As everyone is aware, the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy. There is no shortage of reasons being proffered about ranging from the obvious decline of the auto industry, sweetheart public union worker deals, poor city planning dating back decades, and mismanagement at best and corruption at worst regarding city leadership. But, lurking behind it all according to the Left is those mean old Republicans and their hard-heart policies. You know those policies- ones that demand constraint, living within one’s means, and accountability.
Some liberals have toyed with the idea of directly blaming Republicans, but others have been more open about it. Enter my favorite candidate for “Newsman” most likely to have his head self-combust on live television, Ed Schultz. This is his quote:
“Michigan used the be the symbol of industrial strength in manufacturing in this country. But thanks to a lot of Republican policies, the city is now filing for bankruptcy…Make no mistake, Detroit is exactly what the Republicans want. They outsourced manufacturing jobs, attacked unions, yet public services, and this is the result. Now they can wipe the slate clean because now they can start privatizing city assets.”
This is nothing short of the typical liberal blame game so often trotted out to explain everything of a negative nature. Failing schools? It is those damn Republicans. Broken borders? If only those Republicans would pass “meaningful” immigration reform. And on it goes, including urban decline.
Well, first of all Detroit does not define Michigan any more than Philadelphia defines Pennsylvania. Using a single city as a symbol of the state is a little silly. But, we must allow that Detroit was your classic industrial city in the Rust Belt centered around primarily the auto industry. However, if the auto industry and its decline follows the path of Detroit’s decline, then who is to blame? You would have to look at the reasons for the decline of the American auto industry and the reasons for it. No doubt, some of Detroit’s decline was caused by auto maker jobs leaving the city for areas more amenable to business needs. Again, whose fault is that? Clearly it is the fault of the auto workers unions, a compliant auto industry management, and competition. On a citywide basis, it is the fault of city leaders to fail to recognize and act on these trends.
Unlike most liberals, conservatives are willing to give credit where credit is due. For example, Philadelphia was a city in decline but it was the policies of Ed Rendell, a Democratic mayor, who refurbished the downtown and attracted non-industrial business to the city. Such non-industrial corporate giants like Comcast and Glaxo-Smith-Kline are now located in Philadelphia. Certain neighborhoods in Philadelphia have been “gentrified” with tree-lined streets and tony restaurants and night clubs. Detroit? Not so much.
The failure of Detroit needs to be compared against other industrial cities that relied on a single industry, but no longer do. Pittsburgh, once dependent on steel, never once came near bankruptcy. Why? Because they transformed and adjusted to the new economy. Today, Pittsburgh is experiencing an urban renaissance and doing quite well.
But, is Detroit the end result of Republican policies? Republican policies may place a greater premium on free market solutions to problems and part of that is the concept of competition. It is the natural outgrowth of something Liberals detest- capitalism. Their answer is industrial planning and although they may change the words to make it sound like something else, it is nothing short of Stalinist. We can use examples from history from around the world and discover that Stalinist policies were an abject failure, but that does not deter your average liberal. Of course as part of that policy, you have people like the lilliputian former Labor Secretary and his Keynesian counterparts like Paul Krugman arguing that the road to industrial salvation and higher wages goes through your local union hall.
Another reason for the downfall of Detroit is one of perception. Detroit was not unique in their racial tensions, upheaval and riots of the 1960s and 1970s. The 1967 Detroit riot was one of the worst in this country. Yet, other major cities saw their fair share of upheaval and riots and survived and are doing fine today. In this respect, Detroit can be compared somewhat with Newark. In that city, there was “white flight” to the suburbs during the 1970s which left a low income, minority-dominated population. In short, the “black power” movement- largely supported by liberals- achieved power, but lost their financial sugar daddy. You can’t run a major city on “ideals” or “power” without the financial backing. Heck- it became so bad that even affluent blacks left Detroit.
Just look at Detroit’s gradual decline over the years and then look at the correlation to the decline in the white population. In the 1950 census, Detroit was still 70% white and with each successive census, that percentage dropped to the point where in the latest 2010 census, whites make up a mere 10% of the Detroit population. Demographically, Asians have more in common with whites than blacks or Hispanics and you will not see a vibrant Asian community in Detroit.
The simple fact is that the world and the economy has changed over the years and Detroit is a shining example of what happens when urban areas fail to realize that change out of stubbornness or ignorance, and fail to adapt to that change. This sort of sounds like the American auto industry, right? While people like Ed Schultz and other bloviators on television can lay the blame at the feet of Republicans and Republican policies or conservatism in general, they fail to explain why urban areas facing the similar factors Detroit faced adapted and rebuilt themselves. Again, not that Philadelphia or Newark are shining examples of urban renewal, but their DEMOCRATIC and Republican mayors certainly were less short-sighted than the leadership in Detroit over the years.
And who were the mayors over the years in Detroit? The last Republican mayor of Detroit was Louis Miriani who left office in 1962, defeated in an upset fueled by the then-growing African-American vote. In succession, all the mayors of Detroit have been Democrats: Jerome Cavanugh, Roman Gibbs, Coleman Young, Dennis Archer, Kwame Kilpatrick, Ken Cockrell, and Dave Bing. Democrats have presided over Detroit’s period of decline. When the last Republican left office, Detroit’s population was over 1.6 million people. Today, it is barely more than 700,000.
Like most good conspiracy theorists, liberals seem to think that there is some secret cabal of conservative Republicans pulling strings to bring about the decline of urban areas. Instead, they should be looking in the mirror and realizing that it is their policies that have created this state of affairs. Their intransigence when it comes to union favoritism, their insistence on some national industrial policy, their affinity for failed policies, and their give-aways to the civil rights community have created the disgrace that Detroit is today.
And here is the irony of the whole dilemma. Detroit may very well emerge from bankruptcy all the better for it. Time will tell. But isn’t that exactly the line of argument made by conservatives regarding the auto industry? Wouldn’t that have created a better, longer-term solution to the auto industry’s structural problems rather than the federal government becoming part-owner of two of the Big Three auto makers? Ownership, which by the way, the government will lose value on in their investment. Liberals want the federal government to rush into Detroit with loans and grants in hand on the promise they will make things better. The best answer will be handled by a federal bankruptcy judge. Cry not for Detroit; they reaped what they sowed.