Because they are the two chief contributing factors in Detroit’s fiscal demise, I’m going to talk about (1) Detroit and unions and (2) Detroit and poverty, in that order.
(1) Detroit and Unions
If you have gout, you must be careful what drugs you take and when you take them. If you take drugs from the xanthine family, it can help control gout. But if you take xanthine at the wrong time, it can actually cause an attack. Labor unions are like xanthine. They can do, and have done, some good. But taken at the wrong time or in the wrong way, they produce problems, not solve them. Detroit is a case in point:
When the Detroit car makers were in their heyday, the unions thrived. As a result, they became increasingly powerful and effective within southeastern Michigan. They voted en masse for Democratic politicians and, as a result, those politicians often got elected. Consequently, those elected politicians supported extending union representation to public sector workers. Those public sector unions were very effective in acquiring generous pay raises, numerous vacation days, excellent health care coverage, and outstanding retirement packages for their members. The unions could not, however, get for the city of Detroit the money it needed to pay for those impressive public sector benefits. Even so, the city’s Democrat leadership, not known for fiscal restraint or for prudent taxation, simply went ahead and approved union contracts that the city could not afford without imposing higher and higher tax rates. They taxed and they spent, which, for the Dems, is standard operating procedure. When the tax rates got too high, auto workers and municipal employees, the chief beneficiaries of union power, jumped ship. They moved out of Detroit into the suburbs, where their taxes went to support other communities, leaving Detroit a mere shell of a city, with block upon block of once thriving neighborhoods reduced to an urban desert. In the ‘50s, it was white flight. In the ‘60s, it was black. Once folks reached the middle class and could afford to do so, they fled. Detroit lost more than 60% of its peak population, declining from a population of almost 2 million to less than 700,000. While the Detroit carmakers were thriving, things remained in, if not acceptable, then at least temporarily sustainable, condition. They could afford to pay more, and did. But once the carmakers had to compete against German, Japanese, Swedish, English, and Korean carmakers, the game changed dramatically. Conditions worsened for everyone in and around the Detroit auto industry. They had to re-consider, and even re-negotiate. In order better to handle their worsening finances and their heavier financial burdens, workers moved out of town. Retirees did too, taking their very large and generous retirement packages with them not simply to other towns or other states, but even to other nations, leaving nothing behind for Detroit but uninhabited houses and empty lots that produced no income for the city. But the Democratic leadership of Detroit stayed the course. It marched blithely and blindly in a direction it falsely believed was forward. Despite a declining tax base, Democratic leadership continued to approve ever more generous contracts for its municipal union workers, and ever more welfare payments for its poor, thereby putting the city on track for a financial train wreck. While the Democrats’ plan did not fix the problem, it did get Democratic politicians re-elected.
With higher financial commitments, and fewer taxpayers to foot the bill for them, the city predictably plunged into greater debt, which it amplified by: (1) extensive and expensive political corruption, and (2) maintaining a municipal superstructure much too large for its population and its tax base. Over time, the city’s debt climbed not merely into the millions (or even hundreds of millions) of dollars, but to nearly 20 billion, which is clearly unsustainable for any city in rapid financial and population decline. Detroit’s is the largest municipal failure in history, period. That’s how terrifically incompetent Detroit’s leadership actually is -- the all-time worst. Yet, rather than vote the incompetent Democratic bums out of office, Detroit voters kept them securely in place, voting Democratic regimes into power, one after the other, for more than 60 years in row. No matter how badly Detroit Democrats did for their city, they kept control of it because they catered to the city’s most important voting blocks: the unions and the poor, who wanted the money to keep coming.
For this ongoing municipal travesty, Detroit voters have no one to blame but themselves. Rather than judging the regime by its dismal results, they judged it by their own selfish concerns and by the regime’s mere stated intentions, as if those stated intentions were reliable and true and as if good intentions were ever a suitable substitute for good policies. If your schools do not work, if the police take, on average, an hour to respond to a 911 call, if your favorite politicians get caught in scandals of various sorts time and again, then you need to change your vote.
I’m talking to you, Detroit.
