In Prospect

Autumn 2013

Crime is spiking in the Golden State, and you can probably blame the judges, charges Heather Mac Donald in “California’s Prison-Litigation Nightmare,” a riveting mix of reporting and legal analysis. As she recounts, the courts have become the rulers of California’s prisons, demanding the release of tens of thousands of prisoners who, the judges claim, are being punished cruelly and unusually—and hence unconstitutionally—because of overcrowded cells and dismal health-care services. The case against the state was always dubious, but now it’s absurd, Mac Donald shows. Over the last several years, California has poured more than $1 billion into prisoner health-care facilities, which now rival the nation’s behind-bars best. And it has moved more offenders from prison into jails and relaxed parole obligations, easing prison cramming dramatically, though at the expense of public safety, as bad guys increasingly wind up on the streets. Yet judicial rule must go on, the judges say, making their real agenda clear: radical de-incarceration.

The revolution in molecular medicine promises extraordinary advances in well-being and economic benefits galore, argues Peter W. Huber in “Who Owns the Code of Life?”—if Washington doesn’t ruin things by taking control of the flow of genetic data, as it’s threatening to do in its ever-expanding health-care role. The Myriad Genetics case, decided by the Supreme Court this summer, established that firms can’t patent individual genes or other products of nature. But other forms of intellectual property still provide some protection to private-sector medical research in this burgeoning field, Huber explains, and we should affirm those rights and expand them. Doing so would help marshal private capital in the development of molecular know-how and ensure the most efficient, widest distribution of that lifesaving knowledge. “Nowhere could the free market’s information-extracting genius be more important,” Huber says, “than in a market for products whose value depends on their ability to mirror biochemical information inside the people who use them.” Huber’s book on these and related themes, The Cure in the Code: How 20th Century Law Is Undermining 21st Century Medicine, is out this November.

Three summers ago, Washington, led by the Obama administration, passed the Dodd-Frank financial-reform bill to ensure that too-big-to-fail banks never again kneecapped the global economy, requiring taxpayers to come to the rescue, as they did in the 2008 financial crisis. Unfortunately, writes Nicole Gelinas in “Too Convoluted to Succeed,” Dodd-Frank has only entrenched too-big-to-fail finance, while its tortuous complexity has regulators scratching their heads about how even to begin implementing it. All the confusion is hurting the recovery. And, tragically, it wasn’t necessary, contends Gelinas. America didn’t need a vast new financial regime, but instead smaller-scale regulatory changes, including simple debt and transparency requirements in the new derivatives markets at the core of the financial disaster. One hopes that it won’t take another crisis to reverse course.

Guy Sorman has spent a lot of time of late exploring America’s vast philanthropic landscape, unmatched in other democracies. In previous City Journal essays, Sorman has described how super-wealthy donors have transformed Dallas into a culturally dynamic city, and he has assessed the movement to quantify the results of charitable aid. His latest installment, “The Philanthropic Spectacle,” takes a critical look at a kind of celebrity giving “based on grand gestures, big dollars, and heartwarming proclamations—but too little concern with actual results,” which often turn out unimpressive or worse. His targets include Bill Clinton, Bill Gates, and Oprah Winfrey.

As we go to press, New York seems ready to elect Democrat Bill de Blasio, a man of the hard Left, as its new mayor. For City Journal’s assessment of outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg’s legacy and arguments about what his successor must do to maintain the last two decades’ breathtaking gains, readers can consult our special issue, After Bloomberg: An Agenda for New York, available in its entirety online. Meantime Scott Winship says that de Blasio’s “tale of two cities” class-warfare rhetoric is misleading—a troubling sign of what the next mayoralty may look like.

—Brian C. Anderson