Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Detroit and Amazon


WHAT DOES IT SAY about Detroit journalists that an argument in support of the now-failed Amazon HQ2 bid is a contrary view? Did the plan have too many tax-giveaways for Amazon? Was it too sweet of a deal? Obviously NOT-- the city of Detroit did not make the cut.

Don't kid yourself. Scoring the Amazon 2 headquarters in competition with every other city in America would've been a huge victory for Detroit. It would've signaled to investors around the world, "Detroit Is Back."


Here are three of the arguments against Detroit's bid.

Valerie Vande Panne, an opponent of the Amazon HQ2 bid, takes indirect shots at it at Alternet:

Philip Conklin  and Mark Jay take on Detroit's fledgling comeback at Jacobin:

Eric Starkman presents a hyperbolic essay with his reasons why the bid was mistaken:

Vande Panne makes a few good points in relation to small business. The Jacobin essay has to be taken for what it is, given that it was published by a neo-Marxist magazine whose goal is the end of capitalism.  Starkman's is a shriek against the injustice of the universe. Job in the Bible shaking his fist at God. Yes, the economic system is unfair. Amazon is not a benevolent corporation. To quote from a classic film, "The grown man knows the world he lives in." Or: If you're going to change the world, don't make Detroit, of all places, the sacrificial victim.


A.)  JOBS.

Vande Panne lists "Jobs Will Save Us!" as a myth. She's wrong. I travel through southwest Detroit and the impoverished downriver suburbs nearly every day. Rootless people are everywhere; on disability, on drugs, lacking purpose. Wasting their checks at the downtown casinos. That's reality, not myth. For most people in this world, a job gives purpose. Reason to get up in the morning. Structure. Self-respect.

The claim is that Amazon 2 will bring to a city 50,000 jobs. That's a lot of paychecks. A lot of money being spent in a town. Circulating. There's a multiplier effect. People, services, and small businesses working to serve the employees. Any city in the beat-down condition Detroit is still in, when presented with such option, has to say, "We'll take it."

B.)  2008.

The biggest argument for accepting a large-scale project like Amazon is where this town was in 2008. I was staying downtown then, when the auto companies collapsed and the economy bottomed. Downtown was a ghost town-- scores of large office buildings sitting vacant. After six p.m., what downtown workers there were vanished and the downtown of a great city turned itself over to vagrants and pigeons. I lived in an almost-empty building which itself seemed populated by ghosts.

One man turned this around. Love him or hate him, this is fact. At the time he began buying up properties and pumping money into this city, a comeback seemed like illusion. Like many, I just wanted to get out of town-- and for awhile, did.

With his money, Dan Gilbert took enormous financial risk. It's still a non-guaranteed bet-- the comeback is shaky at best. Businesses like Nike have been encouraged to open stores downtown, possibly with sweetheart deals, because that's how it's done. The roulette wheel is spinning. The bet is that Detroit will come back. No one knows for sure if it will.

Is there going back to 2008? Does anyone truly wish to go back?


The biggest burden Detroit has carried for 50 years is its image. For 50 years it's been portrayed as a place of crime, poverty, and ruin. The negative psychology has been a cloud hanging over town. As with a sports team, winning begets winning, and losing begets a downtrodden attitude. The city will come back for real when it believes it will come back-- and when investors and tourists around the world believe this as well. Winning the Amazon contest would've instantly changed the perception of Detroit. The psychology. "Detroit Is Open for Business" would've been the message. What killed the city is disinvestment. Ways need to be found to turn this around.

Yes, this would benefit evil big-money capitalists out to make a buck. But, how did Detroit become a major city to begin with? Wasn't it because of entrepreneurs? Industrialists? Uh, capitalists?


Gore Vidal among others posited that in the 21st century, with the rise of a global economy, the dominant political-economic entity would no longer be the nation-state, but the city-state. Which means, yes, Detroit very much IS in competition for jobs and resources with every other large city on the planet. We can deign to compete, and sink further into oblivion, with attendant lethargy, poverty, food stamps and substance abuse. Or we can plunge fully into the contest and put the latent talents we have in this town to use.


At New Pop Lit we believe business is not a zero-sum game. Inviting major players like an Amazon doesn't squeeze out everyone else. Instead, such companies generate activity and resources, which smaller entities, if quick enough, can take advantage of. There are a lot of hustlers in this town. People want to make a buck. Sorry, but few wish to make their own clothes and exist at a subsistence level. That's not the world we live in. Today that lifestyle can be lived in impoverished third world countries or in nostalgic history books. More poverty? Been there; done that.

We're here because we're hustlers. We see opportunity for tremendous growth and we aim to be part of it.