The bankruptcy of the city of Detroit has many causes, including poor management, industrial history and dysfunctional American sociology. I think there is also an ethical problem: too little cross-border solidarity.
I don’t want to downplay the other failures. A more competent city government would have addressed, rather than added to, the problems. The U.S. car industry proved a disastrously weak economic anchor. And without widespread racism, there would have been fewer ghettoised African-Americans.
Still, the economic and sociological poison has not been spread equally. On the contrary, it is concentrated inside the legal borders of the city of Detroit. The Detroit of common speech and common sense – the big blob on a national map, the urban area served by a single international airport – has suffered much less.
In the United States, population change is a crude but accurate indicator of economic success. The city is failing; its population declined by almost 60 percent in the half-century from 1960 to 2010, to 714,000. The rest of metro Detroit, as defined by the U.S. government, is doing all right: the headcount increased by about 70 percent, to 3.6 million.
True, metro Detroit as a whole may not be thriving. The unemployment rate of 9 percent is well above the 7.6 percent national average. But the problems are concentrated in the city, which is in an apparently unstoppable economic and social decline. That descent has undoubtedly been accelerated by the legal and financial isolation of the city from suburbs.