Bloomberg Grades Himself

From the beginning of his self-financed campaign for Mayor in 2001, it was clear that Michael Bloomberg was not accustomed to politics as usual. As a business leader, he was accustomed to accountability, to leadership and results. Throughout his first year in office, politics didn’t change him. In fact, he changed politics. Now, he’s doing it again.

In a refreshing break from the hoary political tradition of forgetting campaign promises immediately upon election, Mr. Bloomberg actually is reminding us of his promises-those he has kept and those he has yet to keep. He has done the unthinkable: He is holding himself liable for his campaign rhetoric.

Of course, it helps that Mr. Bloomberg seems satisfied with the results of his first year as a public servant. And with good reason: He has done a remarkable job of building on the legacy handed him by Rudy Giuliani, and of carving out a legacy of his own by abolishing, once and for all, the city’s bloated Board of Education.

In early February, the Mayor released a report card on his performance since January 2001, showing a list of 360 campaign promises. About 300 have been put into action or proposed. About 5 percent have been tossed into the circular file. Compiling a political report card like this is hardly a novelty; interest groups do it all the time, from Washington, D.C. to nearly every state capital. What is precedent-shattering, however, is that in this case, a politician compiled the report card himself. Let it be said that the Mayor does not shy away from self-criticism. He noted, frankly, that he had promised not to raise taxes in 2001. Circumstances, however, intervened, and he was forced to implement an 18 percent hike in property taxes and to ask Albany for a revival of the commuter tax.

Broken promises? Sure. But unlike other politicians who would rather we forget what was said in the heat of a campaign moment, Mr. Bloomberg is reminding us of his failures. Of course, the report card allowed the Mayor to crow about his accomplishments, like maintaining the city’s historic decrease in crime, not to mention his single-minded crusade to take over direct control of the city’s public schools. He made those promises, and he delivered. Why not give himself a good grade in those subjects?

All in all, Mr. Bloomberg’s report card was, and remains, a terrific exercise in public accountability. Imagine if other politicians were shamed into such honest self-examination? They’d have no choice but to be honest-talk about shattering precedents.

Mr. Bloomberg continues to demonstrate that good, talented and driven people from the private sector can, and should, shake up our political system for the better. He is that rarest of civic figures-a politician who leads by example.

How Safe Is The Stock Market?

It’s amazing to realize how many investors continue to believe that the stock market is a sure thing, a safe haven for one’s money rather than a risky bet that may or may not pay off. This thinking can currently be heard from those who are convinced, either publicly or secretly, that the Dow is just playing possum and is itching to come roaring back-if not next week, then surely by next year. “Surely,” one says to oneself, “if I just hold on to my shares for several years, I will be rewarded for my loyalty and patience.” This kind of thinking, of course, is also what keeps casinos in business.

As a practical matter, cycles in the stock market can take 20 or 30 years-not what most people have in mind as they check their share prices each day. Wall Street took two decades to come back from the Crash of 1929. These cycles hold true around the world. Fourteen years later, Japan’s Nikkei stock average hasn’t come close to the highs it achieved in 1989. As The Wall Street Journal recently reported, three professors at London Business School-Elroy Dimson, Paul Marsh and Mike Staunton-have calculated that there is only a 50 percent chance that the U.K.’s FTSE Index will reach its 1999 peak by 2018. The professors, The Journal wrote, “argue that stock investors are wrong to hold the widespread belief that they are guaranteed positive real average returns over any 20-year period.” Studying 16 major stock markets, the professors found that only five provided positive annual returns over each 20-year period of the past 100 years. For those investors who are currently looking at the past three down years and hoping for a bright spot in 2003, they might want to scale back their expectations: History shows a 40 percent probability for a fourth down year. Indeed, as Grant’s Interest Rate Observer reported recently, the Dow Jones and Standard & Poor’s indices are 30 percent higher than their historical averages.

It would be nice to think that the stock market will always recover in a timely fashion after a slump, out of consideration for those long-term investors. But the truth, as Mr. Dimson told The Journal , is that the “market has no memory.” Neither, of course, do its most hopeful investors.

N.Y. Stuns Science Search

New York students are getting smarter. Last year, students from New York State made up 40 percent of the finalists in the Intel Science Talent Search, the nation’s most prestigious academic contest among high-school students. This year, New Yorkers took 50 percent of the finalist slots. Past winners have gone on to receive five Nobel Prizes, 10 MacArthur Foundation grants and three National Medals of Science.

With the exception of Stuyvesant High School, which leads the charge with three finalists, and the Bronx High School of Science, the New York schools with finalists are not household names: Byram Hills High School, Commack High School, Great Neck South High School, and the list goes on. All, it might be noted, public schools-no Chapin, no Dalton, no

Collegiate, no Brearley, no Trinity. As has been true for several years, the city’s private schools are not making the cut when it comes to providing a top-notch education in the sciences. They are apparently content to make a name for themselves with the relatively low-cost investment in a humanities curriculum and resist funding science labs and faculty that would elevate their students to a competitive level.

Most finalists have submitted projects in physics, chemistry and mathematics, though The New York Times notes that the behavioral and social sciences are gaining ground. For example, a finalist from Syosset, Adam Malin, studied the emotional reaction of teenagers in America and Israel to the World Trade Center attacks. Behind each Intel finalist is a dedicated teacher, a tribute to the high quality of teaching in many New York schools. The winner will be selected in March and awarded a $100,000 scholarship.

So often, education news is grim news; New Yorkers can be proud that our high-school students are proving themselves unbeatable in the increasingly important realm of the sciences.

Bloomberg Grades Himself