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Add Comment 15 September 2013 - Detroit Debt Redux by David

The Detroit Free Press has posted a very detailed series of charts explaining what happened to Detroit's financial situation over the last 6 decades. In a nutshell the city's debt took off in the mid-90s and hasn't slowed down yet. Interestingly during Coleman Young's administration total debt was lower than annual revenues, but budgets were only balanced during the Archer administration. This suggests that it would be interesting to see how much of the year change in debts was due to general operating budget deficits and how much was due to infrastructure spending and other forms of investment (worthwhile or not).


Add Comment 15 March 2013 - Who Is Kevyn Orr? by David

So, I saw earlier today that Snyder has appointed Kevyn Duane Orr as Detroit's new Grand Poobah. My first thought was "who's that?" So, I decided to find out. Here's what I was able to dig out from the interwebs: More...


Add Comment 27 August 2011 - Ownership: The Cornerstone Of A New Strategy For The Left? by David

I was reading an interview in Salon discussing the relative lack of success of the left in the United States in comparison with Europe. It attributes most of the difference to long-term influences of the formal class structures in Europe, which lead to traditional political alignments along class lines which never took hold in the US for more than brief stretches. The problem today for most progressives/liberals/whatever is that formal or not it does appear that a strong class division has established itself in our society in the last thirty years as wealth and income inequality has grown. However, the traditional villain of the left, capitalism, is almost as ineffective a boogie-man with the US public as communism, Tea Party sound and fury aside. People believe capitalism and relatively unhindered markets are the best options we've got, and as an economist I don't think they are completely wrong. As right-wing visionary (and sometime economic crank) Louis Kelso argued, Marx's analysis was right: the capitalist system is inherently unstable, with a definite tendency for wealth to concentrate in existing hands.

The basic instability stems from the fact that the owners of capital tend to capture most economic growth - aside from the basic issue of profits going to the owners, you've also got the Fed capping wage growth as one of the primary drivers of inflation, and finally that corporate investment raises the value of the shares held by the existing owners - money follows money. However, the public doesn't want government owning businesses (which to be fair has not worked that well over the last hundred years outside of public goods like water, security and other utilities, where government is a somewhat logical provider), and clearly the wealthy are rebelling against the New Deal political equilibrium, where government diffused class hostilities by placing a thumb on the scales through progressive taxation and regulatory oversight. Our political discourse today really doesn't contain any ideas for addressing this instability.

People who know me well may feel I'm a broken record here, but I believe that as a political project, the left needs to focus on making capitalism work by picking up the needle on Marx and putting it in a new groove. Workers do need to control the means of production if we're going to stabilize and humanize the economy, but the last two hundred years have shown many, many ways to do it without resorting to government expropriation. The left needs to build a political agenda around community wealth building: the mass expansion of cooperatives, employee ownership, credit unions, and the whole gamut of engines for building wealth at the level of the average citizen. It's a straightforward concept that voters could understand, and its has many spinoff benefits that could tie into other elements of a broader platform, such as urban economic development, improved international competitiveness, environmentalism.

The left's successes have almost always come from arguing for equity and fairness. We should return to that theme.


Show Comments (1) 27 June 2011 - Wayne State Alumni Mag Fumbles The Story by David

I don't know if anybody else has read the Wayne State alumni magazine (honestly, I don't know if anybody reads it, full stop), but this issue had a cover story on the "midtown revival", and it has me a tad peeved. The narrative runs 10 pages with lots of photos, talking about all of the wonderful things going on in Midtown. So, let's see here, they mention Avalon Bakery (they'd almost have to)... and then midway through the article give a list of the other types of stores that have opened in the area, mentioning the name of nary a one. What they do mention in profusion is all of the anchor institutions, office buildings, and so forth which have been in place for decades, to which they grant the majority of the credit for the revival of the area.

Now, I really haven't heard much to suggest that the anchors have done much of anything in the last ten years to encourage the establishment of the businesses and refurbishment of the residential clusters in the area which are the heart of the revival, but I may have missed something (not that the article makes much of a case for their role to date). But putting that aside, the growth in businesses, restaurants and residential population is the story here, so the fact that they spent 10 pages focusing on photos of hospitals and talking about the stuff that will happen, may happen, should happen, but not what's actually happening, is kind of ridiculous.

A story about the Midtown revival is a great idea for the Wayne State alumni magazine, and I hope they actually publish one someday...


Add Comment 14 June 2011 - Pushback On The City Council Budget by David

So, I got an email today from the Detroit city government containing a spiffy Powerpoint Δ encapsulating the Mayor's response to the City Council's proposed budget cuts. The most important thing I see is that to save roughly $28 million (apparently beyond $20 Bing claimed he and the council agreed on at the Mackinac conference), the cuts are likely to disqualify the city from $106 million in federal funding, at least some of which has already been spent and would have to be repaid. The rest of it's a touch hard to parse, as it doesn't note how many of the services it lists as shutting down are explicit in the council's cuts and how much is the mayor's office's judgement as to what the cuts will entail. Given what I've seen from inside a couple of public institutions, plus the fact that forgetting about federal dollars seems to be typical in poorly thought out budget cutting, I'm inclined to give Bing the benefit of the doubt.

So, taking the Powerpoint at face value, the cuts will result in the closure of Hart Plaza as of July 1, the beach and restrooms at Belle Isle, and the People Mover, in addition to the fire and police layoffs. All in all, it's pretty nasty...



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