Eminent domain and the decline of Detroit

Ilya Somin reports:

Detroit’s sixty year decline, culminating in its recent bankruptcy, has many causes. But one that should not be ignored is the city’s extensive use of eminent domain to transfer property to politically influential private interests. For many years, Detroit aggressively used eminent domain to promote “economic development” and “urban renewal.” The most notorious example was the 1981 Poletown case, in which some 4000 people lost their homes, and numerous businesses were forced to move in order to make way for a General Motors factory. As I explained in this article, the Poletown takings – like many other similar condemnations – ended up destroying far more development than they ever created. In his prescient dissent in Poletown, Michigan Supreme Court Justice James Ryan warned that there was no real reason to expect that the project would produce the growth promised by GM and noted that Detroit and the court had “subordinated a constitutional right to private corporate interests.”

Here is a bit more.


I thought subordinating constitutional rights to private corporate interests was the way of governing in the USA these days. If so, the only thing remarkable about the Poletown case is that it was pretty early (1981).

Besides which, I suspect that the guys who profited from this have long moved on to greener pastures...

Well, it is funny that a population center had to relocate...for a factory...that makes cars.

I thought subordinating constitutional rights to private corporate interests was the way of governing in the USA these days.

No, subordinating constitutional rights to government interests is the way of governing in the US these days.

The detail I want to know is how much the 4000 people got paid back then.

Looking at Detroit's current state, a forced sell-out back then may not have been an entirely bad deal for them.


"The detail I want to know is how much the 4000 people got paid back then"

Funny you would ask. As it turns out it was 1,362 households and 3,438 people. it turns out that the Poletown project was (and remains) a success.

From "Give thanks for Poletown"

By John Mogk, Professor of Law, Wayne Law School

"Crain's May 12 special section on GM at 100 perpetuates the misguided notion that building the Poletown plant in the early 1980s was bad for Detroit and Hamtramck. Readers are to take comfort in the fact that “a law change in 2004 guaranteed that what happened in Hamtramck in 1981 won't happen again.” Such comfort is bogus.

What happened was that 4,200 residents were paid 200 percent of the value of their homes in a declining neighborhood, along with thousands of dollars more in relocation assistance, to make way for a 3.6 million-square-foot plant in an attempt to preserve thousands of high-paying jobs on the factory floor and five times as many jobs in local suppliers when GM's World War I plants on the city's southwest side were to be closed. At the time, Detroit's unemployment rate was 18 percent, more than twice what it is today.

The project was supported by the archdiocese, UAW, governor, state Legislature, major newspapers and virtually all local civic, political and business leaders. What these leaders saw was that a city that had grown to 140 square miles from 1806 through 1926 through a topsy-turvy array of annexations designed to support the economy of the late 1800s and early 1900s would have to be restructured to prevent rapid decline in the new world economy of the 21st century. They were right.

With a city built up around small factories and shops, neighborhoods must be altered through land assembly to make room for research campuses, and manufacturing and processing facilities of several hundred acres or more, if major development is to occur beyond the city's waterfront and downtown. These sites do not exist, even though there are 50 square miles of vacant land in Detroit. Land speculators and some home owners unwilling to accept fair market value for their property stand in the way of rebuilding Detroit's heartland with a formidable 21st century job base.

Urban farming on a large scale is seriously being proposed. While the production of wholesome food is a good use of vacant lots or parks, it is unlikely to lift many, if any, out of poverty or into the middle class. Turning the Arsenal of Democracy into the breadbasket of local impoverished neighborhoods essentially turns the clock back to the farming subsistence of 1806.

Those who are giving thanks that Poletown can never happen again should think again."

Extremists on the left and right opposed Poletown back then and still do. That doesn't make them right.

Thanks Peter!

At "200 percent of the value of their homes in a declining neighborhood, along with thousands of dollars more in relocation assistance" that boondoggle sounds more and more a handout than gross injustice.

I dunno if I can sympathize with these "4000 people lost their homes" any more.

I'd "lose" my home in a jiffy too if you paid me double-the-price like that!

The market value of my home is under $100.

The value of my home to me, however, is a different thing. I own it outright and it is in a community where I have support and where the cost of living is such that my lifestyle is appreciably better than it would be in a house that cost $200 somewhere else.