When outside entities, like the state of Michigan, came in to help the city out by taking on some of its financial burdens in order to operate traditional money losers like parks, Detroit voters, following the paranoid delusions of their race-baiting city leaders, resisted the offers, insisting that the state and other allegedly white-controlled entities simply wanted to steal things from Detroit. Count on it: If you vote on the basis of racial conspiracy theories, then you will vote self-destructively.
The chickens, as the say, have come home to roost. Detroit is the chicken coop. It is now what it has been for years, perhaps decades: It is incapable of self-rule. It has gotten so bad that I suspect it might have to be disbanded and re-incorporated by fragments into other cites or else into the county or state at large. Nothing less seems to offer any hope for the future. Detroit voters cannot be trusted. They vote for welfare programs and for union advantage, however unsustainable those things actually are. Majority rule does not magically transform electoral nonsense into wisdom. Detroit voters vote nonsense.
Speaking of political nonsense: Just this week, several television talking heads said that Detroit’s failure was the result of government being too small. I kid you not. They think that if you can’t pay for the government you have, just make it bigger. I can say nothing to such prodigious nonsense but this: If you have no connection to reality, do not expect it to support your stupid views and do not expect to learn from reality when it proves you wrong. The greatest municipal failure in history will not prevail to teach some folks this simple dystopic equation: Unions +Democrats = Detroit. Detroit = the greatest municipal failure in history.
I could put it in a sentence: If you want Detroit automakers to make a comeback, pray that the UAW makes inroads with foreign car makers.
Those car makers are praying just the opposite, which is why, when they make cars here in America, they flock to right-to-work states, the list of which Michigan has recently joined.
You can’t fix Detroit’s municipal ailments with casinos, with tax transfers, or with bigger government programs. You cannot. Government is not the fix in Detroit; government is the problem. You can’t fix this problem by restructuring because no matter what structure you put in place bad political and economic policy will ruin it. You fix it only by addressing what is wrong: (1) unrestrained union greed and (2) the dissolution of the urban black family and the leftist political incentive system that dissolves it, to which I now turn.
(2) Detroit and Welfare
For more than 2000 years since Aristotle, we have known that whatever undermines the family undermines the culture. Welfare payments, which drive fathers out of the home, do just that. Those payments leave black youngsters without the fathers they need to provide the food, money, guidance, shelter, and examples that keep them on the straight and narrow.
But welfare payments are predicated on the absence of father figures. Consider this: if you are a poor black young woman in the inner city who is living at home with your parents, and if you want personal freedom and the money that makes it possible, if you want a housing allowance, food subsidies, and medical attention, then have a child out of wedlock. If you want more money, have more children -- but only by another man. If your children are all by the same man, then the welfare bureaucracy thinks there’s a man around who ought to be footing these bills, and your checks will stop. In short, they pay you to have children outside marriage. The more children you have, the more money you get.
But sensible people know that poverty circles around broken homes, especially homes where the chief breadwinner is a woman with multiple children to support. If you want to be poor, have lots of children outside wedlock. In Detroit, more than 70% of the children in the black urban underclass are born outside wedlock, with no father around to support and guide them. If you lack a father, your chances of dropping out of school sky rocket; your chances of taking drugs sky rocket; your chances of going to prison sky rocket; and your chances of having children who live the same desperate life you did sky rocket.
It’s an incentive system from Hell. When you pay folks to do the very things that make them poor in the first place, poor they will remain. Remember this rule of political economy: you get (A) more of what you subsidize and (B) less of what you tax. Democrats subsidize illegitimacy, and more illegitimacy is what they get. Illegitimacy is the handmaid of poverty. In Detroit, illegitimacy is what they pay for. In Detroit, it’s what they get, the result being countless folks locked into intergenerational poverty. You do no favor for folks by turning them into mere wards of the state, generation after generation. But you do keep them dependent upon government and keep yourself in political power, which seems to be the real purpose of such destructive government programs, whether they are aimed at the poor or the unions.
That’s what leftists subsidize. What do the leftists tax? They tax prosperity. They soak the rich, which means they drive away successful business owners, the only ones who have proved they are capable of making a profit and providing jobs for others, even in the hostile conditions provided by Detroit.
Here’s the headline: Dystopia comes to Michigan.
Watch out. It’s coming to Illinois also; not just to Chicago but to the whole state. After that, Washington, DC.
Then we’re sunk, unless you change the way you vote.
I’m talking to you, America.