If you’re looking for a complete history of Detroit, this isn’t the book for you. This book is an autopsy report. It’s a brief look at what killed Detroit. Nothing more, nothing less. Now, you might say “Detroit still exists. How can it be dead?” Well, once upon a time, Detroit was one of the wealthiest cities in human history. No, that’s not a misprint. The average person living in Detroit had luxuries the world’s greatest kings could have only dreamed about. From the 1870’s through the 1920’s, the city also had one of the greatest population explosions the world has even seen. Detroit was the place to be.
Things have changed. Detroit is one of the poorest major cities in America. Since 1950, the city has lost well over half of its population. Sure, Detroit is still around. It hasn’t reached ghost town status quite yet. That said, the city which once had one of history’s highest standards of living is gone. More importantly, in the minds of most people, the beliefs which led to the rise of Detroit are dead. Like many of Detroit’s neighborhoods, these beliefs have been abandoned. Of course, this doesn’t mean Detroit can’t make a comeback. It can be resuscitated. But, this book isn’t about what could happen. It’s about what did happen. So, what do we make of what took place in Detroit?
Everyone has biases. Shocking, right? We all have beliefs about the way the world works, and these beliefs influence how we interpret events. For example, there are lots of books about Detroit out there, and most of them seem to share the same biases. What do they think went wrong in Detroit? You can probably guess their responses, because they’re the same ‘answers’ people give to explain just about everything that is wrong in the world. You know, mismanagement, racism, and poor education. With all due respect, this is boring, lazy and it doesn’t scratch the surface of what happened in Detroit.
Let’s be honest, all of these things can be said of every American city, and many cities in this country are doing pretty well. Every city has had its share of corruption and poor leadership. They aren’t all decaying. In addition, the public school system is bad nationwide, and this isn’t exactly a secret. It’s been that way for a long time. As for racism, it’s hardly unique to Detroit. Every city has its racists, no matter what shade of skin they have. On top of that, Detroit was just as racist, if not more racist, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This didn’t stop Detroit’s historic economic growth during the period. Certainly, mismanagement, racism and poor education were factors in Detroit’s demise, but they can’t adequately explain what went down in the Motor City.
Likewise, people leaving to live in suburban areas just doesn’t tell the whole story. Again, this has affected every city. Besides, several cities have grown quite a bit since the rise of suburban housing, including Dallas, Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, San Diego and Seattle, to name a few. What about unions? They definitely played a role in Detroit’s nosedive, but unions have hurt several cities and industries, not just Detroit and the automobile industry. Something else must’ve happened in the Motor City. What was different?
Sure, many major American cities are in bad shape, but it’s hard to argue any are in worse shape than Detroit. There are several American cities that have failed; Detroit just failed in the most spectacular fashion. It’s gone from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. What happened? This is what The Death of Detroit answers.
Caution: this is a Christian book. I’m sorry I’m not sorry. We all make assumptions about the world. We all look at things through the lenses of what we believe about why we’re here. I’m a Christian, so this book is written with a biblical understanding of human nature, the free market and government. What does the Bible say about these things?
Let’s take them in order. When it comes to human nature, the Bible tells it like it is. Are humans basically good? Not according to the Bible. Jeremiah 17:9 says “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Romans 3:10 adds “There is none righteous, no, not one.” A quick look at the latest headlines will confirm the biblical view of human nature. How did this happen?
In the beginning, God created a perfect world (Genesis 1:31). There was no evil of any kind. The first humans, Adam and Eve, had the good life. God put them in the Garden of Eden, and they were given the responsibility of taking care of it (Genesis 2:15). Since humans are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26), we’re creative by nature. After all, God created the entire universe. He’s all about creating. Well, when we work with natural resources, wealth is created. Wealth is something of value. It’s anything which allows someone to fulfill their desires. Adam and Eve’s work in the Garden of Eden was a business activity. They were creating wealth through their work, and their motivation for being in business was pleasing God. The Garden of Eden was the world’s first free market.
The good times didn’t last long. God told Adam and Eve they could eat from any tree in the Garden of Eden, except for one. If they disobeyed, they would die spiritually and begin to die physically from that day forward (Genesis 2:17). They disobeyed. Satan, an angel who had rebelled against God, tempted Eve. He said if she ate from the tree which was off-limits, she wouldn’t die (Genesis 3:4). Instead, he told her she would become like God (Genesis 3:5). Eve “saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise,” so she ate from it (Genesis 3:6).
1 John 2:16 says our world is filled with “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” This began in the Garden of Eden. Eve saw the fruit of the tree was good for food, and it made her lust for more than what God had provided. Eve also noticed the tree was pleasant to the eyes. Only having the fruit of that tree would satisfy her lusts. Finally, she concluded the tree would make her wise. In other words, eating from the tree would make her equal with God, like Satan told her. Her lust for more led to pride, and her pride corrupted her mind. She ate from the tree, and gave some of the fruit to Adam. He liked the sound of being equal with God, so he ate it. Their rebellion didn’t work out like they hoped. Death, pain and suffering entered the world, and they passed their rebellious nature down to us (Romans 5:12). Since human nature is corrupt, the greatest threat to personal security comes from other people. Here’s where government comes in. The only function of government is to protect God-given rights (Genesis 9:5-6; Romans 13:1-7). What’s a right?
Simply put, a right is a gift from God that comes from a person’s being. We’re all born with rights, such as the right to life, the right to say what we want, the right to think what we want, and the right to do what we want as long as it doesn’t violate someone else’s God-given rights. Government is a tool to enforce justice. For example, we all have the right to own what we want, as long as we don’t steal to get it (Exodus 20:15).
Now, you might ask “Why doesn’t government have a larger role?” Well, governments have a lot of power, and government officials are rebellious human beings like everyone else. As a result, governments have the greatest potential of violating personal security. With Stalin, Mao and Hitler, the 20th century provided plenty of examples. So, governments should be very limited in size. When governments go beyond their small but important role of protecting God-given rights, bad things happen. What does all of this have to do with Detroit? A lot more than you might think.