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Detroit Feeling Greek As the Technocrats Close In

If you want to know what it feels like to be Greek or Italian right now, you might consider moving to Detroit. Elected governments in both Greece and Italy were forced to step aside under EU pressure to put ‘technocrats’ in power.  The same fate could be in store for the Motor City soon — with the story complicated by the politics of race.

The city of Henry Ford continues on its road to nowhere. Elected officials don’t want to make savage cuts in pay and benefits for some city workers while firing many others — for understandable reasons both political and humane.  On the other hand, there isn’t any money and neither the state nor the feds will bail Detroit out.

Mayor Bing says that renegotiation of union contracts are moving forward as planned, but the threat that the governor in Lansing will appoint an emergency manager still looms large. Already, Black leaders are beginning to set up the barricades. The WaPo has the story:

Detroit owes bondholders, retirees, and other debtors more than $14.1 billion, according to a report by the  Citizens Research Council of Michigan.

The state law allows emergency managers to sell off city assets, restructure debt and break union contracts. But the managers also usurp the powers of local elected officials.

“It is the civil rights issue of our time. I didn’t vote for an emergency manager. I voted for a mayor. I did not give up my right to vote on the whims and fancies of a law that we believe is unconstitutional and immoral,” said the Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of Fellowship Chapel and a civil rights activist in Detroit. “We view it as another step in the direction of voter suppression and vote oppression.”

Detroit is Ground Zero for the breakdown of the Blue Social Model. The city built on Fordism (mass production, mass manufacturing, strong government, lifetime employment, unionization) has fallen on hard times with the end of the Fordist era.

Via Meadia hopes that Detroit can rise above these challenges without losing its local autonomy, but if the city is unable to renegotiate its public services and restore confidence in its ability to meet its financial obligations, an emergency manager won’t be nearly enough to set the city right.

The race issue is a red herring when it comes to Detroit.  Detroit isn’t broke because it has an African American majority; it is broke because for decades its politicians have spent more money than they had, and because Detroit never figured out how to reinvent itself as it lost its industrial core. (Pittsburgh and Chicago are two rust belt cities that have been much more successful than Detroit.  Atlanta has done much better under African American leadership than Detroit.) The state government and the feds aren’t refusing to bail it out because so many Detroiters are African American.  The state doesn’t have the money to bail it out, and the GOP nationally believes that bailouts enable bad behavior rather than changing it.  There is no support for bailouts in predominantly non-Black jurisdictions like New York state and California.

Detroit did everything it could to cling to the blue social model long after conditions made that model unsustainable.  What Detroit needs is for new indigenous leadership to rise in both the private and the public sectors that can help the city reinvent itself as a 21st century, post-blue metropolis. Via Meadia hopes philanthropists and others will focus on helping that leadership develop and emerge. America — and Detroit — led the world into Fordist mass prosperity and the blue social model in the 20th century.  In the 21st century, we must lead the world to a new and higher stage.

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  • Bruce B

    Detroit and its populace have probably not moved on yet from the blue social model. Until they do, there is very little hope. Blue advocates generally don’t like to let realities like no more money interfere with their vision.

  • Kris

    Fine Rev, I’ll respect your voting rights and let you keep your mayor. In return, I expect you to respect other people’s property rights and honor your financial obligations (which you voted for) without dipping your fingers in my wallet.

  • Mick The Reactionary


    “If you want to know what it feels like to be Greek or Italian right now, you might consider moving to Detroit. ”

    Let me guess. I you let 1000 people to have feel for a few days of Greek or Italy AND Detroit, I would guess just ONE person will consider moving to Detroit.

    At close examination, that one person is a slumlord wannabe.

  • Steven E

    There’s a really simple guide to figuring out the right thing in Detroit-area politics. Ask Reverend Wendell Anthony which side he’s on, and take the other. It’s at least 90% reliable.

  • Toni

    Reminds me of an old joke about psychotherapists. How many does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the light bulb has to want to change.

    It strikes me that probably too many constituencies in Detroit don’t want to change. They have theirs; they intend to keep it; and it’s somebody else’s job to sacrifice and change.

    A historical note: Henry Ford instituted a minimum wage and reduced the workday from nine hours to eight long before either was mandated. He thought it made good business sense.

  • Corlyss

    I guess this is the unfinished business from the 1960s civil rights crusade. I’ve always believed, perhaps wrongly, that had ML King lived, he would have been a potent force against blacks’ allowing themselves to become plantationized with government sinecures. What blacks needed for models were Robert Johnsons and Charles Drews, not Marion Barrys and Gus Savages and Charlie Rangles. I guess this is the next, painful phase, when blacks are gradually cut loose from the public fisc to make their fortunes in the private sector. Cities in the grip like Detroit consist of citizens still living in the 70s, smack in the middle of a railroad track with a bullet train of fiscal reality headed straight for them. They don’t want to move. They’ll choose to litigate this in the courts on the basis of disproportionate outcomes, demanding that someone pick up the $$ slack so they don’t have to change.