These folks didn't just lose their homes. They lost their neighbors and their community and their history. They lost any network they had developed -- the old lady next door who watches the kids so mom can work, the grandmother down the street close enough that you can look out for her without putting her in a home, the guy you get a ride in to work with. I don't know that any of this was common in this area, but I'd bet it was.

I'm still pretty sympathetic. Seems to me you don't have to bulldoze a neighborhood to build a factory. Why not just bulldoze the old factory? I'm guessing because that would have cost more, right?


I would sell my house for a 100% premium in a second. However, the larger question is whether it was good public policy. In my view the answer is yes.

However, let me ask you a question.

First, let me apologize for my presumption (true? untrue?) that you are qualified to answer questions about India.

I have the strong impression that the lack of eminent domain (or legal obstacles to using eminent domain) has been a material obstacle to India's economic development. A corollary is that the Indian legal system is a material obstacle to getting anything done.

True? Untrue?


>>>First, let me apologize for my presumption (true? untrue?) that you are qualified to answer questions about India.<<>>I have the strong impression that the lack of eminent domain (or legal obstacles to using eminent domain) has been a material obstacle to India’s economic development. <<<

True. More slow legal processes than a hole in the basic laws. The State enjoys powers fairly similar to eminent domain but the implementation, legal stays, delays, yo-yo'ing judicial ruling etc. are the true bottlenecks.

>>> A corollary is that the Indian legal system is a material obstacle to getting anything done. -<<<

Probably true too.

If the project was sincerely offering twice the price like the claim there, why did they even need to use eminent domain so broadly? A holdout here and there I could see, but to use it that broadly suggests that the valuations on the homes were squirrelly. Or the article is incorrect (whether purposeful or not is open to question).


To avoid holdouts I assume. In any case, if they are prepared to use eminent domain against any one who is a hold out, it makes sense to just start with a blanket eminent domain against all. No difference.


The applicable law at the time allowed a fast track mechanism to be used (and was used). Title was transferred immediately (weeks) with compensation to be resolved later. Many articles were published (then and later) about the Poletown project and very few references to unjust or inadequate compensation show up.

Not zero to be sure. A few property owners choose to sue for more money and some did win.

Does India have a 'take now, pay later' law for infrastructure projects? Does India use it? China clearly does have a legal structure along those lines. Battles over compensation (including riots) are very common. Part of the problem in China is highly ambiguous concepts of ownership left over from the communist period.

Check the date on that article - June 2008.

Using this as a basis to extol the virtues of Poletown, without considering the 5-year long implosion since then - including, not insignificantly, the bankruptcy of the beneficiary of the eminent domain taking - isn't a sensible thing to do. If anything, it makes the case for the other side.


Lots of companies (airlines, railroad, car companies) go bankrupt. That's part of how capitalism works.

The Poletown plant is building cars as I type these words.

1) The incongruity of invoking "that's part of how capitalism works" when the subject is eminent domain seems to have escaped you.

2) I've found a great article from February 2001 extolling the virtues of riding the NASDAQ wave and buying dotcoms until the cows come home. Would it be accurate to say "it turns out that going long pets.com was (and remains) a success"?


Pipelines, railroads, power lines, etc. are built with eminent domain. That's how capitalism works. If large industrial (or non-industrial) facilities are going to be built in older neighborhoods, eminent domain is required.

Pets.com failed in November of 2000. Buying the stock in February of 2001 would appear to be ill-considered.

Irony is a problem for some people.

Why must we build industrial facilities in "older neighborhoods"?

Regardless of one's view on Poletown, claiming that the misuse of eminent domain contributed to the decline of Detroit is questionable. If the Poletown case went the other way, Detroit would have still ended up where it is today.

Poletown is was not unusual, specific to Detroit, a shocking departure from previous behavior in US history, or morally different from any of the other times special interest has adjusted the law to their own devices.

Wrong yes, outlier no.

To the extent that Detroit is suffering from over-reliance on the motor industry, then surely any case where the city destroys other businesses in order to transfer their property to the car industry contributes to the suffering. The only question is whether it is a large or small contribution.

Also, even if other towns abuse eminent domain for the benefit of big businesses, Detroit might be harmed more than others because: (1) it entrenches the economic mono-culture. When other cities play the same game various industries take turns, but in Detroit it is always the motors who gain. (2) Detroit might indeed engage in more eminent domain abuse, not because it is more vicious than other towns, but because the existence of the motor industry gives it more incentive.

