Detroit: Mainstream News Begrudgingly Shows Private Society Takes Care Of Itself

It is a long time coming, but this Fox News story acknowledges that life is not over in Detroit: “Detroit Dire, But Private Groups, Citizens Keep The Motor City Running.

Even though I love this news story, I’m going to criticize it because it keeps making assumptions that don’t make much sense. It starts with the lead sentence:

“Detroit’s fiscal condition has become so dire that private citizens are stepping up to provide basic services…”

This implies (to most readers, anyway) that Detroit’s fiscal condition is like a flood and the people of Detroit are cooperating to put up sandbags. But why assume that a city government providing “basic services” is normal, and for private citizens to meet these basic needs is some kind of temporary special effort?

But all city governments can do when they replace the market is be inefficient and unresponsive. It is precisely because Detroit took it upon itself to “provide basic services” that it arrived in its current fiscal condition. Without a voluntary pricing mechanism and competition, there is no incentive or even sufficient information to give the best service at the lowest price possible. Politicians then make this confusion worse because they can buy votes by creating public unions and then offering them unsupportable pensions and benefits on the backs of alleged future taxpayers. The problem isn’t just bad politicians. The system automatically works to disadvantage any honest politician and advantage the one’s willing to use debt as a weapon for getting elected.

When the Berlin wall came down, no one said that citizens were organizing a new political order in response to a “dire” emergency. No, they reported accurately that, because the Soviet government collapsed, the people were now free to govern themselves. Likewise, Detroit’s bankruptcy is very much like a prison being shaken apart by an earthquake so that captives can go free. The resulting behavior of people isn’t emergency desperation but rather the natural activity that all people would engage in if they weren’t prevented from it by government.

Another line in the story: “the city’s collision course with insolvency has created business opportunities for some and spurred a sense of civic pride for others.” Technically true but misleading in that the city, by its existence and policies, has been hampering and restricting business opportunities. We don’t usually say that, when someone stops imprisoning someone else, that he has “created opportunities” for the freed captives.

In general, this article makes it seem as if “basic services” should just normally appear “out of nowhere” by the “magic” of government. But there is no such thing as magic.

What if Detroit had used the market for basic services from the beginning of its existence? Would there be inconveniences and problems? Of course. Would the city have grown and modernized as fast? Maybe not. But it would never have self-destructed like it has today. We would still have a prosperous city if we had not decided to let Detroit politicians monopolize basic industries.