  • Heliogabalus

    Amen Mick. I’ve been to Italy; I’ve been to Detroit. Anyone who finds these places similar either never left their hotel room, or is bamboozled by PC ideology.

  • RebeccaH

    The African-American majority in Detroit may not be the problem, but people like Rev. Wendell Anthony ARE the problem. He’ll be banging on about “social justice” until the city crumbles, instead of working to find a realistic way out of the hole they’re in.

  • Willys

    Rather than government providing bail outs for failed cities or other government entities, let the U.S. government buy those cities for the price of their debt, dissolvng that local government of its financial obligations and responsibilities, including its administrative jobs and contracts. Then appoint a government staff in Washington D.C. to administer that purchased local agency. Any government function in that locale must be low bid, right to work.

    Any change to the condition must be initiated by citizen petition.

  • George B

    Detroit as a political entity is a hopeless mess. However, it’s surrounded by some reasonably competent suburbs. Could Detroit sell off land to pay off debt and shrink itself? I bet the land area of Detroit would be worth a lot more if it wasn’t part of the city of Detroit. Those land areas freed from Detroit politics could then start over as part of a different city or as a new one.

  • David

    Hopeless, while Detroit lurches from crisis to crisis, ad infinitum.

  • Ed

    The social parasites and criminals running Detroit refuse to shutdown the crooked unions. Instead we get this whining lying and histrionics.

  • Mkelley

    Detroit is just a preview of America in a few short years. The left, led by Obama, are using a bad recession as an excuse to spend money at a rate unseen since World War Two:
    At some point in the future, the interest rate demanded by the capital markets will go up, and we will be swamped by debt service payment. The national debt is fast approaching $20 trillion. If the market gets nervous and starts demanding, say, a 5% return to buy our treasuries, then debt service will trend toward $1 trillion per year. Can you say austerity?

  • hmi

    Italy is an infinitely more pleasant place to visit—better weather, better taste, better-educated citizens, etc.—than Detroit (visited once, never wanted to look in again). OTOH, it, too, is now falling apart, with 20% unemployment in some areas, existing pensions being cut (on my 84-year-old mother-in-law, on my wife’s 99-year-old aunt) because, shockingly, it turns out that you cannot forever spend 120% of your (declining) income.

    So, yeah, it’s Detroit, albeit with better food and architecture.

  • John Skookum

    I am quite beyond the point of caring what all the black “Reverends” say about racism, and suspect that the louder they squeal the more likely they will be found to have their own hands in the cookie jar.

  • xDetroiter

    My dad worked downtown but we lived in the suburbs. I left in 1989. This article could have been written then – word for word. They will not change. This will not end well.

  • John Stephens

    Michigan can’t help Detroit’s financial problems, but Detroit can do something for the state. After civilization collapses, the ruins can become a tourist site. They won’t even have to clone dinosaurs!

  • Denan

    I wish the good people of Detroit well.. and the bad people of Detroit to getting what they deserve.

    I do believe that before it is all said and done, the fiscally responsible actions will be trumped by fiscal affirmative action.

    The reality we’ve created in this nation is one of racial hyper sensitivity that drives many – some would say, all – decisions where a member or members of a PC race are involved.

    That ‘reality’ has and will continue to trump fiscal responsibility even beyond the time when Detroit and its people have exhausted even the most unrealistic, counter-productive political solution.

    The addiction to the feeling of satisfaction and power one gets when one truly believes that money for nothing is free and limitless when taken from others is that strong.

  • Chris Bolts

    Just remember: Any suggestion that government not bail out the city of Detroit will be seen as racist, but asking Blacks not to be wards of the state or depend upon welfare benefits is also to be seen as racist.

    Racists coming and going. I wonder how Blacks and minorities can even live in this country.

  • _Jon

    FYI: Henry Ford does not have any plants or offices in Detroit. They are in the suburbs of Detroit. Henry Ford did not build Detroit – General Motor is headquartered there and Chrysler used to be there. Ford Motor isn’t.

  • Kebert Xela

    The rev is right. If the electorate chooses devastation, so be it. Who are outsiders to say that Dininsism is unworkable? But no bailing. Preventing hsrd lessons for reasons of altruism is, um, unsustainable. It is good to see a modest mention of Kasim Reed of Atlanta. He is my mayor and I am proud to say it.

