“A consummation devoutly to be wish’d”

Rand Paul: Obama will bail out Detroit “over my dead body.” Nice to think about, but too much too hope for.

Rand Paul says that Obama will bail out Detroit “over my dead body.”

Nice to think about, but too much to hope for.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

36 thoughts on ““A consummation devoutly to be wish’d””

  1. “over my dead body.”

    May the good fairy who lives in the sky grant Rand’s every wish!

  2. What, more money for the corrupt government of Detroit to burn? You don’t get that far in debt without a systematic problem. Bailing them out isn’t going to change anything, it will just marginally impoverish other places.

    How about this: Not one cent for Detroit, but offer the people unfortunate enough to live there relocation expenses. I bet after the left you could find enough value in the city’s corpse to make the money back, and those people would be enormously better off not being sacrificed to a city’s interest.

    1. Detroit suffered a 50% loss in population over the last generation; the city still has to foot the bill for an infrastructure and a number of pensioned former civil servants scaled to the larger size. I’m not saying there wasn’t mismanagement – I don’t know much about Detroit one way or the other – but those numbers would suffice to mean long-term budget catastrophe.

      1. Not only does the city have to support the structures and people for a much larger size, but also with tax revenues based on a Grand List that has shrunk quite a lot faster than the population, in significant part due to redlining, and in the face of active hostility from the surrounding suburbs. My detailed knowledge is now 20 years out of date, but back then you could pick up Henry Ford’s old in-town mansion for about the same as a one-bedroom on the upper east side.

        That kind of situation almost begs for a corrupt government, because who else would take the job.

        1. That kind of situation almost begs for a corrupt government, because who else would take the job.

          Dave Bing, who worked I believe for free and loves his city.

        2. One of the more interesting proposals I’ve heard is that Detroit should be merged with its (still very wealthy) suburbs.

          I don’t know how much it would help–probably some, maybe not a lot–and I don’t think anyone’s saying there’s any chance of it happening. But it’d be a hell of a fireworks show!

          1. Yes, quite similar to a crowd of healthy people being told that they’re going to have their circulatory systems grafted to somebody dying of sepsis, in the hope that their combined immune systems will effect a cure. They’re going to fight with everything at their disposal, and any state level politician their citizens vote for is going to destroy his career if he doesn’t instantly reject the suggestion.

    2. I am very interested in the idea that Detroit’s troubles are entirly due to corrupt city government. Now, I have little doubt that government incompetence has played a significant role, but lots of local and state governments have problems.

      No, what interests me is that the city’s critics focus entirely on that aspect, and say nothing about the decades-long utter mismanagement of Detroit’s emblematic industry. It’s almost as if the auto manufactureres and their managers, who spent many years making cars that no one wanted to buy, have no relationship whatsoever to Detroit’s failed economy.

      Wonder why?

      1. I’d say it was a vicious circle: Detroit government wasn’t unusually corrupt by big city standards at the time of the Detroit riots. But when the Detroit middle class fled the city, they apparently left a population more tolerant of corruption. (I say this as somebody who spent a couple of decades reading both the Detroit News and the Free Press. The Detroit electorate tolerated a level of open corruption in their politics that would have had most parts of the state attacking city hall with torches and pitchforks.)

        This was kind of like having an ongoing riot, it drove still more people and industry out of the city. Which further changed the character of the electorate. One problem fed on the other.

        I really think the best solution is to just shut the city down and evacuate it. Disperse the population so that tolerance for corruption gets diluted below the critical level it reached in Detroit.

        And the pension debt? An aspect of the corruption. The Detroit political machine laundered tax funds through the unions into the political activity that kept it in power, and promising expensive pensions was part of the bargain that made that work. Those pensions are quite nice, but they’re also the fruit of a corrupt bargain. Why should the rest of the state/country pay off Detroit’s side of that bargain?