Detroit's abuse of eminent domain follows the same pattern as other towns, it might be uniquely damaging. (a) Detroit ha

Is it that hard to So you expect that if the city had not made a habit of destroying local businesses so that car companies could use their property, then the city would

The money generated by the Poletown plant far outweighed any benefit from the mom-and-pop shops that were lost. The problems in Detroit had very little to do with being overly friendly to big business.

Do you have a cite? I doubt there was much net money generated for the city and state. Poletown was part of a process where the external economic benefits generated by GM were redirected back to the company in the form of subsidies, tax exemptions, etc.

First, where are your citations?

Second, the plant still operates today, producing among other vehicles the Chevy Volt. It employs 1,000 highly paid people and since Detroit has a city income tax, that's money in their coffers. There is no guarantee the displayed businesses would still be operating today and trends suggest otherwise.

GM, along with Chrysler, the casinos and the local utility, pays 19 percent of the city's property taxes. They do not own 19 percent of the property.

The plant generates enough in taxes that neighboring Hamtramck gets about $2 million a year for its small portion of the plant.

I'll buy all that, but it's an exercise in domain cherry-picking. Ask only the people on the property and they'll think differently. Ask the town that might have gotten the plant without the eminent domain and they'll think differently. Ask only the city council members of the seen scenario and...well why even ask them?

"4,200 people who lived in the area, along with their 1,300 homes, 140 businesses, six churches and one hospital" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poletown

I'd call it a net loss. What you gain in property tax you lose in income tax. Also if population loss was one of the major factors of Detroits decline you shouldn't be throwing people out on the street.

All the plant workers pay income tax. I'm not sure how many of the 4,200 residents did.

Even if you assume only 25% of the residents paid income tax (which is probably lower then it actually was) that's almost as many as there are working at the plant currently. Plus how many more workers were at the 140 businesses and the hospital? There is probably another couple thousand.


"Second, the plant still operates today, producing among other vehicles the Chevy Volt. It employs 1,000 highly paid people and since Detroit has a city income tax, that’s money in their coffers "

1,619 workers
$92 million in wages
$19 million in payroll taxes

Thanks for the exact numbers, Peter. And kjhgfdsa, those jobs at the plant are among some of the highest paying manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Higher incomes mean more income tax collected.

The 19mil is the total payroll taxes not what the city would get. At the current tax rate the city would get around 1.5mil or about $360 per resident displaced. Again a net loss.

Well, at least transferring it to GM (or Ford, or Chysler) was bound to fail. They should have bid for Honda or Toyota at the time.

Yeah, the UAW and the Japanese don't get along too well.

Also, it hasn't failed. GM has actually consolidated more of its production to the Midwest in the past few decades.

Do the homeowners get residual checks since their sacrifice worked out so well?

Has anyone considered the "Orient Express" explanation. Everything did it. Eminent Domain abuse was just one of themurderers, along with everyone else's pet issue, everyone is correct.

In my own field we have resorted to this to explain major extinction events, particularily the Late Devonian and K-T (end of the dinosaurs). We do this because massive bolide impacts are actually not infrequent but don't usually cause massive extinctions. The same can be said for massive vulcanism, the configuration of continents, etc... Everything happens at once, the stresses just add up and what could be a survivable disaster turns into a lethal one. Of course that still lets us fight about which was the primary or the ultimate cause, buf almost nobody still thinks there is a single overriding cause anymore for most of the big extinction events.

Perhaps. But Detroit does make it a lot harder to argue that we should allow states to take land under eminent domain for the purposes of economic development. You're arguing here that the Poletown takings had no effect ("If the Poletown case went the other way, Detroit would have still ended up where it is today"), which is hardly an argument for doing the takings.

I am sure one could find referencable examples of just about any pet factor in the decline of Detroit. From civic corruption to capture by business interests, or racism, riots and white flight, or crime, or structural changes in society and industry. No single one is completely causal.

I have a question about Detroit and Keynesism.

Now, Detroit did not have its own printing press, but they borrowed a lot of mony to build a lot of infrastructure and to pay city workers large salaries and retirement benefits, and their economy did not boom, and in fact did a death spiral.

