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TAUBE: A great city tanked

Detroit’s failure is Obama’s economic legacy

- - Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Do you honestly think President Obama has been a boon to the U.S. economy? If you answered "yes," give your head a shake and take a closer look at what is happening in the city of Detroit.

On July 18, Detroit filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection. Although it's not the first U.S. city to have ever done this, it's by far the largest. As Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder recently told The Detroit News, "There were no other viable alternatives. We have a great city, but a city that has been going downhill for 60 years."

Many moons ago, Detroit was the country's fourth-largest city with 1.8 million residents. Prominent individuals, including David Whitney Jr. and Roy D. Chapin, lived and worked in this bustling industrial powerhouse. Gorgeous Gilded Age mansions were built in different neighborhoods. It was also the birthplace of Henry Ford's first automobile.

Today's Detroit is a pale imitation of its former self. The Motor City's total debt has reached a mind-blowing $18 billion. The population is barely more than 700,000, struggling with poverty, drug use, crime and an escalating murder rate. There are reportedly more than 78,000 abandoned buildings — and some boarded up houses are now for sale for as low as $1.

Who is to blame? Decades of incompetent municipal government policies obviously played a significant role. As Mark Steyn nicely put it in National Review, "Given their respective starting points, one has to conclude that Detroit's Democratic Party makes a far more comprehensive wrecking crew than Emperor Bokassa ever did. No bombs, no invasions, no civil war, just 'liberal' 'progressive' politics day in, day out."

Some Detroit politicians should, therefore, be very worried about their political futures.

At the same time, while there's no question Detroit struggled financially long before Mr. Obama was elected president, it's notable that it finally collapsed under his watch. There is a certain historical irony that a city with a large black community (82.7 percent, according to the 2010 census) tanked during the second term of the nation's first black president. But what it really shows is the president's economic agenda has been an unmitigated failure with respect to improving the financial condition of Americans from all walks of life.

Mr. Obama's laundry list of economic blunders has long suffered from too much financial starch. For example, the $833 billion stimulus plan, which included lofty measures for unnecessary government spending, received a huge thumbs down from the financial sector. The auto bailout plan cost taxpayers more than $80 billion of their hard-earned money. The multibillion-dollar bailout of the financial sector was poorly thought out — and flew in the face of America's long-standing respect for capitalism, the free market and the survival of the fittest in business. Unemployment numbers have hit record highs during Mr. Obama's two terms in office. Obamacare will reportedly cost about $1 trillion and, according to the Congressional Budget Office, could lead to an estimated 80,000 lost jobs in the process.

How have these economic measures helped the U.S., exactly? They haven't. If anything, the Obama White House has led the country further down the financial abyss and made it even more difficult to escape this economic malaise in a respectable amount of time.

When it comes to Detroit, the president will do his usual tactic of blaming everyone else for this city's collapse — and try to get off scot-free. This will likely include the political and financial incompetence of City Hall, the corrupt political environment in municipal politics, the struggling automobile industry and high crime and poverty rates. He might even throw in George W. Bush for good measure — since it always seems to be the former president's fault, no matter the issue.

Well, it won't work this time. Detroit's failure is a prime example of what Mr. Obama's economic "legacy" is ultimately going to be: skyrocketing amounts of state interference, and virtually no economic results to show for it. While left-wingers, such as MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry, outrageously claim that Detroit failed because "government is small enough to drown in your bathtub," the exact opposite — big government — led to this city's downfall. It will take many generations for them to fully recover.

Sorry, Mr. Obama. Detroit is your mess, too. If you want to prevent this from happening in other U.S. cities, you have to come up with economic policies that have less to do with the public sector, and more to do with private-sector initiatives. I'm not holding my breath, of course.

Michael Taube, a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, is a contributor to The Washington Times.