What to do with cities like Flint?
December 5, 2008 7:40 AM   Subscribe

Politicians and citizens alike are struggling with the decision to bail out the under-performing American automakers. But what will happen to the cities and towns of the Midwest if the automakers fail? Flint, Michigan provides an interesting template. In the 1960s and 70s, Flint had a population of 200,000 and was home to some 80,000 autoworkers. Today, after many plant closures, relocations, and worker buyouts, only 8,000 autoworkers remain. So, what are we to do with cities like Flint? There have been lots of ideas, like demolishing dilapidated houses, renovating brownfield sites like Chevy-in-the-Hole [pdf], downtown business renovation, and increasing community participation by giving ownership of vacant lots to local homeowners.

Some progress has been made through the efforts of the Genesee County Land Bank, an organization that, "provides six services: demolition, foreclosure prevention, rental management, housing renovation, property maintenance and a side lot program, through which empty lots are sold to adjacent homeowners. It also has developed a Web site to provide quick access to real estate listings and maps, and to allow visitors to communicate with staff through e-mail."

However, not everybody likes what the Land Bank is doing in Flint, including its mayor, who threatened to sue the organization for, "driving the price of real estate down dramatically. They're creating places for rats and prostitutes."

The central question for those interested in the future of Flint seems to be best posed by the authors of the Chevy-in-the-Hole proposal: should developers try to renovate old buildings and build new ones in order to attract new residents and business? Or should developers realize that the people aren't coming back, and in turn tear down abandoned commercial spaces and houses, rid the ground of pollutants, and turn brown sites into greenspace and municipal/state parks, thereby creating a less dense but more appealing city in which to live?

Reimagining Chevy-in-the-Hole blog and more proposals [pdf] for renovating the Flint River District.
posted by billysumday (54 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Set them ablaze. Start over.
posted by gman at 7:48 AM on December 5, 2008 [6 favorites]

We often make jokes here about having Detroit secede from the union and become an independent city-state. However, I've always been much more inspired by the idea of modern ruins, cities we know now becoming like lost Inca temples in the jungle. The re imagining of Chevy-in-the-Hole seems like a much better route, but reality usually means that all of these extremes will be replaced by a general muddling forward with the diminishing things we have.
posted by cimbrog at 8:05 AM on December 5, 2008

Flint is Terry Schaivo. Pull the plug. Let ruin claim it at it's own pace. There will be people hurt by this, people that think that all cities are precious. They are wrong. Let it die with dignity.
posted by I Foody at 8:14 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

The only problem is that there is no capital or investors floating around anymore to do any of this. Ask people in the Brownfields industry. There is a huge pull back by development of all sorts right now, and the risky redevelopments were the first to go.
posted by Big_B at 8:31 AM on December 5, 2008

Oh I dunno, I'm from Flint and while I got out as soon as I could I still have some fondness for the place. Friends and family who remain there are really trying to DO something good and I really respect that. Plus U of M Flint is actually a decent size school located downtown with a fairly captive audience, I mean there is still a possibility that downtown can at least become a small college town. And don't forget that awful Will Farrell movie they made in Flint recently, they renovated the Capital sign!!
posted by yodelingisfun at 8:34 AM on December 5, 2008

There is no dignity left in Flint. You got to have money to have dignity.
posted by QIbHom at 8:42 AM on December 5, 2008

You got to have money to have dignity.

I really hope you don't mean that to apply to all aspects of life.
posted by Dr-Baa at 8:46 AM on December 5, 2008

“So, what are we to do with cities like Flint?“

Let ‘em fail?
Y’know it’s more than just the car industry and direct manufacturing that gets hit. I’m not necessarily arguing for the bailout (I’m just a layman, no economist, and at this point the arguments are just cacophony of data) but once the major business is gone it seems arbitrary to try to create a town with no economic base.
What’s the point? For the most part people live on production and/or trade. Flint doesn’t seem to have either (education, as said above, but not the same sort of deal).

