Bankrupt Cities

Driving a Motor City Revival

Detroit can only improve from here, if city officials change a lot of bad habits and policies.


Detroit Eastern Market
Andrew Jameson

In the wake of officially receiving approval for bankruptcy protection, Detroit's story has become a familiar one. Once the poster child of America's industrial might and middle-class prosperity, decades of economic decline have brought the city to its knees before a bankruptcy court with as much as $20 billion in debt. The decline of an iconic American city has led to a flurry of finger-pointing, both to assign blame for the crisis and to identify the right direction forward.

The facts of today's Detroit are staggering. Businesses and individuals labor under heavy tax burdens, with an income tax set at the maximum level allowed by state law and property taxes ranking highest among America's 50 largest cities. City services range in quality from mediocre to unconscionably bad, such that the average response time to a 911 call is now 58 minutes (PDF) and 40 percent of street lights aren't working (PDF). Residents suffer an unemployment rate that has been at Depression-era levels in recent years, reaching as high as 25 percent and settling at 16 percent today. By most measures, Detroit is the most dangerous city in the nation, registering 20 more murders in 2011 than Philadelphia, despite containing fewer than half as many residents.

The collapse of the city has led to it being placed under the control of an emergency financial manager, attorney Kevyn Orr, who is granted broad unilateral powers to restructure its government and debt without the need for approval from elected officials like the mayor or city council.

Michigan's record of state interventions in local government has been somewhat mixed. Take the on-again, off-again takeover of the Detroit Public School System. Under an emergency manager for all but four of the past 14 years, the system is finally in the black for the second year in a row, but only after years of persistent deficits and strong backlash from Detroiters opposed to restructuring by an unelected official.

On the other hand, the nearby city of Pontiac's finances have been under state supervision since 2009 and the results, from a dollars and cents perspective, are undeniable. Expenditures dropped from about $55 million to $29 million annually and the city is now in spitting distance of true solvency for the first time in years, despite a steep decline in its tax base. Orr now faces the unenviable task of enacting similar reforms in Detroit to better manage its finances while also unifying the city's fractious population to rebuild civic institutions.

Identifying a cure for the Motor City's problems requires an accurate assessment of their causes. A popular conservative narrative has been to point the finger at Democrats and labor unions, both public and private, for driving the city to ruin. Tempting as it might be to lay the blame on one's political rivals, hand-waving about the salutary effects of electing Republicans does not constitute a serious plan. Liberal governance surely did the city no favors in helping create its yawning chasm of debt. But one sees plenty of successful large cities that had equally liberal and corrupt leadership, yet do not face insolvency because they do not suffer from Detroit's unique mix of significant size and radical depopulation.

More than one million people have headed for the Motor City's exits since its size peaked in 1950. Even when compared to other Rust Belt cities that have experienced significant population loss, Detroit stands out. The only city that has dropped farther from its mid-20th century peak is St. Louis, but its population has never been even half as large as Detroit's. In fact, of the eight U.S. cities that have lost more than 50 percent of their population in recent decades, Detroit is far and away the largest. Even in its shrunken state today with just over 713,000 residents, it is larger than Pittsburgh's all-time peak of 677,000.

The Steel City was able to realign its economy around world-class universities and vibrant health and technology sectors, positioning itself as the smaller-but-viable city that it is today. Detroit, meanwhile, lacks any obvious infrastructure to capitalize on growth industries. Though it does boast some world-class medical facilities, the rest of its top 20 employers are an odd grouping of government entities, businesses in the turbulent auto industry, and casinos. As a result, its economy is largely stuck in the same rut it has occupied for decades.

Detroit also suffers from a long and sordid history of racism that has contributed significantly to depopulation and regional division alienating the city from its suburban neighbors. Though many point to the 1967 riot as the spark that lit the fire of racial discord, the truth is that tensions had been smoldering for upwards of 100 years by that point. The city's rapid population growth in the 19th and early 20th century, driven in large part by an influx of African-Americans from the south, ignited countless ugly incidents including significant riots in 1863 and 1943. By the time the civil rights era arrived, Detroit's toxic racial politics meant that so-called "white flight" was already well underway.

The city's epic population loss and poor governance created a debt monster. Job number one for Orr as emergency manager will be working to reduce the city's staggering liabilities, something that is much easier with bankruptcy protection that allows for rewriting many contracts to allocate losses.

The largest share of debt is associated with the Water and Sewerage Department, a major asset for the city which services much of Southeast Michigan. Orr is already working to restructure its debt while exploring ways to spin it off as a regional authority from which Detroit could receive lease payments, a plan that could also help ease ongoing tensions with suburban neighbors that draw from the system.

