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Power Broker by Robert Caro – Summary & Analysis of Chapter 3

Chapter 3 – Home Away from Home

Moses moved to Oxford University in England for his post-graduate work. This was to give him a clear, definable sense of public purpose and the duties and rights of those born to privilege (noblesse oblige). Moses swapped the pseudo-democracy of Yale for the elitism of Oxford, which he preferred and became the first American President of the Oxford Union debating society.

Moses continued his foreign travels around the colonial British Empire between terms. He enjoyed the bohemian atmosphere of post war Oxford, affecting a haphazard style of dress and carelessness with money. He told his parents that he would be devoting himself to public service, but this devotion was also accompanied by an increasing arrogance and Anglophilia. He developed a contempt for the working classes and especially for the colonised populations of the British Empire, saying “the subject peoples of the British Empire were not ready for self-government.”

Moses’s prose style hardened and improved at Oxford. His cast of mind had also hardened into support for noblesse oblige, encapsulated in the British Civil Service, a perfect instrument for civil reform but one disfigured by patronage. However, his notion of meritocracy applied only to the members of the educated upper class. A system that for him elevated the most intelligent young men into powerful and influential positions. He advocated suppression of socialist tendencies and working-class activism that challenged these beliefs. He urged the American Government to follow the British model and supported the election of Woodrow Wilson as President.

Moses graduated from Oxford with honours in 1911. He then carried on his studies in London and Berlin. Moving back to his old rooms in New York in 1912. He enrolled at Columbia University for his PhD, completing his thesis in 1913. While he was completing his thesis, he entered the training school for the Bureau for Municipal Research. His education was over and he now entered the world of public service.

Analysis & Key Takeaways: Chapter 3
  • Having contempt for the working class is obnoxious; like having contempt for something you do not appreciate, understand or are exposed to. We can only interpret reality from the information we are exposed to in publications, in anecdotes and in relationships. If we believe the patterns [we are exposed to] are objective reality then we are doomed. Doomed to jump to conclusions for quicker decision-making (finding short-hands from the gut) that are possibly very wrong.
  • Robert Moses went to Oxford which has a reputation for telling its students that they are special, smarter and better then non-Oxford students or people generally. This brand management has a re-enforcing nature to it.  In Moses’ case, it may have contributed to his contempt for the poor (financial and possibly spiritual, attitudinal poverty). Poverty and races were strongly correlated in New York in the 20th century and still is due to variables such as: a), b), c)….and z) the time value of money which compounds for those who have it, but subtracts for those who do not understand compounding interest and/or do not have sufficient cashflow. For Oxford graduates, “anything is possible, so they are told, so why are these poor non-Oxford folks so down? Well, then we the elite shall marshal them….” Meanwhile, there are likely Oxford students who aren’t condescending, I am just as guilty as others of extrapolating from patterns that or only partially representative of objective reality.
  • A recurring theme in this book is that the municipal government is where things done rather then where deadlocks form, municipal is where anyone serious about getting public policy should start. Why are there layers of government controlled by individuals anyway? Technology isn’t in place yet.
  • PhDs should be completed quickly if you can.  It’s intellectually self-pleasuring in the best case scenario. Don’t think you’re smart because of a PhD or other advanced degree. But go out and test your hypothesis in the wild, post-doctoral, test and refine.
The Power Broker is a Pulitzer Prize Winner
Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3
Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6
Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9
Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12
Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15
Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18
Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21
Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24
Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27
Chapter 28Chapter 29Chapter 30
Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33
Chapter 35Chapter 36Chapter 37
Chapter 38Chapter 39Chapter 40
Chapter 41Chapter 42Chapter 43
Chapter 44Chapter 45Chapter 46
Chapter 47Chapter 48Chapter 49
Chapter 50

Power Broker by Robert Caro – Summary & Analysis of Chapter 19

Chapter 19 – To Power in the City

The Good Government Movement had been revitalised by lawyer and politician Samuel Seabury while presiding over the extensive 1930–32 investigations of corruption in the New York City municipal government. The Tammany hold on the city was beginning to loosen, and Reformers were beginning to get the upper hand. Moses was still a hero to many Reformers, and the changes to Moses’s character over the years were considered less important than his high purpose and ability. When Seabury turned down the nomination for Mayor, the way seemed clear for Moses to run on an independent or “fusion” ticket. Seabury however, was hostile to Moses. As an enemy of Tammany Hall, Seabury felt Moses, through Al Smith, was too close to Tammany and would be unable to stand up to the endemic corruption in the city.

