Flint resident working abroad offers view of crisis

Kishore Jayabalan

As a native of Flint, I am very saddened by the contaminated water crisis that has broken out in my hometown and has now gathered international attention. What’s even sadder is that I am not terribly shocked that such a crisis could take place there. Flint has long been Exhibit A in the story of the decline and fall of a once-proud industrial city in the age of globalization; it is also a prime example of why monopolies in politics, business and labor are inherently prone to collusion, complacency and even corruption. Flint is what happens when we avoid competition out of a false sense of “solidarity.”

I was first tipped off to the crisis when I was home for Christmas in 2014 and getting all the snow, slush and salt washed off my mother’s car during that brutal winter. The carwash attendant asked if I was a local; when I explained my exodus from Flint to Rome, Italy, he responded, “You’re a wise man.” I asked him what he meant. He replied, “Man, the city is poisoning the water!”

After looking into the matter (and ensuring that my mother’s home in Flint Township had a different water supply than the city), I wondered: “Who in their right mind would take drinking water from the Flint River?”

It did not take long for partisan politics to inflame the crisis. Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders predictably attacked Gov. Rick Snyder, as have the national media, celebrities, race-hustlers like Jesse Jackson and, of course, the native son who has most hypocritically profited from the city’s disgrace over the years, Michael Moore.

Snyder takes most of the blame for responding slowly to the crisis, but what really angers the left is his appointment of an “emergency manager” to run the city from 2011 to 2015. They cry in unison: How undemocratic! Well, none of them ever ask why Flint required such a manager in the first place. Flint’s politicians were notoriously incompetent and corrupt, plunging it into bankruptcy, which forced the state of Michigan to take it into receivership. Another unmentioned fact: the city was run almost exclusively by the Democratic Party. This one-party rule has left Flint with massive unfunded liabilities and a shrinking tax base. Seventy-five percent of the households in Flint are single-parent and it has been one of the most violent cities in the country for decades. It is a political, social and economic basket case.

You may think it unfair to blame this all on Democrats and you would be right. They were willingly assisted by General Motors and the United Auto Workers. Taken altogether, Democrats, GM executives and UAW bosses did all they possibly could to lock out competition and control the city. The prevailing entitlement mentality of a one-party, one-employer, one-union city leaves it oblivious to changing realities.

This sort of thinking is like a drug ruining not just American cities but spreading to the country as a whole. People everywhere say they want smaller government except when it comes to their own benefits, which are considered untouchable. The entitlement mentality is clearly influencing the populist election cycle of 2016 where we reward the candidates who promise to protect us from the ravages of a global economy. I can think of no surer way to turn the entire United States of America into a coast-to-coast version of Flint.

Larger American cities like Detroit and Chicago have similar problems of cronyism and must change before they suffer similar catastrophes on an even grander scale. And the rest of the country needs to wake up and resist the siren’s call of economic populism. Trust me, I’m from Flint.

Kishore Jayabalan is director of the Acton Institute’s Rome office.