Thursday, July 17, 2014

Reminder: It's Not the Fault of the people of Detroit

The decision of the American auto industry to ignore the demand for fuel-efficient cars was not made on the street corners of Detroit, nor in the offices of the UAW.

The decision of the American auto industry to answer consumer interest in smaller Japanese cars by concentrating more on trucks and SUV's was not made in the poor neighborhoods of Detroit, or by the city government of Detroit.

The decision of the US Automakers to disinvest in Detroit and move auto production to non-union states like Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia was not made by a popular referendum south of 8 Mile Road.

The decision to respond to the economic calamity that was the result of the disinvestment in Detroit with loans to the city, rather than through a state and regional reinvestment and development assistance -- well, that decision was not made by city employees of Detroit.

The people who made the critical decisions that have led to Detroit's plight do not live in Detroit, and they are, for the most part, still wealthy and powerful. And they are still making the decisions that will affect all of our futures. And they are still making them with the same short-sighted, self-interested, myopic and money-grubbing indifference to the lives of ordinary people as they have shown Detroit. (Just for one example, the masters of the universe who control finance capital continue to pour money into the fossil fuel industry while alternative energy investment is judged more risky. Yet, the greatest risk to human civilization is climate change!)

This is the second time that the blame for Detroit's bankruptcy has become focused on a group of Detroit residents. A couple of months ago, it was the terrible greed of Detroit retired city workers and their outrageous pensions, which average $19K per year. Now, it's the people who are behind in their water bills.

The people who live in Detroit, particularly the poor people there, are the surviving victims of an unnecessary, man-made economic disaster: Hurricane Disinvestment. They are not to blame for Detroit's woes, and they should not be treated as deadbeats and parasites.

Like the poor residents of New Orleans, they had the nerve to survive calamities not of their making, for which they are now blamed.

4 comments:

Steve Cook said...

Decision-makers who wish to bear no responsibility or pain in regard to the consequences of their decisions (while reaping any profits thereby accruing) are the eternal human evil. Bad enough on the small, interpersonal scale, but when it trashes whole cities, regions, nations--God weeps. Can they ever be called to account in Detroit?

JAVS said...

You got it just right with this post! I grew up near Detroit and Pontiac. My father was in the automobile industry, and he decried the short-sighted decisions made by those "in charge." It is just heartbreaking. I think humans were not made, psychologically, to live in such large aggregates as we have now. And they apparently aren't neurologically constructed to think much beyond four years ahead.

Pete M said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your overall point -- that the people of Detroit aren't to blame for the demise of their city. Just the other day Nolan Finley (in the Detroit News) argued that because 2/3 to 3/4of the people in Detroit have cell phones/cable they can obviously afford their water bills. No mention was made of the fact that having a phone can be an essential safety precaution, or of the remaining 1/3 who don't have these things.

I do want to take issue with the point (that I understand has been made by others) that if the Big 3 had revised their lineup of vehicles 20-30 years to make them more full efficient that Detroit's decline could have been avoided. That may have helped, but competition would have still come and technology would have reduced the demand for workers. I think the basic problem is one that has been seen in North Carolina with clothing, in Pennsylvania with steelmaking etc. -- that technology and globalization have dramatically decreased the demand for workers in a factory setting.

What Detroit needs (and can't afford by itself) is substantial investment in its school system and better training opportunities for adults to find ways to prepare people for the jobs that do exist.

Kate R said...

Hard to think of cases in which institutional decision-makers pay the price of their decisions.