For Paul Krugman, Everything’s An Exception

The failure of Detroit is only the latest dramatic illustration of the practical failure of liberal-progressivism, standing in contrast to the great successes of free markets and conservative governance. If you are Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize-winning New York Times columnist, this sort of thing ought to give you pause about the connection between your big-government ideas and reality. Instead, it is only the latest example of how Krugman simply writes off any facts he finds inconvenient.
Walter Olson at Cato notes Krugman’s response to Detroit’s bankruptcy

There are influential people out there who would like you to believe that Detroit’s demise is fundamentally a tale of fiscal irresponsibility and/or greedy public employees. It isn’t. For the most part, it’s just one of those things that happens now and then in an ever-changing economy.

This at least is less egregiously dishonest than the chorus of left-wingers engaged in arguing that Detroit was done in by conservative racists rather than the actions of its own wholly Democratic, wholly liberal government and population over the past six decades (with a big assist from the State of Michigan, which has been far more often in liberal Democratic than conservative Republican hands over those years – think Jennifer Granholm – in large part due to the voting power of Detroit). But it’s also sadly symptomatic of how Krugman deals with contrary examples.
Dealing with the disparity between job growth in Texas and a stagnant national economy outside Texas, Krugman insisted that “Texan experience offers no useful lessons on how to restore national full employment.” Krugman contended that Texas is unusual because of its growing population, ignoring the fact that much of that population growth came from an influx of people looking for work they could find in Texas but not in, say, California or Illinois or Mexico.
How about Greece? To Krugman, in the same column discussing Detroit, “the truth was that Greece was a very special case, holding few if any lessons for wider economic policy.”
It’s true, of course, that the same economics and public policy will play out differently in different times and places, but eventually you run out of ways to explain away failure by saying everything’s an exception.

38 thoughts on “For Paul Krugman, Everything’s An Exception”

  1. Crank,
    Don’t you work for the banks who crashed the world’s economy through their fraud so badly they needed the federal government to bail them out with trillions of dollars?
    Why the fuck would anyone listen to you, of all people, talk about free markets?

  2. Krugman isn’t entirely wrong, but goodness, you expect better given his brains.
    He is not entirely off base on the following:
    (1) Detroit’s decline was inevitable, to a certain extent.
    -Thanks to WWII, Detroit grew in the face virtually no international competition. To expect it to have remained even close to the same size once the other, industrialized nations recovered. This especially true given that those countries, starting from scratch, could easily retool with new factories and technologies.
    (2) Its demise isn’t primarily due to fiscal irresponsibility and public pensions, though those clearly aren’t helping. You can place a lot of blame on slow response of US automakers to respond to competition, and also, thanks to auto unions, the staggering cost of legacy pensions from the postwar years, which, even in 2008, added $3000 to the price of every car.
    (3) Its leaders could and should have done more to diversify its economy.
    But this is what his article should have explained. Detroit’s demise in many ways is linked to Japan’s rise. And let’s face it, Japan was lucky in a variety of ways once they were able to compete. First, Japanese automakers just happened to be making smaller cars, obviously because that’s what was feasible for their densely populated island. They were not strategically making cars to exploit some niche that American automakers had ignored. Thanks to the two oil crises, Americans were more willing to buy these smaller, cheaper cars. Second, the Japanese auto makers were highly protected in their own market. Basically, protected Japanese auto makers were competing against protected American auto makers. A lot of people forget that when they claim that “protectionism” was the reason US auto companies were unable to compete. Third, as mentioned above, they were able to build new factories from the ground up with new technologies, as mentioned above.
    Krugman is wrong – by omission and commission – in the following ways:
    (1) It’s ridiculous to compare the auto industry to a buggy whip. The last I checked, companies are still making cars, and they are making them in the United States. Detroit did not decline because the product itself was obsolete.
    (2) The fact that legacy pensions pushed by labor unions have been a large part of Detriot’s problem is not exactly a selling point for liberalism
    (3) Sure, Detroit’s leaders could do more strategic investment to diversify the economy, but aren’t these the same people who have been elected by labor unions for years and years?

  3. Wow, maybe I should edit my posts once in a while?
    The second sentence in the first (1) should read: “To expect it to have remained even close to the same size once the other, industrialized nations recovered would be foolish.”
    For the rest, pretend I know the rules of subject/verb agreement and add in the occasional preposition.
    Good thing I don’t write for a living . . .

  4. Dan,
    Sometimes your reflexively partisan rants are a bit much and serve to undermine any vestige of objectivity that might have been attributed to you post-election. Being a native Detroiter and having grown up there for the first 21 years of my life, I can tell you that there is plenty of blame to go around on all sides. While I don’t completely agree with Krugman’s “shit happens” thesis, while at the same time he tries to say”but that is NOT why THIS shit DID happen”, it also is definitely not a case that all the blame lies with the “liberal left-wingers” in Detroit, together with the unions and their friends. Be it the antagonistic relationship with the surrounding counties (Oakland County – solidly Republican and the home of Chrysler and L Brooks Patterson who has done the city few favors), or the state (don’t forget that before Granholm there was Engler – no fan of the city – and neither is Snyder), and a “let them fail” attitude from much of the rest of the state that has proven quite short-sighted as the state of Michigan suffers without an urban hub like Chicago – there are many things that contributed to Detroit’s demise. And more than enough blame to go around. And Krugman’s article was timely, because it was one of the few articles in the (what do you call it – mainstream liberal biased media?) that actually DID NOT parrot the byline that everyone else did (including the city manager and the governor) that it was all due to generous pensions (they are not, btw), etc., etc.
    Am sorry you have it in for Krugman. But it should not make you blind.

