Detroit Nears Bankruptcy
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  • Mrs. Davis

    It’s hard to think of many social experiments that have more disastrously failed.

    The Soviet Union?

  • Jeff Warren

    If you are going to write an article like this, at least get the Gov’s name right. It’s Rick Snyder not Rich Snyder.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Jeff Warren: and another intern enters the House of Pain.

  • Steve M

    The left claims victory, but leaves a desert.

  • Brian

    Everything the left touches turns to [something unpleasant]. Look at Detroit, heavily liberal states (California, Illinois, etc), and even liberal countries (Spain, Greece, etc). They can’t run anything or create any wealth. All they know how to do is steal from wealth producers to buy votes, but they eventually end up strangling their economies and hurting everyone.

  • Heliogabalus

    Here we have a summary of the decline of Detroit which does not once mention the factor of race. Mead neglects to mention that cities with large educated White and Asian populations (San Francisco, Seattle, Pittsburgh, Austin, Portland) still follow liberal policies yet remain among “the richest and most dynamic places in the country.”

    Today’s Detroit, with its incredible dilapidation, dreadful crime, and near 50% illiteracy rate, was created as a result of de facto ethnic cleansing of whites under the Coleman Young administration, which didn’t care that it was driving all the productive people away: they were oppressive White people, after all. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Heligobalus: We usually don’t publish comments that make unfounded racial slurs and won’t continue this thread. However, I need to note that last time I looked, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Rhode Island weren’t being run by African Americans — and they aren’t being run well. Stupidity and bad policy can be found in all ethnic groups.

  • To be sure Detroit will go to Obama who will make the situation brighter by simply taxing the people of the United States. This will prove of course the brilliance the the “Detroit Model”.

  • Eric from Texas

    In a column a couple of years ago, political commentator and Detroit native Michael Barone stated that when people ask him why a former liberal Democrat like himself became a Republican, he always gave a one word response, “Detroit.”

  • Just relax and open another casino. Everything will be fine.

  • No One Important

    You can’t fix stupid.

    Let it fall. And then fix it after it collapses.

    You can’t keep propping it up, and you can’t talk sense into them.

    Union school teachers were lied to. So were unionized government workers. And now that the nation is telling them they were lied to, promised ridiculous goodies that there was no financial way to support, the unions are looking to the taxpayers saying “a promise was made.”

    The taxpayers, many of whom weren’t even alive yet when these ridiculous lies were given are saying “pffffffff, I’m not paying for that.”

    So now the unions are looking for someone, anyone, to make good on the lie they were told.

    It’s not going to happen. And it’s time those unions got real. They were “had” by the politicians that are now long gone. . . . . . .they were lied to in order to get their support. And now this generation of taxpayers, who didn’t have a say so (and most contracts weren’t told to the public) are outright saying “you’ve got to be kidding. I’m not paying for those luxury gold plated benefits. I’m struggling myself. . . .”

    Just let the whole thing collapse. We’ll clean it up after the fall. At a certain point, you have to admit when the structure is so rotten and termite infested, there’s no point in trying to save it. Just let it fall so you can rebuild it correctly this time.

    A lot of people in that city are going to have to come to a very ugly reality check.

    There isn’t any money, and you can’t keep voting yourself salary increases and benefits because there isn’t anyone there to pay that bill. It’s time for Detroit to declare bankruptcy. Chapter 9.

    Discharge the union obligations as unsecured creditors, and get back on its feet.

  • Stephen Greer

    Professor Mead:
    I don’t think you were correct in paraphrasing the WSJ article’s conclusions, indeed the WSJ may have gotten the facts wrong. Snyder has said he prefers not to appoint an emergency manager b/c of the political explosion that could cause. But this is not saying that he will simply let the fate of Detroit lie w/ its leaders. He has another option: The consent decree. Furthermore, he has repeatedly said he will appoint an emergency manager if that is his only, if not preferred, option (Det. Free Press, Det. News). In late Feb, he gave a leeway period of one month for Detroit to come up with a plan. Sometime at the end of March, a drastic action by the state will take place. It’s just that nobody knows whether this will be a consent decree, EM, or a separate solution forced by the legislature.

    In your posting, you equated Snyder’s public position that he prefers not to appoint an EM for Detroit with a position that he will not, under any circumstances, appoint an EM, which he has not done.

    (Also, there’s been oblique talk by legislative leaders lately that if a viable plan for restructuring Detroit is available, they’d listen to a plan to provide a financial lifeline to Detroit.)

    You give the impression that the governor and the state are ambivalent about Detroit going bankrupt. That’s not the case, WSJ article or not. It has been well documented that Snyder will not let Detroit go down to bankruptcy on his watch. Detroit is heading to a final showdown in about 3-6 weeks, and nobody is talking about filing in bankrupty court.

  • I’d add only the detail that in the 1950s Detroit was to wealthiest major city, per-capita, in America. Then came LBJ and the decision to make Detroit the “Model City” for modern-day “Liberalism” (not to be confused with its antithesis, Classical Liberalism).

    I’d say LBJ succeeded.

  • Kenny

    Detroit was bankrupt when the white middle class left.

  • WigWag

    Via Meadia laments that the “loyal supporters” of the policies Mead believes have wrecked Detroit keep turning out “year after year” to vote for politicians who have destroyed the city.

    What’s unclear to me is why Via Meadia thinks that the same voters who keep making decisions he plainly thinks are self destructive would do a better job of running the schools that their children go to.

    In a post that appeared just the other day, the Professor could hardly control his excitement at the prospect of parents in California attempting to seize control over the schools their children attend.

    Why pray tell are these same parents who keep turning out “year after year” to vote for politicians who support policies that have supposedly destroyed Detroit going to make better decisions when they are in charge of the schools their children go to?

  • Mr. Mead doesn’t mention (and therefore misses the point about) the collapse of Detroit’s economy due to job losses, a function of the collapse of the auto industry, because foreign products were more competitive. There’s not just one factor at work here, but Mr. Mead shows his bias and tunnel vision by totally ignoring one of the more important factors.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Kurt Johnson: actually, I think the piece mentions the decline of the automobile industry as one of the key factors driving Detroit’s decline.

