Archive for September, 2009

Health care can’t save Michigan, or I told you so part 3…Michigan’s future, and some photos

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In May of 2008, I read an article regarding the expansion of the area’s hospitals, and the growth of the health care industry in general.  At the same time, I also wrote about how I had viewed this as a potential problem for a long time. The idea, at the time, seemed to be that Michigan’s, and in particular, metro Detroit’s, economy could be saved by health care. And, so the growth of the local hospitals could put more people to work. Former automotive employees could be retrained to work in the health care industry. Best of all, the health care industry was largely immune to the ups and downs of the economy. People always need health care! And with our aging population, we’d have an ever increasing supply of patients.

What wasn’t often mentioned was that Michigan, and again, metro Detroit in particular, was losing population at the same time that the hospitals were expanding. The problem with the health care as savior plan, was no different than the belief that the housing market, or the commercial real estate markets would keep growing despite a declining population. From my conversations with industry “experts” and from reading and watching the local news, it was obvious that many people, whom I had generally assumed knew more than me, couldn’t imagine a Michigan any different from the one they were living in in 2005 or so. The real estate markets were booming, the health care industry was booming, and the Big Three seemed to be doing not to terribly bad (other than maybe Ford). If one only looked at the surface, things may have looked so-so in Michigan, but if you were to have looked a little deeper, things looked like they were going to become downright horrible. The population had been stagnant or declining for a while. Michigan was one of the few states in recent history with this distinction. We were far too heavily dependent on an ailing industry with a broken business model, whose employee’s pay rate was not based off of market forces in any way, and whose management teams couldn’t seem to see past the ends of their noses, or a least past the next quarterly profit report. And we kept on building, and moving further from Detroit, using used tax payer money to help build infrastructure for new developments, while our old infrastructure crumbled. It angered at least a few of us, that no one seemed to be able to (or at least didn’t want to) see that a declining population whose economy was based on one broken and declining industry, and whose current investments were being made on new, and largely unneeded infrastructure, was doomed to failure, and soon.

In my business, when I asked questions about the, seemingly huge, number of new housing developments being built in the middle of nowhere, I was constantly told things like,  “our projections show that we can build like this indefinitely”, and “as fast as we build them, people buy them”. Were are these people coming from, I would ask. The answer was usually something like, “a lot come from Detroit, or from older suburbs”. Apparently, no one thought to follow this logic to the end of the line. If Detroit has been losing population for 40 years, and people move from Detroit to Dexter, who is buying the house in Detroit so that the purchase in Dexter can be made? People were buying houses in Detroit at the time, but obviously less than were leaving Detroit. The problem was simple. You can not expand the number of houses if the number of people is going down, with out driving prices down. But what was such an obvious sign of trouble at the time, is that prices were rising, and people were sure they would keep rising.

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So Michigan had a declining population, dependent on a downsizing industry with a broken business model, that had already been laying off large numbers of employees for years, an over saturated residential and commercial real estate market, and of course a largely under educated work force. But, we need not fear because the health care industry was going to save us. We’d all become doctors, nurses, assistants, or administrators, and we could just all be at the hospital all the time, either taking care of someone, or being taken care of by someone else. It’s the logic that seemed to be used by the Big Three for a while. For quite some time, almost all television advertising was directed toward their own employees. Who advertises to themselves? I’ll pay you, and you can then give it back to me in exchange for the thing you just made, that I paid you for. Maybe if we just make a chain letter, and send it to all of our friends, we can all get rich!