The next biggest portion of debt is $5.7 billion in unfunded retiree health care liabilities (PDF). Detroit spent so lavishly on these benefits that its per-household liability is higher than every other large city except for Boston and New York, both of which are much wealthier. Fully two-thirds of its annual health care bill goes to retirees, with just one-third for current workers. Reforming these obligations is among the "easiest" things the city can do because, unlike pensions, there is no protection in the Michigan constitution for health care benefits. Though it will be difficult politically, Orr should consider reducing promises made to new employees, increasing deductibles and co-payments, and raising eligibility requirements to receive coverage. Ultimately the city should pre-fund its health care obligations, but aligning costs with ability to pay is step one.

The other big chunk of debt is associated with unfunded pension liabilities, totaling $3.5 billion. Like many city and state pension systems that are in trouble, Detroit has been systematically overstating the health of its fund by assuming unreasonably high investment returns and playing games with "smoothing" of investment losses such that the stock market crash of 2008-2009 still hasn't been fully factored into its estimates.

The challenge with pension benefits is their unique protection in Michigan's constitution, which says that they "shall not be diminished or impaired." The legal boundaries of reform are disputed, but it's likely that Orr will freeze the current pension systems and create a defined-contribution 401(k)-style plan for new employees. If the law allows, (the judge overseeing Detroit's bankruptcy last week ruled that pension cuts are on the table), he should also consider transitioning all current employees into such a system while restructuring benefits for current retirees.

Additional federal or state funding to soften the bankruptcy blow is unlikely (and probably unwise), but Washington and Lansing could focus instead on altering existing funding streams. Detroit gets substantial aid already, far more than any other Michigan city on both a gross and per-resident basis. But it is unable to process these dollars effectively or quickly enough and many of the funds are targeted at things that could fairly be characterized as "wants" rather than "needs" for a city in such distress.

For example, the city forfeited $9 million in federal weatherization assistance last year due to mismanagement and faces a similar threat with Community Development Block Grant funds this year. Instead of disparate funding streams earmarked for very specific purposes (which require complicated application and implementation processes), lawmakers could instead unify existing dollars into one single payment for Detroit to use to address its highest priorities, like tearing down some of the 78,000 vacant structures in the city, bolstering police protection or addressing legitimate human needs in the form of hunger, homelessness, and unemployment. Any of these would be better uses for federal tax dollars than buying energy-efficient windows.

The city should also pursue potential sale of some of its other assets. The Detroit Institute of the Arts, for example, has in its possession an estimated $2.5 billion worth of art that could be auctioned in order to help ease the debt load. After all, that represents more than 12 percent of the city's obligations. The prospect of art sales has rankled many in the press corps, but the simple fact is that cultural pursuits fall well below things like police protection on any reasonable hierarchy of a city's needs.

Once the process of addressing Detroit's debt has begun, repopulating the city will be the order of the day because what it needs more than anything else is human capital. It needs more density, more vibrant neighborhoods, more businesses, and more economic activity. To address that goal, some have discussed redrawing Detroit's physical borders by unincorporating sparsely-populated portions. After all, at 139 square miles, the city is larger than Boston, San Francisco, and Manhattan combined. However, such geographic shrinkage is basically unprecedented for large cities and it's not clear where the new borders would be drawn. A more innovative and less obtrusive policy would be imposing variable pricing for municipal services based on distance from densely-populated areas, some iteration of which the city is sure to pursue despite the likely pushback from residents.

In order to attract more people, the city will need to do a much better job of attracting and maintaining businesses. Unfortunately, the ability to reduce high tax burdens is relatively limited due to the sheer size of the city's ongoing deficit problems. Reforming taxes in a revenue-neutral manner, however, might be possible as a way to better orient the code toward growth.

For example, Michigan currently has a uniform sales tax statewide, but the state legislature could consider allowing Detroit a local add-on that would increase its sales tax in exchange for elimination of its city income tax. While income and property taxes are very high, its sales tax of six percent is actually quite low when compared to other large cities. There is widespread agreement among economists that consumption-based taxes are less damaging to growth than income-based taxes, so this kind of tax swap could improve the city's economic prospects.

Detroit could also improve the business climate in other ways, such as completely eliminating (or at least, making much less restrictive) zoning and land use restrictions that stand in the way of development. The city already has moved (although belatedly and haltingly) to legalize urban farming operations, which have been putting Detroit's vast open spaces to productive use. Loosening regulations in other areas could make building a business easier and cheaper.

Likewise, it could wipe away senseless licensing restrictions which place barriers to entry before entrepreneurs. Detroit has myriad foolish licensing laws and fees that are tremendously costly for businesses. The Eastern Market Corp., a business association for Detroit's iconic outdoor market, conducted a survey of licensing and inspection fees for food businesses in the city, compared to similar operations in several other cities. The costs imposed by New York City, for example, were less than one quarter as much as Detroit's. This anti-business posture has, among other things, hindered a flourishing food truck industry, which has been a bright spot in many other cities across the country.

