The Long Crisis explores the origins and implications of the diminished faith in government as capable of solving public problems. Conventional accounts of the shift toward market and private sector governing solutions have focused on the rising influence of conservatives, libertarians, and the business sector. The Long Crisis, however, locates the origins of this transformation in the efforts of New Yorkers to preserve liberal commitments of the postwar period. As New York faced an economic crisis beginning in the late 1960s that disrupted long-standing assumptions about the services city government could provide, its residents embraced an ethos of private volunteerism and, eventually, of partnership with business in order to save their communities' streets, parks, and housing from neglect. Liberal and Democratic officials came to see such alliances not as stopgap measures but as legitimate and ultimately permanent features of modern governance. Local people and officials, The Long Crisis argues, built neoliberalism from the ground up, creating a system that would both exacerbate old racial and economic inequalities and produce new ones that continue to shape metropolitan areas today.

You can find a book excerpt at Public BooksYou can also read an interview with me by historian Kim Phillips-Fein on Phenomenal World and watch an event hosted by The Gotham Center.

Praise for The Long Crisis:

"Holtzman's is a fresh, lively account that adds new complexity and detail to the narrative of how New York emerged from austerity and bankruptcy in the 1970s to become a playground for the wealthy today. The book also raises fascinating and urgent questions about how, exactly, privatization shapes governance." -- The Nation

"A history... traced with precision and care... The Long Crisis soars...in its granular mapping of the experimental, ad hoc, and contingent initiatives cooked up by an abandoned populace... By parsing these complexities, The Long Crisis, which refuses to put bounds on the temporal frame of 'crisis,' offers a guidebook and a cautionary tale for those organizing today." -- Gotham: A Blog for Scholars of New York City History

"An impressive blending of social and political history, The Long Crisis chronicles the labors of urban homesteaders, tenant organizers, neighborhood watch groups, and park volunteers who, fed up with dysfunctional city governance, worked to improve city life through sweat equity and private investment... The many accomplishments of The Long Crisis should be read by scholars of contemporary social history, urban history, and the history of neoliberalism." -- The Journal of Social History

"Holtzman is a thoughtful, careful, even-handed writer, and makes a compelling case that New Yorkers, whether poor people living in abandoned Bronx tenements or CEOs worried about their employees' safety in Bryant Park, turned to their own market-based experimentation not out of top-down ideology, but out of bottom-up desperation. His book is worth reading." -- American Compass

"Benjamin Holtzman's political history brilliantly complicates while reasserting neoliberalism's dominance over urban geographies by detailing how the political and social practices that are associated with neoliberalism emerged and, in some cases, originated among the groups it most adversely affected... Holtzman's book provides plenty of well researched and new topics about New York City's neoliberal history to discuss, debate, and cite for years to come." -- Capital and Class

"At a time when all cities are struggling to come to terms with a new reality, in... The Long Crisis: New York City and the Path to Neoliberalism, Ben Holtzman provides an important and timely analysis of how one of them was transformed by a concerted socio-economic project." -- LSE Phelan US Centre Blog

"As crises of different sorts continue to define our current moment, we would do well to not just learn from Holtzman's history but to follow its model." -- The Metropole

"A very finely-detailed narrative of the process of shifting towards privatization of formerly public services and the nuanced ways in which the mayors during this period thwarted

these efforts in deference to the corporate entities that were enticed by generous tax incentives to redevelop and gentrify certain areas of the city." -- New England Journal of History

"Holtzman describes how New York City rebounded from urban decline and loss of faith in municipal governance in the last decades of the 20th century. City officials and neighborhood associations embraced marketization, namely greater reliance on private-public partnerships to 'save' New York from crime, decaying housing stock, corporate abandonment, and white flight....Yet, as Holtzman effectively points out, this neoliberal strategy, which replaced New Deal liberalism, produced greater income inequity, led to the decline of rent stabilization and increased homelessness, ended free public college tuition, led to higher bus and subway fares, loosened zoning restrictions for developers and gave them more tax abatements, and weakened overall city services.... Recommended." -- Choice

"In New York City, the failure of government to overcome the sustained urban crisis from the late 1960s through the 1980s inspired an ideologically diverse range of residents and civic groups, not just corporations and conservative elites, to 'take matters into our own hands.' The Long Crisis charts how liberal policymakers and grassroots activists embraced policies of marketization that included privatization of rent-regulated apartments, private management of public parks, citizen security patrols, and tax incentives for luxury real estate development and affordable housing construction. Holtzman demonstrates persuasively that Mayor Rudy Giuliani's neoliberal privatization agenda was the culmination, not the cause, of this profound shift toward private-sector solutions that ultimately accelerated social inequality. This is political history at its most capacious and creative." --Matthew D. Lassiter, University of Michigan

"Holtzman has written a compelling account of how ordinary New Yorkers navigated the 1970s financial crisis that eventually gave the private sector far more control of city services. He masterfully shows how South Bronx renters' eagerness to take over buildings, Queens residents' decision to volunteer, and Manhattanites' willingness to use business donations to clean up public parks were just as important as the spending cuts and tax breaks that brought an end to working-class New York." -- Elizabeth Tandy Shermer, Loyola University Chicago

"How did we get to a point wherein the United States not only has such paltry public services but the fundamental belief in public institutions and public places is so discredited and disdained? Holtzman uncovers surprising wellsprings for the sweeping ascendance of privatization, market ideology, and elite political power in the 1980s. From Mayor Koch onward, city leaders opted for policies that invited corporate and monied elites to take control, push working-class and poor people out of the way, and reap the rewards of tax exemptions, release of rent-controlled apartments, private contracts, and Business Improvement Districts — market 'solutions' that spread well beyond New York. Dive in to the rich social struggles and political fights of The Long Crisis and find out how the wealthy took over Central Park and market triumphalism subverted municipal need." -- Jennifer Klein, Yale University

 

"The Long Crisis is an engaging and revelatory history of New York's transformation into a neoliberal metropolis. Going beyond well-worn stories led by national politicians, technocrats, and corporate leaders, Holtzman takes us from housing to parks to policing to show how the efforts of New Yorkers shaped a privatized, market-oriented city from the bottom up. A book filled with colorful characters and rife with irony, this is a much-needed and novel explanation of how a city once known for the generosity of its public sector came to serve the market first." -- Brian D. Goldstein, author of The Roots of Urban Renaissance: Gentrification and the Struggle Over Harlem

"Reacting to a period of crisis and decline in the 1970s, New York City increasingly turned to market solutions and public-private partnerships. In The Long Crisis, Benjamin Holtzman deftly eschews simplistic or conspiratorial narratives of this turn toward marketization and traces its rise to more complex and surprising forces. As the city now confronts a new set of crises, The Long Crisis forces us to think deeply about what roles both private and public sectors should play in urban life." -- Vincent J. Cannato, author of The Ungovernable City: John Lindsay and his Struggle to Save New York