  • Kebert Xela

    Of course, that was Dinkinsism.

  • tom beebe st louis

    Let it be. Detroit is headed for a disaster and has earned it. No federal bailout, no street protests, no “managers” can or should “save” them from the consequences of their folly. The elected officials have helped create that folly; let them face the consequences. Their constiuencies will be educated by those consequences. They can not blame the sorry condition of the city which they have run for years on oters. I fear the solution this article proposes, leadership from the government allied with business leaders. That is the Chicago model for a ruling class which the Tea Party opposes and against which, though they know it not, the Occupy movement raises their voices. We will hear the calls for individual responsibility and rejection of statist solutions. Things have to get (a little bit) worse for them to get better, and no city is worse off than is Detroit. Let it lead.

  • John

    This will go the way of the UAW bailout: The bondholders will have their money stolen in its entirety and the unions will get a $50 billion dollar welfare check, courtesy of said bondholders.

    If necessary, in order to drown out the legal screams of the bondolders, some Democrat will roll out Obama’s “vultures ands speculators” schtick.

    The welfare state left is completely eroding the underpinnings of everything that made this country great: rule of law, personal property and the trust built into the fabric of our society.

  • Aubrey

    Decades of Corrupt Leftist Politics, Union Thuggery and Govt Dependent Criminals and what do you get….Detroit.

  • OSweet

    Detroit can sell off its assets, heh. How much for that gigantic fist in the middle of the city. That makes everyone feel so welcome.

  • Jay Guevara

    For my part, I consider gravity to be un-Constitutional and immoral.

  • Pashley1411

    Detroit won’t change, just get smaller; those with a stake in the system stay, those with sense picup and leave. Sort of like the audience for the media, and for the same reasons.

    You can blame liberalism, rightfully, but its also human nature for people not to change and to persist in what is to their personal advantage even when the results of their folly is everywhere.

    Its time to dust off conservative (small c) principal and leave municipalities to the consequences of their action.

  • Marty


    Wasn’t River Rouge in Detroit?

  • Jerry

    Dearborn is the city of Ford. That is where old Henry grew up, the location of FoMoCo’s world headquarters and many other Ford sites such as The Henry Ford [museum] and the River Rouge plant. The company quickly outgrew the Piquette Avenue plant in Detroit where it began making Model T’s, and moved production to the surrounded suburb of Highland Park.
    Detroit is the Motor City, built on mass production and manufacturing. But that’s all Fordism had to do with it. Old Henry would be baffled by the suggestion that Fordism involved “strong government, lifetime employment and unionization”. The UAW and the long-time auto industry oligopoly deserve credit for those.
    Otherwise, a good article.

  • cubanbob

    Let Mr. Anthony put his money where his mouth is. Write check. Otherwise, shut up. let Detroit fail. It can’t be helped so why bother and why waste money we don’t have on an exercise in futility.

    Public employee unions are the bane of government spending. The president and congress, if republican, can go along way to fixing this disaster by banning public sector unions at the federal level and condition federal aid, grants and tax deductibility of state and local taxes on their banning public sector unions. Why should a Texas taxpayer be burdened with subsidizing Chicago’s or Detroit’s public sector unions? And in addition if such a congress and administration were to come in to office, they should also repeal the Davis-Bacon Act (and require the local and state governments to get rid of their versions if they want federal aid and tax deductibility) and repeal the Wagner Act and the NLRB.

  • Martin Hale

    I was raised in the Detroit metro area in the 1950’s and 60’s. I remember there being an ongoing discussion about broadening the economic base and fundamentally changing the prevailing economic paradigm since long before I could even say “paradigm”. But it’s never come to anything. The area isn’t willing to change. As the City began to rot from within, its productive citizens fled and they left a putrefying shell which is bound to collapse.

    You can trust that Detroit will get some form of welfare from the Feds – too many pols will see an opportunity for them to, a)enrich themselves, and b)expand their power, for them not to do that. The debate will be framed in terms of “compassion” and “caring”, while the reality will be one of corruption and sleazy politicking.

  • Bohemond

    Italy and Greece have nicer architecture and better weather. After all, have you ever heard of tourists vacationing in Detroit?

  • Jeffersonian

    “The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools.” – Spencer

    I did a job in Detroit in 1998, and, inside 8-Mile, it was a third-world wasteland then. I can’t even imagine now.

  • Jonathan Silber

    Why doesn’t the “African-American majority,”——the ones who, according to the author, are not the problem, of course——roll up their sleeves and begin to put things right: start businesses, repair decaying property, help out neighbors, patrol bad neighborhoods, volunteer in the community——you know, all the things routinely done by others elsewhere.

