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In Prospect

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In Prospect

Summer 2021
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With vaccines apparently ending the Covid-19 public-health crisis in the United States, John Tierney examines the other destructive pandemic that swept the nation over the last year and a half. In “The Panic Pandemic,” Tierney shows how the nation’s elites, responding to the viral outbreak, misled the public about Covid’s origins and level of risk; imposed, with no evidence for their effectiveness, unprecedented lockdowns on society; and, with the aid of Big Tech, squelched views—including scientific research—that conflicted with the dominant narrative. As Tierney warns, the people responsible for all this refuse to acknowledge any mistakes, and they even promise to deploy the same strategies again—in the fight against climate change, for example. We need to understand how this happened; Tierney’s essay is a good place to start.

The woke revolution threatens America with its own kind of ruin. In “Classical Music’s Suicide Pact,” Heather Mac Donald reports on its potentially fatal effects on high culture, as orchestras, opera companies, and leading musicians refuse to fight back against fanciful charges of racism that followed George Floyd’s death in police custody in May 2020. Already battered by the pandemic and facing an uncertain financial future with an aging audience, these institutions are nevertheless rushing to hire fat-salaried diversity officers, jettisoning blind auditions—designed to prevent bias—as racist, and pledging to hire black musicians at impossible-to-meet levels. Mac Donald’s tour de force captures the proliferating madness and defends artistic greatness.

On a more hopeful note, Christopher F. Rufo’s “Compassionate Enforcement” describes how Houston has reduced its homeless population by more than half over the last decade—even as the streets of West Coast cities such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Seattle are crowded with encampments, which officials seem unable or unwilling to remove. The key to Houston’s success, Rufo says, is its combination of public services for the homeless—most of whom suffer from mental-health problems and drug addictions—with an emphasis on public order. Houston’s tough-love approach offers a model for other cities. In “Big D Is a Big Deal,” Joel Kotkin and Cullum Clark show how another Texas metropole—Dallas–Fort Worth—is fast becoming the capital of the American heartland, offering economic opportunity, robust transportation infrastructure, and a can-do attitude, all of which draw business investment and new residents at a rapid pace.

A brief controversy flared late last year when writer Joseph Epstein satirized Jill Biden’s desire to be called Dr. Biden—her Ph.D., he noted, being from a dubious education program, not a medical field. Critics denounced Epstein for daring to question the value of Biden’s Ed.D. But as Kay S. Hymowitz argues in “Dr. Biden’s Lesson,” the commotion over the First Lady’s doctorate illumines an era of unchecked degree inflation and status-seeking that has harmed young adults—especially the least advantaged.

Another harmful kind of inflation is the runaway spending and borrowing that municipalities around the U.S. have been doing for years—and which, after Covid hit, they did even more aggressively, digging deep holes of debt, as Steven Malanga reports in “An Epidemic of Bad Budgeting.” In “Anatomy of an Albany Budget Blowout,” meantime, E. J. McMahon lays out how New York governor Andrew Cuomo’s budgeting sets a dangerous trajectory for the state’s future.

The late James Q. Wilson was often referred to as the doyen of American political science—and for good reason, as his rigorous scholarship and public writing (some of it for City Journal) ranged over topics from bureaucracy to the nature of morality. As Charles Fain Lehman contends in “Contra ‘Root Causes’, ” Wilson’s greatest contribution may be in thinking about crime. Wilson rejected a then-prevailing “root-causes” theory that criminals murder and steal because of social injustice. Lehman details how Wilson went on to develop some of the key shifts in criminal-justice policy that helped restore order to American cities during the 1990s and 2000s. As politicians and thinkers—and even prosecutors—revive the root-causes idea, and violence again surges in New York and other cities, Wilson’s example is more relevant than ever.

—Brian C. Anderson

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