Mar 9, 2011

A Take On Detroit From A Local Suburban Resident

Beck Walks All Over Detroit In Pursuit Of "His Own Agenda"

For those who are reading this and/or who follow MMFA Fact Check, you probably know that I'm a 21 year old male college student who attends Oakland University. I live within a 45 miles radius of downtown Detroit. I have been to the city at least 100 times in my life, almost exclusively for sporting events. I have never lived in Detroit and don't plan on ever living there, but I know enough about the city and its history that I'd like to share my thoughts on what Glenn Beck said last week.

First of all, Detroit is not nearly as bad as Beck describes it. The lights and electricity work just fine, it doesn't look destroyed like Persepolis or Hiroshima, it's not as poor as Haiti, it's not a frozen tundra with mosquito's, it's not rampaged by destructive fires, and it hasn't been comparable to Baghdad since 1967 (more on that in a minute). The outskirts of downtown Detroit are usually safe, especially Woodward Avenue near Comerica Park and Ford Field. My Dad and I have walked to our car at night from many a Tigers game and never had a criminal approach us much less attack us. Jefferson Avenue also seems to be quite safe. I once drove there by myself at night, and when I was stopped by a redlight with no cops parked anywhere, no one attacked me or approached me.

The worst parts of Detroit are places people like me don't venture to, most notably 8 Mile Rd. My Dad has told me never to drive down there because there's a ton of hoodlers and gangsters just waiting for you to be stopped by a redlight. Or worse yet, to park your car. 8 Mile Rd is apparently not welcome to a middle class white person like me, and that's the kind of place where all the crime takes place.

The most dangerous place I've ever been to in Detroit is probably the Eastern Market. Last summer, I was the driver for a gentleman running for the State Senate seat in the district that covers Rochester Hills. He was a former truck driver who worked out of the Eastern Market. A few times he had to go down there to try and collect contributions for his campaign, and the food factory he took me to was in a neighborhood that is...well, rough. There wasn't any would-be criminals strutting around like there supposedly is on 8 Mile Rd, but uh, it's not a place I ever plan on venturing to out of my own free will.

This all brings me back to Beck's comments: while his descriptions of Detroit are over-the-top in their hyperbole, I don't fault him in the least for using Detroit as an example of where so-called progressive policies have failed. For while Detroit has plenty of nice places to visit, and while some areas of the city are perfectly livable, Detroit is nonetheless one of the poorest places in the United States of America, and it has had the highest violent crime rate in the USA for years.

Much has been written about why Detroit is so bad compared to the rest of America and even to other struggling urban cities, and I don't want to turn this blog post into an essay on what happened to Detroit. So here is a summary:

-In the 1950's, the Big 3 Auto companies outsourced jobs from Detroit to other Midwestern cities and replaced many workers with machines in the "automation" process, among other things. This caused the population and the standard of living to decrease precipitously.

-Then in 1967, racial and class tensions boiled over in the riots that weren't stopped until fricking tanks were used (!) White people left the city in droves after those riots, and for 44 years, residents in the suburbs have been disincentivized from moving there in large part because of the perception of mass violence and crime in Detroit (a perception that is justified by Detroit's violent crime rate, which is appallingly close to 1,000/100,000).

HOWEVA, while the riots of 1967 are a "root" cause of Detroit's sorry state, the outsourcing of jobs by the Big 3 is not. That's where the failure of progressivism comes into play:

1. While reasonable people may disagree with me here, I'm convinced that the reason the Big 3 outsourced jobs away from Detroit in the 1950's is because, quite simply, the economic environment in Detroit became much less friendly to automobile production thanks to...that's right, Big Labor. From Page 79-81 of Mark Levin's Liberty and Tyranny:

"The Wagner Act of 1935 granted monopoly power to unions to bargain for certain employees and call strikes, thereby enabling them to charge monopoly rates for their labor. Beginning in the 1950's and 1960's, the United Auto Workers used its negotiating muscle to extract progressively onerous and untenable salary and benefit concessions from American automobile manufacturers under the threat of debilitating strikes. Consequently, the American automakers are saddled with costs that make it extremely difficult to compete with nonunion, foreign manufacturers in the United States and overseas.

The Heritage Foundation found that UAW workers at U.S factories cost more than $70 per hour compared with a cost per hour for nonunion Japanese autoworkers in the United States of $42 to $48 per hour. With combined wages and benefits, the UAW workers cost nearly $130,000 per year, while the nonunion worker costs about $80,000 a year. Under UAW contracts, workers are not laid off. They are paid nearly full wages not to work for a period of years. And workers can retire after thirty years on the job, no matter their age, and receive pension and health benefits for the rest of their lives.

In addition to wages and benefits, the UAW's inefficient work rules make it difficult for American automakers to adapt to economic conditions and consumer demand. Ford's contract with the UAW is 2,215 pages long. Of course, management entered into a series of contracts over the years agreeing to these arrangements. However, the power of the UAW under the Wagner Act ultimately made managements resistance futile.
...

