Death by Democracy

By Mark T. Mitchell for FRONT PORCH REPUBLIC

George Will argues that Detriot was killed by democracy.

Detroit, which boomed during World War II when industrial America was “the arsenal of democracy,” died of democracy. Today, among the exculpatory alibis invoked to deflect blame from the political class and the docile voters who empowered it, is the myth that Detroit is simply a victim of “de-industrialization.” In 1950, however, Detroit and Chicago were comparable — except Detroit was probably wealthier, as measured by per capita income. Chicago, too, lost manufacturing jobs, to the American South, to south of the border, to South Korea and elsewhere. But Chicago discerned the future and diversified. It is grimly ironic that Chicago’s iconic street is Michigan Avenue.

Detroit’s population, which is 62 percent smaller than in 1950, has contracted less than the United Auto Workers membership, which once was 1.5 million and now is around 390,000. Auto industry executives, who often were invertebrate mediocrities, continually bought labor peace by mortgaging their companies’ futures in surrenders to union demands. Then city officials gave their employees — who have 47 unions, including one for crossing guards — pay scales comparable to those of autoworkers. Thus did private-sector decadence drive public-sector dysfunction — government negotiating with government-employees’ unions that are government organized as an interest group to lobby itself to do what it wants to do: Grow.

Democratic forms alone are insufficient. Majority rule–apart from stable governing institutions and a moral consensus that tempers, moderates, and directs individual and corporate action–is a recipe for disorder and collapse. An extreme example: a couple nights ago we watched The Oxbow Incident with Henry Fonda. The language of democracy is present. Majority rule is respected. Injustice is the outcome.

The goal of any democratic society must be to cultivate and preserve the pre-democratic mores and structures upon which democracy depends. Once they are gone, the story of Detriot will be, with minor variations, the story of us all. Given the entitlement crisis ahead, perhaps the story has already been written.

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