  • DocinPA

    I am afraid that the Blue Cities and States are going to have to hit rock bottom (bankruptcy, rioting in the streets, etc.) before their constituents wake up. Gonna be ugly.

  • John Adams

    I’ve been watching Detroit disintegrate (not a racist term, BTW) all my life. When I was ten years of age, 1961, living in Highland Park in the center of the city, I could ride my bike with friends to Tiger Stadium and watch a baseball game from the bleachers, Kaline, Colavito and Cash, for $.75, ride home at dusk, and my mother never had a worry about my safety.

    How times have changed! My father moved us out to Southfield in 1963 as crime, danger, and uneasiness began to take root in our blue collar neighborhood of modest brick homes and well kept lawns giving way to public housing, the advent of urban decay, and ultimately the ‘great society’ of welfare, the paying of single mothers for babies without fathers, an electorate given to rewarding politicians for coming up with new problems to address by expanding the something for nothing mentality, excusing mediocrity and corruption among the appointed bureaucracy, the fostering of anger toward the working stiffs paying the bills, and finally the emasculation of law enforcement trying to hold the line through police brutality lawsuits, ACLU dogooders, and the permanent, unassailable Democrat majority.

    So now we have Detroit. Uniracial, Democrat, and desperate. There is no hope other than that it will depopulate, be bulldozed, and that some of us in the surrounding communities of some 3 million people will want to move back in to build another prosperous city and set up a repeat cycle.

    Outside Detroit and its couzins of decayed Michigan cities, Flint, Saginaw, et al., there is a strong Michigan culture with work ethic, decency, individualism, a commitment to education and innovation, strength from facing adversity and the resultant indomitable spirit which makes possible a vision of a better day.

    I think it could happen.

  • alex rockwell

    A city infrastructure that once supported 1.7 million people now has less than 700 thousand residents, half of which do not pay taxes. Perhaps this may have had something to do with it.

  • Skep41

    If you want to read the spokesman for the failed ideology which has caused such destruction you need look no further than Tom Friedman’s loving call for more money to be devoted to our failed education bureaucracy in the NYT today. TF touts Taiwan’s prosperity without mentioning that they have rejected the tenets of the welfare state and have adopted business-friendly economic policies and balanced budgets. In the US the failed ideology of liberalism is more advanced in the urban centers, as Prof Meade points out, but the graduation of ignorant dummies from our university system has created a class of people who feel their empty degrees entitle them to instant success without paying dues of any kind. It’s hard to imagine any scenario that turns the growing feeling of entitlement by rich and poor alike around while avoiding a Soviet Union-style collapse.

  • Skep41

    Heliogabalis…San Francisco one of the most prosperous cities in the country? They are teetering on the brink of bankruptcy because of excessive pensions to government employees. The streets are infested with violent and verminous homeless thugs who are ignored by the authorities. I agree heartily with Prof Meade…no ethnic group has a monopoly on stupidity and failure.

  • MissouriConservative

    The social policies of LBJ and others created a dependent class of society and the Democrat control of the unions contributed to the lower quality of the American automobile allowing first, Volkswagon, then Honda and Toyota to drive in a wedge further for consumers that wanted a car that lasted longer than 80-100 thousand miles. You now have a good governor in there trying to clean up their crap, but he is the solution for the state. Detroit still will need better local leaders to take them through a painful recovery. Nationally the best man to help fix broken America is Romney. Obama is so afraid of losing to this guy, he , Michael Moore and the unions made it a priority to run ads and work voter mischief to have Dems vote for Insanatorum. Romney went out and got 70,000 plus more votes than 2008. He puts Michigan into play for the GOP. I can promise you that Romney cares not only about Detroit and Michigan, but the United States. He can bring us that pride we felt at the 2002 Olympics.

  • Stan Lippmann

    Using Southern Blacks as a wrecking ball for Northern Cities was a well planned strategy by the CPUSA, which itself was cooked up by you and your buddies at the CFR Roundtable at the behest of the British Empire. Wake up, Walter, out of your Yalie cocoon. You seem like a out-of-date dolt lately.

    • Walter Russell Mead

      @Stan Lippmann: There is nothing I can say that would make an impression on you, so I wish you a happy life.

  • Anthony

    “Decades of incompetence and corruption by elected officials in tandem with the decline of the once flourishing American automobile industry (Detroit mid-20th century forward definitely one industry town) and flight by the better educated and the better off have thoroughly blighted what was once one of America’s most flourishing cities.”

    WRM, the aforementioned capsulizes motif of Quick Take. However, most glaring consequence/tragedy in my opinion has been child poverty numbers (67% – nation only 11% I think) as legacy resulting from decades of both incompetence and corruption.

  • Brett

    Many of the same policies are and were at play in New York City, which also went through a major budget crisis back in the 1970s, and lost a huge industry that employed millions there (the textile industry). Yet New York City is relatively thriving today.

    What killed Detroit, as Edward Glaeser has pointed out, was that it was a gigantic company town (three-company town) that never adjusted to the weakening of those companies. New York City adjusted to the near-complete loss of its textile industry, with the financial sector coming to play an important role (and now there appears to be an incipient tech sector as well there).

  • barry1817

    but the left cares, is what the lame stream media tells us to suck up to PC liberals.

    so do you want the person that cares, who ignores your plight, or do you want the supposedly mean sob that helps you, makes you tow the line, and makes you a success.

    No it’s gimme, gimme, gimme

    JFK would be rolling in his grave with this, from a man that told us that we should ask not our nation can do for us, but what we can do for our nation,

    And then told us that lowering taxes is the oxymoron that PC liberals can never quite get, because they seem to be brain dead when it comes to math. Lower the taxes, and the government gets MORE money.

    And then government never gets that you don’t spend more than you take in, sort of like a person and their own budget.

    Spending more than you collect, and then demanding more, is a never ending cycle of legalized theft.

