The purpose of a city has become to take care of the people who live there. Living in a city offers the appeal of a larger social safety net. The population that needs the safety net the most also pays the least into it, making the proposition a bad deal.
The social safety net is really there to manage the problems caused by a dysfunctional population. These problems run the gamut from riots to teenage pregnancy and they all cost money. Managing them supposedly costs less money than letting them roar on. But either way, the cost is there.
We have gone from the city as a model of industrial production to the city as a model of industrial social welfare. The former can pay for the latter, but the latter cannot pay for the former. Urban social welfare began with attempts at remedying the plight of the workers. But there are fewer and fewer workers.
Detroit couldn’t get its streetlights working, but had a large body of social welfare administrating the entire mess. Any reconstruction plan will run up against the same limits. Detroit will still be the city it was, because it is a territory that has lost its purpose. Its only reasons for being are inertia and guilt.
Twinkies could be turned around by dumping unions and launching a new ad campaign, but cities don’t work that. way Even reinvented, Detroit will still be what it was.
Detroit hasn’t been a manufacturing city in a while. It’s a welfare city. It’s there to provide social services to its wards. That makes it no different than so many other cities. Its only degree of difference lies in the proportions of its productive and non-productive populations.
Detroit has too much welfare and not enough work. But since that is its purpose and the purpose of every American city now, there’s nothing to complain about. The reformers who rebuilt the city as a utopian space of public housing and public services to elevate the slum dwellers won. And places like Detroit are their victory. They fought the slum and the slum won. The slum became the city.
Any city can become Detroit. All it takes is losing that percent of the population that pays in more than it takes out. Or overspending beyond their ability to cover the losses.
Detroit is the urban endgame. Its Motown cultural capital wasn’t enough to keep it going the way that the cultural capital of New York’s literary industries or Los Angeles’ moviemaking industries have been. But those too will run out. The publishing world is collapsing and the movie industry is becoming a multinational monstrosity. A few dot coms churning out apps and IPOs while working off Chinese manufactured gadgets will not be enough to save the city.
There was a time when GM had 700,000 employees. Facebook has 3,000 employees. Google has 40,000. The 1 percenter twenty-somethings opening campuses with catered Thai food and coolers full of energy drinks are a nice employment appetizer for a city, but with few exceptions, not an industry. The crisis of the city is that it has become a welfare state, not just in fact, but in orientation. The city exists to take care of people who won’t take care of themselves. That makes it something between a homeless shelter and a state institution. And to rephrase Groucho Marx, the city may be a wonderful institution, but who wants to live in an institution? Especially one whose chief appeal is to the people dragging it down, not those lifting it up?
The city’s troubles are America’s troubles. A thriving economy can support a welfare state, but a welfare state cannot be an economy. A country or a city needs a purpose that goes beyond providing services for populations that are incapable of doing the least smallest thing for themselves. Without that purpose, it is already a failed state.
Detroit exists to provide welfare for much of its population and to provide government jobs for the people taking care of them. And like those populations where generations collect welfare checks, shop with food stamps and aspire to no future other than the perpetuation of this way of life, the city that they live in has no future.
What was good for GM may or may not have been good for America, but what’s good for Detroit is the destruction of America.
Originally published at Sultan Knish.