(Mike Brownfield/The Heritage Foundation) – What happens when a city buys the liberal dream hook, line and sinker? Just take a look at the City of Detroit. The once-great city lost 237,493 residents over the last decade according to the 2010 Census, bringing it to 713,777 – a population plunge of 25%. That’s its lowest population since 1910, and it marks the city’s fall from a 1950s peak of two million, over 60%. And that’s just the people who can afford to leave.
Detroit, once known as “the great arsenal of democracy,” has made headlines of late for its notorious fall from grace. The “Big Three” automakers are no longer the biggest, falling behind their overseas rivals, and the Michigan economy lost 450,000 manufacturing jobs over the past 10 years all while Detroit lost population. And while the Motor City suffers unemployment from a decimated automotive industry, it suffers crime, high taxes, poor city services, plummeting home values, and a public education system in shambles with a $327 million budget deficit and a 19 percent dropout rate. Is it any wonder people are leaving in droves?
But to understand why folks are really leaving Detroit, it’s worth looking where they’re headed. As Detroit suffered a population loss, its neighboring suburban counties with lower crime, better schools and an improving economic outlook saw their population increase. One former Detroiter told The Detroit News, “Detroit just got too messy for me … I was not getting the benefits of those tax dollars. The city services are poor and I could not use the school system. And you look at the cost of living and the corruption, we had to leave.” In other words, bad government drove her out, and she’s seeking greener pastures elsewhere.
For the record, Detroit has been under liberal leadership for decades. And the city’s big problem today is that its road forward is blocked by the very same political machine that helped deliver it to its state of ruin. Case in point: the state’s powerful teachers unions. In 2003, a philanthropist pledged $200 million for the creation of 15 charter schools in the city. Despite the city’s tragic public school system, the plan failed and the offer was withdrawn following protests by the Detroit Federation of Teachers. Little has changed, eight years later. A state-appointed emergency financial manager has proposed sweeping changes to the city’s public school system, including a plan to convert 41 of the city’s schools to charter schools. Guess who’s opposed to the reforms? That very same union.
The newly elected governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder (R), is finding opposition to his efforts at reform, as well. Following eight years of Democrat Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s rule, Gov. Snyder has embarked on efforts to change the way the state does business, including tax reform, spending cuts and empowering emergency financial managers to tackle problems in cities and schools. Who’s opposed to his reforms? Unions, once again, in Wisconsin-style protests. William McGurn of The Wall Street Journal writes:
Michigan today is not a struggling state like California or New Jersey or even Wisconsin. It is a basket case, with worse to come if things do not change quickly—especially in the relation of the public to the private sector.
“Many of the protesters seem to think the war is between rich and poor,” says Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Michigan-based Mackinac Center. “But the real class war today is between government and the people who pay for it. And the government’s been winning.”
And the problems that plague Michigan and Detroit are the problems with liberal policies. The promise doesn’t live up to the results. The Washington Examiner’s Michael Barone writes: “When people ask me why I moved from being a liberal to being a conservative, my single-word answer is Detroit. The liberal policies which I hoped would make Detroit something like heaven have made it instead something more like hell.”
And now, after living in that liberal nightmare, Detroiters have voted with their feet in record number.