In this Prager University video, Philip Howard explains how unions are sucking money from city and state budgets across America. This type of financial drain led, in part, to the demise of Detroit. As Howard points out in the video, “Government is supposed to serve the public good, not government employees.”
Douglas Wilson has an interesting take on Detroit’s bankruptcy: “like a drunk trying to make it to the next lamp post.” Why this analogy? Wilson says we first have to understand that Detroit is inevitably in a defaulting situation; the question now is what kind of default.
The only thing we don’t know is what kind of default it will be. The only thing we don’t know is who the unlucky victim of our defaulting will be.
Government does not make wealth. If government has wealth, then this means it was taken. The only way that the government can acquire the means to pay its obligations and debts is by taking it. The only question left before the house is “who will they take it from?”
In an interview with Vatican Radio, Acton Rome office director Kishore Jayabalan offers perspective on the bankruptcy filing yesterday by the city of Detroit. Jayabalan told the network that Detroit is “really a city that’s on its knees.” Failing to fix its fundamental problems, he continued, the city must now change its “political and economic” infrastructure to come back from the brink, and that right now, much of the population has “given up.”
Listen to the interview by clicking on the media player below:
Anyone who’s been to Detroit in recent years knows it’s a mess. Acres and acres of abandoned houses, a population decline of 25% in the past 10 years, an astronomical crime rate, and the city is literally leaking money to the tune of some $200 million in two months. Back in March, Gov. Rick Snyder appointed bankruptcy attorney Kevyn Orr as the city’s emergency financial manager, and Orr has just released his report on the city’s financial state.
Before we begin weeping about the death of the Motor City, there are bright spots. Fast Company did a piece in April highlighting entrepreneurs who are taking advantage of low-rent and housing prices and the need for creative work to boost Detroit’s economy. Dan Gilbert is a real estate broker working on filling office space downtown. Andy Didorosi has created a bus service that takes patrons from night-spot to night-spot in safe, fun and comfortable buses. Alicia George has opened a coffee house, and is optimistic that several new businesses have opened near-by.
Now for the bad news. The city of Detroit is paying a farrier (that’s a person who shoes horses) $56,000 in pay and benefits. Right now, in 2013. Let’s just say that he’s not really earning his pay in today’s downtown Detroit. The Detroit Water & Sewer Department is telling the cash-strapped city they need more employees – union employees. And the city’s unionized teachers? They want to cash in unused sick days for over $14 million. (more…)
I was thinking about just this thing after reading an opinion piece in today’s Detroit News from yet another technocrat who thinks he’s got a solution to the city’s deep, decades-old problems. His plan, dressed up with a lot of happy talk about building “vibrant central cities,” defaults to (surprise) convincing Michigan taxpayers that they should fund “local services” for Detroiters. This sort of abstract theorizing, divorced from political and public policy reality, always defaults to more taxes, bigger government and “public-private partnerships” led by corporate execs and teams of technocrats. This has been going on for close to 50 years in Detroit.
The writer of this article, Lou Glazer of the nonprofit Michigan Future, Inc., says the city, and places like Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo (full disclosure: I’m from Pontiac) need new “delivery systems” for services. And light rail and bike paths. “If Michigan will not reinvest in cities, then there needs to be some new system of municipal finance put in place,” he writes. Yes, investment. Nowhere, however, amid all the talk of growing the city with “young, mobile talent” does he suggest that there might be some people in Detroit with new ideas about how to come to grips with the city’s problems. Or do they all lack what it takes to turn Motown into a “talent magnet,” as he puts it. (more…)
Last week, Barrett Clark summarized some key insights shared at the recent Common Good RVA event in Richmond, Virginia. The event was part of Christianity Today’s This Is Our City project, which seeks to highlight how Christians are “using their gifts and energies in all sectors of public life—commerce, government, technology, the arts, media, and education—to bring systemic renewal to the cultural ‘upstream’ and to bless their neighbors in the process.”
This week, the project moves its focus to Detroit, one of its target cities, where local artist Yvette Rock shares how God is actively using the work of his people to rebuild what has become a broken city. In a moving video interview, Rock discusses the ways in which she integrates faith, work, and community.
Rock’s recent project, “The Ten Plagues of Detroit,” focuses on some of the main issues currently tugging at Detroit—“issues of justice, oppression, violence, and homelessness.” Given that these are issues that “also concern God,” Rock explains, she sees no need to separate “art life” from “faith life” in her daily work. “It’s together,” she says. “It’s combined.” (more…)
Some time back I argued that urban farming and the entrepreneurial spirit in Detroit was something that should be embraced rather than dismissed. Detroit mayor Dave Bing has given verbal support for urban and community farms in the past, but in many cases some regulatory hurdles remained and he was somewhat skeptical at times about the importance of large scale urban agriculture projects.
But that ambivalence seems to be history, as yesterday Michigan State University and the city of Detroit announced an agreement under which MSU “will invest $1.5 million over the next three years to help turn the city into a world hub for food system innovation.”
“We want to demonstrate that innovation based on metropolitan food production can create new businesses and jobs, return idle land to productivity and grow a more environmentally sustainable and economically vital city,” said Bing.
One concern about the MSU partnership is whether this might encourage government to over-regulate gardens, and therefore stifle innovation. As I have observed in the past, the city’s own incompetence and incapacity has actually in some limited cases provided an environment that allows entrepreneurship and revival. But there’s always legitimate worry over whether a government embrace of an industry might become crushing.