None of these changes will be easy. Reshaping a broken city with strong traditions of insularity and distrust of authority would be difficult in any event, but the nature of Detroit's problems puts it in essentially uncharted territory.

The city's motto in Latin, "Speramus meliora; resurget cineribus," translates to "We hope for better things; it shall rise from the ashes." And rise it will. Not through hope alone or simply electing Republicans and cutting taxes, but by starting the hard and necessary work of repopulating and rebuilding a once great American city from the ground up.

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  1. Didn’t read, I am waiting for a poll on this instead.

    1. Hey now, don’t complain about moar Emily Ekins.

    2. Just make Detroit a federal, state and local tax-free zone, with no controls on capital inflows and outflows. In 10 years it would be the wealthiest city on Earth.

  2. decades of economic decline have brought the city to its knees before a bankruptcy court

    If by “economic decline” you mean “plundering by the political class”.

    1. yes, “decades of economic decline” makes it sound like a natural phenomenon, like erosion.

      1. It was just bad luck.

        1. Market failure.

      2. Like any mining town, Detroit’s fortunes turned for the worse when its principle export, automobiles, became increasingly scarcer and increasingly more difficult to extract.

        1. And just like every other city that lost its original industry, Detroit was doomed. I mean look what happened to Kansas City when the stockyards closed.

          1. and Pittsburgh after the steel mills. Oh, wait –

          2. You can’t expect political pucks to fare well during the game. I just don’t understand why the unions did.

          3. All Detroit had to do was ban auto companies from moving production elsewhere. I hear that fixes everything.

          4. And Minneapolis when the flour mills closed.

            1. And Cleveland when the…river caught fire?

        2. They certainly did not become scarce on their own. That is one product that has had an increasing domestic international demand, as can be seen by production to fill that demand moving to anyplace but Detroit.

    2. evil rethug-connected kkkorporashuns moving jerbs overseas.

      /prog derp

      1. That’s why all of Southeastern Michigan looks like the abandoned parts of Detroit.

        1. Green space. Ample hunting grounds expand.

  3. Detroit is just the first. Chicago is probably only a couple of years away from bankruptcy and LA and who knows how many other big California cities after that.

    1. It’s been happening in the union belt for over a decade. But towns of 20,000 people and no sports teams don’t make the news. Shit, even Gary is pretty much ignored. Pick any town in Southeast Cook County and look it up. For a head start, try Ford Heights (yes, the automaker) or Harvey.

  4. “Liberal governance” was never able to overcome the ravages of endemic racism.

    Awesome job.

  5. Didn’t read. Fuck Detroit.

    1. I stopped reading when it said that repopulating the city was one of the steps needed. The shortage of “human capital” (one of those euphemisms I despise) isn’t something you can change as an emergency administrator. Fix the city using the resources at hand – ie those people who didn’t leave. A healthy economy attracts people better than dictats.

      1. Doctor in some pro-market reforms and tax incentives, and a several-year moratorium on new taxes or regulations. Watch Detroit repopulate overnight.

      2. FDR created new cities teaming with Asian, Italian, and German labor on Indian reservations. There is not reason why BHO cannot rise to the same challenge.

        1. ^teeming, in case that wasn’t a typo.

          Not intending to be pedantic.

          1. I am sure they formed teams.

            1. Heh. Fair enough.

      3. Why don’t we just go full Hunger Games and have a lottery every year? Anyone whose name is drawn is forced to move to Detroit.

        1. Can’t we just violently kill teenagers instead? It might be easier for me to cope with emotionally.

        2. It’s funny, I had a recruiter contact me about a QA manager job in Detroit earlier this year.

          Being from India he just couldn’t understand why I would demand $250,000 a year (double my current salary) before I’d even consider moving to Detroit. Just kept talking about how wonderful of an opportunity it was because it was a full time permanent position.

          1. Yeah, I’d demand a high salary and free high-end life insurance.

      4. If Detroit were in Sim City, you’d start over.

  6. lawmakers could instead unify existing dollars into one single payment for Detroit to use to address its highest priorities

    Is there any reason to believe that consolidating these handouts into a single cash payment will result in their efficient or designated use? If I consolidate my local wino’s can collecting, plasma donation and panhandling operations into a single payment he is still going to use it to buy malt liquor instead of a winter coat. In neither instance is anything being done to address the root causes of the malignancy.

    The city’s motto says exactly what to do. Burn the city to the ground using the labor contracts as kindling.

    1. Money from outside isn’t the answer anyway. If it were, Baltimore would be in completely different shape.

    2. Sounds like a sham to me.

    3. lawmakers

      Lawmakers are exactly what killed Detroit. What Detroit needs now is laweliminators.

