March 12, 2012


Unemployment in the city of Detroit is estimated at about 20 percent; two thirds of the city’s children live in poverty. The two largest employers in the city: the dysfunctional public school system and the crippled city government. Decades of incompetence and corruption by elected officials in tandem with the decline of the once flourishing American automobile industry and (entirely understandable) flight by the better educated and the better off have thoroughly blighted what was once one of America’s most flourishing cities.

Leftie intellectuals spend a lot of time analyzing the “false consciousness” that keeps American workers voting for Republicans who (in the view of the intellectuals) support anti-worker policies. We don’t hear nearly as much from these incisive social thinkers about the false urban consciousness that keeps voters supporting policies and politicians that have ruined the cities, but there you are. Many of the policies that are dearest to the hearts of powerful Democratic politicians are responsible for wrecking the lives of many of their most loyal supporters, but the loyal supporters turn out year after year.

When American cities embraced the high cost, high regulation statist model two generations or so ago, they were often the richest and most dynamic places in the country. Increasingly “progressive” policies, with higher wages for unionized teachers, bigger bureaucracies enforcing tighter regulations, more “planning” by qualified technocrats and more government services and benefits to improve the quality of residents’ lives were supposed to take the American city into a new golden age.

It’s hard to think of many social experiments that have more disastrously failed. Now many of these once flourishing cities are hollowed out shells, while around them suburbs and increasingly exurbs flourish away from the deadening influence of urbanist politics. None of this affects the hold of progressive and urbanist ideology on true believers; if anything, they believe even more passionately in the cause.

That’s how it usually is with true believers.

Key bit: “If you can’t learn from Detroit, what can you learn from?”

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