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The Name Chiseled Above the Door

For those who don’t know, the actual name of the NYPL main branch on 42nd street (in NYC) is the: Stephen A. Schwarzman Building.

Who is this Stephen A. Schwarzman? How did he get his name on that historic structure? Who is this man of the people whose name should be affixed to “The People’s Palace?”

Stephen A. Schwarzman is the CEO of the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm that has done quite well (to put it quite modestly). As the New York Times reported (back in 2008) when the library was renamed, Schwarzman [who is a library trustee] “agreed to jump-start a $1 billion expansion of the library system with a guaranteed $100 million of his own.” This $100 million gift was meant as part of the “$1 billion library project…to be covered through the sale of some existing buildings and $500 million capital campaign that has already brought in $250 million, including the Schwarzman gift,” (that was in 2008).

What a guy! Even Mayor Bloomberg – within the same NY Times article – is quoted as saying: “with this donation, Steve is giving back to the city that gave him so much and is helping ensure that New York remains a cultural and intellectual capital of the world.”

But we don’t need Bloomberg to vouch for Schwarzman, here he is in his own words: “It’s a war…it’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

Oops. Wrong quote, that was what Schwarzman said about moves to close a tax provision commonly called the carried interest loophole (read all about it: here). It’s a shame that he can’t go into a library and, perhaps, read a book about the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939. Which was not like a tax loophole being closed.

Here’s the quote I meant to put there (from the NY Times article) where Schwarzman says: “As you have more resources in life, it’s your obligation to deploy those for the benefit of others.”

In his column at Truthdig this week, “Whiny Billionaires in Need of Sequestration” (posted March 5, 2013), Robert Scheer writes quite a bit about Schwarzman, in a much less glowing tone than the NY Times piece (which was pre-Hitler comment). Scheer writes:

“What is truly outrageous about Schwarzman is not the $213.3 million he got last year from Blackstone, the private equity company where he has long been the CEO. Heck, he “earned” that much the previous year and has been raking it in since he co-founded the company back in 1985. What is startling, and it goes to the hubris of America’s most wealthy at the heart of the current sequester impasse, is that he thinks the more than $1 billion he and eight other private equity executives got in compensation last year should continue to be taxed at the “carried interest” rate of 15 percent, rather than the 35 percent reserved for ordinary income.”

Now…to be fair, surely some of that money which Schwarzman is getting to hold onto is the same money that is being used to donate to institutions like NYPL. And after all, Schwarzman’s treasure trove is a paltry sum of somewhere between 5 and 7 billion. And if the rate went from 15 to 35 percent he would go from being a donor to NYPL to somebody forced to rely on it for Internet access.

But, as Scheer notes – in helping to explain where some of Schwarzman’s money has come from:

“Last year Blackstone spent about $1.5 billion purchasing 10,000 foreclosed homes. “This is the kind of thing that happens once, every once in a while, where you see something that’s a market-turning trend and we are loading the boat,” Schwarzman said in an earnings call Oct. 18. Those foreclosed homes are typical of the “alternative assets” in which Blackstone has specialized.”

But, not to be repetitive, he needs that money so that he can give it to NYPL!

Or, as Slavoj Žižek put it:

“Charity is the humanitarian mask hiding the face of economic exploitation.”

I wonder if any of those 10,000 homes Blackstone bought up belong to NYPL patrons.

So the next time you walk past Patience and Fortitude bear in mind that the name chiseled into the People’s Palace got there by buying up your neighbors foreclosed home.


The Žižek quote comes from:

Žižek, Slavoj. Violence. Picador, 2008. (page 22)

About Z.M.L

“I do not believe that things will turn out well, but the idea that they might is of decisive importance.” – Max Horkheimer @libshipwreck

3 comments on “The Name Chiseled Above the Door

  1. Pingback: Hammer beats Scissors? Library Cuts and Stack Demolition | LibrarianShipwreck

  2. Pingback: What Will 2014 Bring for Libraries? | LibrarianShipwreck

  3. Pingback: NYPL’s “Central Library” Plan goes Not as Planned | LibrarianShipwreck

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