  • Leo from Michigan

    Just down the road is another example of the
    same failed policies: Benton Harbor, Michigan.
    BH has been the target of several failed fixes
    in the past several years. Neighboring St.
    Joseph, meanwhile, is a beautiful town and
    the complete opposite of BH.

  • Ham Radio

    The movie “Robocop” was set in a futuristic Detroit, an urban area of decay and anarchy. The future is now.

  • michael

    I have lived in Michigan Nearly My entire adult life. I grew up in the Detroit are and lived there for almost 20 Tears beginning in the early 70’s. Even in 70’s, a time of high
    inflation and unemployment , the City never
    looked as bleak as it does today. Appoint an EM NOW!. Too much finger pointing and Racially charged accusations, I don’t care what color you are, this needs to be fixed and the current cast of characters have no clue. Good Bless Dave Bing and his efforts but too little, too late. Check on Detroit News .com and Nolan Findley article today, the corruption is rampant. He does not even mention the Police officer (suspended with Pay I’m sure) who embezzled money from a fund for flowers to be used at Police Funerals, or the High School Principal who routinely pocketed the gate from Football games. As a State we cannot let Detroit sink into Bankruptcy, Too much collateral damage. EM NOW!

  • jidcat

    My memory is that the high automobile worker wages was made possible by: (1) the destruction of foreign competitors in World War II and (2) high import costs. American aid to the damaged economies helped stimulate foreign demand, and high import prices rendered foreign competition uneconomic. If my memory is roughly true, then the high union wages paid in earlier times were always at the expense of other taxpayers (foreign aid) and domestic car buyers (higher prices because of import restrictions.) Is my memory at least somewhat accurate?

  • Bikerken

    I grew up in Detroit. I saw it going downhill as early as the late sixties and it was only going to get worse. The city is a perfect example of what happens when unions go wild and the entitlement mentalily takes root and flourishes. If you want to see what is really wrong with Detroit, watch the TV show ‘Hardcore Pawn’. And you won’t have any questions about it again.

  • Danny K.

    I typically agree with your articles and agree with many of the points in your current article, but in this case I think your analysis is incomplete.

    First point: If you go to most major urban areas, typically the most desirable suburbs are those that embrace high taxation, high regulation, high government control (such as planning and zoning). Public servants in those communities are paid very well. Conversely, the low tax areas (at least in the urban setting) are far less livable (the opposite is true in the rural setting, however).

    Second point: Housing is no different than the car in your driveway, it just has a longer shelf life. You buy it, use it, you eventually throw it out. Except in the case of real property, there is permanence and property rights involved thus it is harder to wipe the slate clean and start over. If you don’t put it up right in the first place (government control), or you don’t have a system in place to weed out desirable properties (again, government control), you end up with all kinds of urban rot in the long run.

    Third point: Is what is the optimal size of an organization? Where I live, Metropolitan Columbus, even the most modest suburbs have nicer overall curb appeal than some of the grungier parts of Columbus. I think there is something to be said for smaller organizational units being more accountable.

    Fourth point: Much of this is a function of income. The Columbus school system, like most urban school systems, has been a victim of white flight since busing was imposed. By most metrics, Columbus does a poor job educating its students. Therefore, it was much to the surprise of many a recent analysis of Columbus City Schools actually found that there were many buildings rated Excellent, and these buildings tended to be located in the wealthier and whiter parts of the district. Think about this one for a minute. Same management, same books, same colleges the teachers get their degrees from.

    Final point: Other issues are also a function of income, such as the funding of schools, the number of apartments in your community, the amount of discretionary income available to keep up your house. Old housing in wealthy areas has staying power for some of these reasons. It falls apart in urban areas for the same reason.

    So, my point is that at least when it comes to housing patterns, some of the knee jerk conservative analysis falls apart. Look closer at this issue and I’m sure you’ll agree.

  • Steve

    This is a chilling analysis of a dystopia that awaits many cities, large and small, in the US.

    I think that Brett above has it right: the excessive dependence on the auto industry killed Detroit. Philadelphia and Baltimore have been managed almost as badly. But both have world-class hospitals and Universities (Penn, Johns Hopkins) and thriving financial services industries. This is not to say that things are fabulous in either city. But it has been enough to keep them above water. If the University of Michigan were in Detroit, things might be a lot different.

    But woe to the city without this type of social capital (Buffalo and Hartford come to mind….). The genius new mayor of Providence is picking a fight with Brown U. lately. Without Brown, Providence would be dead. When will these knuckleheads learn to nurture their crown jewels?

    As Prof. Mead has stated so eloquently in prior articles, the old Statist model that drove post-Great Society urban life is dead. The city today, to use Martin Amis’ term, is a “pregnant widow”. God only knows what’s coming next.

  • pottfullofpith

    Detroit: proving once again that stupidity is the only universal capital crime.

    It will be very interesting to see how the Detroit BK plays out. It will be a kind of scale model/ dress rehearsal for when CA/Gov Brown shows up in DC, begging bowl in hand. Bailing out banks was one thing; giving a Grecian haircut to bond holders was smallball; bailing out the world’s 8th (?) largest economy will be something very special. Buckle up, it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.

  • MB

    This article is based on sweeping generalizations that are pretty staggering. They are too numerous to list and refute individually, so I will simply focus on one: why is it that other cities that adhere to what the author describes as “liberal” policies–Seattle, Portland, Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul–have and are thriving? There are 19 Fortune 500 companies, for instance, headquarted in the Twin Cities. This is in a state with one of the best education systems in the country, which is provided by a higher level of taxation than many other states. On the other hand, Las Vegas, which is in a state with one of the lowest levels of taxation (so I guess this would be “conservative” policy), and consequently some of the worst schools, also currently has the highest level of foreclosure and unemployment in the country.

  • Weizen

    If liberal thinking, socialist programs and unions heavily involved with the auto industry are what brought Detroit to it’s knees, why does Germany succeed?