  5. MVH – I agree that the overarching driver of Detroit’s economic decline from its place as the richest city in America in 1960 was the inability of the US auto industry to compete with foreign carmakers. In large part that was the UAW’s doing, but also the nature of competition. That said, Detroit’s leadership – and its population, starting with the 1968 riots – created an aggressively anti-business climate that made it impossible to diversify or grow the private sector at any time between 1968 and 2013. The public employee unions weren’t greedy, they just refused to recognize the reality of their city. And the city’s political leadership is a textbook example of how to use bald racial appeals to divert attention from massive corruption and incompetence, for which the voters never held them accountable.
    Gerard – First of all, Krugman’s record of pervasive factual dishonesty and easily-checked bad faith is so long it can’t possibly be recounted here.
    Second, the worst damage was done on Granholm’s watch when Michigan was the only state in the union to lose population. Other states came down hard from the Bush-era boom; Granholm engineered a recession during those years, so the state suffered doubly after 2008 because it had built no capital to draw down on.
    Detroit was a laboratory of all the worst instincts of anti-business, anti-law-enforcement, paranoid race-baiting liberalism. Its end was inevitable.

  6. Gerard is spot on re Crank’s “reflexively partisan rant” but we have seen this all before. In fact, Krugman has become Crank’s new Nate Silver. In that case, Crank joined a vocal conservative group who argued that the liberal-leftist pollsters had gotten it all wrong. While less conspiratorial than many of his right wing comrades, Crank was Red State’s point man to take down whom they envisioned as the golden boy of the leftist pollsters and whose work appeared in what best exemplified what they described pejoratively as mainstream medium. When the results revealed the inaccuracy of Crank’s forecast of a Romney victory and that quite the contrary Obama’s victory at least from an electoral perspective was quite significant (332-206), did Crank, who had thrown down the gauntlet when he declared that “Obama was Toast” man up and admit that he had erred. No, he told us that what was most important was that he got the method right and that is all that counts – and this from a conservative.
    Although the context is different the same scenario is here. How better to show the fallacy of liberal economic policy than disproving its “golden boy” also of the NYT and even more a Nobel Prize Winner (which many conservatives firmly believe is part of a liberal cabal). Yet neither Crank nor his conservative compatriots have shown the inaccuracies of Krugman’s fiscal policies arguments or even more so rebutted his claim of the “repeated failure of the(ir) predicted U.S. fiscal crisis to materialize.” In the absence of an attack on his main thesis (certainly not by Crank) the goal is to punch holes elsewhere to the point where one can say – that if he can’t be trusted here why should he be trusted elsewhere. What Crank also does is adopt two other problematic approaches. One is to provide references to other works (the underline stuff) which are designed to support his claim, but when one looks close here and elsewhere they are overwhelming to the writings of conservative columnists and bloggers who offer obviously substantiating statements (although some like Mark Steyn’s is truly polemic) but not evidence. Even the Cato piece which contains facts (some correct) but no proof that they are causal and some of which Krugman would not deny. The second limitation is that Crank does what I call a Limbaugh as Rush is the master of defining his opposition and then rails against his own often inaccurate vision of his opponent. Winning when you establish the rules and are also the judge is quite easy. Note how he begins his piece with a declarative statement – “the failure of Detroit is only the latest dramatic illustration of the practical failure of liberal-progressivism, standing in contrast to the great successes of free markets and conservative governance – that plays well and is a “given” for his Red State audience but where is the proof and is every good and bad that happens in America reduced to this simplistic duality. Nor does Crank deal well if at all with the nuances in Krugman’s assertions, and it quite evident that with respect to Krugman’s writing on Detroit, Greece or Texas Crank misses the main point(s) he is trying to make. There is for example no mention of Krugman’s brief discussion of why Pittsburgh and Detroit took divergent paths. Yet this unfairness in dealing with the other side is not unique to here but it is part of pattern in which Crank also subscribes motive to those he disagrees with. For example I don’t know one liberal who is fearful of missing white voters to return a previous piece. In fact, it would be nice if Crank was force to reveal that he understands the Professor’s argument before he critiques it or charges him with a record of pervasive factual dishonesty.
    While the reasons for Detroit’s collapse cannot be reduced to simplistic formulas, I find the lack of historical context exceedingly problematic, and that the entire issue of white flight is ignored, given Crank’s claim of racialized politics by the left, most revealing. Even before the reported glory year of 1960, Detroit’s population was decreasing for a decade. From 1950 to 1960, Detroit’s population dropped by roughly 10 percent and then it dropped another 10 percent in the next decade. The drop in the city white population was 23.47% from 1950 to 1960; 29.09% from 1960 to 1970; and over 50% in the next decade. While the population of Detroit declined during these years, the population of the Metro area increased by roughly the same amount. Are these facts ignored because conservatives are afraid to have an honest conversation of the influence of race on Detroit’s condition?
    Much more can be said, but as I have claimed we have seen this movie before.

  7. If Detroit, Texas, and Greece don’t provide lessons for Krugman, then what does? We really can’t learn anything about the various successes and failures? This does not seem intellectually valid.
    The statistics about Detroit population attrition noted in the comments above… specifically the white attrition… is that suggesting that whites fled Detroit because of blacks for just being black? Not related to any increase in crime (if such a thing occurred)? Is it to suggest that the resulting demographics could not possibly yield a thriving city or support a turnaround? Because that seems kinda racist.
    The size of public sector retirement benefit costs are crippling. I’ve spent a few years involved in local politics and budgets/financials. The story of Detroit will most certainly play out over and over again, as I’m sure it’s played out through the course of history. One thing seems certain… if we cannot honestly discuss the myriad aspects that led to the seeking of bankruptcy protection, then we will surely learn nothing from it.

