There’s much to be glum about these days: the mortgage meltdown, stratospheric gas prices, a resurgent American Left. But this issue of City Journal brings some remarkably good news—signs of progress, to use a resonant word that has fallen out of use.
First, in law enforcement. Everybody knows about New York’s amazing crime turnaround during the nineties under Mayor Rudy Giuliani and his first police chief, William Bratton. But far fewer people know about what Heather Mac Donald calls the “NYPD Diaspora.” Since the late nineties, she reports, an unprecedented migration of NYPD commanders has left the force to take up top-cop positions elsewhere. Mac Donald focuses most intently on East Orange, New Jersey, which had a per-capita crime rate 14 times New York’s when José Cordero arrived in 2004 to direct its police department. Just three years later, after Cordero implemented NYPD-style reforms, major felonies had dropped nearly 70 percent—possibly the greatest crime-fighting success story in American history. And as Mac Donald shows, East Orange is only one of many communities made newly safe by smart policing. Her essay should shake up criminologists, who keep trying to explain crime drops by anything but policing reforms. (Some liberal cities, facing the “Professional Panhandling Plague” described by Steven Malanga, should take heed, too: urban prosperity requires safe, orderly streets, free from aggressive begging.)
A second area where progress is real is in the discipline of economics. No longer do hazy intuition and political ideology have a major influence on economic thought, argues Guy Sorman in the paradigm-shifting “Economics Does Not Lie.” Over the last few decades, he observes, the dismal science has undergone a scientific revolution, so that almost all mainstream economists now embrace the key tenets of market capitalism—for instance, that free trade encourages development, that markets are the most efficient means of allocating scarce resources, and that monetary stability is essential to growth. Milton Friedman, in other words, has defeated Marx and Keynes in the war of ideas. This new consensus, as yet dimly understood by the public, has largely guided global economic policies in recent years—with awe-inspiring results, including the peaceful reconstruction of Eastern Europe and the lifting of hundreds of millions of Indians and Chinese out of poverty.
Yet good policies aren’t guaranteed to continue, warns Sorman: the free market retains a multitude of enemies, ranging from terror masters who dream of a new caliphate to various constituencies that simply want to defend their own material interests against market competition. And economic mismanagement hasn’t vanished, either, as Nicole Gelinas shows in “New York’s Next Fiscal Crisis.” Mayor Michael Bloomberg ratcheted up spending during his administration as if Wall Street’s long boom, which filled the city’s coffers, would never end, Gelinas notes. Thanks to the profligacy, the market’s recent woes may have a devastating long-term impact on the city.
A third mark of progress charted in this issue of City Journal is the honest and painful discussion that America’s blacks have opened—with themselves and with other Americans—on family breakdown, crime, and educational failure in the African-American community. Spurred by leading African-Americans like Bill Cosby and Juan Williams, this movement refuses to blame the broader society, rich with opportunity, for the ongoing struggles of blacks; it may be the most hopeful development in race relations in years, says Myron Magnet.
Many Americans believe that Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama offers a new politics of progress and hope. Our lead story, a tour de force of historical and political analysis by Michael Knox Beran, sees in that politics something far darker: a disturbing mix of irrational charisma and communitarian utopianism at odds with the realistic vision of America’s Founding Fathers, one of the most compelling and urbane of whom is the subject of Jerry Weinberger’s lovely essay, “Benjamin Franklin: City Slicker.”
—Brian C. Anderson