In Prospect

Spring 2013

Months after Barack Obama’s reelection, the press continues to proclaim (happily, needless to say) the political irrelevance of the Republican Party, the death of conservatism, and the dawning of a new era of liberal government. Not so fast, says Steven Malanga in “Rise of the Republican Governors.” The GOP brand, however tarnished nationally, is doing just fine on the state level. Indeed, since Obama first took office in 2008, the GOP has won a net nine governorships, giving it control of 30 states, a shift that wasn’t reversed in 2012. The “next-wave” Republican governors profiled by Malanga—Louisiana’s Bobby Jindal, New Jersey’s Chris Christie, Michigan’s Rick Snyder, and Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, among other new stars—are winning voters over because they’re getting things done.

And not little things, either: the governors have reined in government expansion, begun to reform unsustainable public-worker retirement systems, and made their states friendlier to investment, among other hard-fought achievements. As blue states like California and Illinois dig deeper fiscal holes and drive business away with higher taxes and bewildering overregulation, the Republican-led states are positioning themselves for twenty-first-century success.

Those fiscal troubles in the Golden State have squeezed the University of California’s budget, threatening a grand tradition of first-class higher education, UC officials warn. Worse still, they say, tuition might have to rise so high that many students will no longer be able to attend, cutting off a key ladder of upward mobility. Yet as Heather Mac Donald shows in “Multiculti U.,” the University of California’s priorities aren’t what they should be. Even as the school hikes student fees and begs for taxpayer money, it is hiring a phalanx of richly paid diversity bureaucrats and faculty, who pose a bigger threat to academic excellence than any lack of funds. Before the public decides whether to shell out more on the UC system, argues Mac Donald, it needs to look closely at how the school is spending its existing $22 billion budget.

To get a sense of what American civil society can do to improve urban life, spend some time in Dallas, says Guy Sorman in “Big Philanthropy.” Texas’s third-largest city is being transformed by civic-minded new-wealth donors, who have helped pay for dazzling bridges, a park in the city center, and museums and cultural institutions galore. The giving is making Dallas the “American capital of philanthropy,” banker Richard Fisher tells Sorman; it’s also making the city more attractive to outside investment.

The condition of the mentally ill in America is appalling, argues James Panero in “A New Moral Treatment.” Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, deinstitutionalization pushed people with mental problems out of asylums and frequently onto the streets, where they now make up a large percentage of the homeless population. Off the medications that they need, wandering society’s margins, they often become threats to themselves—and to others, as recent mass murders grimly underscore. Panero believes that it’s time for a return to institutionalization, in new facilities protected from the abuses that eventually discredited the asylums of old—the origins of which, he reminds us, were humane and noble.

In “The Signal and the Silence,” Adam White, making his City Journal debut, explores the problem of prediction and risk with the help of two important new books: The Signal and the Noise, by New York Times election blogger and statistics whiz Nate Silver; and Antifragile, by financial theorist Nassim Taleb. The two works are in significant tension, White explains. Silver celebrates those who have mastered forecasting and wants us to heed their lessons, while Taleb “comes to bury” the arrogant predictors who ignore potential “black swans”—cataclysmic events unanticipated in existing forecasting models. But read together, the books can show us not only how to be better predictors but also how to recognize when our overconfidence threatens havoc. White’s essay is a defense of prudential judgment, a virtue that we can use a lot more of.

—Brian C. Anderson