  8. The idea that Detroit’s decline was predominately caused by “white flight” isn’t really all that credible. No one’s arguing that there wasn’t racism in Detroit, and no one’s arguing that blacks weren’t also shut out from the suburbs from both covert and overt racism. Of course Detroit’s decline was from multiple factors, but white flight isn’t high on that list, and it’s probably a secondary effect, not a primary one. Krugman’s article, which deals with much more recent job migration, does not focus on white flight either.
    And if you want to have an “honest conversation” about racism in Detroit, you might also mention the UAW, which was no friend to black workers in post-war Detroit.

  9. On one level each situation is unique but another of course is that each situation has the potential to be part of a large whole and therefore serve as the basis for extrapolation. The issue is not that we can’t learn lessons from Detroit, Texas and/or Greece, but rather that we draw the correct one and certainly not the incorrect ones. If I may I will use Greece as the example. When the economic problems in Greece emerged, much if not most of the right wing media on television, print and blogs were filled with the “Chicken Little” scenario that if America continues down the same path of excessive government spending we will “shortly” (never really defined) find ourselves becoming another Greece. (In defense of Crank I have never seen him weigh in on this point). Such a vision played well against their advocacy for a policy of austerity rather than a policy of job creation through the adoption of Keynesian economics. I think we know which side of the coin Krugman was on in this debate (I side with Krugman) but this is a valid intellectual debate. However, Krugman went further than this and this is the crux of the issue of equivalency. He argued that within the context of this debate events within in Greece is a non-player since in terms of size, scope and significance Greece had minimal (virtually none) impact on world economic policy. To use Greece as an exemplar would be the equivalent, to use an example appropriate for this blog, of saying that the financially problems could be effectively used to understand similar problems with the New York Yankees. If one wants to challenge Krugman on this point let them do so, but I have yet to see it. Thus, yes Greece may serve as a lesson, but it need not be and probably doesn’t validate the right wing narrative regarding austerity.
    As for my bringing Detroit’s population into the equation, let me begin by reiterating that I stated that the “reasons for Detroit’s collapse cannot be reduced to simplistic formulas” and this includes race in my view. What I was responding to was two points: (1) the notion that appears in some of the articles Crank cites that Detroit was at some golden stage by 1960 and began to decline only afterward; (2) Crank’s charge that “the (note not “a”) chorus of left-wingers engaged in arguing that Detroit was done in by conservative racists rather than the actions of its own wholly Democratic, wholly liberal government and population over the past six decades.” There is no question that some left wingers have gone over the top but conversely there is no mention of race – as if it played no role – in the assessment of the right wing vision.
    In this context let me state that nowhere in my comments do I ever reduce white flight merely to race and racism but again we would be naïve to believe that did not play a part as virtually all histories of Detroit reveal that racial tensions had been mounting since even before World War II. The more critical point is that the population decline in the 1950s raises challenges to the narrative of once great city brought down by liberal politicians, greedy unionists or retirement benefits (or what conservatives narrative of Detroit’s collapse).
    In essence, the decline in Detroit’s population and the dramatic alterations in its social and racial composition did in my view dramatically impact the financial viability of the city and if it wasn’t the sole cause of its economic woes it does appear to be an important one. More again to the main issue of Detroit as an exemplar? If Detroit is to be a harbinger of things to come, then conditions elsewhere must be the same (or sufficiently close), but the question that I mildly pose with the population theme is are they the same? Krugman likewise did what good scholars do, adopted a comparative framework and asked why conditions are different in Pittsburgh “another former industrial giant whose glory days have passed” and he finds one of the influences the difference in the percentage of the number of jobs in the inner core of the respective cities. Given the variations between the cities and that Detroit’s population changes was far more the exception than the rule is it not possible to claim that the Motor City was the exception, the product of its distinctive history.
    No one has denied the problem of the “size of public sector retirement benefit costs” and I suspect there are many of who are willing to honestly discuss the issue. However, more critical than discussing the issue is the willingness of each side to reach an accommodation so a solution can be constructed. Personally, given the rhetoric of most the right regarding public service employees and their vision of much of society as “moochers and takers,” I am not optimistic that one can be reached in the near future.
    As I finished my response to Mr. Rice, I saw the one from MVH- so a few additional quick points.
    1.Again I did not say Detroit’s decline was predominately caused by “white flight.” (see comment that it can’t be reduced to simplistic formulas). I argue that Detroit experienced fairly dramatic population decline in the decades between 1950 and 1980 and this had contoured if did not cause its economic situation, far more I suspect than you are willing to give credit.
    2. As for Krugman his focus is mainly on the present, but the financial difficulties have been well underway since the middle of the previous century
    3. Maybe no one is arguing that there wasn’t racism in Detroit, but if you can find it in the accounts of contemporary conservative explanations of the situation (even to a minor extent) you are a better man than I am. Please don’t just send one if you have, I need a few if they exist.
    4. I absolute agree about the racism of the UAW, but given their importance in Detroit life doesn’t it at least hint to the fact that race was more than just something that was sitting on the sideline.

