I mean it: stop sneering. As Adam Smith famously observed, “there is much ruin in a nation,” and Detroit has just about exhausted its supply. The fortune built up over a century of commerce and enterprise — as recently as 60 years ago, Detroit was, per capita, the wealthiest city in the country — has been squandered on nothing; civic aspirations have been mocked and trashed; and now the jackals are circling the town’s cultural patrimony, seeking to seize it and sell it off … to pay expenses that no rational, self-respecting, and self-reliant society ever should have incurred in the first place. It’s time for civilization to fight back:
[Detroit] can and should be saved, and the bankruptcy filing (which will happen, no matter what some local judge says) is the first step. There is much left to save in Detroit, including the city’s superb cultural history, its distinctive neighborhoods, its beautiful natural setting and what remains of its post-industrial infrastructure, but it’s going to require a completely new civic model — one that casts aside the crude and tired labor vs. management Manichean reductionism, the bloated, employer-of-last-resort “civil service,” the whole notion of public-employee unions, and the absolute fiscal insanity of paying people handsomely not to work (whether as retirees or welfare recipients) just as the decidedly unpaternalistic wolves of the New Economy show up at the door, huffing and puffing and … you know the rest.
Forget “innovation zones” — the whole town (as James Pethokoukis points out on the home page) needs to be an innovation zone, with all the normal rules and assumptions of bien-pensant contemporary civic thinking eliminated in favor of bottom-up creativity.One example: Real estate could not possibly get any cheaper, and in a functioning free-market economy, young people and immigrants would be flocking to the Motor City to snap up bargain digs, set up shops and businesses. But the city’s absurd real-estate tax structure — observed only by the honest or the solvent — discourages any rational person from investing there. Since there’s no money, no paid workforce and no services, why not declare a prolonged tax holiday and leave the rest to human ingenuity? It’s not like things could get worse. Detroit needs less government, not more.
As the song goes, freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, and brother is Detroit ever busted. (Where did all that money go?) To continue to view it via the old leftist, class-struggle paradigm does a great city a great disservice — and obscures the bright future it might yet have if both the vision and will is there — and if politicians of all stripes would just leave it alone to find its own way.
That’s just what finally seems to be happening in Detroit City. And it starts with the one thing government should be able to attend to, but obviously cannot: personal safety:
Detroit is absolutely bankrupt. The city faces a cash shortfall of more than $100 million by June 30. Long-term liabilities, including pensions, exceed $14 billion. Michigan Governor Rick Snyder wants to bail out Detroit’s city government even further. Thanks to the financial situation of Detroit, emergency services like police and fire departments are being severely cut short. 911 is only taking calls during business hours. Homes have been abandoned making parts of the city look like a ghost town.
If our public servants are right and wouldn’t dare lie and try to scare us, then chaos, anarchy and lawlessness should reign in Detroit now, right? Well, not exactly.
Dale Brown and his organization, the Threat Management Center (TMC), have helped fill in the void left by the corrupt and incompetent city government. Brown started TMC in 1995 as a way to help his fellow Detroit citizens in the midst of a rise in home invasions and murders. While attempting to assist law enforcement, he found little but uninterested officers more concerned with extracting revenue through traffic tickets and terrorizing private homes with SWAT raids than protecting person and property.
In an interview with Copblock.org, Brown explains how and why his private, free market policing organization has been so successful. The key to effective protection and security is love, says Brown, not weapons, violence, or law. It sounds a bit corny, yes, but the results speak for themselves.
Read the whole thing. You may not initially agree with the premise that all you need is love — but it helps. Sure, it was in part “greed” (the leftist word for the profit motive) that built Detroit, but it was also love, a love for America and her aspirations, a willingness to risk and to build in order to create something to leave behind for future generations to enjoy and improve upon. But we have become so corrupted by the Marxist blatherings of the Frankfurt School and their baleful ilk that we have in part accepted the left’s argument that things like symphony orchestras and museums and art galleries are examples of unearned “privilege.” (Who, one might well ask, was the Prime Mover of this imaginary “privilege”?) Their childish, immature and wholly resentful notion of “critical theory” — which basically amounts to a prolonged cry of “Whaaaaaaaa!!!” — has infested academe (where no idea, no matter how absurd, is treated with respect as long as it’s “progressive”) and corrupted the minds of several generations of students, some of whom are now political leaders. In fact, I can think of one right off the top of my head …
If the Right really wanted to seize this moment, they would make Detroit a symbol of two things: what once was, and what could be again, if only we allow Detroit to return to first principles: people, acting independently, create spontaneous order, out of which comes government. And not vice versa. As Rahm Emanuel famously said, never let a crisis go to waste. Conservatives can play that game, too. So … go for it.
Take advantage of the bankruptcy to allow Detroit to throw off nearly all its governmental shackles. Reduce the city government’s footprint to a bare minimum. Privatize the cops, the schools, the trash collection. Reduce the property tax rate to near zero. Pay as you go for services you want and opt out of those you don’t. Eliminate public-employee unions and pensions; if you want to work in public service, you do so with the understanding going in that you are a “servant” and not a master. How is any of this any more radical than the leftist nostrums that have brought the Motor City to its knees?
And open the city up to everybody. As Veronique de Rugy writes on NRO:
What is required here is immigration and fundamental labor-market reforms. That probably means getting rid of rules and regulations, various union requirements, cronyism and corruption of city officials, and all the things that get in the way of having a flexible labor market and dynamic economy.
Detroit is effectively dead, having been killed by the heavy hand of government; as Kevin Williamson put it: the parasite has outgrown its host. So why not fight back in the way American have always fought back — by fighting for freedom? The only thing Detroit has to lose, to quote Marx himself, is its chains.