Camden NJ and Detroit's Decay, a foreshadowing of America's Future?

I’ve wanted to pose this question for awhile. What do you think is America’s future? Exactly what kind of life will our great grandkids inherit in 2101? That’s only ninety-one years from now.

This article focuses on Camden NJ. I’ve seen similar articles on Detroit.

I haven’t really formed a strong opinion. I really want to hear what other people think. For my own kids sake, I hope we can turn this thing around. Find the will and national pride to restore what was the greatest industrial country in the world. But, I’m also a realist and I’m just not seeing leadership at the congressional or presidential level. Mostly we have two parties battling each other and doing very little substantive work.

A few comments for the discussion. Again, these are simply talking points. I’m not trying to beat a drum that the sky is falling.

In my mother’s lifetime there has been a major shift in this country. Especially the loss of our industrial base. America’s industrial might helped win WWII. Since then the steel mills have closed, many of the great factories are gone. Many major industrial cities have been left to ruin. Poverty and crime are rampant in what were great cities. Camden NJ and Detroit are simply two of the most shocking examples.

Over regulation is another major problem. At one time, this country encouraged men with vision and determination to literally make things happen. The men who built and owned the transcontinental railroad. The oil barons and other major industrial giants. The great bankers like David Rockefeller and Chase Manhattan Bank. These were unique, (often) ruthless men that had the vision and leadership to build this nation. Yes, in many cases there were major abuses of that power. Some regulation was needed. But, I would argue in todays world there’s a straightjacket of regulations. Could we build a Hoover Dam today? How about the TVA that transformed Tennessee from a backwoods, poverty stricken state. The TVA is still generating power and creating jobs 80 years later. Is it possible to launch any major construction project today without it being mired in over regulation, planning and ineptness?

I was always very impressed with the man who built the Liberty ships for WWII. At the time the shipping industry was wringing their hands and claiming it would take many months to build even a single ship. At the time, ships were built in one dry dock. Henry J Kaiser had no experience at ship building. But, he was a man of vision and a industrialist. A man that didn’t accept excuses that something couldn’t be done. He brought modern assembly line methods to ship building. Liberty ships were built in sections all over the country. Then assembled in a central location. At the peak of production they were building Liberty ships in an average of 42 days. 2,751 Libertys between 1941 and 1945. The ships had design flaws, the weren’t perfect. But, they got the job done. Critical cargo moved to support the war and that’s what mattered.

I’d argue America has to find men like Henry Kaiser. Men with vision and determination to make changes and fix the decay we are facing. We can’t rely on the older generation anymore. Lee Iacocca used a early bail out to save Chrysler. He put it back on a soild footing twenty-five years ago. The auto industry was given a similar bail out in 2011. Who’s stepping up today? Are we seeing any signs of vision or leadership in the auto industry? David Rockefeller used Chase Bank to fund much of New York’s greatest buildings in the 1960’s. He’s getting very old and so is Warren Buffett. Who will step up and replace these men?

I think this country still has the potential of resuming it’s place in the world. There are still great men of vision out there. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were recent examples. We have to loosen regulations and let them rebuild this country. Government can’t fix Camden NJ. Only capitalists can do that. People that can go in and create the jobs needed to revitalize the economy and rebuild the city.

This country still has it’s place in the world. We are still the world’s largest manufacturer. We don’t employ as many people in manufacturing because not only have we become more efficient in general, we also concentrate on manufacturing the products that can be manufactured efficiently. An explosion of entrepreurship will not change this. Nor will greater deregulation.

Links to the story of Henry J Kaiser and the Liberty Ships.

Rereading my OP. I’m struck by the difference in how this country was built and the world we face today. The transcontinental railroad wasn’t planned in a gov office. There was no Presidential committee to study the problem and report it’s findings to Congress. It was built in stages by men that saw the need and the potential for profit. The government was there and had some influence but it was primarily a independent project run by several major capitalists. Competition and a desire for profit got the transcontinental railroad built.

I see that same lack of central planning in the computer industry. Who would have ever predicted that college drops like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs would be so influential? Even they didn’t know in the beginning how far their work would take them. Bill Gates was ambitious, but could he possibly have envisioned the scope of Microsoft in 1977?

Our system works best when Gov gets out of the way. Some things can’t be planned and vetted by committee. They just have to happen because somebody has a vision and is willing to work to accomplish it.

