Archive for March, 2019

…Are Ruining Everything!

...Are Ruining Everything!

It is so, so, so deliciously easy to hate somebody without even knowing them. In fact, not knowing somebody as a person but as part of a group is a great help. As an example, many Americans feel very comfortable these days communicating their less than favorable views on immigrants — economic burdens, dangerous criminals, existential threats. You know, the same basic take Americans had on the 19th century Irish or 20th century Italians.

This got kind of turned around on me when the college admission scandal broke this week. My immediate reaction to those wealthy and famous people bribing their kids’ way into marquee universities? Frickin’ rich people! Overly privileged bastards, all of them! Lousy, stinkin’…

Wait a minute…I know several thoroughly honest, morally sound people who also happen to be fairly affluent. Plus, by most world standards, I myself could be considered rich. (And I’m delightful!) So perhaps it’s not the healthiest thing in the world to fall in that trap.

I’m still upset with those parents who lied, cheated, and stole. Even more so as details emerge. I look forward to their prosecution and justice being served. But I will try to be more careful with open declarations of loathing for entire groups of people. (I still, however, reserve all rights for individuals.)

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Raise the Gas Tax?!

Raise the Gas Tax?!

One of my pet peeves is when somebody with a good paying, white collar job chooses a ginormous pickup truck for their commuter vehicle and then complains bitterly when the price of gas goes up. The world is not conspiring against you, Karen! You made your choice — deal with the consequences!

So when Governor Whitmer floated the idea this week of raising the gas tax, I imagined that the Karens of Michigan were going to be quite put out. A brief workplace and online sampling confirmed this. To be clear, I don’t begrudge those on fixed incomes or with lives that require a pickup truck for not being happy with potentially higher gas prices. Taxes with such a direct and obvious economic impact are especially unlikable.

To that end, I’m guessing our Michigan-based automakers are not terribly thrilled with the gas tax idea. All three have now clearly gone all in on a pickup/SUV future. It’ll be interesting to see if they weigh in on what they would perceive as a more fair revenue source.

But that leaves us with the question of what would be more “fair.” We’ll find out soon enough as Whitmer negotiates the budget with the Legislature. Initial reactions from Republicans have been positive. They’re leery of such a large gas tax and expressing displeasure with potential adjustments to corporate taxes. But nobody is denying that our roads have been neglected for so long that significant spending will be required to fix them.

No tax is ever completely fair. But whatever gets negotiated should be as evenhanded as possible. So for those hybrid and electric vehicle owners who are a little too satisfied with sticking it to the gas guzzlers: You won’t get off so easy, Chad! We’re all expecting you to pay for fixing the roads, too!

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Assembly Plants and Misplaced Nostalgia

Assembly Plants and Misplaced Nostalgia

In the late 1970s, Detroit was desperate for a new automobile assembly plant. GM was closing its plant on Clark Avenue and the land for the previously closed Dodge Main complex was available in Hamtramck. The only problem was that additional land was needed that reached into Detroit’s Poletown neighborhood.

In those pre-Great Recession times, any new auto facility — but especially an assembly plant — was almost universally considered an economic blessing and a community savior. Lots of good stable jobs, a magnet to suppliers, a taxpaying engine — no downside! Except, as it turns out, there were huge downsides. Detroit Mayor Coleman Young conspired with GM (as well as the Catholic Archdiocese) to acquire the land it wanted using a number of methods, grabbing it through eminent domain when necessary. It totally destabilized Poletown and never came close to delivering the promised number of jobs and tax dollars.

This week, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) announced plans for a new Jeep assembly plant in Detroit, probably at the site of the former Mack Engine plant (plus some additional land). It seems very similar to 40 years ago, but it is really quite different. First, everybody involved seems keen to avoid the Poletown mistakes. Second, the city no longer has eminent domain power. Third, I think all Michiganders are much much better at moderating expectations around any new auto facility — we’ve seen enough come and go to know there are always tradeoffs. 

Nostalgia can cloud our assessment about what was good about the good ol’ days. Some things were, in fact, better back in the day. (I sure do miss being able to dunk a basketball!) But that doesn’t mean everything was better.

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