The Continued Demise of Detroit Under Governor Snyder and Michigan

Naked Capitalism has an article The Continuing Depopulation of Detroit on Detroit which I attempted to answer. No one cause can be assigned to answer what happened to Detroit since 1950 and well before the first black Mayor was elected. I attempted to put this into perspective. This is not an easy and nor will it be a brief story to tell about Detroit and there are many factors to point to which led to its decreased population. In 1950, Detroit had a population of 1.8 million and was a white-dominated city. Detroit was rolling in jobs then from the OEMs and Tiers.

The past

Between 1950 and the 1967 ~300,000 residents had already left Detroit before the riots. which was equivalent to 3 earlier decades of population growth from 1930. After the war and flush with cash manufacturing war munitions, the OEMs began to abandon the multi-story factories in Detroit for single story and sprawling plants in the suburbs and like what you might see in Wixom, down river, Lordstown, Beloit, etc. With the plants went the jobs and Detroit lost ~130,000 jobs by 1967. 25 new plants had been built and none were located in Detroit during the same time period. Not only was this a way to improve on manufacturing efficiency, it was a calculated attack on unions and UAW power. By 1960 and while still called Motor City, Detroit could no longer claim such a distinction as only Chrysler was building cars in the city.

Just in time to help the transition to the suburbs were the FHA and VA new housing products requiring only 3% down payment and favored new developments over older city areas. White workers moved from the racially mixed Detroit areas to the suburbs such as Wixom, Livonia, Royal Oak, etc. located around the city and in places such as Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois. What stopped blacks from taking advantage of FHA and VA loans was the lack of equal access housing laws. Developers, realtors, banks, etc. were able to block blacks from moving into these new developments in Wayne, Oakland and other counties. As I mentioned, FHA guidelines favored new suburban developments over older and riskier city developments.

As a point of reference, Detroit suffered its first deficit in 1961 well before Coleman Young took office in 1974. Much of this came from the transitioning of plants and labor outside of the city. What also hurt the city and if you are familiar with it are the successive rings and diagonals of highways in and around the city which create barriers to travel as Detroit has little in the way of mass transit. Bring mass transit up in the richest county in Michigan (Livingston) and you will see a myriad of reasons not to have it and maintain the status quo of too big, too often and too fast. Hey gas is cheap and we do not need any mass transit which is still a philosophy of much of Michigan. Brighton as well as other suburbs have <1% black residents and there is a fear of easy access. Michiganders also have the distinction of driving their TBTOTF vehicles the farthest of any other US workers to get to work. Not having mass transit places a burden on the inner city as auto travel is not cheap and inefficient in comparison. Before one can point to black leadership (Kilpatrick) as causing Detroit issues today; one might look at Cavanaugh, Miriani, Gov. Romney, Federal housing policy, open discrimination, the OEMs, and big oil as laying the groundwork for the slow decline of the city. Much of which led up to the racial tensions in large cities such as Detroit and Chicago. Unemployment was at 14% for blacks and 7% for whites in Detroit and it did not take much for some black Vietnam vets who fought on some of the same dirt as I did later in 68 and 69 to get into a scuffle with the Detroit police igniting the 1967 riots occurring well after white flight. White flight was already in full bloom by 1967 and what followed were small businesses leaving the city.

And what did the courts do?

Justice Thurgood Marshall’s dissenting opinion:

“School district lines, however innocently drawn, will surely be perceived as fences to separate the races when, under a Detroit-only decree, white parents withdraw their children from the Detroit city schools and move to the suburbs in order to continue them in all-white schools.”

Justice Douglas’ dissenting opinion:

“Today’s decision … means that there is no violation of the Equal Protection Clause though the schools are segregated by race and though the black schools are not only separate but inferior. Michigan by one device or another has over the years created black school districts and white school districts, the task of equity is to provide a unitary system for the affected area where, as here, the State washes its hands of its own creations.”

The 1974 SCOTUS decision in Milliken v. Bradley:

“In a 5-to-4 decision, SOTUS held school districts were not obligated to desegregate unless it could be proven that the lines were drawn with racist intent. Thus, officially arbitrary lines which produced segregated districts could not be challenged.” Again and the same as United States v. Cruikshank, SCOTUS supported state rights and local control over schools above Federal interference to correct the result of local and state direction resulting in segregation.

