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Detroit: American catastrophe?

Another stolen post from the DetroitYes! forum...

Check out this op-ed column about Detroit from Bob Herbert of the New York Times. Its title says it all: An American Catastrophe.

Best quote:

Detroit and its environs are suffering the agonies of the economic damned because of policies, crafted at the highest national and corporate levels, that resulted in the implosion of crucially important components of America's manufacturing base. Those decisions have had a profound effect on the fortunes not just of Detroit, or even Michigan, but the entire U.S. economy.

“We've been living with the illusion that manufacturing — making things — is so 20th century,” said Harley Shaiken, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who specializes in labor issues, “and that we could succeed by concentrating, for example, on complex financial instruments while abandoning the industrial base that sustained so many American families.”

Read the whole thing here.

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  • 1

    Yet another Detroit obituary from a national publication in some sense I guess it is better than the self imposed hits we get from our local media and suburban folks...

    In truth I thought he was using Detroit as a symbol and educational tool on the fate of America and how our nation is following our footprints...Bob also speaks of racism, white flight , lousy governance as well.

    Of course we can ignore these driveby's by national journalistic fortune tellers and make a difference in shaping this region and the nation's future...I oft wonder if we have in us....I do

  • 2

    I have heard it all before, the cause of the "Great Decline" is this or that, the streets are a barren and filled with debris. All the meandering thoughts, yet we still have not fixed the problem.

    How about we just clean the streets for a start. Make it look nice, Give houses away to people that will fix them, and live in them. Have every one pitch in and help.

    Oh yeah I forgot, nobody really cares any more, they say they do but in reality they don't. So lets just let it die a lingering death, listening to the death rattle of the lungs of Detroit.

  • 3

    Bob speaks of and attributes today's sad state of affairs "....because of policies, crafted at the highest national and corporate levels, that resulted in the implosion of crucially important components of America's manufacturing base....."

    Read that again... Highest NATIONAL and CORPORATE levels!! NO mention of LOCAL decisions, dynamics, or defaulted responsibilities....

    Many cities have survived the evolution from a Manufacturing base to a post-industrial Services-driven economy. New York, Pittsburgh, and even Chicago stand out as cities that 'Work' despite once being economically dependent upon manufacturing/fabrication activities.

    The difference has been in attitudes: Do Something vs. Somebody do Something for me/us.....

    Detroit needs to 'reshuffle it's Deck - politically and culturally - with 'winners' and realists that desire to and will ameliorate with realism - and understand that to be a 'winning city' you must lure and make the city attractive for 'winners' by making investments (expenditures OR incentives) to enable that to occur. It is the continuing and all-consuming, never enough, never successful Coleman Young School of Social Program "Investments" that have caused this city to disinvest in the things that made the city great and repelling those who made it so.....

    Read more:

    • 3.1

      @kioti, I see what you're saying, and agree that Detroit needs to make some changes, but I think it's at least as much if not more of a national issue.

      I can't speak for Pittsburgh, but the west and south side of Chicago are certainly hurting just as badly as Detroit, from many of the same factors- de-industrialization, failure to replace manufacturing jobs, etc. Large portions of Chicago are prospering, but gang problems linger almost everywhere except the lakeshore; even as neglected housing projects are torn down, the communities that once resided in them and their problems have just been shuffled out into worse conditions in neglected suburbs. In Detroit, even as outlying neighborhoods have fallen into worse neglect, the downtown area has sharply turned the corner over the past ten years and is actually quite a pleasant place these days. The two cities both regularly compete for such titles as “murder capital,”- I believe Chicago has that title now- but I don't think we can generalize too much about either city. As Herbert points out, “Americans, whether they live in big cities, suburban towns or rural areas, need jobs.”

  • 4

    Herbert closes by noting “if there is any sense of urgency about this in the hearts and minds of our corporate and government leaders, I've missed it.”

