I’m blogging from Detroit, where you can feel the ressesion as you drive down the street. Passing row after row of shopping centers with partial occupancy, homes in forclosure, abandonded projects, roads in neglect, population depletion – and that is in the suburbs.

Downtown is a horrific mess of hulking abandoned buildings, empty lots where homes and businesses once stood, and thousands of down and out people on the streets. Its like a movie about the Great Depression. Detroit is Ground Zero in the economic downturn, representing everything that has gone terribly wrong.

Thomas Friedman in the NY Times makes the argument that our own domestic insecurity is much more damaging than any perceived or real external enemy:

My fellow Americans: We are a country in debt and in decline — not terminal, not irreversible, but in decline. Our political system seems incapable of producing long-range answers to big problems or big opportunities. We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working.

I continue to be appalled at the gap between what is clearly going to be the next great global industry — renewable energy and clean power — and the inability of Congress and the administration to put in place the bold policies we need to ensure that America leads that industry….

We’re at a 34-year low. And digging out of this hole is what the next election has to be about and is going to be about — even if it is interrupted by a terrorist attack or an outbreak of war or peace in Iraq. We need nation-building at home, and we cannot wait another year to get started. Vote for the candidate who you think will do that best. Nothing else matters.

Some of the “bold policies” we need are enforcing laws to prevent corporate greed from running this country, mitigating the materialism that has decayed the American dream, and fixing an education system that cannot teach the majority of Americans the basics they need.

America – Detroit is the canary in the coal mine and we are in deep trouble.

Check out more pictures on Forgotten Detroit.

About the author

Rabbi Yonah

12 Comments

  • Uhhhh… hate to burst your bubble, but – there is no recession.

    A recession is 2 or more consecutive quarters of negative economic growth.

    There has not yet been even ONE month of negative growth – the US economy is still growing, just more slowly.

    Detroit and other large rust-belt cities are reaping the bitter fruits of heavy beaurocracy, chokehold public service unions, and welfare-state social policy.

    Cities that have turned away from these left/liberal policies are doing fine.

  • I have a friend from Detroit, a lifelong resident, who at 55 calls it “the epicenter of depression.”

    Deep sigh. What have we done?

  • Then maybe it’s time to rethink our definition of a recession, because how our economy is still growing, with the DJIA approaching bear territory, is beyond me.

  • You can give all the economic growth numbers you want. Unemployment keeps rising and is somewhere between 7 and 8%. Highest in the nation. The fact that we are still behind California, Florida, and Nevada in foreclosures isn’t telling of our situation. It’s more that people here bought homes they should have been able to afford as opposed to everywhere else where people were buying beyond their means. It has reached everyone except the true upper class and there are no signs of this getting better.

    Ben-David: This has nothing to do with being in the rust belt. This has hit the service industry. These are not the complaints of laid off auto workers, these are the complaints of everyone from the auto plants all the way up through attorney’s and doctors whose clients and patients just stop coming in.

  • Hasn’t Detriot been on the downturn now for decades because of the declining car industry? Also, I fail to see the esprit or at least some faint economic knowledge in Friedman’s article who just calls for more state in times of economic decline. See how that works in Europe. Not at all.
    Some of the current problems might be from failed long-term development plans. But in general, you cannot just call to politics for a quick fix to an economic crisis, without a seriously drop of your competence rating or making yourself a complete ass.

    Instead of starting this apocalyptic whine they should rather get involved in real domestic issues.

  • Joshua: Sometimes the stocks are booming but the economy is in the toilet. Sometimes the stocks are doing terribly but the economy is growing rapidly.

    The GDP is the sum of all goods and services rendered within the borders of the country. Getting a little bit more specific, we are refering to the amount of new things that are produced/rendered. A new pair of red shoes are in the GDP and that nice new mezuzah case are in the GDP. However, if you took the computer mouse you bought five years ago to the market to sell it, it wouldn’t be counted. Why? Because it wasn’t produced this year.

