Are We Detroit?

Rich Tucker

8/17/2013 12:01:00 AM - Rich Tucker

The story of human progress, especially in recent decades, is nothing short of remarkable.

If you were to draw a graph showing human standards of living, it would be a straight line, just above "survival." That line would runs on and on, from the dawn of time across the centuries. Most people barely scraped by. Then, about 1800 (hey, that's when the U.S. got going!), it would start going up. And up. And up. Today, poor people in the U.S. live richer, longer, fuller lives than European monarchs did in 1500.

But for some reason, Hollywood is convinced it’s all about to go to pot. Almost any film that tries to predict the future shows a devastated landscape. "Planet of the Apes," "Judge Dredd," " RoboCop."

In each of these and thousands more, we've blown it up. Earth is destroyed, humanity hanging by a thread. Which brings us, like RoboCop, back to Detroit. We should all want to see Detroit survive, even thrive, again. Because in a very real way, Detroit is us.

That city owes millions it will never be able to raise in taxes? Well, our federal government owes $14 trillion, about the value of everything produced in the country in a year. We'll never raise that much.

Detroit was undone by expensive labor pensions? Well, California's not far behind. It owes $222.2 billion, and counting. While the Atlantic is singing Gov. Jerry Brown's praises because he’s purportedly balanced the budget, the state’s real, long-term debt just grows and grows. Before long, lawmakers in Sacramento will be forced to beg Washington for a bailout. Since California is probably "too big to fail," they’ll probably get it.

As goes the Golden State, so goes the country. Once it’s bailed out, how could the federal government say no to another state, such as Illinois? As we’ve seen in the European Union in recent years, one bailout just leads to another, and the bailed out countries then stumble along without much growth, just scraping by.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The concept of competitive federalism comes into play here. The Founders set up a system that would allow states to compete with each other to determine which policies work (Texas and job creation) and which don’t (California and just about everything else). People then vote with their feet.

“Nearly four million more people have left the Golden State in the last two decades than have come from other states,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Meanwhile, hundreds of people move to Texas every day. They want to be someplace that works.

Michigan took an important step last year, becoming a right-to-work state. That's the first step toward breaking the power of public sector unions. Wisconsin did so a couple of years ago. But it's a race against time. On everything from ObamaCare to Social Security to retiree pensions, the federal government is making things worse year after year, turning a country that once made things (as Detroit made millions of cars) into a country that fears carbon dioxide (a harmless gas we're all exhaling even as we read these words).

But it's going to be a tough battle, and one half of the political spectrum is determined to fight against any progress. "Detroit’s Democratic party makes a far more comprehensive wrecking crew than Emperor Bokassa ever did. No bombs, no invasions, no civil war, just liberal progressive politics day in, day out" Mark Steyn writes. "The same malign alliance between a corrupt political class, rapacious public-sector unions, and an ever more swollen army of welfare dependents has been adopted in the formally Golden State of California, and in large part by the Obama administration, whose priorities — 'health' 'care' 'reform,' 'immigration' 'reform' — are determined by the same elite/union/dependency axis."

We should all hope Detroit can survive. If it doesn't, get set to draw that graph of human progress again, this time with a line going back down.