  10. Melvin,
    You state:
    “I argue that Detroit experienced fairly dramatic population decline in the decades between 1950 and 1980 and this had contoured if did not cause its economic situation, far more I suspect than you are willing to give credit.”
    I agreed with you that obviously Detriot’s decline was due to multiple factors. My major problem with your argument is that your connection between “population decline,” “white flight” and race is based on two questionable assumptions, one is dubious, the other is debatable.
    Let’s review your argument: “I find the lack of historical context exceedingly problematic, and that the entire issue of white flight is ignored . . . . Even before the reported glory year of 1960, Detroit’s population was decreasing for a decade. From 1950 to 1960, Detroit’s population dropped by roughly 10 percent and then it dropped another 10 percent in the next decade. The drop in the city white population was 23.47% from 1950 to 1960; 29.09% from 1960 to 1970; and over 50% in the next decade. While the population of Detroit declined during these years, the population of the Metro area increased by roughly the same amount. Are these facts ignored because conservatives are afraid to have an honest conversation of the influence of race on Detroit’s condition?”
    Critically, this entire argument assumes that the population of the Detroit metro area is fixed and permanent for all time, so that any loss of population from the core to the periphery is irreplaceable. Was there some sort of Berlin wall around the area? You ignore the fact these population vacancies in the core can simply be filled by new residents who enter from other areas of country.
    The issue is not why white people fled the urban core, but why these vacancies in the core weren’t filled by other people. And the biggest reason, as far as I am concerned, is the loss of jobs due to primarily micro and macroeconomic factors, with racism and political dysfunction as contributing, but mostly secondary factors.
    Detroit’s population growth in the first place was largely due to the availability of jobs. That’s what lured the southern blacks to north in the middle of last century. So with fewer jobs in Detroit as its comparative advantage declined, fewer out-of-area workers were drawn to the area to replace the growing hole in the core.
    The decline in jobs only served to heighten racial tensions that already existed in Detroit. In fact,
    didn’t Obama just state that racial tensions rise when the slice of the economic pie is smaller?
    The second and more minor problem with your argument is it suggests, if not directly states, that “white flight” to the suburbs was substantially motivated by racism. Certainly some of it might have been, but many people who can afford to do so move to the suburbs for a bigger house, bigger lawn, etc.

  11. I am sorry that the focus of my criticism of Crank’s another attack on Krugman has centered on one small part of my argument of whether Detroit (as was Greece and Texas) truly have their unique explanations quite different from the conservative cabal (in my mind).
    Let’s return to Detroit and population developments. The purpose here was to offset the argument that appears in the supportive articles that Detroit in 1960 was a “golden city” with the implication that with the rise of the Great Society (and all this means) decline ensued. My purpose was to show that decline was already underway and that in contrast to Crank’s claim that liberals always charge “racism”, conservatives seem to ignore its influence. On this point MVH believes I have overstated its influence although he admits that it was a contributing but secondary factor. I have no problem with this as long as “secondary” is not read as “minor” and I suspect we would disagree on the level in which racism influenced job creation. As I said when we both agree that a major social and economic institution – the UAW – was racist, there must be some connection. I would like to add an aside – appropriate to this blog – was it coincidental that the Detroit Tigers was the last team save for the dreaded Bosox to sign an African-American player and is it coincidental that the 1950s was period of decline for the Motown team as 6 times in this decade they fell under .500.
    As for population movement (maybe a more comforting word than ‘white flight’) we have a clearer understanding of this process. Suburbanization had been going on in America long before the end of World War II but it clearly intensified afterwards, especially by the 1950s. Given the widespread movement, I had no desire to imply that relocation was rooted solely or even mainly in racism, but where we see the dramatic declines at the same level as Detroit (see Cleveland for example) we see similar trends.
    I am glad to see MVH admit that “Certainly some of it might have been” connected to racism and I have no problem with his assertion “but many people who can afford to do so move(d) to the suburbs for a bigger house, bigger lawn, etc.” as I am old enough to remember Levittown. In fact, what characterized this new wave of suburbanization was the emergence of a new and generally ethnic middle class with more money in their pockets than previously and with new technologies that allowed them to move from place to place either by car or mass transportation.
    I don’t deny that I ignored “why these vacancies in the core weren’t filled by other people.” Having written more than enough I did not want to turn this into a treatise on Detroit’s history but I do want to emphasize – although did not state so specifically – that the shrinking population and the change in its economic composition produced a shrinking revenue base long before the “pension crisis”
    Now to MVH’s point that the main issue is “why these vacancies in the core weren’t filled by other people,” and he asserts that “the biggest reason, as far as I am concerned, is the loss of jobs due to primarily micro and macroeconomic factors, with racism and political dysfunction as contributing, but mostly secondary.” I have no qualms with this claim, nor do I suspect would Krugman as he sees market forces as a presence in its Detroit’s current crisis. In a capitalistic society, could it be other. What I would argue is that micro and macroeconomic factors do not take place in a social/cultural vacuum and I suspect from everything MVH says he recognizes this point. But the implication of this recognition may vary. Since I don’t want to words in his view, I will state my position. Here social/cultural factors cannot be seen merely as the backdrop against which economic influences take place, but must be seen as infused within this category. To the extent that racial views are present (MVH is correct that the decline in jobs heighten racial tensions, but it is equally true that the racial divide in Detroit was quite strong even before the second half of the twentieth century) it contours the decisions of policy makers whether it be unions, politicians, baseball owners and car makers. In essence, job creation cannot be seen in simply “classical” economic terms and while race may have been a secondary factor it does not mean that it was not an influential one.
    Yes Detroit did not attract newcomers because of the loss of jobs but again I think we err if we don’t comprehend the role race played in this development. The larger point for me is that I share Krugman’s contention that we are simplistic at best, mistaken at worse if we reduce Detroit’s demise to “fundamentally a tale of fiscal irresponsibility and/or greedy public employees.” The picture is more complex.

