A ferocious debate continues over law enforcement methods, set off by two summer 2014 incidents: the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, a black teen in Ferguson, Missouri; and the heart-attack death of Eric Garner, another African-American, in Staten Island in New York, after cops forcibly arrested him for selling “loosies,” individual cigarettes sold illegally. A protest movement arose—Black Lives Matter—that charged police across the country with oppressing minority neighborhoods with gratuitous arrests, provoking lethal encounters between cops and black males. The movement found an amplifier in the press, eager to brand proactive policing as racist.
But as Heather Mac Donald observes in our lead story, “Running With the Predators,” the attack on law enforcement ignores the on-the-ground reality of policing and urban crime—a reality unwittingly revealed by On the Run, the celebrated recent book by Alice Goffman. A sociologist who lived in inner-city Philadelphia during the 2000s and became a close observer of a group of young black crack dealers, Goffman purports to show her subjects as the pawns of a destructive criminal-justice system. What her book actually exposes, says Mac Donald, is the harrowing cultural breakdown of a community seething with violence, self-destructive behavior, and pervasive criminal inclination. Were the police to back off from enforcing the laws in such troubled neighborhoods—as the activists seem to desire and as was the case in most American cities in a pre–Rudy Giuliani era—the result would be lots more crime, most of the victims of which would be black.
New York mayor Bill de Blasio is set to dismantle one of the great public-policy achievements of our time, argue Fred Siegel and former city welfare commissioner Robert Doar in “De Blasio’s Welfare-Reform Reversal.” As the striking graphics accompanying the piece drive home, the work-based approach to public help pursued by Gotham’s two previous mayors—Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg—proved a huge success, with welfare rolls shrinking from more than 1 million recipients in the pre-reform era to fewer than 350,000 by 2013. Hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers escaped dependency and joined the job market. But de Blasio has handed over the city’s human-resources administration—which administers welfare—to Steven Banks, a leading “welfare rights” advocate, who has set out to reintroduce the failed aid policies of the past, from skills training to “seat time” in classrooms, albeit in supposedly improved versions. City welfare rolls have added 13,000 recipients since Banks started on the job last May, even as the economy has grown.
An ironic trend is emerging among young urban progressives, reports Aaron Renn in “Libertarians of Convenience.” Normally fans of big government, they’re suddenly sounding like disciples of Milton Friedman when the topic is New York’s and San Francisco’s super-pricey housing markets (ease zoning restrictions to boost the supply of homes, advises journalist Matthew Yglesias) or trendy food trucks (liberate them from those entangling restrictions, argues website Next City) or the new “sharing economy” (it’s mostly all good, say progressives). What links these newfangled deregulatory enthusiasms, Renn contends, is that they all concern areas where government impedes a progressive urban lifestyle. It’s a different story, though, when it comes to things that liberals don’t like, whether it’s sugary sodas or big-box stores, which they still want to regulate out of existence. Progressives should embrace a wider principle of economic freedom, Renn says; a philosophy of regulations for thee but not for me won’t be easy to sustain.
Claire Berlinski set off to Delhi to determine whether the hype about India’s economic potential is justified. In “The Indian Century?,” she reports with flair on the fervent commitment to scientific and technical schooling and entrepreneurial drive of the Indian people, and concludes that the country’s future is indeed bright, despite myriad problems, including widespread corruption and poverty. The Indian experience with low-cost innovation may carry lessons for the increasingly cash-strapped and indebted West, too—especially since, as Nicole Gelinas argues in “Failure to Thrive,” the Western addiction to debt continues to impede our recovery from the financial crisis.
—Brian C. Anderson