What Should Be Done About Detroit? A Gawker Internal Debate

Detroit is bankrupt. The once-great city languishes deep in debt, unable to provide basic city services, as it debates cutting pensions and selling off the city's art collection. What's the right move? We, the writers of Gawker, have very strong opinions.

"I wanna write a thing saying Detroit should sell the art in their museum," I said in our internal "Campfire" chat this morning. The following debate ensued.

Tom S. Why not just appropriate money from the rich people and keep the art?
John C. give the art to the poor
Tom S. It feels like your Peter Singer stuff is getting in the way of your communist principles, Hamilton.
Max R. burn the art and kill the rich
Cord J. build homes for the poor with the unused paintings
Hamilton N. basic city services are more important than opulent art
Sam B. lean-tos made out of paintings
Tom S. Isn't that basically the New York Post's argument today, though, Hamilton?
Hamilton N. no
Max R. the art is a relic and ideological tool of class oppression and must be destroyed. the rich must be made to answer for their crimes and hung in the city square.
Tom S. The poor don't NEED art.
John C. wow check yr priv tom
Hamilton N. if you were building a city, would you build it with a billion dollars of art in a museum and no street lights?
John C. "poor people are beyond enlightment, why bother"—tom scocca
Tom S. I was trying to translate Hamilton's argument, John.
Sam B. what's the most affordable form of art
Hamilton N. that's insane
Sam B. dance I guess
Tom S. I am arguing the opposite.
Hamilton N. my only argument is an art museum is not as important as, for example, a fire department.
when it comes to city services.
Max R. yeah but hamilton you're limiting yourself
Tom S. That this utilitarian ethos is in harmony with the rich people's ideology that there should be nothing provided to the poor beyond the most grudging minimum.
9:55 AM
Tom S. Singer-style utilitarianism is not particularly uplifting when you apply it to OTHER people.
Hamilton N. lol
Max R. why "sell the art to the rich" when "take money from the rich to fund the city services AND the art museum" works even better
Tom S. Exactly.
Max has it.
Hamilton N. Singer advocates essentially taxing the rich to near poverty
I think you are misrepresenting his ethic
John C. are there any other things the city of detroit has access to by way of raising funds?
Hamilton N. where are all these mythical rich people in detroit you're gonna tax to pay for that?
Sam B. they should sell the fucking sports teams
John C. the city doesn't own the sports teams
Sam B. seize them
seize the pistons
now there's a post
Hamilton N. good brainstorming happening here
Adam W. rename the sports teams in the name of the people
The Seattle Sans-Culottes
Tom S. Who says the rich people who get taxed have to be in Detroit?
John C. seize all land in the city and sell it to peter theil
Max R. no one "owns" anything, property is a fiction
Caity W.has entered the room
Adam W. The Detroit Mensheviki
Max R. the city "owns" the sports teams just as much as any one person does
Sam B. let every detroit resident play on the sports teams, helps unemployment
John C. Detroit Levies Unprecedented Tax on Los Angelinos
Hamilton N. I'm afraid detroit needs all the help it can get
and it's sitting on a billion dollars of art
so get that money
you can always make more art
Adam W. i would totally argue the other side of that, hamilton
Hamilton N. art is free.
Sam B. they'll just spend it, what's the point
John C. #banksy
Tom S. But this "choice" you posit, between having art and having fire departments, is a choice forced on the city by the overall economic system of oppression.
Max R. fyi oakland county, the detroit suburbs, is among the wealthiest in the US
Tom S. You are literally arguing the Koch position, Hamilton.
Max R. macomb isn't too shabby either
there's plenty of money around detroit
Hamilton N. yeah that's nice but right this minute detroit is broke and I don't see full communism coming down in the next few months
Sam B. there's no problem that can't be fixed via seizures
Max R. you lack vision
Adam W. tom's right
Max R. you will be hung with the rest of them when the time comes
John C. well actually impoverished enraged detroiters will be a suitable revolutionary vanguard
Hamilton N. We let detroit go to hell because we disagree with the theoretical tenets of capitalism.
John C. so it would be best for them to remain without services
Tom S. So you sell the art and buy a tiny bit of time and then there's no art and the city goes bankrupt again and still the rich suburbs, which got rich sucking the money and life out of the city, will be rich.
Hamilton N. I'm sure the dead detroit residents who couldn't get an ambulance would support that
Max R. "sell the art because communism isnt coming soon" is morally indistinguishable from "sell the art because captialism demands we make a choice between it and city services"
10:00 AM
John C. right but the more dead detroiters the more likely the underclasses will be to rise up
Tom S. Max is correct.
Adam W. selling the art doesn't get them an ambulance any faster
Tom S. Why don't we sell off Detroiters' kidneys?
Hamilton N. I'm gonna write my post in the voice of a detroit person who just got shot and can't get an ambulance
Max R. for what its worth hamilton i don't think your gawker post will change much
so you might as well shoot for the stars
Tom S. It will however give ammunition to the readers who've decided you're a libertarian apologist.
Hamilton N. well fed and safe new yorkers believe detroit should have an art museum, and no street lights.
John C. the money raised from the sale of art won't go to services
Hamilton N. it will go to paying off the city's bankruptcy
John C. it will go to pensions for people no longer providing services
right it will go to creditors
bond holders
pensioners
Hamilton N. yes
the bankruptcy has to be settled before the city can move on
it doesn't magically disappear with no money
Adam W. all i'm saying, hamilton, is you know who else would write a "sell detroit's art" post? Matt Yglesias.
Tom S. So you are arguing for the extraction of money from Detroit, plain and simple.
