The Downgrade of Detroit

Walter Russell Mead has a great essay on why Detroit is in such bad shape and it has very little to do with the auto industry. As many know Michigan Governor Rick Snyder finally called for an emergency financial manager to come in to stabilize the city’s finances. While many are seeing this state takeover as a power grab by a white, Republican governor who will steal democracy from a majority African American city, Mead places the blame where I think it duly belongs:

It’s true that the emergency manager law is taking power away from Detroiters and other Michigan urbanites, and we certainly hope that the state can return control to the people as soon as possible. But despite the fears of a hostile outside takeover, most of Detroit’s problems come from the corrupt political machine that has been looting the city for decades — and from the indifferent state and national prosecutors and politicians who failed to address the lawless state of city government and left the city’s poor to the mercies of heartless thugs.

Following in the footsteps of cheap foreign demagogues like Robert Mugabe, Kwame Kilpatrick and others of his ilk have played relentlessly on identity politics to earn support from poor, minority communities while using the power of their office to funnel money out of these same communities and into their own pockets. And while Kilpatrick—who was just convicted of 24 charges of corruption—may be the worst of the lot, he was far from alone.

What they have left behind is a city where taxes are among the highest in the nation, yet which can’t afford to pay its pensions, provide adequate police service, or keep the lights on.


There are a lot of factors that fed into the rapid decline of Detroit.  Yes, the auto industry had an effect, as did white flight.  But even more than these factors, it was the decades of corrupt leadership that did the city in.  What’s a shame is that most of the leaders that are to blame are African American.  We should have received better from these leaders and now the city and the state of Michigan are left having to clean up the wreckage.

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