  • George B

    I’ve visited the Detroit metro area several times and there are some nice suburbs plus cool auto museums worth seeing. Detroit itself is so far gone in the government capture by unions and racial politics/death spiral process that it’s becoming a depopulated wasteland that’s being reclaimed by nature. The ghost town areas without people are not as unsafe as one would imagine. In my opinion, much of the land area of Detroit could recover if it was completely depopulated and sold to surrounding suburbs to help retire debt.

  • MarkE

    Regarding Heligobalus’ comment and Dr Mead’s rebuttal, I believe that an important element of Detroit’s problem has been fairly touched upon if perhaps too provocatively stated. The issues of racial vengeance and racial loyalty are relatively well known and were discussed openly by Time Magazine, a liberal mouthpiece and part of the definition of political correctness. See the following link if you don’t believe it.,9171,1926017-3,00.html
    One wonders why the suburbs and surrounding areas of Detroit although weakened continue to cope while the central city is in free-fall.

    Of course this is an uncomfortable topic for any sensitive person pc or otherwise. Nevertheless it is likely to be a recurring problem as the US becomes more diverse and less dominated by English speaking Caucasians. What about Miami and Los Angeles?
    This part of the issue in Detroit should be faced squarely so as to avoid or minimize it in the future.

    If you can’t deal with this now, find a way to come back to it in a context you can handle. There is certainly a parable to be learned from Detroit. It is best summed up by the reputedly Chinese proverb: He who seeks vengeance should dig two graves: one for his enemy and one for himself.

  • E.F. Taylor

    Professor Mead, in view of Andrew Breitbart’s untimely passing, and seeing as you are one of the crystalline thinkers of our time, I just want to urge you to please take care of your health, and eat and rest as your wife urges you to. Please listen. Prayer inspired me to leave this message, I have no knowledge of either you or your wife. .
    My sincerest wish for your health, wealth and happiness,
    E.F. Taylor
    Interns, please make sure he sees this message. Thank you.

  • john werneken

    @wigwag the difference is that people in large groups are invariably stupid, dishonest, and immoral, while people one at a time tend to allocate their time and their money, and send their kids to, places that are beneficial in their eyes, when they are allowed to.

    The same people are wise as producers and consumers as are ignorant savages as votes. That is why we have Constitutions, to limit what voters are allowed to do through public means.

  • Maxwell Jump

    The other day, just out of curiosity, I cruised through Detroit neighborhoods via Google Street View. Very eye opening! And sad.

  • Congratulations 0bammunists:

    You have “fundamentally transformed” Detroit into a “progressive” dystopia.

    Watch Detroit, ILL-inois, and California for a preview of what to expect for the entire country, if B.O. is re-elected.

  • Karl

    If Detrolit had the same annexation powers southern cities have, its numbers would look far, far better.

  • Danny K.

    Professor Mead, I was thinking about something else as I took out the bike for my standard 16 mile bike run on the local government (socialist) bike trail. Is the issue really high taxes so much as the issue is income stratification and getting something back for your money?

    It seems to me the the high tax, big government city model didn’t fail so much for what it is, because we can see the wealthiest enclaves basically employ the same governmental model. I think the real issue is that at the end of the day people are selfish. They don’t mind high taxes in wealthy suburbs because they are getting something for their high taxes in the form of great government services, rising property values, and development restrictions that keeps out junky development.

    The big city model, on the other hand, taxes you at a high level and doesn’t give a lot of it back because cities are stretched. By virtue of being a dumping ground for the poor, cities have to take money from productive citizens to pay for services in areas where people don’t pay taxes or pay them in minimal amounts.

    FYI: I used to be pretty much a doctrinaire conservative myself until the last several years. This has caused me to reexamine a lot of issues people accept as gospel. This is one of them.

  • Brutus

    I agree that race isn’t the only cause of Detroit’s decline. Still, can not the decline of the automobile industry be at least partly explained by the difficulty of finding qualified labor? And can’t that be at least partly explained by the fact that whites fled the city? And didn’t that happen because of increased crime? And didn’t crime increase when blacks moved into the city in great numbers?

    It is uncontroversial (or at least factually correct) to point out that blacks commit virtually all categories of crime at much higher rates than do whites, which explains why whites leave cities when blacks move in. It is similarly uncontroversial to say that whites are more likely than blacks to be qualified for skilled labor jobs, owing to higher rates of educational success: It is documented that African American IQ is, on average, about 15 points below white, and this seems to be the main source of the intractable gap in educational achievement, and maybe also in crime rates.

    So I think it plausible that there are ways in which the demographic changes Detroit has experienced have effected its economy, but I don’t claim that no other factor was relevant. Liberal economic and social policies are unquestionably destructive among any people.

  • Kris

    Kris has arrived, let the party begin!

    Jeff@2: “get the Gov’s name right. It’s Rick Snyder not Rich Snyder.”

    He used to be Rich, but then he bailed out Detroit.

    Thank you, thank you, I’m just getting started…

    WRM@11: “Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Rhode Island”

    I am tempted to respond to the first four examples by a very much tongue-in-cheek “Well…”, but a look at the distinguished-looking older lady at the head of the table prompts me to bite said tongue.

    WigWag@15: On the one hand, fair point. On the other: We shouldn’t give Detroit parents (more) direct control over the schools, because they have repeatedly made poor choices in choosing who they put in control of schools?

    Kurt@16: “Mr. Mead doesn’t mention (and therefore misses the point about) the collapse of Detroit’s economy due to job losses”

    And you, possibly being new here, miss the point that our host attributes this to the “blue model” adopted by Detroit.

    John@18: “disintegrate”


    Stan@23: It’s much worse than that. This entire blog is an attempt to shift the blame from Black to Blue. I assume the only reason you haven’t picked up on that is that the subliminal messages are starting to seep into you. Flee! Flee, as if the demonic hounds of Queens are after you!

    Anthony@25: “most glaring consequence/tragedy in my opinion has been child poverty numbers”

    And this becomes a self-perpetuating cycle.

