Friday, August 9, 2013

George Will ruminating on Detroit: About like Howdy Doody ruminating on the Moon

So George Will, highly renowned municipal analyst and wicked good judge of character, has once again set his sights on Detroit. Somehow--don't ask me how--I knew this would happen.  I knew it would happen because the decline of Detroit, our allegedly foremost black and poor city, is in the spotlight, and it's beyond George Will's ability to say no to such delicious news .

Behold!  An entire city has fallen to such lows there is nothing left but to declare them bankrupt--financially, morally, culturally, and--sigh--intellectually.  The city is beyond hope, reduced now to gasping its last breath.

As the pack of jackals awaiting nearby begins to close in; begins to circle, no surprise that one George F. Will, tightass extraordinaire, is right up front.  Will is not one to not have an opinion, even when he knows next to nothing about the subject--especially if the subject is one he believes is beneath him.

Will has a snooty gene that tends to surface whenever les miserables are shown to be more miserable than usual.  It is his duty to explain to the miserables just how culpable they are in their own undoing.  Because if he didn't explain it to them, they might not know to feel both miserable and guilty.  Guilt is the twist of the knife.  There is no redemption without the twist of the knife.   

You've been bad, Detroit.  And worse, you've been ordinary. You must repent.  You must take your licks.

In December, 2012, he wrote:
If you seek a monument to Michigan's unions, look, if you can without wincing, at Detroit, where the amount of vacant land is approaching the size of Paris. And where the United Auto Workers, which once had more than 1 million members and now has about 380,000, won contracts that crippled the local industry — and prompted the growth of the non-unionized auto industry that is thriving elsewhere. Detroit's rapacious and oblivious government employees unions are parasitic off a near-corpse of a city that has lost 25 percent of its population just since 2000. The Wall Street Journal reports that because some government workers with defined-benefit pensions can retire in their 40s, "many retirees living into their 80s are drawing benefits for nearly twice as long as they work." 
Union contracts didn't cripple Detroit's auto industry, corporate greed did.  They were bad at sharing, even though without the workers in Detroit that industry would never have grown as it did.  Once they figured out that they could outsource or robotize much of the manufacturing, they were off to the races.  Why give living wages when you can get by on giving slave wages somewhere else?

Will's notion that the city's union employees were "rapacious and oblivious" to the dying Detroit and it was the out-of-control pension funds that dealt the final deathblow is just farcical.

This, according to the Free Press last week:
The battle over the health of the City of Detroit pension funds flared again Friday when the Bond Buyer, a Wall Street publication, reported on a new analysis showing that the pension funds’ optimistic assessments “fall mostly within accepted industry standards.”
Kevyn Orr, the city’s emergency manager, has estimated the underfunding of the city’s two pension funds at $3.5 billion. The pension fund managers disagree, saying the funds are more than 90% funded, meaning that there are adequate resources to pay almost all future liabilities.
H/T for the above to Chris Savage over at Eclectablog, who gives further voice to what a lot of us have been thinking:
Look, I get it that Detroit is in a major crisis. I do. I get that. But there isn’t any reason for Kevyn Orr to jump on the ruin porn train to make things look worse than they are unless he’s afraid that Detroit will be found not to actually be insolvent, which puts his plan to take the city through bankruptcy in peril. There’s also the fact that wealthy, opportunistic vultures waiting in the wings to swoop in and exploit Detroit’s situation for their own financial gain. That means snapping up city assets at bargain basement prices and getting lucrative contracts when anything not nailed down gets privatized to for-profits corporations.
Nobody questions the fact that Detroit has been in a steady decline for decades.  Corruption was rampant there for longer than any of us want to remember.  Dependence on one significant but fleeting industry for almost a century was pure folly.  There are ghettos and drug wars and crime statistics that place Detroit too often at the top of the list.  But the workers in Detroit are tired of taking the blame.  The city may never rise to its former glory, but it can and will survive only if it can feel worthy again.  The George Wills don't help:
"Detroit...has suffered not just economic setbacks but also a cultural collapse that precludes a rapid recovery. Despite some people’s facile talk about “rebooting” Detroit, as though it is a balky gadget, this is a place where dangerous packs of feral dogs roam. No city can succeed without a large middle class, and in spite of cheery talk about a downtown sprinkling of “hipsters and artisans,” a significant minority of Detroit’s residents are functionally illiterate and only 12 percent have college degrees (in Seattle, 56 percent do). Families are the primary transmitters of social capital, and 79 percent of children here are born to unmarried women. What middle-class family would send children into a school system where 3 percent of fourth-graders meet national math standards?"
Will precedes his indictment of an entire city with this cheery shout-out to Rick Snyder, Michigan's Koch-fueled dictator-in-residence (Emphasis mine):
Snyder is neither surprised nor dismayed by the Obama administration’s prompt refusal to consider bailing out the city: “I had made it clear I wasn’t going to ask them” for a bailout. One example of Washington’s previous costly caring is Detroit’s People Mover, the ghost train that circulates mostly empty. Snyder dismisses this slab of someone else’s pork as “part of the 60 years of failure.” He has largely forsworn attracting businesses to the city by offering tax credits, which he calls “the heroin drip of government.” He speaks not of “fixing” but of “reinventing” Detroit, by which he means a new “culture of how to behave and act.
 Well, isn't that the all-time limit?  Snyder, the nerdy number-cruncher-cum-plantation-boss, now sets his sights on culture and manners.  (Anything else, massa?)  And George Will apparently thinks that's cool. 

So the next time George wants to talk about Detroit I've got a soapbox I'll set up for him. Right here in Grand Circus Park, where the hipsters and artisans and other clueless undesirables can come and hear what he has to say about their city.  (Fear not, George, it's nowhere near where feral dogs might lurk.)

Grand Circus Park, Detroit

Be sure and wear your bow tie, George, and bring your wife.  She might want to talk about her activities in both Rick Perry's and Michele Bachmann's campaigns.  That'll be a real ice-breaker.  A few laughs can't hurt.

But remember where you are and nix the happy talk about Snyder.  I mean, really.  Listen to me.  I know what I'm talking about.

(Featured today on Mike's Blog Roundup at Crooks and Liars.  Welcome, new visitors!   Cross-posted, as always, at dagblog)