It cannot be said that the American automobile industry's critical condition is a result of an unfettered free market. The statist has played a central role in its undoing and has made a mess of the once vibrant industry."

Of course, it took several decades for these "progressive" economic policies to rear their ugly face, and it wasn't unions alone that put General Motors and Chrysler on life support two years ago, but here's the point: when unions made all those demands-and had their demands met-starting in the early 50's, the Big 3 did what every other sane business would do and moved their factories to places where the workers were less demanding. Just like every other business, the Big 3 doesn't exist to provide a certain standard of living or provide economic security, they exist to make a profit. And in order to make a profit, they have to sell good products at reasonable prices. They also need to hire workers to build their products, even as automation becomes more and more of a factor (last I checked, our world is nothing like the I-Robot world).

As American history has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt, it is the profit motive manifested in free market capitalism that created the standard of living unimaginable before the 19th century. The labor movement had NOTHING to do with it, and I say that as a student who has taken classes on communism and the history of American Labor. Had the Big 3 not had to face the coercive force of the far left labor movement, than the outsourcing explained in Thomas Sugrue's book probably never happens, and Detroit's economy is at least twice as better as what it's become (Great Depression levels of unemployment, and an average median income of less than $30,000). Like the great Abraham Lincoln said:

"You cannot help the poor by destroying the rich. You cannot strengthen the weak by weakening the strong. You cannot bring about prosperity by discouraging thrift. You cannot lift the wage earner up by pulling the wage payer down. You cannot further the brotherhood of man by inciting class hatred. You cannot build character and courage by taking away people's initiative and independence. You cannot help people permanently by doing for them, what they could and should do for themselves."

Trickle up poverty has been the economic formula in Detroit for many moons. And it's been a catastrophic failure.

2. After the riots of 1967, Detroit's city government at best failed to stop the decaying of the city's economy & it's public safety, and at worst facilitated it. Coleman Young served almost 20 years as mayor of Detroit, and while I'm no expert on his policies, I know this: Detroit was arguably worse in 1993 than it was in 1974. From wikipedia:

"Young had also been blamed by some for failing to stem the crime epidemic that Detroit became notorious for in the 1970s and 1980s. Dozens of violent black street gangs gained control of the city's large drug trade, which began with the heroin epidemic of the 1970s and grew into the even larger crack cocaine epidemic of the 1980s and early 1990s....Several times during Young's tenure Detroit was named the arson capital of America, and repeatedly the murder capital of America. Often Detroit was listed by FBI crime statistics as 'most dangerous city in America' during his administration. Crime rates in Detroit peaked in 1994 at more than 2,700 violent crimes per 100,000 people"

Could Young have done anything to stop this? Yes. Ask Rudy Giuliani. Young is probably the biggest example of the complete and utter failure of so-called progressive policies in Detroit's city government, and that's something no conservatarian should apologize for saying. Detroit is only helpless insofar as their city government makes them helpless. After Young, Dennis Archer was popular, and he was probably a much better mayor than Young, but he also failed to reverse the downward trajectory and was replaced by...Kwame Kilpatrick. Nothing more needs to be said.

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Right now, Detroit is making it's most honest effort to revitalize itself since before the riots, and new mayor Dave Bing deserves the most credit for that. While Bing is a Democrat, he at least has a background as a businessman as opposed to a career politician or a bureaucrat, and he has been taking steps to encourage new businesses to invest in Detroit beyond the city's three main boosters (Mike Ilitch, Dan Gilbert, and Peter Karmonos). Conservative Paul W. Smith has documented some of these efforts on his morning show on WJR (5:30 AM-9:00 AM), and even he took shots at Beck for his comments. There is much positivity surrounding Bing's efforts, and Beck's comments were therefore unwelcome.

But at the same time, the comments coming from various reverends and city council members in response to Beck are, in my opinion, motivated more by left wing ideology than by an objective analysis of Detroit's situation. What Bing is doing is a good start, but so much more needs to be done, and quite frankly, I don't think Bing or the city council is going to do it. Will they follow the Republican Giuliani's model on decreasing violent crime? Will they cut or eliminate Detroit's income tax on individuals and corporations? Will they role back burdensome city regulations that drive businesses away?

Or how about this: subways have been a blessing to New York, Chicago, Washington D.C, etc, so why not build them in Detroit? The people mover is just not cutting it. Besides, building subways is one of the few progressive policies that has actually worked, and while it would do nothing to stimulate Detroit's economy in the short term, there would be welcomed benefits in the long term. If the government is going to spend our money, it better damn well spend it on something that will work. The money that's going to slave-inducing food stamps and unemployment insurance should be used on building a subway infrastructure instead.

I know there's only so much a city government can do when you have state laws and federal laws superseding you, but if New York can go from being a carbon copy of Detroit to a booming city of commerce and industry after 1990, why can't Detroit? I know we don't have the built in resources to be like New York, but going back to the beautiful neighborhoods and the thriving economy of the pre 1970's is perfectly possible. Sadly, progressivism has prevented that from happening, and shame on Beck's critics for refusing to see the folly of the very policies that have gotten us here.

1 comment:

David said...

Very good overview!