    WRM@26: “There is nothing I can say that would make an impression on you”

    The ivory head of your walking stick, on the other hand…

  • @Brutus: There is no “decline of the automobile industry.” We produce more cars in America today then we did at the supposed high point of American automobile production. They’re just not produced in Detroit anymore, or even the Midwest (unless you count North Dakota). They’re made in places like Texas, Tennessee, Alabama and Kentucky, with parts from Washington state (Paccar Parts in Renton).

    There are several causes of the Midwests decline, and the only one that can be fixed easily is the blue model economic policies.

    Another thing that affected the Midwest is rail congestion in the actual West, which has made it so many things that used to be carried by train are now carried by truck, and thus more expensive to carry longer distances. An example of this effect is the meatpacking industry: used to be done in Chicago, but now, instead of loading the cattle on to trains in Greeley, CO, Yakima, WA, Palestine, TX and Dodge City, KS, they slaughter them there and carry out the meatpacking much closer to where the beef cows are, because using trucks its not cheap getting them that far. Were it not for the enviroweenies and “growth management” nuts, you would probably see something similar with the steel industry on the West Coast – instead they load it on to ships to be sent to China. The Chinese make steel with it, and send it back to the West Coast. And no, labor costs are not substantial in the steel industry – if steel mills could be built on the West Coast, where they can avoid congestion en route to the East, they would be.

    Yet another reason is simple overpopulation. Much like Appalachia and the rest of the East, the Midwest was settled according to “the devil lives in the forest.” They built a town, and when they ran out of space, they cleared whatever was next to it, and built a new town, regardless of how worthless the adjacent site was. Add to this an industrial boom, and you have a true disaster. Lots of developed land and very little to show for it.

    A third reason is greater depth requirements for ships. A hundred years ago, the Chicago River was more then deep enough for vessels on the Great Lakes to get in to the Mississippi river valley. The Erie Canal and the Hudson/Champlain system likewise. Now only barges use those systems, cutting off the rest of the traditional shipping advantage of the Midwest.

    As you can see, a perfect trifecta of doom, and I didn’t even list off EVERYTHING that’s wrong with the place.

  • rsm

    It’s the same here in Baltimore. We even had a General Motors factory, in addition to a steel mill. You could substitute “Baltimore” in the article above for “Detroit” and it would be accurate.

  • Anthony Esolen

    A disease will ravage one man in a week and take months to do the same to another. I’d hesitate before I’d say that all was just peachy-keen in places like Portland and Seattle. Those enclaves of overschooled libertine elites have admitted into their systems the diseases that will destroy them, as they have destroyed others. There’s more than one form of corruption that families will flee — or that will attract the antisocial and the destructive. Check out the streets of Vancouver.

  • Mr. GJG

    By all means Mr. Mead, if it makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and above it all to ignore the pink elephant in the room that was alluded to by some of the commentators, than be my guest.
    Anybody with a working brain and the willingness to exercise some intellectual honesty will come to but one conclusion.
    Like it or not Mr. Mead, nature is immune to rationalizations.

  • elephant4life

    I heard the other day that 2.5M jobs have left Michigan, never to return, because of decades of true Blue, liberal, nanny-state policies and union cronyism, coupled with a regulatory environment that strangles innovation and entrepreneurial spirits. Starting a private-sector business which has a public-sector counterpart is an exercise in frustration, as the rules are set so that the private business is locked out of access to insurance, funding, etc. Tourism is just about the only source of industry left, and the bloated and redundant government structure (really, how many city governments providing minimal services are needed for 10,000 people?) relies on property taxes which rival those of NJ or PA, sales tax on everything you don’t take home and cook – even aspirin, for [gosh sakes] – , and income tax. Perhaps Michigan and its once prosperous cities can become strong again, but the government – Federal, State, County, and Local, have to get out of the way, and trim their fat.

  • Cowboy

    The intentional driving out of whites from Detroit under the leadership of Coleman Young is a known and indisputable facet in its decline. The general phenomenon is called the Curley Effect. This phenomenon is not necessarily dependent on race, and it is not limited to African Americans. The effect can happen along all kinds of divisions, not just racial. It can happen along socio-economic divisions, along religious devisions, along tribal divisions, you name it. It is in fact named after Mayor Curley of Boston, an Irishman.

  • John

    Decline has been a variety of reasons. Lack of business diversity, corrupt mayors, racial segregation, laziness in good times.

    I know it’s a popular refrain to blame all the economic woes on government but the number one reason Detroit is bad off is failed auto manufacturer leadership. They were so stupid compared to the Japanese automaker’s management teams .

  • mixplix

    When intellectuals think it’s possible to smell the smoke. Their thought process blames rather than builds and it’s pathetic to watch them make the same mistakes over and over hoping for a different results. In their minds it’s just impossible for them to be in error.

  • Chester White


    You voted for Obama, right?

    You going to make that mistake again?

  • P. Aaron

    Detroit’s the bomb site, Wayne county’s the blast radius.

  • Thucydides

    It has gone so far that we may seriously have to start thinking in terms of evacuating Detroit. To prevent the problem from re occurring, move people out in small groups to booming “Red” states like Texas or North Dakota, or “Right to Work” states like Florida. Put a local charity or church in charge of each group of refugees (for that is what they are) to make sure they arrive to some sort of employment, shelter etc. Make it clear there is no welfare for them here.

    Sadly, evacuating California or New York State is not an option; the best thing to do there is allow them to go bankrupt without any possibility of a bailout, void the civil service union contracts and pension plans and essentially cancel all old laws and regulations that hinder growth.

    Re educating the people to be self sufficient Americans may be the work of a generation.

  • Therealguyfaux

    Like the blind man and the elephant, different posters cite different reasons why Detroit has gone down the crapper as it has. Is it not possible that the correct answer is that much-beloved alternative from the SAT’s– “All of the above”? Allow me a mixed-metaphor here: couldn’t Detroit be a “perfect storm”?

  • Tblakely

    “why is it that other cities that adhere to what the author describes as “liberal” policies–Seattle, Portland, Denver, Minneapolis/St. Paul–have and are thriving?”

