Monday, July 29, 2013

Was Spengler right?

Does history go in cycles? Must every empire inevitably fall? I have no clue, but it has occurred to me that the idiots pontificating about the city of Detroit being in trouble because it's had black mayors for the past several decades would do well to read some Spengler instead of trotting out racist tropes about corruption and incompetence somehow being unique to cities with a predominantly black populace. There seems to be a lot of bloviating going on about how Detroit is in deep shit because all the white folks fled to the suburbs ages ago. Yes, it's obvious Detroit's had problems with mismanagement and sticky-fingered officials, but it would be hard to find a city, town, or village that hasn't had similar problems, just on a smaller or less dramatic scale. White mayors can be every bit as corrupt as black ones; no racial or ethnic group holds a monopoly on either greed or stupidity. Even rural areas aren't immune.

Articles about city managers or county treasurers raiding the till are a regular feature in news outlets around the country. Locally, the treasurer for the Village of Baraga was arrested on embezzlement charges last year, although her situation was a little different: she was charged with embezzling from a private employer and not from the Village, and, so far as I know, she is still the Treasurer. At any rate, her name is still up on the Village website. No one's run her out on a rail or called for her to resign although I do have a hunch that her next re-election campaign won't go quite as smoothly as the last one. Similarly, every unit of government, from rural townships to major metropolitan areas, can be rife with nepotism and cronyism. The rules may say don't hire relatives or do favors for friends, but somehow the mayor's kids, nieces, nephews, cousins, siblings, and good buddies always seem to have first dibs on any job openings or lucrative contracts. So it's not corruption that's been killing Detroit, at least not as a primary cause.

No, what's killing Detroit is the same problem most urban areas have. The jobs went away. They did not go away because the workforce was black or the city administration was incompetent. They went away because industry changed. The auto companies figured out they could build cars cheaper someplace else, first in the right-to-work-for-shit-wages non-unionized Southern states and then in countries like Mexico. All the Rust Belt cities have suffered similar problems: industry vanished, the tax base shrank, and pension and other fiscal obligations created major headaches.

This isn't a new phenomenon. Cities have been founded, grown, boomed, and then shrunk and vanished innumerable times in the course of human history. Resources are exhausted, a harbor silts in, the climate changes, or roads shift. This country is full of dying small towns that are like miniature Detroits: a dead downtown with shops and office buildings located along the periphery, empty lots where houses used to be, and vacant structures that look like they're due to collapse any time. When the jobs went away, so did most of the people. The ones who stayed behind were the folks who were too poor, too old, or too stupid stubborn to leave. No matter how grim things look, there are always a few die-hards who refuse to believe that the bankrupt buggy whip factory is never re-opening. They stick it out while all the neighbors pack up and leave, all the while trying to ignore the waist-high weeds on the rest of the block. The only thing exceptional about Detroit is the scale of the decline. No one really notices when some farming town out on the Kansas plains goes from a couple thousand people to a few hundred, but when a city that had a population of over a million drops to under 750,000 in ten years, the news media perks up.


  1. As you point out, failure of this city has to be laid at the feet of: job outsourcing for profit followed by population decline leaving hollowed out neighborhoods without services or markets. Then, to add to it, like most every city that fell on hard times, some shit head decides if only we had a giant gleaming stadium or arena all the conventions and entertainers in the world will come here and distribute wealth, failing to understand entertainers harvest wealth from the community and remove it to Aspen, or Caymen.

  2. Yeah, it doesn't matter what color they are.

  3. Best essay I read in a long time. Well thought out. Thank you. I have seen a lot of rural communities die over the years including my hometown and the place I went to highschool. Neither have a soul left living there, yet were once bustling communitites.


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