Unfortunately, a market based economy requires more than one or two industries to work. And so, it was always obvious, that unless something fundamental changed in Michigan, that we couldn’t depend on the health care industry to save us. As it turns out, the health care industry isn’t immune to downturns in the economy after all. It should have been obvious all along. If you are out of a job, or have no insurance, do you put off medical care and procedures? Of course. And if there are less people in the state, are there less potential patients? Of course. Michigan, like any other state, can’t depend on any one industry to keep the economic engine running. It takes a progressive, and diversified economy to be successful. No one knows for sure what the next big industry will be. Who predicted Google? At the time, most people thought search engines couldn’t possibly make money, and yet online advertising, has been a growth industry for years. Trying to create a plan for the future, based on the past, is unlikely to work. Sure the past holds lessons to learn from, but the future remains unknown. What Michigan needs to do is to put a priority on education, entrepreneurship, and quality of life. Of course Michigan’s broke, so it’ll be very difficult for the government to do what is needed, but the real change needs to come from the citizens who live there. If Michigan becomes a holdout of stodgy, grumpy, and angry citizens, that resists any change at all costs, then the downhill slide will continue for decades more. But if the cheap living can attract a new younger and more progressive generation, then Michigan may have a chance.

Causality, fear, independent thought, and abandoned houses

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The final topic of misconception is causality. I see assumptions of cause being used far too frequently as proof of an ideology or belief, when in fact no such causal relationship exists. Two things may exist at the same time, and yet neither caused the other. You would think, with all that we know, and the all that we have achieved, as a society, that we’d be able to move beyond ridiculous assumptions due to an assumed cause and effect relationship. But, of course, such discussions and beliefs would require reasoning, facts, proof, and testing. All of which are time consuming, and may very well prove the opposite of what we feel comfortable in believing.

Causality

From Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

1 : a causal quality or agency
2 : the relation between a cause and its effect or between regularly correlated events or phenomena

You also have to define causal, of course:

1 : expressing or indicating cause : causative <a causal clause introduced by since>
2 : of, relating to, or constituting a cause <the causal agent of a disease>
3 : involving causation or a cause <the relationship…was not one of causal antecedence so much as one of analogous growth — H. O. Taylor>
4 : arising from a cause <a causal development>

One common statement in arguments, and online forums goes something like this: “Detroit is a shit hole, therefore liberals create shit holes,” or “Republicans give tax breaks to the rich, therefore Republicans hate the poor and middle class.” Unfortunately, or fortunately (depending on whether you’re using causality in your argument), “correlation does not imply causation.” In other words, yes, Detroit is a shit hole, but claiming it’s as simple as the political persuasion of it’s citizens or leaders, is nearly as baseless as saying flies are always on meat, therefore flies come from meat. This was once a belief (spontaneous generation), along with the earth being flat, and the sun revolving around the earth. Detroit’s big problem was, and is, a reliance on one gigantic industry to provide for all, as well as an avoidance of education, broken families, poverty, and a host of other things that reside just as often in Republican run states (see Mississippi and Louisiana).

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In relation to causality, I’ve noticed a lot of blame for Michigan’s, and Detroit’s, current problems placed on one person. That person, of course, is Jennifer Granholm. I’m not here to defend our governor, but blaming more than 40 years worth of problems on one person? That’s dumb.

Jennifer Granholm may be the worst leader in the history of Michigan…or the best. It doesn’t really matter. Our current governor is not the cause of Michigan’s problems, and she won’t be the solution either. If anyone thinks Detroit’s problems began with Jennifer Granholm in 2003, they really haven’t been paying attention in the any of the last four decades. Instead of trying to find one person to blame, think about yourself. What have you done to prepare for the future?

The kind of simple causal argument that is often thrown about reminds me of this quote: “For every problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.” - H. L. Mencken

Along the same lines, I came across an article about creationism in Scientific American, and found this excellent response in the comments section:

“Causation and purpose are not rational subjects, neither is who what when where or why. The psychological imperative of memory creates a pattern of linear time experienced as reality, but limited by the perceptive abilities of the observer.
The result is that a human has an imagination, an ability to associate all memories, emotions, and sense perceptions with possible future consequences. This frees the cognate mind to choose potential results. It also causes the great majority of individuals to adapt whatever cultural behavior provides the most comfort and supports the identity, the personality of the individual.
The result is a social commitment to a virtual reality, in effect a reality of belief supported by communal ritual and agreement.
The belief process itself explains the ability to remain objective or to require dependence on family, tribe. or cultural ideas of reality, or virtual reality.”

