Commentary: The True Lessons of Detroit

Why the city should be empowering its entrepreneurs.

Posted: 07/18/2014 11:40 AM EDT
Detroit

The liberal leaning Netroots Nation is hosting its 2014 convention in Detroit this week and is using its location in part as a backdrop for espousing some of the tired policies that put the Motor City into bankruptcy.

Unlike many on the left, Republicans know that cities across America, like Detroit, are at its best when it empowers entrepreneurs, engages communities and combats public and private corruption to protect workers, the poor and the most vulnerable. While government action and the right to collective bargaining are an important part of the market economy, the liberal agenda fails to understand that family, community and free enterprise are the epicenter of American economic greatness.

As a Metro Detroit native, grandson of a union worker and son of a retired Detroit public school teacher, I have experienced the recent disruption of the American bargain that occurs when the few enrich themselves at the expense of the many. As a lawyer with experience in municipal labor bargaining in Detroit, I know the vital importance of striking a just balance between paying fair wages and benefits while ensuring that government has the resources to provide adequate city services.

What many at Netroots Nation may not realize is that the current potential of a renaissance in Detroit shows the power of Republican ideas to provide a strong economic pathway for the democracy and for the nation.  

While touting the potential for a comeback in Detroit, we must remember two chief lessons of the last four decades. First lesson: while inequality and the fall of the auto industry were significant causes of Detroit’s financial decline, the city’s inability to rein in its pensions and its overreliance on government for economic development substantially compounded its problems.

The Detroit Free Press has reported that Detroit’s pension obligations alone rose to an estimated $3 billion in 2013. The Free Press has also reported that Detroit’s overall financial obligations (pensions, health care, etc.) became so stifling that it was estimated that at least 35 cents of every general fund dollar was spent on its financial liabilities. That kind of government spending ,whether in Detroit, in Lansing or in Washington, D.C., not only is financially unsustainable but it also undermines financing a strong safety net for the unemployed and basic government services.

Second lesson: the comeback of Detroit will not come from more of the same. Detroit’s rise will come from rightsizing the city’s finances and services and unleashing this region’s entrepreneurial spirit. Detroit’s long term rise will come from giving would-be small business owners greater market access, increasing employment opportunities and training, expanding mass transportation and building long term community in Detroit’s neighborhoods.

Whether it is the thousands of jobs brought to Detroit by Quicken Loans or the employment of Detroit workers by watchmaker Shinola, Detroit’s increasing economic potential is born most especially from entrepreneurs who are taking risks by starting or expanding businesses and increasing jobs.

Detroit provides an excellent example of our nation’s incredible economic potential when unencumbered by the liberal policies on parade this week.

Louis A. Brown Jr. is a commercial, labor and employment attorney in private practice and former Congressional Staffer who works in Detroit and lives in Troy, Michigan.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: AP Photo/Carlos Osorio, File)

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