      Coercion killed Detroit, “new” coercion is never going to save it.

  7. Why does it need to be saved? Are the residents trapped by an impenetrable wall? If the people who live there don’t like it, they can leave. The politicians can then rule a ghost town and each declare themselves high emperor of a different abandoned block. Problem solved for free.

    1. Why does it need to be saved?

      Exactly. Fuck Detroit.

    2. Why does it need to be saved?

      So that politicians can save face.

    3. That’s my question. The whole thing sounds like a bottomless opportunity cost to me.

    4. Are the residents trapped by an impenetrable wall?

      By God, sir, you’ve stumbled ‘pon it! We shall save this city after all!

  8. LH’s plan for Detroit’s return:

    1) Destroy the Pub-Sec Union
    2) reduced property taxes to zero or a minimal level
    3) Rebuild – from scratch – a minimal city government that just does basic services
    4) slash, slash, slash regulation
    5) ???
    6) PRofitZZZ

    1. I thought your plan was to steal their guzz-0-line and resell it for profits. Now that’s a plan I could get behind.

      1. resell? I want to burn it in my suicide machine!

        1. +1 Night Rider

    2. 5) Promote global warming. Detroit is too fucking cold.

    3. Sell the city government to the Koch brothers, and let them run it for a profit.

  9. Fix the city using the resources at hand – ie those people who didn’t leave. A healthy economy attracts people better than dictats.

    That’s what they’re doing, silly. As soon as they completely stamp out the last traces of entrepreneurship on an individual scale, the Collective will spring to life, confiscate and equitably distribute all newly communal resources, and the People’s Republic of Detroit will flourish.


  10. I feel the same way about Detroit that I do about Cuba. Either the people living there will figure it out and demand something better or they must like it that way. Either way, I don’t care. Don’t send the city a dime. At some point the place will hit rock bottom, and amazingly enough it can get worse than what it is, and start to improve on its own. It is the only way the situation will be solved. No top down solutions will ever stick. The people living there have to do it or it won’t happen.

    1. At some point the place will hit rock bottom

      As a resident of “southeast Michigan” (i.e. not Detroit, but sometimes I visit for the Auto Show or to view the Urban Decay Porn of the Packard Plant and Michigan Central Station), “rock bottom” for Detroit has become kind of like “peak derp”.

      Just when I think the city can’t get any worse….it does.

      It’s just horrible. Hopefully they’ve FINALLY “hit bottom” – cause I don’t wanna know what “worse than it is now” looks like….

      1. When that article came out about Detroit deliberately shutting down something like 200 small businesses a month for code violations, I gave up caring. Their tax base is almost gone, and they are actively – and deliberately – trying to destroy what’s left of their tax base. If these are the morons you elect to run your city, you deserve what you get. If you didn’t elect the idiots, you should have the sense to GTFO.

        1. My apologies for writing “tax base” twice in the run-on sentence.

        2. Yeah, the vigilant pursuit of code enforcement whilst all around them is burning TO THE FUCKING GROUND gives those of us non-residents…..pause.

          The City Council is at least a little less insane than it used to be. Although I kind of miss former Councilwoman Martha Reeves (yes, THAT Martha Reeves) leading the Council in a chorus of “We Shall Overcome”….overcome whom? YOURSELVES? YOU’RE IN CHARGE, YOU FUCKING MORONS! FIX IT! IT AIN’T WHITEY – IT’S YOU!!!

          Yeah – fuck Detroit.

          1. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide

      2. They will only hit bottom when they have no more money to steal or borrow. At that point even the leeches will leave and when that happens some productive and adventurous people will move back in and start to rebuild the place.

        1. That’s why I’m hoping bankruptcy is finally “it” – cause there should be no more money.

          Although now I’m from Missouri – show me. Cause every time I think it can’t get worse…:)

      3. Have mountain lions, wolves, and bears taken residence and started reproducing in the area? Some plague? THAT would be rock bottom.

    2. I have learned in my life from first hand experience that you cannot help someone who has not yet hit rock bottom. It is impossible. The only way to help is to let them hit rock bottom, and after they’ve been there a while wallowing in their self made misery can they accept help that won’t just make the situation worse.

    3. Actually, John, I think you may have stumbled onto an actually good argument to save Detroit. If the people who are remaining there are the kind of people who like it that way, wouldn’t we be better keeping them congregated in Detroit?

        1. Well, if you don’t save Detroit, they’ll just metastasize.

  11. why would anyone want to save a City of Racism?

  12. Oh, PS, Detroit has a World Class Orchestra?! AND a World Class Art Museum?….that’s a city asset – not private!


    1. Careful there… the only thing left for Clevelanders to be proud of is that we’re not Detroit.

  13. Just when I think the city can’t get any worse….it does.

    “I’ll get straight tomorrow, Baby, but right now I just need one more hit.”

