Book Review: Three Men in a Room (2006)

New York politics a microcosm of ‘Borg‘ Central[1]
by Seymour P. Lachman
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright


Three_Men_in_RoomRecommended by my local, esteemed Societism founder, Stephen Zimberg, Three Men in a Room documents a concrete reality to great effect: namely, the stark discovery that a mixed economy[2] concentrates and magnifies political power into fewer hands… to the extent it is ‘mixed,’ i.e. given coercive power over the voluntary choices of people in the economy.

It isn’t such a stark discovery for me, simply a new insight I had not yet considered. As a former true-blue Student of Objectivism (philosophy of Ayn Rand), I remember well the Objectivist analyses of the mixed economy, its mixture of freedom and statism (only, too many writers in that Randian world tended to confine statism to the actions of government officials in a vacuum; a government official acting for the benefit of the corporate-banksters was not considered statist).

In any case, when you grant an agency of physical force (i.e. government) a monopoly on its use, compel everyone within the geographic boundary defined by that entity to subscribe to it, then let that entity escape any constitutional limits on intervention in the economy, you’re asking for trouble. Indeed, you’re asking for Three Men in a Room. What happens is as economic intervention grows, some financial interests gain more power than others. Ultimately, the Money Power becomes a Darwinian ‘survival of the fattest,’ which means the biggest thief on the block rules. In practice, ‘biggest thief’ = a cartel, or a hypercontrolling den of thieves.

[In New York it’s the power behind the triumvirate, in your city hall it’s the good ol’ boys, at the national level its Goldman Sachs and the Western banking dynasty.]

It simply makes sense that when such immense power has been thusly concentrated it prefers to exercise that power thru pushing the fewest number of levers. What Lachman shows, in the case of the fourth largest budget in the United States—only the feds, California, and Texas are bigger—, is that the levers of power in New York have been distilled to three guys: the Governor, the Senate Majority Leader and the Speaker of the Assembly. Their agreements in closed meetings determine what legislation is passed, which other government officials will be suppressed or advanced, and, fundamentally, who gets the money (out of a budget of ~$112 billion).

Author Lachman served as a New York senator 1995-2004 from Brooklyn and (after redistricting) large chunks of Staten Island. As a second-generation immigrant from Poland, Mr. Lachman had risen in the ranks of the education system, eventually running the New York City School Board. He decided to run for state senate, was elected, and went to Albany the state capital. Shortly after, through conscientious hard work, he was appointed to the senate’s finance committee. He describes his Day of Dawning as follows.

Soon I began to vote my own way on important issues of concern to me and to my constituents. Very shortly thereafter, I was approached by a senior member of the Democratic Party who said, “Listen, you can either support the Democratic leadership and rise to the very top, or be an independent who votes on principle, and sink to the bottom.”

Now I don’t want readers to get the impression that Mr. Lachman is an activist for liberty, no such luck. He clearly has not understood fundamental principles in political-economy, especially that government legislative intervention in the marketplace is invariably harmful to human life. In that respect, he’s an aggravating kneejerk ‘liberal’ hanging on to brownie points for apparently being well-meaning. [For instance, he doesn’t seem to understand the rudimentary economics of minimum wage laws and how such acts should really be entitled Minority Teenager Disemployment laws.]

Yet given the overall legislative context, it’s clear Mr. Lachman has integrity, certainly when it comes to the process of republican democracy itself. He knows that a legislative body should not be a rubber stamp for the king; he just doesn’t appear to understand that the root cause of that dictatorial exercise of power is the power itself. The particular corruption of the state of New York is truly amazing, and Lachman documents it superlatively. Here’s an idea of the money involved:

Former US Senator Al D’Amato, who plucked (governor) Pataki from relative obscurity and rode him to statewide victory over the Mario Cuomo in 1994, was paid $500,000 by a business client in 1999 for making a single lobbying phone call to the Metropolitan Transit Authority, which helped his client secure a loan for $250 million from the agency to continue building its new headquarters in Manhattan. — page 103

The author describes so many instances of conflict of interest and blatant graft, which are swept under the rug, when necessary, by legislators and officials who are treated like royalty in return for compliance. Lachman dwells on the perks a bit, confessing that he, too, was lulled into acceptance; these perks are easily worth, on average, a couple of hundred thousand FRNs per year per legislator. There’s an entire chapter on the abuse of the public authorities, of which 733 now exist in New York, only a fraction of them audited. Oh, and here’s a special subtlety: through a twisted vote proxy system, most of the time legislators don’t even attend a session or a committee meeting to make their votes.

Indeed, Lachman was on the Committee on Corporations, Authorities, and Commissions as a minority-party member…:

That no major issues ever came before the committee for discussion, much less inquiry or investigation, meant that the vast majority of its members, Republicans and Democrats alike, never attended any meetings. As was the way of Albany, they proxied their votes beforehand to ensure (Senate Majority Leader) Bruno had the votes they needed to pass (or stifle) any measures they wished to. — page 126

The solution? Lachman believes a grass roots movement for term limits and an imminent constitutional convention may be the only hope to fix New York. And he argues convincingly for such activism, even for making the state smaller. [I have personally come to conclude the only way government will improve is when we make it voluntary, namely initiate freedom of choice of government on all levels. Panarchy is the future. Check it out.]

Kudos to Mr. Lachman for facing facts and succinctly telling it like it is.


[1] Subtitle is from reviewer. Actual book subtitle is ‘The Inside Story of Power and Betrayal in an American Statehouse.’

[2] A mixed economy is one that has a mixture of freedom and government intervention or controls on behalf of various economic interests. An analogy in sports would be if the referees were to take one side or the other.

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