What’s disturbing is the lack of empathy folks seem to have. Not that the car companies were all that sympathetic to the plight of folks in Flint.
But jobs seem to be the thing. I mean, the wall street bailout I’m ok with if we’re talking jobs.
If you’re a widget salesman, or worker, and some guy in the car industry loses his job, that’s one less widget needed. And as that multiplies, you job gets threatened as well.
So you go down, now you’re not going to buy, say, a fan in the summer. So the fan guy loses his job. Etc. etc. etc.
Plus, then, you’ve got even more people looking to do your job.
Pretty management/investor rich environment. And with the rich getting richer trend in the U.S., eeking out the middle class, the tendancy towards authoritarianism is going to be pretty much unchecked.
Can’t say I like the picture at all.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:01 AM on December 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Abandon them to the roving packs of feral hamsters. Shoot municipal garbage in from other cities via trebuchet.

Wallace laid it all out for us, people.
posted by rusty at 9:12 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

What to do with cities like Flint?

Put jobs in them.

Meanwhile, round up all the mealy-mouthed, mercenary opportunists with no sense of social responsibility or noblesse oblige (it's an abuse of the term, but let's call 'em "capitalists") who currently run the show in America.

Then put them in stocks in the public square and let people get their jollies out to boost morale; smash pies in their faces and jab them with hot pokers until they weep bitter tears and pray for Mammon's mercy (which, of course, they won't be able to afford, with supplies dwindling at record rates even as demand continues to swell); repeat as needed.

Finally, replace much of the current crop of capitalists with better stock. Watch more closely for inbreeding in the future.

posted by saulgoodman at 9:16 AM on December 5, 2008

I can't speak for Flint, but here in New York, we've got a defunct GM minivan factory in Tarrytown which should make people wonder how effective another government bailout would be, and for whom.
posted by Smart Dalek at 9:19 AM on December 5, 2008

Although, on the surface, it may have the air of mid-20th-century slum-clearance plans, I am actually in favor of demolition in some cases.

Take Detroit, a city with vast tracts that have been almost completely abandoned. One of the reasons Detroit is such a dangerous place is that the police simply don't have the resources to police such a large area.

I say convert the abandoned areas to parkland. Relocate the remaining people to functioning neighborhoods; give them housing vouchers if you have to. Work on rebuilding struggling neighborhoods, with sensible zoning and density guidelines (i.e. not housing projects).
posted by Afroblanco at 9:22 AM on December 5, 2008

What to do with cities like Flint?

Put jobs in them.

Right! Someone should have thought of that by now, by golly!
posted by billysumday at 9:33 AM on December 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Welcome to 1980s Britain!
posted by Artw at 9:35 AM on December 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

So... the people who LIVE in places like Flint? You're advocating euthanizing them I suppose? Or where exactly will they go when you so sensitively "set it ablaze?"

This "LetThemEatCakeFilter" is getting a little dumb.
posted by drjimmy11 at 9:37 AM on December 5, 2008 [9 favorites]

This "LetThemEatCakeFilter" is getting a little dumb.

Apologies, drjimmy11. Next time I'll try to come up with a few more (and better?) links to redevelopment programs and photo-essays on the decline of, and ideas for the resurgence of, the industrial American midwest.
posted by billysumday at 9:41 AM on December 5, 2008

People who live in Flint have feet. I'm for a social safety net, I'm for helping people find something else to do. What I'm not for is having is having a 1950s equivalent of colonial Williamsburg. Things change and there is no change in the world that doesn't leave some people worse off.

I was born in a town in upstate New York that's population was double what it is now in 1950. I moved. It was easier for me than for a lot of people. And not everyone needs to move. But familiarity isn't a cage. If you can't make it in Flint that says more about Flint than it does about you.
posted by I Foody at 10:02 AM on December 5, 2008

call centers?
posted by rmd1023 at 10:09 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm so torn about this. I'm from Milwaukee, which had a thriving black middle class up until the bottom fell out of the manufacturing industry. Now it's the most segregated metro area in the country, with some of the worst high school graduation rates for blacks (with accompanying poverty). There are vacant lots all over the north side.