    1. Jane says….

      1. Jane is alive and doing quite well, actually. Had dinner with her back in October. Nice lady.

  14. Gawker’s fix for Detriot:

    Max R.
    why “sell the art to the rich” when “take money from the rich to fund the city services AND the art museum” works even better

    Tom S.
    Exactly. Max has it.

    1. There’s nothing theft can’t solve!

    2. Fuck, I hate those people. Not just those two specifically, but any people who “think” this way.

    3. “A Gawker Internal Debate”

      I am lead to believe this is not self-parody and an accurate reproduction of a Gawker roundtable.

    4. Just take the money from the rich Sugar free. It is not like they won’t make more.

      1. From P J O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich:

        A traveling salesman stays overnight with a farm family. When the family gathers to eat there’s a pig seated at the table. And the pig has three medals hanging around his neck and a peg leg. The salesman says, “Um, I see you have a pig having dinner with you.”

        “Yes,” says the farmer. “That’s because he’s a very special pig. You see those medals around his neck? Well, the first medal is from when our youngest son fell in the pond, and he was drowning, and that pig swam out and saved his life. The second medal, that’s from when the barn caught fire and our little daughter was trapped in there and the pig ran inside, carried her out and saved her life. And the third medal, that’s from when our oldest boy was cornered in the stock yard by a mean bull, and that pig ran under the fence and bit the bull on the tail and saved the boy’s life.”

        “Yes,” says the salesman, “I can see why you let that pig sit right at the table and have dinner with you. And I can see why you awarded him the medals. But how did he get the peg leg?”

        “Well,” says, the farmer, “a pig like that?you don’t eat him all at once.”

        1. I love O’Rourke.

    5. That’s brilliant! Why has nobody thought of liquidating the rich to improve the economy before?

      This guy needs to write some pamphlets, maybe a manifesto…

    6. “take money from the rich to fund the city services AND the art museum” works even better”

      This is EXACTLY what has got ’em into the hole they’re in, and this idjit is asking for a new shovel.
      I’d suggest leaving him in the hole and filling it up. With raw sewage.

    7. Thanks SF, you just gave me brain-damage.

    8. WHAT RICH?!?!

      Don’t they get that the rich have gotten the hell out of Detroit a long time ago? Are these people really that completely, utterly, totally, and irredeemably brain-dead that they don’t understand this?

  15. On a similar theme – has anyone else been getting bugged-to-shit with the new “New New York” ads on the TV?

    What bugs me the most is that the lede of the commercial is a bunch of special “low/no tax zones” that will attract businesses. It must take an incredible amount of cognitive dissonance to – on one hand – acknowledge that low/no taxes attract business – and on the other – continue to tax the shit out of everyone/everything else to pay for their bloated public sector.

    Further confirmation that progs and prog governments are not stupid, not mislead, not ideologues. They’re flat-out evil.

    1. I listen for the payoff – when the tax exemptions expire and my business would have to immediately skip town.

    2. Re: Another Kevin,

      It must take an incredible amount of cognitive dissonance to – on one hand – acknowledge that low/no taxes attract business – and on the other – continue to tax the shit out of everyone/everything else to pay for their bloated public sector.

      That’s because…

      IT’S A TRAP!

    3. Interesting – yeah, I’ve just been seeing these again.

      “And the exemptions/allowances last for 10 years…” at which point I’m fucked and you’re going to drive me into the ground?

      No thanks…

      1. Year 11 – headlines read “Evil KKKorporations shipping jobs overseas!!!”

    4. Remember these are the same people who think taxing large sodas will get people to drink less of them. They do seem to grasp the concept of incentives. But since they live in a fantasy world, they only grasp the concept when it supports something they want to do.

      1. It’s the intent that matter. Intent is magic.

        1. *matters

          The same white racists who impoverished Detroit took the edit button.

      2. Cargo cult parroting. Taxes provide disincentives, but they can’t quite get their heads around the idea that the market is like an internet router. Any disincentive will be routed around as soon as sufficient demand pressure is built up.

        1. So they add enforcement.
          Which requires more revenue.
          So they add more taxes.

  16. Maybe this is what Engels meant when he said that the State Will Whither Away, it would get so big and powerful and control everything and then collapse when the underlying economy collapsed

  17. why “sell the art to the rich” when “take money from the rich to fund the city services AND the art museum” works even better

    “Say, I’ve got an idea! Why don’t we steal from the rich, and KEEP IT?”

  18. Liberal governance surely did the city no favors in helping create its yawning chasm of debt. But one sees plenty of successful large cities that had equally liberal and corrupt leadership, yet do not face insolvency because they do not suffer from Detroit’s unique mix of significant size and radical depopulation.