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I found this comment to be especially applicable to not only religious or scientific beliefs, but political, economic, and social beliefs as well. It’s more comforting to believe that those who don’t have what you have, don’t deserve to have what you have. “They don’t work hard”, we so often hear. “They want something for nothing”. In fact I think this was the feeling someone got from a previous post, where I talked about low skilled vs. high skilled labor. I’m sure I came off as sounding as though I felt anyone who hasn’t made the changes I’ve made deserves their plight. While I think that, yes, everyone needs to look out for their own well being, and if that means making large, difficult changes to their lives, than so be it. That’s life.

On the other hand, I’ve never said anything about the amount of hard work anyone puts into their own jobs, or lives, which brings me back to comments like, “they don’t work hard”, or “I work hard for my money”. Unfortunately, I don’t know many who don’t work hard for their money, and honestly, on some days, I’d like to work a little less hard for my own. But the point is that it’s, often, easier and more comforting to believe something with no evidence than it is to look for the truth. Particularly when your circle of influence holds the same beliefs. It’s easier to believe you don’t have a job, because of those damn immigrants, than to face the reality of our changing times. It’s easier to believe race is to blame for crime than it is to face up to racism, prejudice, limited opportunities, and general societal problems.

I don’t claim to not make assumptions myself, but I certainly try to keep an open mind, and to allow myself to change my mind when reasoned and factual arguments are presented. Unfortunately, I fear that our peers too often don’t like us to change our minds on certain topics. It’s not ok to decide that the political or economic belief you once held may not, in fact, be true. Our political, racial, ethnic, and religious allegiances require us to give up some of our independent thinking in order to fit in neatly. All we you have to do is look at politicians who have made compromises to get something they believe in done. What happened to John McCain when he crossed the aisle to work with several Democrats to pass bills he believed in? He was brandished a liberal, a label that stuck with him until he won his party’s nomination.

Socialism, and other isms, and of course, some abandoned houses

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As a continuation of my previous post about some ideologies that seem to be misunderstood by so many, I am writing about several different ‘isms’ that seem to be used frequently in discussions and arugments. I am not an expert in any kind of “ism”. I am simply interested in social, economic, and political theory and ideologies.

After writing this I came across an article in the Atlantic Monthly. It’s interesting, in that I see the type of agenda (both liberal and conservative) the article discusses far too often much of our media. I’m not in this to win. I don’t want to destroy anyone. I just want to encourage rational thought provoking discussion. It also made me think about what I’ve written in the past. Has it contributed to anger and hate, or has it contributed to a more admirable goal? Hopefully I can achieve the latter more often in the future.

Socialism

From Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

1 : any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods
2 a : a system of society or group living in which there is no private property b : a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state
3 : a stage of society in Marxist theory transitional between capitalism and communism and distinguished by unequal distribution of goods and pay according to work done.

Just putting the definition out there. You can make your own decision as to whether or not Obama is a socialist or not.

Fascism

From Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

1 : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

Recently Barack Obama has been accused of being a Fascist, which is of course silly. From Wikipedia, we can see that Fascists believe, among other things, that nations and/or races are in perpetual conflict whereby only the strong can survive by being healthy, vital, and by asserting themselves in conflict against the weak, and Fascism opposes class conflict, blames capitalist liberal democracies for its creation and communists for exploiting the concept. Fascists also believe in quashing all dissent and criticism of both the government, and the Fascist movement itself.

Fascists often believe in imperialismSingle-party states, Social Darwinsim, indoctrination, eugenics, and corporatism. For the most part these are not liberal ideals, and in fact, Fascism is close to the direct opposite of liberalism. It is pretty much anti-liberalism.