Yet, I fucking hate cars and I have much schadenfreude over the pending implosion of the auto industry. My gut says to pay for relocation and retrain these people into another industry. I don't know how practical that is.
posted by desjardins at 10:11 AM on December 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I spent one night in Flint in the late 80s and explored a little of the town the next morning. It was dying then and it only looks worse now.
The world is full of boomed and busted towns long swallowed up by nature. Whether they were bypassed by railroads or interstates, or resource depleted mining or logging towns, they're gone now and others have taken their place. Some people will leave and some will stay, and I widh them all well, but the town itself is inconsequential.
posted by rocket88 at 10:17 AM on December 5, 2008

wish them all well....like I wish for a preview button.
posted by rocket88 at 10:19 AM on December 5, 2008

call centers?

No. Those jobs were outsourced to India. There is no way Flint can compete with India pricing for call centers.
posted by gen at 10:20 AM on December 5, 2008

One thing to keep in mind is that although the populations of Flint and Detroit have been dropping since the 60s, the populations of the metropolitan areas have remained nearly stable. For the most part, the people who have moved out haven't moved far. Although the center cities in the rustbelt (especially Detroit) are far, far more attractive from an architectural perspective and generally much better laid-out from an urban planning perspective than the stripmall sprawls that surround them, one question that has to be considered is whether it's easier to rehab the center cities or turn parts of the ugly sprawl into something livable/walkable.

I sort of feel dirty asking that question, since I think there's a lot to love in Detroit and have almost nothing good to say about any of the endless array of nearly identical suburbs stretching between Flint and Detroit, but given that resources are finite it's a necessary one to ask.

side note, I hope that the inevitable cutbacks at U of M Flint don't kill off what little development is happening there. I'm currently living in Seattle, and there's a similar (though much less dire) situation going on in Tacoma, a perennially beleaguered edge city about 30 miles south of here. Every single time development starts to happen there, an economic downturn comes along and their city core goes abandoned again. Right now their downtown is thriving -- just about the only attractive place in the region that's still affordable, I think -- but much of this development is built around their UW satellite campus. Which is now facing several million dollars in budget cuts.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 10:31 AM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Thanks for this post; I'm pretty torn on the whole thing.
posted by lunit at 10:41 AM on December 5, 2008

You need money to leave, too. You put your money in a house, like they told you to. 5 or 10 or 20 years later, it is worth less than you paid for it. If you could sell it. No jobs, so you gave up looking. No money to put gas in the car (if it wasn't repo'd) to go to interviews, anyways, and the buses don't work right.

What are you supposed to do, walk to the south where you can get a minimum wage, part time job in a WalMart?

I got out, barely, but a lot of folks can't.

All you libertarian, "let them rescue themselves" folks? Hope you never need a hand with anything.
posted by QIbHom at 10:46 AM on December 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sad to say, but there are any number of rust belt places in New England and elsewhere, places where industry once was the heart of the community and then, having closed shop--moved South or, later, overseas--left a mess in what once was a thriving community. If the country bails out the auto industry, what is to say it won't happen again, soon, or that many other cities should not also be bailed out? At one time, those kids not going on to college could get factory jobs. Now this is much less likely. Option: the Army is always recruiting and the govt always funds the military, and that is why soldiers are now reenlisting: no jobs for them.

We distinguish I imagine between an econonmic downturn (see above comment) and
an industry (or industries) that dominate a region, fail, and won't be coming back to life.

The way things once were in not the way things are likely to be, even with a quick fix from govtg funds.
posted by Postroad at 10:49 AM on December 5, 2008

This review of the book The Job Training Charade outlines the argument against the "just retrain the recently unemployed" mantra:
In previous eras, from the 1930s New Deal to the era of Jimmy Carter, when times were tough, the government stepped in as an employer of last resort, providing temporary jobs in public works, or simply providing people a subsidy to get by until they could recover.

