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Detroit at Bay

Governor Rick Snyder of Michigan announced today that he will be appointing an emergency manager to oversee Detroit, which is bankrupt in every way but officially. Its liabilities exceed $14 billion and it is short of cash just to meet current obligations. As Governor Snyder expressed it at a town hall meeting today, “The way I view it, today is a day to call all hands on deck.”

The urban disaster that is today’s Detroit is almost beyond imagination. Just compare it to Hiroshima. In 1945, the latter was flattened by an atomic bomb and Detroit was the fourth largest city in the United States, with a population of over 1.8 million, the center of its largest and most powerful industry. Today, Hiroshima is a gleaming, modern city and Detroit has a population of 706,585 and ranks 18th, behind such cities as Indianapolis, Columbus, Ohio, and Charlotte, North Carolina. Long the arson capital of the United States, whole neighborhoods are now barren wastelands.

To be sure, the suburbanization of America beginning after World War II has not been kind to the nation’s older cities. Indeed, every city in the country that had a major league baseball team in 1950, which is to say the largest cities in the northeast quadrant of the country, has seen a marked decline in population, with the exception of New York (always the exception). But many of those cities are now bouncing back. Not Detroit. Led by a kleptocracy in league with municipal unions, Detroit continues to hemorrhage population, wealth, and quality of life. It didn’t take an atomic bomb to destroy Detroit. Mayors such as Coleman Young and Kwame Kilpatrick were quite enough.

As the New York Times reports:

The state-appointed manager, who could be selected later this month, would ultimately wield powers aimed at swiftly turning around the municipal government’s dire circumstances — powers to cut city spending, change contracts with labor unions, merge or eliminate city departments, urge the sale of city assets and even, if all else failed, to recommend bankruptcy proceedings.

Because Detroit is the creature of the sovereign state of Michigan, the governor has the power to impose such discipline, whether Detroit’s government likes it or not (needless to say it doesn’t). What a pity no one has the power to impose it on Washington D.C.


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