Moses’s main rival was to be Fiorello Henry La Guardia, son of immigrants and raised in tenements, a Republican considered too liberal for most members of the GOP. The Reformers were suspicious of La Guardia because of his upbringing, his radicalism and his aggressive championing of the have-nots. At a late stage of the nomination process, Moses seemed to have it in the bag. However, Seabury turned against Moses, accusing the fusion leaders of selling out to Tammany Hall. The fusion leaders panicked and looked around for another candidate. Moses had wind of this and withdrew his nomination. The nomination went to La Guardia.

Moses refused to become involved in the race for mayor. However, when La Guardia’s campaign started to flag, Moses was asked to offer his support. Moses agreed and made a number of press attacks on Tammany Hall while at the same time extolling La Guardia’s virtues of honesty and integrity. Although Al Smith would not endorse any candidate, the fact that Moses supported La Guardia seemed to imply Smith’s support, a notion La Guardia’s supporters did nothing to dispel.

La Guardia became the new Mayor of New York. As first order of business, La Guardia appointed Moses Commissioner of the New York City Department of Parks and Commissioner of the Triborough Bridge Authority. Both state and city legislatures voiced opposition to these appointments as it would give Moses immense power, as well as breaking a long-held precedent that a person could not hold both a state and a city job at the same time. This opposition was blasted by the press and the Reformers, and the barons of Long Island pulled their strings. On April 9th, the bill bringing all Moses’s posts together and appointing him as head, was passed.

Roosevelt’s New Deal for New York, assigning unemployed men to carry out public works, began operation. However, when Moses inspected the work being carried out on his parks by these men, found that they had few tools and little training. Moses arranged to have 80,000 of these men carry out renovations as part of his parks plans. Moses meanwhile was touring the sites in his office cum car with his secretary and his engineers. Moses extolled his engineers to use their imagination and design structures appropriate to the individual places. His concentration was not reserved for one park, but all the parks.

Analysis & Key Takeaways
  • Tammany hall broke the idealistic spirit of Robert Moses and left him turning to the darkside of ignoring democracy ;
  • From 1930 to 1968, Robert Moses became the Darth Vader of New York…advocating for prejudicial, biased projects based on income and even race to a certain extent.
The Power Broker is a Pulitzer Prize Winner
Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3
Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6
Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9
Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12
Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15
Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18
Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21
Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24
Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27
Chapter 28Chapter 29Chapter 30
Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33
Chapter 35Chapter 36Chapter 37
Chapter 38Chapter 39Chapter 40
Chapter 41Chapter 42Chapter 43
Chapter 44Chapter 45Chapter 46
Chapter 47Chapter 48Chapter 49
Chapter 50

Robert Moses | The Power Broker | Notes On An Epic Pulitzer Prize Winning Book

The Power Broker is a Pulitzer Prize Winner
Robert Caro, 1990

  • Robert A. Caro’s The Power Broker is a Pulitzer Prize winning epic that was widely read by the politicians and civil servants in the US and abroad;
  • The keypoints are my interpretation of the events in the corresponding chapter; take with a grain of salt;
  • My opinions are subject to change at any future date as an intellectually free person; so if new information shows Moses to be even more “impure” I am free to change my opinion without judgement, thanks!;
  • Writing about Moses does not equal endorsing Moses obviously;
  • This article is my attempt to provide a chapter-ized summary so that you don’t have to read this 1255 pager. The physical book weighs a lot, too, as is Robert Caro’s way. Enjoy; 

Hero, Villain or Mixture of the Two? Probably a Mixture. He is both repugnant and visionary. Hate-able and laudable for “getting things done.” Moses famously responded to this Caro book by saying a) he wasn’t responsible for public transport (read: probably not of interest fee-wise), b) he wasn’t that powerful, c) Moses never addresses the racism he is accused of peddling…can we separate the progress from the possibly very repugnant man?

Part One – The Idealist

Chapter 1 – Line of succession

Robert Moses was born on December 18th, 1888. His mother Bella was the strong willed, daughter of Bernard and Rosalie Cohen. Bernard was among many German Jews who longed to escape repression and emigrate to the USA. Eventually he settled with his brother in New York and marrying his cousin, Rosalie Silverman. Bernard became interested in civic affairs. And became known as a decisive and visionary analyst of social problems. Rosalie Silverman bullied her husband. She was intellectual rather than maternal and as Granny Cohen was imperious, treating other people as underlings.

