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19 July 2013

The Downfall of Detroit

It took only six decades of “progressive” policies to bring a great city to its knees.

By Mark Steyn

By the time Detroit declared bankruptcy, Americans were so inured to the throbbing dirge of Motown’s Greatest Hits — 40 percent of its streetlamps don’t work; 210 of its 317 public parks have been permanently closed; it takes an hour for police to respond to a 9-1-1 call; only a third of its ambulances are driveable; one-third of the city has been abandoned; the local realtor offers houses on sale for a buck and still finds no takers; etc., etc. — Americans were so inured that the formal confirmation of a great city’s downfall was greeted with little more than a fatalistic shrug.

But it shouldn’t be. To achieve this level of devastation, you usually have to be invaded by a foreign power. In the War of 1812, when Detroit was taken by a remarkably small number of British troops without a shot being fired, Michigan’s Governor Hull was said to have been panicked into surrender after drinking heavily. 

Two centuries later, after an almighty 50-year bender, the city surrendered to itself.  The tunnel from Windsor, Ontario, to Detroit, Michigan, is now a border between the First World and the Third World — or, if you prefer, the developed world and the post-developed world. To any American time-transported from the mid 20th century, the city’s implosion would be literally incredible: Were he to compare photographs of today’s Hiroshima with today’s Detroit, he would assume Japan won the Second World War after nuking Michigan. Detroit was the industrial powerhouse of America, the “arsenal of democracy,” and in 1960 the city with the highest per capita income in the land. Half a century on, Detroit’s population has fallen by two-thirds, and in terms of “per capita income,” many of the shrunken pool of capita have no income at all beyond EBT cards. The recent HBO series Hung recorded the adventures of a financially struggling Detroit school basketball coach forced to moonlight as a gigolo. It would be heartening to think the rest of the bloated public-sector work force, whose unsustainable pensions and benefits have brought Detroit to its present sorry state (and account for $9 billion of its $11 billion in unsecured loans), could be persuaded to follow its protagonist and branch out into the private sector, but this would probably be more gigolos than the market could bear, even allowing for an uptick in tourism from Windsor.

So, late on Friday, some genius jurist struck down the bankruptcy filing. Judge Rosemarie Aquilina declared Detroit’s bankruptcy “unconstitutional” because, according to the Detroit Free Press, “the Michigan Constitution prohibits actions that will lessen the pension benefits of public employees.” Which means that, in Michigan, reality is unconstitutional.


So a bankrupt ruin unable to declare bankruptcy is now back to selling off its few remaining valuables, as I learned from a Detroit News story headlined “Howdy Doody May Test Limits of Protecting Detroit Assets.” For those of you under 40 — okay, under 80 — Howdy Doody is the beloved American children’s puppet, in western garb with a beaming smile and 48 freckles, one for every state, which gives you some idea of when his heyday was. The Howdy Doody Show ended its run on September 24, 1960, which would have made sense for Detroit, too. The city’s Institute of Arts paid $300,000 for the original Howdy Doody puppet — or about the cost of 300,000 three-bedroom homes. Don’t get too excited — you can’t go to Detroit and see him on display; he’s in storage. He’s in some warehouse lying down doing nothing all day long, like so many other $300,000 city employees. Instead of selling him off, maybe they should get him moonlighting as a gigolo and sell it to HBO as Hungy Doody (“When you’re looking for the real wood”). What else is left to sell? The City of Windsor has already offered to buy the Detroit half of the Detroit/Windsor tunnel, perhaps to wall it up.

With bankruptcy temporarily struck down, we’re told that “innovation hubs” and “enterprise zones” are the answer. Seriously? In my book After America, I observe that the physical decay of Detroit — the vacant and derelict lots for block after block after block — is as nothing compared to the decay of the city’s human capital. Forty-seven percent of adults are functionally illiterate, which is about the same rate as the Central African Republic, which at least has the excuse that it was ruled throughout the Seventies by a cannibal emperor. Why would any genuine innovator open a business in a Detroit “innovation hub”? Whom would you employ? The illiterates include a recent president of the school board, Otis Mathis, which doesn’t bode well for the potential work force a decade hence.

Given their respective starting points, one has to conclude that Detroit’s Democratic party makes a far more comprehensive wrecking crew than Emperor Bokassa ever did. No bombs, no invasions, no civil war, just “liberal” “progressive” politics day in, day out. Americans sigh and say, “Oh, well, Detroit’s an ‘outlier.’” It’s an outlier only in the sense that it happened here first. The same malign alliance between a corrupt political class, rapacious public-sector unions, and an ever more swollen army of welfare dependents has been adopted in the formally Golden State of California, and in large part by the Obama administration, whose priorities — “health” “care” “reform,” “immigration” “reform” — are determined by the same elite/union/dependency axis. As one droll tweeter put it, “If Obama had a city, it would look like Detroit.”


After the Battle of Saratoga, Adam Smith famously told a friend despondent that the revolting colonials were going to be the ruin of Britain, “There is a great deal of ruin in a nation” — and in a great city, too. If your inheritance includes the fruits of visionaries like Henry Ford, Walter Chrysler, and the Dodge brothers, you can coast for a long time, and then decline incrementally, and then less incrementally, and then catastrophically, until what’s left is, as the city’s bankruptcy petition puts it, “structurally unsound and in danger of collapse.” There is a great deal of ruin in advanced societies, but even in Detroit it took only six decades.