So to explain this in simple terms, was Obama a Fascist, the protesters at the recent town hall meetings would have been jailed or executed. Furthermore, Barack Obama is no more a dictatorial leader than George W. Bush was. Insisting on your way, if you’ve got the votes, and alliance to do so is not dictatorship. George W. Bush called it “Political Capital.” It’s not bipartisan, but it’s also not autocratic or dictatorial.

Nazism

From Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

: the body of political and economic doctrines held and put into effect by the Nazis in Germany from 1933 to 1945 including the totalitarian principle of government, predominance of especially Germanic groups assumed to be racially superior, and supremacy of the führer.

Considering the following from the Nazism Wikipedia entry, “Nazism is often considered by scholars to be a form of fascism,” and that fascism is the antithesis of liberalism, it would be difficult to truly believe Barack Obama could be compared to Hitler, as has been done recently.

Liberalism

From Merria-Webster’s dictionary:

1 : the quality or state of being liberal
2 : a often capitalized : a movement in modern Protestantism emphasizing intellectual liberty and the spiritual and ethical content of Christianity b : a theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard c : a political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties; specifically : such a philosophy that considers government as a crucial instrument for amelioration of social inequities (as those involving race, gender, or class) d capitalized : the principles and policies of a Liberal party

Liberalism has got to be one of the big surprises for many. I would think approximately half of the politically active in this country would hate to be called “liberal,” when in fact the U.S. was founded as, and still is, a liberal nation. The Declaration of Independence states: “all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to insure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Furthermore, the free market, so beloved by conservatives, is a liberal ideal. Of course there are different varieties of liberalism, but with a few exceptions, that is what we really have in this country. I think it’s possible to see policies in both parties that arguably violate the ideals of above quote. Furthermore, most of the political fighting currently going on is about different varieties of liberalism.

Capitalism

From Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

: an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods, by investments that are determined by private decision, and by prices, production, and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.

There are many different forms of capitalism. One of the debates on capitalism of late is whether or not Keynesian economic theory should be used at this time, or whether or not we should continue to put our faith in the Chicago School of thought, based on neoclassical economics, which many blame for the current economic mess. One of the big flaws in neoclassical thought is the belief that people make rational decisions resulting in rational markets, and pricing. The obvious lack of rationality leads many to behavioral economics, which studies emotional factors involved in decision making.

Free Market

Once again, from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary:

: an economic market operating by free competition

This is such a simple definition, and something that we have probably never truly had in this country, contrary to many who argue that we are only currently straying from it. I would argue that we’ve had a mixed economy pretty much since the country’s inception. Although, corporations often claim they like competition, they usually don’t. Hence they often lobby our politicians for protectionist legislation (tariffs on light trucks and SUVs, and more recently, tires), restrictions on ownership (such as radio and television frequencies), and other such government interventions to give a competitive advantage to specific industries or companies.

A lesson in free speech, blah, blah, something, something, and some photos of Detroit

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After a week of listening to crazy political, economic, and social theories, beliefs, and comments, I felt the need to vent. Unfortunately I wrote way too much, so I’ll only post a little bit at a time. I hope not to come off as preaching from a soap box, but rather presenting information that seems to be too often misunderstood.

Having a discussion about politics is similar to a discussion about religion. It takes the right combination of individuals to have a civil discussion (as evidenced by our recent national political screaming matches…err, I mean discussions). Unfortunately, bringing reason and facts to a political discussion is about as welcome and useful as it is in most religious ones. That is to say, facts and reasoned arguments are not very welcome at all. It’s too bad, as a debate of political, economic, and social theory is a good thing. Yet it seems to be almost impossible to have. If you are going to disagree, at least get your facts and statistics straight. As Mark Twain said, “Facts, or what a man believes to be facts, are always delightful - Get your facts first, and then you can distort ‘em as much as you please.” That way if you want to make stuff up, at least you’ll be less likely to come off as part of the lunatic fringe.

