The fact is, while may factors have contributed to Detroit’s decline, it was not divinely inevitable and so anyone waiting around for God to save it should figure on waiting quite a while. For the ways in which government policy, as well as other very human actions, contributed to Detroit’s predicament, take a look at Thomas Sugrue’s excellent The Origins of the Urban Crisis.
Or, for a shorter version, take a look at this Washington Post piece from July 2007, by historian Kevin Boyle.
Furthermore, while Detroit has been particularly hard hit, these problems are by no means limited to that city, or even the Rust Belt more broadly. U.S. cities have long suffered from underfunding, and are forced to go to the federal government hat in hand just to get by. And in recent decades, government policies like deregulation and privatization, fervently although not exclusively embraced by the Right, have served to increase the income inequality that plays such an important role in the dissolution of our social fabric—urban and otherwise.
But we don’t want to turn this post into an analysis of the conservative Weekly Standard’s editorial stances. And in all fairness, Labash is hardly alone in lacking a framework for the story of Detroit. The press of all political persuasions has a hard time with it. And, unlike so much else that we came across on Detroit, what Labash does offer us is well worth the read.
Recent months did give us some, if not many, other examples of good national or international reporting on the city but, interestingly, they are almost all from European or Canadian newspapers. None of them drew us in quite as surely as Labash did. But The Irish Times had a notable piece. As did The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business (which also impressed us recently with reporting on Lehman Brothers). As did The Guardian. Like Labash, these writers see the effects of Detroit’s misfortune more clearly than its causes. But by going to the city, they all come back with some good material.
And what was everyone else doing? By and large, run-of-the-mill stories on “Detroit,” where the real Detroit tended to make only cameo appearances at best. And even on the rare occasions when the city moved to center stage, reporting tends to read more like a postcard—Be glad you aren’t here!, Regards, The National Media—than a serious portrait.
And, quite frankly, by the time we get down to this, to critiquing recent stories that substantively address the reality of the city of Detroit, our pool has shrunk so far that we can count examples on our fingers. Far more typical is the Time cover story we showed you earlier, called “The Case for Saving Detroit,” where “Detroit” turns out to mean the auto industry.
If you want to read the real case for saving Detroit, no quotes, try The Weekly Standard.