Detroit: An American Autopsy.

I just finished reading Detroit: An American Autopsy. It was written by a journalist and chronicles both his professional and personal story about the decline of Detroit.  It’s a gritty read and not for the faint of heart but it is a powerful reminder of how economy, culture and community are all interlinked.  If one or the other takes a hit, it can bring down the others causing a vicious cycle.    The author’s description of crime, drugs, arson, abandonment and the complete breakdown of civility in many neighbourhoods is something you won’t forget too soon.

It is tempting to blame Detroit’s fall on the decline in manufacturing (an economic cause) but in this book you read about how race was also a major driver of the decline.  Politics, as usual, plays an out-sized role in the problems but it’s hard to say which came first – the chicken or the egg?  Entitlement thinking of a different kind also played a big role.

I have said many times that it would be virtually impossible for ‘Detroit’ to happen in Canada.   The social safety net, population mobility, a tendency towards support versus self-sufficiency and less of the race-related challenges (although there is some of this in many Canadian urban areas) make it hard to see how a Hamilton or a Sudbury or Saint John could become Detroit.

But we shouldn’t be complacent.   We need as a populace to appreciate the importance of the economic base required to pay for good quality public services.   The lady screaming in the face of the Premier recently about health care spending cuts probably doesn’t give a second thought to the link between stagnant GDP growth and health care spending restraint.

But she should.  And someone should remind her.


6 thoughts on “Detroit: An American Autopsy.

  1. I suspect that lady-being IN the health care profession, is already fully aware of the recent report that said that there are $250 million dollars in ‘extra’ health care costs, as highlighted in a recent study. Or that e-health investments elsewhere in canada have saved $1.3 billion. That would MORE than cover the recent cuts.

    The point of the blog is a good enough one, but the emphasis should be more on those who create the problems in the first place. We got a visit from one of five local companies which has created a new solar industry. It costs us NO money to get solar panels put on our roof. After 20 years we OWN them. They do all the maintenance, and collect the lions share of the money when its sold to the power utility. So hordes of young people have been hired as salespeople, and there are help desk workers for the hundreds of calls they’ve been recieving looking for details.

    We’re probably going to sign up, and as it grows, there is more work for solar panel installers, and makers of the panels. Which will create more R&D. That is an example of a renewable resource creating employment, and given the number of homes in the province, thats a business that can continue growing. Now, PEOPLE understand this, but governments don’t seem to have caught on-which is why people know darn well that just accepting cuts ‘because the government isn’t smart enough to know how to create revenues’ will likely lead to more Detroit examples. I just downloaded the book so can’t talk to specifics, but I would stress the economics even harder than you. You can do without the community and culture IF you have the economics. There are thousands of examples of people of many different races all living together fine so long as they have JOBS.

  2. “I suspect that lady-being IN the health care profession, is already fully aware of the recent report that said that there are $250 million dollars in ‘extra’ health care costs, as highlighted in a recent study. Or that e-health investments elsewhere in canada have saved $1.3 billion. That would MORE than cover the recent cuts.”

    Well, not exactly. The job layoffs are the first wave of cuts in employment; the ‘savings’ (if you read the report) imply additional layoffs. So it is the finding of ‘savings’ that she is objecting to.

    As to e-health, NB has already invested heavily in that and, like most other provs, is getting ready to roll it out. It will be years, however, before we see any real ‘savings’ in operations costs.

  3. Good comments, but the point is WHO gets laid off. The protestors have zero pay increases and will see layoffs, but not managers, the top of which earn $300,000. Alward said administrators have also been cut, however, only two were given severance, while the rest were simply relocated.

    Much of the report focused on the fact that New Brunswickers spend longer in the hospital, and are hospitalized much more often than the national average. It’s true, if not as many people are hospitalized, then SOME of those savings will come from not needing as many people to do laundry, but you still do need somebody to do laundry, much of the savings are from not needing as much bedding (and apparantly they are centralizing laundry anyway, and we saw what centralizing food services did).

