Saturday 2012-06-30

The Power Broker by Robert A Caro

While I was reading this book, I can across a short youtube video of Everyday Tragedies. While we only ever think about these when they cross our minds for whatever reason, you can just run the odds and realize that there's probably something soul-crushing happening in your city right now.

Witnesses revealed that hundreds of innocent housewives and working girls had been framed as prostitutes and, if they could not raise the cash to buy their freedom, had been jailed, sometimes for months, by a cabal of crooked vice-squad policemen, court clerks and magistrates.
-- New York City Before Robert Moses

According to Caro, the situation doesn't necessarily improve once Moses Arrives in New York City. Granted, this book is fairly one-sided against Moses; it excoriates him for his use of parks projects to allocate construction work to people willing to play the patronage game. Later, Moses expanded into public authorities which gave him independent discretionary control over New York's toll bridges revenues, which furthered the reach of his monetary influence.

What Moses had succeeded in doing, really, was to replace graft with benefits that could be derived with legality from a public works project. He had succeeded in centralizing in his projects -- and to a remarkable extent in his own person -- all those forces which are not in theory supposed to, but which in practice do, play a decisive role in political decisions.
-- Wait Until the Evening

Since cars paid him tolls, Moses allegedly constrained public transport development. Imagine a New York City with less bridges for cars and more for trains, with no expressways and no parking, with more ferries and more neighborhoods. That was New York City before Robert Moses.

But the public authority concept was new in the United States...
The Port of New York Authority, the first large authority in America, modeled on its London counterpart and created by an interstate compact between New York and New Jersey, would not be created until 1921...
"Our bridge was fabulously successful," Jack Madigan would say, "We were earning -- after the carrying charges -- $600,000 per year NET!!! (in 1937 dollars)" And that was just one bridge!
-- The Warp on the Loom

Apparently, Moses was fond of saying "You have to break some eggs to make an omelette." Books like this remind us to retort "and who exactly gets how much of that omelette?". Or to stop and think that maybe the "egg" is more like the seal in the above youtube video, slaughtered without a sound because it was too exhausted to fight anymore.

Lawsuits take money. The state's supply of this commodity is comparatively bottomless. The private citizen's is not.
-- Robert Moses and the Creature of the Machine