On July 18, 2013, the city of Detroit filed for what will be the largest municipal bankruptcy in the U.S. due to an estimated debt of $18-$20 billion. Media pundits, analysts, Cable News contributors’ and bloggers have expounded on multiple root causes for the decay of Detroit: political corruption; unwillingness of unions to negotiate—both public and private; gross mismanagement and waste of resources; escalation of crimes of every kind including the vandalizing and defacing of property with graffiti; gangs; drug wars; gunplay; population decline; auto industry decline and racial divide—the list is extensive and without a doubt they are all legitimate factors to be considered in the dynamics of Detroit’s decline.
But on July 19, 2013, Melissa Harris-Perry as a guest panelist on MSNBC’s “Now” program implied that Detroit’s demise was a result, in part, due to too small a government.
“We can talk about the microstory of Detroit, but it seems to me that Detroit, as always, is standing for all kinds of things about America. In the case of Detroit, the reason that the tax base has become so small is because a loss of population, right? So folks move out, they are not there to pay the taxes on the homes and the kind of deterioration is what you see in the numbers you’ve suggested.
But this lack of tax base is also exactly the kind of thing that many Republicans would impose on us, even when our cities have sufficient populations, even when our communities have sufficient populations. This is what it looks like when government is small enough to drown in your bathtub, and it is not a pretty picture.”
Trying to reconcile her argument with what I knew to be true about Detroit was a challenge. The only explanations I could think for developing such a causation of Detroit’s destruction was that she was ill-informed, undereducated or she was being intentionally dishonest.
Harris-Perry has some impressive credentials. She is a professor political science at Tulane University. Previously, she was an associate professor of politics at Princeton University from 2006 to 2010 and taught political science at the University of Chicago from 1999 to 2005. In addition, Harris-Perry is host of MSNBC’s “Melissa Harris-Perry.” So the first two considerations for her irrational argument could be ruled out.
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