In Prospect

Autumn 1997

Not long ago, New York’s Mayor Giuliani announced that the city would be contracting out the management of Central Park to a private group, the Central Park Conservancy—a move that, as press reports pointed out, Conservancy trustee Richard Gilder had originally suggested in a City Journal article ("Set the Parks Free," Winter 1997). We are always gratified when we can have a concrete effect on policy, as we have had in the past, when Sol Stern’s widely publicized article on Catholic schools (Summer 1996) impelled the mayor to give his vital support to a private school voucher plan now underway in New York, for example, or when Peter Reinharz’s highly critical article about the New York State Court of Appeals (Winter 1996) encouraged Governor Pataki to lock horns with the state’s highest judicial tribunal, or when Heather Mac Donald’s devastating report on the state of the City University began the process, as the papers have pointed out, that has led to current moves to restructure CUNY (Summer 1994). We were pleased, too, to read in the local paper recently that City Journal has helped change significantly the overall political climate of New York.

We think we’ve been able to achieve such practical, real-world results because of City Journal’s devotion to the concrete. Sure, we have theories— at least as many of them as any other magazine—and we regularly print articles on everything from modern theories of child rearing to the legal theories taught in today’s law schools. But our constant reference point, whether implicitly or explicitly, is concrete reality. Given the prevailing tenor of modern journalism, perhaps it’s necessary to say what used to be taken for granted: that we constantly strive to adjust theory to fit the facts rather than trying to contort facts to fit a theory, like stepsisters struggling to win the glass slipper.

Four stories in this issue exemplify different aspects of our allegiance to the down-to-earth. At one end of the spectrum is Steven G. Craig and D. Andrew Austin’s "New York’s Million Missing Jobs" on page 43. Critics have charged that New York’s high taxes and bloated public-sector spending harm the city’s economy. Craig and Austin provide the actual statistics, not easy to compile, that show just how overtaxed city residents and businesses really are in comparison with other locales, and just how much damage job creation in the city has suffered as a result.

James Q. Wilson’s "Making Justice Swifter" on page 30 sets forth six practical schemes, some of them already experience-tested, for making the punishment of crime speedy enough to have a chance of changing behavior rather than just getting confirmed malefactors off the streets after a long delay. The programs are concrete enough for any jurisdiction to use as a blueprint for

policy; but of course it takes authorial originality and wisdom to see how all these policies relate to each other, why they work, and why they might save a significant number of not-yet-hardened young people from a life of wrongdoing.

In "My Public School Lesson" (page 14), Sol Stern describes how, when he enrolled his two sons in New York’s much-praised P.S. 87, he was a convinced believer in public education. But the reality he found persuaded him that public schools were a long way from being the crucibles of democratic equality he expected: actual experience changed his deeply-held and much-cherished theoretical framework radically. But this is not unusual for City Journal contributing editors, many of whom have ended up far away politically from where they started off, thanks to attentive observation of the world as it really is—a process that guards against glibness. How far have they traveled? As one editor exclaimed in amazement to another at one of our meetings: "Oh! Were you at Altamont too?"

Finally, Heather Mac Donald, in her witty "Homeless Advocates in Outer Space" on page 36, takes us to a recent meeting at which self-appointed spokesmen for the homeless tried to deal with overwhelming proof that their nostrums did not work in the real world. It is an instructive study of what happens when implacable theory meets concrete fact.