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michigan blues
Flint’s Blue Model Crisis

Where there’s a crisis in a modern American city, blue model failures—in particular, bankrupt pension funds or intractable public unions—are probably lurking not far below the surface. That is certainly the case for the water contamination disaster in Flint, Michigan, which is traceable to the city’s desperate efforts to save money by switching its water source from the City of Detroit’s water system to the Flint River. As the Daily Caller‘s Blake Neff reports, the city made that decision under heavy budgetary pressures, caused, in part, by its untenable public pension system:

Flint’s problem is fundamentally one of money. The city was the birthplace of General Motors and once had a thriving economy based on the auto industry, but those days are long gone and Flint is now known for its deep poverty (40 percent of the population is impoverished), urban blight, and high crime. As a result, Flint’s population has fallen sharply from about 200,000 in the 1960s to under 100,000 today. The economic downturn combined with a drop in population has unsurprisingly severely restricted Flint’s tax revenues.

What hasn’t been restricted much, though, are the pension demands of Flint’s former workers. Flint has about 1,900 government retirees, who outnumber actual city employees three to one. A glance at the city’s financial forecast from spring 2015 shows that, within the city’s general fund, pensions and retiree health care dominate 33 cents of ever dollar spent, with the figure expected to hit 37 percent by 2020.

… Pensions by themselves didn’t cause Flint’s current crisis. But they played a substantial role that should not be ignored, especially by other struggling cities that could find themselves in similar situations in the future.

Does the emergency in Flint point to the politics of the future, in which tapped out blue cities will increasingly be unable to supply the basic needs of their citizens, and be forced to appeal to the federal government for help? As other blue cities face increasingly serious crises of governability, there are reasons to worry that it might.

The Democratic presidential candidates earned applause last night for denouncing Michigan Governor Rick Snyder’s handling of the Flint situation. But have any of them offered a plan for addressing the underlying cost problems plaguing Flint and other Democratic-controlled urban areas? As we’ve written before, the federal government will likely need to get involved, at some point, with the deepening budgetary disasters plaguing these cities. But this involvement must be guided by the concept of relief-for-reform, in which the bankrupt cities get limited assistance in exchange for real changes to the policies that led to this mess. Those policies include, but aren’t limited to, high wages and pension promises (usually underfunded) for unionized public employees, zoning restrictions, enterprise-killing regulations, unrealistically high levels of tax combined with “exemptions” and carve-outs for crony capitalist special interests, and an overstuffed bureaucracy to give jobs to the politically well-connected.The Democrats are comfortable talking about more money for American cities, but not so much about that whole reform idea—at least, not yet.

One thing a smart think tank might want to do while this crisis brews: develop a set of model policies and reforms that could be used as a starting point to work with burnt-out blue cities. We may be headed toward the biggest crisis in American local government since the race riots of the 1960s; it’s time to think about what comes next.

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  • Anthony

    Seeking to avoid the on-going blue model contretemps, can our local governing problems also be attributable to a loss ethos of social (political) responsibility? While attuned to WRM’s Fordist (blue model) critique, can one also attribute municipal troubles to decades decline of “civic virtue” among both our citizens and governing representatives? Obviously, a society of markets, laws, and elections is not enough (and assignation to a particular model is not enough) if our civic virtue has been squandered. Instead of blue model causation restrictively, perhaps we are working out long-term social, political, and economic trends – not a blue or red model affair but a bipartisan purple affair years in the making.

    “America has developed the world’s most competitive markets but has squandered its civic virtue along the way.” And, it is time to think about what comes next.

    • Dale Fayda

      Nope. It’s the unions.

      • Anthony

        Easy to blame (and they, whether police/fire or others, are composed of men/women/citizens).

        • Dale Fayda

          Easy because it’s true.

          • Anthony

            Your position has been noted.

        • ipencil

          You do understand that the taxpayers who are forced to pay the exorbitant salaries and mentions of these politically protected classes are composed of men/women/citizens. Why do you ignore that the people who are forced to finance the “police/fire or others” are composed of “men/women/citizens”? Why do you ignore the rights of THOSE citizens, while the other set of citizens bleed them dry through fiscally irresponsible defined benefits plans, rather than fiscally (and personally) responsible defined contributions plans?

          • Anthony

            We all pay taxes!

          • ipencil

            Incorrect. Some pay taxes. Others receive those taxes. Government employees pay no taxes on their government salaries. It’s an accounting scam. If I were to give you $50, then claim I gave you $70, but you paid $20 in taxes to myself, we both know that I just gave you $50 and that you did not pay me $20 in taxes.

          • Anthony

            Got it (but in America “all” pay taxes but let’s not quibble).