  • AlanR

    How about the unfairness of the wealth of the Detroit suburbs compared to the poverty in the city? Don’t the suburbs have a regional obligation blah, blah, blah, but it is what’s coming next.

  • Kebert Xela

    Further points: No, the racial angle is NOT a red-herring but a central issue.
    What can city assets hope to draw at sale or collateralizing bonds absent a functional city?
    The UAW bailout did not rubbish the bondholders 100% but 70%. But yes, a nasty precedent.

  • unJim

    What Detroit needs is high speed rail. Choo-choos always fix what is wrong in Democratland.

  • Steven E

    George B —

    Most neighbor cities wouldn’t voluntarily take on sections of Detroit, the cities to the north are across a county line, and several of the in-county neighbors are a mess themselves (Ecorse).

    Most importantly, though, any solution that involves the people running Detroit giving up any amount of power over anyone is immediately demagogued by those with the power as an attempt by whites to steal the city from blacks. People can’t even organize cooperation between D-DOT (city bus system) and SMART (suburban).

  • Vinny B.

    The racist Republicans come in full force when it comes to Detroit. There are many Republican-controlled cities in the toilet as well, some even worse than Detroit. Yet all people want to do is blame the black politicians and by implication, the black President, because the Republicans have no argument other than racism against blacks.

  • SukieTawdry

    There was another Detroit problem perpetuated by the UAW and the “Fordist” model: Blue collar workers earned wages and benefits completely out of whack with the skills and expertise they brought to their jobs and there were few incentives to increase those skill sets. When the assembly lines left (largely because the workers earned wages and benefits completely out of whack with the skills and expertise they brought to their jobs), those workers had no place to go.

    There was talk once of plowing Detroit under and returning it to agriculture. Not the worst plan I’ve heard.

  • Eric R.

    At this point, the only question will probably be how bad the rioting gets when the money completely runs out, and can it be contained within the City Limits.

    I am afraid this could make 1967 look like a street corner brawl by comparison.

  • mac

    Detroiters put their city in this circumstance. Let them fix it or suffer the effects. Not one [dratted] dime should be spent propping the rotten edifice up.

    Watch for another Gretna Bridge moment coming soon to the Detroit suburbs.

  • megapotamus

    Vinny, just WHAT city of comparable size is plausibly worse off than Detroit? I am dying to know what city of that size has a Republican mayor, much less is governed according to the presumptive tenets of Racist Republicanism. What a pathetic burp. You demonstrate the problem well. Racism is the excuse for every malefaction, even the fiscal or literal rape of black by black. But ya know what? That’s cool. If the black community wants ghettoization, ignorance, poverty, toil, hunger, deprivation and isolation, that works for me. I dispute the Conventional Wisdom that what America needs is someone or some thing to “bring us together”. Just the reverse is so, we need deeper and broader separation of the welfare exploiters from their prey; decent working people of whatever color. Sadly the global consensus, including in the US, is for socialism to a point that is quite unsustainable. It is the same at the county and city level as it is for the nation and in international affairs. Even in the bleakest corners of the TEA Party, you find a rabid attachment to Social Security at least, if not the whole spectrum of Potemkin give-aways. So let the pain continue. Let it expand. Let it deepen and widen and increase. Of course it increases more among so-called “minorities” which, luckily, is right where the lessons need learing the most.

  • The Thomas

    To have rioting you have to have people. Detroit no longer has people. The problem Mayor Dave Bing is facing is that the people are mostly gone and the property is mostly gone.

    Detroit Edison has been removing street lights because Detroit can’t pay their lighting bill.

    If you look at the aerial photos of Detroit you will see that many blocks are ready for agriculture as all of the houses have been torn down. Yes there are some blocks in central Detroit that still have a house on them, but much of the non-business portions of Detroit have been leveled.

    You have to have people in order to have someone paying the Income Tax and you have to have something built on the property in order to have someone paying Property Tax. Detroit is approaching the point where it has neither.

    The “emergency manager” is one step before City Bankruptcy and dissolution. Ecorse has already gone through having an external manager and come out a lot thinner.

    Detroit was in the process of dying back 30+ years ago when I graduated from college and was looking for work in the Detroit area. At that point the downtown hotel where I was put up for my pre-induction physical had already been closed and the People Mover was already a billion dollar white elephant. Thank you Mayor Coleman Young.

    There was a lot of hope when Dave Bing, a recognized smart entrepreneur, was elected Detroit’s Mayor, but a city isn’t like a business.