The first topic in which it was obvious many of the participants of the “discussions” didn’t have much of an understanding is:

Free speech, and the protection of it under the First Amendment of the Constitution

From the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Note, you do not have a protection from corporations, private businesses, or individuals. Therefore if someone in the press criticizes what you have said, or suggests you shouldn’t have said it, your right to free speech has not been violated. If an online forum deletes your idiotic (or thoughtful) comment, your right to free speech has not been violated. If someone tells you to “shut up,” your right to free speech has not been violated. Furthermore, there is a whole host of instances in which, the amendment has been interpreted to allow for the restriction of the individuals right to free speech by the federal government (judicial activism has a long history, knows no political boundaries). Of course this is a very limited presentation on your first amendment protections. It is only meant to explain your right, or lack thereof, as it pertains to the, apparently, very common misconception that you are granted the right to free speech in every domain.

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And here’s the blah, blah, something, something part:

There’s been a claim that the the federal government can’t do anything right (no pun intended). That they’ll obviously bungle anything they do, other than, depending on your point of view, highways, defense, social security, sewers, water, and electricity. In direct opposition of the first statement is a second one. The second statement often used in conjunction with the first says, that the federal government shouldn’t be involved in health care because they’ll drive the private businesses out of business due to a lower operating cost. Well, which is it? It can’t be both. Is the government more efficient…or less?

Don Tapscott provides a good argument in favor of my long held desire to clean house at the Big Three, in a “Crisis of leadership.”

At least we’re not Texas. Does anyone other than a Texan like Texas?

This poor woman decides to leave Detroit after 60 years, and get berated by idiots in the comments. What the hell? Can’t people can’t just say, “good luck.” Or how about, don’t say anything? Really, we’d all appreciate it.

Mind control, welcome to Detroit…sorry we stole your stuff, and other stuff

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More irrational fears appear to be circulating in the metro Detroit area. Apparently, according to the comments, Barack Obama has mastered the (non-existent) ability of mind control. And over the airwaves nonetheless! Supposedly the President will attempt to “indoctrinate” school children while “pretending” to extoll the virtues of hard work, studying, and staying in school. How could he? Everyone knows it’s best for our future if school children skip school, don’t do their homework, and eventually drop out. After all this whole education thing is a liberal conspiracy. In metro Detroit’s defense, apparently the same irrational fear has found it’s way around much of the country. I wonder what he’ll do with his army of school aged, socialist, zombies?

Detroit welcomes all artists and other creative types, though we’re sorry all of your expensive equipment was stolen within hours of your arrival… The truth is though, there is something very engaging about Detroit. I suppose it’s like watching a building demolished by explosives. Maybe you’re sad to see it go, but damn it’s cool to watch. And, perhaps with a lot of hard work, by the few types of individuals willing to live there (artists, immigrants…), something better came replace what once was.

From Metropolis:

“The fact is that there is something about Detroit, something compelling and frightening that draws you there to consider the landscape. On some level you understand that we did this. All of us. Detroit represents the hubris of American industry, an industry once innovative and now atrophied, an industry that created the car-centric culture that is choking not just Detroit but cities everywhere (no Cash for Clunkers for our dying buildings). It is the fall of Rome right before our eyes, an apocalypse of our own making. It is the death of the American city as we know it and we are all at a loss of where to go next.”

Here are the kinds of people Detroit needs to attract. Entrepreneurial, risk takers…the very people that start businesses, and come up with solutions to problems are the people that can help save metro Detroit. The problem, of course is how to attract them. Don’t let them visit cities like Portland, or Denver, before they commit to Detroit, that’s for sure. The friendly, creative communities, the bike lanes, parks, recreational opportunities, restaurants, coffee shops, safe urban living, and clean, affordable mass transit, available in those cities, will make it a no brainer for them.

And, damn it Michigan! When will you pass a smoking ban? 80% of the population does not smoke. Michigan is one of only 13 states with no ban whatsoever. Like with everything else you refuse to do Michigan, you are falling behind the rest of the country. Please, try not to become the Appalachia of the north.