How to Loot a City

Ordinarily, I would put this in the links roundup, but this post by Richard Eskow about the looting of Detroit is excellent (boldface mine):

It’s not going to be the politicians whose decisions undermined Detroit. And it’s not going to be the industrial and financial executives who made bad decisions, yet retired with their full pensions and portfolios.

Who’ll pay the price for the fall of Detroit?

There was never going to be any other answer, not in today’s political climate: The bill’s going to the teachers who educated Detroit’s children. The gardeners who tended its public parks. The drivers who carried its people from place to place. The trash collectors who did the city’s dirty work at the break of dawn. They’ll be told they’re paying for decisions they didn’t make.

…Under Michigan’s “Emergency Manager” law, the city has already lost most of its right to self-determination to an unelected City Manager. Kevyn Orr was appointed by a Republican Governor who represents precisely the policies that destroyed Detroit in the first place. He’s a viceroy for the corporate/political class.

Orr is putting the patrimony of Detroit on sale, selling the city’s goods to pay its debtors. How much will that bring in? We’re told the zoo’s healthy, breeding female giraffe could fetch up to $80,000 on the open market. That won’t make much of a dent in the city’s $15 to $17 billion debt, but it would certainly send a message to the people of Detroit: Who do you think you are? A community, a city, a polity? Zoos are not for the likes of you.

…Other city property might bring in a little more cash, including as much as $1 million for the Detroit Historical Museum’s prototype 1963 Ford XD Cobra. A million dollars is a lot for a car, but selling it won’t be a problem. The soaring wealth inequality of the last forty years has left the country with tens of thousands of people who can drop that kind of cash for a car without blinking

… along with millions who don’t know where there next meal’s coming from.

Orr’s fire sale won’t raise much money. Even Detroit’s half of the tunnel to Canada is only worth about $65 million. That’s about 1/230th of Orr’s debt estimate, at most. So why do it? Because it sends a message to Detroit’s citizens: You’re not in charge. You don’t deserve these things. You can’t stop it.

The message is: We dismantled your jobs. Now we’re selling off what remains of the world you knew….

Those workers didn’t break the economy with Wall Street fraud and recklessness. They didn’t sign those trade deals, or eviscerate the union movement, or allow the ever-growing wage inequality that robbed Detroit’s cars of their markets, its citizens of their spending power, and its children of their hopes….

In 1967, rioting destroyed 2,000 buildings in Detroit. Today’s economic devastation has left the city with nearly 80,000 abandoned buildings, of which nearly 40,000 are considered safety hazards. And now, after the mismanagement, disenfranchisement and the ritual sacrifices, comes the real payoff.

As a privatization expert told the Detroit Free Press, the real money is in urban assets with a “revenue stream.” That means a city’s water, sewer and transit systems, its parking meters and roads and bridges.

That’s where the money is.

First the people of Detroit will pay with their benefits. Then they’ll give up the city’s few green spaces and other amenities. And after that they’ll pay each and every day – in their utility bills, bus fares, or daily commutes.

It’s not just a ‘leveraged buyout’ financed by other people’s money. It’s a hostile takeover of democratic zones. It’s the Looting of the American City.

Rent extraction and loss of middle class agency: there’s a lot of that going around.

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2 Responses to How to Loot a City

  1. Matt says:

    I disagree. Orr’s asset counting of giraffes and Van Goghs is a pretty smart scare tactic to alert suburbanites, who make up the majority of the DIA and the Detroit Zoo’s annual visitor count, that they too have something to lose, even when their particular zip codes are not distressed, that they too have skin in the game. I find it pretty savvy of him to change the conversation from those who shrug at Detroit’s woes to how important it is to stay solvent. Do you really think Orr was ever going to put himself through the circus of actually selling giraffes?

    In addition, Orr is asking creditors to take pennies on the dollar. The moneyed interests that have lent Detroit billions are getting an ultimatum, take something or take nothing. Orr uses a possible Detroit bankruptcy, the largest municipal bankruptcy in the country’s history, as leverage.

    Or recall Robert Bobb’s efforts as the DPS financial manager. He closed schools, teachers lost their jobs. All of that was terrible, and lives and community were impacted. He also did two things, he made people show up to get paychecks. Imaginary people, young children, and dead people were on the city payroll. He also made the DPS do something they hadn’t done before, take an inventory of assets and expenses.

    Detroit was being looted from the inside long before it could be alleged of outside looting.

    The reason Orr is required, as an unelected appointee of a democratically elected governor, is that no local politician would risk a career/votes to do the poisonous task of balancing the books. You can only raise taxes, restructure debts, slash budgets, cut pensions and sell giraffes. What kind of platform is that? How do you turn that into a slogan that someone would put on a sign in their front yard?


    • Albanaeon says:

      He found a couple million there, and a couple million there. Still nothing next to $15 billion. And nothing next to removing all democratic intent from a city to enrich a rentier class.

      See that really is the problem with “we gotta pay down debts or the apocalypse happens!” It completely ignores the real issues at stake. We, as a country, are circling the drain due to a moral bankruptcy, not a monetary one. Having our Federal government erase Detroit and other municipalities debts would be a great boon for the country as a whole, and probably cheaper than our stupid wars we chose to have. And it would at least begin the process of unwinding the rentier classes ill gotten and destructive control over our economy.

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