Let’s talk about Detroit. But first, let’s talk about Potosi.
You’ve probably never heard of Potosi. In its heyday, it was the biggest city in the western hemisphere. That heyday was 400 years ago, when Potosi – a silver mining city 13,000 feet up in the Bolivian Andes – supplied the Spanish conquistadores with a fortune in silver.
By 1800, the silver mostly played out and Potosi’s economy went away. There was some tin but little else, and Potosi faded into a backwater. It’s still there. It still produces a little silver, giving work to miners laboring in such awful conditions that the average longevity is about 40. It still supports (more or less) a population of 130,000, about half as many as when it was the silver city of the Americas.
Is this Detroit’s future? History is full of surprises but, on present evidence, the answer has to be yes.