    I don't think corporate leaders can address the loss of manufacturing jobs. Capitalism, by design, encourages competition. Consumers will buy the cheaper of two equivalent products, which only incentives those corporations which keep costs low by embracing automation and off-shoring jobs to cheaper economies. These corporations aren't necessarily doing anything illegal, they're just playing by the rules.

    The government could change these rules. They could incentivizing local hiring, sponsor public works projects on government payroll, or shorten the work week in order to get more people employed. These changes would result in either higher costs of goods and services, higher taxes, or lower wages. Any way you look at it, we'd be staring at a lower standard of living.

    That is, unless as @kioti suggests, we shift in a “post-industrial services-driven economy.” That's an area where our corporate leaders can help.

    I think the solution may require a combination of these two things- government regulation of manufacturing employment, in addition to a shift to a more service-driven economy. And each of us would have to play our part, by spending more of our money on services and experiences, rather than material goods.

  • 5

    One last comment...

    Herbert accurately recounts the *popular* narrative of Detroit, which is that its decline began in 1967 with the race riots and white flight.

    I cringe every time I hear that account.

    What could have *caused* the '67 riots? The city didn't just spontaneously combust because black people and white people and all other kinds of people are somehow different in Detroit and were born to hate each other more. Racism isn't inborn, it's systemic, it's spread like a disease.

    The seeds of Detroit's decline were planted well before '67, much farther back than the “past 30 or 40 years.” By '67, job loss due to decentralization and automation was already well under way. Racist hiring, real-estate, and loan practices and contributed to segregation. With the loss of manufacturing jobs due to automation, decentralization, and de-industrialization (which *preceded* the riots), the lowest rung on the economic ladder was stripped away, leaving those without means behind in the city while those with means could flee to the suburbs. Many of those left behind were illiterate- one didn't need to be literate to land a decent automotive job back in the 40s and 50s. Without a real economy, drugs, crime, prostitution etc. became a growing part of the new economy, hence Detroit just kept getting worse.

    I think Herbert realizes that it's the system, not the people, that are the problem in Detroit (i.e., Detroit needs jobs). But he missed a real opportunity to dispel a myth that might lead some to believe that racism is inevitable. It's not.

  • 6

    Herbert was in part quite correct the people create the systems and in our nation one of it's staple is racism..It is an unavoidable aspect of the majority cultural ethos ..Racism is inborn it there is nothing systemic about it ..It landed on our soild with our nation's original illegal aliens and domestic terrroists ( pilgrims & puritans)

    BTW Detroit's worst race riot was 1947 over 47 people lost thier lives..

    Here is the deal we are a nation that has achieved it's manufacturing and industrial capacity, we cannot nor continue to make and sell 20 million autos and year. We are a nation that must develop and evolve internally not globally and externally. Our future lies within our borders not through the expansion of American trademarks..

    We as a nation must cut over defense budget by 90%, We have prospered on others third world countries have the right to develop like our nation did these countries need industrial revolutions etc..

    We can as a nation completely rebuild and resign our entire infrastructure this process of course will be very labor intentsive and can employ millions and millions of domestic workers..We have the capacity right now to be mature nation not a growth nation which seeks to eat up all of the world's energies..

  • 7

    @gthrasher, you're right that “people create the systems,” but isn't it also true that systems in turn shape people, i.e. if you're born into a racist environment you're more likely to become racist than if you were born into a somewhat successfully integrated environment (e.g., like the Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago)? And, as racism limits minorities' achievement of education and affluence, they almost become their stereotype and fail to reach their potential- so that over time it becomes easier for the majority to see them as different.

    I'm too optimistic to regard racism as “unavoidable,” but maybe you're right. Believing (as I still do) that most people inherently believe in the notion of equal rights & opportunities for all people, I'd say it's the nature of power that makes racism tough to avoid- those few who crave and achieve power in a majority cultural not only exploit minorities for their own benefit, but create a system whereby it becomes the norm for everyone else in the majority culture to do so, and to remain blissfully unaware of the true scope of advantages they have by virtue of being born as part of the majority.

