Detroit, 2013— A correspondent sends “25 Facts about the Fall of Detroit That Will Leave You Shaking Your Head,” by Michael Snyder of the Economic Collapse Blog:
Once upon a time, the city of Detroit was a teeming metropolis of 1.8 million people and it had the highest per capita income in the United States. Now it is a rotting, decaying hellhole of about 700,000 people that the rest of the world makes jokes about.
When in July 2013 Detroit announced that it would file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, the move was stopped at least temporarily by an Ingham County judge:
She ruled that Detroit’s bankruptcy filing violates the Michigan Constitution because it would result in reduced pension payments for retired workers [and that] bankruptcy filing was “also not honoring the president, who took [Detroit’s auto companies] out of bankruptcy”….How “honoring the president” has anything to do with the bankruptcy of Detroit is a bit of a mystery….
My correspondent writes: “We can be pretty sure this judge is not a Constitutionalist—one of those awful people who believe in Aristotle’s view that ‘the law is reason free from passion.’”
I knew it when. In the early 1970s, as an editor with Automobile Quarterly, I frequently visited Detroit for research, test drives and interviews. I remember the spinning numbers on the Goodyear signs heading in and out of town from the airport, toting up car production for the year; the great and thriving GM Design Center; the Ford Rotunda in Dearborn and the vast Rouge Plant; the Chrysler Historical Collection at Highland Park; struggling little American Motors on the edge of town, all humming along with varying degrees of prosperity. Gradually the rolling numbers on the sign became perceptively slower, and in 2002 the signs disappeared altogether.
My last visit was in 2012. We cruised around the derelict Packard plant with our car windows up and the doors locked—past the once fine houses along East Grand Boulevard, one a burned-out shell, the next one inhabited and trying to stay alive. A police car warned us not to stop because it wasn’t safe and they won’t come to your aid if you get into trouble. Frequently fires break out amid the old brick buildings. The D.F.D. never answers a call there because it’s a risk to firemen’s lives even to enter the area.
In 1972 Automobile Quarterly ran a piece on the British car industry entitled, “What’s the Matter with England? Fine engineers muzzled by incompetent executive and a dismal labor force, among some other things.” One of the other things was government, devoted to the Purchase Tax, which regulators both Labour and Tory would constantly raise and lower to “control” the economy. They would do this two or three times a year, and you never knew whether it was going up or down.
At the time we were called Cassandras. British Leyland Motors even organized a press tour to show how wrong we were and how prosperous they were. But ten years later, the British industry was bust. Today it largely comprises assembly lines for foreign manufacturers.
Michael Snyder writes a good piece, but it’s not about Coventry or Dagenham. It’s about what was once the mightiest industrial city in the world—and a harbinger of things to come.
“Detroit is only the beginning,” Snyder warns. “When the next major financial crisis strikes, we are going to see a wave of municipal bankruptcies unlike anything we have ever seen before.”
You can call him a Cassandra, too. But before you do, you might want to pay a visit to Detroit.