Detroit

For years I’ve stated that you can only play accounting tricks for so long before basic math catches up with you. On a national scale the U.S. has roughly $17 trillion dollars in debt. Its time of reckoning will come — but for now the world laughs and cries as it looks at Detroit, which has officially filed for bankruptcy.

After years of hand wringing over the state of affairs in the rust belt hub that has struggled in recent years perhaps more than any other large city in America, it’s official: Detroit has filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection.

Detroit has been struggling, crushed under billions of dollars in debt following decades of mismanagement, population flight and loss of tax revenue. The city lost a quarter-million residents between 2000 and 2010. Detroit now has an estimated 700,000 residents; down from 1.8 million in the 1950s.

For weeks, emergency manager Kevyn Orr has been working to try to lower the city’s debt as he slashes budgets, works with unions, and make sense of Detroit’s disjointed financial records.

A city official notably said the federal government should bail out Detroit, though the president has made no indication that’s a possibility.

Orr’s options were these: File for bankruptcy or cut the biggest bond restructuring deal of all time.

The latter didn’t happen.

“Decades of mismanagement,” indeed. Perhaps most infuriating for sane people is that faced with the totality of what they’ve done, the power players in Detroit soldier on in denial or expect the federal government (i.e., the American taxpayer), to bail them out.

Detroit is a textbook case of what unadulterated liberalism brings to a city: Pain. Poverty. Unnecessary hardship. For decades, men and women of the conservative mold have been put on notice that they are not welcome for dinner in the king makers’ homes, let alone a seat at the kiddie table. Meanwhile, the statist bureaucrats went about planning their utopia. Who knew that the trimmings of paradise include perpetual unemployment, high crime and abandoned buildings?

Detroit has been spending on average $100 million more than it has taken in for each of the past five years. The city’s $11 billion in unsecured debt includes $6 billion in health and other retirement benefits and $3 billion in retiree pensions for its 20,000 city pensioners, who are slated to receive less than 10 percent of what they were promised. Between 2007 and 2011, an astounding 36 percent of residents lived below the poverty line. Last year, the FBI cited Detroit as having the highest violent crime rate for any major American city. In the first 12 years of the new century, Detroit lost more than 26 percent of its population.

And now Detroit’s desperate request for a bailout has been turned down by the Obama White House.

Back in May I was talking to a good friend on an assortment of topics via email. I’ve made a few stylistic edits to his email, but here is essentially what he said about how the total surrender to big government has doomed Detroit:

Since there is no personal responsibility in the liberal’s world, there are no personal human failings. He believes only the system corrupts, and yet he is also of the mindset that the government can solve all things. It’s confusing because he wants to add on to the system that he hates.

I’d point out that when the government dominates every facet of life you inevitably get the mess we find in Detroit. The people who suffer the most are the poor, tax-paying citizens the liberal wants to protect (if there are any jobs left).

Unions and politicians artificially inflated wages in Detroit. They taxed heavy to “look out for the poor.” They filtered every city contract through a government committee that led to worse corruption. They threw money at everything, and now look where they’re at.

Talking Biblically to the secular liberal is often difficult because belief in God forces you to acknowledge you are a sinner, which forces you to look at yourself. It’s much easier to blame the system.

Spot on. In the days and weeks ahead watch as the people of Detroit find 1,001 different scapegoats for their profligate ways. Corporations? Check. Racism? Check. Random Republicans from outside the city? Check. George W. Bush? Check.

Word to the wise: When you find your life spiraling out of control, close your eyes and look deep within yourself to figure out what’s going on. The reasons for your problems won’t end up being because of external factors in the vast majority of cases. Your personal problems almost always exist because of you. Likewise, Detroit has no one to blame for becoming an embarrassment to the nation but itself.

I do not take pleasure in watching the citizens of Detroit squirm. I feel for the mothers and fathers who must raise their children in a violent city and I sympathize with able-bodied men and women who want desperately to work — but can’t — because businesses have been scared away. To laugh at Detroit would be to deny the reality closing in on the nation as a whole. If it isn’t too late already, it’s time for America to get serious about fiscal discipline. The alternative? It isn’t pretty.

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About the Author Douglas Ernst

I'm a former Army guy who believes success comes through hard work, honesty, optimism, and perseverance. I believe seeing yourself as a victim creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I believe in God. I'm a USC Trojan with an MA in Political Science from American University.

6 comments

    1. This is a hard topic to talk about because on the one hand guys like me want to emphasize the decades of liberalism that contributed to Detroit’s demise. On the other hand, we don’t want to come across like we’re taking some sort of sick pleasure in an American city’s pain. I feel horribly for the citizens of Detroit. I really do. At the same time, if they continue to enact the same policies they’ll continue to get the same results.

  1. I worked in Detroit in the past (on Pleasant ave) trust me it was not pleasant. This is what happens when you let people lead that do not care about anything other than personal gain. This occurs when people find out that they do not have to do anything to support themselves because someone else will take care of them. This creates a system that makes near impossible for the ones who want to succeeded in a flawed system. I was working with a person from Detroit last week that stated if you want to move up and out you are feared by the people you need to support you while you are vilified and threatened (or worse) from the people that are there for leaving.It is sad to see the hopelessness there. Another gentlemen said that he never planned for the future because he was always told that he would more likely die before he was 25.
    The area needs new leadership and some role models.

    1. “Another gentlemen said that he never planned for the future because he was always told that he would more likely die before he was 25.”

      That is one of the saddest things I’ve read in awhile. I really do hope that Detroit can turn it around. It just stinks because there are still large pockets of the media that are casting blame on everyone accept the people of Detroit for allowing this to unfold.

      Thanks for the comment, Truthwillwin1. I appreciate your contribution to the discussion.

  2. On a good not that person graduated and now is happily employed in Toledo Ohio with a respectable job. He is also working to spread the message and help others. It has been a pleasure to teach him and work with him.

  3. I would love to see a company come in and take a chance on Detroit. They could hire workes that need a second chance and help them build themselves up along with the city.
    But to be fair that would be a big risk and it could be as much as 35 years before they would see a definitive change.

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