Politics & Policy

Don’t Detroit America

We need to tell the story of Detroit — and of its opposite, Texas.

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.

Last month, the unemployment rate dropped to 7.3 percent. But it dropped only because 312,000 Americans dropped out of the labor force — because 312,000 Americans gave up on their future.

The numbers are worst for young people. Fifty percent of recent college graduates are unemployed or underemployed. Many are taking jobs they could have landed without going to college in the first place. Some are hiding out in grad school. And a record number are huddled in their parent’s basements, waiting for the economy to pick up.

At a stage in life when they should be excited about what they’re doing, this generation of graduates is known for what they’re not doing. They’re not entering the workforce. They’re not moving into their own homes.

African Americans have been hurt the most by this economy; their unemployment rate is 12.6 percent. It’s a staggering 40 percent for young African Americans.

This is the tragic price Americans of all races and ages are paying for too much government and regulation. These numbers are a grim reminder that too much government wrecks economies and lives. The way it wrecked Detroit.

And that too much government sucks the life out of life. The way it did in Detroit.

These are stories conservatives must tell, the stories of Detroit and Texas. We must talk about why people — and businesses — are voting with their feet and moving from some states to others.

We must start talking about the human costs of all this government. About the real-life victims of all this government.

We must tell the story of the EPA, and how this one bureaucracy is hampering our ability to create a revolution in energy production in America — a revolution that could transform our economy. And transform lives by creating millions of good- paying new jobs. And transform America’s balance sheet by creating hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue to our nation’s treasury — all while making us less dependent on oil from countries intent on doing us harm.

Our government stands in the way. And our energy revolution remains unborn.

We must tell the story of how jobs are created — and destroyed. And we must name names, point out the good guys and the bad guys.

It wasn’t conservatives who betrayed the people of Detroit; it was that city’s liberal leaders, who made false promises to their own people; and the UAW, which drove auto plants south; and the public-employee unions, which treated that once-great city like an ATM, and kept withdrawing money until there was no more money left to withdraw.

It is people like us who think about how to fill ATMs. And as anyone with an iota of common sense knows, it is harder to fill ATMs than empty them. Filling them takes patience, sacrifice, hard work, and — dare I say the word? — love.

It is the people who believe in big government — and the big bureaucracies that go with it — who endlessly ponder how to spend that money. Most of them have never met a payroll, or even run a hotdog stand.

It is the poor, the vulnerable, and the young who suffer the most when economies stop working. But increasingly, it is also ordinary middle-class Americans who could never have imagined they’d be out of work for months, let alone years.

It’s time to start talking about Detroit and about the other catastrophes to come if this nation doesn’t address our $17 trillion debt, our stratospheric unfunded liabilities, and bureaucracies that only seem to grow in scale and scope. And if local leaders don’t honestly address their own unfunded pension liabilities, which at last count came to a whopping $574 billion for all U.S. cities and counties.

It’s time to start talking about how all this debt and all this government create static lives. Our economy is stalled. So are the lives of the majority of Americans. And the lives of young people — and recent college graduates especially — aren’t starting.

These tragedies are the consequence of government, not business. Our nation is stuck not because government is doing too little, but because it is doing too much.

Maybe we should lead with this impassioned plea to our leaders on Capitol Hill: “Washington, D.C.: Please, don’t Detroit America.”

— Lee Habeeb is the vice president of content at Salem Radio Network, which syndicates Bill Bennett, Mike Gallagher, Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt. He lives in Oxford, Miss., with his wife, Valerie, and daughter, Reagan. Mike Leven is the president and COO of the Las Vegas Sands and a member of the Job Creators Alliance.



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