Over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg takes a look at a recent Charles Blow op-ed in the New York Times in which the writer hyperventilates about statements made by Rick Santorum on the subject of income inequality.
Economically speaking, income inequality reflects the workings of several factors, many of which are essential if we want a dynamic, growing economy. Even your average neo-Keynesian economist will acknowledge that, without incentives (such as the prospect of a higher income), many entrepreneurial projects that create wealth — not to mention jobs and often greater incomes for others — may lie dormant forever. Either that or the entrepreneur will simply leave for a more friendly economic environment in which his ideas, willingness to assume risk, and potential job-creation capacities are taken more seriously.
Part of Mr. Blow’s unhappiness with Santorum was that he made his inequality remarks in Detroit, despite Blow correctly noting that “income inequality in the Detroit area isn’t particularly high.”
But Detroit’s well-documented economic problems have little to do with income inequality per se. They have far more to do with decades of corporatist collusion between bailed-out car companies and the UAW, rampant political corruption, and assorted crony-capitalist arrangements — the same arrangements that recently helped, as a recent University of Illinois study illustrated, the Chicago metropolitan region merit (yes, merit) the unenviable title of “the most corrupt area in the country since 1976.”
Read “Inequality Anyone?” by Samuel Gregg on National Review Online.
Over at National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg recaps President Obama’s State of the Union address:
There is always something surreal about a Chicago politician talking about “fairness” and “playing by the rules.” There is something even more bizarre about a president talking about the need to expand energy production after his administration has generally undermined significant progress in facilitating energy development for three years in the middle of a recession. And who would describe Detroit as “on the way back”? A stroll down the ghost town otherwise known as downtown Detroit — which is teetering on the edge of being put into administration — would suggest the opposite. It’s not often that I agree with very much said by the New York Times’s Maureen Dowd, but this State of the Union speech illustrated that the lady was dead right in describing the Obama presidency as a bubble within a bubble.
Read it all on NRO.
My contribution to this week’s Acton News & Commentary:
Flash Mobbing King’s Dream
by Anthony B. Bradley
Every black person apprehended for robbing stores in a flash mob should have their court hearing not in front of a judge but facing the 30-foot statute of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at his Washington memorial site. Each thief should be asked, “What do you think Dr. King would say to you right now?”
I was not angry when I initially saw the news footage of young blacks robbing convenience stores across America; I was brought to tears. In fact, as we approach the dedication of Dr. King’s memorial we may all need to take a closer look at his chiseled stone face for the presence of tears. Tears like the one shed by Native American actor Chief Iron Eyes Cody in the 1970s public service announcement about pollution. The historic PSA shows the Native American shedding a tear after surveying the pollution in an America that previously had none. It ended with the tagline, “People start pollution. People can stop it.” If Dr. King were alive today he might proclaim, perhaps with tears, that “people start flash mobs. People can stop them.”
Dr. King’s dream has been realized by many African Americans who have been able to take full advantage of the opportunities made available through his martyr’s quest for justice. Would Dr. King ever have imagined that 40 years after his “I Have A Dream” speech that a black family would be in the White House, not as maintenance or kitchen staff, but as the First Family? Yet, years after the civil-rights struggle affirmed black dignity, we have young black people ransacking stores in groups.
Every time a flash mob loots, it is robbing Dr. King of his dream. All over America, from Philadelphia to Chicago, from Washington to Detroit, young people who could be contributing to common good are trading in their dignity for the adrenaline rush of stealing from others. “We will not tolerate such reprehensible behavior here,” said District of Columbia Mayor Vincent C. Gray in a statement responding to recent mob thefts there. “Some news coverage of this incident has reported residents questioning whether the robbery could have been morally justified,” he added. “Actually, both morality and the law are quite clear: It is wrong to steal from others. And if people do not obey the law, they will be apprehended, arrested and prosecuted.” What Gray highlights is a troubling regression of public virtue and civil rights.
Dr. King’s dream was one that harmonized morality and law. However, King’s dream will never be realized in America as long as this country continues with the mythology that freedom does not require personal integrity and character. Proponents of dubious sociological and psychological theories allege that these flash mobs loot stores because minority young people feel disenfranchised and marginalized from mainstream society. What King taught us is that political and social frustration does not justify breaking the law. Perhaps if these disenfranchised youth where familiar at all with life under Jim Crow, or cared about the legacy of civil-rights heroes like Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Young, and others, they could tap into the imagination of an heroic generation, formed by the virtues of religion, who pursued public justice by pursuing public virtue.
An ailing American culture is responsible for this spectacle. In a society that does not value forming young people in the way of prudence, justice, courage, self-control, and the like, why should we be surprised that convenience stores are being robbed by youthful mobs? In a society that does not value private property and fosters a spirit of envy and class warfare through wealth redistribution, why should we be surprised that young people don’t value someone else’s property? Radical individualism and moral relativism define the ethics of our era and criminal flash mobs expose our progressive failure.
As we celebrate King’s memorial, we must lament the fact that America’s abandonment of virtue is destroying the lives of young black people and undermining the legal and economic catalysts that could end our recession for good. In solidarity with Mayor Gray, I stand in front of the King statue, called “The Stone Of Hope,” with a new dream: that a resurgence of virtue would give rise to a generation of moral and law-abiding citizens. In this way will young blacks truly experience the dreams of King and others who died for justice.