    You’re jerking with us. What cities suffered an EQUAL dose of liberalism and corruption like Detroit and through the same time period? I’m willing to bet that none have. Detroit is indeed the poster child for constant, unrelenting and debilitating liberal policies through decades whereas other cities were fortunate enough to have sufficient voters that could throw the bums out.

    1. I wonder about LA. it seems like mini-Cali crazy, and it seems like it’s been at least as long as Detroit that they’ve been insane.


      1. Yes, but LA has Disneyland and Hollywood, whereas Detroit only has American Gold and Silver pawn shop.

        1. Disneyland is in Orange County, not LA proper. And few movies are actually made in Hollywood anymore thanks to some of the most oppressive union rules in the world.

          LA still has Malibu and Beverly Hills. And the only reason it has those is because it sits on prime real estate near the ocean with a great climate. If LA had the climate and geography Detroit has, it would be just as bad as Detroit.

          1. Disneyland is in Orange County, not LA proper. And few movies are actually made in Hollywood anymore thanks to some of the most oppressive union rules in the world.

            Filmed no, made yes. The writing, production and corporate management of the entertainment industry is still largely based in LA. The writers strike a few years ago was a huge boon for the local hipster bar scene.

            1. Good point. They don’t film there anymore but the corporate and creative people are still there.

          2. Actually, Beverly Hills is its own town. So LA doesn’t even have that (although it may get their residents’ sales tax dollars from time to time).

        2. I live wedged between a number of massive aerospace complexes and a bunch of refineries. We’re still pulling oil out of the ground. And our hipster crop is ripe for mulching and turning into high quality fertilizer.

          1. And LA still has a port. But isn’t Long Beach, where the port is, a separate city?

            All you can really say about LA is that it is in such a favorable geographic location that it is difficult for even liberals to fuck up. But give them another ten or twenty years or let the really big earth quake they have been predicting finally happen and the liberals will finally kill it. I have total faith in progressives’ ability to kill anything.

            1. The City of LA proper isn’t that big. Somewhere between 3-4 million people. Malibu and Beverly Hills are separate cities, for example. And there are semi-annual movements for different neighborhoods within the city to secede entirely. About 10 years ago, the entire San Fernando Valley almost seceded.

              Half of the port is in LA, half in Long Beach.

              1. Map that was floated around a while back that seems appropriate.

                Did they end up liquidating Bell and rolling it back into LA proper?

                1. I mean big by population. Yes, I could get on the freeway in San Pedro, drive 70 mph on the freeway, and still be in city limits an hour later.

                  1. When can you drive 70 mph on a freeway in LA though?

              2. The City of LA has already fucked up pretty much every thing in city limits, and yes, they will be bankrupt soon. People have figured out how to work around that. Houses in LA City limits are way cheaper that bordering cities because of the LAUSD, among other things. I live 2 miles from the city, and pretty much anything they do doesn’t affect me…

                The LA County board of Supervisors, on the other hand, really has the ability to fuck things up for the entire area.

                1. The LA County board of Supervisors, on the other hand, really has the ability to fuck things up for the entire area.

                  THIS. Fuck you 9% sales tax.

                  1. Have you seen the difference between housing prices on the border of Rancho PV and Pedro? It’s both fascinating and sad. Nice spanish style villas with tile roofs on one side of the street, and run down places with bars on the windows on the other side…

                    1. Oh totally, when I first went out looking for a place to live I searched heavily in Pedro and couldn’t fathom why the housing prices were so cheap considering the houses were relatively nice. Driving around I realized it was because the denizens of Pedro are straight out of The Hills Have Eyes.

                    2. Pedro sucks. It’s a shithole. The weird thing is, it could be really nice. But the ILWU goons like it just the way it is.

            2. Port of Long Beach is adjacent to, but separate from Port of LA.

            3. And LA still has a port. But isn’t Long Beach, where the port is, a separate city?

              Partly, a strip a LA proper runs down to the port and I believe part of the port area is directly controlled by the city while most of it is controlled by Long Beach. LA is a massive area but it is pock-marked by separate incorporated cities. I think that’s part of the reason why LA has been able to stay afloat for so long; many of the cities surround LA proper have much saner economic policies, but LA benefits from the economic activity. I agree about the location being a major reason why liberal policies haven’t snuffed us out yet, and disagree that an earthquake will do anything more than slow us down. Our building codes are insane for a good reason (although the one they’re trying to float on hospitals and emergency service locations is counter-productively strict).

              1. Did you see this Jesse?


                That is why earthquakes are on my mind.

                1. Eh, it’s a good idea to plan for worst case scenarios, but I made it through the ’89 Loma Prieta quake when I was living in Santa Cruz (don’t build your downtown area on reclaimed tidal marshland, it’s not pretty), and I’m sure “THE BIG ONE” won’t be as bad as the worst case scenarios.