  12. I always enjoy people writing about Detroit’s demise and ignore so many of the actual issues. The failure of Detroit and the tri-county area is a fifty year road paved with poor and divisive long term decisions. Crank blames racism in Detroit. But only hints at Coleman Young but ignores Orville Hubbard and L. Brooks Patterson (wonder why), the area’s history of racial strife did not start in 1968 and is not limited to just Detroit. Another major issue is auto companies not allowing diversification of technology in the area. Just imagine if the Big 3 had allowed a true mass transit system to be developed in the the area, they would be reaping the benefits today as this is a huge revenue stream for companies. Or even heavily invested in the local Universities to create a innovation center for engineering (they all chose to do it in house). The list is long what lead Detroit down this road. But if you only look at what is convenient to your political leaning just stay out of the debate. Because you just only show you have no clue and are just lazy.

  13. I am not certain whether javaman is addressing anyone specific or a cumulative group. I agree that much of the writings on Detroit have lacked depth of analysis, but truth be told what we see in the press and the blogs is not designed to be detailed treatises on the topic although most are surely polemical.
    I have reservation of Crank’s critique of Krugman and by implication of some of his understanding of Detroit, but he did not blame racism for the problems. Quite the contrary, I believe that wrongly he pays virtually no attention to the theme giving the impression that it was not a factor. On the other hand, I have tried to give it a more influential role in Detroit’s destiny. What is indisputable, as javaman rightly notes, is that racial strife did not start in 1968 and if anyone wants to get a thoughtful vision of how this played out in Jazz Age Detroit I would strongly recommend Kevin Boyle’s outstanding book Arc of Justice.
    As for the other issues javaman raises I am not sufficiently knowledgeable to comment but my suspicion is that there is merit to the claim. What is indisputable is that what led Detroit down its current path is complex, interconnected and nuanced. What it is not is something that can be reduced as Krugman rightfully asserted to fundamentally a tale of fiscal irresponsibility and/or greedy public employees.

  14. Melvin,
    My point is more to people who simplify the problems of Detroit or try and limit other significant factors in it’s current troubles. It took a whole lot of cooks to make this soup.
    As a point MVH points on white flight. White Flight caused significant damage to the city. The best way to explain why white flight is so damaging. Imagine if a large portion of the institutional knowledge of the company you worked just up and left in two years period and those people never shared or trained their replacements. What you end up with is an informational and leadership vacuum. Also, during white flight the cities they moved in were in the same size houses on the same salaries. The myth is it was for greener pastures but then explain the rock throwing and protesting school integration?

  15. javaman,
    Wait a minute – it’s one thing to argue that whites fled to the suburbs, but it’s quite another to suggest that they also left their jobs in the city. My suspicion is that they kept their jobs, and if anything, changed jobs only when the industry went downhill. I also suspect that the new jobs that arose in suburbs were not manufacturing jobs, but rather service-related jobs.

  16. Gentlemen:
    I agree that there is in the conservative blogsphere a simplification of Detroit’s troubles. As for white flight, I accept that many people did leave for greener pastures both literally and figuratively. Yet this recognition does not mean that the issue of race is absent as conservatives would like us to believe as the image of the suburb with its picket fence was always one in which “others” (read mainly African-Americans but at other times other groups) are absent. In essence, the attraction and value (both monetary and psychological) was not just its physical structure but who was there and who wasn’t.
    MVH is probably correct that white flight did not mean they left their city jobs, at least not immediately. I must confess I have never seen data on this and I suspect how this played out varied from city to city. Also the relationship of how this played out over time (I am speaking here of one or two decades) must be understood against the backdrop of a host of other social and economic alterations. Yet that said the negative impact that javaman asserts for white flight, I strongly suspect, is real particularly as it relates to loss revenue. While commuters paid city taxes on their salaries, money was loss in a variety of ways including such simplistic ways as guys now quickly leaving work for the long journey home rather than staying around and having a beer with his buddies. His wife did not spend grocery money in the city; and only came to city’s large department stores on special occasions. Very bluntly when nearly 50 percent of the white population leaves in two decades it profoundly influences the city’s revenues, and despite Crank’s belief that shrewd conservative pro-business policies would have solved the problem – not with this revenue base. In addition, I am willing to guess that the shifting demographics drained the coffers of cities as states and federal money were often reallocated from urban areas to suburban one

  17. Crank isn’t oversimplifying this. If he was, his response to my first post would have been very different. If you want oversimplification, you can find any number of liberal blogs that will blame racism for just about everything – and I’m saying that as a moderate.
    Racism was obviously a problem in Detroit, but in terms of Detroit’s decline, it’s not terribly significant. Racism was a constant in Detroit, not a variable. As all of you have admitted, racism was a problem in Detroit during its golden years – even with riots. Yet, somehow, the core of the city thrived economically.
    Detroit’s decline was primarily due to economic competition in a one-industry city, and it hard to argue then a pro-business government wouldn’t have made a difference.