Why should this not be seen as a cautionary tale against Keynesism in general?

1) no printing press argument?
2) they did not spend enough money?
3) retirement benefits come later, so they have little effect...though shouldn't those retirees now be spending their cash, creating a boom in consumption? Or is that consumption being done in Florida?

Because Keynesian spending by borrowing is supposed to be able to offset a downturn in business.

I am asking this question seriously, because I am sure there are some good answers, maybe #1 up there, but I'd like to know them...ps I am not a economist...so don't flame me if I missed anything obvious.

The negative demand shock of 60% of the population leaving dwarfed just about any other effect.

I think Krugman had a blog post trying to prevent this very kind of reasoning.

IMHO, Keynesianism won't save you if your economy/industrial base is going into a death spiral. You could say the same thing about whole African countries who relied on mono-cultures (and were successful for a while). If and when the price of that commodity went down, they were doomed.

We will say the same thing about Saudi Arabia if, suddenly, oil prices go down by $20 for the next five years before stabilising at $10 the barrel.

No amount of Keynesianism would save them then. It's not exactly a powerful argument against Keynesianism as much as a powerful warning against mono-culture/over-reliance on a single industry (and that brings us back to Detroit in a roundabout way).

Krugman's post was kinda dumb. He's comparing Detroit and Pittsburgh. Apples and oranges are both fruit, but you can't really compare those either.



Krugman’s post was kinda dumb.

To be more precise, Krugman's post was very political. So, it wasn't the I'm a dumb person writing a dumb thing kind of post as it was the, I'm a smart person trying to craft a specific narrative. As FM so elegantly put it, Krugman was trying to "prevent this very kind of reasoning".

Krugman's blog posts try to prevent all kinds of reasoning.

Is this a serious question? Keynesianism does not teach that high debt = good growth. It hypothesizes that increasing government deficit spending (Old Keynesianism) or monetary loosening (New Keynesian models) can counteract the business cycle. What is happening in Detroit has very little to do with the business cycle. The city's depopulation is what you might call a secular change and independent of any cyclical factors.

Refreshingly honest, inasmuch as it considers the 'business cycle' as a bad thing in need of counteracting and you don't go on to say anything about 'decreasing government deficit spending' or 'monetary tightening', because, the first of these two in particular is only a theoretical aspect of the model, and at whatever point you find yourself in the business cycle, 'right now this minute' is NEVER a good time to cut spending based on my experience with 'boots on the ground' Keynesians.

Did you not read : ps I am not a economist…so don’t flame me if I missed anything obvious.

So, Keynesism is only designed to work with business cycles, like too much inventory that has to be burned off, and is not useful at all, and perhaps dangerous if the issue is not a business cycle but a structural change. Interesting.

In the real world, it could be hard to separate the two - did we build too many houses just because, or did we build them because investment didn't want to flow to manufacturing due to the structural issue of the rise of China and thus housing looked better? (or whatever...)

Also, at what point would you say something "cyclical" simply becomes "structural" and thus not suited to Keynesism?

For example, is this recession's unemployment due to cyclical business cycle or a structural issue?

Sorry for the insensitive question. As you can see from other responses, even mentioning what certain models predict without making a political statement about them is grounds for being tarred as a statist spendthrift.

First off, any theory of how to deal with business cycles really doesn't obtain for something like a city within a large nation state. A city within a nation is like a small nation which has economy highly dependent on trade. If a city's economy relies on, say, the national demand for cars as its key industry, you can't really counteract a cycle in the demand for cars within one city. It's a national market. Cities rely on other places for demand, places they don't have any control over. A macroeconomic model that mostly describes how to manage demand has very little to do with the fortunes of a single city.

How do you tell the difference between a secular change and a business cycle in advance?

Can someone cite for me a city whose population fell 60% that didn't encounter severe financial problems? The loss of scalability is jaw-dropping.
And of the 1.1 million people who moved out of town, do we really have to look farther than the loss of blue-collar auto jobs. And do we really have to do much there than allocate the blame (as each of us sees fit) between auto unions and incompetent auto management wedded to big, low mpg cars?

Lots of problems, but as you point out, the biggest one is the drop in population. However, those people mostly went to the suburbs (not out of state) and were mostly white and not working in the auto industry.

