Term Limits By Caste

You have three castes in New York: the executive caste, the political caste, and the serfs. The executive caste rides around in taxis and black cars, or drives their own luxury cars to paid-for corporate parking spaces, lives in the wealthier parts of Manhattan or the more affluent suburbs, and sends its children to private or suburban schools. Its capital gain and investment income is taxed at favorable rates, but this caste nonetheless pays much of the city’s taxes. The political caste drives its own or city cars to public parking spaces reserved for it by placard, receives much its pay in tax-advantaged retirement income and employer-financed health care, lives in the middle-caste suburbs (even if required to live within the city) or in a limited number of suburban-type city neighborhoods, and sends its children to suburban or “special” city public schools. To the extent that in the past there were special “middle income” housing deals on offer, such as Mitchell-Lamas, the political caste got them.

It seems that both the political caste and the executive caste are in favor of extending, in fact repealing, term limits. And based on the polls, the serfs are not.

All the newspapers are for term limit extension (as a first step), and so are most of the unions. I suspect that even those members of the City Council and unions that have come out against the term limit extension are actually for it, but have make a PR decision to say otherwise, giving democracy and air kiss. The city’s top executives pushed for repeal, and the former patron saint of term limits ditched it in favor of having one of his own in the Mayor’s office. All these interests are, in reality, fine with the lack of competitive elections (though they say otherwise) as long as their privileges and prerogatives are protected in bad fiscal times and expanded in good fiscal times. It is the serfs are against extending term limits, no matter what their newspapers and unions and employers say. They know that the only real elections are for open seats, and that real elections are the only defense they have against a worse and worse deal.

The political caste, through labor unions and other organizations such as the Greater New York Hospital Association, controls the City Council and State Legislature, which provide it with favors at everyone else’s expense, leading to diminished public services despite high taxes. Among their clients are those public employees who are either poor performers and do not earn their pay, are retired, or about to retire; senior citizens whose children and grandchildren live elsewhere and who don’t care about those living there; and those who use their special connections and insider information to get the best of what limited public services and facilities are available, privatizing them in effect. Some clients of the political caste score with public contracts rather than public employment, though it is more common for clients of the executive caste. At the core of the political caste are the perpetual incumbents in legislative offices and those without administrative responsibilities (ie. borough presidents), their much-larger-than average staffs, along with certain agencies and departments given over to them – such as part of the judiciary.

The executive caste, which does not require public services, is mostly interested in influencing elections for executive positions such as Mayor and Governor, in part through the control of the media, in part by threatening to leave town. Among its clients are firms seeking special tax breaks, developers seeking exceptions to land use rules for development sites bought cheap as a result of those rules, and wealthy people looking to access public funds for the non-profits they see as their legacy. I guess one could say that the political caste attempts to seize public space for itself to use for parking, while the executive caste tries to do the same to make money. But the executive caste makes most of its money by tricking people into getting ripped off in the marketplace, rather than having the tax collectors seize their money and give it to them, which is the political caste MO. So the executive caste is most concerned with preventing regulations that would stop it from ripping off the serfs.

The political caste is in favor of extending term limits to preserve the jobs of those in and affiliated with the City Council, and to eliminate a possible source of real elections for state legislature. The executive caste wants to continue to have one its own as Mayor, rather than risking a shift to a member of the political caste.

The serfs include the unorganized working caste, younger public employees and other union members on the wrong end of the repeated cycle of “screw the newbie, flee to Florida” contracts, young college graduates trapped in “freelance” jobs without benefits, immigrants, anyone who starts a small or new business in New York, everyone else really. They ride around by subway or walk, or if they drive have to compete for scarce legal spaces, often lack health insurance and generally lack pensions. They are neither rich enough to live well without public services nor have enough connections to ensure privileged access to them when good ones are in short supply. Parochial schools have been a lifeboat for some of the serfs, but it is sinking. They get lots of parking tickets, and their wage and (worse) self-employment income is highly taxed, though in the latter case some fight back by breaking the law and accepting unreported payments in cash.

The executive caste can squeeze the serfs in the workplace, providing jobs on a take-it-or-leave it basis for a little less, in wages and benefits, each year. The political caste provides public services and benefits to the serfs on a take-it-or-leave it bases, somewhat less for somewhat higher taxes each year. The executive caste has captured a soaring share of the nation’s income. The political caste tends to have its income automatically adjusted upward for inflation each year by law. Both the political caste and the executive caste demand more and more from the serfs at a lower and lower price in the marketplace, because they can take their business elsewhere.

The term limit extension issue shows the extent to which both the political caste and the executive caste are the same sort of people – self-contained groups with an excess sense of entitlement. The use of the word caste rather than class is intentional. More and more the division between those in control of social institutions and using them primarily for their own benefit, and those forced to take what they can get, is becoming fixed. The reduction to elimination of competitive elections is one way this is happening. That is why most New Yorkers were in favor of term limits, and oppose their step-by-step repeal.

The serfs are a diverse group, with varying levels of education and income and different occupations. Not all realize they are the serfs. And some believe that votes on Election Day actually matter, even in non-swing states for offices other than President. The vote to over-ride the serfs’ votes and begin the step-by-step repeal of term limits might wake a few of them up.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting, well written. Is there a fourth caste for the military? What about third party politicians, they’re not necessarily in the same fold? Can I add this to my blogroll?

    • Larry Littlefield

      Sure, go ahead. Written a long time ago however.