by Mark Steyn
SEE THE U.S.A. IN YOUR CHEVROLET
You don't have to engage in H. G. Wells speculations about the near future. Put a time-traveler from 1950 in Detroit sixty years later. He, too, would doubt he'd landed in the same country. For decades, Americans watched the decline of a great city and told themselves it was an outlier. It didn't used to be: "When General Motors sneezes, America catches a cold." When Detroit gets the ebola virus, America is surely in line to catch something-unless you're entirely convinced that its contagion can be quarantined. Half-a-century ago, the city was the powerhouse of the world. Now it's a wasteland. It's a motor city with no motor, a byword for industrial decline and civic collapse that Big Government liberals seem determined to make their template. To residents of the mid-twentieth century it would have seemed incredible that one day the president of the United States would fire the CEO of General Motors and personally call the mayor of Detroit to assure him he had no plans to move the company's head office out of the city. By the time it actually happened, it provoked barely a murmur.
In 2009, General Motors had a market valuation about a third of Bed, Bath & Beyond, and no one says your Swash 700 Elongated Biscuit Toilet Seat Bidet is too big to fail. For purposes of comparison, GM's market capitalization was then about $2.4 billion versus Toyota's $100 billion and change (the change being bigger than the whole of GM). General Motors, like the other two geezers of the Old Three, is a sprawling retirement home with a small money-losing auto subsidiary. The United Auto Workers is the AARP in an Edsel: it has three times as many retirees and widows as "workers" (I use the term loosely). GM has 96,000 employees but provides health benefits to a million people. How do you make that math add up? Not by selling cars: Honda and Nissan were making a pretax operating profit per vehicle of around $1,600; Ford, Chrysler, and GM a loss of $500 to $1,500. That's to say, they lose money on every vehicle they sell. Like Henry Ford said, you can get it in any color as long as it's red.
President Obama, in that rhetorical tic that quickly became a bore, likes to position himself as a man who won't duck the tough decisions. So, faced with a U.S. automobile industry that so overcompensates its workers it can't make a car for a price anybody's willing to pay for it, the president handed over control to the very unions whose demands are principally responsible for that irreconcilable arithmetic. Presented with a similar situation thirty years earlier, Mrs. Thatcher took on the unions and, eventually, destroyed their power. That was a tough decision. Telling your political allies they can now go on overpaying themselves in perpetuity is a piece of cake.
When the going gets tough, the tough get bailed out. Your car business operates on a failed business model? Don't worry, the taxpayers will prop that failed business model up forever. You went bananas on your credit card and can't pay it back? Order another round and we'll pass a law to make it the bank's fault. Your once Golden State has decayed into such a corrupt racket of government cronyism that the remaining revenue generators are fleeing your borders faster than you can raise taxes on them? Relax, we're lining up a federal bailout for you, too. Your unreadable newspaper woke up from its 96-page Obama Full Color Inaugural Souvenir bender to discover that its advertising revenue had collapsed with the real-estate market and GM dealerships? Hey, lighten up, John Kerry's already been pleading your case in the Senate. Is it really so hard to picture the President calling the Mayor to assure him he has no plans to move the New York Times out of New York?
America is now a land that rewards failure - at the personal, corporate, and state level. If you reward it, you get more of it. If you reward it as lavishly as the federal government does, you'll get the Radio City Christmas Spectacular of Failure, on ice and with full supporting orchestra. The problem is that, in abolishing failure, you also abolish the possibility of success, and guarantee only a huge sucking statist swamp. From Motown to no town, from the Golden State to Golden Statists. What happens when the policies that brought ruin to Detroit and decay to California are applied to the nation at large?
Did it to themselves
Nobody did this to Detroit. The city and its business and civic leaders did this to themselves. In once functioning parts of Africa, civil war, a resurgent Islam, and other forces have done a grand job of reversing all the progress of the twentieth century. But the deterioration of Sierra Leone or Somalia is as nothing compared to the heights from which Detroit has slid. Entire blocks are deserted, and the city is proposing to turn commerci land back into pasture-on the unlikely proposition that attracting Michiganders to graze Holsteins between crack houses will lead to urban renewal. For a coffee-table book of ineffable sadness, two French photojournalists, Yves Marchand and Romain Meffre, wandered through the rubble of lost grandeur: the ruined auditorium of the United Artists Theater, built in 1928 in the Spanish-Gothic style, abandoned in the Seventies. The shattered ballroom, with upturned grand piano, of the Lee Plaza Hotel, an art deco landmark from 1929, derelict since the Nineties. The Woodward Avenue Presbyterian Church, pews splintered, dust-caked Bibles and hymnals scattered across the floors. Messieurs Marchand's and Meffre's predecessors would have seen such scenes in bombed-out European cities circa 1945. But this was America, and no bombs fell. And the physical decay is as nothing to the deterioration of human capital: 44 percent of adults in the city have a reading comprehension below Grade Six level. Or to put it another way: nearly half the grown-ups in Detroit could not graduate from elementary school. And, believe me, what Sixth Grade requires of American 12-year-olds is no great shakes.
According to Time magazine: "The estimated functional illiteracy rate in the city limits hovers near 50 percent."
With that pool of potential employees, why would anybody start a business in Detroit? What could you hire people to do?
Detroit did this to itself
Well, you say, maybe things'll brighten up with the next generation? Don't hold your breath. In March 2010, the president of the School Board, Otis Mathis, sent out the following email:
"If you saw Sunday's Free Press that shown Robert Bobb the emergency financial manager for Detroit Public Schools, move Mark Twain to Boynton which have three times the number seats then students and was one of the reason's he gave for closing school to many empty seats."