But a new political orthodoxy has replaced that approach, says University of Oregon professor Gordon Lafer. Lafer, on staff of the U of O's Labor Education and Research Center and a longtime researcher in union campaigns, recently published a book criticizing the government's "job training fits all" approach to unemployment. Titled "The Job Training Charade," the book is the product of over a decade of research.

Lafer pulls few punches. He argues that the government's focus on job training is a political diversion, that government training programs have little or no effect on overall employment, and that workers are being trained for jobs that don't exist.

Lafer says job training programs focus attention on the supposed shortcomings of workers instead of the realities of an economic system that never produced enough jobs for everyone.

Democrats kind of gave up the fight on unemployment. People on the right would say 'the problem with poor people is that they're lazy, and what you have to do is cut social benefits to force them back to work.' And the humane Democrats would say 'no, no, no, they really want to work, they just lack the skills,' so the pro-training position became the position of people with a heart. But what both of these have in common is deciding that one way or another, the explanation of poverty lies in the fault of workers themselves as opposed to anything you could fight in business or government policy."

Ultimately, Lafer thinks, job training programs may serve as a diversion for workers victimized by the economic system, because they suggest the cause and solution of unemployment and poverty are fundamentally non-political.
posted by Bitter soylent at 11:09 AM on December 5, 2008 [5 favorites]

I think they need to bring back Auto World and Hamady Sacks. That's all the resurgence they need!

I'm from Flint as well, though I currently live in Lansing. I go back to visit a few times a year because I have a fair amount of family still in the area. There are pockets of Flint that are in pretty good shape all considering, I mean honestly better shape than I would imagine they would be in just based on the rest of what I see when I travel up there anymore. Its certainly no downtown Detroit anyway.

I'm not certain how much he'd want me to talk about this, but my uncle is fairly prominent architect carrying on my grandfather's firm in downtown Flint. The goal of their firm has always been to make improvements to the city where people need them; hospitals, churches, civic centers, etc. I wouldn't say they are revitalizing the city, that's up to the others to bring their businesses and business ideas to the city. They certainly are contributing to helping others though by designing the buildings.

I realize I am not providing an answer so much as sharing my part of the Flint experience. What to do with it? I don't know... As a now-outsider it doesn't seem as bad as you might think. I guess I don't know how my immediate family really feels about it though. I'd say leave it be, just like the rest of this country, Flint has to dig its way out of its own problems. So, what to do with it? Leave it alone.

posted by mrzer0 at 11:21 AM on December 5, 2008

We need to distinguish between helping the auto industry and helping (ex- or soon-to-be-ex-)auto workers.

Letting a failing industry go on dying? That's just good common sense. But letting the people who worked in it starve — people whose only "failure" was taking a good job and building a way of life around it — is a colossal mistake.

I don't care what help we offer. If we can revitalize some of their neighborhoods, that's a start — but we've been seeing for decades how hard that is. If we can lure new businesses to the area — and this one's been successful some places; Pittsburgh is one fantastic example — that's even better. If we can't do either of those, then let's give them money to relocate with, or community college tuition, or something to give them a leg up in escaping.

Sure, oppose the bailout. The bailout won't do a damn thing except prolong the inevitable anyway. But don't let that opposition blind you to the fact that something needs to be done.
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:27 AM on December 5, 2008

Artw: "Welcome to 1980s Britain!"

Or 1970s Pittsburgh.
posted by octothorpe at 11:55 AM on December 5, 2008

No. Those jobs were outsourced to India. There is no way Flint can compete with India pricing for call centers.

Especially not at union rates!
posted by Pollomacho at 12:08 PM on December 5, 2008

Drag racing is the answer, I tell ya! Or perhaps another AutoWorld!

