Orr’s actions [transferring DWSD to Duggan] are a result of sustained and heroic activism by Detroit citizens, and a concomitant international outcry. …

The state of Michigan has undertaken a remarkable course to deal with the inefficiencies inherent in democratic accountability by appointing “emergency” managers who are essentially free from such accountability, in the hopes that they will be able to make politically unpopular decisions for the sake of overall efficiency — and allegedly the public good.  It’s worthwhile to examine Michigan’s experiment in challenging the wisdom of our founding fathers with an eye toward addressing two questions. First, has Michigan’s experiment resulted in policy that does maximally serve the public good? And second, in what sense is Michigan’s experiment consistent with the basic principles of democracy? …

Orr has chosen instead to make the citizens of Detroit bear the brunt of the financial pain. City services have been slashed. Detroit is a city that sits atop the world’s greatest reserve of fresh water, the Great Lakes. Yet Detroit is shutting off water to customers who are more than two months late on their bills and who owe $150 or more. So far, about 2 percent of Detroit’s citizens have had their water cut off; nearly half are under threat. Single mothers are heating up (expensive) store-bought water in microwaves to clean their children’s faces; the disabled are hobbling down the streets to fill buckets to flush their toilets. During this time, the debts of golf clubs and hockey arenas have largely been ignored.

… The Nazi political theorist Carl Schmitt was a fierce critic of liberal democracy. He argued that liberal democracy was incoherent because of what he called the problem of the exception. In emergency situations, there is not enough time to act democratically. In an emergency, someone would have to declare an exception to suspend the normal democratic process and handle the emergency. Schmitt argued that whoever had the power to declare an emergency situation and override the democratic process would be tempted to overuse that power, and declare nonemergency situations to be states of exception. This person would be in effect the sovereign.

The language of the emergency manager laws is that of exception. Calling the situation an “emergency,” and the undemocratically selected financial manager an “emergency manager” is nothing other than a declaration of the anti-democratic nature of what has occurred. Detroit does not face an immediate threat from a hostile invading army. To suppose that financial exigency or advancing an agenda of privatization for corporate gain are reasons to suspend democracy is to capitulate to its worst enemies.

The chief values of democracy are freedom and equality. The  willingness to subsume freedom to claims of efficiency is one sign of an undemocratic culture. Toleration of the denial of fresh water to others is another. After all, it is hard to imagine denying fresh water to those one regards as political equals. The pressure that has resulted in the decision by Detroit’s emergency manager to turn back control of the water department to the mayor, however temporary, is, one can hope, one small sign that the drought in Detroit’s democracy  may be ending.

See the original article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/07/29/detroits-drought-of-democracy/