Muggeridge's Law Strikes the Motor City
That there is no longer any way for a satirist to improve upon real life for its pure absurdity was an observation made a half century ago by British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, as Tom Wolfe noted in the late 1980s:
While Malcolm Muggeridge was the editor of Punch, it was announced that Khrushchev and Bulganin were coming to England. Muggeridge hit upon the idea of a mock itinerary, a lineup of the most ludicrous places the two paunchy pear-shaped little Soviet leaders could possibly be paraded through during the solemn process of a state visit. Shortly before press time, half the feature had to be scrapped. It coincided exactly with the official itinerary, just released, prompting Muggeridge to observe: We live in an age in which it is no longer possible to be funny. There is nothing you can imagine, no matter how ludicrous, that will not promptly be enacted before your very eyes, probably by someone well known.
On Friday, Holman Jenkins of the Wall Street Journal wrote a satiric column joking that for the left, money shortages, such as what Detroit is suffering with its wildly underfunded pension plans, are by their very definition, racist:
[GM] made large pension and health-care promises to its employees. But President Obama put $50 billion into GM and now the problem is fixed and the government's stake in GM came out to $40 billion.
But, you ask, doesn't that leave a $10 billion shortfall for someone to shoulder? That's old-style economics. Under the new economics, it's possible to have losses without anybody recognizing losses. This is the lesson taught by Japan's approach to its banking crisis in the 1990s and Europe's treatment of its current fiscal woes.
But deeper matters are also at work in Detroit's bankruptcy. "All along, the state's involvement—including Mr. Snyder's decision to send in an emergency manager—has carried racial implications," the New York Times points out, referring to Michigan's white governor Rick Snyder.
Exactly so. Under the old economics, shortages of money were believed to come from expenses exceeding revenues. The Times alludes to the new understanding of money shortages: They are racist in nature.
As economists have come to understand that money shortages are essentially illusory, if infinite and unlimited money is made available to some but not others, then only racism can be the reason.
Some will object that Detroit's emergency manager, Mr. Orr, is black. President Obama is black. But Ben Bernanke is white.
Monetary racism is a relatively new branch of economic study. In fact, its pioneers are mostly found in the Yale English department.
But monetary racism will make great strides as a result of Detroit's bankruptcy. Even now, graduate students across America are introducing racial codes into their spreadsheets to demonstrate that "white" institutions—GM, Citigroup, Fannie Mae—are more likely to be protected from shortages of money than "black" institutions, e.g., Detroit.
It didn’t take long: On Thursday, Michigan governor Rick Snyder and Detroit emergency-city manager Kevyn Orr said the city would file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy, and by Sunday, an MSNBC commentator blamed it on racial issues.
“Of course, it’s an 85 percent black city,” said Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson when host Ed Schultz asked him if race has been relevant to the city’s bankruptcy process. “We have to acknowledge that part of this has to be the racial animus that has characterized that city for the last 50-some-odd years.”
“It’s been perceived as a colony of black people who are ringed by suburban white areas that are now going into the city to plunder it,” Dyson explained, referring to the bankruptcy process, apparently, as “a massive takeover of resources and materials and properties, basically being occupied.”
Fortunately, Detroit's mayor is taking a more reasoned approach, but then, who doesn't, compared to NBC?
Detroit Mayor Dave Bing on Sunday said he does not want to turn the city’s financial crisis into a “black and white issue.”
“I don’t want to make this a black and white issue. It’s a financial issue, and it’s green. We’ve got to get some funding that’s necessary to help us fix our problem right now. I don’t want to stir the pot and bring up all kinds of racial issues. We’ve got to get beyond that,” Bing said on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopolous.”
In his Wall Street Journal column, Jenkins went on to anticipate Paul Krugman's likely response to Detroit's bankruptcy. But I doubt he was expecting that the Enron advisor turned New York Times far left polemicist sniffing that Detroit's collapse is "just one of those things," as Walter Olson notes at the Cato Institute today, interspersing Krugman with Cole Porter:
Paul Krugman in the New York Times on the bankruptcy of my home town:There are influential people out there who would like you to believe that Detroit’s demise is fundamentally a tale of fiscal irresponsibility and/or greedy public employees. It isn’t. For the most part, it’s just one of those things that happens now and then in an ever-changing economy.
No policy implications in the decline of what was by some measures America’s most prosperous city in 1960. None at all. It was just one of those things.
It was just one of those things…
Michael Barone: “Liberal policies promised to produce something like heaven. Instead they produced something more closely resembling hell. You can get an idea of what happened to Detroit by looking at some numbers. The Census counted 1,849,568 people in Detroit in 1950, including me. It counted 713,777 in 2010.”
Just one of those crazy flings…
Stephen Henderson in the more liberal of the city’s two dailies, the Free Press: Detroiters “pay more kinds of taxes, at higher rates, than any other citizens in Michigan…. The city’s tax structure is, by sheer numbers, among its most glaring problems.” The money goes to a school system that has spent above-average amounts to attain a 47 percent functional illiteracy rate; where “only about a third of the ambulances are running” and “police solve less than 10 percent of the crimes that are committed.”
One of those bells that now and then rings…
And so on. Talk about a "Night and Day" comparison between the ridiculous and the sublime.
Finally, Daniel Hannan of the London Telegraph on statist, freedom-destroying Detroit as "Ayn Rand's Starnesville come to life:"
Look at this description of Detroit from today’s Observer:What isn’t dumped is stolen. Factories and homes have largely been stripped of anything of value, so thieves now target cars’ catalytic converters. Illiteracy runs at around 47%; half the adults in some areas are unemployed. In many neighbourhoods, the only sign of activity is a slow trudge to the liquor store.
Now have a look at the uncannily prophetic description of Starnesville, a Mid-Western town in Ayn Rand’s dystopian novel, Atlas Shrugged. Starnesville had been home to the great Twentieth Century Motor Company, but declined as a result of socialism:A few houses still stood within the skeleton of what had once been an industrial town. Everything that could move, had moved away; but some human beings had remained. The empty structures were vertical rubble; they had been eaten, not by time, but by men: boards torn out at random, missing patches of roofs, holes left in gutted cellars. It looked as if blind hands had seized whatever fitted the need of the moment, with no concept of remaining in existence the next morning. The inhabited houses were scattered at random among the ruins; the smoke of their chimneys was the only movement visible in town. A shell of concrete, which had been a schoolhouse, stood on the outskirts; it looked like a skull, with the empty sockets of glassless windows, with a few strands of hair still clinging to it, in the shape of broken wires.
Beyond the town, on a distant hill, stood the factory of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. Its walls, roof lines and smokestacks looked trim, impregnable like a fortress. It would have seemed intact but for a silver water tank: the water tank was tipped sidewise.
They saw no trace of a road to the factory in the tangled miles of trees and hillsides. They drove to the door of the first house in sight that showed a feeble signal of rising smoke. The door was open. An old woman came shuffling out at the sound of the motor. She was bent and swollen, barefooted, dressed in a garment of flour sacking. She looked at the car without astonishment, without curiosity; it was the blank stare of a being who had lost the capacity to feel anything but exhaustion.
While we're waiting for the next installment of Atlas Shrugged on the big screen, here's the video version of the above scene come to life:
(Via Power Line's Scott Johnson.)