Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Rumors Of America's Decline Are Greatly Exaggerated

Today, Bob Herbet brings up a laundry list of times where he says America has failed to step up in the last ten years or so when the opportunities presented themselves. Bush didn't build a more peaceful international order during the sympathy after 9/11. Then he didn't rebuild New Orleans in a sustainable way after Katrina. We didn't reorganize our economic system after the crash. Pres. Obama hasn't used the oil spill to seriously push to get us off fossil fuels. Detroit is destroying homes rather than rebuilding them. The list goes on...

He writes:
We are submitting to this debacle with the same pathetic lack of creativity and helpless mind-set that now seems to be the default position of Americans in the 21st century.

A pretty bleak picture all in all. But wait. This declining nation is the same one that brought you Google, Facebook, Twitter (fucking Twitter), iPod, iPad, etc, etc. The problem isn't that America lacks creativity or is helpless. It's that the government has had a lack of creativity and is bungling. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying the private sector is somehow faultless. The banking collapse and the oil spill were private creations.

It's not really government's fault either. In an industrial society, where large amounts of resources and capital are required and consequently large firms are created, the government can more easily play a role. The long development cycles and ramp up time for industrial products, measured in years, allow government to assist and intervene. Although, the question of whether or not it's a good idea is a different matter. Moreover, the large firms are run by a bureaucracy just like governments. A corporate middle manager in a big firm and a government bureaucrat are like long-lost cousins.

The development cycle of the post-industrial economy, which is measured in months or days rather than years, doesn't lend itself to government intervention or regulation. Furthermore, the types of people who run a Silicon Valley start-up speak a completely different language and have a foreign culture compared to government bureaucrats. Instead of long-lost cousins, it's more like the Hatfields and McCoys.

Measuring America's decline by whether the government is creative is entirely misleading. Governments aren't all that creative, except in times of war. They take ideas and then can apply resources to scale it up. For example, rockets were invented during the war, then the US government took the idea and scaled it up so that they could go to the moon, incidentally, as part of a front in another war. Likewise, Eisenhower saw the military usefulness of the the Autobahn and decided the US needed something similar in the event of war. In fact, the basis for the system was the Pershing Map. That's Pershing, as in John J. But both of these were industrial projects that required the application of lots of resources to a problem that had pretty much already been solved.

FLG has said it many times and will say it again - Government is like the United States Marine Corps; if you want something done for a short amount of time, it requires lots of manpower and resources, and you don't care too much that it's done very efficiently and cheaply, then government option should be considered. If you want something sustained, varying use of resources, and care about cost and efficiency, then government should be the last resort.


Anonymous said...

It is (sickly) amusing to watch the Left point to Detroit as evidence of *America's* decline. If Detroit is evidence of anything, it is evidence of the collective failure of liberalism, Leftism, and government. Look up the model cities program of Johnson's day and you will soon see how it was government social/central planning that brought about the ruin of Detroit. The irony that the Detroit riot broke out in the center of the "model city" area is on one hand delicious, yet when you realize the 100s of thousands of lives that have been so manipulated, harmed, and even ruined by politicians and policies, it makes one want to cry.

Two articles in the WSJ describe the real Detroit fairly well - this one from June 2009 :

"DETROIT -- They call this the Motor City, but you have to leave town to buy a Chrysler or a Jeep. [Obama closed this Jeep dealership - I know because it was my dealership for 19 years. The owner was a Republican who donated to Republicans. When Chrylser went through bankruptcy, our dealer got hit.]

"Borders Inc. was founded 40 miles away, but the only one of the chain's bookstores here closed this month. And Starbucks Corp., famous for saturating U.S. cities with its storefronts, has only four left in this city of 900,000 after closures last summer.[...]

"No national grocery chain operates a store here. A lack of outlets that sell fresh produce and meat has led the United Food and Commercial Workers union and a community group to think about building a grocery store of its own.[...]

"The lack of retail is one of the biggest challenges the city faces," said James Bieri, president of Bieri Co., a Detroit-based real-estate brokerage. "Trying to understand how to get it to come back will be one of the most important keys to its resurgence -- if it ever has one." [...]

