Capitalism: The Ultimate Demise of Detroit

The inconceivable rise and the subsequent fall of Detroit Michigan give an invaluable lesson on the effects of Progressive Politics. Detroit was once envied by the entire globe, and was the best place to live on the planet. However, presently it is a barren wasteland; it is an epitome of the outcome of the unsuccessful policies of the progressive ideologies. The most challenging question, which remains unanswered, is how this did happen. Numerous answers have been sought; however, they all lead to the inevitable results for all Americans should we adopt the progressive view of the world. For 50 uninterrupted years, Detroit was under the rule of Progressive Liberal Democrats. This paper will investigate the causes of the decline of Detroit Michigan; it will try to look at capitalism and its link to the ultimate demise of Detroit; and the contribution of deindustrialization on the decline of the state.

A brief History of Detroit Michigan

Detroit has a rich history. The history is characterized by massive immigration by people looking for employment opportunities and full of hope of attaining the American dream. By the close of 1880, Detroit was an immigrant state; there were over 116, 00o people from over 40 different nationalities. The Latinos were growing in numbers, and they came to work in the railway industry.

In the onset of the 20th century, the population had grown immensely, and by 1910, Detroit was the largest state in the United States. it was the only state hosting the auto industry; furthermore, it was engaged in the production of metal crafts, stove works, railcars, iron, copper, and brass. The African American class, which was an economic middle class was established by 1910. However, the late 1910 saw the commencement of the First World War and like all Americans, Detroiters were engaged in the war valiantly. The post war era saw Detroit grow geographically to over 77.9 square miles. Furthermore, the city witnessed cultural development with the opening of the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Fox theatre among other movie theatres, and the Masonic temple.

In 1922, the Ford motor Company launched the 40-Hours week; this was so appealing and made the city an attractive to new Americans and the immigrants alike. The onset of the Great depression had an overwhelming effect on the city; however, the election of Franklin Roosevelt and his signing of the New Deal saw Detroit bounce back to its initial progress. Numerous construction projects were initiated; the Detroit zoo was constructed and renowned Woodward Avenue was extended. New housing projects were also initiated in the city. The year 1932 witnessed the funding of the New Deal interior design project; this allowed the renowned muralist Diego Rivera to finish his wall painting titled, Detroit Industry.

After the Second World War, Detroit was the leading economy in the united states accounting for 1/6 of the country’s employment opportunities. The post war abundance provided many opportunities for growth; however, the city was racially segregated and conditions in the city were beginning to deteriorate. The post war era is discussed in terms of the black and white conflicts; these were the significant populations in the city. However, there were other groups like the Latinos; there were very few scholarships that were offered to these groups. Nonetheless, the African Americans were engaged in the fight against racial discrimination in housing and employment, and by the end of 1953, Detroit prided itself as the city with the largest number of Black owned businesses in the United States. 

In the 20th century, Detroit witnessed two major riots; one in 1943 and the other in 1967. It is alleged that the city has never bounced back from the effects of the riots; this allegation can be contested. However, one fact is for sure, the riots were the turning point for the city; the social and economic unrests rocked the city and they still do; furthermore, deindustrialization had a massive and detrimental effect on the citizens of the city in 1967 and the remaining part of the century. To the present day, Detroit is still struggling with many of these problems; companies are continually moving from the city, and so do the residents.

Detroit is destined to Collapse

A closer investigation on the period after the Second World War reveals that Detroit was destined to collapse before the 1967 violence. The industrial boom, which characterized the state in the 20th century, and the promise for ample employment opportunities for the unskilled laborers had a massive effect on the city’s population; the population grew from less than half a million people in 1910 to over 1.5 million people by the end of 1930. It is believed that the city’s population peaked by the end of 1950s; however, the population levels dropped massively and hit the pre-war levels by the end of the next decade.

The massive decline witnessed in Detroit can be attributed to many factors; economic, political, social, and technological factors combined in a way that was unmatched in any other part of the United States. Detroit relied uniquely on a single industry. Therefore, these effects had a massive effect on the city as opposed to their effects on any other city at the time. The Federal housing and transportation policies changed significantly in the 1940s and 1950s; this resulted in subsidized construction of suburbs. Furthermore, the era was witnessing technological changes, which had a massive effect on the manufacturing industry and resulted in a reduction of the number of unskilled employment opportunities available. Furthermore, this contributed to the decentralization of the automotive factories.

After the end of the Second World War, Detroit was the fourth most populous city in the US, and was dubbed the industrial powerhouse. In the war period, Detroit’s automotive manufacturing industries had been converted to manufacture military equipments such as tanks and airplanes among other military equipments; thus, blacks and other immigrants continued to flock the city due to the availability of unskilled employment opportunities. Furthermore, the federal government had declared zero tolerance on the military job recruitment. This led to the black population shifting to Detroit to surpass the foreign-born immigrants.

This period of growth was not without conflict. The Black population in Detroit had swelled massively, along with the massive growth that had been witnessed in the automobile industry since 1910. This was aggravated further in the war period, which saw an increase in the black population, more so, after the Pearl Harbor attack. The 20th of June 1943 marked the commencement of Detroit’s problems; what commenced as a fight between black and White youth led to a three-day demonstration on the streets of Detroit.