If there was any hope the wall of the economic and racial wall of segregation surrounding Detroit would be broken, it failed in SCOTUS. Attempting to break the separate but equal doctrine of schools failed leaving Detroit schools two thirds occupied by black students and supported by a deteriorating tax base. The NAACP had brought suit in Federal Court. The lower courts agreed with the NAACP only to be overturned by SCOTUS. The NAACP sued based on there being a direct relation between unfair housing practices as found in FHA policy, redlining (earlier in my hash above), and educational segregation. The 6th District COA had specified it was the state’s responsibility to desegregate (sound familar?). Here is the Catch 22; since the violations were found in the city and also in the newer developments, the very same policies and redlining which kept blacks out of the new suburbs could not be blamed on the suburbs. Detroit was effectively walled in by economic class and race.

Metropolitan Detroit provides >50% of the Michigan GDP as Canada’s largest port of entry to the state of Michigan. Without it, Michigan would be just another large vegetable farm and salt mine. While people outside of Detroit blame blacks and snub the city, their salaries would be dramatically lower without the city and many of them would leave.

So what is happening today?

We moved here from MadCity Wisconsin due to work. I do throughput analysis, brown field layouts, purchasing, distribution, logistics and materials. There are not many of us Druckers around anymore. If you really believe Labor is the issue as many economists would have you believe, you join the ranks of the seriously misguided. Labor has not been an issue since the sixties. That manual direct labor has been eliminated or moved overseas and other forms of labor are not as prevalent is not an issue of race or education, it is the result of a movement to avoid other infrastructural costs prevalent within the US.

Michigan has a habit of voting for Dems in national elections at 54% or greater of the electorate. Yet Michigan sent 8 Repubs to The House and 5 Dens in 2012. How can that be? Michigan packs its districts thereby diluting the impact of its Dem constituents. If you talk to the pols, they will claim it is the result of where people live rather than how districts are drawn. I would direct you to Huffington and Sam Wang for a better explanation as the space here is too small to get into it (I did write on Michigan gerrymandering pre-2014 on AB if you Google it). At worst, Michigan should be split evenly in Repub and Dem House representaton. Much of the radical change in The Congressional House was reinforced in Michigan and five other swing states to give the Repubs much of the majority they enjoy today there. Michigan has also begun to lay the groundwork to change how the Electoral College is selected in Michigan doing a split plus two for the majority winner of the state. For those of you who believe this is a far better approach, Google Justice Posner (7th District) and the Electoral College which I believe was printed on my old haunts Slate Mag. Given the present districting, the result in Michigan will be a disenfranchising of the Dem majority vote it has enjoyed in National Elections. Thank you Koch Bros!

With Detroit’s bankruptcy? Funny thing happened there also, CDS were paid off at 80-90% to investors (Geithner where are you???). Read the DEMOS argument against the imposed Detroit bankruptcy (The Detroit Bankruptcy) which the appointed Emergency Manager’s (Kevin Orr) staff took time to answer in rebuttal. The state of Michigan slashed Detroit revenue sharing ($67 million) making a bad situation even worst for cash flow. The rest of the state rode on Detroit’s already weakened economic being to balance its budget. The issue was cash flow to stave off the bankruptcy and the state only made it worst given the Repub political stance of the state ( since 1990, Repubs have controlled the state Senate [solely] and state House [a majority of the time] during census years and other years). It is far easier to blame former black mayors rather than assume blame for laying the groundwork economically and racially causing much of Detroit’s demise. There is much pent up anger in outlying areas from Detroit. Today, the Govenor Snyder state has refused to help Detroit schools leaving them with > than a $100 million deficit after 4 state designated emergency managers.

Sorry for the length of this chemo/steroid rough-cut dialogue. I get a lot of energy after being pumped-up and had written this into the night from a lack of need for sleep. I believe this paints a truer picture of what took place in Detroit before Coleman came to power, what took place from 1967 onward to Kilpatrick, and how the city continues to be plundered.