You are correct that white people fled to the suburbs, but they DID (do) work in the Auto industry. Many of the inner ring suburbs are also suffering, but do not get the press of Detroit nor have their scale of problems. Look up some news on just about any city in Wayne County: Inkster, Ecorse, Hamtramck, Highland Park.. Plus Pontiac.

When I moved to Livonia, west of Detroit, in 2000 to work at a small industrial fluid dynamics engineeering firm, people who met me would often say "So, you work for Ford?" partly as a question, and partly as a statement of probable likelihood.

I grew up in the Detroit suburbs. Yes, the auto industry is the biggest in town, but the decline (not a collapse) of the industry is not *the* reason for Detroit going downhill. The central factor is population transition from the city to the suburbs. Look at the Detroit metro population trends. It did not bottom out, only the city did. Metro Detroit's population has been about the same for the last 40 years.

The surrounding communities were as dependent on car building as Detroit. Those communities avoided the entropy that is erasing Detroit. Then there is the fact cars are getting built all over America. The collapse of manufacturing in Detroit is a symptom of a greater problem, not the cause.

Isn't the population collapse the real disaster? What other American, hwck what other 20th century metroplitan city on earth, had this happen? Cleveland, Liverpool, the cities of the Soviet interior, which exactly have had this happen?

Why is Detroit the city people want to escape most?

Crime, horrible schools, plummeting property values, poor city services... the usual. That's why my family moved out 33 years ago.

The riots in 1967:

"Young wrote in a 1994 memoir, as he was leaving office, that the city never recovered from the riots.
“Detroit's losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money.

He added that “The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could.” Conservative economist Thomas Sowell once noted that before the riots, Detroit's black population had the highest rate of home-ownership of any black urban population in the country, and their unemployment rate was just 3.4 percent.

Read more at http://www.thefiscaltimes.com/Articles/2013/07/21/Detroits-60-Year-Decline-into-Bankruptcy-Hell.aspx#iq124opDG7P10qbw.99 "

Detroit fails faster, but it's a situation you find all over the Midwest. For instance, St Louis keeps shrinking, while the metro area itself does not. If you live in the city, chances are you are either poor, a college student, or really love to be in walking distance to a district full of bars.

Either a city has the population density to bring in so much people it is self sustaining (New York, London et al), or it gets hollowed out into neighboring little towns that compete for big retail and affluent homeowners. It's a pretty sweet deal: Bring your low income workers from across the city limits, so that you have to pay less services, while still enjoying the value of cheap labor.

There's another possibility that you see more in places like Houston or Phoenix: continually annex the unicorporated suburbs surrounding the city to bring those homeowners and businesses back under your jurisdiction. Unfortunately, Detroit is hemmed in on all sides and can't avail itself of that solution.

Sorry, but this isn't really true in the Phoenix metro area. The city of Phoenix itself is hemmed in by the neighboring cities (e.g. Glendale, Tempe, Scottsdale, Chandler, etc.). The only real area for Phoenix to annex is off to the north, or the many county islands. The outer cities themselves are also hemmed in, but to a lesser degree than Phoenix, by either other cities, public land, or reservation land. Sometimes that public land gets sold (AZ state lands), but many times it doesn't (BLM land, etc.).

I cannot speak to Houston.

Houston can't do that anymore, after the Kingwood annexation the state changed the rules. The Woodlands continuing independence is proof of this. Also the city could never annex incorporated cities, which is why the city ends so abruptly on the East side, Pasadena and Galena Park were incorporated early, since the city now abuts Sugarland, Katy, and Pearland, it is now hemmed in.

Kingwood made the rules for annexation more onerous, but by no means will stop Houston from expanding. Once the moratorium for the Woodlands expires, there is nothing preventing Houston from annexing them unless they manage to incorporate first (which looks to be less likely once they found out how much incorporation would cost.)

Anyway there's still plenty of unicorporated land to the west and northwest for Houston to annex if necessary.

Houston cannot (and likely never will) annex the Woodlands. Conroe fought it to a standstill, each hoping to annex to add it to the tax base. The net result is that the Woodlands is seeking to incorporate itself since the residents as a whole want to be part of neither.

Now, Cypress and Fairfield to northwest...

Your setup and conclusion doesn't make any sense. Perhaps you meant affluent workers in your last statement instead of low income. Not saying what you're underlying gist is wrong, as I agree overall.