Flint has suffered its share of revitalization efforts. I say let the infrastructure go back to nature, as Chevy in the Hole is well on its way to doing already. As for the people, as nebulawindphone says, relocate, retrain.
posted by IcyJuly at 12:51 PM on December 5, 2008

Interesting, this is honestly my first time hearing about this Land Bank deal and I see that Dan Kildee is playing a major role in it.

See, Dan Kildee was a politican, I guess he still is. I was real good friends with Dan's son waaaay back when... In fact, "everyone" used to have a Dan Kildee bumper sticker on their car, but his son had one on his bike that said "Dad Kildee." It was funny =)

Anyway, he was the next big hope when I was a kid. You'd see bumper stickers for him all over town. I don't remember it well enough because I didn't care about the political game when I was 6, but I think he was running for City Council or some such. The fact that he's still relevant says to me that he's onto something good, especially considering how much people liked him back then. Plus how can I guy who is Fist-bumping with Obama be *that* wrong??

Anyway, just wanted to contribute a more meaningful post than my previous nostalgia (hey, I'm not saying this post is devoid of nostalgia either).
posted by mrzer0 at 1:23 PM on December 5, 2008

I'm sort of confused as to why people upthread are arguing that we should let Detroit and Flint fail.

I mean, didn't we already do that?

Ultimately if there are no jobs people will have to move. Flint itself failed its population by not diversifying. I know whereof I speak, because I live in a GM town that is now losing its plant after 80 years. Fortunately we spent the last 20 in a gradual step down and the city has developed other employers including some in the 500+ job range. All in all I think we'll get by OK, although the coming loss of the JOBS bank is going to hit hard, with many people currently drawing salary from it, and the overall recession is affecting other companies. It's a double whammy, but going by the numbers we were never as dependent on auto manufacturing as Flint.

Anyway, our city has already adopted some blight elimination tactics such as pulling down vacant and grossly code-deficient houses and selling the lots to neighbors. We'd rather they do this specifically with drug houses as a symbolic victory, punishment, and safety investment, but that's a quibble. (Personally I wish they would fix up more of the nicer remaining Victorians.) Ultimately there are two sets of things at work. There's dealing with the situation, which is what this does, and there's trying to solve it, which is where economic development comes in. Sadly, just having a vast unskilled labor force isn't enough to attract employers. You need transportation networks, location, and many other support functions.

But sometimes you're out of options and you do have to deal.

The idea of "parking" Detroit has been around for a while. As with New Orleans, it would make better sense if functional neighborhoods could be saved and others broadly emptied. But what happens is stochastic, with blocks randomly full of sites of complete rebuilding, demolished or demolishing-itself-in-place buildings, and unmaintained vacant lots. There probably should be policies in place to make it less random and help make things more policeable.

I don't think that "less dense and more appealing" go hand in hand. In fact it may be an urban planning mistake to link them. The city should probably try to consolidate commercial and residential neighborhoods according to a master plan, although many demolitions will simply be driven by lack of maintenance and other necessities.

Ultimately if you are going to be a declining manufacturing city of any size you need to have a plan for dealing with that. It isn't simply a matter of binary "save Flint, burn Detroit" or vice versa. It's not even really a question that's being posed to anyone except those living in these cities.
posted by dhartung at 1:24 PM on December 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Ultimately if there are no jobs people will have to move.

And which area of the country can absorb an few extra tens (hundreds?) of thousands of people looking for jobs that can allow them to support their families? Frankly, if families in the rust belt started moving, en masse, to other states, I'm thinking you just might see a return to the dustbowl days where states stopped cars at the borders to keep from getting swamped with unemployed workers.

I'm always amused by the "retrain them" or "relocate them" mantras, with absolutely no follow-up as to what to retrain people to do, or to where they could re-locate.
posted by Thorzdad at 2:21 PM on December 5, 2008

For people suggesting relocating, where are there large numbers of job openings?
posted by drezdn at 2:31 PM on December 5, 2008

There is no way Flint can compete with India pricing for call centers.