'Structurally unsound and in danger of collapse”: Hold that thought. Like Detroit, America has unfunded liabilities, to the tune of $220 trillion, according to the economist Laurence Kotlikoff. Like Detroit, it’s cosseting the government class and expanding the dependency class, to the point where its bipartisan “immigration reform” actively recruits 50–60 million low-skilled chain migrants. Like Detroit, America’s governing institutions are increasingly the corrupt enforcers of a one-party state — the IRS and Eric Holder’s amusingly misnamed Department of Justice being only the most obvious examples. Like Detroit, America is bifurcating into the class of “community organizers” and the unfortunate denizens of the communities so organized.

The one good thing that could come out of bankruptcy is if those public-sector pensions are cut and government workers forced to learn what happens when, as National Review’s Kevin Williamson puts it, a parasite outgrows its host. But, pending an appeal, that’s “unconstitutional,” no matter how dead the host is. Beyond that, Detroit needs urgently both to make it non-insane for talented people to live in the city, and to cease subjecting its present population to a public “education” system that’s little more than unionized child abuse. Otherwise, Windsor, Ontario, might as well annex it for a War of 1812 theme park — except if General Brock and the Royal Newfoundland Fencibles had done to Detroit what the Democratic party did they’d be on trial for war crimes at The Hague.   

Mark Steyn, a National Review columnist, is the author of After America: Get Ready for Armageddon. © 2013 Mark Steyn

'Toons: Trayvon v The Nameless Victims of Chicago

Political Cartoons by Michael Ramirez

Last night, Sean Hannity asked Hilary Shelton, the NAACP’s Washington Bureau Director, a simple question:

'There were 61 deaths in Chicago. 61 deaths during just the time of the Zimmerman trial. Can you name one one person by name that died in Chicago?'

Of course, he couldn’t do it.

Political Cartoons by Bob Gorrell

Political Cartoons by Glenn McCoy

18 July 2013

'Toons of the Day: Like A Trolling Moen*

Political Cartoons by Glenn Foden

Political Cartoons by Michael Ramirez

Political Cartoons by Gary Varvel

Political Cartoons by Nate Beeler

Political Cartoons by Larry Wright

Political Cartoons by Steve Breen

Political Cartoons by Steve Kelley

* A moen is a New Zealand saying for someone, who acts like they are the man, but in fact is an idiot.

The Destruction of Detroit (Photo Essay)

Michigan Central Station


Waiting hall, Michigan Central Station


The main concourse looked like this in 1913.


Now it looks like this, with all of the copper skylight stolen.



United Artists Theater

The ruined Spanish-Gothic interior of the United Artists Theater in Detroit. The cinema was built in 1928 by C Howard Crane, and finally closed in 1974

Uptown Theater, Chicago

Central Park Theatre 

 Uptown Theatre

The Michigan Theatre

Ruins of Detroit: Michigan Theatre


Vanity Ballroom

Vanity Ballroom

 Detroit’s Vanity Ballroom with its unsalvaged art deco chandeliers. Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey once played here.  The exterior below:

The Eastown Theatre



 Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, built in the Gothic revival style in 1911

 Former Unitarian Church

 Former Unitarian Church

East Methodist Church

 East Methodist Church

 Mishkan Yisroel Synagogue


 Detroit Synagogue Shaary Zedek


 Temple Israel

St Agnes Catholic Church


The Lee Plaza Hotel

The ballroom of the 15-floor art-deco Lee Plaza Hotel, an apartment building with hotel services built in 1929 and derelict since the early 1990s

Fort Shelby Hotel

The telephone switchboard at Hotel Fort Shelby

Fort Shelby Hotel

American Hotel

Ballroom, American Hotel


Hotel Fort Wayne

Office Buildings

Bagley-Clifford Office of the National Bank of Detroit

Bagley-Clifford Office of the National Bank of Detroit

Atrium, Farwell Building

Light Court, Farwell Building

18th floor dentist cabinet, David Broderick Tower

 Dentist Cabinet Broderick Tower

Donovan Building

Donovan Building

David Whitney Building

David Whitney Building

Metropolitan & Wurlitzer Buildings

Metropolitan & Wurlitzer Buildings


Hudson's Department Store

The Fabulous Ruins of Detroit - Hudson's Department Store.

The sun sets for the last time on Hudson's Department Store.
24 October 1998.






McGregor Public Library, Then

McGregor Public Library's doors


Mark Twain Library (now demolished)

Book Depository

St Christopher House, ex-Public Library

East Side Public Library

Highland Park Police Station

Ruins of Detroit: Offices, Highland Park Police Station


United Community / Southwest General Hospital

Shapero Hall at Wayne State University


 Jane Cooper Elementary School, Spring 2008

 Jane Cooper Elementary School, Spring 2009

 Melted clock, Cass Technical High School

Melted clock, Cass Technical High School

Cass Tech

Piano, Saint Albertus School

Piano, Saint Albertus School

Ruins of Detroit: biology classroom at George W Ferris School

The biology classroom at George W Ferris School in the Detroit suburb of Highland Park


There used to be a residential neighborhood surrounding this school.
This was left behind...






Classroom, St Margaret Mary School

Classroom, St Margaret Mary School

Wilbur Wright High School

Biology classroom, Wilbur Wright High School

Biology classroom, Wilbur Wright High School

The Grand, Old Neighbourhoods

William Livingstone House, Brush Park, a French Renaissance-style house designed by Albert Kahn in 1893





Mitt Romney's childhood home


James Scott Mansion

Apartment Buildings

Luben Apartments

Luben Apartments
Rich-Dex Apartments

Rich-Dex Apartments


 Highland Towers


The former Ford Model T plant in Highland Park, Michigan






The burn!  It hurts!

I am told that this is NOT a ruin...


The beauty of a city that once was...

Detroit's Fox Theatre