    As for ehealth, you don’t gut the system NOW when you know you will see savings in the future. Its like not getting that broken tooth looked at when you are going to inherit money next year. You can wait til next year and then also need a six hundred dollar root canal, or you can borrow the $150 it costs to get it fixed now.

    And people aren’t stupid. They know the government gave property tax decreases to corporations who didn’t ask for them, they also MAY know that owners of second homes and apartment buildings no longer have to pay property tax to the government. They know what judges earn, they know what MLA’s earn. So for the government to be crying poor mouth is just ludicrous-from the point of view of somebody facing layoffs.

    Like I said, we have an entire new solar industry opening up. New Brunswick’s economic policy seems to be saying nightly prayers that the oil powers that be will build a pipeline to Saint John, which will provide maybe two years of work, and hoping that maybe there is natural gas in the ground. So I think Mr. Campbell is taking the wrong side here-I think its the PREMIER who needs to think a little harder about the relationship between stagnant growth and spending. After all, isn’t that what he’s being paid for? That woman yelling at him, she already works for a living.

  4. I finished part of “Detroit”, and although I preferred “Life on the Killing Streets”, it reinforces what I said-its economy that dictates the life and death of cities.

    However, like many things the main difference between Detroit and New Brunswick, and much of Canada, is in degree, NOT structure. There are LOTS Of parts of Toronto that look like Detroit, and the TTC is definitely heading down that route.

    As for race, heck, in New Brunswick people just speak different LANGUAGES and they can’t get along. And if you think the police have much higher concern for the homeless, dude, you’ve got to get out of your middle class world and look around. I”ve been trying for YEARS to get the government to change its unconstitutional laws against panhandling. You may remember the big to do from Ontario where squeegy kids were banned, and this set up a supreme court challenge. Well, in New Brunswick simply the act of ‘begging’ is illegal. Not only can squeegy kids not do it, but you can’t even sit quietly at the side of the road with a cup. And people go to JAIL for it because they obviously have no money to pay the fine. Sometimes it varies a bit in how often and where police will ticket them, but the fact is that the supreme court of canada and EVERY province has recognized panhandling as freedom of speech. But on it goes in New Brunswick. Heck, you can’t even find a MEDIA story on it.

    And as for ‘shocking stories’ and fires, I won’t say I”m good friends with Charles Leblanc, but I used to hear some of the stories that don’t make it onto the blog-and to not make it onto that blog….and I remember just last month reading yet another story in the media of a prominent building burning in New Brunswick, so much so that I mentioned to my wife that NB seems to be burning to the ground. Not as much as Detroit of course, but still.

    The book is a good read, but when looking at this kind of dsyfunction its far better to read black authors. What I found sadly amusing is that in several reviews the author is even called a ‘hero’, even though he spends a night in jail for beating his wife. In reviews its openly claimed that his horrible experiences of course explain his behaviour, but its interesting that when talking about OTHER criminals, its always their ‘personal choice’ and ultimately their ‘personal responsibility’.

  5. PS: I forgot, from an economic development perspective a far more useful book, and good antidote to this one, is “Detroit City is the Place to Be”. And I can’t help reminding readers in New Brunswick that in one of the VERY few cases in the country where a court has ordered a retrial of a jury verdict, it was in Saint John where an abused woman had to stand trial once again after three years. That sends a nice signal to abused women! You don’t have to go to Detroit to look at institutional apathy towards the poor.

  6. “As for ehealth, you don’t gut the system NOW when you know you will see savings in the future.”

    That makes no sense. You find savings whenever you can. In any event, the system is not being ‘gutted’. You can look at CIHI data yourself and see how NB compares to other provs wrt spending in various areas. We are spending more but end up with in many cases significantly higher wait times. The key is to find a way to maintain/improve levels of service delivery while holding down costs. Nothing wrong with that.

    “new solar industry opening up”

    You might want to check and determine where the panels are being made.

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