Finally, someone has told the other side of the story about Detroit.
After all the conservative crapola fed to us about the plight of one of America’s great cities (some of it involving the subtle suggestion that blacks have mucked it all up), after all the media hand-wringing regarding what to do about Detroit’s bleak financial condition, finally someone has come forth with another view, one that rings true for those of us who have followed conservative philosophy and policy over the years.
David Sirota, writing for Salon.com (“Don’t buy the right-wing myth about Detroit“) makes some counterpoints to the narrative that has been thrust upon us by reactionaries and their fellow travelers in the mainstream press, a narrative that goes like this: the problem with Detroit is that taxes are too high, corporations need more breaks, and, above all, public workers need their pensions cut:
It’s a straightforward conservative formula: the right blames state and municipal budget problems exclusively on public employees’ retirement benefits, often underfunding those public pensions for years. The money raided by those pension funds is then used to enact expensive tax cuts and corporate welfare programs. After years of robbing those pension funds to pay for such giveaways, a crisis inevitably hits, and workers’ pension benefits are blamed — and then slashed. Meanwhile, the massive tax cuts and corporate subsidies are preserved, because we are led to believe they had nothing to do with the crisis. Ultimately, the extra monies taken from retirees are then often plowed into even more tax cuts and more corporate subsidies.
Sirota mentions a truly unbelievable situation involving the Detroit Red Wings hockey team and its quest for a new place to play:
By focusing the blame for Detroit’s bankruptcy solely on workers’ pensions, rather than having a more comprehensive discussion that includes both pension benefits and corporate giveaways, the right can engineer the political environment for the truly immoral reality mentioned at the beginning of this article — the one highlighted this week by the Associated Press story headlined “Arena Likely Still On Track, Business As Usual For Sports Teams Despite Bankruptcy Filing.” Yes, that’s correct: at the same time government officials are talking about slashing the meager $19,000-a-year pensions of workers who don’t get Social Security, those officials are promising that they will still go forward with a plan to spend a whopping $283 million of taxpayer money on a new stadium for the Red Wings.
I recommend you read the entire article, but if you don’t, and if you, like me, have heard for some time now that bondholders need to be protected in all this (remember the GM bailout? same argument) and those greedy public employee pensioners are going to have to take a big hit if Detroit is to survive, you need to know the power dynamics of the situation:
…with Wall Street bondholders intensifying their push to make sure all the pain is felt by public employees, and with the right’s blame-the-workers narrative preventing any real discussion of corporate subsidies and tax policies, it’s a good bet the $19,000-a-year pensioners are going to bear a disproportionate share of the sacrifice. After all, out of all of this situation’s players — corporations that want public subsidies, bondholders, rich folk who want more tax cuts, right-wing [Governor Rick Snyder] administration officials and municipal workers — the retirees earning benefits just above the poverty line have the least amount of political power.
Bottom line: Hockey arena? Yes. Paying promised pensions? Nope.
For all the talk that has come from the right wing over the years about how powerful are the public employee unions in our large cities, compared to corporate power and the power of Wall Street bankers, those $19,000-a-year pensioners don’t have much of a chance.