“When people ask me why I moved from liberal to conservative, I have a one-word answer: Detroit.” — Michael Barone.
In 1976 the New York Times once thought the mindset behind Detroit’s attempted revival was a good one:
Putting aside the self-evident racism — What this attitude “accomplished” was to give the city’s corrupt and ineffective mayors from Coleman Young through Kwame Kilpatrick license to be corrupt and ineffective. It gave its entrenched, bloated civil service unions and their workers license to enrich themselves at the city’s expense and to resist all attempts at structural improvement. It gave the public schools license to fail to educate the city’s children.
Anytime anyone — even eventually other blacks — dared to criticize what was happening in Detroit’s government or its schools, the reflexive response, all too often accompanied by implied threats of violence, was, in effect: “You’re a racist/Uncle Tom. This is our city. Shut up … or else.”
Eventually, critics said: “Okay. If you’re so damned sure you know what you’re doing, have at it.”
The rest is history.
As Barone notes, first whites, and then the “Uncle Toms,” voted with their feet in large numbers:
The high crime rates of the Young years reduced its non-black population from 853,000 in 1970 to 250,000 in 1990; it was down to 125,000 in 2010.
… Detroit’s black population peaked at 777,000 in 1990; it leveled off to 775,000 in 2000 and plunged to 590,000 in 2010. Blacks with decent jobs and steady habits have been moving to the suburbs or back to their grandparents’ South, and those who remain tend to be the people with no good alternative and no hope.
High taxes, out-of-control crime, and disgraceful schools, all insulated from reform because it’s racist to criticize and especially racist to suggest how to help — It was, and still is, all there. Forcing the city through bankruptcy won’t solve that, it will only rewind it for the next round of more of the same. Inclusive, funda-”mental” reform is what’s needed.