Saturday, October 17, 2009

Detroit, Michigan: Microcosim of America's Future?

I have a great love for the city of Detroit.  Although it was never an official residence of mine I have spent much time there.  My parents were born there, met there, married there and had two of their three children there (I have to be the odd man out).  Thus I keep my eye on websites for the Detroit Free Press (the Freep to locals) and secretly root for Detroit sports teams.  Sometimes it feels like a deathwatch, for Detroit, along with all its beauty and automotive history is a city with big problems.  Some of them include:
  • A population of 900,000; half of what it was in the 1950's
  • 24.9% High School Graduation rate
  • Median home sales have hovered as low as $11,800
  • Detroit schools are in danger of bankruptcy
  • Detroit is looking to sell off its Airport to the private sector
A long history of political corruption does not help things out as years and years of Democratic meddling have dug a hole that frankly this city may never recover from.  Do I think a change to Republican administrations would help?  Maybe short term, any change would have to be considered a better option, but other problems just as damaging would surface for really, in the grand scheme of things there is very little difference between a Democrat and a Republican.

Detroit would be a ripe plum for the picking for a dynamic smaller political party to come in with a message that the people need to hear.  It would not be easy, but a determined group willing to get out to the people who even now have to be suspicious of any ensconced politician coming down the pike with promises as empty as their head, could make a difference and show America that it can be fixed; furthermore it can be fixed with private money and Government money.

Lets start with the Detroit Metropolitan Airport and the ideal of privatization.  The British have done this with London's Heathrow Airport and six others Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Prestwick, and Aberdeen.  The benefits of this would be an increase in competition, an increase in managerial efficiency, a reduction in political interference and the removal of private sector borrowing requirement constraint on investment programs.  It could also have an effect on an increase in competition.  Airports don't really compete on price because their primary revenue, landing and passenger fees, account for only about 5% of an airlines costs.  Certain aspects of the Airport would have to remain under government control, chief among those would be the FAA to oversee Air Traffic Control.  That system is proven and reliable given the safety records we enjoy in the United States.  Through a public sale of stock and a smart marketing campaign to regain or restore public confidence it would not be hard to duplicate the success the British have had.

Schools would be the other area where semi-privatization would greatly benefit the city.  Currently the public school district has been shutting down schools for one simple reason.  The system was built to handle twice the amount of students it currently does.  As a result somber images of closed schools standing unused with libraries full of books, computer labs overturned and art classrooms still stocked with supplies riddle the city.  Under semi-privatization these buildings could be sold by the city with money from the sales of the properties used to fund other urban renewal projects that the city could use.  Under semi-privatization, taxes brought upon the people could be returned to the private sector in the form of vouchers, these vouchers would in turn allow parents to send their child to their school of choice within the city limits. Cities would act as a broker collecting tax money at a reduced rate as private industries would alleviate the district from duties such as custodial, food preparation, outdoor maintenance, transportation and even teacher salaries could be deferred to the private sector who, under need for maximum funding from the city would need to show improvement of scores, graduation rates, dropout rate decline and school age crime rate statistics.  A reduction in school taxes would allow for some families to be able to afford personal funding of some after-school projects and athletics (which could be funded almost entirely by booster club activities and sponsorships).

There really is no limit to the areas where private enterprises could not do many things cheaper, faster and more effectively than a government bureaucracy.   Because many current government employees have a certain level of expertise at their jobs those positions considered essential could be rolled over into the new privatized company therefore avoiding unnecessary mass unemployment.  It would then be up to former civil service workers to prove their worth in the private sector. I would love to see this in action at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

You start with better schools, better transportation, smaller government and then go make the city go to ridiculous lengths to attract business to come back to Detroit not automotive related.  Detroit will always be the Motor City, but it can no longer count on that industry for sustainability.  Detroit is ripe for projects to do with renewable energy with rivers weaving through the city for hydra electric projects that can be sustainable while not endangering the rivers aquatic population.  It has many thousands of people, approximately 21% of them that would love the chance to be trained for a career in that or any field. 

There are a lot of good reasons to go to great lengths to save Detroit...

... and all it would take is some smart people united in liberty to come in and motivate the people to vote to save the city, to show them that their future is in their hands after they take it away from the greedy, power-hungry fear mongers that are the donkeys and the elephants.  And then, most importantly, back up and watch the people and private industry show the United States how to save the country and feel good doing it. 

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