Unexamined Premises

Free Detroit City!

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As everyone who’s ever been skating knows, there’s nothing like anarchy to bring about spontaneous order. Somebody decides to skate either clockwise or counter-clockwise and pretty soon everybody falls into line. Based on no empirical evidence whatsoever, a “progressive” would have predicted random collisions, overheated tempers and — in concealed-carry states — gunfire. To a leftist, life is a room full of bumper cars just waiting to happen, and needing the heavy, coercive, and sometimes lethal hand of the state to prevent citizens from, well, killing each other.

We conservatives, on the other hand, prefer the view that not every one of our fellow citizens is a homicidal maniac, thief, robber, or chiseler; we do not view the entire rest of humanity, crooked as its timber may sometimes be, as a threat. The Hobbesian left exists in a constant state of fear and misery (hence the rise of the Robocop), with the added genius that its prescriptions for ameliorating the human condition inevitably and ineluctably result in an increase in misery, until it finally turns into what it really has been all along: a suicide cult. The notion that less government equals better government is completely alien to them, because they do not trust themselves to be good.

And now we both have a chance to put our theories to the test, right there in Motown — Detroit City, Michigan, U.S.A.

Their theories, of course, have already been tried.

The fabulous Ruins of Detroit, decline-porn lovingly recorded by legions of photographers from around the world, are a direct result of leftist notions of government, put into place since the calamitous riots of 1967 and now at their apotheosis in the bankruptcy of one of America’s greatest cities. An entire city has effectively been leveled in a failed attempt to prove that the crackpot Marxist “labor theory of value” makes any sense in the real world; that the current generation of people is far more important than those in the past who labored to create the city, and more important even than future generations. An infinite amount of money — well, nearly infinite, because Detroit finally ran out of it — has been expended in order to provide “services” that nearly everyone would have been better off providing for themselves.

As I wrote over at the Corner on NRO yesterday:

Until you’ve been there, you have no idea just how devastated the place is. And I don’t mean “devastated” in its current pop-psychological, New York Times-sense of “a little bit discomfited” — I mean devastated as in Carthage just before the salt trucks arrived. I’ve driven all over the city, from downtown to Eight Mile along Woodward Avenue, which bisects the town into its east and west sides, through surviving neighborhoods like the faded but still mightily impressive Boston-Edison and Indian Village, to neighborhoods that, well, simply do not exist anymore. They’re gone. From Brush Park, for example — in the 19th Century, Detroit’s most desirable neighborhood — you can stand on what amounts to a prairie, gazing south toward downtown a couple of miles away, and your view is entirely unobstructed — you can easily make out Ford Field in the distance. A city that once boasted the finest residential architecture in the country is now effectively a ghost town, and all the finger-pointing won’t bring it back.

And that’s the real tragedy of Detroit — a marvelous example of 20th Century American civilization has vanished and is now returning to a state of nature that would have, literally, been inconceivable were it pitched back in the 1950s as one option for the city’s future. We can argue all we want about the blame, but there is no gainsaying that Detroit did not deserve its lot, and does not deserve to be an object of derision for the Right today.

"Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus." Maybe

“Speramus Meliora; Resurget Cineribus.” Maybe

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.


To protect and serve — with love?

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 …

Above all, dignity

The majesty of the presidency

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.