http://www.santafenm.gov/index.aspx?NID=84. It’s $2.35/hour more than the state’s minimum wage, and B) Santa Fe wasn’t in a dire unemployment condition when it implemented the ordinance, as is New Haven. The same policy has entirely different effects when it’s implemented in a robust economy than when it’s implemented in a struggling economy.
    – Your (bcrosby’s) argument about illegal immigrants is a glaring generalization about the labor market (specifically, you’re generalizing it as being “complicated” without offering reasoning or evidence as to why it is so). Undocumented workers drive-down the equilibrium wage rate for unskilled labor, and businesses won’t pay workers fair wages if they’re undocumented (they just won’t… to pay anything more than eq. wage is charity from a business’s standpoint). Aldermen can chastise businesses all they want, but the only real solution is to make the city less friendly to undocumented labor (that is, until the federal government reforms its immigration system and we can get documentation for the millions of illegal immigrants in the US right now). Also, your suggestion that undocumented workers actually contribute jobs to the local economy is false by definition (an undocumented worker has no tax id number, he can’t apply for an LLC… he can’t act as a sole proprietor… he can only create more underpaid, under-the-table jobs to fill market niches that could be taken by legitimate employers who would pay a fair wage to citizens!)
    –Finally, your final paragraph is both an ad hominem and emotional appeal fallacy. It advances no new information, and tries to argue that this OPINION piece shouldn’t be considered because it expresses an OPINION. (By the way, the recent economic meltdown was caused, in large part, by the federal government pushing banks to grant mortgages to patently unqualified lend-ees because they thought that owning a home should be a “right”).

  • bcrosby

    @Frashizzle: Apologies if my last paragraph seems to suggest that Masko’s piece shouldn’t have been published – that wasn’t my intention at all. Rather, what frustrated me is that he seemed to be couching his argument in terms of ideologically-neutral claims to economic expertise. I don’t care that Masko is ideological – God knows that I am as well – but I am bothered when ideology tries to legitimate itself through claims to somehow being ‘commonsense’ or ‘objective’ or etc. etc.

    The notion, further, that businesses will never pay undocumented workers fair wages strikes me as difficult to justify. I don’t deny that undocumented workers are often horribly mistreated and underpaid, but just because that is often true now need not mean that it always be so. Unskilled workers in the U.S. in the early twentieth century, to use one example, were also horribly oppressed, and had been for a very long time. But a combination of worker organizing (the union movement, etc.) and government legislation dramatically improved working conditions. I understand that this example is different in several important ways from issues around undocumented workers – for one, undocumented workers’ immigration status often makes it more difficult for them to move levers of power that workers in the 30s and 40s could access. Further, just because one oppressed group was able to build power and lessen their oppression does not mean that all will be able to do so. BUT, to state categorically that undocumented workers as such necessarily have a certain impact on labor markets, or will never be paid fairly, etc. strikes me as indefensible – and, moreover, neatly excuses those of us who are currently U.S. citizens from working in solidarity with undocumented workers to improve their conditions.

    In fact, if anything, New Haven seems like a particularly good place to fight for fair working and living conditions for undocumented workers. Consider the work done by Unidad Latino en Accion and the New Haven Workers’ Association around issues of wage theft at Goodfellas and a series of other New Haven restaurants – to be sure, they didn’t solve the problem of wage theft for all time, but they have won some victories on behalf of workers, documented or not, who were being fleeced by their employers.

  • Frashizzle

    @bcrosby I agree with the notion that undocumented workers should be paid fair wages and could potentially organize themselves in such a way as to achieve this goal; however, I would counter that it would not be feasible/practical to do this in such a way that does not simply result in undocumented workers becoming documented workers (of which I am absolutely in favor. If we could just get SSNs for these workers, we could make sure that they’re being paid fair wages and collect income taxes from their labor to help pay for the social services on which they’re currently free-riding (and as a sub-parenthesis, I’m not trying to imply that it’s their intent to free-ride, as it’s certain that full citizenship provides far greater benefit than social free-riding)). Until the federal government can reform its immigration procedures, we’re left with choice, as a city, between either taking a step forward for undocumented workers’ rights or doing nothing. At face value, it would seem as though we should fight for the rights of undocumented workers; however, this path would have serious fiscal consequences for the city, as it would cause the city to need to strengthen all of its social services– from parks to cleanup to unprofitable/natural monoply utility provision to road construction– without a fully compensating increase in tax revenue. That is, it would eventually either render the city government insolvent in its provision of social services or cause taxpayers to pay an unfairly high amount. Therefore, I would counter that, acting without the political help of the federal, or at least state, government, the city’s best response would be to do all it can to create an environment that is unfavorable to illegal immigrants. I think that this results in a suboptimal outcome overall; however, given the constraint that New Haven has only trivial influence over the policies advanced by federal or state governments, I think that producing an unfavorable environment for undocumented workers is optimal.

  • SY

    “The problem is just the opposite! There are no employers! New Haven does not have a vibrant, dynamic jobs market that offers social mobility and a decent quality of life, and this is no accident — city government is set up so that it remains this way.”

    Novel idea that government and elected officials do not create productive, paying jobs, that businesses create those jobs. Instead of more, clever city and state government mandates, the focus might be on encouraging new, and existing, businesses. The jobs and wages and tax revenue could follow. Does a couple dollars more per hour for inexperienced employees solve the problem? We will be able to ask Greece (22% unemployment) and California and Illinois (12%+ unemployment) whether government employment, high taxes and minimum wage jobs solved their problems. This was an economics debate, and now there will be an answer.

  • The Anti-Yale

    What’s the difference between the Fugitive Slave Act of 1851 and Obamas raids on company’s with illegal aliens on the payroll?

    Nothing, except the word “slavery”.

    Both are cruel; both force those aiding and abetting exploited human beings to cooperate in legally kidnapping them and returning them to their abusers. Both are “legal” but IMMORAL.

    I will not listen to any rubbish about “illegal” aliens.

    Open the borders. America is not an “inside job”. America has always been an “outside job,” and I’m not referring to employment when I say “job”.

    We should be ashamed —and so should President Obama —of this latter day Fugitive Slave Act posing as Immigration Regulation.

    Shame on us.

  • The Anti-Yale

    *Obamas* should be Obama’s
    *company’s* should be companies.

  • Sara

    This op-ed makes little sense. The metro areas with strong economies are the areas with large numbers of immigrants. Compare: Baltimore vs. DC, Detroit vs. LA, Youngstown vs. Boston, Memphis vs. Seattle, St. Louis vs. San Francisco. Luckily New Haven has a strong and growing presence of immigrants, and therefore a stronger economy than many similar cities in the U.S. — but it could be better.

    Don’t listen to me. Talk to Mike Bloomberg, and ask him what his positions are about immigration and the Dream Act – he knows something about business.

  • The Anti-Yale

    I should not have said “child delivered not dismembered.” I should have said have said”Some sperm donors want their EMBRYO delivered not dismembered”. There is no agreement that childhood commences in utero.

  • The Anti-Yale

    OOOPS. Wrong article. Guess I shouldn’t blog on a 25-minute lunch break!