Published Thursday, August 23, 2012

Detroit - the Greece of Midwest

Bankruptcies by major California cities are making headlines these days, but it’s a good bet the worst is yet to come. And not just in the Golden State. For most of the same reasons — corruption, public sector unionism, out-of-control spending — we may soon witness the formal bankruptcy of a city once known worldwide as an economic powerhouse. That city is Detroit, Mich.

Perhaps no other metropolis in America has suffered more from destructive policies of government in the last half-century. Detroit’s per capita tax burden is several times the average for the other municipalities within the same state. The weight of its gargantuan bureaucracy and the extent of its legendary corruption are staggering. Locally, city services have been likened to those of Third World backwaters. 

Barely 50 years ago, Detroit boasted a population of more than two million. After decades of flight, scarcely 700,000 souls are left, many of them trapped in poverty and enveloped by some of the highest crime and welfare rates in the country. 

The number of people who vanished from Detroit in the last decade —about a quarter million — is nearly twice the 140,000 who left New Orleans right after Hurricane Katrina. 

But not even Mother Nature could possibly do as much damage to a major city as  big government has done to Detroit. For decades, the political establishment in Detroit jacked up taxes, funneled money to its union cronies, and regulated tens of thousands of private businesses right out of town. 

No failure of government is too big to prevent that establishment from trying to throw more public money at it. The Motor City ought to be a showcase of modern liberalism because liberals have had their way there forever, but the wreckage stands as testimony to both the economic and the moral bankruptcy of their welfare state.

Many of those who left were “makers” of things; most of those left behind are “takers” of things. Detroit is the Greece of the American Midwest.

Detroit’s public schools are among the worst in the nation in spite of spending nearly $16,000 per pupil. That’s about 60 percent more than we spend on average here in Georgia. Dropout rates are in the stratosphere, and test scores are so bad the superintendent of the city’s schools once said they were no better than if the students had simply guessed at the answers. 

(In other words, instead of $16,000 for each student, they could spend absolutely nothing and get essentially the same results.) The school system doesn’t exist for the benefit of the kids. It exists for the benefit of the parasitical teacher unions and the overpaid bureaucracy that suck off of it.

The famous French economist Frédéric Bastiat wrote, “And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty.” 

That’s about the best advice anybody could possibly give Detroiters, if only they would listen.


(Lawrence W. Reed, a resident of Newnan, is president of the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, N. Y., and Atlanta.)

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