YES
That is exactly correct.
You are making a Matt Yglesias argument, Hamilton.
Max R. hahahahaha owned
Hamilton N. is "ambulances are more important than art" a matt yglesias argument?
Max R. hamilton nolan, gawker's matt yglesias
Hamilton N. if so I agree.
John C. but maybe if you make it yglesias will disagree with you
that could be fun
Hamilton N. I haven't heard a good "art is more important than ambulances" counter argument here
Tom S. The point is, Hamilton, that you are legitimating the false and cruel choice between ambulances and art by endorsing it.
John C. but the sale of art has nothing to do with ambulances
you're saying "creditors are more important than art"
Tom S. Yes.
John C. "the satisfaction of debt is more important than art"
Hamilton N. WHERE do you people think the money is going to come from for this bankruptcy?
the federal govt?
Tom S. You are applauding economic injustice.
Hamilton N. and who takes the haircut?
Tom S. And calling it reason.
John C. that would be one possible solution
where did the money come from to bail out GM?
where did the money come from to bail out AIG?
Tom S. EXACTLY
John C. JP Morgan is cutting a $13 billion check right now to the feds
Hamilton N. oh lord
John C. how much does detroit owe again?
10:05 AM
Tom S. "Banks cannot go out of business, but art museums should go out of business" - Hamilton Nolan
Hamilton N. kindergarten up in here
John C. hamilton what's the difference between yr argument and "poor people should sell their TV before they get food stamps"
Tom S. This is why it's a Yglesias argument.
Hamilton N. you do realize that if a city borrows money.. and then is run in a corrupt manner.. and then says it won't pay the money back.. there are consequences for that
Adam W. hamilton, you're one heartbeat away from arguing that public services are bromides for an irrational society of self-sacrificers. ayn rand wants her shtick back
Tom S. Again, yes, exactly.
Adam W. and also, ayn rand would like to buy some of that art, please
Hamilton N. magical thinking
do you realize that detroit might, at some point in the future, like to issue bonds?
like every other city
John C. alright write it hamilton and we'll take it to kimja
or whatever it's called
Hamilton N. hey why not just print money on lollipops
problem solved
Tom S. No, Hamilton, magical thinking is the belief that looting the art museum will do anything at all to alleviate any of the causes of Detroit's misery.
John C. who wants to take bets on how long it takes nick denton to write an approving comment?
Tom S. It's just more bullshit austerity.
Hamilton N. well it'll get em $500 million
that's something
Tom S. Well now you're also deep into another fallacy.
John C. a better post would be "give the jpmorgan money to detroit"
Tom S. Also incredibly popular with the right-wingers who want to loot the public possessions.
Which is that the responsible thing to do is to sell assets.
Hamilton N. yes... that is the responsible thing to do, if the choice is between luxury assets and basic services
Tom S. Like Bloomberg trying to sell off city-owned real estate and rent back the property.
Once you sell the assets, they're gone.
Hamilton N. so? it's a painting
get some more when you can afford street lights
Tom S. See, this is exactly what's blockheaded about Singerism.
10:10 AM
Tom S. Let's sell everything in Detroit, every tree and building and piece of land, and buy a bunch of shipping containers and stack them up and make the people live in them.
Hamilton N. ...
Tom S. Feed them lentils.
They don't NEED that stuff.
Much more ethical to strip their lives down to the true necessities.
Hamilton N. your position is: let's maintain this crumbling city as it is as its residents starve and die, for nostalgia's sake
why feed them lentils when we could let them STARVE instead, while looking at art?
Max R. are ppl in detroit starving?
Taylor B. looks like i missed some fun stuff in campfire
Tom S. My position is that you are trying to propitiate the forces that have destroyed the city by doing more damage to the city.
John C. there are starving people everywhere
Max R. not seeing a lot of stories about people in detroit starving
Hamilton N. the forces that destroyed the city besides capitalism in general are: corrupt city govt.
Taylor B. ban detroit, problem solved
Max R. "besides capitalism in general" is a hell of a clause
Tom S. Banning Detroit is not bad.
Hamilton N. they're a loser in post industrial america
I'm fine with banning detroit and not rebuilding new orleans either
Max R. "setting aside the massive and all-consuming system of injustice," some guys took kickbacks
Taylor B. who needs to live that far north anyway
Hamilton N. look to the future not the past
Tom S. Sell the art and everything else and relocate the citizens in refugee camps in the surrounding suburbs.
That would at least be honest.
Hamilton N. the most satisfying part of this argument is the total lack of a rational counter-proposal
"do something about capitalism"
Max R. lol yes
your opponents are too irrational to argue with
10:15 AM
Tom S. Yes, "reason," standard libertarian argument.
Hamilton N. is asking for a rational counter proposal a dirty tactic?
Tom S. "Dumb unreasonable people keep yelling about 'justice' instead of focusing on real things."
Hamilton N. how dare you ask for a solution!
Tom S. I offered plenty of solutions.
Make them all sell kidneys.
Raze the city and put them in refugee camps.
Eminently rational.
What's your objection?
Hamilton N. In the absence of an actual counter proposal I have to conclude that I won the argument.
Tom S. That is exactly why contemporary decadent capitalism is destroying everything, Hamilton.
John C. the counterproposal is to continue to permit detroit to slide into penury and despair
Hamilton N. can I just copy/ paste this whole discussion and use it for the post
Tom S. "You are incapable of arguing rationally with me, on the terms I have dictated, therefore my policy carries the day."
Hamilton N. we've invested a lot of time here.
Max R. hahaha you should, hamilton
John C. thereby increasing pressure on global capitalism and throwing its internal contradictions into sharp relief
Sam B. nick would love a copy/paste
Hamilton N. great.