Statism is turning America into Detroit – Ayn Rand's Starnesville come to life

gregster's picture
Submitted by gregster on Sun, 2013-07-21 23:07

21 July 2013

Daniel Hannan at The Telegraph

Atlas Shrugged:

Beyond the town, on a distant hill, stood the factory of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. Its walls, roof lines and smokestacks looked trim, impregnable like a fortress. It would have seemed intact but for a silver water tank: the water tank was tipped sidewise.

"Now here’s the really extraordinary thing. When Ayn Rand published those words in 1957, Detroit was, on most measures, the city with the highest per capita GDP in the United States.


Which brings us to the scariest thing of all. Detroit could all too easily be a forerunner for the rest of the United States. As Mark Steyn puts it in the National Review:

Like Detroit, America has unfunded liabilities, to the tune of $220 trillion, according to the economist Laurence Kotlikoff. Like Detroit, it’s cosseting the government class and expanding the dependency class, to the point where its bipartisan “immigration reform” actively recruits 50–60 million low-skilled chain migrants. Like Detroit, America’s governing institutions are increasingly the corrupt enforcers of a one-party state — the IRS and Eric Holder’s amusingly misnamed Department of Justice being only the most obvious examples. Like Detroit, America is bifurcating into the class of “community organizers” and the unfortunate denizens of the communities so organized.

Oh dear. No wonder the president would rather talk about Trayvon Martin. If you want to see Obamanomics taken to its conclusion, look at Starnesville. And tremble."


gregster's picture

"One of the reasons Atlas Shrugged was and remains a classic, I think, is that its subject matter had so rarely been tackled before and has barely been touched since. Perhaps this is why novelists appear so prominently on Rand’s list of hate figures. They’re very good at showing us how the world is wrong and unfair; but what they almost never attempt to do is show why it’s unfair. And when they do show why it’s unfair, the line they tend to take – writers being generally on the left – is that it’s all down to man’s selfishness and greed, and the failure of society and government to take care of the little people.

For Rand, though, the opposite is true: selfishness and greed are the forces which drive our economy and which bring us the joy of productivity, the dignity of labour and the comfort of our pay packets; it’s society and government which are the problem, with their false value judgements and the constricting regulations and their confiscatory levies which transfer money and scarce resources from those who know how to use them best to those who deserve them least."

Ayn Rand no longer the kiss of death

gregster's picture

What I mean is that Ayn's being regularly mentioned in conventional channels. Daniel Hannan would have given her novel good exposure with his article. And now James Delingpole is similarly writing at the Telegraph. This is important because I believe it shows that Rand's philosophical novels are no longer thought of as too radical to mention. Despite his stumble in the first sentence it is an helpful attempt.

Shale gas is Rearden Metal

Here's an excerpt from the book. (The story so far: in an ailing economy brought low by the sclerotic regulation of the bloated state, a dwindling band of entrepreneurs try to stick up for free enterprise. One of them is Hank Rearden who forges a new kind of metal, stronger and lighter than steel. But his rivals don't like it, and unlike Rearden, they have friends in DC. Soon an unhelpful report is produced by a special committee of the National Council of Metal Industries…)

They said Rearden Metal is a threat to public safety. They said its chemical composition is unsound, it's brittle, it's decomposing molecularly, and it will crack suddenly without warning [.....] They're experts, though, the men on that committee. Top experts. Chief metallurgists for the biggest corporations, with a string of degrees from universities all over the country.

You may have noticed something similar going on with the anti-shale gas campaign. All those "experts" – many from the oil or renewables industries, no doubt with a string of degrees from universities all over the country – who've worked so effectively to delay shale gas exploitation in Britain with their ingenious excuses: our shale plays aren't the same as America's [true: the Bowland shale, for example, is significantly deeper]; our denser population makes it harder to extract without disruption or environmental damage [what? And wind turbines aren't guilty of doing the same, only with far less obvious benefit?];

Trevor helps out

gregster's picture

It is important to know that it was a combination of crony capitalism and communism that destroyed Detroit, because that is exactly the formula being employed by Young’s spiritual heir Barack Obama, from the White House today.

New Zeal


gregster's picture

The unions helped wreck the auto sector, like they have done in parts of the UK during the 60s and 70s, before Maggie came along and confronted them.

True, and Maggie reined them in through courageous legislation which still has her vilified. And even she didn't go far enough.

