On July 18, the city of Detroit declared that it had reached insolvency, and, with $11 billion in debt, filed for bankruptcy. Since the announcement, numerous pundits have penned postmortems attempting to explain Detroit’s decline, but Daniel Hannan has gotten closest to the essence of the issue.
In his piece for the Telegraph, Hannan insightfully compares the similarities between the downfall of Detroit and that of Starnesville, a town in Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. Quoting from the Observer, Hannan relayed of modern Detroit:
What isn’t dumped is stolen. Factories and homes have largely been stripped of anything of value, so thieves now target cars’ catalytic converters. Illiteracy runs at around 47%; half the adults in some areas are unemployed. In many neighborhoods, the only sign of activity is a slow trudge to the liquor store.
This decayed landscape is eerily similar to the description of Starnesville provided by Ayn Rand fifty-six years ago. Hannan provides a comparative excerpt from Atlas Shrugged:
A few houses still stood within the skeleton of what had once been an industrial town. Everything that could move, had moved away; but some human beings had remained. The empty structures were vertical rubble; they had been eaten, not by time, but by men . . . The inhabited houses were scattered at random among the ruins; the smoke of their chimneys was the only movement visible in town . . . Beyond the town, on a distant hill, stood the factory of the Twentieth Century Motor Company. Its walls, roof lines and smokestacks looked trim, impregnable like a fortress. It would have seemed intact but for a silver water tank: the water tank was tipped sidewise.
Although the town of Starnesville is fictional, it serves as a warning of the destruction wrought by a particular ideology and the regulations and wealth-redistribution schemes it demands or condones. Unfortunately, like so many people and so many governments, those of Detroit did not heed Rand’s warning. Nor does Hannan explicitly name the ideology at play. . . .