Where possible -- annexation -- Sbard is correct as well. I thought there was only handful of states (e.g. NC _was_ one) that allowed involuntary annexation.

One detail about St. Louis that is ignored is that it made its bed a century ago when it severed itself from the county because it didn't want to pay for roads. And this was done at the same time that New York absorbed the boroughs, and San Francisco was defeated in its attempt to absorb Oakland. But even in its current craptacular state, St. Louis is better off than Detroit.

Well, you could look at textile mill towns in the Northeast or the South. They obviously, took big hits when clothing began being imported. Pittsburgh lost a lot of the steel industry to the Japanese. Southern California had a recession based on cuts in defense spending. All of these would lead to large loss in jobs along with people leaving for better pastures. See Rust Belt to Sun Belt.

Now, many of these cities managed to re-invent themselves, or to downsize. You see scalability from 1 million to 700k is not that hard...if you can fire employees, close schools, etc. If you cannot do this, you will have problems. And once the city itself becomes the #1 employer, and the voters who turn out will often be the most motivated...well, you can see the problem.

Just as an example, my child's school district in Sacramento, CA, is shrinking...a few thousand less students. But the administration budget is not shrinking and in fact the district closed a school, and then converted it into an additional administration building...which seems very dumb to me but I am not one of every increasing number of administrators...

I think top heavy districts (if not top heavy in number of persons, top heavy in resources going to administrators) is probably an under-noticed reason for public school difficulties, largely because we trust those administrators to tell us how many administrators we need and how much we need to pay them.

'You see scalability from 1 million to 700k is not that hard'

Except Detroit went from 1.8 million to 700,000 - a decline of 1.1 million, not 300,000 as in your comment.

In other words, you missed a population decline larger than the number of people remaining in Detriot.

But why did this happen? Milwaukee, Cleveland, the aforementioned Pittsburgh all took a huge hit in the 1970s-80s, why did Detroit fall so much further. Look at what is happening to Cincinnati right now, does anyone think it is going the way of Detroit? I look at a whole nation of cities that have been body slammed by economic changes, from Stockton and Fresno to Pueblo, Colorado, St. Louis and Wichita to Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Why is Detroit so much worse?

Just on the Great Lakes, I can understand why Minneapolis or Chicago didn't fail, but what about Milwaukee, Cleveland, Toledo, etc... This is not comparing Detroit to Windsor either, though comparing this to Windsor might be worth something.

Detroit had worse governance than any of the aforementioned cities, with the possible exception of Chicago. And that terrible governance went on for a very long time.

Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, once seen as a rising star in Democratic Party politics, was convicted on Monday on two dozen federal charges of corruption and bribery during his seven-year tenure.

I'm unclear as to what economic changes slammed Fresno, other than the fact that developers there are incredibly corrupt and influence the city council to prevent development fees from covering the cost of the homes developed.

I'm reminded of the line about a man who is good with a hammer see the world as a nail. Economists tend to fall down this particular hole as often as lawyers. That suggests the attraction to the field is something more than intellectual. Anyway, the city's use of eminent domain had zero impact on its fortunes. If Burlington Vermont followed the exact same polices, it would still be Burlington Vermont. Portland Oregon, San Francisco, Cambridge Mass, to name just a few, are cities that have followed the same liberal polices as Detroit. They thrive while Detroit dies.

Cambridge is sort of famous for standing up to eminent domain. That's why Route 2 goes from a six-lane (eight-lane?) divided highway to a little road winding through a neighborhood and then opens right back up again once it's through.


Cambridge does a good job of making driving and parking hellish, they just need to make biking a little easier.

That misses the point. If you think Detroit's demise is policy driven, you're not paying attention. Policy is just the small bit above the waves. Culture is the large part under the waves. Detroit's public policy is not much different from many cities. Their culture is what is highly defective.

I wasn't really trying to critique your point. Just making an observation.

I think it's logically impossible that the use of eminent domain had "zero impact".

I've wondered recently who exactly would stay in Detroit. Obviously there are many who are criminals or dysfunctional to the point of being unable to muster the resources to leave.

