Detroit's long-suffering population, in the midst of schemes at privatization and the encumbrance of supporting the tyranny of inflated civil-service pensions, among other worries, has now the worry of being denied the a fundamental necessity of life--water. The city has opted, rather than being humane, to stop water services to a population impoverished by the ongoing problems the city has had, prompting people, ignored by the federal and state government, to turn to the United Nations in hopes of a redress of grievances.
To be sure cities in the United States, such as Gary, Indiana, Birmingham, Alabama, and many othersm may find themselves in a similar situation as they are increasingly failed by society. In the case of Detroit, much of its problems began with the passage of free-trade agreements, like NAFTA, which enabled American companies to seek out cheap labor abroad while importing those manufactured goods back into the country duty free. Thus we see "free trade" has its price although people in the Democratic and Republican parties would argue in favor of it and the corporations they serve.
But Detroit's problems don't stop there. As in the case of Gary, Indiana, those who are not interested in sharing the benefits of civilization with those of color left the city for greener pastures in the suburbs, leaving behind a city but not deriving what benefit they could while still possible. As industry left the city had no plan of replacing it with a service economy--and not understanding of the need to support small business to keep money local--the city fell back to borrowing to support civil servants who felt obliged to keep drawing from what would eventually become a finite amount of credit. In short, Detroit became a symbol of a larger national problem.
The national debate is currently over the size and scope of government with either side ridiculously clinging to a dogmatic position while nothing is done to address the issue. Detroit's problems begin and end with two main issues: can the city be revived within reason, and if so, how. But here are some incorrect positions: one, privatization is the answer. Privatization of services to for-profits corporations will lead to further shortages--such as water--to the people and to increased cost for service. Yes, a private company can efficiently reduce costs to maximize profits for its own sake, but that savings rarely transfers as a benefit savings to the people: it simply replaces a tax with a user fee that will grow as share or stakeholders demand more revenue for their investment.
Another incorrect position is bailout money in the form of loans: as we have learned with the bailout of financial-service corporations, creating more debt will only necessitate further financial instability as it is certain that Detroit will never be able to regrow a livable city and repay the money. Birmingham, Alabama, for example, did go bankrupt, a few years back, as a result of borrowing to pay for upgrades to sewer and other services to JP Morgan and eventually led to court battles.
The final incorrect position, and this is a concession to the right, is supporting inflated civil-service pensions negotiated with civil-service unions. Civil-service unions have to understand that their own selfish interests come at the expense of taxpayers who are increasingly, in our age, becoming less and less to come by. Ultimately the powers that come to play in reviving Detroit all have selfish interests that are ultimately, unless checked, going to insure that the city will continue to become a "no man's land" in our time.
Bringing back Detroit is a question of shared sacrifice and is not a problem that can be solved simply, or realistically, within a decade. Regrowing Detroit must begin with the encouragement and incentivizing of small business, but not necessarily by bringing in corporations or self-interested entrepreneurs. It should start in engaging and encouraging enterprise within the existing public and here cooperatives may be the key. The trick is finding things Detroit can produce, since it can no longer produce automobiles, for export regionally if not nationally. The other thing Detroit needs to avoid, if possible, is borrowing money either from the State of Michigan, the federal government, or from the banks. As Detroit can no longer float bonds, at some point, it may be necessary that non-profit government operate--bartering labor from the public for service--in order to keep basic utilities running and save in labor costs. This allows for volunteerism to replace the idea of welfare as being "something received for nothing", which may in turn restore civic pride as the public will be, on a certain level, empowered. Finally, the public-sector unions must be reigned in. Private-sector unions and public-sector unions should not be viewed similarly as private-sector unions negotiate for a great share, for the service of work, while a civil servant works in service of fellow workers. Thus public-sector employees should receive fair pay for work, along with benefits, but that compensation shouldn't be considerably more than what can be earned in the private-labor market. So thus a person earning $24,000 a year, who has nothing more to look forward to in retirement but $1280 a month in Social Security, paying a counterpart in government much more, is not only an absurd proposition, but arguably, an immoral one.
This should be a lesson to cities across the country who are watching this poor situation the City of Detroit is in: self-sufficiency and sustainability is the key but there should, as well, come into play some sense of compassion. Yes, it is good to be a part of a greater community within the country, and the world, but it is necessary for a community, and all within it, to have a means of self-support should companies leave or the greater economy falter. As in the case of Detroit, built around the automotive industry, or Gary, Indiana, built around the steel industry, there has to be economic plan as corporations come and go in order to keep communities alive and vibrant despite change. This calls for people in their residing communities to equally look within as well outward to do that.