Fifty years ago Detroit was the focus of the American industrial world. Cars and what was needed to produce them: parts, steel, machine tools, leather, fabrics. Also on display, the full impact of how successful businesses provide the income that rolls over in the economy: diners, dry cleaners, grocers, clothing stores, etc.
Now, Detroit is a shadow of its former self, on the verge of bankruptcy and collapse; this in less than a life time. The impact of success can be startling, but no more so than the stench of defeat.
Who’s to blame? There is plenty of blame to go around; auto Executives not up to the job, unions taking advantage of that reality intent on controlling capital to which they had no claim. Both sides came to see evil in the other. Neither side capable of extending a vision of the future that foretold what their demands and incompetence would come to mean. No recognition of the fact that to consume beyond the ability to produce was a dark, stalking reality.
The blame also includes decades of political control. Call it what you will, Progressive, liberal, Social Democratic, labels do not matter as intent binds them together as a movement. The political elite did indeed demand and continued to demand that contrary to mounting facts and realities, consumption beyond the ability of production was to be Detroit’s Potemkin village. As is always the case the ‘little guy, so beloved of the Progressive movement will pay the tab; he will pay with unfunded pension plans ruinous to the promised future. He pays as the value of his home creeps toward nothingness; he pays by way of the political structure’s inability to provide security. He will pay with the unavailability of critical support and services. He will pay with the loss of health benefits. He will pay as jobs vanish. The very excesses sold to him as a victory, as his protection, as his salvation will disappear like a fog in the face of a rising sun.
Logic, as does leadership, demands consideration of consequence. As Detroit’s rising tide began to recede there was no such consideration of consequence. In fact the demands upon the system accelerated. To say; ‘we can’t afford it’ or ‘it is beyond our means’ or that change must ensue was beyond the ability of Detroit’s leadership. It was also the case for far too long that the auto industry that Detroit depended on simply could not seem to produce a product of competitive quality while foreign companies arrived to deliver the quality that Detroit could not.
Detroit represents an absolute refusal to accept evolving realities defined by easily apparent facts. The nation is on the same course as Detroit. We are, in this moment, all Detroit! This is the path we have chosen, this is our future. When fewer produce than consume, we are all Detroit, when entire productive industries are under attack and closing their doors, we are all Detroit. When those of vision, creativity and performance are castigated for their success, we are all Detroit. Doctors, Coal companies, Oil companies, The Press, Computer companies, Insurance Companies, Police Departments and many more have come under attack from an elected President in the interest of undefined sensitivities for ‘fairness’.
When the predictable demand arrives for the bailout in the interest of ‘fairness’, we should demand the definition of the ‘fairness’ that will be, once again, trotted out as stalking horse. Fairness to whom? Shall we reward blindness and failure? Should we reward that blindness simply on the basis of unproductive need? Shall we say that there are no consequences for incompetence? Fairness for whom; fairness in support of failure or fairness for those who are expected to pay with money that does not exist?
We are all Detroit! Or soon will be!