June’s (Financial) Retard of the Month

Hiroshima, 1946. No, wait

Hiroshima, 1946. No, wait


This week, a civic winner. America’s foulest major city, the abscess on the shores of Lake St. Clair. Congratulations, Detroit: you are our Retard of the Month. All 701,475 of you, take a bow.

That’s part of it right there. Detroit has lost more than 60% of its population off its 1950 peak, and now has fewer people than it did during World War I. Among the 50 largest cities in the U.S., only Detroit and its similarly gangrenous cousin, Cleveland, have fallen in population over the last couple of years. At this rate, by the time your grandkids start getting fitted for hearing aids Detroit will have fewer denizens than Buford, Wyoming.


The smart Detroiters moved somewhere warm, while the ones of middling intelligence escaped to the suburbs. Farmington Hills might not be Cape Coral, but at least it’s not Detroit proper.

But mere dilapidation isn’t enough to make one a worthy (F)RotM honoree. You need to make awful financial decisions, and Detroit does that like no other municipality in the country.

Unemployment in Detroit is 16%, which is high even by modern-day American standards. One-third of the city’s budget goes to paying pensions for city employees. Three months ago the state of Michigan commandeered the city’s finances, the civic equivalent of an adult child moving back in with the parents and handing all the credit cards over to mom before claiming the cot in the basement. Only 14% of property owners pay taxes, and why bother? It’s not as if the constable is going to work a long enough week to track you down, and even if he did he’s probably not going to want to venture into your neighborhood if he can help it.

The city has $20 billion in long-term debt. So unless the mayor (the current one, not his 38-time felonious predecessor) can coax $28,500 out of each resident – or $34,200 out of each resident with a job – the city will eventually go bankrupt. Why it hasn’t done so yet is a mystery.

Here’s the most incredible superlative we’ve ever shared with you on CYC. This is not a joke.

How much did the average house in Detroit sell for last year?

No, lower.


Please. Way lower.

Give up? $7,500. That is not a typo. There are no zeroes missing in that number. And that’s the average, which means that the median is almost certainly lower. Plus it’s not as if the low prices mean that inventory is low: the typical house stays on the “market”, such as it is, for more than a year. In the sellers’ defense, it’s hard for a realtor to do an open house when the front door is boarded up and the windows and copper pipe are missing.

Here’s the 2nd-most incredible superlative we’ve ever shared with you: 40% of Detroit’s street lights don’t work. The good news is that few Detroiters can afford cars. Think about how much of a problem it would be if only 25% of the street lights were broken at the next 4-way intersection you pulled up to. Increase that ratio to 40%, and we can speculate as to at least one reason why Detroit’s population is declining so quickly. Especially since 2/3 of the city’s ambulances don’t work. Short of forcing Ontario to annex Detroit under threat of nuclear annihilation, there isn’t a whole lot that can be done to keep Detroit from continuing to fester.

Well, except for one magic bullet:

A $650 million taxpayer-funded hockey arena! Which is desperately needed, since the current home of the Red Wings, Joe Louis Arena, dates to the Pleistocene Era. Actually, it dates to 1980. Yes, we’re something of a disposable society when it comes to consumer items and musical tastes, but hockey arenas? Isn’t it reasonable to assume that they should last more than a couple of years longer than the standard residential mortgage?

When we got news of the arena plans, it dawned on us: Detroit is a debt blogger! And thus a suitable choice for (Financial) Retard of the Month. Think about how many of our previous honorees have said something similar to the following: “I have $30,000 in credit card balances, and $50,000 in student loans, but hubby and I think that buying these his-and-hers jetskis and spending 3 weeks in Cancun will help get us in the right frame of mind and provide the impetus for us to finally tackle our debts head on. Wish us luck!”

As for the arena, it’ll sit next to the $300 million publicly owned baseball stadium, built in 2000, and the $430 million publicly owned football stadium, built in 2002, each of which clearly provided a huge boost to the local economy. Why, if they add a publicly funded soccer stadium, and maybe a publicly funded jai alai fronton, Detroit’s unemployment rate will free fall all the way down to 15.9% in no time.

Most noteworthy of all is who stands to benefit the most from Thomas Hearns Arena. (Our suggested name, as it’s fitting that an arena in modern-day Detroit should be named after a pugilistic dementia sufferer who had to auction off his cars and boats to settle a quarter-million-dollar tax debt. By the way, even The Hitman fled Detroit for the suburbs.) Mike Ilitch, the owner of the Red Wings and founder of Little Caesar’s, is worth $2.7 billion. He could build any new arena himself, but Mr. Ilitch didn’t get rich by spending his own money when there were other, not-always-willing people who could write the checks. A combination of stupid pride (“This is Hockeytown! Our Wings can’t leave! If they move to Kansas City all will be lost!”) and misleading bureaucratic jargon (it’s not a “public-private partnership”, it’s the poor feeding the rich) will almost certainly ice the deal.

Instead of moving one misguided wretch to tears with this month’s honor as we usually do, we chose to share June’s wealth with 701,475 poor unfortunates. Well, actually 371,782 poor unfortunates: 47% of Detroiters can’t read.

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