    If Detroit was a business, it would already be in bankruptcy court and would have converted its pension obligations into fixed annuities or dumped the lot onto the Pension Guarantee Corp.

    As far as I can see, Detroit can’t do this, so they are [painfully stuck].

  • Bond in Michigan

    I was born in Detroit and grew up in a western suburb, Garden City, and my father worked his entire career at Ford. We drove through Detroit returning from a vacation on the day the 1967 riots began. I now live about 150 miles NNW of Detroit. I went to a gun show at the Birch Run Expo and lines waiting to get in were unusually long. Ammunition sales were brisk and bulk purchases of semi-auto carbine, 7.62×39 and 5.56×45, and pistol ammo were what was selling, not hunting ammo. I hope this does not mean what I think it does.

  • paul

    The chickens have come home to roost.

  • Piffmonster

    I did a job interview of a gas company whose office was in downtown Detroit in the early 80’s. I was shocked by the conditions it looked like then. I had to ride to the interview in a bullet proof van I would not take a job offered then and any reports about conditions today do not surprise me at all

  • The Thomas

    @Bond No, it does not mean what you think it means. The people who have had illegal guns in Detroit have had them since the time of the Purple Gang. That hasn’t changed all that much.

    I expect Detroit to go out with a whimper, not a bang. This reminds me of the Forbes article about how Best Buy is going out of business … gradually – with that reference drawn from “The Sun Also Rises” where a person’s bankruptcy is described as “Gradually, then suddenly”.

    Detroit has been gradually going bankrupt for going on 40 years since the beginning of the Coleman Young administration due to cronyism.

    We are closely reaching the point where it may all disappear like a popping soap bubble, leaving nothing behind.

    Certain people are going to have a hard time dealing with elections when Detroit/Wayne county no longer has votes to count and so cannot decide Michigan elections.

  • TMLutas

    Empty, agriculture ready land cannot sustain the overhead of a city. It should be removed from Detroit and revert to being unincorporated. Since Detroit needs money, let it sell the land with or without the right to leave the city. You could wave a magic wand and create value and revenue for the city of Detroit along with natural laboratories for recovery.

    Once some small experimental zones demonstrate success, Detroit could take advantage of that knowledge. Detroit could wipe its municipal code and just start over and greatly benefit its residents and with a few light taxes would probably improve the city’s fiscal position on a net basis.

  • Koblog

    Greece and Italy are more like Los Angeles, weather-wise and government-wise.

    And while it’s easy to point to Detroit’s rot, Los Angeles isn’t far behind. The brains and businesses are leaving…fleeing the mindless bureaucracy that regulates and taxes them to death.

  • Willis

    “What Detroit needs is for new indigenous leadership to rise in both the private and the public sectors that can help the city reinvent itself as a 21st century, post-blue metropolis.”

    Dr. Meade did you ever consider stand-up comedy?

  • Mike Giles

    I’m African-American. [Vulgarity removed –ed] Detroit. They’ve made their bed, now they can lie in it. That being said, I really wish that every time some, loud mouthed, ignorant, “negro” starts complaining about “Racism”; everyone of whatever political stripe – from the far left to the fat right – would stop extrapolating that [jerk’s –ed] views to all African-Americans in general. I am not a rich man, and I get by on my retirement check and Social Security; but I live in my own home out here in the Suburbs. And I have never been on welfare. And every adult in my family has a job. I am sick and tired of EVERY black as being portrayed as hungry for the government dime. Guess what – we don’t all look, think, or vote alike. We don’t all live in or have a “Ghetto” mentality. The failing, dying, city of Detroit is not emblematic of every municipality that has a black majority.

  • SenatorMark4

    You can report your welfare on a mortgage application as ‘income’ to buy a home in Detroit. You can’t require someone getting free ‘income,redistributed’ money to accept a 1099-GOV to report it. Until that happens, more billions will disappear into the machine.

  • Kris

    Via Meadia commenters to Detroit: Drop Dead.


  • Rev Dr E Buzz

    I was just down to Detroit this past weekend…driving in on 96, I saw a giant black plume of smoke. That is the second time I saw a giant black plume of smoke in the city.

    If you’ve never been there, you don’t know how bad it really is…take a drive up Mack ave…you will see things…

  • Harm

    Hey Vinnie B.,
    What Republican city is in worse shape than Detroit? For that matter, name any city or town in worse shape than Detroit. Name just one, that’s all I’m asking.

  • Ken Marks

    What exactly is the “blue social” model?

  • SteveR

    I know people that are working in the Detroit area 6 days a week 10hrs a day. Manufacturing factories.
    Why can’t they build some huge organic farms on some of that vacant property down there?

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