    Give it time. The rot has set in those cities and they will go through similiar travails in a generation.

  • furytrader

    Question of the year: America, who would you rather come in to turn Detroit around, Barack Obama or Mitt Romney?

    Why shouldn’t it be any different for the rest of the country?

  • barrack h obama

    You are all fools.
    It’s ALL Bush’s fault.

  • ChicagoXile

    It’s halftime, America … Oy.

  • exboyracer

    Lets see we take the STATE with the highest poverty rate — Miss. we see that it has been run by conservatives since well since forever. Then we throw in the fact that they didn’t loose their major industry because of inept conservative management. And there you go.

    So now you can right an article about how conservatives [are bad].

  • CatoRenasci

    To blame the decline of the auto industry in what was essentially a company town is to miss the point: the decline of the auto industry came about because the industry did not satisfy consumer demand, which shifted to imports – first at the low end and then at the high end – as soon as the higher quality Japanese and European vehicles became widely available at prices that seemed to offer consumers greater value for their money.

    Despite knowing this for 40 years and more, the industry remained stubbornly noncompetitive, largely because of a deadly combination of bad management, arrogance, high labor costs and rigid union rules which affected productivity and quality.

    One cannot entirely discount the racial issues which no one – left or right – really wants to address. Without trying to ascribe reasons, there is no question whites fled, unwilling to live in an increasingly black city run increasingly by blacks. And, there is no question that the black Democrats running Detriot have done a particularly bad job of running the city.

    Commentators have mentioned mostly Southern European countries badly run, and Germany being successful despite a large and intrusive high tax welfare state. At the risk of offending with stereotypes, the Germans have historically been thought to have a very strong work ethic. Northern Europeans, including the Anglo-Saxons and their descendants who long dominated American culture, have fretted about the negative effect on the American work ethic and values of the large influx of Southern and Eastern Europeans whose cultures were not regarded as generally having strong work ethics.

    When the cultural balance and general mores cease to include the adherence by a substantial majority of citizens to the homogenized version of the Protestant work ethic that emerged in the US through the enforced melting pot of the first half of the 20th century, and their internalizing of the political values of civic virtue (the rule of law, honesty in government, strong voluntary civil society as evidenced in churches, fraternal organizations, and civic improvement groups of many sorts), things fall apart with remarkable rapidity.

    Detroit is the poster child for the effects of both the economic and racial policies of modern liberalism – Prof. Mead’s Blue Model – in action.

    Republican ads in the upcoming election should feature film of Detroit in all its brutal decay and destruction, reminding people that this is the product of the Democrats and the unions running the place for 50 years, and asking: Is this the future you want for America? If you vote Democrat, it’s what you’ll get. Similar ads could be run for the dysfunctional aspects of California (though there are positives in CA as well).

  • Dave Babler

    Mississippi has been run by conservatives for forever, how’s that working out for them?

    OH YEH

    Mississippi has the highest poverty rate in the nation, now let’s look at VERMONT in the same graph.


  • Mastro

    Coleman Young basically told the white middle class to jump in the lake. He- and the black machine that took over Detroit- completely ignored the crime and social problems.

    So- the whites moved out- destroying the city’s tax base.

    This happened before the auto industry started to wilt- the US industry was fine in 1968- when the riots made Detroit a nightmare.

    I do business in Detroit and Michigan- what a business associate tells me is that Michigan is maybe the best state in the US- but Detroit is the worst city.

  • Mastro

    “Dave Babler says:
    March 12, 2012 at 9:17 am

    Mississippi has been run by conservatives for forever, how’s that working out for them? ”

    Vermont and Mississippi – two states that are next door to each other, have similar populations, economies and histories.

    Oh, wait—

  • JKB

    What they needed was a wall, a metaphorical curtain, to keep people in their utopian dream.

    They thought that they heavy capital investment had the producers trapped but as we see, the investments decline in age and sometimes, it’s just worth it to escape and leave it behind.

  • David

    I lived and worked for the city of Detroit (not easy when you are white, unless you are a Detroiter, don’t give me race arguing non-sense, this is a fact of life in Detroit), it is bankrupt, and it’s not ever coming back.

  • Nina

    Liberal Democratic cities have done themselves in. I grew up in Albany NY. The neighborhood had many Polish immigrants,
    somes Blacks, Irish Italian and you know
    for some strange reason we all got along.
    Well that same neighborhood West Hill (and Arbor Hill too) are so crime ridden and
    the area has been decaying. Our Mayor is
    doing the best he can to bring it back.
    No one walks freely in those areas.
    For Pete’s sake the Polish coming to America
    couldn’t even speak the English and did a
    good job raising their families.

  • Intellibronc

    I read a sheeple’s comment about SF, PDX, Seattle as being the marxists shining cities. What the sheeple doesn’t realize, graft and rapidly rising crime rates plague the ‘City’, Seattle has Boeing and MS, and PDX is merely a melting pot of mindless dweebs; they all lay on the west coast which is a magnet for obvious reasons. The responsible producers originally from CA have and are fleeing in thousands, myself included. CA is upside down in many ways and on a suicidal course. Insanity is defined as doing the SAME thing and expecting a different outcome. Pull your heads out of the sand and realize we have a stealth marxist revolution ongoing. To think any otherwise is irresponsible.

  • Robert

    Detroit’s rise and fall is tied to the American auto industry and its conservative corporate culture. Detroit also lost Kmart too. Both GM and even Ford have lost market share to foreign corporations because they were biggest players in the auto market until the first real oil shock. Since then they have been in managed decline. Both corporate cultures did not innovate and did not champion innovation since both were born a hundred years ago. Many corporations that old don’t have a culture that encourages innovation. Instead they encourage cowardice since innovators usually are fired or hired away. Of course Detroit failed to attract foreign investment and heavy industry. That was probably because local politicians were discouraged from bring in competition to the area that would compete for the workers thereby creating wage inflation which large employers really don’t care for.

