At the Corner, Michael Auslin charts the next stage in Detroit’s ongoing death spiral. “A year ago, I wrote about Michigan’s emergency-manager laws and the danger that modern dictators could become commonplace (as they did in Rome),” Auslin writes. “The article hinged on whether Detroit, with its 700,000 people, would bankrupt itself into losing control over its own government. A new report by Michigan’s treasurer makes crossing that Rubicon almost certain.”
Auslin adds that the implications of that are more than a little unsettling:
Our democratic tradition starts at the smallest, most local level, and works its way up to the federal government. Anything that undercuts that is to be feared, just as the pathetic, corrupt, and incompetent failings of locally elected government are to be condemned. I don’t know which is worse (and in the circumstances, I’d probably want the state-appointed dictator), but the trend is what we should be worried about, as municipal bankruptcies spread in California, Michigan, and around the country. Democracy seems increasingly broken, and one-party (largely Democratic) cities cripple themselves by being beholden to public service unions and local interest groups. But the trend is moving up the food chain. Soon, states like Illinois may need their own emergency managers, once they fully bankrupt themselves.
That may be a long way away, but it took hundreds of years for Rome’s dictators to slough off constitutional restrictions. Given that Michigan has already gone through at least two iterations of the emergency-manager law, we should at least be aware that freedom can slip away in drips and drabs for what seem like the best of reasons. If the Motor City winds up with an unelected, extremely powerful executive running it, then we’ve taken a large step towards accepting the erosion of liberty, no matter what the causes.
But hey, like Rome, we’ll always have kind, beneficent emperors at the helm, right?
Related: “As predicted: California’s 1Q revenues dropping back to earth. Hard.” Nobody tell the Washington Post.