          • ipencil

            Just repeating something over and over doesn’t make it so.

          • Anthony

            Yea, I know and remember to mirror that sentiment!

          • ipencil
          • Anthony

            What’s point (reply not needed rhetorical – waste of both technology and time)?

          • ipencil

            And yet, you continue to respond and act as if “we” have decided on something.

            I also like your plea to not respond. At least you know when you’re outclassed and are afraid of a response.

          • Anthony

            Two things: 1) I respond out of courtesy; nothing has been decided because nothing relevant has been exchanged. 2) as to your last quasi comparison, think what you must – and write until you tire. But, I’m done here!

          • ipencil

            Whatever you’ve got to tell yourself to justify you violenly imposing your values on everyone else, then using sloppy language to get others to agree that your violent imposition is a good thing, when it clearly isn’t.

          • Andrew Allison

            Actually, if memory serves, 47% get paid taxes.

          • Anthony

            Andrew, you know better (Macro).

          • Andrew Allison
          • Anthony

            Andrew, Forbes provides nothing new in this instance and if you rather not accept the obvious then OK. But, please let’s not go any further as the issue is mute.

          • Andrew Allison

            The issue is not mute. It is that “but in America “all” pay taxes but let’s not quibble” is a falsehood.

          • Anthony

            Andrew, you want attention; you know our sentiments (they go back several years and I rather not start anew). If issue is not mute to you write on it to someone interested. I am not and I think we are writing about different aspects; so end this.

          • Andrew Allison

            From falsehoods to insults. I guess it’s clear who won this round.

          • Anthony

            Andrew, there’s no contest (at least from my end) and as I informed you years ago, life has bypassed you (and no insult intended as there never has been).

      • gr29az

        it usually is.

      • richard40

        Not just dem unions though, the black dem welfare/crime culture did not help either.

    • Boritz

      The basket cases like Detroit and Flint are blue not purple. It is the blue model that turned the thriving industrial North to this while the traditionally underperforming underprivileged agriculturally based South thrives on what you could call a purple model, but the more red the more successful.

      • Anthony

        Too simplistic and convenient an analysis. Kind of like finding statistics to fit the conclusion.

        • BuddyPC

          I think this may be too annoying and inconvenient an analysis, to someone invested in the blue model.

          • Anthony

            Perhaps, but not in this instance.

        • JJS_FLA

          Not so. The Blue model as practised in places like Detroit and Flint over the last 50-years was to place all “Civic Virtue” in municipal government in the name of the the “social responsibility” of managing by a greater number of unionized municipal employees the redress of economic imbalances for ever greater numbers of impoverished victims. “Markets, laws and elections” are corrupted in the name of this “social responsibility” as the private sector is viewed as second class, second-rate and worthy only of pillaging to the greatest extent possible in the name of funding “social progress”. True Civic Virtue is privately organized by philanthropists and community leaders independent of City Hall in order to support of schools, hospitals, museums, theatres, charitable foundations, churchs, synagogues, etc. Throughout most of American History, these were private sector (non-profit) enterprises.

          • Anthony

            “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We may equally say that the unexamined haste to counterpoise “models” is not helpful to our diagnosing America’s problems. In particular, both the idea and practice you reference are the culmination of an era rather than of a particular model. Equally, it (era) represents a bipartisan affair: both Democrats and Republicans have played their part in deepening the problems. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-poisoning-of-flint/2016/19/5462112c-

          • JJS_FLA

            In the 1950s and 60s, Detroit was considered the “Paris of the Midwest” (truly) with vibrant cultural life, civic institutions, and with style and architecture and nightlife that rivaled and exceeded Chicago. All was propelled by a vibrant, highly productive and innovative American automobile industry.

            Were you there to witness its decline? I was. It took decades, but the rancid, Union “Blue Model” was thuggishly implemented by overweening industrial and municipal unions, and government thuggish race-hustlers like Coleman Young who literally drove out the industry to the (now thriving) industrial suburbs. Meanwhile the industrial unions destroyed the American industry (with the connivance of the “Big-3”) such that now, most of the employment growth in autos occurs in the American South. This left a hollowed out, crumbling core of a city that had collapsed into impoverishment, crime and misery decades BEFORE its 2013 bankruptcy.

            The last Republican Mayor of Detroit left office in 1962. Republic and had NOTHING to do with it except to correctly predict and decry this ruinous outcome.

            It’s all about preening “Blue Model” types like yourself who want to preserve your santcimoneous posture while not acknowledging the ruinous truths of Blue-model policies that were long predicted by Republicans. Until you examine some of your false premises, it;s hard to take you seriously.

