In Prospect

Spring 2012

As the 2012 presidential race grinds on, what better time to celebrate America’s “visionary in chief,” George Washington? Myron Magnet’s “Washingtonianism”—the latest in his remarkable series on America’s Founders—shows how Washington conceived his idea of an American union under a strong executive from his rough experience in battle, and how he embraced the idea of an entrepreneurial culture in which commerce and industry would secure the fledgling nation’s power and safety. Magnet presents an unforgettable portrait of political greatness.

The race pits two different economic models of America’s future against each other: the Keynesian view of President Obama that government must act as the economy’s teacher and use public money to stimulate it; and the approach of the Republican candidate—almost sure to be Mitt Romney—which attributes economic growth to entrepreneurs and believes that government should get out of their way. In “Schumpeter in the White House,” Guy Sorman notes that Americans’ traditional openness to creative destruction—the process through which new industries and processes supplant obsolete ones—has made the U.S. economy far more dynamic than its European competitors. But politicians have difficulty defending creative destruction, says Sorman. As Milton Friedman often pointed out, one sees the displaced workers when an old factory closes; one doesn’t see all the new jobs created when the resources once tied to that factory are redeployed in more productive sectors. Sorman shows how best to defend creative destruction and keep the U.S. from following Europe down the path of stagnation.

One of the buried stories of this year’s elections is the political effects of the nation’s decennial redrawing of legislative districts, observes Steven Malanga in “Redistricting Wars.” Malanga’s essay shows how partisan maneuvering and federal election law have spawned new political maps that, in many states, predetermine the outcome of this year’s races for Congress and state legislature. And economic mobility and inequality are certain to be major issues in the elections, so don’t miss Kay Hymowitz’s “American Caste,” which illustrates how closely those issues are related to family breakdown.

This issue isn’t just focused on the elections, as key as they are. It also features three examples of cutting-edge urbanism. Economist Edward Glaeser’s “Wall Street Isn’t Enough” explains how economically diverse cities tend to do better than single-industry towns like Detroit. New York, he warns, has become increasingly dependent on finance, making its future more precarious. In “The Second-Rate City?,” Aaron Renn contends that stories trumpeting Chicago as a great success are sadly out of date. Over the last decade, the city has hemorrhaged jobs and population and run up a scary debt. Blame dysfunctional politics and a misguided emphasis by city leaders on Chicago’s status as a “global city,” says Renn. Nicole Gelinas’s “Ungridlocked” argues that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s transportation reforms have eased New York City traffic and substantially reduced accidents—a model for other cities.

The California Teachers Association has helped wreck the state’s public education system, so that its schools now struggle with Mississippi’s as the nation’s lousiest, argues Troy Senik in the “The Worst Union in America,” one of three stories on California’s ongoing crisis. Not only does the CTA block sensible education reform, as Senik documents; it showers member dues on left-wing causes and politicians, accelerating California’s downward spiral. The good news: many parents have had enough and are pressing for change.

Long-time Californian Arthur Laffer, frustrated with the state’s unsunny economic climate, reluctantly decamped for Nashville a few years back. In “Flatten California!,” his first City Journal appearance, the father of supply-side economics shows how the Golden State can reclaim its heritage of growth and opportunity with a simpler, flatter tax regime. And Joel Kotkin’s “The New Class Warfare” takes aim at California’s superrich progressive elites, whose support for environmental regulations and other job-killing policies has eviscerated the state’s middle-class economy.

—Brian C. Anderson