Bernard died in 1897 of pneumonia. Rosalie carried on energetically, marching around New York and dismissive of the soft life. In 1919 she calmly finished her crossword puzzle, got out of bed and rang the bell to summon her maid before calmly announcing “Martha, summon Doctor –, I’m dying”.

Bella, quiet and unassuming but thoughtful, spoke French and German fluently and retained the sharpness of her mother. In 1886 she married Emanuel Moses, a Jew from Cologne. Although he built a successful business, Bella was thought to have “married beneath her.” They settled in Dwight Street, New Haven, Connecticut, an elm lined street with substantial houses.

Bella disliked the lack of cultural activity in New Haven so eventually they moved to New York in 1897.

By 1907, 1 million Jews had fled to the USA to escape persecution. By 1917 this was 1.5 million. In the Lower East Side, settlement houses sprang up to cope with the influx, and Bella became involved. There was a certain snobbery exercised by the settled Jewish community towards new Jewish immigrants, many from Russia. They called them “Kikes” because of the endings of many Russian surnames. German Jews had a patronising attitude to the new influx of Jews from Eastern Europe. Bella’s attitude towards those under her wing were thought to be “You’re my children, I know best.”

Bella however, was more interested in urban planning than integration. Her proposals were well mannered but steely. She was known for getting her way. Once she became involved in a project, she became obsessed with the detail. Bella could always count on Emmanuel’s support, at work and in the home, an obvious parallel with her own parents. Bella was not religious, and although Emanuel was attached to the synagogue, her views prevailed.

In New York the family lived just off 5th Avenue; a large oak panelled brownstone at the centre of a rich Jewish sector. With assets of $1.2M and walls covered with Rembrandt and Durer prints, they were among the elite.

Bella was strict with children, organising their lives in minute detail. She was particularly interested in their education. All the children were sent to expensive schools, Robert eventually ending up at Yale.

Bella’s sons, Paul and Robert, were often mistaken as twins. Both were considered “stunningly” handsome but haughty, even arrogant. They were popular with both girls and boys. Although both were considered athletes, Robert was more of a loner, attracted to sports, but not team sports.

Both brothers were dismissive of their father but Robert and his mother formed an inner circle. Bella catered to Robert’s every whim, “doting” on him. Robert flattered his mother by praising her work in the community and mimicking her movements and deportment. The line of personality was clear: from Robert’s grandmother, to his mother, to him.

Analysis & Key Takeaways:
  • Robert Moses’ personality was shaped by the powerful women in his early life, women who had steely determination past down generation to generation;
  • Forming alliances can start at the Family level between siblings. Healthy competition is important, parents are people too and so they can and sometimes outwardly express their preferred child;
  • The instinct to know better than others is not without merit. However, it is difficult to evaluate the merit of ones ideas in isolation especially if the idea is based on a track-record, pattern recognition etc. Ironically, we are the worst evaluators of our own instincts (Dunning Kruger effect) which creates arrogance in some cases and brilliance in others. A way to check your instincts is to evaluate your predictions against the reality, however prediction is very luck based;
  • Loners seem to operate and run things; it’s lonely at the top therefore loners are predisposed to move to the top;
  • Everyone has a personal religious perspective, sometimes religion defines ones identity, other times it’s a footnote and other times a hindrance.
The Power Broker is a Pulitzer Prize Winner
Chapter 1Chapter 2Chapter 3
Chapter 4Chapter 5Chapter 6
Chapter 7Chapter 8Chapter 9
Chapter 10Chapter 11Chapter 12
Chapter 13Chapter 14Chapter 15
Chapter 16Chapter 17Chapter 18
Chapter 19Chapter 20Chapter 21
Chapter 22Chapter 23Chapter 24
Chapter 25Chapter 26Chapter 27
Chapter 28Chapter 29Chapter 30
Chapter 31Chapter 32Chapter 33
Chapter 35Chapter 36Chapter 37
Chapter 38Chapter 39Chapter 40
Chapter 41Chapter 42Chapter 43
Chapter 44Chapter 45Chapter 46
Chapter 47Chapter 48Chapter 49
Chapter 50