On July 18, 2013, the city of Detroit declared bankruptcy. The story of Detroit's bankruptcy was simple enough: Allow capitalism to grow the city, campaign against income inequality, tax the job creators until they flee, increase government spending in order to boost employment, promise generous pension plans to keep people voting for failure. Rinse, wash and repeat. That's how a city with 1.8 million people in 1950 becomes a city with 700,000 in 2013. That's why a city that once served as a magnet for industry began thinking about requiring city employees to live within the city limits for seven years. And that's how Motor City turned into a location shoot for "28 Days Later".
But the media suggest that Detroit is more complicated than taxing and spending an enormous economy to death. Instead, they say, it's the fault of those blasted right-wingers, who haven't held power in Detroit for 60 years. Ed Schultz of MSNBC somehow labeled Detroit a "conservative utopia" and then stated, "Conservatives are using the most insulting language possible that they can come up with to blame unions, blame black people, blame their culture, for Detroit's troubles." He said, "Union-busting is the real parasite."
Meanwhile, another major Midwestern city prepared for bankruptcy: Chicago. Chicago hasn't had a Republican mayor since 1931. It is a union-dominated city with enormous pension costs. Its population has decreased from 3.6 million in 1950 to 2.7 million in 2010. Its predicted budget shortfall is $1 billion by 2015, following on a predicted $369 million fiscal gap this year. The city has more than 2,400 city employees earning more than $100,000 per year. According to Civic Federation, the 10 local pension funds covering Chicago workers are short $32 billion, up more than 400 percent from just 10 years ago. That report states that every person in Chicago owes in excess of $10,000 to the pension fund. If you include state requirements, that number jumps to nearly $17,000.
But the problem in Chicago, say leftist members of the media, comes from outside Chicago. Democratic strategist Robert Zimmerman told CNN in February, "Let's be very clear about what's happening in Washington today and why it's undermining the city of Chicago -- because there's a mindset now in our government, in Washington, from the Republican members of Congress ... that we can in fact engage in these massive irresponsible cuts that no one thinks is a logical approach to budgeting." Such cutting, Zimmerman said, "leads to more Chicagos."
Meanwhile, Los Angeles goes bankrupt. The population of Los Angeles, unlike those of Chicago and Detroit, has grown substantially since 1950, when about 2 million people lived there; today, some 3.8 million live there. But much of that is fueled by immigration, and LA's rate of population growth has now slowed to a standstill. The city is expected to come up $95 million short of its budget every year until 2017-2018 on the most conservative estimates and faces an unfunded pension liability of $27 billion. That number has increased exponentially since the beginning of the decade, when former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa took over. Los Angeles has had one Republican mayor since 1961, Richard Riordan. Its city council has been Democrat for decades.
But Los Angeles is just peachy-keen, according to new Democratic Mayor Eric Garcetti. "We're nowhere close to being Detroit," he said recently. "We have a population growth, where we saw their population drop in half. We've got robust industries; they rely on one or two. We have arguably 10 or 12 primary industries here. And we've done the hard work with pension reform that Detroit didn't."
It sounds nice. It sounds reassuring. It sounds false.
Meanwhile, the United States goes bankrupt. Our pension system -- Social Security -- is unfunded to the tune of $9.6 trillion over the next 75 years. When you include Medicare and federal employees' future retirement benefits, that number balloons to $86.8 trillion. And we already have $16 trillion in current debt. As Chris Cox and Bill Archer wrote in The Wall Street Journal last November, "In short, if the government confiscated the entire adjusted gross income of these American taxpayers, plus all of the corporate taxable income in the year before the recession, it wouldn't be nearly enough to fund the over $8 trillion per year in the growth of U.S. liabilities."
This is what happens when three generations of Americans decide to live as though the world is ending tomorrow. They eat, drink and are merry, for tomorrow we go bankrupt. Sadly, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy: Because we live for the here and now, there is no tomorrow.