Detroit Protestors Don’t Understand Economics


My first inclination was to laugh at the absurdity of another protest group calling on Detroiters to participate in a, “don’t buy” boycott of alcohol, gasoline and lottery tickets. It had to be a joke. Detroiters aren’t about to forego these things at the behest of a fringe group of polarizing malcontents.

The latest in a string of civil disobedience activity took place in the chamber of the Detroit City Council against Governor Rick Snyder’s appointment of an Emergency Manager. The fact that only a handful of protesters came out to decry a $3.3 million contract with the Jones Day law firm spearheading negotiations restructuring the city’s debt spoke volumes. After an affirmative vote by Council, gadfly Malik Shabazz called on Detroiters to show their disaffection by engaging in an economic boycott.

Aggrieved Detroiters have the right to show displeasure in whatever legal way they see fit. The most successful economic boycott in recent memory was the Montgomery bus boycott. But Detroit is not Montgomery, the year is not 1955 and the notion that people will be restrained from shopping based on the Governor’s rescue plan is irrational.

To say that the lottery boycott is an exercise in futility underscores the obvious: A sizable chunk of public education in Michigan is funded by the lottery…and Detroit gets a huge slice of that pie. Detroit schools, suffering from declining enrollment, would be disproportionately harmed by any appreciable reduction in revenue. So where’s the logic in that? With millions of dollars to be won in the lottery jackpot, it’s doubtful that the scores of poor people who “chase the dream” daily will buy fewer tickets.

Of course, protest leaders could busy themselves adopting as a mission the reduction in number of fatherless homes that cause more damage to the social and economic fabric than any Emergency Manager ever could.

They haven’t.

They might have more credibility and converts working to reverse black infant mortality and illiteracy rates comparable to underdeveloped countries.

They either can’t or they won’t.

Or, they could embrace a mission that examines why scores of young men are destined to be incarcerated rather than educated.

Obviously, these few “citizen advocates” don’t see that such problems have reached crisis proportions. They would rather launch meaningless initiatives than remind parents that their responsibilities and obligations to their own children go beyond just having them. No, the protest voices are not voices of authority that strive for community standards that tell young mothers that “marrying the state” is not an acceptable substitute for “parental responsibility.”

At the end of the day, this protest/boycott strategy is little more than a catchall receptacle for political gripes – more “pandering” than “substance.” And by relegating economic empowerment to the back seat of progress, the organizers are offering what amounts to dead-end agendas. Thriving cities have two essential roads to prosperity: recruit and relocate companies and jobs, or grow their own companies from within the community.

Detroit does neither.

In the real world, businesses are not only a key to self-sufficiency, they are critical to ending joblessness. Self-employment enables people to feed and educate members of their family. It also helps reduce the need for social services. It’s never made more sense to cripple rather than enhance the economy. “Enterprise” is a proven means of strengthening communities so the poor can begin to put poverty behind them. It results in cities having adequate funds to provide essential services because a robust economy attracts investment and generates the profits and tax revenue that ends over-reliance on government.

Obviously some Detroiters – some demonstrators – are paranoid about change. Rather than see it as an opportunity, they fear something will be lost. The clamor for change, however, must not be stifled. The city’s future hinges on the pace of evolution beyond the protest de jour.

Detroit won’t get too many more chances to make a clean break from the political apartheid of the past and create a right-sized government that allows the free market to flourish.

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