But some must be those who have always lived there, as did their parents and grandparents, and they can't bear to abandon their homes. In a nation of such mobility, I wonder if that's a bit of a buffer when there is an economic downturn in an area, some who have the resources (and therefore are more likely to help a region recover) stay because it is their home. I wonder if displacements like this had an impact, that's 4000 fewer families that might have stayed out of some kind of geographic loyalty.

Nothing fails like failure and it seems there must have been a tipping point where it no longer made sense to live in Detroit, so anyone who doesn't have a personal reason to stay there leaves, geometrically affecting the problem.

Bad economic analysis of municipal "economic development" projects is a terrible thing but what is the correct basis for eminent domain except good economic analysis?

Crazy people like me consider eminent domain only conceivable for reasons of public safety -- dams for flood control sort of thing. That's the only correct basis for eminent domain.

But I'm kind of a redneck thinker. . . .

Nah. What is it something like not one single sports stadium has paid back? I'm exaggerating, but it's close, considering that they all passed the economic anal lysis.

eminent domain facilitates bad economic analysis- the willful suspension of disbelief of a "public" good.

The same economic analysis that failed to acknowledge the population decline?

So tell me Tyler, how much of Detroit's population had fled by 1981?

It dropped 20 percent in the '70s and 15 percent in the '80s.

This is why "libertarianism has never been tried." It's a constant battle against people who get paid.

Detroit is a great ideological weapon because you can project whatever causal mechanism you want onto it and no one can effectively call you on it would be career suicide to point out the real reason for its failure. Even disputing a causation theory by, for example, pointing to other cities with similar policies that haven't turned into dystopian wastelands, has a nasty tendency to make the elephant in the room loom large.

Actually, I honestly don't think blacks made distributed manufacturing tenable.

And I kind of like what I think Glaeser said, that what other cities did was use the benefits to diversify, which makes eminent domain for a plant that will eventually just leave all the more apt.

Eminent domain is legal theft IMO. That said, I cant see how this caused the decline of Detroit. Detroit suffered because it failed to continiously innovate at the pace its "largeness" required.

While i posted this in the link to Glaeser's discussion, see "Growth, innovation, scaling, and the pace of life in cities" (http://www.pnas.org/content/104/17/7301.full) as I think it says a lot of interesting stuff about this issue.



Let's eliminate cities in the South (which seems beyond fucked up) and the rust belt (desindustrialisation is hardly a Black phenomenon) and you tell me why the other cities in those lists aren't failing like Detroit...

Can you point to a city on that list that isn't failing like Detroit?

I think it is safe to say that none of the cities on that list - I glanced through the top 20 - are failing like Detroit.

I think mike's point is that he doesn't like black people, so all those cities are pretty bad in his opinion.

I looked through the list and all I saw was high crime, high poverty, corruption, etc. I guess you could narrowly define "failing like Detroit" to mean only "currently going through a devastating total municipal bankruptcy" if you want to be difficult. I see most of the same symptoms that plague Detroit in that list of cities, with the only real difference being that they never had as much success as Detroit and therefore did not see such a meteoric fall.

Let’s eliminate cities in the South (which seems beyond fucked up)

Is that just a bigoted comment or did you mean something else?

It's a 'bigoted' comment. But I think I can back some of it up:





Basically, it seems to me, a non-American, as if the South is still caught up in its history...

As a non-American, you may want to broaden your reading on the subject. Bigotry is about making judgments without good information on the subject of your judgment, and so cannot be "backed up". A poor opinion of the subject can be "backed up", a bigotry cannot.

I don't see how you can possibly go from those links and come to the conclusion that the US South is in your words beyond fucked up.

Compare your first graph with the US census data on the African-American population graph.

A lot of the data you are pointing to seems to be correlated with high levels of African-American violence, religion and poverty. (Well, except for the whites voting for Obama graph obviously.)

Certainly, the South East is a more conservative culture and was much poorer region than the rest of the US for over a century. And it is still the poorest region, just not relatively as poor as it used to be. As such it certainly suffers by any measure that's correlated with poverty. However, that hardly justifies open bigotry.

I thought the list was pretty enlightening.

The list indicated that Detroit had a population of 713,777 with an African-American population of 83% of the total as of the last census. It doesn't list what the African American percentage was when Detroit's population was almost 2 million, which is actually more relevant. As the city declined, you would expect the people with more resources to get out (the white population) to get out, leaving behind the poorest sections of the population, and the African-American percentage to increased.

