Ed Driscoll

Newsweek's Deep Dish Chicago-Style Depression Lust

Late 2008 was the first shockwave of the Great Recession, and simultaneously, the high point of Hopenchange. In other words, those days shortly after Obama was elected, but before he actually took office and had to be bothered with all that pesky governing interrupting his jet-set vacations and rock star preening.

Having elected a man with no executive experience, whom they curiously compared in cover stories with FDR, the MSM seemed almost giddy to create a similarly Dickensian atmosphere for Obama to begin governing in, the better to make the inevitable and swift recovery sure to come seem all the more dazzling. (Plus ça hope & change.) That was the theme in the air amongst many journalists at the time, a perverse trend that Virginia Postrel dubbed in December of 2008 as “Depression Lust, and Depression Porn:”

If anyone should fear a Depression, it should be journalists, who are already the equivalent of 1980s steelworkers. But instead, they seem positively giddy with anticipation at the prospect of a return to ’30s-style hardship–without, of course, the real hardship of the 1930s. (We’re all yuppies now.) The Boston Globe‘s Drake Bennett asked a bunch of people, including me, what a 21st-century Depression might look like. The results sounded pretty damned good to some people–a sure sign of an affluent society, or at least affluent commentators.

Be careful what you wish for.

Flash-forward to today, when unemployment is, at approximately 9.5 percent nationally, three percent higher than the 6.5 percent Postrel quotes at the end of her late 2008 post, and in some areas, far worse. In Chicago, they’re celebrating the milestone of unemployment dropping under nine percent

This morning, the Bureau of Labor statistics (BLS) released preliminary February 2011 unemployment figures for the 50 states (and Washington, DC), as well as 4 Census Regions and 9 Census Divisions. Unemployment rates in Chicago and the surrounding region continued to fall from their early 2010 peak. There were an estimated 354,500 unemployed residents in the 8-county Chicago Metro Division in a civilian labor force of 4.07 million in February, representing a seasonally adjusted jobless rate of 8.7% – down from nearly 11% a year ago and slightly below the statewide rate.

… But those numbers mask some far worse statistics, as reported yesterday by the Newsalert blog:

Chicago Now reports on some shocking facts about Chicago in comparison to other large cities:

Out of the largest U.S. cities, Chicago is number one when it comes to the unemployment rate for African Americans — 21.4 percent. That’s more than two and a half times the average for white people living in the same 10 cities.

The Beachwood Reporter’s Steve Rhodes has more:

“In Chicago, nearly 56 percent of African Americans at least 16 years old are without a job (either unemployed or not in the labor force) – the highest percentage of any race or ethnic group examined among the nation’s 10 largest cities.”

And with all of that as background, let’s explore the serious case of Depression Lust in the latest edition of Newsweek that Newsalert spotted. In an article titled “Chicago Steps Out –The Second City is finally hip. Now Rahm has to keep it rolling,” note what the magazine defines as oh-so hip:

Careening toward bankruptcy after 22 years under Mayor Richard Daley, the city has lost 200,000 inhabitants in the past decade. The racial tensions of the past have lessened palpably, but no one would say the potential of a future resurgence of the bad old days has vanished. But Daley also leaves behind a glittering metropolis that Chicagoans rightly love and outsiders can only envy.

* * *

And Chicago has lately come to see itself as a place whose inherent friendliness can now embrace all sorts of improbable invention and behavior. There is self-confidence, an upbeat feeling. Success breeds success. So, in between financial crises, Rahm Emanuel and other returning Obama crew members will have to make sure they don’t let the fizz fizzle. They seem to be working on just that.

* * *

None of these street artists can remember a time when Richard Daley wasn’t the mayor. They seem to have a good feeling about him, even if his administration had shied away from supporting juke events for kids, for fear any juvenile gathering would promote violence and crime. Gant-Man and the others beg to differ. They claim juke has pulled minority youth away from crime, that it has been a major factor in Chicago’s falling crime rate.

