The Occupiers vs. Detroit's Recovery

The city might get different results if its people tried a different approach.

The movement to occupy Detroit has attracted about 50 hardy souls to Grand Circus Park, where they have pitched tents and are awaiting … something. What exactly is supposed to change in Detroit is entirely unclear. The occupiers of Wall Street have this much going for them — things have been done in the banks and stock markets that progressives object to. What exactly has Detroit done except implement the progressive vision as far as it practically could?

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The city might get different results if its people tried a different approach.

The tents are a form of avoidance. Detroit once housed a million more people than it currently does. Many of the houses where those Detroiters once lived have been destroyed, but many — certainly enough to house 50 occupiers — stand vacant. Those houses could probably be bought or rented cheaply. It’s all part of one city, so why not express a real, lasting commitment to the Detroit and get a solid roof over your head in the process?

Could it be because the occupiers, deep down, know they don’t have any remedies for Detroit’s suffering? Or could it be because they don’t want to confront the reality of Detroit’s neighborhoods, where their ethic of government-driven wealth-spreading has suffocated honest commerce, strangled economic opportunities and forced hundreds of thousands into an awful choice: crime, dependency or flight.

The terrible decline of Detroit’s auto industry, a history of lousy race relations, complacency bred from decades of prosperity — these explain Detroit’s choices, but do not make them wise. As the occupiers sit in their tents and fulminate against the powers-that-be, Detroiters themselves, both in the city and in the suburbs, can choose another way. They can let go of their alienation, return to the values of a free society, get over their failed romance with big unions and big government, reopen trade, create new opportunities and rebuild their city.

Over the long haul, the only way that the bone-deep divisions between races, between city and suburbs, can ever be overcome is for people throughout metro Detroit to work and trade together, voluntarily and as individuals.

Detroit’s recovery will not begin with some splashy new development. That will come, but it will be more of a tipping point than a first cause. Nor will some grand governmental scheme for spreading wealth around get the city moving again. No, if Detroit recovers, it will start with hundreds of little projects: homes repaired, small businesses started, charter public schools opened. And the occupiers will have little if anything to do with it — unless they decide to emerge from their tents, grab some tools and get to work rebuilding a city.