                2. The fiber and gas will be fixed within a matter of hours. We had a problem with one of the high voltage towers going down in the foothills outside of LA after the Northridge quake, and Southern California Edison had it fixed by lunchtime.

                  1. The Northridge Quake was in 1994. We have had 20 years for Progs to fuck everything up since then. I would be very surprised if the one party Progressive oligarchy in California hasn’t seriously degraded both the resilience of California’s infrastructure and the state’s emergency response capability. Progressives fuck everything else up. Why would those two be any different?

                    1. Retrofitting and higher tolerance building codes have been a drag on the economy but should help LA weather a serious quake better than it did in ’87 (Whittier, 5.9) or ’94 (Northridge, 6.4).

                      Also I have no problem with the occasional, extremely destructive quake compared to living in tornado alley, dealing with annual blizzards or hurricanes, or living around people from NYC or Boston.

                    2. Hurricanes are actually quite good. They flush out the bay system and cleanse it. They destroy quite a bit of property that stimulates growth. They bring enough fresh water to reload the aquifers and fill all the lakes. Hurricanes are a natural part of the ecosystem here on the Gulf Coast. We have ample warning of them and if anyone suffers physical pain they are a dumbass for not leaving when they’ve had up to a week or more to prepare. I live on the water on the Gulf Coast.

                    3. They destroy quite a bit of property that stimulates growth.

                      Reading up on your Krugman lately?

    2. What cities suffered an EQUAL dose of liberalism and corruption like Detroit and through the same time period?

      Chicago, which is only looking better because it has a more diversified economy to loot.

  19. Everyone keeps touting Pittsburgh as this economic miracle, but the fact of the matter is the City is in a constant war against its world-class universities and vibrant health…sectors to pay taxes since they are largely tax-exempt organizations. There’s a reason why UPMC is one of the region’s largest employers, they use their non-profit status as a predatory weapon because they wield enormous political clout. They may have bitten off more than they could chew battling with Highmark recently as the State is now looking to get involved.

    Also, all of that economic dynamism hasn’t stopped younger Pennsylvanians from continuing to leave the area, 10% of the population has left in the last 13 years.

    And let’s not forget that Pittsburgh is also under state control through Act 47. The city is managed well (less poorly?) because the state has mandated that it be so.

    1. I wonder how long it is going to be before liberal cities and states start going after universities. Places like Boston and New York are getting close to bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Harvard and Columbia and a few others sit on billions of untaxed endowments. The crooks in the statehouses must slobber all over themselves when they think of that money. It is only a matter of time before they steal it. And frankly, considering that the academic establishment has been one of the prime supporters of the looting of America, it couldn’t happen to a better group of people.

      1. Or in some ways worse, doing what Cuomo has proposed, making Universities special low tax, low reg economic zones while leaving the rest of the State to pay for it since the State government will not cut spending. Special rules for special people while others pay the bills

        1. But that will end eventually. The thing about the Prog model of theft and patronage is that there is never enough money for the leeches. Right now they have more money in real terms to spend than their prog predecessors could have ever dreamed of having. But, they are still broke. Free money is more addictive than crack. The person getting it can never get enough. So Cuomo can create all of the tax free payoff the college zones he likes. That will work for a while. But it won’t work forever. It is just a matter of time before the government loots these university endowments. In fact, the more special the government treats them, the more resentment is going to build up and the easier it will be to loot them when the time comes. The Universities are to 21st Century America what the monasteries were to early modern Europe; big piles of money waiting for some enterprising government to steal.

          1. And give to the King’s cronies?

            1. Of course. My wife likes to watch these British documenties on the few remaining country houses left over there. What is funny about them is that every single great family covered in the shows all came to prominence and got rich at about the same time; under the Tudors. Basically, they were all backwater gentry who threw their lot in with Henry of Tudor and later got fabulously wealthy when his son looted the monasteries. But this is never mentioned in the docs.

              Hello, Downton Abby, though fictional, was once an ABBY. What do you think happened to the Abby?

              1. Hm, and this just as the lead story last night was that the catholic church is the biggest Manhattan landowner.

                1. The history of the French Revolution is a great example of running out of other people’s money. The revolution started primarily because the ancient regime was broke. The first solution to that problem was to loot the church. When that money ran out they moved onto the aristocracy. When they money ran out, they started killing people.

                  You can see in miniature all of the insanity and horror that would follow in the 20th Century; mob violence, collective guilt, mass theft, murderous Utopian ideology. It is all there.

    2. Right now I’m having a serious battle under the Pittsburgh intelligence test. That is, if you still live here, you failed. Granted I’ve taken this test no less than 3 times in the past decade but no matter where i roam I end up back here in less than 18 months. It’s a goddamned black hole.