  • Brian

    Unions destroyed the steel industry in my hometown city of Pittsburgh. I saw it happen.

    What differentiated Pittsburgh from Detroit, is that the city didn’t sit around feeling sorry for itself, asking for perpetual handouts, or pining for an industry that would never provide enough jobs going forward.

    Pittsburgh found high tech and health care research/delivery could replace steel. Detroit needs to find something else or remain in squalor. Unfortunately, their “leaders” have had neither the experience nor the will to do anything positive for the city, the “we are all sad sack victims who are owed money for not working” mentality is what got the elected and re-elected.

  • It’s the large, older cities (that includes LA) that face dystopia. The political elites are no longer interested in production, jobs, and growth. Once upon a time, even liberals supported such things. No more. Idiotically, it’s mostly self-inflicted.

  • Steve D

    Liberals are stupid. I get it. Got it a long time ago. Now, what do you have to offer? Affordable housing? Affordable health care? Suck it up, losers. Jobs? When the economy suits me.

    So liberals promise what they can’t deliver. You promise nothing, and deliver. So tell me why anyone who votes liberal should care if the economy comes crashing down around your ears. What, exactly, do you have to offer anybody except yourselves?

  • Irish Mike

    @Dave Babler: In 1992, Kirk Fordice became the first Republican Governor of Mississippi since 1876.

    So in your mind, “forever” stretches back to the beginning of the Clinton Administration?!? (BTW: Democrat Ronnie Musgrove served as Governor from 2000-2004.)

  • Heliogabalus

    “Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain and Rhode Island weren’t being run by African Americans — and they aren’t being run well”

    Please, this is a fatuous comparison. Those places have problems, but they’re not zones of total disaster. Let’s take one statistic: murders per 100,000 people. Spain is at 0.9; Detroit is at 34.5. Where would you rather have your car break down?

  • Mark

    “The two largest employers in the city: the dysfunctional public school system and the crippled city government.”
    Apparently they think money will appear by spending it on non productive entities. Move the money from one piggy bank to the other while spending a large portion on the way does not cause a gain.

  • teapartydoc

    Amazing response to this post about Detroit.
    What we are seeing is what happens when a governmental leviathan that is designed so as to be too big to fail does, indeed, fail.
    we are having the opportunity to witness examples of this on a world-wide basis, and on every phase of the spectrum. The entire twentieth century was an object lesson in this.
    And Wig-Wag is asking how it is better if schooling is run better with local input. The reason history rhythmically repeats itself is ideological stupidity.

  • Moderate Mom

    To those pointing at Mississippi, you might want to take a peek at their demographic breakdown and then compare it to the demographic breakdown of Detroit. They seem to have something in common.

    When the population is weighted towards low-income minorities (or any low-income group for that matter), a group that consumes a disproportionate amount of tax dollars in comparison to the tax dollars they contribute, it’s not surprising that economic failure of the government will occur. Math is math – when something can’t go on, it won’t.

  • ari

    Um. I live in Austin. Austin relies on a consumption tax: 8 1/2 percent. It can’t go over that on expenses.

    The very liberal Will Wynn gave business speeches about how people wanted libraries and parks in every neighborhood. He pulled out graphs and charts showing how expensive each library was to stock and then to keep open. He said ” on this tax base- we’re going to have four day libraries. Is that what you want?” Rather than berating people for not spending enough, he kept the city budget in line.

    Second, it was ( is- who can tell with the current mayor) a very pro-growth city. My friends started businesses left, right and center. I’m pretty sure they weren’t zoned for business, most of the time. And they weren’t harassed by the police or the license raj. I’ve been in businesses started in storage sheds in people’s back-yards, internet companies set up in attics of office buildings, businesses in people’s back bedrooms…

    and the schools. The elementary my kids attend is basically a private, religious school under a public school banner. The teachers can teach from their own curriculum. Their first grade teacher has used Open Court reading for 20+ years. The teachers will pray with the kids, or send them to a teacher who attends their church. There are a ton of churches in Austin. The teachers are, almost to a person, a sunday school teacher.

    The teachers expect the principal to run interference with the district- as in, keep the district officials out. I don’t know that it’s like this in any other school in the district. I’m in a poor neighborhood- section 8 housing is the next block over, for instance. But this school teaches at a higher level than the rich district right down the road. They routinely send kids to nicer schools- private schools on scholarship, transfers, the works. Austin has a transfer program- a little creaky- but people do use it to change schools. And Austin has a strong home-schooling presence, religious and otherwise. It also has private schools.

    Spouse wants to move to a different district. Austin might be uneven, but it has more options, and the possibility for more parent control. I’m not seeing that in Detroit.

    Oh, the district visited, and put a disciplinary letter into a teacher’s file: she was teaching American history- a timeline of American history, so that kids could have a sense of when the story happened. The district rep did this:kids aren’t supposed to learn American history until 8th grade. Parents wrote to the newspaper and called the school district in outrage. So, I don’t know that Austin is magical, or that the educational bureaucracy isn’t likely to strangle education with pure stupidity. The base of people, however, are mostly more conservative than the rest of the country. Our Democrats are more conservative than most places Republicans.