If BO allowed some shale exploration for his brothers' hood he could help turn it around. (Not in a million years or ever.)


gregster's picture

Here is where I wish Objectivism had an economic think tank.

There are some that will suffice without the Objectivism. Where they would differ from Rand would be in their wavering moral support for capitalist ethics, but economics-wise there are quite a few which are helpful. Cato now has an Objectivist head, hopefully to tame its rabid anarchists.

On Detroit, from the libertarian thinktank Manhattan_Institute’s article here.

Detroit’s problems were compounded because the city in distress invested in structures, rather than people. Federal support has been almost entirely focused on physical capital, like housing and transportation infrastructure.

In 1948, the Federal government started doling out cash for urban renewal, and by the 1950s it was spending seriously on transportation. In the 1980s, with federal aid, the city built its People Mover, which now glides quietly over essentially empty streets.

Detroit’s never needed more housing or transportation. Declining cities are practically defined by having too much infrastructure relative to people. A monorail has little value when buses can already move quickly on uncongested roads.


Detroit’s long decades of suffering do seem to have cleared away some intellectual cobwebs and led some people to understand that education, not infrastructure, is the crucial ingredient for urban rebirth.

Detroit, monument to folly

Tom Burroughes's picture

The disaster of Detroit is total. Mark Steyn has pointed out that the city looks like what happens when a place is invaded by a foreign power. But at least Hiroshima, after it was flattened by the USAAF, was rebuilt.

Detroit's problems are not purely down to Big Government, although that is a major part of it. The unions helped wreck the auto sector, like they have done in parts of the UK during the 60s and 70s, before Maggie came along and confronted them. (Even so, the UK auto sector, largely foreign owned, employs a fraction of those employed then). Detroit is also testament to the disaster of glossy central planning, state-subsidised housing, welfarism, and as Doug and others have said, a terrible culture that this fosters.

Of course the arrival of cheaper, better made cars also hit the place, but healthy cities reinvent and change, they don't just crumble. Detroit did. The warning signs were there. Other places have shown more sign of recovery, such as Ohio and parts of the old rust belt since the shale gas development got going.

Perhaps the best that could be done would be to not just force the place into proper bankruptcy and sell of any remaining assets, but resettle people to better places, flatten much of what is left and convert it back into forest or farmland.

Or maybe the ruins should stand, as a monument to folly.

So what exactly was it that chased white people away?

gregster's picture

So what exactly was it that chased white people away?

A contributor: forced integration in schools backfired and sent the non-blacks into private education and elsewhere. Coercion met the law of unintended consequences.

Due to patterns of residential segregation, a principal tool for racial integration was the use of busing. In the 1971 Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education ruling, the Supreme Court ruled that the federal courts had the discretion to include busing as a desegregation tool to achieve racial balance.

In the 1970s and 1980s, under federal court supervision, many school districts implemented mandatory busing plans within their district. A few of these plans are still in use today. The stiffest resistance to desegregation busing was the brief mass movement in Boston, Restore Our Alienated Rights.

The movement of large numbers of white families to suburbs of large cities, so-called white flight, reduced the effectiveness of the policy. Many whites who stayed moved their children into private or parochial schools; these effects combined to make many urban school districts predominantly nonwhite, reducing any effectiveness mandatory busing may have had.

Here's what is happening to California. New York tops the out-migration with Michigan close behind.

Among the big losers, California (like number-two loser New York) shed residents at a consistently high pace for the whole 20 years. Most other big “sender states,” such as Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, and especially Michigan, saw their out-migration accelerate in the 2000s.

what chased all the white people away?

Doug Bandler's picture

Here is where I wish Objectivism had an economic think tank. I would love to know every piece of economic interventionism and welfare-statism that is responsible for Detroit, although I'm sure that would be quite a report. Now it is also true that Detroit is 90% black. So what exactly was it that chased white people away? This is where real hardcore free market economic analysis would be so helpful rather than just philosophic analysis. Detroit is the consequence of not only socialism but America's racial version.

How could Detroit possibly be saved or revived sans philosophic revolution? And yet Leftists blame the Detroit phenomenon on too much capitalism and too much "libertarianism". God how I hate that I have to share a polity with modern liberals.

Ha - from the Telegraph comments..

gregster's picture




If Obama had a city, it would look like Detroit.

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