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NYT Lets Corrupt Detroit Machine off the Hook

Decades of incompetence and corruption in Detroit have led the city to the brink of the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history—yet the private sector is booming. Some might attribute this discrepancy to poor management on the part of the city government, but a recent piece in the NYT takes a different approach, bemoaning the plight of public employees while completely ignoring the Democratic machine that has systematically destroyed the city’s prospects and poorly served its citizens:

At times, the widening divide has been awkward, even tense. As private investors contemplated opening coffee bean roasters, urban gardening suppliers and fish farms, Detroit firefighters complained about shortages of equipment, suitable boots and even a dearth of toilet paper. […]

In the eyes of some, the signs of a private sector turnaround have only served to accentuate divisions: a mostly black city with an influx of young, sometimes white artists and entrepreneurs; a revived downtown but hollowed-out neighborhoods beyond; an upbeat mood among business leaders even as the city’s frustrated elected officials face diminished, uncertain roles under state supervision. […]

“If you’re a hedged investor, this is great,” Mr. [Daniel F.] McNamara [president of the Detroit Fire Fighters Association] said. “There are lots of attempts at tremendous things going on. But for you and me, has our world changed any? Not so much. There are so many individual tragedies going on.”

Via Meadia can’t help but think that if it were a Republican criminal enterprise that, for example, looted fire and police pension funds to pay for massages and private jets, the NYT would be fetching the tar and feathers.

But Detroit is as blue as they come, so instead the people grieving over Detroit’s starving public sector refuse to point the finger at the wholesale corruption that characterizes it. Rather than ask any awkward questions or get into unpleasant discussions about the thugocracy that’s wrecked the lives of Detroit’s citizens, they prefer to peddle the standard narrative about the unfairness of life in the big city.

We’re delighted to see any amount of economic success in Detroit, and the private sector boom is an encouraging sign. But members of the city’s kleptocracy are still around and are eager to choke off any recovery both by taxing it to death and by providing such a poor level of municipal government that it can’t flourish.

A crooked political machine has systematically sucked the life out of Detroit for years, robbing the poor, diverting money, making no-show appointments, and putting politically connected but incompetent people on the payroll even as vital jobs weren’t getting done. That’s no secret to anyone who knows Detroit, and it’s also no secret that no serious or lasting recovery can come until the city’s government has more employees who are willing and able to do their jobs, and fewer hacks and crooks. Pretending that entrenched criminal networks in Detroit’s municipal politics don’t exist won’t make them go away, and writing about the problems of Detroit’s public sector while ignoring these issues isn’t journalism.

Progressives used to hate big city political corruption and crooked urban political machines that robbed kids of education by sheltering incompetent teachers and choked off business investment and job creation in poor communities. These were once among the prime targets of progressive wrath. These days, nobody much cares. Progressives are more interested in banning supersize sodas and legalizing pot than in fixing the governance problems that condemn millions of Americans to ignorance and poverty.

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