24.3.13

F*** ROBERT MUGABE. THIS IS DETROIT.

Thus did Detroit Mayor Coleman Young, a man capable of ruining a city, keep waiting a man at the time regarded as a freedom fighter, and now recognized as capable of ruining a country.  It's one of the many events recorded in Charlie LeDuff's Detroit: An American Autopsy.  Mr LeDuff is a native of Southeastern Michigan, an itinerant returned home, and Book Review No. 6 suggests his book be viewed both as his own voyage of personal discovery as well as his attempt to make sense of what went wrong with what used to be the Motor City.

Mr LeDuff's personal story is that of the internal migration of ethnically ambiguous people from South to North.  That internal migration, in quest of fur pelts or factory jobs, is more colorful and less easily valorized than the internal migration of Puritans and similarly motivated, or obsessive, people, from Coast to Inland.  Thus, southeast Michigan becomes a place where regional cultures collide.  It's a place where the collapse of formerly quasi-monopolistic industries that hired people for their muscle and neglected their brains has gone on for the longest.

And thus an autopsy, for a polity, and sometimes for the people living there.  But not always.  A dime novel with dames and hard-boiled cops that spoke or carried on in the manner of people Mr LeDuff encountered would not be believable.  The stories might not be believable to people who have never spent any time in Detroit.  But as a warning about what might happen in parts of Chicago or Milwaukee or Kansas City or Cleveland (to name a few other jurisdictions with school closings and industrial decay and political malfeasance) the American Autopsy of the title is apposite.  I offer a few passages from pages 144-145.
It was as sad as it was appalling: a black city in which the most prominent leader [convicted former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick] plundered, pillaged, and lied, all the while presenting himself as the guardian angel against the White Devil.

Kilpatrick, who walked into that jailhouse as a quivering-lipped pretender, walked out as the creature he always claimed to be, the preening Hip Hop Mayor. ...

He probably would have benefited from a few hours spent working in a factory.  Factory work tends to give you perspective on the importance of things.  Of course in the hip-hop world, work was for suckers.

Not that the automobile executives were much better at running things.  Turns out our masters of the universe couldn't manage a grocery store.
With Detroit going from a place that had plenty of money to a place with no money.  The malfeasance, and misappropriation of public money, and failure to spend money on routine maintenance of firehouses, has been going on for years.  This is the same Detroit, by the way, that had staff in the tax collector's office going through all the income tax returns, changing all roundings to even dollars back to dollars and cents, in order to trim a few pennies off of tax refund checks.  If you don't work you die.

What's sobering about Detroit, though, is that it's the Perfect Storm of safe congressional districts and protected markets and political corruption and education that doesn't educate and business managers that have no idea how the companies they manage actually make things.

Put bluntly, the stuff I've been posting about for years, in the hopes that people won't let it happen to them.

Ignorans quaeris epistolis meis sequi, circumspice.

(Cross-posted to 50 Book Challenge.)

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