Robert De Niro Admits Progressivism Kills Economies

Question: What do you get when a left-leaning state enlists a progressive celebrity to brag about how un-leftist the state is?

Answer: The hilarious new commercial from New York’s Empire State Development, in which Robert De Niro, star of such classic motion pictures as Analyze That, The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle, Meet the Fockers, and Shark Tale, plays shill for the Empire State’s pathetic attempt to re-brand itself as “business friendly.”

The commercial features shots of classic New York monuments and infrastructure interspersed with New Yorkers taking care of business, over which De Niro intones:

There’s a new New York, one that’s working to attract business and create jobs…nurture start ups and small businesses, reduce tax burdens and provide the lowest middle class tax rate in 58 years. Once again, New York State is a place where innovation meets determination, and where businesses lead the world. The new New York works for business; find out how it can work for yours.

As it happens, I know of someone who recently tried to open a small business — a “start up” if you will — in New York State: John Stossel tried to open up a modest lemonade stand in New York, and wrote about the bureaucratic nightmare that confronted him in his sisyphean task:

[I wanted] to try to jump through the legal hoops required to open a simple lemonade stand in New York City. Here’s some of what one has to do:

  • Register as sole proprietor with the County Clerk’s Office (must be done in person)
  • Apply to the IRS for an Employer Identification Number.
  • Complete 15-hr Food Protection Course!
  • After the course, register for an exam that takes 1 hour. You must score 70 percent to pass. (Sample question: “What toxins are associated with the puffer fish?”) If you pass, allow three to five weeks for delivery of Food Protection Certificate.
  • Register for sales tax Certificate of Authority
  • Apply for a Temporary Food Service Establishment Permit. Must bring copies of the previous documents and completed forms to the Consumer Affairs Licensing Center.

Then, at least 21 days before opening your establishment, you must arrange for an inspection with the Health Department’s Bureau of Food Safety and Community Sanitation. It takes about three weeks to get your appointment. If you pass, you can set up a business once you:

  • Buy a portable fire extinguisher from a company certified by the New York Fire Department and set up a contract for waste disposal.
  • We couldn’t finish the process. Had we been able to schedule our health inspection and open my stand legally, it would have taken us 65 days.

Now that’s working for small business!  Granted, this was in New York City, but if you can’t do business in a state’s largest city, what good does a “state” incentive do, anyway?

Really, who is De Niro kidding? After admitting (tacitly, at any rate) in the aforementioned commercial that decades of left-wing tax-and-spend policies have driven New York industry into the ditch, he has the gall to pretend to Milton Friedman-esque pronouncements on the benefits of low tax rates. Is this a policy prescription he picked up from his wide ranging experience campaigning/advocating for such free-market luminaries as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama?

Bobby D. and NYS have some nerve. In fact, New York ranks 50th — that’s dead last — in CEI’s “Big Labor vs. Taxpayers Index,” with a 24.2 percent total union density, and a whopping 70.5 percent public-sector unionization rate. No wonder: New York is a state that tolerates — nay, encourages — forced unionization. Hey Bobby, go ask one of those “start ups” New York is intent on “nurturing” how good it is for business to allow unions access to the company coffers.

But, you say, unionization rates and labor policy are only part a state’s larger economic picture. True enough. According to the Mercatus Center’s “Freedom in the 50 States,” which “comprehensively ranks the American states on their public policies that affect individual freedoms in the economic, social, and personal spheres,” New York is — gasp! — dead last. Fifty of 50. From the summary explaining New York’s dismal showing:

New York is by far the least free state in the Union….New York has by far the highest taxes in the country. Property, selective sales, individual income, and corporate-income taxes are particularly high. Spending on public welfare, hospitals, electric power, transit, employee  retirement, and ‘other and unallocable’ expenses  are well above national norms.

Sounds business friendly to me! No wonder the Empire State has experienced “the most interstate emigration of any state over the last decade.”

Throughout the commercial, De Niro brags that New York has built many great things in the past. But that’s not really true. Individuals and companies built all (or most) of those great things, and they did it in a political and economic climate that allowed them to do so. How like a statist to give government credit for individual achievement.

Having said that, De Niro’s low-tax libertarian schtick was doubtless more of an acting stretch for him than his usual roles, i.e., Italian-Americans of surly disposition and laconic demeanor. But if I were him, I wouldn’t expect the Academy to come calling this time…