Mr. Bloomberg Goes to Washington

Mike Bloomberg has been talking a lot about gun policy—an issue that, while almost exclusively the legislative domain of the federal government, should be of real concern to New Yorkers. Yes, Mr. Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have brought crime down to levels not seen since 1963, but the fact remains that illegal guns were used in over half of the homicides in the city last year. Getting those guns out of the hands of criminals by cracking down on irresponsible gun manufacturers and dealers is a worthy priority, particularly for a Mayor who has achieved a significant national profile. Mr. Bloomberg’s bold outspokenness ought to embarrass those moderate Republicans—and several Democrats—who have a tendency to hide under the couch when any N.R.A.-sponsored legislation comes before Congress.

The Mayor has brought the topic of illegal guns to the front burner for his second term, and with good reason: No matter how effective the New York Police Department is at locking up local miscreants, 82 percent of the guns used in crimes in the city are from out of state. Mr. Bloomberg’s predecessor shared his antipathy for the out-of-control gun industry: In 2000, then-Mayor Rudolph Giuliani brought a lawsuit, still pending, against gun manufacturers, accusing them of willfully selling guns to disreputable dealers. But the climate in Washington, D.C., has been gun-friendly, to say the least, as federal lawmakers fall over each other to pass laws giving gun manufacturers immunity from civil lawsuits.

It was to speak out against a reckless bill that Mr. Bloomberg traveled to Washington last month and appeared before the House Judiciary Committee. That bill—which he rightly called a “god-awful piece of legislation”—would make it more difficult for cities to obtain records from a national gun-trace database and for the licenses of gun dealers to be revoked. As the Mayor pointed out, the Bush administration and the Republican-led House and Senate are so beholden to the gun lobby that they’re willing to block crucial information-sharing among law-enforcement agencies. In a post-9/11 world, that’s offensive, ignorant and, frankly, deranged.

Mayor Bloomberg isn’t going to tone it down, and that’s a good thing. Reasonable people in the rest of the country are looking to New York to help roll back the trigger-happy Congress. The Mayor is having the city prepare lawsuits against unscrupulous gun dealers, and he is pressuring Albany to strengthen the penalties for gun possession. A spokesman for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence recently said, “It’s safe to say that Mayor Bloomberg is our hero. He has emerged as a national leader on this issue.”

Mike Bloomberg deserves praise for using his bully pulpit to challenge members of Congress to get out of bed with the N.R.A.

Pataki’s Financial Fiasco

In the bad old days of the 1970’s, Albany and City Hall found themselves in a mess because both state and city government blithely lived beyond their means. Debt—lots of it—allowed politicians and policymakers to put off the hard decisions, to pretend that all those governmental goodies came at little cost to taxpayers.

Then came the crisis, and supposedly everybody learned his or her lesson about the perils of living large and allowing future generations to pay the bills.

The question now is whether those lessons really were absorbed, and whether we really are so far removed from another grim accounting.

According to a startling report by the Citizens Budget Commission, New York State’s total accumulated debt is $227 billion and climbing. That’s right: $227 billion. Essentially, the Governor and the State Legislature have been using credit cards to provide taxpayers with the prosperity they’ve been enjoying in recent years—even as they cut taxes.

Even more infuriating, a great deal of that debt has been rolled up by the state’s 583 public authorities. These are agencies—like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state Power Authority, the Battery Park City Authority—that were set up to borrow huge amounts of money without requiring taxpayer approval, as the law requires. The public authorities no doubt perform important and necessary work, but they are also notoriously unaccountable. In the end, the taxpayers wind up with the bills.

State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno doesn’t see why anybody should be concerned about the level of debt, noting that the state’s credit ratings are sterling. But that is beside the point. Yes, the ratings agencies see no reason to doubt that New York will make good on its debts. But what about all that money going into debt service, rather than into our schools, libraries, roads and bridges, police protection and other vital services?

Governor George Pataki has sounded the alarm, but his record isn’t particularly credible on this subject. New York has been especially promiscuous in its use of long-term debt during the Pataki years.

The Citizens Budget Commission has performed an important public service in publicizing this information. Now the secret is out: New York once again is living beyond its means. In this election year, with three statewide offices and the entire Legislature on the ballot, it’s time that politicians were called to account for this longstanding bipartisan practice of using credit cards to pay for projects that have little economic or social justification.

The Beauty Premium

It’s not pretty, but it’s true: Attractive people are paid more than their less attractive peers for the same work. How exactly does this happen? A new study published in the American Economic Review explores what the authors refer to as a “beauty premium.”

The experiment involved a group of students who assumed the roles of employers and job applicants. The applicants were given a simple maze to solve. To measure their self-confidence, they were asked to estimate how many similar mazes they could solve within a given time frame. The first thing the researchers discovered was that while beautiful people were no better at solving the mazes than ordinary folk, they were far more confident in their abilities—a trait that could certainly influence a potential employer.

The next step was to have each employer hire a handful of applicants. In some cases, the employer was shown only a résumé; for other applicants, the employer was given a résumé and photo; others had just a telephone interview; and still others had face-to-face meetings. When employers saw just a résumé with no photo, their prediction of how the employee would perform had no relation to his or her physical appearance. But in all the other cases, the employers showed higher productivity expectations for the good-looking candidates, even if they’d only spoken by phone. Apparently, the self-confidence of the good-looking candidates came through in their voices. Also, the attractive subjects were found to have better communication skills overall.

Tallying the results, the researchers—two economists from Harvard and Wesleyan universities—determined that 15 to 20 percent of the beauty premium results from self-confidence, while the rest comes from visual and oral communication.

Of course, this is a mixed blessing for the beautiful people. They may find it easier to get a job, but once in the job, they’ll find that the expectations may outstrip their talents. And that’s when the ugly ducklings move in for the kill.