At any rate, Detroit's African American percentage really is high for a city of its size. Its higher than any other city with a total population of over 100,000, and compared to cities with a total population greater than 500,000, only Baltimore (64%) and Memphis (63%) sort of come close. Now Baltimore doesn't have a great reputation, but what about Memphis?

I don't think metro areas are as good a comparison because of the difficulty of defining them, but 23% African American of about a million doesn't stand out, in fact it seems at first glance to be close to median for a metro area of that size. Maybe the degree to which African-Americans within the metro area are corralled within the boundaries of the city is part of ht explanation.

There are so many unique and converging factors in Detroit's decline that it is easy to use it as materials to build an ideological hobbyhorse.

'has a nasty tendency to make the elephant in the room loom large'

That elephant being that what is good for GM in the past was actually a disaster for America in the present?

@Marie: I am aware of the definition of 'bigotry'. What I was trying to say, using some poetic license, was that JWatts was right that my throw-away comment was a bit callous and a rather big over-simplification. However and notwithstanding this acknowledgement, I added that I could back it up because, on a variety of criteria, the South is doing poorly.

@JWatts: Unless you are arguing, like mike, that Blacks are responsible for their own fucked-up situation in the South, I fail to see the relevance of your census data. I am well aware that Blacks are most numerous in the South. My point is that legacy racism and overall lack of integration is the reason for the South being in such a bad shape. Their skewed views on Christianity (imho) don't help.

But you don't seem to deny the point ("the South East is (...) and was much poorer region than the rest of the US for over a century. And it is still the poorest region (...) As such it certainly suffers by any measure that’s correlated with poverty") rather the crude way I expressed myself.

Fair enough; thus allow me to apologise for my casually insulting phrasing.

Sorry, wasn't actually schooling you on vocabulary or accusing you of ignorance, sorry that it sounded that way, it was more a rhetorical way to present my point. Let me drop the rhetorical part. You will never understand the American South by reading "Mother Jones", or anything else published out of California or New York. Of course, if your references were not representative of where you get your info, my point is pointless anyway.

That's another fair point but, otoh, is it not true of all places in the world? They're all specific. It doesn't quite preclude outsiders from being able to form judgments, even if, of course, their views will be less rich and precise than that of people with local knowledge.

Anyhow, it's been a few days now so I don't know if you or JWatts will read this but here goes:


Relevant bit: "But the researchers actually looked at this, and that's not the case. Upward mobility for low-income people of all races is negatively correlated with the size of the local black population.

That could be just a coincidence. But I think it probably isn't. If you look at the more clear-cut case of political opportunity, you'll see that measures such as poll taxes that were meant to disenfranchise black people tended to have the secondary consequence of also disenfranchising poor white people".

Arguably, Matt Yglesias writes out of DC but I thought that's still an interesting piece of statistics...

Oh, it is interesting. But very incomplete.

Here's another take on the factor they note -- in a letter, Flannery O'Connor wrote that in the South whites don't care how close blacks get as long as they don't get too "high"; in the North, whites don't care how "high" blacks get as long as they don't get too close.

I'm not an apologist for Southern racism, I just note that when it is most strongly criticized or noted from outside it's usually a kind of a "look! over there!" tactic so the critic can divert from his own misdeeds -- often racism also.
These sources aren't just ignorant of the South, they are hostile to it, with a kind of hostility that entrenches the ignorance and which is ferocious in a way only the stupendously insecure defensive can be. It's not like reading someone comment in the 19th century on London from, I don't know, Bristol? Or Bristol from London? It's like reading commentary from a wealthy and powerful man in London in 1840 about Wexford or Zimbabwe. You need to understand the ignorance is to a degree self-protective. If I've made correct analogies at all, as an American I've probably got it all wrong! But I think you get my point.

Oh, and a quick google tells me Mr. Yglasias went to school in NYC and at Harvard.
And you have to love the irony of Mr. Yglasias writing about how white Southerners keep black citizens down with deficient public schooling in a story out of D.C.

Is there some event or circumstance around 1953 that writers have in mind when they write of Detroit's "sixty year decline"?

The 1950 Census, which was the high point of Detroit's population, and its position as the 4th largest city in the United States.

Eminem Domain would be a cool album title.

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