Expensive, but Poor

I asked my daughter her first impressions of New York City.

Expensive, but poor.”

It’s a pretty concise way of communicating the strange combination of high demand and low quality of life.

Things are expensive because the delta between the demand and the supply of nearly everything in NYC is greater than in most places on earth. Though many of the costs are also the result of tyrannical and corrupt policies.

Quality of life is subjective, but it’s definitely low in all of the externally visible ways a kid from a small town can see. There is trash everywhere. Heavy traffic. It smells bad on nearly every street, even by fancy buildings.

They get the allure of visiting. But the perplexing question it leaves my kids with is, “Why do so many people choose to live here?”

That answer was easier in the past. There’s more opportunity here, or immigrant communities of similar background congregate here. Tons of people come for that, which makes it more valuable, which leads to more people coming. Like any network effect or result of collective action, it’s still hard to untangle how and why this sequence began where it did, but it makes sense.

Now it’s harder. My kids are used to remote work and virtual connection to friends and activities. They’re used to relatively cheap travel (our airfare to NYC was cheaper than the bicycle taxi ride we took).

They wonder: why do people still want to live here?

Of course they can’t see the social and professional settings of the citizens, or gauge how it makes them feel. And there still is a magic to this city – a testament to entrepreneurial ambition, immigrant ethic, man’s conquest over nature, and free enterprise.

But it kind of feels more like a museum to these things than a living embodiment.

You can feel the desire to leave beginning to swell where once only pride for living here existed.

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