Maybe Rahm Emanuel will see it their way. Having suppressed his notorious pugnacity during a campaign full of low-comic challenges from spoiler candidates and a failed lawsuit claiming he wasn’t a bona fide resident, he now faces the real challenge of toughing out punishing deficits without hacking the life out of the vibrant city he has taken over from his revered predecessor. He will need some very fancy footwork to emerge victorious from the battleground ahead.

Newsweek is spinning so fast, you can feel the centrifugal force. And it really is spin, as we’ll explore on the next page.

As Steve Bartin of Newgeography.com noted in mid-2008, months before the national economy completely hit the fan, Chicago was (and remains), as Bartin described it, “The City that Doesn’t Work:”

The Windy City has distinctions but not positive ones. Chicago’s retail sales tax is the highest in the nation at 10.25 percent. Unions, high taxes, and political corruption have made Chicago one of the leaders in big city decline.One of the great modern myths of big city America is that Chicago is some sort of successful town and a role model for others. By any traditional performance standards Chicago has failed. Like many old, big industrial cities, Chicago peaked in the 1950 Census with a population of 3,620,962. In the 1950s over two percent of the entire U.S. population lived within Chicago city limits. Over a half century later, while America’s population doubled, Chicago’s population declined. The 1960, 1970, 1980, and 1990 Census numbers showed Chicago losing population.

Mayor Daley and Chicago residents were quite excited about the 2000 Census showing Chicago gaining over 112,000 people (a growth rate at half the national average for the 1990s). It appears the 1990s were an anomaly for Chicago. Since the year 2000, according to Census estimates, Chicago again continued its population decline with a loss of 63,000 from 2000 to 2006 leaving a total of 2,833,321.

Recently, the Web site Real Clear Politics listed two Chicago area Congressional districts among the country’s ten fastest-shrinking districts, in terms of percentage of population lost between 2000 and 2005. Jan Schakowsky’s district lost 7.9 percent of its population. Congressman Rahm Emanuel’s district lost 5.1 percent.

Though 2000 was a somewhat positive year, that year’s Census numbers mask some rather disturbing trends. The white flight out of Chicago continued with 150,000 non- Hispanic white people leaving Chicago from 1990 to 2,000. African-Americans, for the first time, began leaving Chicago with a net loss of 5,000. The population gain in Chicago during the 1990s was due to Hispanics.

One of the great fables urban lovers of Chicago like to talk about is some comeback of the city. The comeback, according to this urban legend, involves white families staying in Chicago to raise their children. With Chicago’s 150,000 white population decline from 1990 to 2000: Chicago was only 31.3 percent non-Hispanic white.

Flash-forward three years later, and Bartin adds:

There are only 9 cities in the United States with populations over 1 million. The list includes New York, Los Angeles, San Diego, Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas. With this afternoon’s release of Census 2010 numbers for New York City, the final 2010 data is in.

Of these 1 million or more cities, only Chicago lost population over the last decade, yet the media seems to be in love with Mayor Daley.  The New Yorker called Mayor Daley “America’s most successful mayor.” Newsweek is equally “impressed” with Daley’s performance, saying “Daley also leaves behind a glittering metropolis that Chicagoans rightly love and outsiders can only envy.”

Chicago’s 200,000 person loss shows Mayor Daley’s failed legacy as Mayor. Daley leaves office with a smaller population than when he took office in 1989. Numbers are stubborn things. There was no Chicago comeback of the middle class to experience bad public schools, high taxes, and corruption.

Of course, for the ultimate Depression Lust, there’s always Detroit — whose steep decline Richard Fernandez described in painful detail recently:

Detroit — the city that powered America to victory in World War 2 — has experienced what demographer Kurt Metzger called an “incredible” fall in population, plummeting 25% in the last decade. Michigan isn’t doing much better. It lost 800,000 jobs in the same period.

