Michael Bloomberg may be an aggressive and polarising leader, but he gets resultsby Matthew Wolfson / June 22, 2013 / Leave a comment
For Americans who value government that’s both effective and democratic, Michael R. Bloomberg presents a dilemma. In a country enduring a polarised and apparently paralysed political system, what Atlantic Magazine obligingly called “The Bloomberg Way” appears to be an attractive model for government. The outgoing Mayor of New York is a registered Independent. He is committed to using government to address local challenges (recycling, green transport), as well as national ones (obesity, climate change). He’s been willing to buck public opinion—most notably, in 2009, he affirmed a group’s constitutional right to build a Muslim community centre near the site of the 9/11 attacks—yet he remains broadly popular with New Yorkers. He recently invested a portion of his wealth in the stalled campaign for gun control, prompting the New Republic to run an excitable cover story titled “This is How the NRA Ends.” Nonetheless, “The Bloomberg Way” brings with it a disconcerting trade-off: effective government comes at the expense of democratic government.
“People aren’t good at describing what is in their own interest,” explained Bloomberg in the Atlantic. “What leaders should do is make decisions as to what they think is in the public interest based on the best advice that they can get, and then try and build a constituency and bring it along.” He has done this repeatedly, and increasingly aggressively, in recent years. In 2009 he persuaded the New York City council to overturn mayoral term limits to allow him to run for a third time, despite widespread criticism. In 2012 he imposed restrictions on the size of fizzy drinks that restaurants could sell. The same year, he instituted an initiative, disturbingly called “Latch On NYC,” which restricted the use of formula milk in hospitals in order to promote breastfeeding. Throughout his tenure, he has supported the NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, which appears to have pushed crime rates down at the expense of alienating minority communities. (It may also be unconstitutional.)
Bloomberg’s reforming impulse stops short of imposing checks on America’s most economically productive sectors—the ones which, not coincidentally, tend to produce its governing class. He opposes comprehensive financial reform, noting during the 2010 senate debate over bank regulation that “the…