          • Anthony

            Got it!

          • richard40

            Dont buy the bipartisan part. These northern cities built their original prosperity by the old time industrialissts, under repub control, but then they flipped dem. Most of these basket case cities had dem machine mayors for generations, with an occasional repub mayor who would temporarily slow the decline. The only reason NYC is not also a basket case is Mayor Giuliani temporarily reversed the decline and got NYC heading back to prosperity. But under DeBlasio NYC is now rapidly heading back to the Denkins Escape From NY days. The south used to be a poverty ridden mess when the old segregationist dems had control, but once they flipped to repub they are expanding now.

          • Anthony

            Rationalization fathers convenient interpretation – some like their rationalizations in black and white. That is, some want a bad guy (big labor) and a good guy (republican mayor) to provide cause, effect, and simple answer. On the other hand, nuance may generate dissonance if it disrupts our political inclination. On the whole though, I got your sentiment.

    • http://chicagoboyz.net/ TMLutas

      I would challenge that “America has developed the world’s most competitive markets”. I would also be interested in the measurement of civic virtue and what is negatively influencing it as my observation has been the resistance to markets is correlated with a declining civic culture.

      • ipencil

        If you challenge that “America has developed the world’s most competitive markets”, why are you listing markets you think are more competitive?

      • Anthony

        You may challenge what you choose but capitalism (American modern competitive market society) was transformed and further organized (developed) via American impulse (economic sociology seeks to understand how the world we live in was constructed). Beyond that, civic virtue implies compassion for other and the ability to cooperate across divides of class, race, religion, and geography in recognition of market (economic) challenges.

        • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

          Does “civic virtue” necessarily have to be instituted and controlled by our government?

          The classic “barn raising” was an example of civic virtue … perhaps we should do more things that way, and let government focus upon what it MUST do: secure our unalienable rights, including the right to be virtuous as we see fit.

          • Anthony

            See above.

          • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

            Elaborate on how the “above” addresses my question.

            The way I see it, the Progressives insisting that most compassion must be coercively channeled from the top down is a fundamental flaw of their paradigm. Government operatives, no matter how virtuous, lack the insight – and flexibility, if we are respectful of civil liberties – to effectively and efficiently resolve economic/health/educational/behavioral issues that are highly-individual-specific.

          • Anthony

            Appreciate inquiry Ritchie and moving away from binary Government/Progressive labeling may be a start. Also, look here: http://www.enlightementeconomics.com/blog/index.php/2015/12/the-rise-and-fall-of-american-growth (for all intents and purposes, I’m done here, thanks)

          • ipencil

            Stiglitz is being dishonest at the link. Note the following ridiculous statement:

            Some white Americans, however, have attempted to shift the blame for dying younger to African Americans themselves, citing their “lifestyles.” It is perhaps true that unhealthy habits are more concentrated among poor Americans, a disproportionate number of whom are black. But these habits themselves are a consequence of economic conditions, not to mention the stresses of racism.

            People who make poor choices, end up in poor economic conditions. People who make poor choices consistently make poor choices in all aspects of their lives. Rather than address this obviousness, Stiglitz does what any good leftist does and starts hurling the “racist” insult. Of course, what I’m saying equally applies to whites as well.

            In other words, inequality doesn’t kill. The same poor habits that keep people from being financially successful are the same poor habits that keep people from successfully being healthy. In other words, Stiglitz thinks correlation is causation. Likely, Stiglitz knows this. He is a partisan hack that uses his reputation to put forth poor analyses, like the above, when it suits the leftist agenda.

          • Anthony

            Write to Stigliz; I care less – we’re done.

          • ipencil

            You cite Stiglitz as support of your agument, then get mad when I point out that the article you cite doesn’t support your argument? If you can’t understand what’s been written by someone else, nor understand the context in which it’s written, you shouldn’t cite it.

            Take some responsibility for your actions and stop blaming others for your failure to comprehend.

          • Anthony

            I made no argument. I just referred respondent to an informational site (and you were not respondent). Now, I’ll try one last time (with you), what part of simple sentence don’t you understand – subject (we) or predicate (are done)? As before, write what you must but we’re finished – I’ve maxed out on courtesy (respect for and consideration of others) in this instance.

          • ipencil

            Now, I’ll try one last time (with you), what part of simple sentence don’t you understand – subject (we) or predicate (are done)?

            Ha! Again, you mistakenly believe that when you make a decision, that “we” have made a decision. Sloppy. As usual.

            I made no argument.

