JUDD: The title of your book refers to the New New Left -- who comprises this group and what's "New" about them?
MALANGA: The New New Left, which I also sometimes call the public sector economy, consists of those taxeaters who live off government, either through transfer payments, public sector employment, or employment in sectors like private social services or health care which are increasingly funded by government. These groups began acquiring political power 40 years ago, largely with the help of the vast expansion of government that began during the War on Poverty.
I call the movement "new" because about 10 years ago members of these various groups began recognizing that they had the same interest in an ever-expanding government and started working together in coalitions that support bigger government and government solutions to our problems. In many states and cities the coalition has now gathered so much power that it is in control of the political agenda.
JUDD: To what extent do you see the creation of this system you depict here as intentional and premeditated?
MALANGA: I don't think it was intentional in the beginning. The original framers of the War on Poverty were well-intentioned if naive and ultimately wrongheaded. Sargent Shriver declared back then that we could end poverty in a decade and
JUDD: In your book you write about some of the aims and enemies of this New New Left and at first glance it's not clear why they chose these in particular -- either as goals or as foes -- could you talk a little about each and why it matters so much to them?
For example, discuss The "Living Wage".
MALANGA: One reason I write an entire chapter about the living wage movement is because it's on this issue that this new coalition first realized it could organize itself in such a way as to circumvent what was happening in
MAANGA: I was very curious when I started writing about living wage and I saw that the groups running these campaigns were involved in a bunch of other efforts. One of their efforts was against Wal-Mart. It was very strange. Long ago I covered retailing and remembered that the opposition to Wal-Mart back then was from private unions and small merchants. But this new effort included public employee unions and social service activist groups like ACORN. What I realized was that the union movement had changed fundamentally in the
JUDD: Fostering a "Creative Class"?
MALANGA: As I said earlier, a decade ago the emphasis in municipal affairs was on reinventing government and making it serve citizens more efficiently. The idea was that government should concentrate on doing the basics well--provide decent schools, good policing that created a sense of public safety, and investment in basic infrastructure. Do those things and tax people reasonably and you will succeed, the idea went. That idea, combined with the notion that we should demand more individual responsibility out of those who were receiving government assistance, helped create the urban reform movement that worked miracles in a place like
But those ideas have largely died in many places thanks to the New New Left. Now instead we are seeing a ramping up again of bigger, more activist government trying to do ever more -- sometimes even at the expense of the basics. Professor Richard Florida's so-called creative class is one manifestation of that. He says quite frankly that the people who matter to cities--his creative class of scientists, artists, bohemians, technology entrepreneurs--don't really care about restraining taxes and aren't that interested in school systems because many of them don't have kids. Instead, cities should be spending money on cultural amenities and other lifestyle enhancements that attract the creative class--including rock festivals, bikepaths, multi-cultural festivals and other things which apparently attract the good professor himself. His ideas have been picked up by some of those who live off government spending to advocate for growing budgets focused on more government spending on lifestyle and cultural amenities and frills. I use this movement to talk a bit about how cities and their politicians today are getting away from the basics again, and the dangers of this. Nothing illustrates this more than the former mayor of
JUDD: Non-Partisan elections?
MALANGA: I use New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to change his city's electoral process to nonpartisan elections as a way to illustrate and trace the growth of the power of the public sector economy in
JUDD: What can be done about the New New Left? What are some reforms that could limit their growing power or even reverse the trends you talk about?
MALANGA: I think we are starting to see a new taxpayer revolt emerging in the
But it won't be easy. Taxpayers have more of a chance in states where voters can vote directly on these things, but even there, taxpayers don't want to be in a constant state of reform. They don't want to have to rise up and perpetually battle the public sector interests. The next few years will be interesting.
JUDD: On to some personal questions. What is your background and what in it led you to concentrate on the public-sector movement, urban bureaucracy and
MALANGA: I was for a long time a business editor and reporter here in New York, and it was while reporting on what government did to business that I became interested in the conjunction of public policy, politics, and economics. I covered New York during the worst of times and the best of times, and when I came to City Journal and started expressing my opinions about how politics was changing in the city, readers from around the country starting telling me, "hey, that stuff is going on here, too," so I broadened my reporting horizons.
JUDD: Brian Lamb of Booknotes (C-SPAN) always asks a question that I find interesting. How do you go about the physical task of writing?
MALANGA: Having been a reporter and editor subject to deadline pressures for more than 20 years, I like sticking to a schedule, reporting first and then writing, and I couldn't do this anymore without a computer, Excel spreadsheets and the Internet (well, maybe I could, but not nearly as efficiently).
JUDD: Are you working on another book now or do you have ideas for one?
MALANGA: When you work for a regularly published journal like CJ, you have to feed the editorial beast, so to speak. So I've got enough going on now working on new stories and promoting The New New Left. For the immediate future I'll be following the emerging battle between taxpayers and tax-eaters in City Journal. Maybe it will lead to a new book on the next taxpayer revolt, if indeed there is one.
JUDD: Thank you very much for your time and your consideration. Best of luck with the book.
Orrin C. Judd lives in Hanover, NH where he is the writer-in-residence at BrothersJudd.com