  18. This is close, but doesn’t seem totally accurate:
    “Detroit’s decline was primarily due to economic competition in a one-industry city…”
    If a fire started in the basement of a home, and was allowed to rage unchecked until an entire neighborhood burned down, would we say the destruction was primarily due to the basement fire? The fact that the auto industry didn’t abandon the U.S., just Detroit, is also problematic.
    The ABC Afterschool Special understanding of “white flight” in these comments is especially weak. White flight is not a cause of municipal dysfunction, it’s a response. It’s not pleasant for the family fleeing. It’s awful. It’s done reluctantly. Most liberals have never had to uproot their family and abandon the city their family called home for generations. From afar they tsk-tsk at the reluctance of parents to do the right thing and expose their children to crime and deteriorating schools, and pay escalating taxes for services they’ll never use, so that dad can stick around ‘train his replacement (??)’ What a cynically politicized reimagining of a dreadful experience endured by millions of American families in the 20th century.
    How many liberal whites remain in Detroit?

  19. CJ,
    If you are suggesting that the politicians in Detroit let the “basement fire” of the declining auto industry get out of control, I disagree with the analogy. The politicians certainly could have helped, but they didn’t have -that- much control over the outcome in Detroit. And yes, the auto industry did move to other parts of the US, and I covered that in my first post
    As for the white flight issue, we pretty much agree, but I don’t assume that it was necessarily a hardship for those who moved the suburbs. It might have been for some. I suspect that there isn’t a dominant reason for the general move to the suburbs. It happened in many other urban cities in circumstances much different than Detroit’s.

  20. MVH,
    The circumstances behind white flight are pretty much universal: the neighborhoods became a bad place to raise a family. Even in cities that retained decent downtowns like Philadelphia, where young and/or childless citizens could find a decent quality of life, the surrounding neighborhoods – the stabilizing force of American cities – became uninhabitable for families.
    There is something patronizing about shielding Detroit citizens from blame for what happened to Detroit. Blaming everyone and everything for its appalling condition except for the people who live there and run it. I don’t think that’s realistic or helpful. It’s definitely not helpful to just repeat the same excuses that have been used for decades.

  21. I wouldn’t make that sweeping of a statement, but that’s certainly a reason to move to the suburbs. And to the extent Detroit (and other cities) became bad environments, dsyfunctional families in particular bear a good part of the blame. Where I tend to part ways with conservatives is the extent to which politicians are to blame for that and the extent to whch politics can fix that.

  22. Getting back into the thread here
    1) My point about race is, essentially, not that black Democrats in Detroit were uniquely racist but that their use of racial politics shielded them from accountability for ruinous public policy. This has always been a problem with politicians who play the race card (the South was not well-governed in the years when it was a 1-party Democratic fiefdom) but the returns on race-baiting with white voters have been diminishing steeply for decades now; there’s nowhere in the US where white politicians can be insulated both from inter-party and intra-party competition solely by playing the race card. Sadly, that’s not the case in places like Detroit, and the resulting lack of accountability was one of the root causes of the city’s failure. When you look at places like neighboring Oakland County you see the kind of government that results from more accountability for performance.
    2) “Most liberals have never had to uproot their family and abandon the city their family called home for generations.” Actually, many did in NY. Some ceased to be liberals, at least until the City fixed its crime problem.
    3) Krugman was wrong in his selective use of history in the Keynsian/”austerity” debate. His frame of reference makes no allowance for what happens when you turn off the spigots.
    And here’s another wonderful example of Krugman being selective with data if you drill into the examples he includes and excludes.

  23. MVH – I don’t think there’s that much that government can do to fix dysfunctional families. I do think there’s a lot government can do and has done to cause them.

  24. Getting back to Krugman myself, I don’t like his Greece columns for many of the reasons you do – he forgives Greece its massive debt because it happened to spend it on a social safety net, which he assumes is the right thing to do, apparently, regardless of the national economy.
    I just read his Texas column – I didn’t find his Texas column terrible – I don’t agree with all of it – but I wouldn’t make Texas a poster child either.
    But it does shed some light on what’s wrong with the whole anti-sprawl movement. Texas housing costs are low largely due to low population density, especially compared to the northeast. I had a friend move down to Texas primarily due to housing.
    But if low population density makes places cheaper to live for the relatively less-well-off, encouraging greater population density by eliminating sprawl will price the poor right out of the very housing market in which they should supposedly be living. Does anyone believe that affordable housing – if priced at market rates – will be located within walking distance of the railway or very close to jobs in the city center? Unlikely. And this, I believe, is what worries conservatives, that cities will force subsidized housing in those areas, just as they wish to in the suburbs.
    Krugman apparently thinks this is a laudable goal because, citing a study: “When the researchers looked for factors that correlate with low or high social mobility, they found . . . one obvious candidate. They did find a significant correlation with the existing level of inequality: “areas with a smaller middle class had lower rates of upward mobility.”
    But when you look at the abstract of the study to which he links, look what the study also states:
    “Some of the strongest predictors of upward mobility are correlates of social capital and family
    structure. For instance, high upward mobility areas tended to have higher fractions of religious
    individuals and fewer children raised by single parents. Each of these correlations remained strong even after controlling for measures of tax expenditures.”
    No way! Who would have guessed that??

