Detroit Mayor’s Surrender Shows the Failure of Liberalism

The long-oppressed city is the latest example of the welfare state’s overreach.

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By Peter Roff, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

Back before he was president, Ronald Reagan used to joke that the Johnson administration had declared war on poverty and that "poverty won." Indeed, the American landscape is riddled with examples of how the liberal welfare state has continually failed to achieve the improvements in living standards and quality of life its political sponsors promised it would bring.

In certain places, the overreach of the welfare state and the way it has suppressed entrepreneurial initiative has led to the near collapse of governing institutions, the latest example being the long-oppressed city of Detroit, where Mayor Dave Bing has announced a plan to "shrink" the city.

According to the Detroit News, Bing plans to relocate residents from distressed and desolate parts of the city into areas that can support viable neighborhoods. "If we don't do it, you know this whole city is going to go down. I'm hopeful people will understand that," Bing said, adding, "If they stay where they are, I absolutely cannot give them all the services they require."

"You can't support every neighborhood," Bing told radio station WJR's Frank Beckmann. "You can't support every community across this city. Those communities that are stable, we can't allow them to go down the tubes. That's not a good business decision from my vantage point."

There are those who will no doubt argue that such efforts have been tried before but under different names, like urban renewal, when slums were bulldozed in favor of giant public housing projects, an idea that has since be abandoned. But at no time that I can remember has a city government simply given up, raised the white flag and abandoned whole neighborhoods--while potentially forcing people to move.

Those who think the government actually can run the healthcare system better than the private sector would do well to study the example of Detroit, which the mayor argues must now ration government services on the basis of local geography and demographics--and at the expense of the liberty of the people who still live there.

Bing's relocation initiative is a remarkable admission of failure, not just of his administration but of decades of Democratic rule in the city once known proudly as "Motown," a failure of central planning and state-based renewal efforts that deserves national attention.

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