    The stock market is like the computer mouse. The shares of stock already existed from many years ago. Of course, IPOs happen and companies may make secondary offerings, but the shares already in circulation aren’t new.

    The stock market generates a lot of noise because if you pick the right stocks you can get rich very quickly. But in terms of economic development and growth, it’s no different from a shop for aftermarket electronics.

  • David is absolutely right. The state of every city is not indicative of the national economy, current recession notwithstanding. Detroit’s decline is based on the fact that the Big Three have spent 4 decades finding ways to become less and less competitive. They are basically the joke of the industry and have been for quite some time.

    I commented to Alex about this a few weeks back. Detroit’s demise has been long and coming. I’m not sure there’s much to learn from it other than what not to do. The lessons are potentially complex and many, but my take on it is to never assume that our exports will be permanently valuable. Global companies that seem to hold up well value quality to a much greater degree than do American companies. They also seem to invest more into their labor. To some extent the issue is cultural. America’s instinctive and reactionary sense of economic nationalism will always be at odds with the capitalism it claims to value at least as much.

    And if infrastructure is finally something we intend to take seriously, then I’ll endorse the theme. Detroit’s “row after row of shopping centers with partial occupancy” is both a testament to the typical sprawl and the fact that the auto industry must have done its best to make sure that public transportation never had a chance in the city.

    To the extent that Detroit’s lessons are to be taken seriously by the rest of the country, I’d advise the following:

    1. If you seriously want growth, plan for it – in all its aspects. Not every employee and his family want nothing more than a lawn and a decent school. Learn about New Urbanism.

    2. Economic nationalism is no substitute for a brand you can stand behind.

    3. Just because Americans love wasteful and crappy products, don’t assume the rest of the world does. For the most part, they don’t. If you intend to market to them, then that’s a problem.

    4. Location, location, location. It’s hard to build a quality product or service unless you run your business in a place where the sort of quality of labor you’ll need is available. If that fails, train them, invest in them, and make them feel that they have something invested in you in return. Or else you’ll get the labor that you deserve.

    5. Every major city needs its own, distinct industry. If the latter dies, so will the city.

    I am not yet sure of whether or not the country as a whole is learning Detroit’s lessons. Some parts of it are. Some parts of it surely are not.

  • I miss Detroit.
    I was last there a year ago, spending time with my then-fiancé from a Motor City suburb. We thought about buying a house, but realized that no matter how cheaply we could get it, we’d still have a hard time selling it later. There were places going for $40K, and they weren’t terrible.
    Neither of us live in Michigan now, both having found better opportunities elsewhere.

  • As a native Detroiter, all I have heard throughout my life is how terrible the city of Detroit is. Yes, I did grow up in the suburbs, but Detroit is my city. There are many problems with the city, but did you ever have a chance to take a look at the growth? There is a movement of young people to downtown, to these multi-million dollar condos, on the River Front. With the addition of Ford Field and Comerica Park, being downtown or cruising Woodward Avenue is a popular place to be for people of all ages. Michigan is not doing so great, economically. I agree, the state has yet to diversify our economy with the vastly changing world around us. Yet, I challenge you to come to Detroit, to experience new foods at one of our culturally unique restaurants, to cruise Woodward during the summer months, to take a walk down Riverwalk, go to Comerica Park and watch a Tiger game, go ice skating in the winter at Campus Martius Park.

    I am proud to say that I am from Detroit. And I am a product of Jewish Detroit.

  • Well I remember how good the moussaka was at New Parthenon in Greektown, but when trying to at least find a URL for the place, to which to link, all I could get was the site for a restaurant in Chicago. The rest all were a part of virtualtourist or citysearch reviews. It doesn’t even have its own website.

    I hope you’re up to those economic and demographic challenges you recognize, Nicole. Challenging someone to experience all you say the city has to offer is clearly not the same as being able to attract them to it. But then again, I think I alluded to this when mentioning Detroit’s attitude of economic nationalism as a serious response to the downfall of an industry that eventually found itself making products that only Americans would buy.

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