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Following up on the recent post regarding the apparent financial and social decline of the US, I’ve come across a report that the city of Detroit is so deep in dept and finding it so hard to raise money that it is planning to downsize vital public services, such as the police and fire departments. As harsh a measure as that sounds, one that is potentially frightening to the local population, it is only a symptom of the larger decay of one of the big American cities, home to the local car industries (or what’s left of them) and legendary home of Motown.

Looking at the larger picture, the city (with several others on their way to follow) is actually downsizing not only in budget and manpower but also in size – neighborhoods are actually being deserted  and left to nature. A Time report on this can be seen here.

A quick search on the topic brought me to this blog, the author of which is a Detroit resident who goes around the city armed with his DSLR and archives, among many other things, the widespread urban decay. The photos he takes are really depressing – a lot of boarded up houses, abandoned churches and schools, city blocks which used to be teeming with people and are now completely abandoned (except for wildlife, that is).

The pictures really best tell the tale (have a look at additional posts on this blog – there are a lot of really haunting pictures, especially the ones of schools):

Such a phenomena was truly unbelievable to me, coming from a country where the population is quite crowded and real estate prices booming, and living in Western Europe where while land is available, some areas (notably the Netherlands) are very crowded. In hindsight, though, urban degeneration is possible and ultimately likely when financials are taken into account – and that’s a clear sign that the American system is not well.

“We work day and night and try to save for our retirement.

But we are never more than a pay check or two from the streets.”


I’ve read a couple of articles over the last few days which paint a worrying picture about the state of society and the economy at large in the US of A. First was a piece in the FT called “The crisis of middle class America“, which describes how even families with a decent annual income are caught between high healthcare costs and mortgages which are several times more expensive than the house they live in, resulting in their not having any chance of conveniently retiring or leaving their kids with a reasonable inheritance.

 

“Dubbed “median wage stagnation” by economists, the annual incomes of the bottom 90 per cent of US families have been essentially flat since 1973 […]. That means most Americans have been treading water for more than a generation. […] In the last expansion, which started in January 2002 and ended in December 2007, the median US household income dropped by $2,000 – the first ever instance where most Americans were worse off at the end of a cycle than at the start. Worse is that the long era of stagnating incomes has been accompanied by something profoundly un-American: declining income mobility.”


An strong article which paints a worrying picture, highlighted both by hard statistics and a couple of example families to drive the message home. This touches the bedrock of American society, and if it continues bodes ill for American society and its prosperity.

 

The second piece is an op-ed by Paul Krugman in the NY Times (“America Goes Dark“), in which he discusses the crumbling infrastructure and decaying education system and posits them as resulting from the government spending cuts of the last two decades, themselves in turn tied in his article to the enduring tax cuts for the American rich.

“Meanwhile, a country that once amazed the world with its visionary investments in transportation, from the Erie Canal to the Interstate Highway System, is now in the process of unpaving itself: in a number of states, local governments are breaking up roads they can no longer afford to maintain, and returning them to gravel.”

Now, I won’t go into whether his economic theory is correct or not – I’m sure that conclusion heavily depends on which side of the American political map you’re on, but there is no real argument that infrastructure and education in the states are no longer world leaders, far from it.

And combining this with the decaying middle class in the FT piece serves to paint a morbid picture on the future of “this great nation”. While America is still an innovation powerhouse which draws millions of poor and needy seeking a better life, such widespread decay of both infrastructure and socioeconomic classes is a cause for concern…of course there is no easy solution for such a huge problem. The question is, can something be done?


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