At the time when I served as Mayor of Cincinnati, Ohio, my city and others across the country looked to Detroit as an industrial and cultural center of America. Motown Records, started by Berry Gordy in Detroit, created some of the best music in the world with hits from The Temptations, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye. After World War II, Detroit became the North Dakota oil boom of its day, as engineers and workers flocked to the city to prosper and make the classic, gas-guzzling muscle cars which would come to represent everything great about America. By 1960, with the highest per capita income in the nation, almost two million people lived there
Now, in 2013, that population has shrunk to 700,000. Forty percent of traffic lights do not function. The number of manufacturing jobs in Detroit went from 296,000 in 1950 to 27,000 today. More than 75,000 homes are abandoned. As arguably the most dangerous city in America, it takes about an hour for 911 to respond for the highest-priority crimes. If police actually show up, they have less than a 9% rate of solving cases. If you are crazy enough to buy (or perhaps squat) in one of the thousands of abandoned homes in Detroit, you are risking your life. For those few who haven’t moved away and have means, private security companies are now part of everyday life in the Motor City.
So what happened? The policies of liberal Democrats who ran the city for 50 straight years destroyed and bankrupted the once great city.
With unsustainable public pensions and corrupt leadership like Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, who was sentenced last month to 28 years in prison for fraud, bribery, and racketeering, the city’s vast wealth was bled dry. Elected city leaders wasted billions on unnecessary projects like the People Mover, Comerica Park, Fox Theater, Renaissance Center, and others while neglecting the basic needs of their increasingly destitute population.
Unlike the recent Federal government shutdown, Detroit’s problems are far greater than closed parks. The streets are littered with trash and the roads look like a war zone. Amid the chaos, we have seen on a small what Alexis de Tocqueville noticed about American society, with local residents banding together to cut the grass in parks and dispose of waste through voluntary association.
But while the efforts of some to clean up the city are awe inspiring, they can never make up for the disaster caused by city government. The city, with an $18 billion shortfall, the city is desperate for a Federal bailout. After seeing the billions lost in the GM bailout, the American people’s response to Detroit should be a resounding “hell no!”