        1. I think the historical record does not support your contention that it was a “vicious circle”. Check out Thomas Sugrue’s masterful and definitive “The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit”. Sugrue thoroughly documents that Detroit’s problems (loss of manufacturing jobs and infrastructure, white flight/suburbanization, etc.) preceded the 1967 riot by decades. Sugrue also links many of Detroit’s postwar problems to the structural racism of many New Deal programs/laws, as well as to postwar federal policies that benefited segregated (typically “whites-only”) suburbs at the expense of cities.

          1. Whilst Mr. Bellmore’s refusal to acknowledge the white race riots of the 1940s and 1950s is telling, there is nonetheless a two-edged sword where the greater Detroit metropolitan area is concerned: the auto companies needed suburbanization to increase the sales of their products. Whilst there are certainly central city neighborhoods that received the new technology of the auto and continued to be livable by 1930 those neighborhoods had absorbed all the cars they could handle. The Great Depression intervened for a while and then WWII brought metro area neighborhood building to a stop, but after WWII it was either suburbanization or no more cars would be sold. Combined with the desire of the post-WWII generation for a detached house and yard it was inevitable that the auto companies would push hard for more suburbs designed around the automobile, however it didn’t take too much pushing to get that moving. So in Detroit the automakers were destroying their own environment in order to save themselves. Understandable perhaps, but there was also a large amount of white racism involved.


      2. The auto companies were clearly part of the economic disaster, as were federal/state initiatives that built highways straight through neighborhoods and ruined them for the residents and businesses.

        As I saw it up close, the death spiral of corruption, indictments for corruption, and race was also part of the problem. A subset of the black elected officials over the years looted the city and when caught out, would skillfully spin it as a white plot against a black city, which led the black Detroiters they had robbed to feel compelled to defend and re-elect them. That’s what can happen when there is a long legacy of exploitation and distrust, and its very sad to see because the oppressed become unwitting allies in their own further oppression.

        1. Sorry to keep beating the same drum (and to reinforce what I take Keith Humphreys main point to be), but—just as President Obama pointed out yesterday in his remarks about the Trayvon Martin case—context and history matter. By the time “a subset of black elected officials” finally had the power to act corruptly, structural racism had a several decades head start in “looting” the city and what became its African-American majority.

  3. Why should the rest of the state/country pay off Detroit’s side of that bargain?

    Yuuuuup…blame the blacks. You’re something else, Bellmore.

    1. Considering how many others “we” bail out, pffft. No big deal (1/2 of 1 per cent of federal outlays for ONE year).
    2. Because we choose to do so.
    3. Because have every right to do so.

  4. Actually, I’m not sure that bailing out Detroit’s municipal government would be a good idea. No doubt it would depend on how it was done. The auto-industry bailout gives me some confidence that the Obama Administration would do it the right way, but still …

    It’s the other half of the proposition that seems really attractive.

    1. That’s a really nasty thing to say, Mark.

      (Especially given the fact that you regularly defend a wanton murderer, albeit one who earned himself a Nobel Peace Prize.)

      1. If you think it’s in bad taste to talk about dead bodies in the context of rather minor political disagreements, talk to Sen. Paul about it. I was merely endorsing his proposal. As to “wanton murderer,” if you’re prepared to apply that phrase to any political leader who ever ordered the bombing of non-military targets (e.g., Roosevelt and Churchill), be my guest. But I’ve never seen any analysis suggesting that targeted bombing is worse than non-targeted bombing.

  5. Mr Bellmore’s version of corruption does not include the real estate scams that robbed black people of their homes, and in some cases of their lives (loss on re-sale value? No problem – torch the place and collect the insurance). Just as i think his defence of the right to take up arms against oppression does not actually extend to the wrong kind of people doing it.

  6. As I have said before, I would like to see the rescue plan focus on giving away land to people in Detroit. Bulldoze the vacant buildings and give the lots away to any adjacent owner who wants to take care of it as a yard/garden/playground/garage site whatever. The result would be a less densely populated place with more land per household, but so what?, that’s what people in the burbs have and they seem to do okay with it. And the land could generate some value as opposed to just being a financial drain on the city and a crime-facilitating eyesore.

    This would be more realistic than trying to “save Detroit” meaning restore it to how it looked before its decline. The old Detroit is not viable, but it could still be a nice place to live as a less densely populated part of the country.