  • 8


    You seem to labor with your points your logic did not flow with me i.e "they almost become thier sterotype..." Reads like your blaming minorities yet again for the failures and shortcomings of racist whites..

    The nature of power has nothing to do with racism when are the parties are poor ... often poor whites exhibit the same racist pathologies of rich whites..Again from my vantage point class, gender have nothing to do with racism..

    I do agree with your final point regarding privledge and its advantages..

  • 9


    I find it mildly disturbing that you bate your posts with the "racism card" as much as you do. It seems to consume you a little to much. All of the problems in the world do not revolve around it, sorry to say. Yes I will agree that racism does exist, and will exist for a long time to come in the many forms that it takes.

    When I read your posts, what I see is your ability to aways say "racist whites". Well I have to say that racism comes in many colors my friend. I know many black people that refer to their own "brothers and sisters" as the "N". Is that not racist also. Japaneses people who hate Chinese people is racist too.

    To blame all the problems you encounter as it seems from your post as stemming from "White Racists" is becoming a theme with you. It is as if you are on a crusade of some type. I really don't think that your crusade is going to be effective on a forum to be honest.

    Your radical notions that it is all the fault of the "white racists" is quite frankly starting to become your MO. Instead of pointing out what you believe to be a problem,try offering a solution to your dissatisfactions.

    The article of Detroit at hand is sad yes, to see a once great city fall to it's knees is hard for everyone in the Detroit area to watch, the "White Flight" from Detroit was due not only to racism (on both sides of the fence).
    But also due to the loss of jobs in the city too. People who had the means to move did just that. Since then the city was wrought with corruption, and crime. Perpetuated by who?

    You mention the aspect of poor whites being just as racist as rich whites, sure just as poor blacks and rich blacks can be racist too. We all have the ability to be racists. But what you seem to fail to see that we as a people are all disposed to it no matter what. But its the choice we make as a people that will define us. I have friends of all colors and religions, and I treat them all the same, but it is the company that I keep that defines me not the color of my skin, that is not an issue with me or my friends. Do we make a racist joke every now and then, sure we do, does anyone feeling get hurt? Not once, why? Because we all know better. That is what counts with all of my friends.

    The point of all of this really is this, until we can all put aside our racist attitudes will anything get accomplished in Detroit, The blacks will think its a hand out, and be once again offended, the whites will think that they are always giving and getting nothing back, and the ignorance will continue to fester till there is yet another riot, and a lot of people will get hurt. Big city's and small city's are about one thing, the people all getting along, until we can all learn that one rule and live by it Detroit will never be great, it will continue to be scorned by suburbs, and destroyed by the inhabitants.

  • 10

    @ Robert Prince,

    Who made you my arbiter on this thread?? You need to stop obessing over me and my posts and stop making it personal..You need to get off of your crusade against me and my posts...Step up and offer some posts which have value your envy of me is boring me

    I am offering up objective data and historical facts . RACE trumps everything in our nation if this truth offends you than to bad..

    It never falis in chat forums white folks always get upset when people of color posts are superior and when the truth about our nation's racism is documented..

    I am not like you I do not share racist jokes or comments like you. Please either step up in here or get lost..

    I will continue to dominate this site with superior posts about anything I so with it..

    • 10.1


      I knew that would get a rise out of you. Just too easy. You need to laugh a little, especially when you look in the mirror.

    • 10.2

      Hey!!! I am supposed to be the arbiter of these threads!

  • 11


    Yeah sure...You just like being,lol,lol..Just stick to the content of the posts and stop making it personal..I know I have the skills and depth to cause and create passion and emotion with my words and constructs...I know I am a superior wordsmith but get over me..

    I have dominate parties, events, lectures, venues, chat forums, essay writings, etc all of my life some of us are just gifted and have presence..

    BTW I look great in peron and any,lol

  • 12

    HA HA HA! your too much! I hope you have a pleasant holiday gthrasher. you do have presence that is for sure.

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