The massive increase in computing power is transforming everything from sports management to consumer finance. As David Black reports in “Big Data on the Beat,” now it is policing’s turn. “Predictive policing” uses advanced technology to collect and analyze vast amounts of information, including past crime patterns, and then identify where and when a future crime is most likely to take place, right down to the particular street corner. The goal isn’t to make arrests, explains Black, but to prevent crime before it occurs, by flooding algorithmically identified high-risk areas with extra police officers, deterring the bad guys—a twenty-first-century version of the cop on the neighborhood beat. Early results from this new crime-fighting tool—which New York Police Department chief William Bratton helped pioneer when he was Los Angeles’s top cop and is now bringing to Gotham—are extremely promising.
Seth Barron’s “The Port Authority Leviathan” launches a City Journal series on the scandal- and debt-ridden New York–New Jersey agency, which oversees (poorly) three of the nation’s biggest airports, vital regional bridges and tunnels, a commuter rail system, the World Trade Center site, and much, much more. Barron shows how the Port Authority arose out of the late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Progressive cult of technocratic expertise but soon became “a swamp of mysterious accounting practices, patronage, favoritism, self-dealing, and mission creep.” Reforming the agency will be key to making the regional economy fully competitive in the years ahead, Barron argues—but it won’t be easy.
Another looming threat to prosperity—not just in the New York region but across the nation—is unfunded pensions for government workers. Paying those pensions will put ever greater strain on budgets, meaning ever less funds for government services, including essential ones, such as policing. Steven Malanga’s “Scary Pension Math” provides a primer on the problem, which hasn’t gotten better since the 2008 financial crisis.
The federal government’s myriad income-support programs, education initiatives, and development grants are managed primarily by the states, which usually have to follow very specific Washington mandates in order to keep the money coming. The result, argues Oren Cass, is a one-size-fits-all, centralized approach to policy that ignores enormous local differences across the country, snuffs out innovation, squanders money, and blurs accountability. A better system, he maintains, would “Send Spending Power Back to the States” and let them allocate funds the way they see fit. Cass’s bold proposal for a restructuring of American government should inform the national debate in this election year. In “Caesarism for Cities,” Stephen Eide explores another structure of power—the one connecting states with cities. With many municipalities imploding from failed fiscal policies and blood-red balance sheets (in part because of pensions), Eide shows how states are best placed to step in and curb local officials’ spendthrift ways, even sometimes at the cost of local autonomy.
Ivy League universities are overwhelmingly liberal environments, of course, but they’ve nevertheless had a shameful history of ethnic and racial exclusion—and it continues today. A century ago, the victims of quotas limiting their presence on Ivy campuses were Jewish students. In 2016, it’s high-achieving Asian-Americans who lose out. In “Fewer Asians Need Apply,” Dennis Saffran gives the alarming details—Asians need SAT scores 140 points higher than whites and 450 points higher than blacks to get admitted to top schools, to take just one example—and explains how and why the schools do it. Asians are waking up to the bias, says Saffran, and demanding meritocratic reforms.
Two essays in this issue celebrate American originals. Ian Penman’s “Half in Love with Blind Joe Death” profiles the late acoustic guitarist John Fahey, a musical archivist who reimagined bluegrass, blues, and folk music in a series of remarkable recordings whose influence far exceeded their sales. And in “The New Old Masters,” James Panero brings us into the fascinating world of realist painter Jacob Collins and his followers, who are seeking to master vigorous artistic disciplines lost in the postmodern bazaar.
—Brian C. Anderson