Capitalism and Deindustrialization in Detroit

A general agreement exists that capitalism is characterized by private ownership of the factors of production, the production of goods and services in the market is profit oriented, and the market is characterized by the existence of wages, prices, and competition. The majority of the automobile manufacturers in Detroit were capitalists. The years prior to the Second World War witnessed a massive increase in employment opportunities, which peaked during the war. However, the period after the war was characterized by a massive adoption of automation technologies. The automobile manufacturers were driven by the profit motive and they had to look for ways to cut costs. Thus, the onset of automation was a blessing in disguise. In the pretext that automation would simplify the tasks performed by the laborers and eliminate the hazardous tasks, they automated their production processes. However, the real motive behind the adoption of automation was cost cutting and a reduction of industrial unrest resulting from union activities. Automation was an effective way of reducing labor costs, reduction of production disruptions and maximizing output, and maximizing profits; all these are capitalist goals.

Since the 19th century, capitalists have always used urban renewal as a strategy for staving off market collapses. After the end of the Second World War, the United States witnessed a wave of urban development; however, this was undertaken in a much grander scale. Large freeways and other infrastructural projects were undertaken to allow for the development of cities and suburban areas. The high consumption spending of the suburban lifestyle pushed back the economic crisis, at least for a period; however, this was at the cost of the urban communities, which fell into poor shape and neglect. This was the fate of Detroit. The other cities suffered too; however, Detroit had a unique effect due to the severity of its history of racial discrimination and the sole reliance on the manufacturing industry.

One of the main contributors of deindustrialization in Detroit is the lack of land for industrial expansion; this emerged after the war. A survey conducted in 1951 revealed that only an insignificant 367 acres were available for industrial expansion; however, the land was along Detroit’s rail corridors, and was a necessary feature for the transportation of raw materials and finished goods. The most disturbing thing is that the land was distributed across 36 sites; the largest site was 54 acres. In contrast, Ford Motor Company’s Wayne, MI construction and assembly was situated in 229 acres. The factory was built in 1952. Factories that were built in the period between 1940s and 1950s were solid multi-storey factories that suit the technology that was available at the time. However, the technological advancements in the 1940 and 1950s required larger single-storey factory buildings; this design was appropriate to accommodate automated tools; however, there was no sufficient space to accommodate these new factories within the city.

The factor that attracts the largest blame for Detroit’s deindustrialization is the onset of automation. Automation required large single-storey factories; furthermore, it reduced the number of workers required to do a task significantly. A good example that portrays the adverse effects of automation is the Ford Rouge complex case; the number of employment opportunities at the facility declined massively from 85,000 in 1945 to a low of 30,000 in 1960. The automation of manufacturing processes was the dream of every industrialist at the time; it had a massive cost cutting effects. It led to a reduction in the labor costs while increasing production output. However, other factors played a critical role in the move towards automation; union strikes were a common occurrence in Detroit. The distribution of production plants throughout the country, and more so, in small rural settings would reduce the labor unions ability to unionize the workers. The labor unions dictated the number of output; however, machines would not demonstrate in case the output levels were exceeded. The automakers knew of the adverse effects of automation; however, they hid the facts and stated, somehow truthfully, that automation would ease the work conducted by the laborers and eliminate the hazardous jobs. On a national scale, and despite the automation of the automobile industry, the automobile industry employment opportunities were on the rise; this occurred despite the fact that the outdated factories were being shut down. However, at the local level, there was real and eminent danger, and the industry players did little to remedy the situation; outdated plants were fast being phased out and jobs relocated elsewhere. Automation replaced the hazardous and simple tasks, and it had a massive effect on the entry-level employment opportunities, which required unskilled labor. These were the only employment opportunities available for the blacks; therefore, automation had a massive detrimental effect on the Blacks, the major population in Detroit. The White workers who had senior skills relocated with the relocation of the automated factories; however, the majority Blacks who relied on the unskilled entry-level employment opportunities were left behind and unemployed.

The new technology also allowed the manufacturers to undertake additional production, which had been previously delegated to the smaller suppliers. This was very profitable to the bottom-line employees of most automobile manufacturers; however, it had a detrimental effect on Detroit.  The metal and tool-and-die industries were the largest source of employment in Detroit. These industries were fast to follow on the footsteps of the car manufacturers, and moved to the suburbs. This was made easy by the majorly white composition of the small, privately owned industries. The owners and the skilled laborers left their Detroit homes and industrial buildings, and were instrumental in the development of the suburbs. The main automobile manufacturers started producing their own auto bodies rather than subcontracting the manufacturing process; in a three years period, this led to the closer of three major body manufacturers in Detroit, and the loss of thousand of employment opportunities.

In conclusion, Detroit had witnessed an unparallel immigration of the black population; this led to rising racial tension. However, placing the blame on Detroit’s unprecedented fall on the racial animosity between the black and White populations ignores the proceeding years of economic and political developments, which set the stage for the riots, and the real factor, which played the pioneering role in Detroit’s decline. Manufacturing competency propelled Detroit’s industrial supremacy; the ability to produce cars and weapons created numerous employment opportunities, which peaked during the Second World War. The numerous employment opportunities attracted the majority of African Americans from the poor areas. In the years following the war, deindustrialization led to a massive decrease of Detroit’s labor market. The adoption of automation technologies led to a massive reduction in the labor force by automation of most of the tasks that were being performed by the unskilled laborers. Corporations started building their own parts; this further reduced the employment opportunities by closing the small industries left behind after the relocation of the larger automobile manufacturers. Therefore, the employment opportunities in Detroit declined quickly; it is alleged that employment opportunities declined by a massive 134,000 between the years 1947 and 1963. The black population was the most adversely affected; they benefited the most when the job opportunities were on the rise during the war, and suffered the biggest loss with the deindustrialization.

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