Somebody once said that evil is never original or creative. The State obligingly proves that truth over and over. It relies on the same tactics to control us now as it did centuries ago. One of its favorites is “divide and conquer.”
The British Empire tried to literally divide and conquer its rebellious American colonies 237 years ago this month, when Lieutenant General John Burgoyne led an army south from Canada along the Lake Champlain-Hudson River waterway. His was only one of several attempts to implement this strategy; His Majesty’s armies, both actual and bureaucratic, fondly supposed that if they could split New England from the rest of belligerent America, the Empire would win the Revolutionary War.
But isolating one area of the country wouldn’t have necessarily defeated the rebels, as a character in my novel, Abducting Arnold, explains: “Since the war begun, the government’s thought cutting New England off from the rest of us would scotch our rebellion. As though only folks born east of Hudson’s River want to live free.” The Patriots eventually prevailed against the world’s most powerful nation for many reasons, among them the Empire’s failure to recognize that it fought not for territory but for the hearts and minds of its subjects. When Redcoats burned towns, plundered homes, raped women, and starved prisoners of war, they graphically convinced those hearts and minds of government’s inherent wickedness.
Tyrants today divide and conquer Americans less literally but far more effectively than Johnny Burgoyne did. An especially entertaining example comes from New York City’s arrogant new mayor, Bill “Stalin” de Blasio. Though he’s never done an honest day’s work nor collected a paycheck the taxpayers didn’t furnish, Stalin de Blasio knows exactly how entrepreneurs should run their businesses. And he’s liberal with his advice to them, too, which, sans jargon and other distractions, boils down to, “You should give away your product or service for free. Charging customers, even if you earn so little that you barely cover expenses, is greedy and selfish. By contrast, commies like me with our snouts deep in the public’s trough are benevolent, kind, generous, and far superior to you.” His latest such piffle came during New York City’s annual exercise in dividing and conquering one of its foremost industries: real estate.
As always in the free market, the vendors in real estate, a.k.a. landlords, complement their customers, the tenants. Each has something the other wants—on the one side, shelter, and on the other, money; neither can exist without the other. The arrangement is self-correcting, too: when a landlord charges too much for inferior accommodations, the tenant moves.
Naturally, politicians and bureaucrats can’t resist plundering so fine a system. Bonus: they can then also pit tenants and landlords against one another. Easily.
And so New York City’s rulers minutely regulate housing’s every detail. They dictate rental prices as well as how much landlords may raise those prices, to whom they must rent, what services they must provide, under what conditions they must renovate their property, what paint they may use in those renovations (though the landlord still chooses the color…so far), etc. “New York City has had [sic for ‘suffered from and barely survived’] rent regulation in one form or another since World War II. During that same period of time, New York City has experienced some of the highest housing prices and rents in the nation and chronic supply shortfalls.” Coincidence? I think not.
A politburo the City coyly calls the “Rent Guidelines Board (RGB)” – as if it were merely guiding landlords rather than dictating to them – decrees the amounts landlords may charge their tenants. Its nine political appointees “[hold] an annual series of public meetings and hearings to consider research from staff, and testimony from owners, tenants, advocacy groups and industry experts.” Right. These hacks “consider research … and testimony” about as much as Obummer did when nationalizing medical insurance.
The Board is even more blatantly biased than usual this year, thanks to Stalin’s loading it with his Progressive cronies: for the first time, it mulled denying landlords the minuscule increase in rents it normally allows – despite escalations in property taxes, water, and other expenses Leviathan imposes. Only mulled, mind you, rather than definitively declaring landlords’ obligation to furnish rooms for free to tenants. That had Stalin huffing, “I have urged very clearly and consistently that [the Board] think deeply about the affordability crisis afflicting our city. And the fact that even in some of the years when people were hurting the most … rent levels approved by the Rent Guidelines Board previously were quite high.”
Whoa! With one measly quote, Stalin de Blasio vaults past all contenders for the International Hypocrite’s Award, Political Division! Yeah, I know the competition’s stiff. But recall that Stalin’s metropolis is “one of the few cities in the country that have their [sic] own income tax. The city also has the distinction of having the highest cigarette tax in the nation. … Property tax rates usually range from about 10% to 17% depending on the type of property.” Not to be outdone, “the state of New York is known for having some of the highest property taxes in the nation as well.” Yet Stalin demands that landlords, not politicians and bureaucrats, curb their greed.
In 1777, as General Burgoyne marched through New York to divide and conquer, he seemed unbeatable – as unbeatable as Stalinesque Progressives seem today. Burgoyne’s professional army of veterans hopelessly outnumbered the rebels, many of whom had never fought a battle; his supplies were abundant, his strategy sound. A daunted American officer summarizes the Redcoat’s advantages in Abducting Arnold: “All Burgoyne must do is sail down Lake George, push through some woods to Hudson’s River, and ride it to Albany. And the war’s over. … He’s got all the cannon he could want, thousands of soldiers. He’s got the Iroquois scouting for him, petrifying folks…” No matter: Americans defied, mocked, resisted and finally defeated the cocksure Burgoyne.
May their descendants do likewise to a despot far redder than Burgoyne’s coat.
Read more about Burgoyne and the American Revolution for liberty in Becky Akers’ historical thriller, Abducting Arnold.