Detroit: The Cautionary Tale that Didn’t Have to Be

Detroit’s new mayor is urging residents who might be contemplating a move from the bankrupt city to hang on for just six more months.

Mayor Mike Duggan, a former medical center chief, said Tuesday that within that timeframe his administration will be able to show that it can solve many of the city’s problems. He vowed that poor bus, lighting and other public services that have plagued Detroit for years are part of the past.

“Just give us six months. Give us six months to prove that we can turn things around,” he said during an investiture ceremony at City Hall. “Just push the pause button and don’t leave that house yet. Give us six months and let us prove to you what we can do.” [source: Associated Press]

But what makes an economy? Is it the lights on the buses? Or is it the presence of thriving businesses?

They have buses and sidewalks in cities with economic stagnation and decline. These are not the distinguishing marks of civilization. Entrepreneurship, profit, economic growth and continuous innovation are.

This new mayor of Detroit may mean well. I have no idea what his political ideology is. He probably has none, or claims to have none, which will ultimately explain his ineffectiveness.

However, ideas have consequences, and the decline in cities like Detroit is a consequence, not a cause. Whether private or public, bus systems (and other city services) must be funded by something. There has to be wealth in order to fund anything, and wealth doesn’t come from civil servants; it comes from hated profiteers, i.e., those who successfully please customers and therefore make a lot of money. There’s a reason why city services don’t exist in third-world countries, while they generally thrive in places where economic growth is routine.

The problems in Detroit can be traced to a variety of factors. The American auto industry was destroyed by government intervention, which used legislation to favor employees at the expense of the company, therefore destroying companies in the process.

The ultimate factor is the decline of a private free-market economy throughout the nation in general, and in places like Detroit in particular.

Detroit will never get on its feet unless the private economy—not just in Detroit or the auto industry, but everywhere—gets back on its feet.

The private economy is under relentless moral attack every day of the week. From the President on down, profit-making is frowned upon, and the more successful you are, the more you are penalized via taxes and regulations (unless you provide the President and his comrades with money and support, in which case you’ll receive favors and exemptions.)

Six months is probably not enough time for any economy to right itself, even if we made the transition to a free economy overnight. It would be a lot faster than most people would expect, however. The tragedy of Detroit is the growing tragedy of America: It would take so little to fix us, if only we got out of our own way.

Problems in government are symptoms, not causes. You don’t fix the economy and society by fixing the government. You fix the economy and the society by getting the government out of the way, except, of course, for protecting private property and individuals from criminals.

Without a good and strong government doing the right things, we’re all sunk. But we’re just as sunk with government messing up everything it has no business being involved in, in the first place. For proof of this, look at the American economy today, not nearly what it might or ought to be, with growth barely registering and unemployment higher than claimed.

It seems absurd for any mayor, governor—or President, for that matter—to talk of “fixing things” for us.

Americans who remain ignorant or fearful, always calling on government to be involved in every sphere of human life, are standing in their own way. That’s why politician after politician fails. They keep doing the same thing, with different names and faces for it, while expecting different results.

Although most will not admit it, or don’t necessarily even realize it, they want all the benefits of a profit-based, free market system, while simultaneously wanting (as much as possible) those results to be guaranteed to them, so they can better sleep at night. They want great results without risk. They invite politicians to lie to them, by telling them, in effect, “You can have endless gain with little or no risk. We’ll guarantee everything for you; no worries about the economic costs.” It will never happen. It’s clearly not happening.

The majority of Americans are their own problem. A true leader will not say, “Let me fix this for you.” A true leader would say, “Fix yourselves. Let me help you by getting government the hell out of your way.”

Be sure to “friend” Dr. Hurd on Facebook. Search under “Michael Hurd” (Rehoboth Beach DE). Get up-to-the-minute postings, recommended articles and links, and engage in back-and-forth discussion with Dr. Hurd on topics of interest.