            Your argument, as always, is that technocrats should control people’s lives, especially their economic lives because people are just too dumb to live their lives as they see fit. But politicians are benevolent and all knowing and will make our lives better. Their ideas are so good, in fact, that they have to be imposed by violence, rather than peacefully convincing people to change their habits. To bolster this argument, you cited Stiglitz’s article.

          • Anthony

            “We” before today have never exchanged replies on any anonymous web site. Any sense you have of an argument is in your mind (before today I was unaware of your virtual presence). Nevertheless, your assumptions as your invectives are neither appropriate nor accurate and would be better utilized elsewhere . And I emphasize that before January 20, 2016, I did not know of your existence – perhaps today (Jan. 20) is an aberration.

          • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

            Your passive-aggressive presentation does not speak well of your intellectual honesty, Anthony.

            Please, stand and defend your position … and in clear, common-sense terms, not wonkspeak.

          • Anthony

            Move on.

          • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

            As I said earlier, that would be irresponsible.

            If you and I want a better society, we need to address and resolve its most fundamental problems. We can start right here …

            https://www.facebook.com/notes/ritchie-the-riveter/outsourcing-is-the-problem-but-not-the-way-you-might-think/416571378389947

          • ipencil

            I thought you were “done”. Twice. Heh.

            And for someone who admits you didn’t know of my existence till yesterday should also admit ‘we’ never reconceived anything, much less society, thus should stop dishonestly using ‘we’. But since you’re dishonest, I’m not holding my breath.

          • Anthony

            Oh, you’re back (January 21, 2016).

          • ipencil

            Ha! I wonder what you’re going to next claim “we” did.

            I also like how you can’t keep your word. I thought you were “done”. How does it make you feel that I’ve gotten you to break your word, what is it now, three times?

            Now dance for me!

          • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

            Actually what kills, is the condescending bigotry of Progressives, which strains at gnats of perceived “privilege” while swallowing the camels of subcultures that are destructive to life, liberty, and the responsible exercise of individual initiative, all in the name of “compassion” and “tolerance”.

            That has done more to keep people of color down, than the KKK could have ever dreamed of.

            It is not “racist” to call out the thugs and charlatans who are keeping them down.

            My own father and his siblings were raised in dirt-poor Appalachia, and faced obstacles as formidable as any person of color. They overcame. Since then, we have lynched Jim Crow, but the thugs and charlatans keep his corpse around for their own Weekend at Bernie’s moments, for fun and profit.

          • Anthony

            Every one has a story (narrative – move on).

          • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

            The responsible person does not “move on” until the problem they are facing is solved in a sustainable manner.

          • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

            Apparently, you haven’t moved from the fundamental aspect of Progressive governance: reliance upon a small elite to make our decisions FOR us, as though they are omniscient.

            And sometimes, it IS that binary.

          • Anthony

            315 million plus Americans – move on.

          • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

            “Letting it go” is what has let the dysfunctions of the Blue Model drag us down.

            It is time for Progressives to become intellectually honest, about what their ideas actually do in practice.

          • JJS_FLA

            “Blue model” folks are surprised at the success of Uber and AirBNB, surprised that with better technology, Americans can arrange among themselves transportation and lodging without the sanction of a municiple-government approved, licensed and inspected middleman.

            What until that revolutionary approach gets unleashed on education! It’s just a matter of time.

        • JJS_FLA

          Blue model “economic sociology” is stuck in 1880’s worldview virtue-signalling by abiding totemically to Marxist class struggle. This is revealed in your comments such as a “diagnosis” is needed. A diagnosis by whom?

          Other “sciences” are not stuck in the 1880s. It’s about time that “Blue Model” proponents in academie and elsewhere examine their own myopia — frankly and candidly. So far, despite one major government fail piling up after the next, the advocates of government power still claim to have all the answers. Once a candid assessment is underway, perhaps others will take former “Blue Model” advocates more seriously. But before then, what’s the point?

        • richard40

          Except leftist dems define compassion as taxpayer handouts to favored groups, and cooperation as we shut up and vote the way they tell us. That is not civic virtue, that is graft.

          • Anthony

            OK.

      • richard40

        Good point. The heritage foundation ahs a great site that ranks nations by economic freedom, corruption, big gov, political freedom,and other indexes. The USA is only 12th, even supposedly socialist Canada and australia rank ahead of us. Our ranking fell under Obama.

        http://www.heritage.org/index/ranking

    • https://www.facebook.com/ritchietheriveter Ritchie The Riveter

      Under the post-WWII dominance of the Blue Social Model “civic virtue” and “cooperation” has been defined as “shut up and go along with the Powers That Be, right or wrong, for they are Smarter than You.”

      That’s how places like Flint have gotten into such messes.

