Many cities have struggled with the decline of key industries, from Philadelphia’s shipyards to New York’s textile industry, but Detroit—which is now in bankruptcy—is both a victim of the decline of the Michigan automobile industry and a cause of it. A city with a history of civil disorder—it is the only American city occupied on three separate occasions by federal troops—its poisonous blend of race-based politics and union domination has left it impoverished and diminished.
Once the fourth-largest city in the country, it is today smaller than Fort Worth. Once the nation’s most prosperous city, it is today the poorest. Even in its reduced state, it is the largest U.S. city ever to file for bankruptcy—and yet its city payroll maintains twice as many government employees per resident as does San Jose. More terrifying is the fact that the imbalance between public-sector consumption and private-sector production that helped make Detroit what it is today is by no means limited to the Motor City—in fact, there are four large U.S. cities that are in arguably worse shape. Detroit is not just a case study, but a portent.