Our View: Belly up!

Posted: July 20, 2013

At a few minutes past 4 on Thursday, Detroit made it official: It was bankrupt. No surprise resounds from these quarters: The Motor City has been a basket case for years.

And yet the announcement was not without shock value. No city Detroit’s size has ever filed for bankruptcy in the United States. And, needless to say, we’re not talking about some American version of Mogadishu here, but Detroit — home of the auto industry which, as recently as 1960, sported the nation’s highest per capita income. So, what we have is not just a cryin’ shame, but a cautionary tale.

And that tale tells us, much as the late Margaret Thatcher did, that you can go only so far on “other people’s money” before it runs out. Or before those “other people” run away with their money.

That’s pretty much what happened to Detroit after it hit its apogee around 1960. It got caught in a series of vicious circles — one the relationship between city residents and their government (liberal governance spawning decline which prompted people to leave which left fewer people to vote the proverbial “bums” out); the other marked by the parasitical symbiosis between government officials reliant on public-union support for reelection and unions all too eager to provide that support in exchange for sweetheart contracts.

The losers? The poor-slob residents who either can’t or won’t vote with their feet — and leave. They’re the ones stuck with awful schools, soaring crime rates, and public-safety departments with abysmal response times And, oh yes, fewer private-sector jobs because — get this — no company worth its salt wants to come to Detroit. Or, in some instances, to remain there.

Is it any wonder, then, that 78,000 buildings stand vacant in the Motor City? That’s an astounding figure. And just one of these abandoned structures is an apt metaphor for a city that has seen its population dwindle by nearly two-thirds in the past half-century, a city that once was the envy of America but now simply stands as stark testimony to what transpires when a municipality, in the words of cultural commentator Mark Steyn, “loots the future to bribe the present.”