In Prospect

Winter 2014

This issue of City Journal appears as New York greets its first new mayor in 12 years, Democrat Bill de Blasio. A special feature, “The End of an Era,” accordingly looks at the legacy of outgoing three-term mayor Michael Bloomberg. In “Bloombergism,” Tevi Troy takes a bird’s-eye view of Bloomberg’s tenure and sees real successes (public safety and welfare reform), mixed results (education and the economy), and overreach (attempts to micromanage New Yorkers’ health). Manhattan’s West Side grew dramatically during the Bloomberg mayoralty, becoming one of the city’s most desirable areas to live; Nicole Gelinas explains how it happened in “West Side Story.” In “Net Gains,” the third story of our package, James Panero reports on Silicon Alley’s surprising resilience. Several years after the financial crisis, New York’s tech economy continues to thrive, establishing the city as the nation’s Number Two tech hub, after Silicon Valley. One thing’s for sure about Mayor Bloomberg: he was one of a kind. As Troy observes, “there is unlikely to be another ideologically malleable, tough-on-crime, pro-welfare-and-education-reform, somewhat financially irresponsible, autocratically intrusive, technocratic billionaire mayor of New York any time soon.”

“The era of innovation is over,” several influential social thinkers have recently declared—a prognosis with gloomy implications for future growth in advanced economies. In “The Next Age of Invention,” economic historian Joel Mokyr says that the pessimists have it all wrong. Not only do they downplay globalization’s powerful effects in spreading the spirit of invention across the planet, as nations strive to keep pace with economic competitors; they also underestimate the degree to which high-powered computation will spur future creativity, including in the field of miniaturization. And there’s another reason technological progress will continue, Mokyr believes: we will need it. Past advances have created myriad unintended consequences that only “more and better technology” can address.

Cash-starved state governments have certainly been innovating in finding outrageous new ways to shake down nonresident workers and firms, writes Steven Malanga in “The State Tax Grab.” Stretching the Constitution’s Commerce Clause like Silly Putty, some states have empowered revenue agents to seize out-of-state trucks merely passing through their jurisdiction, refusing to let them go until the owners pay the corporate back taxes that they supposedly owe. Telecommuters increasingly find themselves targeted for personal income taxes by states they’ve never stepped foot in. CEOs are right to worry about this expanding “tax nexus,” as Malanga shows. It’s past time for Congress to clean the mess up.

In “The Humanities and Us,” based on her 2013 Wriston Lecture for the Manhattan Institute, Heather Mac Donald celebrates the cultural wealth of Western civilization and excoriates the modern academy for despising that inheritance. Ranging from Rabelais to Mozart, from Shakespeare to Sargent, Mac Donald shows how the West’s humanistic tradition transforms us, allowing us “to see and feel things that we would otherwise never experience.” Thankfully, the demand side for the humanities remains healthy, Mac Donald writes, noting the prominence of serious histories in bookstores and the commercial success of the Great Courses company’s recorded lectures. And institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, she points out, continue to celebrate the Western tradition in their programming. Yet the university should be the natural home for such custodianship. “Every fall,” Mac Donald says, “insistent voices should rise from the faculty lounges and academic departments saying: here is greatness, and this is your best opportunity to absorb it.”

Michael Novak’s accomplishment over a half-century of theological and philosophical writing, history, journalism, and public service has been breathtaking. His writings on the free society’s moral foundations have influenced popes and prime ministers and deepened our understanding of the religious views of the American Founders; his diplomatic efforts in the Reagan administration helped advance the cause of human rights in the Communist world. George Weigel takes the measure of this remarkable man in “American and Catholic.”

—Brian C. Anderson