There is no way India can compete with Flint intelligibility for call centers.
posted by oaf at 2:32 PM on December 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm always amused by the "retrain them" or "relocate them" mantras, with absolutely no follow-up as to what to retrain people to do, or to where they could re-locate.

We have a public transportation infrastructure in desperate need of repairs. That would put people to work and help reduce energy consumption. We have vast swathes of urban landscape that could be cleaned up and reclaimed. Recycling, renewable energy and ecological clean-up technologies may be the manufacturing jobs of the future — why not train our workforce for what will be important going forward, instead of propping up a single oil-centric technology that looks backwards?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:35 PM on December 5, 2008

see a return to the dustbowl days where states stopped cars at the borders

The (Negative) Commerce Clause would like to have a word with you.
posted by oaf at 2:39 PM on December 5, 2008

I'm always amused by the "retrain them" or "relocate them" mantras, with absolutely no follow-up as to what to retrain people to do, or to where they could re-locate.

These people are out of a job, which obviously means they are mavericks. They could just relocate and you know... be all maverick-y. *wink*
posted by mrzer0 at 3:18 PM on December 5, 2008

The fastest growing industry in America right now is health-care, specifically elderly care. If you really want employment in America these days, a nursing degree is the way to go. You won't make millions, but look in any newspaper, from a city to a small town, and you'll see plenty of openings for these jobs. (In some towns, they're the only openings you'll see out of restaurant jobs and low-end retail.)

But hey, a job's better than no job, no?

My main gripe with how this has been framed is how the Big 3 have put a metaphorical gun to the head of "the working man" and shat in their pants saying how if we don't fork over billions to these companies the workers will suffer. But why prop up failed companies? The Big 3 simply don't have a future compared to Asian car-makers that actually know what they're doing. Bailing out the Big 3 now in now way guarantees we won't be back in exactly the same situation 24 months down the road.

So if I was king? Put together a worker-bailout package that extends unemployment, provides educational vouchers, and re-location funds. It's not time to be sentimental about this. A lot of these workers need to head west or possibly to Florida.

Second? Sell what parts of the Big 3's infrastructure we can to Toyota, Honda, and Hyundai at a sweetheart price. They'll do a better job with it in terms of creating jobs than the failed execs at GM and Chrysler ever could.

And in case people think I'm coming off a little too Marie Antoinette about this whole thing, I'd remind them that I had to move pretty far to get my current job. I would have rather stayed where I was, but life's kind of a bitch, isn't it? Suck it up and deal.
posted by bardic at 5:27 PM on December 5, 2008

The real problem, the key problem as I see it, and the one that certainly nobody in Washington wants to acknowledge or deal with, is what Flint has to offer a prospective employer, versus, say, Harbin. Or Tianjin. Or Shenzhen. Or any of the other Asian industrial megapolises.

I doubt that workers there are willing to work for the same real wages as people in Asia frequently do, and if they won't, then to remain employed means they have to make up the difference in increased productivity somehow. I've got no idea how to do that, but at the very least we need to have an honest discussion about whether or not it's even possible.

And if it's not -- if there's no way, basically, that we're ever going to be able to compete on level ground with Asia -- then I think it's time to seriously consider whether it might be in the best interests of the United States as a whole to tilt the table somewhat.

I have some pretty libertarian leanings, but let's cut to the chase: "let 'em starve" or "nuke it from orbit" just isn't going to fly. It's ridiculous to the point of not even being worth discussion. I only see three plausible outcomes:

1) We do nothing, the remains of our industrial economy collapse, we make token efforts to 'retrain,' and burn trillions of taxpayer dollars supporting the unemployed -- perhaps for generations (since they'll be trapped in economic ghettos) -- as a result.

2) We spend trillions, right now, trying to be competitive with the rest of the world by paying for our increased real wages (which we need to lead high-cost/high-energy Western lifestyles) with ever-increasing efficiency and productivity. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. If it doesn't, we're back at #1, only a few trillion deeper in the hole.