  • mere citizen

    Detroit is only the tip of the iceberg in Michigan, its simply the most egregious. Flint and Saginaw are mini-Detroits, Benton Harbor too. Kalamazoo and Lansing are in the early stages, whether they can be saved remains to be seen. One thing that is never explored regarding these urban centers is the large amount of southern blacks that moved north for the manufacturing jobs, and the culture the brought with them.
    The southern political structure up until the 1970s was very related to the history of the south and its Cavaliers, or royalist settlers. The power structure was very based on a strong individual figure that consciously mimicked English royalty, post Civil War corruption continued and reinforced that culture. Think Huey Long, and frankly Lyndon Johnson and his Great Society. As so many post manufacturing urban centers became primarily black whose cultural roots are from a region that has a strong and long history of political corruption that has its ultimate roots in English royalism. In Michigan throw in the German socialism so heavily based on unionism that the post 1848 German immigrants that flooded into Michigan and viola you get modern day Detroit.
    American “liberalism”is truly a combination of the worst aspects of post religious Puritanism, southern Cavaliers and the German brand of socialism. This was called Progressivism. Today’s liberals are not Progressives, they are Marxists, something Progressives were not. They were the American version of socialism. It is why they had to have a
    “New Republic” as Herbert Croly wrote. Our founders understood the need to constrain the worst aspects of the cultures they lived in. The New Republic enshrined the cultural antithesis of Original Republic. Detroit, as much as
    Gary Indiania, is a product of this. Manufacturing comes and goes, Grand Rapids once had a thriving furniture manufacturing base. The culture of Grand Rapids however is greatly different than that of Detroit, Flint or Saginaw. Those who are lazy point simply to race, a most obvious difference, but the important distinction is not the Color of someones skin but of their belief system which is bred within their cultural norms. And no not all cultures are as worthy as others. Some enshrine freedom, most do not.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: But of course. As long as “conservative” means “people I don’t like”. By the way, are you sure you’re not a sockpuppet opening the door for more race-based comments?

    [email protected]: Congratulations on managing to regurgitate the talking points memo. I am also highly impressed by how you managed to evaluate this entire blog based on the single post you might have read.

    [email protected]: “So tell me why anyone who votes liberal should care if the economy comes crashing down around your ears.”

    Because if I go down, you don’t get my tax dollars anymore. Capisce?

  • S W

    Dear Mr. Mead, Thank you for the response: “Stupidity and bad policy can be found in all ethnic groups.” Writing from Europe, I can attest that ethnicity has nothing to do with bad decisions, while the political Left’s philosophy does. Freedom chooses to flee, whether it was a black slave in the American South of 1850, a middle class in Detroit over several recent decades, and now the European press is documenting that we are experiencing a ‘brain drain’ of the entrepreneur and the creators of wealth from nations which simply wish to confiscate said capital and enslave these generators of prosperity. The simple truth is that freedom from the over reaching state is being sought all around the world, and those who wish to enslave are in a rage that their “slaves” are escaping. Whether it is capital or human capital, wishing to be free is nothing wrong, but it makes the Left angry because their entire economic stance is predicated on someone else producing that they may take from it. Brezhnev observed this when he said planning was fine, but planning was actually intended to produce something. When the production drops, the plan fails. Detroit is a poster child for this truth, as was the Soviet Union, wherein the joke was “I am working against the government — by not working.” May creative destruction teach the lesson that the socialists need to learn.

  • Debbies21

    While this article was specifically about Detroit, it can be any city across the us where I party was in charge. Philly, Trenton, Camden, San Fran. They’re filled with the wrecked lives caused by the wrecked policies of one party. Give teachers endless bennies, smaller classes and students still can’t read or do math. The teachers are essentially babysitters told to keep the peace. You have teachers in NY that are not fit to be in a class yet the city can’t fire them and they continue to collect a salery and earn retirement credits.
    Cops (not all of them) retire and the next week take the same job with a slightly diff title collect a salery and add to the pension credits.

    People are sick and tired of being taxed to death and watching the endless cycle of dependents who continually clamor for more.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: “those who wish to enslave are in a rage that their ‘slaves’ are escaping.”

    Not that I wish to encourage hyperbole, but I was astonished to discover how difficult it is to escape the US tax regime.

  • I think they need to spend more taxpayer’s dollars to build a sport’s stadium, or move a 60 ton rock from the mountains for a new city museum exhibit, or maybe adorn city employees with 10 weeks of paid vacation a year, or something like that.

  • Steve from Michigan

    Unions and Liberals: Doing for America what they did for Detroit.

  • Gary Kitts

    Another item to consider: In 1950 Chicago and Detroit were comparable cities. In 2012 they are not. Both have been run by Democrat party loyalists for most, if not all of that time. One difference is that the Chicago officials understood the difference between honest graft and dishonest graft and made the effort to provide necessary city services to keep Chicago alive. Will Mayor Emanuel follow the Daley family path? My take is that Detroit has already died and there is no saving the remnants under any of the current proposals. Detroit today reminds me of Heinlein’s abandoned areas in some respects.

  • Nahanni


    Texas already has way too many bleu state refugees. We probably have about 1/3 of the population of Michigan here-they started moving here en masse during the late ’70’s and have kept on moving here since then. Over the last three years I have seen the waves of license plates from Minnesota, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California and Washiington state on cars that have no business being in the places they were unless their occupants had just moved here. What is frightening is all the ones from New York state, Maryland and Massachusetts that I am seeing now.

  • Syd

    MOTTO: We brought it all down, man! Now what?

  • jose


  • Denise

    GREED and incompetence KILLED DETROIT and ALL of the other states facing bankruptcies.

  • Greg

    nothing will change now…there’s more “takers” than producers….it’s over…

  • justaguy

    The productive class (25% to 35% of population?) fights against the looter class (everyone else) and how that battle fares determines the fate of the area. Always has and always will. In Western Europe and America, the productive class won for a brief time and poverty (think Dark Ages) faded from memory. The looters start winning and poverty resumes its eternal march…the poor will always be with you.

  • This once great country will soon not be so great.Just to many takers and not enough givers (FACT) !!!

  • Daniel

    Why such a fear about bankruptcy ? It was created as a way to recover and regroup for both individuals,businesses, and governments.
    If Detroit is just left alone and hits bottom, oh well. Maybe the lessons learned will make for a brighter and wiser future.

  • bigslickone

    Liberalism Is A Mental Disorder. makes flying jetcars. Detroit ignored them and now they are going to Chinese companies, nuf said!

  • Patty Zuck

    Why can’t these free loaders figure it out,everyone they’ve voted in any office has robbed, stolen, thiefed from the city. Coleman, Kwame, DPS, Bing, [ugly rhetorical question that fails to meet VM’s ‘grandmother’ test deleted]. Go bankrupt, with Flint , Saginaw , Pontiac, Detroit, close all the schools, and keep the killing p, less mouths to feed.

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