    1. Here’s the thing: The people in Detroit, over and over, elected and reelected corrupt politicians. You can’t fix Detroit without recognizing that the problem there isn’t merely economic, it is cultural. In a democracy, the voters have to bear some of the blame.

      How is sending them more money to loot going to help anything, so long as the voters don’t care if their politicians are honest?

  7. The conservative mind: “If they’d just cut out government waste, fraud, and abuse, everyone in Detroit could be white.”

    1. You can make anything racist, if you just invent the racism.

      Though I think you may have identified a bit of the problem: There’s a subculture in America, which identifies the bourgeoisie values as ‘acting white’, and rejects them on that basis. But these rejected values are just exactly what makes societies work, you reject them, and you get… Detroit!

      So, yes, if they’d just ‘act white’, Detroit could be a success. But it’s got nothing to do with skin color, rather than a dysfunctional culture.

      1. Here’s a problem with your argument: postwar Detroit had one of the largest, most stable, most economically well-off, African-American middle class communities in the nation.

      2. Ta-Neshi Coates has written extensively about the white race riots of the 1940s and 1950s in Detroit and Chicago, intended to keep non-whites from improving their economic and housing situations. Here’s one link: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/02/terrorism-is-politics-by-other-means/273469/ ; there are plenty more. Kind of hard to maintain “middle-class values” when members of the existing middle class burn your house and beat your son at high school when you attempt to join them.


      3. The good old “black culture” argument. But Brett’s not racist, not at all. Because he says so.

        1. It’s not “black” culture, because there are plenty of blacks who aren’t members of it, and a regrettable number of whites who are. It’s merely a dysfunctional culture that happens to be statistically correlated with being black.

          1. If you’ve got evidence to support your assertion, by all means, please go ahead and provide it. (If the statistics used have a method of taking into account the effects of institutionalized racism over the past few centuries, all the better.)

  8. First a hissyfit over the bomber on the magazine, now wishing a guy dead because his politics don’t agree with yours?

    Plainly, Kleiman aspires to the cover of Rolling Stone.

    The morals guiding this blog shift too fast for me to keep up.

    1. Yes, most of us who blog here tend to be somewhat disapproving of actual mass murder and of publications that encourage it. On the other hand, we are willing to mock the cheap hyperbole of a grandstanding racist who wouldn’t, in sober truth, risk his life for anything. Sorry if you find that confusing.

      1. I have to agree with Anderson.

        Even if I were to fully accept your analysis (which I don’t), it’s still too much red meat for my taste. If I want that, I can go read Daily Kos.

        I don’t find expressing hope for somebody’s death (even in jest) to be particularly tasteful.

        And I don’t get the uproar over the Tsarnaev cover, either. Criticism, yes, but this tsunami of denunciations feels a bit over the top.

        That said, it’s your blog. I can’t tell you what to post, only provide feedback.

      2. “and of publications that encourage it”

        That’s not even intelligent enough to argue with. Every mag that put Osama on the cover … whatever.

  9. Detroit is just the beginning. If we can’t allow ourselves to dissect realistically the problem it presents to the country so that we can tease out positive, hopeful solutions then what’s the point of the argument. Today’s discussion is to be applauded for reminding us that hope doesn’t exist without struggle. This is no time for shibboleths.

    1. I love central city environments myself, and I’m deeply saddened by what I have observed in Detroit even since I started traveling there in 1985. But the cold reality is that a substantial majority of USians prefer suburbs to central cities, and while they may not actually prefer the exurbs that developed out of suburbs from the 1980s that’s what we got and where the majority of us live. Certainly a plurality, and probably a majority, of the US voting public doesn’t care what happens in and to central cities, has the resources to ensure it doesn’t affect them [1], and is quite satisfied from the current arrangements.


      [1] Would love to hear a convincing “eventually all this will come to roost even in the exurbs”, but it hasn’t even come close to happening yet.

  10. It’d be more reasonable to ask for just one of those things.

    I’m going to go with… um…

    …Detroit. No, wait– no, okay, Detroit. Final answer.

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