Who destroyed Detroit?

Who destroyed Detroit? asks Deborah Meier, calling it a “bombed-out shell of a city.”

“It was first and foremost the fault of some quite well-educated, high test-scorers in the management of the auto industry and in high places in Washington D.C.,” she concludes on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

Don’t blame “corporate reform,” responds Robert Pondiscio.

There is an idea at loose in overheated corners of the edusphere, which I pray you do not share, which sees a manufactured “shock doctrine” conspiracy to drive American education onto the rocks in order to seize control and make a buck.  It’s a lovely, comforting illusion, isn’t it?  We are capable, wise, and all would be well if the malefactors of great wealth were not aligned against us.  That is far easier to accept than our own shortcomings, low expectations, failed notions about schooling, and stubborn refusal to adapt.  Perhaps we were as complacent about our schools as Detroit’s auto execs were about their factories.

Test scores are “not a definitive measure of ‘intellectual prowess’,” writes Meier. Pondiscio agrees, but asks “what of it?”

Testing did not destroy schooling. It revealed the rot and complacency within too many schools, especially those serving our poorest children, like Detroit’s.

We adapt, we grow, or else we stagnate and decay. The factories that employed generations in Detroit stand empty.  One hundred years ago, they didn’t stand at all. A generation hence, maybe two, something else will stand in their place.  But not if we pretend nothing’s wrong, Deb.  Not if we choose not to run the race.

Pittsburgh was the Detroit of the late ’70s when the steel industry collapsed, writes Pondiscio.  “Today it’s a lovely and livable city, with a diversified economy built on education, technology, and finance.” Pittsburgh adapted.

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  1. What destroyed Detroit was the demographic change from a mostly white city to a nearly 90% black city.

  2. Unmentioned in the linked articles is the widespread property destruction and violence which began in the late 60s; spurring the flight of middle-class families, the family and community breakdown and associated crime which has encouraged more of the same and the deliberate push-out of whites by the Young and Fitzpatrick (Fitz? – the ex-mayor who’s now in jail) administrations. The city has pursued policies which have destroyed it and made it unattractive to new, private investment. After all, vigorous new businesses need educated, well-socialized workers. Detroit’s schools certainly aren’t producing the former and the crime rates suggest a dearth of the latter. Also, I’m betting that Detroit’s public-sector workers are much like those in DC, whose DMV has been so unfriendly and dysfunctional (for many decades) that there’s good reason that new DC residents keep their old licences as long as possible.

    • It’s Kilpatrick and he’s currently enjoying the distinctly Midwestern ambiance of Milan Federal Correctional Facility in Milan, Michigan. He got a 28 year sentence for a whole laundry list of transgressions.

      While I don’t take issue with any of the factors you’ve listed none of them have the primary responsibility for the descent of Detroit. That honor goes to the free enterprise system doing what it’s supposed to – redressing economic injustice.

      After World War II Detroit enjoyed a defacto monopoly on automobile manufacture. The concentration of the automotive industry in Detroit was self-reinforcing so it was tough set up manufacturing facilities outside the Detroit area. So, Detroit didn’t have much domestic competition for automotive business.

      Very conveniently foreign competition had been largely vaporized during World War II and following the war there more urgent necessities then private automobiles.

      By the 70’s the lack of foreign competition was being vigorously addressed by the Japanese and to a lesser extent by the Germans and the good, old days of relentlessly raising car prices to pay for relentlessly increasing UAW pay and benefit schedules were coming to a close. By the 80’s it was very plain that competition was going to require some pretty drastic steps, by historical standards, if the Big Three were going to survive and it was the era of outsourcing, i.e. opening up manufacturing facilities in other states and in foreign countries.

      When those jobs went away so did many of the residents of Detroit.

      • Thanks for the correction on the name – I should have looked it up before posting. (Isn’t his mother still on the city council?) And, yes, the lack of overseas competition should have been mentioned first. When I have mentioned the historical-abberation nature of the post-WWII era (as you say, until the 70s), a history-teacher relative is almost the only person who has ever heard/thought of it as a factor in any American manufacturing (most were unaware of the WWII industrial devastation abroad sigh) context but it is a huge one Associated with it is the unsustainable nature of highly-skilled wages for unskilled jobs (many of which could be done – and better – by robots) that dominated the auto industry for that period. As always, those (people, cities, industries etc) who can’t/won’t adapt, may not survive – certainly not at the same level.

        • His mother was never on the city council. She was a representative in Congress, but was voted out, largely as a result of her association with her son, and I think re-districting.

  3. Miller Smith says:

    The Looters looked at the auto industry and the wealth that it created while making Detroit the richest city in the United States and decided to start slicing out portions of the pie to buy vote from those who vote for a living. Rather than join in making a bigger pie they saw the world as a zero sum game.

    The rich decided to give in in order to be seen a good moral and caring people not realizing that they were handing over the future of the city to the Looters.

    Then the looting began and those with wealth to save and protect ran for their lives leaving less and less rich to loot. Now the Looters have had to feed on each other.