"The city's 22.8% unemployment rate is among the highest in the U.S.; 30% of residents are on food stamps.

"As the city loses so much, the tax base shrinks and the city has to cut back services," said Margaret Dewar, a professor of urban planning at the University of Michigan. That causes such hassles for retailers as longer police-response times, as well as less-frequent snow plowing and trash pickup..."

Then this one from just 2 weeks ago :

Anonymous said...

Black Flight is the New Worry for Detroit

"DETROIT—This shrinking city needs to hang on to people like Johnette Barham: taxpaying, middle-class professionals who invest in local real estate, work and play downtown, and make their home here.

"Ms. Barham just left. And she's not coming back.

"In seven years as a homeowner in Detroit, she endured more than 10 burglaries and break-ins at her house and a nearby rental property she owned. Still, she defied friends' pleas to leave as she fortified her home with locks, bars, alarms and a dog.

"Then, a week before Christmas, someone torched the house and destroyed almost everything she owned. [her next door neighbor -recently released from jail and living with his grandmother- set the house on fire, killing her dog and cat.]

"In March, police arrested a suspect in connection with the case, someone who turned out to be remarkably easy to find. For Ms. Barham, the arrest came one crime too late. "I was constantly being targeted in a way I couldn't predict, in a way that couldn't be controlled by the police," she says. "I couldn't take it anymore."

"Ms. Barham's journey from diehard to defector illustrates the precarious state of Detroit today. The city—which has shed roughly 1 million residents since the 1950s—is now losing the African-American professionals who had stayed steadfastly, almost defiantly, loyal.

"Through decades of white flight and economic distress, these diehards have sustained the city's cultural institutions and allowed prime neighborhoods such as Indian Village and Palmer Woods to stave off the blight that infects large swaths of Detroit.

"Today, frustrated by plummeting property values and high crime, many diehards have hit their breaking point. Their exodus is consigning borderline neighborhoods to full-blown blight and putting prime residential areas at risk. [That would be Grosse Pointe -- crime has gone way up since we left; they just had a shootout on the street two blocks away from our former house - the same day two Detroit teens 13 & 14 with rap sheets stole a Jeep and drove it in the lake an] By some estimates, this year's Census will show a population drop of 150,000 people from the 951,000 people who lived within city limits in 2000. That would be roughly double the population loss in the 1990s, when black, middle-class flight began replacing white flight as the prevailing dynamic.

"There are other signs the middle class is throwing in the towel. From 1999 to 2008, median household income in Detroit dropped nearly 25% to $28,730, after growing 17% in the 1990s, according to Data Driven Detroit, a nonprofit that analyzes Census data for the city. Over that period, the proportion of owner-occupied homes fell to 39% from 49%, while the proportion of vacant homes nearly tripled to 28%.

"The folks with the wherewithal to leave, the folks with the jobs… those are the people that have the ability to exercise voting with your feet," says David Martin, a professor of public policy at Wayne State University in Detroit.

"Further erosion of Detroit's middle-class could cripple a turnaround plan by government and private-sector leaders here. It calls for "right-sizing" the city's government and geography to fit a shrunken population. But it hinges on the city shoring up stable neighborhoods and retaining middle-class taxpayers, while converting blighted areas for such uses as parks or farms..."

Mrs. P

George Pal said...

Google, Facebook, and the rest do nothing to support an argument that the country is not in decline. Foregoing the social problems (obvious decline) and dealing only with the political and physical, Herbert is right - but for all the wrong reasons. You can’t do A and B. You can’t rebuild the infrastructure and funnel money/debt into consumer spending to prop up the economy and engineer a more perfect (equitable) society. You can’t involve the military against a ruthless enemy and believe a Medal for Courageous Restraint will militate against innocent casualties and bad PR. You can’t drill in deep water believing it safer and less damaging to the environment in the event...

For as long as the government has made ‘it’ its business and demanded ‘it’ be accomplished with no adverse effects, ‘it’ has suffered. As ‘it’ pretty much encompasses everything, pretty much everything is in decline.

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