      Perhaps the fundamental assumption of the Blue Model – that the citizens should be dependent upon government to do so much FOR them, above and beyond securing their unalienable rights – is what needs to be questioned here.

      • Anthony

        Here’s a thought, we need to reconceive the idea of a good society (not blue , red, purple or whatever) in the early twenty-first century and to find a creative path toward it. Moreover, we need to be ready to pay the price of civilization through multiple acts of good citizenship: educating ourselves deeply about society’s needs, acting as vigilant stewards for future generations, and remembering that compassion is the glue that holds society together. An all in diagnosis may be what’s needed.

        • ipencil

          You continue to say “we”, when in reality you mean “I get to coerce you”. “We” don’t “need to reconceive the idea of a good society”; you simply want to impose your reconception of “the idea of a good society” on everyone else. Our society is founded on the notion that “we” do not determine the structure of society, rather each individual gets to peacefully choose his own path, without having to kiss the ring of some petty bureaucrat or politician, then designating that as “we” having chosen something.

          • Anthony

            “We” and there’s no I in we.

          • ipencil

            There is no “we”, since you never consulted me on your reconception on the “idea of a good society”. You are Orwellianly using “we” to describe something we never did. You came up with a reconception, then you expect me to accept your frame that “we” came up with that reconception, when obviously “we” did not.

          • Anthony

            Got it thanks!

        • richard40

          A lot easier to be good once we restore a properly limited gov, with real free enterprise, low taxes, low handouts, no bailouts. But the dems will never do that, the blue model has too much opportunity for graft.

          • Anthony

            Point taken – OK.

  • mreport

    ‘traceable to the city’s desperate efforts to save money
    by switching its
    water source from the City of Detroit’s
    water system to the Flint
    River.’

    That turns out not to be the case. Try ‘traceable to Detroit’s
    desperate efforts to milk the last dollar out of Flint before
    Flint joined the Karegnondi water authority, which forced
    Flint to temporarily take water from the Flint river’

    http://gregbranchwords.com/2016/01/17/the-real-tragedy-in-flint/

  • Fat_Man

    An excellent blow by blow of what happened in Flint:

    “The real tragedy in Flint” by Greg Branch on January 17, 2016
    http://gregbranchwords.com/2016/01/17/the-real-tragedy-in-flint/

    • Andrew Allison

      Thanks for this.

  • a6z

    Which will come first, the payment of the money or the enactment of the reform? The payment of the money will come first. And then the reform won’t actually happen.

    I suppose that in principle that could be prevented by a coordinated Congress and president sufficiently fierce in protection of the federal fisc. Does that sound likely to you?

    So, no, relief-for-reform is plain relief-for-political-support, a straight transfer of wealth from the successful parts of the country to the most willfully unsuccessful but politically Democratic parts.

    Yeah, for sure that will end well.

    • richard40

      True, the same pattern as immigration reform. The leftist dems get what they want now, in a bipartisan “compromise”, in exchange for reform that somehow never happens.

  • Bobcat

    People. People. The legacy media is playing up the governor’s “dismissive” attitude about this issue. He’s white and he’s a Republican. He is, by definition, at fault. The fact that this problem didn’t happen overnight means nothing. Bad Republicans. Bad.

  • teapartydoc

    Ban Anthony.

    • Anthony

      In America, that’s forbidden teapartydoc (minor detail).

      • Fred

        No in America the government is forbidden from passing laws banning speech. Private Web site owners can ban anyone they please. Thanks for demonstrating to teapartydoc that delightful combination of arrogance and ignorance without which this board would be so much less amusing.

        • Anthony

          Oct. 23, 2014 and Oct. 23, 2015 reply remains as well as Dan Greene and Greg Forster’s advise.

    • Fred

      Oh come on teapartydoc. Do you really want to lose our most unintentionally hilarious commenter? Where else would we ever find that unique combination of obscurantism, pompousness, arrogance, and ignorance. He reminds me for all the world of Maxwell Smart from that old TV show Get Smart or Inspector Clousseau from the Pink Panther film series, characters whose pompous egomania combined incongruously with utter cluelessness and bumbling incompetence to create great comedy. Anthony is a treasure.

  • PhonecardMike

    Gotta admire the Dimocrats. Do anything to blame the Republicans. ;We have a solid Dimocratic run city, so blame the Republican Governor.

    When Katrina hit New Orleans, we had a Dimocrat Mayor and Governor so they blamed the Republican president.

    Dimocrats only know how to take credit and to create problems. They deserve an Oscar for their performance, even their black reps!!

    • graz

      every black slum city in the u s is run by the democrat party. they want them on the plantation where they can control their votes with welfare, food stamps and abortion factories. makes you proud.

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