Jack Hidary is a very nice man who speaks in complete sentences and seems bright enough. He also has absolutely no qualifications whatsoever to be Mayor of New York City . Well, no qualifications other than the fact that he himself is very rich and also has lots of very rich friends.
His resume starts with tech companies that went bust after he left them, and continues with a list of virtually every nonprofit whose mission statement is something like let’s solve the world’s problems by deploying rich people: the X-prize, Google Labs, The Clinton Global Initiative. He represents Bloombergism taken to a level of logical absurdity, presenting a vision of politics so blinding and beautiful that it seems almost cruel to reveal it as bullshit. But it pretty much is.
Politics, fundamentally, is based on interest groups. There are different people who want different things and approach their wanting of those things with different amounts of social and financial capital. To their credit, both Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota understand this.
Let’s take the issue of raising taxes to fund universal pre-school. Poor people would like more free early childhood education. Rich people would like to avoid paying additional taxes. De Blasio thinks that free early childhood education is important. Lhota thinks rich people paying less in taxes is important. They have reasons and evidence as to which would benefit us all more. We can make a decision about who to support based on whose interests we align personally align/agree with.
In Jack Hidary’s world, millionaires and technology and data and stuff can make these fundamental conflicts vanish in a cloud of techocratic awesomeness. “When I’m Mayor,” he said at a penthouse fundraiser, “everyone gets a pair of Google Glasses!” His policy – especially on education – is a triumph of rich-people-and-technology-can-fix your problems-ism. No mention of anyone having to pay more or get less, just lots of talk about better management and technology.
The thing is, Hidaryism – or Bloombergism, or Thomas L. Friedmanism, or any of the various names and forms it takes – doesn’t actually free us from the real world of messy political interests. Nothing does because nothing possibly can. All it does is distract us from them. Suggesting that the wealthy and well-educated can throw themselves at any problem and solve it without any specific expertise other than being rich and white and smart is not only wrong, it’s also insulting and classist and racist. Embedded in that message is the key idea that white rich people are better than all other people.
As untrue as that message is, it’s present in other elements of our daily culture. For example: Teach For America’s entire founding principle is that kids from elite colleges with five weeks training are de facto better teachers than people with years’ experience in difficult classrooms. The Clinton Global Initiative is entirely based on the idea that rich Western people can save poor people of color from themselves by throwing money at them and telling them how to fix their lives. Jack Hidary’s educational policy is that poor kids aren’t learning because they don’t have iPads.
The way to help communities that have less access to power and resources is to deploy fewer power and resources to the people who have lots. A political scheme that wants to lift people out of poverty must also deliver a structural account of power. That’s hard to do, and hard to talk about. It’s easy to say nice puffy things about technology. It’s easy to pose smiling in front of an attractive multiracial crowd. It’s easy to raise lots of money from rich people by telling them that they’re doing the good thing by giving money. Jack Hidary is an excellent representation of this insidious bullplop in action.