  25. “Where I tend to part ways with conservatives is the extent to which politicians are to blame for that and the extent to whch politics can fix that.”
    Ah. Without a doubt, politics (and politicians) follow culture. And ultimately, what sends a city from a prolonged slump into a death spiral is culture – when the number of single-parent homes reaches a tipping point. It means tax revenue can’t keep up with the necessary spending of tax dollars to keep such a culture functioning. Families need ever more services for basic needs, schools become money pits, crime and drugs….everything that requires a local government to spend more money becomes commonplace.
    So, no, can’t blame a liberal government for not making a dysfunctional culture functional. But the liberal politicians running it? The ones who got elected cycle after cycle promising to subsidize the dysfunction and undermining every effort to address it? You bet I’ll blame them for the result. Inner city communities with illegitimacy rates of more than 90% don’t happen in a vacuum. Human nature and the urge to break free of societal restraints is the ever present seed for such destruction, but it needs to nurtured and protected. It couldn’t survive, let alone thrive, on its own. That’s you get from 10%-20% to 90% (not the rate of black Americans as a whole which is about 72%, but the rate in the most dysfunctional areas.)
    As for white flight, I don’t know what is your experience with it, or your understanding. I suspect you believe there are a significant number of cases when white families find themselves living among a growing number of two-parent, functioning black households but choose to uproot due to nothing but Archie Bunker racism? Statistically, this would not be possible. The reality is much closer to what I outlined. It’s real and it’s usually painful.

  26. *”Most liberals have never had to uproot their family and abandon the city their family called home for generations.” Actually, many did in NY. Some ceased to be liberals, at least until the City fixed its crime problem.*
    Let’s say “Most liberal critics have never….”

  27. CJ,
    “I suspect you believe there are a significant number of cases when white families find themselves living among a growing number of two-parent, functioning black households but choose to uproot due to nothing but Archie Bunker racism?”
    No – I covered that earlier above – my suspicion is that there is no dominant reason. I wouldn’t jump to the conclusion that it is all because of dysfunction or that all the moves were necessarily heart-wrenching. Some may want a bigger house, bigger yard, etc.

  28. Javaman,
    I read the article you linked, and the link within the article. What’s there that hasn’t been covered in one or more of everyone’s posts above? You’ve presented no counterarguments to anyone’s analysis. If your argument is that “the guy lived in Detroit so he must be right,” that’s not going to persuade anyone on here.

  29. MVH,,
    I don’t think folks generally include moves based on the desire for a bigger house as “white flight.” I agree that such a move is not exactly traumatic.
    I always took “white flight” to mean families that uproot before they would have absent the decline in quality of life.

  30. CJ,
    My suggestion is that what many people are calling “white flight” could have been for any number of different reasons. The fact that the exodus to the suburbs was mainly white people, especially in the post-war, is not all that surprising. Had they not been poor and generally excluded from the suburbs, I’m sure many black people would have joined them.

  31. Javaman – Surely, you can’t believe the hackwork in those articles, it’s just a series of assertions and in some cases a complete failure to consider who made the city’s spending decisions or how the union and other labor rules contributed to the automakers’ flight from the city. His Point #2 is just totally laughable – he basically blames the very existence of for-profit business! What a crock.
    As for “white flight,” the term seems to have somewhat elastic meaning. Sometimes it’s perjorative to ascribe to racism the decision to move to a bigger house in a suburb, sometimes it just lumps in all the demographic shifts. Certainly it’s clear that white residents fled Detroit at levels rarely seen in other cities, and that eventually the black middle class followed them.

  32. MVH:
    I think your response to Javaman’s comments are unnecessarily “snarky” and unfortunately problematic.
    There is much that appears in this article that has not been stated in this blog. For example, while some have noted that the reason for Detroit’s problems are likely more complex than the initial reasons Crank offers, Scott Martelle’s portrait is somewhat more detailed. To be fair, Martelle is less concerned here with explaining the interacting influence – although he gives hint – which caused the decline and concentrates more on the explicating what didn’t cause the decline and it is here that his piece contributes. I think he is alone is removing blame from the UAW and he takes on the often conservative claim that public pensions were a major reason for Detroit’s demise. Of course like myself he wants to push back on the onset of Detroit’s decline from the late 1960s (where Crank it appears wants to pick up the story) too something that had much older roots. I think the additional comments by James Melton have utility as well as it also challenges some of the popular explanations particularly as it relates to race and race relations,
    The fact that Martelle came from Detroit is less the issue than he reported on the Detroit scene and that he produced on book on the city. This does not automatically makes his analysis correct but it does make his observations more interesting than the often off the cuff and uninformed views of the comments made on many of the blogs.
    Finally, in a different vein the issue is not whether African-Americans would have moved to the suburbs weren’t they “generally” excluded but that they were almost without exception excluded until late in the twentieth century.
    This brings me to Cranks comments on the same point. It is true that white flight (in fact I would say more than sometimes) has a pejorative connotation to it in that it sees white movement out of the city as influenced by racial dynamics, but the critical issue is whether the assertion is correct. Since the desire to explain demographic changes as either solely determine by race or the desire for a bigger home is simplistic, I will take my differences with MVH/Crank as one of degrees rather than absolutes, with me viewing race as a more influential component and they seeing it as a lesser one, although Crank acknowledges that white Detroiters fled the city but he can’t go as far to acknowledge that race was a highly influential reason for their action. I have two problems with their position: (a) they need to explain why these folks didn’t look for bigger and better homes within the city; (b) the bigger and better home explanation runs smack up against the size and scope of the population movement (nearly half the white population in two decades from 1950-1970) to say nothing of the racial issue that already existed in Detroit to accept a vision of these individuals as an earlier day George Jefferson who “just wanted to move on up.” I find the last part his remarks here – “that eventually the black middle class followed them” – likewise problematic. At a basic level this seems like a factual correct statement, but it is at the textual level with which I have difficulties. The reference to a latter black middle class is design to give affirmation to a universal desire of all groups for improvement and thus reduce the role of race as if the movement of more than 725,000 folks in two decades was mainly, albeit maybe not entirely, driven by the desire for a better place. The limitation here is that “eventually” was nearly a quarter century later. For more, the change in the timing changes the context in which the events took place and the change in context produces a change in the meanings. Yes middle class African-Americans moved increasingly to the suburbs by the late 1970s and early 1980s, but by this time the nature and the meanings of the suburb had been altered from what it was 25 years earlier.
    Finally, I chuckled at Crank’s claim that the articles Javaman cites is “just a series of assertions.” While most blogs fall into this category (to be fair Crank at times is more detailed) and this includes the host of conservative commentators on the internet with respect to this topic including the one here. One finds the assertion that Detroit was once a great city followed by a litany of its current problems and maybe an assertion that the fault rest with some liberal (fill in your pet peeve) flaw. There is nothing approaching a detailed analysis here. If one wants to read a thoughtful one I would recommend Thomas Sugrue’s The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit, but conservatives be forewarned that the book was written by an academic who teaches at an elitist Ivy League school and you know you can’t trust these kind of people (OK – I apologize for being “snarky” here). As noted above Martelle’s piece was not designed to explain why things happened but to raise questions of the conventional wisdom. The only place that he veers from this in point 2 but for me the drawbacks are different from what he suggests as when he says “the real culprit” as if Detroit’s demise can be reduced to a single factor or NAFTA (problematic as that may be) given that by Clinton’s time the barn door had long been open. However, Crank’s rebuttal – which is short and thereby understandably devoid of explication – has the usual ring to the conservative explanation – it’s the unions fault. While it would be silly to see the union in this equation as blameless it is equally silly to see it as the major cause of the “automakers’ flight from the city.” This was far more the confluence of a variety of economic, technological and social transformations that were ongoing since the end of World War II. Moreover is Martelle inaccurate in his assertion that there were federal policies that “put corporate health ahead of community health.” Martelle may come across as more strident than the case warrants, but where I would like a better balance between the two, Crank seems to feel that anyone who advocates this must be anti-business although unlike some of his conservative colleagues he at least doesn’t call us socialists.
    Crank is surely entitled to his jab but his own vision offers a far too narrow explanation to capture the dynamic, complex and interacting influences that contributed to Detroit’s current situation.