      The flight of young people has left a serious vacuum for anyone skilled and looking to start a career. However, such careers are typically as unglamorous as the city itself.

  20. The challenge with pension benefits is their unique protection in Michigan’s constitution, which says that they “shall not be diminished or impaired.”

    “The Laws of Economics are hereby repealled!”

  21. “A Gawker Internal Debate”

    “Groupthink” was already taken.

    1. Calling what the people at Gawker do “group think” is an insult to group think. At least group think involves some kind of thought by someone. Perhaps, “group scream” or “group emote” would work better.

  22. Detroit is a prime example of the failure that is government, along with central planning and control. The only thing that could “save” Detroit would be freedom and liberty. This would require the absence of government, force, coercion and extortion (taxation).

    Politicians created the problem, and now wish to deflect the blame while ignoring the fact that government itself caused these problems, aided by special interest corporations and individuals that had an intricate part in the city’s demise. Yet they and others delude themselves by saying “if only the right politician was in office”, or if Detroit only had more money.

    They only say this because they do not face the consequence of going bankrupt, and laying what they have on the line. If a business proposed reforms, and they did not deliver, the business would go bankrupt. If there was fraud or theft involved, individuals would go to jail, or worse.

    So the individual whom hasn’t an ability to use deductive logic goes on to propose the same nonsense that led to detroits failure, they fear not because they do not face any consequences and may even be showered with more money that was extorted from individuals.

    Let this individual go to someone’s home and attempt to ask for money, or extort an individual. They might face a dog, a gun or some Kung fu. Theft is advocated because they can hide begins the police, national guard and standing armies.

    1. All true. But eventually they run out of other people’s money. That is where they are at in Detroit right now. They can tax all they want. But that won’t do them any good since there is no taxes left to be collected.

    2. That’s impossible. One of my coworkers told me that you can’t sue corporations and the people that fuck up in them never go to jail.

    3. Government is us and we are government. It’s the corporations and the rich who are the enemy. And they have taken control of the government. The only way for the People to take back government is to give the government more power. Then with more power it (and us through government because government is us and we are government) will be able to control the corporations that control it.
      And if that doesn’t work, it was only because we didn’t give government enough power. And if that doesn’t work, it was only because we didn’t give government enough power. And if that doesn’t work, it was only because we didn’t give government enough power. And if that doesn’t work, it was only because we didn’t give government enough power. And if that doesn’t work, it was only because we didn’t give government enough power.
      /progtard illogic

    1. So he is unsurprisingly a paid shill.

  23. Why would we want to save Detroit?

    Let it continue to crumble then when the population falls below say 150,000 turn the whole thing into a combination post apocalyptic theme park/monument to government planning.

  24. We keep blaming the politicians. Well, the politicians are elected by voters and guess what? The voters who elected the idiot politicians are still in Detroit and still vote. Things will improve when voters improve.

    1. When the only people who seek public office are corrupt assholes, then voters will elect corrupt assholes because that’s their only option. That’s government in general.

    2. Why should individuals be subjected to “wait four years” to elect someone else whom might not make law contrary to natural law nor steal.

      Free individuals would be able to eradicate bad law (forceful attempts by others to impose law which is antithetical to natural rights) and attempts of robbery, etc. immediately, instead of having to wait four years.

      Suppose you purchased a vacuum cleaner. It’s warranty stated it was guaranteed against defects. The unit you purchased is defective. You proceed to return the item. You are told that the CEO is no longer acknowledging warranties. The CEO says, well maybe the next CEO will reverse such policy.

      That is a blatant violation of a contract. One also can choose to never invest in, or purchase another product from the company. They have their voice and subsequent regulation in the marketplace, and many others might follow suit and boycott the company and “defund” it causing its demise.

      Go tell a politician you aren’t paying for government functions. Try and remove your media of exchange and voice your opposition. First letters, and eventually violence will be used against you. The logical conclusion of government is insanity.

  25. “It needs more density, more vibrant neighborhoods, more businesses, and more economic activity.”

    A few months ago Detroit City government initiated a program with the stated intent of closing 30 business’ a month (IIR those numbers exactly) because of noncompliance with city regulations. Not help them become compliant nor relax the regulations. Close them down.

    As long as the people working in Detroit’s city government have that kind of attitude towards the private sector they will never recover.

    I have dealt with several different planning and zoning boards when opening business’ before. I can say without exaggeration that the City of Houston, in it’s current form, is aggressively hostile to any person trying to open a business, even though it claims to have no zoning. Large chains who can build from the ground up love it though.

  26. Not sure I understand the comment about finger pointing toward the democrats. It is easy to point the finger at them and it is 100% correct. Other corrupt cities are in major debt, e.g., Chicago, as demos have been giving favors to gov’t workers in return for votes for decades. Detroit is just an example of when it’s taken too far.

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