3) We admit that perhaps free trade wasn't such an unmitigated good after all, and engage in some hardcore protectionism. Goods prices go up dramatically, and maybe we have an all-out trade war. As long as we can afford oil in the short term, and look to get ourselves off of it in the long term, we can do this: at least we're still self-sufficient in terms of food. We get to take a national crash-course in manufacturing stuff here that we've forgotten how to do. The price of goods, especially manufactured ones, goes up spectacularly and stays there. (But probably no higher in labor-hour terms than it was a few generations ago.) As individuals, we probably end up paying as much as #1.

Personally I'd rather go down route #3 than route #1. I'd rather pay more -- potentially much more -- for goods and services, knowing that it's staying in the economy and keeping people around me employed, than have cheap consumer goods and write off middle- and lower-class America as obsolete, to be kept around and alive via the enforced charity of welfare programs forever. Because, put bluntly, that's all I see #1 turning into: a class-bound society where the haves and have-nots grow to hate and despise each other more and more over time. That's not a place I'd like to live.

Although the free trade policies of the past few decades may have been a net good in dollar terms, I think it's pretty hard to argue that they haven't created some pretty spectacular inequality. Especially when the alternative is direct transfers, I think it might make sense to willingly sacrifice some of those trade-based gains in order to maintain higher overall employment and increase lower-tier income.
posted by Kadin2048 at 5:58 PM on December 5, 2008

Michael Moore's take.
posted by lunit at 6:04 PM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Recycling, renewable energy and ecological clean-up technologies may be the manufacturing jobs of the future — why not train our workforce for what will be important going forward, instead of propping up a single oil-centric technology that looks backwards?

Isn't this supposed to be the next bubble?
posted by eclectist at 6:19 PM on December 5, 2008

So if I was king? Put together a worker-bailout package that extends unemployment, provides educational vouchers, and re-location funds. It's not time to be sentimental about this. A lot of these workers need to head west or possibly to Florida.

You are dreaming.

We can't simply roll over. And it's not happening anyway. Disappeared jobs don't magically reappear. It would affect the whole economy in a massively bad way. Your job, your livelihood. Mine, too.

I can see these companies being restructured, such as happens with a bankruptcy, but without the word or the nasty side effects. That's been the idea that's gaining the most traction so far. Ford probably won't need to be restructured, and they may not even need a loan, but GM will. Chrysler might get absorbed. They will have to be restructured as different businesses with different business models, management and products. I'm hoping it will be a big green push, in a sort of race to the moon Apollo project for energy efficiency and productivity. Rebuilding our infrastructure and dying transportation industry could provide the means to get to the other side of this mess.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:38 PM on December 5, 2008

BTW, and this needs to be emphasized, automakers all over the world are suffering and are getting massive bailouts. This is not localized to the US by any means.
posted by krinklyfig at 7:40 PM on December 5, 2008

Kadin2048, if the US starts up protectionist trade barriers, why would you think people would still send you oil until you can become independent? Free trade has been a very positive influence on much of the developing world, if the advanced economies chose to squander this wealth on the rich, I can't see why protectionism would offer a better path. Note also there are many developed countries who participate in free trade with much lower inequality than the USA.
posted by bystander at 7:44 PM on December 5, 2008

"Flint is Terry Schaivo. Pull the plug. Let ruin claim it at it's own pace. There will be people hurt by this, people that think that all cities are precious. They are wrong. Let it die with dignity."

Look, I'm really trying to be less "fighty," but that's a tremendously assholish thing to say. People who think that all cities are precious aren't the only people that'd be hurt by that facile bullshit, people hurt would be folks who believed in promises, folks who can't make it out, folks who have incredible sunk costs.