  33. Actually, my post was relatively “snarkless” compared to Javaman’s.
    As I mentioned, racism was a constant in Detroit, not a variable. It was there during the height of its boom, with riots. That’s what undercuts that idea that race was very influential factor in Detroit’s decline.
    As to your other issues: since the city is by nature a city, densely populated, etc. – it’s a bit hard to find bigger houses, bigger lawns, etc in cities.
    As to the extent of the population shift, I don’t see that as a red flag signaling a generally racist exodus. Unless you are suggesting the Detroit was more racist than other cities, which I doubt you are, then this shift is better explained – over time – as a general response to declining jobs in the city.

  34. MVH
    The fact that race and racism was present beforehand (what you call constant) does not negate it as an influence (or what I see as how you are using the variable). Changes in time and thus changes in context alter how race and racism interplay with other factors. As such, I remain firm in my assertion that within the context of post WWII Detroit, race and racism had an important influence on the migration of whites out of the city, with the movement being one of the facilitators of Detroit’s decline. I just want to reemphasize that I did not say that race or racism was the causal factor in the movement but surely a contributory one
    What you write about cities is correct, but I would be curious (as I don’t know) what intercity housing relocation did take place in this period. Yet to reiterate the suburb movement was motivated by more than just a desire for a bigger home and a lovely lawn, but by a variety of social/psychological influences. In a city where race and race issues were already playing out are we really to believe that this was not one of them.
    I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about how racism in Detroit compares to other cities. What can be said is that by 1950 the percentage of African-Americans in Detroit was among the highest of American cities, exceeded only by Baltimore, St. Louis and Philadelphia. However, your assertion that if I can’t show that racism was more prevalent in Detroit than elsewhere I must reject its importance. This is not accurate because while racism was prevalent everywhere (albeit to different degrees) the dynamics of how it played out was contoured by local conditions. In essence, race and racism does not exist as an entity onto itself but constantly in interaction with the context (and thus the meanings ) it is situated in. What we do know is that race and racism was a source of severe tension ever since the northern migration of African-Americans to the Motor City starting around the 1920s, exploded into a race riot in 1943 and remained pretty virulent for the remainder of the 1940s. Under these conditions are we to truly believe that race and racism was only a minor influence at best for why white Detroiters left the city in such significant numbers?
    I have always stated that a variety of interacting influences contributed to Detroit’s decline, including job losses, but on one level job losses were as much the result of the movement as its cause (although I must confess that cause and effect explanation of human events are most often limited). I do believe that I read that the relocation of some auto plants to the suburbs was underway by the 1950s and if this did not cause the initial movement it certainly gave it a dramatic booster shot. Yet if this was the case it raises problems with Crank’s larger assertion that Detroit’s failure was the product of a liberal-progressive vision unless he can demonstrate that this initial drop in population and jobs were also caused by what he sees as this orientation. Also while the suburban movement was influenced by a host of economic/technological and societal changes, Martelle is not wrong to point out they were also aided by policy decisions at all governmental levels, and that these decision impacted the winners and losers with Detroit being a loser. Unless Crank can demonstrate otherwise I also accept that in the battle between business and community, the policies more often than not aided the former than the latter. Crank can argue that this is how it should be, but it is more difficult to illustrate that these policies generally did not prove detrimental to Detroit.

  35. “Why the fuck would anyone listen to you, of all people, talk about free markets?”
    Note the list of reasons given by Crank, folks.
    I wholeheartedly agree, there are no reasons.

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