The Spectacle Blog

Detroit and the Art of Gambling

By on 6.4.14 | 4:07PM

The Michigan legislature’s approval of plans to prevent further cuts from Detroit pensions truly is a “grand bargain” for the city. The deal addressing the city’s $3.5 billion of unfunded obligations also preserves the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum’s collection, a victory worth celebrating as Detroit folds in the face of almost $19 billion in debt.

The city has declined, but there is hope for renewal in Motown, and a cultural and geographic landmark like the DIA should be both a symbol of former glory and a promise of future prosperity—a sign of civilization in a city where few remain.

On the other hand, Americans for Prosperity doesn’t seem to understand that, in the case of Michigan and Detroit, there is more to wealth than money and more to responsibility than sitting on one’s wallet. That organization, like Democrat Michigan state Senator Coleman Young II and others who opposed the deal, believes Detroit’s assets, most valuably and most visibly the portion of the DIA’s collection purchased with public money, are capital to be spent in settling the city’s pension debts.

Should the $195 million deal fail to be approved by city pensioners and labor groups, Michigan will again risk losing a still lustrous cultural gem in her rapidly rusting crown.

The tragedy here, and sad irony, is that Americans for Prosperity and other conservatives concerned with fiscal responsibility in the use of state funds fail to see the significance of conserving the DIA as Michigan’s most visible connection to the tradition America was founded in. They see selling part of the museum’s collection as simply Detroit shouldering responsibility for its economic apocalypse rather than as destroying the last remnant of earlier and happier times. Senator Young’s desire to protect his constituents from the further bureaucratic oversight this deal entails is a highly admirable and principled stance, but fails to consider the costs to future citizens of the city robbed of the richness in the DIA. Liquidating the collection at the DIA would resign Detroit to being defined, like the Tigers in 2003, by its losses.

Pensioners and city workers casting their ballots on this deal are faced with a gamble; they can take specified cuts to their plans, or they can risk deeper slashes in Detroit’s bankruptcy court.

But their retirements are not the only chips on the table. The DIA, and the character of the city, is also in play, and should be preserved.

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