Diversifying Beyond Wall Street

Question: How has New York City changed since the seventies?

Bob Lieber: I didn't really think about it in this context until I got in this job, but we moved to New York City in 1977.  New York City was on the verge of bankruptcy in the '70s and had slashed investment, and that was the famous President Ford New York City drop dead.  And when I moved here from Colorado, and prior to that from California, you developed some coping mechanisms to get around in New York which were survival instincts.  And you were always looking ahead, and you were always looking behind.  And you always wanted to make sure you knew what was going on at all times, because even during the day you had to be careful.  It was -- even in midtown Manhattan it was dangerous.  Walking through Times Square was dangerous, and there were lots of other places in the city you just wouldn't go because the risk to you physically was so high.  You could get robbed, you could get injured, and lots of things could happen -- mugged.  And so watching it from the '70s and then through the '80s and then the '90s and where we are now, I mean if you look at New York City's population, from 1975 into the mid-1980s we actually had a million people move out of the city, which is not good when you're trying to provide services for people that live here.  When you lose that kind of a tax base, it was devastating.

And then it was really starting in the 1990s where there was an increased focus on security and trying to make sure the streets were safe, improvements around the streets being clean.  And that really started to turn the tide about how New York was positioned.  And today we're at the largest population that we've ever had in New York City, almost 8.4 million people.  And just given natural population growth and what we want to do to expand our competitive position, we need to be able to build enough additional capacity to accommodate people for them to be able to live, work and play here, but also for them to be able to get around.  And I think also key to that is maintaining the quality of life gains that we've made.  So New York City is the safest big city in the country; crime rates have gone down dramatically every year that we've been in office.  The streets are clean now.  There's been a huge investment that's been made in terms of the education and improving our public schools, so people feel comfortable living here, and now there's a place where they can raise their families here.  And it's really important, particularly in an economy like we have now, that we -- we cannot go back and lose the ground that we've made in terms of the gains that have been made over the past decade or two in terms of really improving the quality of life.

Question: Do you see crime becoming an issue in the coming years as a result of the economic downturn?

Bob Lieber:  Well, surprisingly -- I think, again, when we look at the things that we have to do around the city, we've already made a number of budget cuts the last two years.  The cuts that are taking place in the uniformed services, particularly with police, and with education have not been as dramatic as it has been in the other agencies.  Again, we can't lose the ground that we have there.  But it's interesting:  when you look at New York City today, the labor force that we have in New York is as high as it's ever been.  Typically what you see in recessions or downturns is that people will leave the city.  It's too hard to get a job there; it's too expensive to live there.  But we have a very aggressive affordable housing program to build 165,000 -- restore or build 165,000 units.  We're more than halfway through that already.  And what we've seen is, kind of counter intuitively, that we are picking up people who are coming to New York City from other parts of the country because they think the opportunities to find employment are better here than where they are.  And they recognize that this is a place that's safe, and they recognize this is a place where they can move and raise a family.  So we're over four million people now in the labor force, and I think that's a testimony to the progress that the city's made.

Question: Will the supposed end of the Wall Street era change New York City’s personality?

Bob Lieber:  Well, I think that when you look at the contribution that the financial services sector make to New York City, it's disproportionate economics for the number of people who work here.  About less than 10 percent of the private employment in the city comes from the financial services sector, but in 2007, peak time, and the Wall Street represented about 35 percent of our payroll tax.  So a disproportionate contribution.  We don't want to lose that profile.  We don't want to lose our role as the financial capital of the world.  But what we do want to do is, we want to continue to look for ways that we can diversify our economic environment here and the industries that are in the city so that we're positioned to have businesses that are countercyclical or can absorb people that are getting laid off, or other economic downturns in other parts of the businesses.  So I think New York's role as financial capital of the world is probably greater today than it was three years ago, compared to London and some of the other places, and even in Asia, and we still have a very meaningful and important role in that.  But when we look at what we're also trying to do to diversify our economy and capitalize on what we think are our natural advantages -- and that's really people, right? -- now it's not shipping, it's not transportation.  New York's competitive advantage today is the people who live here and that work here.

So we're looking to try and grow our life sciences and biosciences industry.  We're looking to improve and increase our role around the fashion industry.  We're still the number one tourist destination in the country.  And what we're doing around the green sector and green jobs -- a bit amorphous about what exactly those jobs are.  They're all important opportunities for us.  Even niche manufacturing and industrial activities, along with technology, along with the tremendous migration that's taking place from traditional media to digital media.  I mean, the fact that we're doing this interview now in this format as opposed to writing it down for a story kind of signals how much change is taking place.  We want to make sure that we're the place where the best and the brightest want to be, where they want to be with other people likeminded about it, so that we have the ability to grow the job base here, to create more jobs and to expand the tax base so we can provide more services for the residents who live here.

Question: What will New York City look like 20 years from now?

Bob Lieber:  Well, I think what you're going to see is an increasing focus for people to live in denser urban environments.  When you look at the impact on the environment, dense urban areas have a significant advantage in terms of the contribution to the environment.  So I think our PlaNYC initiative to create a more sustainable New York City by 2030, 20 years from now, will reduce the carbon footprint of the city by over 30 percent; that's our goal.  I think that's going to have a meaningful impact, so I think you're going to have -- you'll see improvements in what takes place in the buildings, but I think you're also going to see improvements in the way transportation takes place.  I think transportation is a big issue for the city going forward.  We have to find ways to get people around more efficiently.  We have to rely more on mass transit.  We need cooperation and help from other parts of the government sector to help us do that.  And then I think we continually need to focus on the quality of our air, quality of our water, and our sources of power and energy that are coming in the city as well.  So I think those are all really important parts, and we've tried to address that in our PlaNYC initiative, which is 127 separate initiatives that are in place to try and prepare ourselves for the next 20 years.

Recorded on November 20, 2009

From crime capital to financial mecca, Bob Lieber has witnessed a New York with many personalities. What will its future hold after the supposed end of the Wall Street era?

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Politics & Current Affairs

Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

"I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?


Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

In their findings the authors state:

"The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
upholding First Amendment ideals.

Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

  • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
  • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
  • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
  • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
  • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
  • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
  • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,
    Patriotic.

Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

It's interesting to note the authors found that:

"Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

  • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
  • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
  • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
  • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
  • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
  • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

  • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
  • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
  • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
  • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
  • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
  • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

Civic discourse in the divisive age

Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

"In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
putting our democracy in peril.


Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.