How is government “in the way” in places like Camden and Detroit? And don’t say that it’s because Democrats run city hall there: that’s a result of the poverty, not a cause. The rust belt is caused by manufacturing industry becoming less profitable, for a variety of reasons. And the failure of Camden and Detroit is caused by a combination of racial discrimination and a lack of an adequate social safety net. The outer suburbs of Detroit and of Camden-Philadelphia are doing reasonably well, while the inner suburbs fall into ruins.

Things have been going downhill ever since “Throw another thousand Chinese corpses at it” became a Chinese solution to building great things instead of an American one.

You don’t think it helped a lot that the railroads WERE GIVEN THE FUCKING LAND by the government?

Wait, your thesis is “the government is the problem” and some of your examples are Hoover Dam and the TVA, both big-government projects?:confused::smack::rolleyes: Is this a slightly more refined version of “keep your government hands off my Medicare?” :smiley:

Although, to be fair, both Hoover Dam and the TVA are consistent with your (IMHO more defensible) thesis of “we need people of vision.” It’s just that, contrary to 30+ years of propaganda, it’s possible for vision to come from government as well as the private sector. For example, the TVA was a vision to bring electric power to rural areas that the private electric utilities were for the most part ignoring.

Even the transcontinental railroad was a government vision – Pacific Railroad Act of 1862 – realized with private capital as (to use an anachronistic term) a public-private partnership. It required Lincoln to push for it just as surely as electric power needed an Edison or oil extraction and distribution needed a Rockefeller.

IMHO, a lack of vision cannot be attributed to one political party or another. Unwillingness to invest in infrastructure for the future simply because government will/may run it is IMHO a greater obstacle to further progress at this time than alleged over-regulation.

Camden is no great prize, but quite frankly I can walk around any city in the world and find boarded-up houses and buildings out of use. Camden has a few more than most, but its hardly unique.

We stopped being a manufacturer because frankly a service economy has better margins.

The pictures they sow of the ‘glorious past’ are basically of industrial sweatshops. A lot of those were already fading post-WW2. The whole Delaware Valley region was wide variety industrial and took a huge hit in the Great Depression. WW2 brought it back to life, but it was really heading out in the long term.

Keep in mind that the killer blow to Camden was the race riots in the 60’s. Industry was still around then.

Shipbuilding was all but gone from the Delaware post WW2. The Cramp Shipbuilding Company closed in 1947 and had a volatile history. The Navy Yard was closed a decade ago and is being converted. There’s one shipyard still left in Philly but shipbuilding doesn’t take the labor it used to. I have a hard time using shipbuilding as a measure of much these days.

One thing ignored by the Daily Fail is that Camden is completely surrounded by very decent townships.

Camden is in a bad place, but it is in no way representative of the cities of the US as a whole.

Now, now, industrial giants were perfectly capable of killing off the white folks as well. After all some 37,000 fatal industrial accidents in 1944 is no reason to have any regulations in place.

On the contrary, Camden and Detroit are exceptions to the rule. Most other cities have undergone renewal and have enjoyed declining crime rates. I can’t see how people constantly grumble about “rising crime” as if it were the '80s when the statistics have shewn otherwise for the last two decades.

Indeed. Most cities have been able to work with their advantages and make themselves appealing places to live. Detroit and Camden have the big problem of ‘not much to work with in the first place’.

Detroit - Car based economy when US car makers can barely get their act together.

Camden - Economy of a) Vinyl records (RCA), b) Military Shipbuilding (NY Shipbuilding company) and C) Soup. I think we know what happened to ‘a’, ‘b’ was drying up fast in post-WW2, and ‘c’? Soup won’t support a city.

Being a satellite city can be a real pain in the ass sometimes. You lack the resources of the big city you orbit (Philadelphia) and the high incomes of the suburbs and other towns further out from you. Chester, PA has similar problems, but it isn’t indicative of the USA as a whole.

Unless we can come up with cheap fuels for transportation in the next few decades*, I can’t help but think that our cities will continue the re-urbanization trend started over the past 10 years. People will have to move back to cities because going long distances will be so expensive. And with that will come all sorts of jobs, including manufacturing, because people won’t be able to afford a daily commute.

*From whatever source. Synth fuels, discovery of more exploitable oils, electric vehicles, whatever.