Here's another one from President Mathis:
"Do DPS control the Foundation or outside group? If an outside group control the foundation, then what is DPS Board row with selection of is director? Our we mixing DPS and None DPS row's, and who is the watch dog?"
A while back, I heard the English writer Anthony Daniels read aloud some correspondence from Jack the Ripper's first victim, a 43-year-old domestic servant called Mary Anne Nichols. In 1888, the year of her murder, she wrote to her father:
"I just write to say you will be glad to know that I am settled in my new place, and going on all right up to now.... It is a grand place inside, with trees and garden back and front. All has been newly done up. They are teetotalers, and religious, so I ought to get on...."
Mary Anne Nichols was born in 1845 - a quarter-century before the Education Act brought universal elementary schooling to all children in England and Wales. The correspondence of an uneducated domestic servant in and out of workhouses and prostitution is nevertheless written with better expression, better spelling, better punctuation and, indeed, more human feeling than the president of the School Board in a major American city.
Otis Mathis is not only a Detroit high school graduate but a college graduate. His degree from Wayne State was held up for over a decade because of his repeated failure to pass the English proficiency test. Eventually, he did things the all-American way: he sued the college. So Wayne State dropped the English proficiency, and Otis Mathis got his degree. By then, he'd already been elected to the School Board.
By the way, he's not the only beneficiary of America's joke academic standards. In the Eighties, Chowan College in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, also dropped its English proficiency requirements in hopes of attract ing wealthy foreigners. It worked. As Michelle Malkin pointed out, a chap called Khalid Sheikh Mohammed enrolled, fell in with a group of hardcore Muslims, transferred to North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University to study mechanical engineering, and used the knowledge he acquired to pull off the first World Trade Center attack, the African embassy bombings, the assault on the USS Cole, 9/11, and the beheading of Daniel Pearl. A little larnin' is a dangerous thing - particularly for Americans on the receiving end.
Whether or not Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sees himself as a role model for American students, Otis Mathis certainly does. "Instead of telling them that they can't write and won't be anything, I show that that cannot stop you," Mr. Mathis told the Detroit News. "If Detroit Public Schools can allow kids to dream, with whatever weakness they have, that's something...."
The only one dreaming here is the president of the School Board. Being illiterate "cannot stop you" in Detroit, but try it in Bombay or Bangalore or almost any city in China - and then ask yourself to whom the future belongs. On present projections, at some point around the year 2025 American teachers will be earning two million per annum, and American Twelfth Graders will be unable to count their toes.
Detroit did this to itself
Its profligate past destroyed the present, and its present will ensure there is no future, because lavishly funded civic institutions are incapable of providing the educational standards of a one-room schoolhouse of 200 years ago. This is an American city at the dawn of the twenty-first century, and one in two of its citizens are illiterate. That's about the same rate as the Ivory Coast, and the Central African Republic, which for much of the Seventies and Eighties was ruled by a cannibal emperor. Whereas in the Seventies and Eighties Detroit was ruled by a Democrat mayor, a bureaucracy-for-life, and an ever more featherbedded union army, all of whom cannibalized the city. Say what you like about Emperor Bokassa but, dollar for dollar, his reign was a bargain compared to Mayor Coleman Young's. Hizzoner called himself the MFIC--the Muthafucker In Chargeand, by the time it was over, Detroit was certainly fucked, and the only mothers still around were on welfare.
Return to those auto statistics: GM has one worker for every ten retirees and dependents. That math is Detroit's math, too. The city's population has fallen by over 50 percent since 1950. So who's left? Thirty percent of the population are government workers. According to the Detroit News, another 29 percent are out of work, "using the broadest definition of unemployment. According to Dave Bing, Mayor Young's successor as MFIC, the real unemployment number is 'closer to 50 percent.'"
An unemployable, dysfunctional citizenry, a rapacious government, crimeridden streets, and an education system that dignifies moronization as a selfesteem program: in Detroit, everything other than government is dead.
Decay sets in imperceptibly, but it accelerates, and, by the time you notice it, it's hard to reverse. Somewhere like Detroit isn't Somalia, not yet. But like other parts of the country it is en route to Latin America - a society with a wealthy corrupt elite that controls the levers of power, and beneath it a great swamp of poverty, whose inhabitants divide into two species - predators and prey. The Motor City is the Murder City, with one of the highest homicide rates on the planet - and 70 percent of them go unsolved.
It will not seem quite such an outlier in the future.
Yep Detroit is in a mess! The USA is in a mess. Europe is in a mess. Obama today met with Europe guys to encourage, encourage, and encourage them to get their financial mess sorted out, for he knows and the world knows if Europe goes further under, so does the USA, and this time around so does Canada, that up to now has escaped much of the depression of the USA and Europe. But the whole pack of those nations in Europe, except Germany, and the USA pack of Fall (Wall) Street guys and Banker brokers ( broke - for the population but not themselves) have brought this on themselves, by allowing all the Bankers and Fall Street people to get into bed with each other. Now the bed is so dirty with body-sweat, the bed sheets may not hold together when put under the pressure of the washing machine. Yet all those bed-bug people (except for just a few) are still in the money, and have their fancy cars and houses and boats and planes, and sugar-canes. Go figure....not hard to figure.....Humpty-dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty-dumpty thought he had it all. Humpty-dumpty strove and strived, to make all he could before the beeze arrived. But the beeze finally came and stung the stinger in the head. Humpty-dumpty had a great fall, landing on his head, he ended up in bed. Yet the boss of the wall told the people they would have to take the fall, and put Humpty-dumpty back together again. So the people paid the dues, out of work, food and shoes, they put Humpty-dumpty on the wall, and he sat there in all his glory, like there was no fall.