The seen and the unseen in Detroit
‘What will you do to bring manufacturing jobs back to Detroit?” the Fox News moderator asked the Republican presidential field. In a very, very stupid night, it was the stupidest question.
In 1950, Detroit’s population was 1.8 million. Since then, all the people to the left of that decimal point — and a goodly chunk to the right of it — did the rational thing and exercised their right of exit, leaving Detroit behind. They are gone, they are better off for having left, and they are not coming back.
Detroit is a big city, or at least the ruins of a big city, but it is economically in much the same situation as the poorest parts of Appalachia: Even if you were inclined to open a factory there and create some jobs in the process, you’d have to bring in workers to fill them. The people in Vance, Ala., like the people in Stuttgart, know that putting Mercedes-Benz automobiles together requires a great deal of high-skill work. The people building Toyotas in Texas know the same thing. Nobody is moving to Detroit, because there are no jobs to be had; good jobs aren’t coming to Detroit, because there aren’t enough good workers to be had. The best you’re going to see in Detroit is Shinola workers shoving Swiss-watch movements into Chinese cases and stamping them “Made in Detroit.” Sentimentality is a form of capital, too, when it can be used for marketing purposes.
But we’re going to have to do better than that.
You can call it a chicken-and-egg problem — given its current economic straits, Detroit isn’t going to be doing much to produce world-class workers, or world-class anything — but the fact is that the chicken has been dead for decades, a series of corrupt mayors and officials stole most of the eggs, and the ones that are left are rotten. And despite the best efforts of the city’s spasmodic reformers, the city is ruled by the same party, the same people, and the same poisonous politics that created the mess it is in in the first place.
Capital matters — and capital owners matter, too.
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