Over time, various cities emerge as strongholds of finance: Venice, Zurich, Edinburgh, Singapore, Hong Kong. These cities, though they have many other characteristics, have been known for taking a leadership role at some point in regional or global finance.
New York City has held a central position in this nation’s financial dealings from the start, and one could argue it was in the city’s DNA to take that role: the first Dutch settlers were certainly in it primarily for the money.
New York City has also been the media center of the US for a substantial portion of this nation’s history. One could argue that its influence, as media center, has declined in the internet age, but there is no denying that the messages coming out of Manhattan throughout the 20th century were unrivalled, arguing viewpoints and ways of life that left even Hollywood’s voice a distant second.
This marriage of finance and media led to an interesting form of cultural influence. With relentless panache, Madison Avenue was able to hold up the signposts of fulfillment, promoting the material acquisitions Americans had to have in order to be happy. The rest of the nation succumbed to the spell or resisted it, sometimes both at the same time.
For many living in New York, or in its immediate vicinity (I did both in the first 27 years of my life) this perspective of the city could easily be overlooked in the multitude of other stimuli, just as Venetians at the end of the Middle Ages could easily overlook the bookkeeping their city was known for, swept away by the rich cultural milieu. But you can spot this perspective in the many times New Yorkers are confounded by citizens from other parts of the country who vote against their financial interests. Sometimes it can seem inconceivable, to someone with a NYC mindset, that other needs can Trump the pursuit of money.
In any case, one of the results of Manhattan’s success in selling the American materialist dream is the reputation this country has abroad. The peoples of other nations are often astonished at Americans’ inability to value artistic accomplishments, to name one example. While other countries erect monuments to great writers, great thinkers, even great composers, the most imposing monuments and edifices here are increasingly named for the corporations that funded them. That’s the message we’ve learned about what matters.
At this point, you could say it’s in our DNA.