It's great you made it out of your shithole, or whatever, but it's an incredibly privileged statement to just tell others to do the same. And, frankly, it makes it sound like you not only haven't ever been to Flint, but that you've never been to Michigan, have no idea the scope of the problem, and can't be counted on for anything but glib bullshit.

When I see comments like yours, I hope the solution is to arm folks who live in Flint.
posted by klangklangston at 8:23 PM on December 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

Michael Moore's take.

I don't often agree with Moore, but he's correct that it makes no rational economic sense to give GM $25 billion, if taxpayers can own GM for $3 billion.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 10:49 PM on December 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Even the Big 3 execs couldn't demonstrate how a bailout to them saves jobs in the long-run. Unless someone can make a semi-coherent argument as to how that happens then you might as well just say fuck 'em, let 'em fail. Giving them 35 billion with no plan for long term success is worse than doing nothing.
posted by bardic at 2:48 AM on December 6, 2008

if the US starts up protectionist trade barriers, why would you think people would still send you oil until you can become independent?

Because it wouldn't be in their best interests to do so.

Many petroleum-exporting countries have little industry besides exporting petroleum, and they get hard currency for it. I don't really see that being much affected by an elimination of trade concessions. In fact, I don't think any trade that's inherently a true "win/win" for both countries would stop.

Just as an example, the biggest exporter of oil to the U.S. is Mexico. Mexico is not self-sufficient in food, and imports corn and other agricultural products from the U.S. Both countries need the import, and neither represents a concession or destruction of a domestic industry. It's a win/win, or perhaps need/need. Neither party can just walk away from that particular table: the U.S. would grind to a halt and Mexico would have food riots and famine.

The trade deals I'd like to see reconsidered are the ones that involved big "concessions" -- the willing sacrifice of a domestic industry, and domestic employment, in order to get another country to accept some sort of import. In many cases I think the way those deals were structured may have looked like a net positive, but amounted to hurting many more people than they helped. (I.e., they may have replaced an industry employing hundreds of thousands with ten thousand, each making 10x as much. That would look like an even trade but in reality it's hugely destructive.)

I'm not suggesting that we slam shut the doors of Fortress America tomorrow, but that perhaps it's time to take a critical look at exactly how much trade, and what kind of trade, is in the interest of the American people as a whole, and that such an analysis should take into account its effect on individuals and not simply whether it's profitable overall.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:14 AM on December 6, 2008

Why should the United States not erect trade barriers and impost tariffs? Most countries in the world do this. Countries like China, Japan, Korea, to name 3 which provide a lot of imports to the States. There is no shame in this action. The shame was in removing the usual tariffs we had in place.

But that isn't remotely the whole story of the American auto industry, nor is it likely to really solve the problem with Flint (I'm from there. Chevy in the hole? I hadn't heard that expression, nor was I even aware that was all levelled. Frightening to look at! Glaringly obvious in Google Earth). I haven't even visited Flint since 1995.

Does Flint need anything done, at this point? This isn't some new, sudden development. In the late 70's, tons of people were moving from there to Texas, 30 years ago (makes me feel old, remembering that. I was living there at the time). Mind, I'm not without sympathy for those remaining that might have need. Many of the people living there are descendants of people that moved there from other states, to work for GM in the first place. Why shouldn't they go elsewhere, (if there is an elsewhere with work)?

I'm strongly in favor of offering aid for people to relocate, although I'm not sure how that could really be made to work right. Wouldn't make sense to move people without clear prospects on the other end. Mind, I'm considering this separate from the bail out. I hate cars too much to be able to apply myself to the question in a clear headed way (except, maybe, my posistion is really a more rational one, seeing as how for many, cars are love-objects).
posted by Goofyy at 8:44 AM on December 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Jon Stewart says "give them the money!"
posted by lunit at 1:59 PM on December 6, 2008

Put jobs in them.

Right! Someone should have thought of that by now, by golly!

Well, if it's so obvious, why hasn't it occurred to any of our fine corporate citizens yet?
posted by saulgoodman at 8:03 AM on December 11, 2008

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