Michigan’s Political Establishments Are Parasites Draining Enervated Hosts



This weekend I was visiting in one of those older blue collar communities in Wayne County containing row upon row of small  homes that used to be neat and well kept. They still are – the ones that are still occupied, that is. On some blocks 10 percent of the houses are vacant, and some of these are starting to molder. The process appears to be accelerating – many of the empty houses are recently vacated; ubiquitous “for sale” signs look like forlorn hopes, especially for those structures that nature has begun to reclaim


In those neighborhoods you can buy decent houses for less than $30,000 – but no one’s buying.


Why not?


Yes, the area’s primary industry – domestic automakers and their suppliers – is in a severe decline, perhaps a death spiral (and largely brought down by regulatory burdens inflicted by state and federal political establishments). But with so many decent little houses available for so cheap why wouldn’t other employers want to take advantage of an opportunity to house their own work force at such a bargain rate?


This is the physical side of a political/economic phenomenon I’ve called “Detroitification,” which is the hollowing out of the private economy to prop up the unsustainable perks and privileges of the government establishment. At both the state and local levels, inbred, self-serving political establishments don’t view their role as serving the needs of citizens and businesses, but vice-versa. To them, the people and the private sector exist to serve the government.


The political establishment at the state level likes to blame Michigan’s decline on the woes of the big three automakers, but this begs the question of why almost none of the dozens of non-big three U.S. auto plants that have opened in over the past 20 years have located in Michigan. Or why the state didn’t get a proportional share of all the new non-auto jobs that were created this decade.


The answer to those questions also explains what I witnessed this weekend: No employer will locate in a state or community whose political/government establishment views them as “new meat” to be fed on until it dies.


So why don’t the people in these communities (and this state) change this? Sadly, they’ve been lied to for so long, and the local political game has been so rigged, that change becomes all but impossible. Individuals who have get-up-and-go, do so – to Texas, Alabama or some other place with opportunity. The alienated remainder becomes passive, lethargic and resigned. Or, they exhibit the symptoms described by Chester Finn in a recent article about Ohio, beset by the same dysfunctions:


“In both the public and private sectors, what one witnesses are the most senior employees clinging to what’s left of the economy, fending off change, demanding ever more burdensome contracts and costlier benefits. The ship is slowly sinking, but as the more agile passengers and crew take to the lifeboats and sail off, those who remain on board climb to the upper decks, determined to grab whatever plunder they can, confident that the rising waters won’t reach them.”


More graphically, public officials, public employee unions and industrial unions become like parasites sucking ever more of the lifeblood from a dwindling pool of increasingly enervated hosts.


Here’s the fundamental issue that underlies these dysfunctions at the local, state and federal levels: Representative government has been largely supplanted by the rule of an inbred, self-serving, self-perpetuating political class that has escaped the people’s control.



Update: In today’s WSJ Arthur Laffer describes the effects of related phenomena on the national stage, “The age of prosperity is over.”


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2 Responses to “Michigan’s Political Establishments Are Parasites Draining Enervated Hosts”

  1. Nick Says:

    Great article, Jack. Some of your imagery here (“new meat”) is striking.

    Re: your last paragraph, and the political class escaping the people’s control… I’d argue for a slight tweak there, especially while we talk about Detroitification. The politicians haven’t “escaped” our control here in Michigan. We’ve ceded it to them. Again and again and again by voting for the same old candidates saying and doing the same old things.

    “Change” is a big buzzword across the country this year but here in Michigan “change” is a dead concept. As long as voters choose the proverbial blue pill they’ll continue living in dreamland while the state sucks them dry of every last nutrient to power “the machine.”


  2. jmchugh4u Says:

    Hmmm, no doubt there’s plenty of blame to go around (lets not forget schools that have become indoctrination factories and purveyors of mediocrity), but the political/government class itself has been building an institutional fortress that affords them lifetime employment, benefits far exceeding the private sector, and no real accountability.

    A few elements in that fortress structure: Big government itself, that drives many citizens to seek help from their friendly legislator in navigating it. There’s a legend about a Michigan congressman who had a standing order with the Social Security administration to send out no checks to newly eligible constits until the agency heard from him. After waiting fruitlessly a few months and getting no check the constit would call his congressman, and magically the checks would start coming.

    Then there are campaign finance laws whose real purpose and effect is to insulate incumbents from any real challenge. Challengers have to account for every penny, while incumbents campaign at public expense, calling it “official business” (they get to define that term for themselves).

    BTW, we don’t have term limits at the national level because the Supreme Court ruled them too democratic. Combine that with the bipartisan conspiracy knows and redistricting and we get congressmen-for-life. Most people think that’s “just the way it is,” but it wasn’t always so – this is a relatively new phenomenon.

    At the local level, political activists do door-knocking or lit-dropping in some parts of the state are familiar with “no soliciting – no handbills” stickers handed out to homeowners by township officials. These are often a little piece of self-promotion themselves, having the name of the township supervisor.

    Have you ever wondered about those? Perhaps you thought that the township was “protecting” citizens from the scourge of door-to-door salesmen or Jehovah’s Witnesses. Nah – they’re protecting citizens from YOU. They don’t need to lit-drop – at taxpayer expense they send out “newsletters” that are thinly-disguised campaign ads. I could go on, but you get the point.

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