Don’t Detroit America
We need to tell the story of Detroit — and of its opposite, Texas.


Lee Habeeb

It happens every day. Businesses pick up and leave one state and move to another. So do citizens. They do it not because it’s easy or fun. They do it either to run from someplace or to run to someplace.

And businesses and people around the world are doing the same thing.

Which is why the GOP must start talking about Detroit. And mobility.

There was a day not long ago when Americans wanted to move to Detroit. Detroit changed the way we thought of ourselves. The cars made there represented the freedom to go where we wanted, when we wanted.

It was the Silicon Valley of its day; engineers, designers, and workers of all kinds flocked there. By 1960, nearly 2 million people called the city home, and it boasted the highest per capita income in the nation.

That Detroit is dead.

The city’s population is now 700,000, with a 25 percent slide in the last decade alone. That’s not a population decline — that’s an exodus.

People and businesses didn’t just move from Detroit, they fled. And what they were fleeing was liberalism, the accumulated detritus of 50 straight years of Democratic leadership. They kept fleeing until there was so little left for city leaders to tax — so little business left there from which to extract revenue — that Detroit was forced to declare bankruptcy.

Detroit is the Left’s Ground Zero. And it was caused not by a terrorist strike or an invading army but by a combination of union greed, government incompetence, bad policies, broken promises, outright corruption, and a lot of bad faith.

How bad are things today? The city is facing $20 billion in debt and unfunded liabilities. In 1950, the city had 296,000 manufacturing jobs. Today, there are fewer than 27,000. One-third of Detroit’s 140 square miles is vacant or derelict, with over 78,000 abandoned homes.

Government leaders stripped the economic motor — business — out of Motor City, and there was nothing left but a burned-out chassis. And the real victims were those who didn’t have the means to flee — who didn’t have the ability to escape Detroit’s slow-motion suicide.

In 1999, 34.8 percent of Detroit’s children lived in poverty. A staggering 60 percent of its children live in poverty today. They are stuck in a dysfunctional city, with little hope of escaping the maze of federal programs that run their lives.

It’s a cruel irony that the town that embodied the notion of mobility, that manufactured the cars that powered our interstate highway system and our suburbs, now functions as a de facto prison for hundreds of thousands of young people.

That’s the thing about big-government types: They don’t seem to understand that they need business to finance all their programs. And that the biggest losers when a city like Detroit empties are the people who can’t afford to leave.

Which is why we who care about the future of America must start telling the story of Detroit. And the story of Texas. While America lost 2.5 million net jobs in the past five years, Texas created 530,000. Over the last ten years, Texas has created 33 percent of the net new jobs in America. That’s 33 percent!

Leaders there call it the Texas Model. Many of us call it the American model. It’s pretty simple: Treat people who come to your state to start and grow businesses as friends, not enemies. Enact policies that make it easy to start and grow businesses — policies like lawsuit-abuse reform, predictable and effective regulations, low taxes, and accountable schools that can train a competitive workforce.

It’s not just Texas that’s growing. You can tell a lot about prosperity in America by looking at where people are moving to. And from. The South and the Sunbelt are growing, while the Northeast and the Midwest continue to shrink. Of the top ten fastest-growing metro areas last year, four were in Texas; the others were San Jose, Raleigh, Las Vegas, Orlando, Charlotte, and Phoenix. All except San Jose are in business-friendly states. Areas such as Cleveland, Providence, Detroit, and Buffalo were among the biggest population losers.

One vision is attracting people and capital. The other is repelling them. One works. The other doesn’t.

Which is why you’d think our leaders in Washington, D.C., would fire their economists and copy what’s working in places like Texas. But instead they’re doubling down on the policies that failed Detroit, and imposing them on the entire nation. And much of the nation is suffering Detroit-like consequences.