- - Monday, July 22, 2013

Franklin D. Roosevelt called America to arms on the eve of war as “the arsenal of democracy,” and he was talking mostly about Detroit. Its factories built the tanks, trucks and weapons that won World War II. The streets buzzed with pedestrians; downtown Detroit hummed with life 24 hours every day. The days were for work, the nights were magic with the games happy people play.

Now Detroit lies in ruins. The city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy last week in federal court, now the subject of an ongoing legal dispute, writing the saddest chapter in the 300 years since the French explorer Cadillac established a trading post at the mouth of the Detroit River.

More than a million Detroiters have abandoned the city since the 1950s, most of them in the past decade. The ruined city is testament to what happens when irresponsible unions and doctrinaire liberals take control. (“Progressives,” anyone?) The city spends many millions more than it collects in taxes and fees, and has accumulated $18 billion in obligations it can’t pay. The books are beyond redemption, with $6 billion in health care and retirement benefits owed to public employees, including $3 billion in pensions. The years of profligacy, says Gov. Rick Snyder, “has brought Detroit to the point that it cannot satisfy promises it made to the past.”

The “Big Three” and the city continued to enjoy boom times after the war as tailfins and hot rods ruled the boulevards. There would never be a rainy day; no one was concerned with keeping the environment comfortable for business or balancing a budget. Detroit became a piggy bank for special interests. Taxpayers were only for squeezing.

As the city shrank, the city government expanded. Detroit spent more on education, welfare and infrastructure than almost any other city during the decades of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and today the city’s largest employer is neither Ford nor General Motors, but the public schools, which have set a standard for wretched, and the city government, which is inoperable.

The army of bureaucrats presides over a ghost town. More than 78,000 houses and businesses lie vacant. Realtor.com lists a dozen single-family dwellings for sale for $500 or less, but only the brave and foolish would dwell there. Call the cops and wait an average of 58 minutes for help. Many such houses are owned by banks eager to get them off their books at any price.

Detroiters who remain are strongly discouraged from protecting themselves. A gun buyer must take a test, wait 10 days, submit to a background check and get a “safety certificate” from the police. The hassle of all those trips and the paperwork is meant to discourage everyone.

The centerpiece of President Obama’s re-election campaign was the boast that “Bin Laden is dead and General Motors is alive.” The bailouts of General Motors and Chrysler would save the city. “We refused to let Detroit go bankrupt,” Mr. Obama declared only nine months ago. “We bet on American workers and American ingenuity, and three years later, that bet is paying off in a big way.”

That turned out to be campaign big talk. The failure of big spenders in Detroit is a caution to the rest of the country. It’s what happens where there’s no thought for the morrow. FDR famously said his election formula was “spend and spend, elect and elect.” Detroit illustrates the rest of the story: “Spend and spend, elect and elect — and crash.”

The Washington Times

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