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In Prospect

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In Prospect

Autumn 2017
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Few academic theories have caught on more widely in recent years than that of “implicit bias”—the notion that, buried in the American unconscious, prejudicial instincts lead us to favor whites over other races, especially blacks. These instincts, proponents claim, explain the disparities between racial groups that persist in educational outcomes, economic success, and crime rates. Advocates gauge these attitudes with the implicit association test (IAT), on which, they say, 90 percent to 95 percent of test-takers score as biased. But as Heather Mac Donald demonstrates in “Are We All Unconscious Racists?” the IAT—and, by extension, the implicit-bias theory—is so embedded in subjectivity that it tells us nothing of worth. That hasn’t stopped university hiring committees and, increasingly, private-sector HR departments from championing the concept, and it’s even making inroads in law enforcement, with its implication that bias—not crime rates—accounts for disproportionate police presence in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Implicit bias, Mac Donald writes, “is agenda-driven social science,” a more palatable substitute for discussing uncomfortable (and empirically proven) realities. “The main obstacles to racial equality at present,” says Mac Donald, “lie not in implicit bias but in culture and behavior.”

New York City is facing another mayoral election, in which incumbent Bill de Blasio is expected to win a second term. In our symposium, “New York’s Mayoral Election—and After,” City Journal contributors weigh the mayor’s record and the city’s prospects in six areas—crime, quality of life, education, homelessness, housing, and traffic control—while also examining de Blasio’s potential national ambitions. The prevailing takeaway: while the de Blasio years haven’t proved to be the utter disaster that many feared (at least, not yet), the warning signs are mounting.

Even those with a skeptical view of New York’s future can take heart in how far the city has come since its fiscal crisis in the 1970s—but now another major American city might be headed for a meltdown. In “Chicago’s Debt Dereliction,” Nicole Gelinas lays bare the Windy City’s precarious finances, a fiscal hole that it has spent several decades digging, especially with regard to its unaffordable pensions for public employees. Worse, the city is now issuing more debt, this time under a complex bond structure loaded with risks—and is using the borrowed money to avoid reforming its disastrous finances.

In “Vigor in the Heartland,” Aaron M. Renn shows how some cities in what is disparagingly referred to as “flyover country”—Columbus, Indiana, and Oklahoma City are two striking examples—are taking advantage of affordable property, business-friendly climates, and pragmatic political leadership to build a thriving middle class.

Almost a year into Donald Trump’s presidency, where are the Republican and Democratic parties heading? Our autumn issue offers three takes on that question. In a dialogue, “Can the Parties Survive?” (New York Times contributing op-ed writer Thomas B. Edsall and Ethics and Public Policy Center senior fellow Henry Olsen take the pulse of the two parties—and see serious challenges on the horizon for both. While Olsen views the Republicans as the party currently in the stronger position—they hold, after all, the White House, Congress, and most governorships—he warns that the GOP has failed to capitalize on previous opportunities to build a lasting base among working- and middle-class Americans. “I’m not optimistic about the Democratic Party,” Edsall says flatly, describing a party torn between its elite, bicoastal leadership and donors and its expanding multiracial coalition—groups with increasingly irreconcilable expectations. Separately, Joshua Mitchell makes Edsall’s diagnosis more explicit—in “The Identity-Politics Death Grip,” he declares that the Democrats have abandoned Martin Luther King, Jr.’s redemptive vision in favor of the tribal, zero-sum politics of identity. The Democrats’ only hope, Mitchell maintains, is to reject identity politics “as the disaster that it has been—for them and for the country.”

—Brian C. Anderson

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