dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

The Detroit Blues

Detroit has declared bankruptcy. Meant to clear the city's debts and inspire a new beginning, the decision will leave many current and former city workers with the short-end of the stick. Will the move revive the fortunes of what was the nation's fourth largest city? The Times story on the bankruptcy.

Here is another look at the situtation by Juan Cole, resident of Michigan and close observer of Detroit's woes. He speculates that the city's downfall rests on developments beyond the city's control: globalization, robotization, racism, etc. If Detroit has a new beginning it will be very different than the one inaugurated by Henry Ford's Model-T. Cole wonders if Detroit's fate isn't that of other large U.S. cities dependent on major industrial production. Cole's assessment.

Topics: 

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

Cole's criticism of "barracuda capitalism" is right on target.  His proposed revisions are something else.  

One thing i clear:   there won't be any sane discussions of the basic economic problems, much less solutions, until the current Republican leadership (who are the agents of the barracudas) is thrown out.  It is possible that Detroit will shake up enough Republicans for them to see how desperately wrong their economic theory has been since Reagan.  But where are such leaders?  I don't see a one, except maybe Huntsman, but he seems to have retired from public life.

Apparently the art works at the Detroit Instiute of Arts are <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/20/arts/design/detroits-creditors-eye-its-art-collection.html?hp&_r=0">worth about $2 billion</a>. 

Now, of course, we always hear about how the Vatican should sell the works in its museums.  So are those who say that going to say the same thing about the DIA?

Maybe the Vatican should sell off some of its art works. Maybe Francis should and will!

I'd say the same about the Detroit Museum. If we're talking about cutting the pensions of Detroit retirees (or for that matter the return to bond holders), why not ease the burden by putting some of those art works up for sale ? In a world where the "art market" produces enormous prices, these are fair game as city assets (especially since the city owns them). How about philanthropic purchases by such as George Soros or Warren Buffett; let them pay market prices and give them back to the museum. The Times story conveys the sense of pride people have in the collection, so maybe the citizens of the Detroit suburbs and of Michigan should start a fund to be philanthropic as well, including the car companies that we bailed out in 2008-09.

Needless to say, Detroit would be better off if more Americans bought American cars.  On Saturday, I saw a Honda van bearing the bumper sticker, "The Weekend:  Brought To You By the Labor Movement."  The driver either did not know, or did not care, that the American car I was driving in was made by union workers and his Japanese car was not.

Thorin: Don't disagree with you, BUT consider that the Japanese auto workers are probably unionized and that some Japanese cars are made in the U.S. by unionized workers. True, Detroit's downfall is deeply connected to the U.S. auto companies trying to drive down the costs of labor. AND, they might have succeeded in remaining in Detroit if we had had a system of national health insurance.

None of the foreign auto plants operating in the United States is unionized; all of the GM, Ford, and Chrysler plants are.  So, when you see a foreign car in the US, it was either made by non-union labor here or it was made abroad.  Neither of those two alternatives do much for unionized American workers.

Didn't know that.

In Detroit, if you call 9-1-1 the average response time is 58 minutes!  Makes me wonder the following:

 

1) Is it false advertising to say Detroit has a 9-1-1 emergency response system.  Wouldnt it just be better to shut it down, so that everyone knows if you have an emergency you had better quickly find someone to help you, rather than calling 9-1-1...

2) How much should we be paying the unionized 9-1-1 workers and pensioners for the abysmal system they built and operate?

Those Japanese auto assembly plants, mostly in the American South, have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs and have raised the standards of living considerably in those communities. They have been a tremendous boon for American workers.  People who buy those brands are supporting American workers.

My own experience as an American consumer  is that Hondas and Toyotas are priced considerably higher than the comparable American-label models, despite that the latter's labor costs are higher (something like $1,500 per automobile, I believe).  Yet Honda and Toyota have been cleaning Detroit's clock for a generation.  It's not amenable to simple, pat explanations about labor costs.

 

 Detroit's problems can be easily summed up by 52 years of "one party rule."  And yes, that would be the Democrats, since 1961. No one else to blame folks. 

Detroit is the epoitome of Margaret Thatcher's famous line, "Sooner or later, we run out of other people's money. 

Need more proof?  Simply look at the economies  and unemployment numbers of the red states vs blue,  excluding California's 'fake surplus'.

Share

About the Author

Margaret O'Brien Steinfels, a former editor of Commonweal, writes frequently in these pages and blogs at dotCommonweal.