Now the city stands to collect even less money on a smaller base, as Detroit fell below the 750,000 person major city threshold it once invoked to impose higher rates. With the city’s collapse comes a corresponding reduction in political clout. The Detroit Free Press rhetorically wondered whether it still had enough people to support two Congressional districts or whether that would have to fall to one.

The Wall Street Journal says the exodus of residents was primarily driven by the black middle class heading for the suburbs. The momentum is so great that some pundits wondered whether “you put a bottom under it”. But the Detroit is only one of several cities which have seen heavy population losses.  New Orleans has lost nearly 30% of its population, followed by Detroit itself, and Cleveland, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

Detroit resident Will Wafer thought back with wonder to the time when people still wanted to live in Motor City. “Will Wafer, 54, a lifelong Detroiter, said the U.S. Census numbers, released Tuesday, are sad but not surprising given what residents of the city deal with, including high auto and home insurance rates and corruption. ‘I remember a time when every house was occupied,’ he said.”

The city’s decline had been in progress for some time. As early as 1961 Time Magazine bannered “Decline in Detroit”, already highlighting the factors which would have been familiar today. “Its problems run so deep that they can be solved only by the effort of labor, management, -’government and citizenry—working in a spirit that once made Detroit the symbol of economic dynamism.”

Or as Mark Steyn said of Detroit, “Unlike European cities, no bombs fell on this American city. This American city did it to themselves.”

Having been employed by publications such as Time and Newsweek that have bled large swatches of readers concurrent with the depopulation of major cities, perhaps MSM journalists believe that such addition-by-subtraction is somehow cool. (Insert obligatory Spinal Tap’s “appeal becoming more selective” reference here). Or rather than Spinal Tap, perhaps they simply dig the nihilistic Velvet Underground, Mick Jagger/Anita Pallenberg Performance vibe of a dead or dissipated city. (See also, New York’s hipsters, pining for the Lindsay-era bad old days of Travis Bickle and Paul Kersey.)

Of course, for wide swatches of the left, this past weekend was all about Depression Lust, reprimitivization, and going forward into the past, to coin a phrase.

On Sunday, Ezra Levant wrote:

Saturday was so-called Earth Hour, a publicity stunt created by the World Wildlife Fund where enthusiasts were supposed to stop using electricity for an hour. Only a rich, luxuriant society would fetishize poverty and want. Japan is still rebuilding; there are still parts of that country where electricity is not back on. They are in a permanent state of Earth Hour deprivation — not as some fashion statement but because of a tragedy. How is that state of despair a morally commendable situation?

It was human development, industry, capitalism, electricity — and in Japan’s case, safe nuclear power — that has made the difference between their more modest death toll and the 230,000 who died in Indonesia’s earthquake and tsunami in 2004, or the 220,000 who died last year in Haiti. Haiti’s earthquake was less than 1% as powerful; it was their lack of industrial development that made it so deadly.

Is that really the state of affairs we want to be worshipped on Earth Day? For centuries, guilty, rich, white liberals have professed their admiration for the “noble savage” — an unspoiled man, typically in a pre-industrial civilization, not yet spoiled by our modern ways or troubles.

It’s a fantasy, it’s condescending, it’s political psychotherapy for the idle rich who feel guilty about how easy their own lives are, and who are clearly looking for some spiritual meaning they themselves lack. But in a world where there are enough natural threats to man’s happiness and longevity, fetishizing primitive economies is a suicidal fetish.

As is celebrating dying cities and their myriad human woes as hip and edgy.

But as Postrel noted almost three years ago, when the “Great Recession” first reared its ugly head, and now “unexpectedly!” exacerbated by the president’s misguided economic policies, perhaps there’s something about the average journalist (and even some equally “progressive” merchants) watching the business that employs him auger into the ground, who doesn’t mind sharing his misery with others.

Related: Mickey Kaus asks: “Did Welfare reform cause ‘Black Flight?’”