THE COST OF GOOD INTENTIONS: New York City and the Liberal Experiment, 1960-1975 by Charles R. Morris

THE COST OF GOOD INTENTIONS: New York City and the Liberal Experiment, 1960-1975

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The title notwithstanding, this is not a reprise of the thesis that liberal prodigality led to New York's 1975 fiscal crisis, but in actuality 1) a sophisticated assessment of the two Lindsay administrations, 1966-75, that 2) awards them high performance-ratings in many areas and only limited responsibility for the ensuing fiscal crisis. Morris, who served in the city government from 1969 to 1973, distinguishes sharply between the first administration--a time of great expectations, outside experts, concentration on blacks (and alienation of others)--and the more humble and conciliatory, lower-profile second. But he credits Lindsay's ""sensitive handling of racial disorders"" in '67 and '68--described here in detail--not only with keeping the lid on in New York but with serving as a model for the country; he attributes the welfare problem not to overgenerosity--even under the pressures of the welfare rights movement in '67 and '68--but rather (in one of his most refined analyses) to the city's heavy share of the costs, unequalled elsewhere; and while he is critical overall of the ""rationalist intervention strategy""--the assumption that people's lot can be bettered by careful planning--he does not condemn Open Enrollment, for one, and he is sympathetic to effectual strategies. Thus, in laying out where the hospital and health care program went astray (through costly medical advances, ill-advised affiliation with self-serving voluntary hospitals, runaway Medicaid, etc.), he does not fail to recognize the concrete accomplishments of individual programs. And as regards management, he sees Lindsay's improvements paying off--in higher productivity, agency by agency--during his second administration. So one is somewhat surprised by his overall conclusion--whatever his reservations (on race relations especially--that ""the Lindsay administrations fell short of what they might reasonably have accomplished."" On the fiscal front, he faults Lindsay & Co. not primarily for errors of commission (except in employing budget gimmicks when other wells ran dry) but for failing to recognize ""that the precipitate economic recession that set in after 1969 would prove to be more or less permanent""--a failure shared more crucially by his successors. What Morris accomplishes by his discrimination and precision is to force some hard rethinking--and to encourage small, feasible steps rather than grand schemes.

Pub Date: June 23rd, 1980
Publisher: Norton