Michael Bloomberg: Genteel Enemy of FreedomTags Big GovernmentProgressivism
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg has been making the headlines in recent weeks due to his surge in the polls. The billionaire businessman has purchased his way toward the Democratic presidential nomination and has benefited greatly from the party’s new debate rules. Bloomberg often presents himself as a pragmatic centrist, but in fact his policies resemble technocratic, albeit sometimes authoritarian, solutions.
AsTablet magazine writes, Bloomberg’s intent is to prevent Bernie’s populist, socialist movement “from winning a majority of the delegates to the Democratic National Convention.” The Democratic establishment senses no irony in the fact that its solution to Senator Sanders’s populist, antiwealth message is a billionaire former mayor willing to spend $500 million of his own money to create a faux grassroots campaign. Tablet notes that the establishment Democrats like Bloomberg picture themselves as “entitled to lead the ignorant masses toward enlightenment; a vision they have conveniently insisted on seeing as social justice.” This is precisely the sentiment that Bloomberg held throughout his time in politics and after he was out of the political spotlight.
Famed economist Thomas Sowell encapsulates this idea in his book Vision of the Anointed. One of the book’s key takeaways is about the common practice of “assessing political programs by their supposed moral intention instead of their visible effect.” In essence, regardless of the negative downstream impact, a policy can be justified by a mere compassionate motive. Bloomberg has incorporated his “pious faith in the efficacy of government” into his worldview.
Throughout the course of his political career and political activism, Bloomberg has espoused many authoritarian policies. These policies are, supposedly, well intentioned and serve the “public interest.” Michael Bloomberg is best described by the New Republic as embracing “polite authoritarianism.” The following are several examples of Michael Bloomberg’s policies:
- Back in 2008, the New York City Council voted to extend the two-term limit for elected officials. At the time, Bloomberg was seeking to run for a third term as New York’s Republican mayor, citing his experience in finance as necessary to steer the city out of the Great Recession. A Quinnipiac University poll at the time found that 89 percent of voters believed that a “referendum, not a council vote, should decide the issue.” Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner said of this City Council vote, “everyone can see that this is a back-room, insider deal that takes away New Yorkers’ right to vote.”
- Bloomberg’s record on civil liberties is alarming. As mayor of New York City, he installed the New York Police Department’s “Ring of Steel,” a surveillance network of two thousand cameras that utilizes algorithms to “search video images for specific shapes, sizes, and colors” and zeroes in “on unattended packages or suspicious behavior.” As if citizens did not have enough to worry about with federal government surveillance, the NYPD decided to amplify such suspicions. According to The Intercept, Bloomberg’s NYPD utilized undercover agents to spy on activist groups. The NYPD Demographics Unit also surveilled Muslims in New York City and mapped “ancestries of interest.” Most notable of Bloomberg’s civil liberty infringements is his NYPD’s expansive use of “stop-and-frisk.” During his tenure the program expanded from around 97,000 stops to around 685,000 in 2011. Finally, Bloomberg advocated to alter our society’s norms and interpretation of constitutional protections of privacy.
- In conjunction with his attacks on civil liberties, Bloomberg has made gun control his priority. In 2013, Bloomberg founded the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. The organization’s stated purpose is to educate lawmakers about gun violence and to keep guns away from criminals. Bloomberg’s presidential campaign has called for 1) closing the “private sale loophole,” which is just any private sale of a firearm (it is not clear whether his campaign considers a simple transfer absent a monetary exchange a sale), 2) passing a federal red flag law, which would allow law enforcement to remove firearms “from those making threats or suffering severe mental breakdowns,” 3) the reinstating of a federal ban on the vaguely defined “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines, and 4) repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which largely immunizes firearms manufacturers from liability “when crimes have been committed with their products.”
- Bloomberg has a history of imposing what is best characterized as “nanny-state,” or coddling, policies. For example, he characterized taxation for the poor as regressive, which he believes is “the good thing about them because the problem is in people that don’t have a lot of money. And so, higher taxes should have a bigger impact on their behavior and how they deal with themselves.” Additionally, he has imposed or enforced a series of unusual taxes on sodas and sliced bagels. In 2012, he announced the sugary drinks portion-cap rule, which required food service establishments to cap the size of cups “used to offer, provide and sell sugary beverages” to sixteen ounces. The State of New York began enforcing a tax on sliced bagels during Bloomberg’s time as mayor. Supposedly, the tax code distinguishes between the sale of whole bagels and “sliced or prepared bagels (with cream cheese or other toppings).” Bloomberg also “demanded that hospitals stop handing out baby formula to persuade more new mothers to breastfeed their babies,” according to the Daily Mail.
- Characteristic of the current Democratic establishment, Bloomberg has suggested some pro-elite reforms to democracy. In 2010, he lamented “the lack of qualifications required to seek public office,” such as credentials like a PhD. Bloomberg’s conflation of credentials with real-world expertise is consistent with the increasing acceptance of the administrative state among progressives. Bloomberg contends that progress depends on executives having “far and away” more power than legislatures. As I mentioned above, Bloomberg sought a third term as mayor despite the fact that the rules did not allow this. In past conversations, he has stated that Xi Jinping of China is not a dictator, despite the fact that the Communist Party holds only sham elections. However, Bloomberg’s candidacy may elevate the issue of China, especially Chinese infringements of free speech and the human rights of Muslim Uighurs, during the election cycle.
Although Bloomberg may appear as a centrist among the candidates in the Democratic presidential primary, his record should concern civil libertarians. The New York Times’s Ross Douthat writes, “Trump’s authoritarian tendencies are naked on his Twitter feed, but Bloomberg’s imperial instincts, his indifference to limits on his power, are a conspicuous feature of his career.” The Daily Beast has characterized the Democrats’ acceptance of Bloomberg as breaking the glass in case of emergency and electing “their own authoritarian if that’s what it takes.”
Given how drastically the scope of the president’s executive authority has grown, it is undeniable that a President Bloomberg would seek to bypass congressional action. Most of his Democratic colleagues have affirmed their own commitment to doing so. In spite of concerns regarding President Trump’s authoritarian tendencies, he has been remarkably unsuccessful in implementing these ideas, whereas Bloomberg was largely successful in implementing his policies. As Douthat correctly acknowledges, those who vote for Bloomberg should understand that they are seeking to exchange Trump’s “black comedy” for Bloomberg’s “velvet fist.”