The steel mills here in Pittsburgh closed down around 30 years ago. There are boarded-up houses here, and the population is down from what it was in the early twentieth century. But we have other employers here now, mostly not doing manufacturing, and our unemployment rate is better than the national average. I dare say Pittsburgh is a nicer place to live now than it was in 1868 when James Parton described it as “hell with the lid off”, when industry was running full swing. I wasn’t here then, of course, but the descriptions I’ve heard from that time period don’t sound like a nice place to live.

It’s not as if cities are doomed if heavy industry isn’t being done there any more.

And yes, the crime rate has been dropping all across the US since the early 1990s. There is hysteria about crime, because that makes viewers watch 24-hour news channels, but that’s not the same thing as actual crime.

There’s less shipbuilding now in Camden and elsewhere than there was in WWII because- guess what- we’re not fighting a world war that calls for a lot of ships. If there’s less demand for the product, of course there’s going to be less of it manufactured.

[quote=“aceplace57, post:3, topic:626370”]

Links to the story of Henry J Kaiser and the Liberty Ships.

Rereading my OP. I’m struck by the difference in how this country was built and the world we face today. The transcontinental railroad wasn’t planned in a gov office. There was no Presidential committee to study the problem and report it’s findings to Congress. It was built in stages by men that saw the need and the potential for profit. The government was there and had some influence but it was primarily a independent project run by several major capitalists. Competition and a desire for profit got the transcontinental railroad built


You realize that the Government, handed this out as a project, gave them the land plus alternating sections of 600 acres for the entire route, paid them by the mile and Congress had to intervene when they built past each other to keep the money coming.

Suggested reading

Nothing like it in the world by Stephen Ambrose, a very positive view

Hear that lonesome whistle blow by Dee Brown a less positive view


Sorry about my sloppy editing on the last post, I failed to make the quote box. I hope I was clear and not confusing oops


Except when it doesn’t.

For instance, your recent economic crisis was caused in a non insignificant part by a lack of regulation. And after that, bailing out banks helped mitigating the problem (something which wouldn’t have happened at the “good old time” of the robber barons. The government would have let the banks go bankrupt and as a result the economy completely collapse)
ETA : Also, industry produces a larger share of the GDP in the USA than in other western countries. In fact, the USA is the less desindustrialized developed nation.

Just to get back on track.

What I’m really asking is what sort of U.S. our great-grandkids will inherit in 2101. Will our infrastructure continue to decay, will there be more poverty. Will there be more cities like Camden NJ? Or will things get turned around and improve?

It’s something I think about a lot as my kids talk about marriage. I’ll have grand-kids within the next few years. Probably great-grand kids by 2040. They’ll be alive in 2101. I just wonder what sort of country they will inherit.

Places have become economically unviable throughout our history. We’ve enjoyed a half century or so of unprecedented prosperity, so it seems surprising to see failing cities, but the cold, hard fact is that they’re buggy whip cities and people trying to hold on there are pretty much just cargo cults anymore.

You ignore the corrosive effects of public unions and corrupt city governments. When cities like Camden and Detroit start to decline, intelligent government would:

  1. cut payrolls and reduce taxes
  2. prevent marginal neighborhoods from becoming slums
  3. lobby manufacturers to move plants to the city
    Instead, these cities hired MORE people (political favors), raised taxes, and drove remaining industries out.
    Their decline was all but assured-look at Detroit-a succession of corrupt mayors (from Coleman Young all down). What makes a city like Hong Kong boom? Limited taxation, efficient government, and low corruption.
    Unfortunately, as long as the Federal Government elects to ship billions to these basket cases, nothing will change.

(1) Detroit has already laid off firefighters and cut the budget to the bone. Reducing taxes would be fucking stupid.
(2) Wow! Why didn’t Mayor Bing think of this one? Thank goodness you’re here, Captain Obvious!
(3) Again, there is only so much “lobbying” that can be done.

There hasn’t been a succession of corrupt mayors in Detroit. Kilpatrick, yes. Dennis Archer was a great mayor, as is Dave Bing.

You’re all underestimating Detroit. The future is actually a little brighter.. I’d a thousand times rather live in Detroit than any city in a red state.

Comparing any American city to Hong Kong is absurd. Cheap labor and the unfettered freedom to exploit them isn’t a path I want to take.