Free Markets, Free People

Bill Nojay

What happened in Detroit? Well, frankly, “Atlas Shrugged”

You have to read this article by Bill Nojay in the Wall Street Journal.  Nojay was hired as the COO of the Detroit Department of Transportation, on contract, for 8 months.  His litany of woes is, as Insty notes, almost straight out of Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged”. 

It is all but an article of faith on the left and certain pseud-intellectuals that Rand was a crackpot.  Yet here we are watching what she wrote become reality:

Micromanagement by the council was endemic; I once sat for five hours waiting to discuss a minor transportation matter while City Council members debated whether to authorize the demolition of individual vacant and vandalized houses, one by one. There are over 40,000 vacant houses in Detroit.

Union and civil-service rules made it virtually impossible to fire anyone. A six-step disciplinary process provided job protection to anyone with a pulse, regardless of poor performance or bad behavior. Even the time-honored management technique of moving someone up or sideways where he would do less harm didn’t work in Detroit: Job descriptions and qualification requirements were so strict it was impossible for management to rearrange the organization chart. I was a manager with virtually no authority over personnel.

When the federal government got involved, it only made things worse. A federal lawsuit charging that the DDOT did not fully comply with the law in accommodating disabled riders had dragged on for years because of idealistic but painfully naïve Justice Department attorneys seeking regulatory perfection. I felt like a guy in the boiler room of the Titanic, desperately bailing to keep the ship afloat for a few more hours while the DOJ attorneys complained from their first-class cabin that their champagne wasn’t properly chilled.

Detroit’s other municipal departments had similar challenges. I would often compare notes with managers trying to run the city’s street lights, recreation programs, police departments and smaller offices. All of us faced similar gridlock.

The “government is the answer” crowd have a lot to answer for when considering Detroit.  In that city, government was as much of the problem, in fact, likely the biggest problem the city faced.  It couldn’t get out of its own way.  And as the city deteriorated and taxes skyrocketed in an attempt to offset the deterioration, the producers finally fled.  They shrugged.  They said, “no more.”  This country is headed in the same direction.

It just may take a little bit more time to reach the depths of Detroit and suffer the same result – but there’s little if any question it’s on the same road as Detroit.  It has passed through the stop sign, busted through the road closed sign and is headed toward the cliff.  The only control anyone may have now is how fast the whole contraption reaches the edge.

~McQ