Obama: Welcome to Detroit


I can only think of one reason why Mayor Dave Bing wants President Barack Obama to visit Detroit leading up to the November election: He wants the president to get a glimpse of what urban areas across America will look like in 2016 after his second term.

“People say Detroit is important to this administration. OK, prove it by coming here,” Bing told reporters at a breakfast meeting of Michigan delegates at the Democratic National Convention.

“If I look at Detroit and some of the big cities in urban America –especially in Michigan– our infrastructure is crumbling and we’ve just got to reinvest,” Bing added. “That will create jobs.”

Actually, Mayor Bing is trying to recreate the Obama myth that the government can provide federal economic support under the guise of “stimulus” and prop up or rejuvenate struggling cities. But any success the mayor has in securing an Obama administration bailout will likely work as a narcotic that impedes the making of tough decisions necessary for Detroit’s long-term survival.

Bing’s outmoded urban recovery concept is a throwback to a few years ago when Obama’s Congress handed out federal gifts for every conceivable public purpose. Little did it matter than the programs and accompanying dollars did not reflect local priorities. Obama later admitted that “shovel ready” projects were not “shovel ready.” Cities and states took the money anyway.

In the first instance, the federal government no longer has the financial capacity or political backing to distribute large doses of largesse to cities. And second, Obama’s plan would mostly produce public sector jobs at taxpayer expense. Beyond that, Bing’s expectations and Obama’s stimulus wish list collides with reasons why businesses and families vacate America’s urban core.

Bad policy helps explain why Detroit’s per capita income is just under $15,000. The jobless rate consistently tops 13 percent. And counting the unemployable or those who simply dropped out of the labor market, it may be closer to 50 percent.

When Obama took office, the national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. Despite his campaign promise to quickly bring it down to 5 percent, it has ballooned as high as 9 percent and has stood above 8 percent for the past 43 months –even higher in most urban areas across America.

Arguably, Obama’s greatest achievement is to make the unemployed feel good about their misery.

Despite the fact that their liabilities far outnumber any assets, politicians aren’t compelled to address the joblessness issue because pubic concerns are rarely transformed into political demands. Why?

Most Detroiters hold their elected officials in high esteem – a form of hero-worshiping. And perhaps deluded by a false sense of invincibility and self-celebration, Bing –and by extension Obama– have some assurance that voters will turn a blind eye to their shortcomings and translate unapologetic allegiance into a license to repeat the practices of the last four years.

Needed are private sectors jobs. But there’s little point in talking about creating or attracting new businesses when Washington and Detroit ignore their obligations to existing firms.

The best way for Mayor Bing to ensure that job creation is fostered and nurtured is to insist that the financial objectives of businesses converge with the economic realities in Detroit. Businesses need relief from rampant crime, wasteful government spending, onerous taxes and regulatory impediments that hinder startups and growth.

The mayor would be better off persuading Obama to extend the Bush tax cuts. That would go a long way toward unleashing the potential and power of free-flowing democratic capitalism.

Detroit’s recovery largely depends on lessons learned from the failed policies of the past. And going forward, it requires an understanding that the ultimate source of job security is the economy’s capacity to create new jobs.

To bridge the divide that isolates much of urban America from prosperity, the nation and the city needs leadership that is smart, capable and committed to a new direction.

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