An industrial juggernaut in the days of Packard and Hudson, Detroit today is home to a new and uniquely 21st-century industry: the art of urban ruin. Detroit has become a mecca for photographers drawn to its blight. Grand theaters molder and collapse in increments, brick by brick. Vast interiors abandoned by humans collect debris and are repopulated by wildlife, with packs of feral dogs so large and so vicious that the U.S. Postal Service has considered ceasing delivery in some parts of Detroit. Trees take root in the most unlikely of places, sprouting from the roofs of abandoned buildings. It is a rich vein for visiting visual artists. Among the most successful of them are the duo of Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, who were commissioned by Time magazine to document the city’s decline in a series of haunting and sometimes beautiful photographs. Their work was admired at the Cinéma du Panthéon in Paris and the Kühlhaus in Berlin, reviewed by all the right critics, and collected into a bestselling book, The Ruins of Detroit. Writing in the Guardian, Brian Dillon complained that the art of post-apocalyptic Detroit, while appealing, “seems oddly detached from analyses of the political forces that brought the city to its present sorry pass.”
On Mr. Dillon’s point, the sobering fact is that Detroit has been utterly destroyed by utterly conventional politics common to most U.S. cities but by no means limited to urban government: The politics of Detroit consist of cultivating and exploiting public dependency in order to justify massive wealth transfers from taxpayers to the political class, its dependents, and its favorites in the private sector. In Detroit, the aggrandizement of the public sector is fortified by a very nasty strain of racial resentment. Which is to say, the politics of Detroit are a lot like the politics of the Obama administration with a good head start and no Ivy League compunction about putting identity politics front and center. With apologies to Lord Keynes: In the long run, we are all Detroit.