Detroit As Metaphor

Friday, August 02, 2013


Since Detroit filed for bankruptcy last month, it's been the subject of intense national coverage. Detroit's also been held up as a metaphor for everything that ails the country financially. Bob talks to historian Kevin Boyle, who has written extensively about the city, about how Detroit is and isn't a good synecdoche for the rest of industrial America.

Nils Frahm - For



Kevin Boyle

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield

Comments [5]


"Ryan Anys from South-East Michigan" makes some very good points. One of the best is noting that one of the dirty little secrets of the auto industry was that there were indeed assembly line workers who, with massive overtime, were making well into six figures and whose wages and benefits dwarfed other better-educated workers in all manner of local industries. And that the public employee unions in the city of Detroit modeled themselves substantially on their brethren in the auto plants.

So there's that.

A couple of minor corrections of Ryan:
Coleman Young retired from office, he didn't die in office (as did Mayor Harold Washington in Chicago). It was widely believed that Coleman decided not to run again as he was just one step ahead of federal investigators who were already being held at bay by Coleman's friends in Washington. But in any event, Coleman Young died in retirement, without ever having been charged with a major crime. Still, a great novel could be written with all of the Coleman Young stories. Krugerrands, pistols, illegitimate children, payoffs, threats, you name it.

People can go ahead and blame Detroit's racial separation all they want. But the last ten or twenty years of catastrophic population flight from the city of Detroit was its black middle class fleeing the frankly incompetent city administration. Black flight, is what it has been.

There are a number of localities in Michigan undergoing what Michigan law describes as emergency financial management. The newest really big crisis is the county government of Wayne County, which is the county that includes Detroit. But Wayne County also includes the Grosse Pointes (-City, -Shores, -Park, -Farms) Dearborn, Livonia, Romulus (DTW airport), Taylor, etc. Those aren't black ghettos. They are well-managed white-majority municipalities. But Wayne County at large remains a strong Democrat majority, and beholden to the same sorts of public sector unionism as the City of Detroit.

Everywhere in Michigan that you find Democrat party dominance you find financial crises. And everywhere that Republicans have controlled or at least shared power, we are seeing growth and economic progress.

Detroit's problem hasn't been "corruption" per se. Detroit isn't billions in arrears to the balance sheet because individuals stole billions. The Detroit financial crisis is due to a different kind of corruption that is largely unconnected to Kwame Kilpatrick's upcoming federal prison sentence. The corruption wasn't a theft; the corruption was in the decades of sweet-deal contracts given to public sector unions by the politicians whom those unions owned.

Aug. 04 2013 10:15 PM
Marty chapman from Virginia

Note to Bob Garfield: it will be a stretch but I feel certain you can find some way to blame Detroit's woes on the Tea Party!

Aug. 04 2013 08:44 PM
Ryan Anys from South-East Michigan

I haven't heard race even hinted at as a contributing factor in any media coverage of Detroit's meteoric decline. Frankly it's racist of Bob Garfield to suggest as much. He's only doing so because black administrations have ruled the city for nearly two generations.

The fact is, however, Detroit's political structure has been dominated by a succession of corrupt black leaders, who once taking power helped out their friends with fat phony contracts and solidifying their power, all to their personal benefit, not the city's. Coleman Young, the most corrupt of all, was only ousted by death. And the same thing has happened in Atlanta and other cities dominated by a black power structure.

Furthermore, it's nonsense to suggest that entitlements are not the driving factor behind Detroit's woes. Of course it's not the only factor, but $18 billion in entitlements is by far the biggest issue.

I'm not a Republican or conservative or s Fox News advocate of any kind, nor anti-union (in the spirit of which they were created), but they've gone too far. In '80s Detroit magazine did a side-by-side comparison of actual residents and their salaries, and guys with seniority working on the line were making as much 30% more than teachers and even school principals. Plus, they received thee very best health care and up to 6 weeks vacation. The UAW over promise and always had to ask for more, until they pushed two of the Big Three into bankruptcy.

Tons of municipality are insolvent and can't pay for entitlements. It's not an issue of "breaking" the unions, it's purely dollars and cents -- they can't pay if they don't have the money!?" And taking on more debt is not the solution.

Aug. 03 2013 07:45 PM
Joan Johnson from Royal Oak, MI

The Detroit collapse requires the long view. To mark this city's situation or attribute it to one particular focus is to miss the point. Is/was there corruption in the city? Yes. The previous mayor is an example of that and is in jail. However, the roots of the economic woes of Detroit lie in a changing demographic, intense poverty, a nearly abandoned industrial way of life, and an inability to make the changes necessary in part because this boom/bust cycle occurred over 60 years. This city's plight may be the most severe this nation will ever see. Shouldn't its situation spark other communities with serious economic issues to rethink how to deal with them?

Aug. 03 2013 08:57 AM

"Race has not been a central issue" except when the "progressive" media use race to distract from the corrupt Democratic Party machine failures and demonize the Republican opposition for simply pointing out the laws of economics and the dangers of ignoring them.
Was it years of this kind of cynical silencing of dissent regarding economic policy with withering demagoguery that contributed to Detroit being driven to it's knees?
If the media keep hearing disturbing "dog whistles" when discussing the economic collapse of Detroit and other issues then could it be because they are the proverbial dog and the ones with the problem they so casually accuse others of possessing?

Aug. 02 2013 11:31 PM

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