Detroit – And this, too, shall pass away.

A longtime friend who worked in regional planning remarked on the propensity of Detroit to try gimmicks: the historic trolley, the People Mover, the Poletown Cadillac works, the push for casinos. It’s probably too harsh to suggest the civil rights establishment said and did nothing in that era; it may be more accurate to say that people who had ambitions, no matter their ancestry or their politics, opted to exit rather than stay and attempt to change the established ways.


What happened to one of the most prosperous areas on earth?

If you listen to the interwebs, the answer is “terrible, Democratic-run urban politics.” Or “union-busting anti-labor policies” in Southern states that transformed solid middle-class jobs in the Midwest into near-minimum-wage jobs in states such as Alabama and Tennessee. Or maybe “racism.” Or “the urban underclass.”

All of these answers are impossibly reductive. The city of Detroit has no one problem; it has a constellation of them. Here, in no particular order, are some of the most important factors.

The fall of geography:

The decline of the U.S. auto industry:

The rise of the Sun Belt:

Industrial monoculture and overbuilding:



Bad government:
. . .
Any political system that has a convenient other to complain about will use that other to excuse the failures of its politicians, and Detroit has been no exception. The city has been plagued by flagrant corruption and plain old bad management. It’s also confronted the same painful math as Rust Belt cities like Buffalo and Rochester: The poor folks in the city want high levels of government services to alleviate their poverty. But if you raise taxes to pay for the services the voters want, the taxpayers will leave.

So no one factor pushed Detroit over the edge; they were the victims of decades of bad decisions and bad luck.

How Detroit Drowned in a Sea of Troubles (emphasis added)

And this, too, shall pass away.



Unfortunately, it seems that the future Aldous Huxley predicted in 1932, in Brave New World, is arriving early. Mockery, truculence, and minimalist living are best, then enjoy the decline. However, we do need a Revolving Door Tax (RDT), learn what Members of Congress pay in taxes, and prosecute politicians and staff and their “family and friends” who profit from insider trading. Oh, and pay “public servants” what they are worth.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,