Mitch Albom Defends Detroit

Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom looks at the problems faced by the automotive industry and Detroit’s sports teams and defends Detroit in this week’s Sports Illustrated. A portion:

…Detroit was once a vibrant place, the fourth-largest city in the country, and it lives in the hope that those days, against all logic, it will somehow return. We are downtrodden, perhaps, but the most downtrodden optimists you will ever meet. We cling to our ways, no matter how provincial they seem on the coasts. We get excited about the auto show. We celebrate Sweetest Day. We eat Coney dogs all year, and we cruise classic cars down Woodward Avenue every August, and we bake paczki doughnuts the week before Lent. We don’t talk about whether Detroit will be fixed but when Detroit will be fixed.And we are modest. In truth, we battle an inferiority complex. We gave the world the automobile. Now the world wants to scold us for it. We gave the world Motown music. Motown moved its offices to L.A….

Look, we’re the first to say we’ve got problems. But there’s something disturbing when American reporters keep deliciously recording our demise but nobody wants to do anything about it. We’re not your pity party. You want to chronicle us? We’ve been chronicled enough. As they say when a basketball rolls away at the playground, “Yo, little help?”

This is why our recent beatdown in Congress was so painfully felt. To watch our Detroit Three execs humiliated as if they never did a right thing in their lives, to watch U.S. senators from Southern states — where billions in tax breaks were handed out to foreign car companies — tear apart the U.S. auto industry as undeserving of aid, well, that was the last straw.

Enough. We’re not gum on the bottom of America’s shoe. We’re not grime to be wiped off with a towel. Detroit and Michigan are part of the backbone of this country, the manufacturing spine, the heart of the middle class — heck, we invented the middle class, we invented the idea that a factory worker can put in 40 hours a week and actually buy a house and send a kid to college. What? You have a problem with that? You think only lawyers and hedge-fund kings deserve to live decently?

To watch these lawmakers hand out, with barely a whisper, hundreds of billions to the financial firms that helped cause this current disaster, then make the Detroit Three beg like dogs and slap them with nothing? Honestly. There are times out here we feel like orphans.

And yet …

And yet we go on. The Tigers were supposed to win big last season; they finished last in their division. Michigan got a new football coach with a spread offense and an eye on a national championship; the Wolverines had their first losing season since 1967.

But we will be back for the Tigers and back for Michigan and — might as well admit it — we will be back for the Lions come September, as red-faced as they make us, as pathetic as 0-16 is…

Do you think if your main industry sails away to foreign countries, if the tax base of your city dries up, you won’t have crumbling houses and men sleeping on church floors, too? Do you think if we become a country that makes nothing, that builds nothing, that only services and outsources, that we will hold our place on the economic totem pole? Detroit may be suffering the worst from this semi-Depression, but we sure didn’t invent it. And we can’t stop it from spreading. We can only do what we do. Survive.

Albom was also interviewed on the Charlie Rose show on Friday. The video of the interview is not up yet, but it is worth watching once it is posted.

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4 Comments

  1. 1
    Mr. & Mrs. Menton says:

    I really enjoy watching your program.  Your guests are all very interesting and they keep me thinking  about what is taking place in our fast paced world.
    I would like to say to Mr. Albom that he may be knocking California but he also really should thank them.
    California is probably the biggest market for their cars. If we didn’t drive the three hours as he so sarcastically said the economy in Detroit may have been going down sooner. The problem of gas guzzling cars has been around for at least thirty years.  I can remember when we had odd and even days to buy gas. My father had already purchased a Toyota Corona so we didn’t need to fill our car up so frequently. 
    It’s easier to keep doing the same thing than to change and plan for the future. Middle America (Midwest)  wanted the big cars and cheap gas.
    Mr. Albom hit the nail on the head when he said that Detroit is just the beginning and the fall of other major industries can happen also.
    It will happen when we become too complacent and comfortable. 
    Detroit just got beat at their own game.  Building cars…
    The reasons for foreign cars coming into America was that they could make something better and cheaper than Detroit.
    The standards and regulations were much higher than for the American made cars.  Smog emission standards, safety standards etc.
    As for tax breaks Detroit could have gone to the South to build cars but the Japanese did and employed people there.
     
    Detroit became a “one trick poney.” The money needed to stay competitive in carmaking was spent. That cow doesn’t give milk any longer. I don’t see this as non-Detroit people pitying you, or pointing out your faults. Rather, we are all looking at your situation and wondering if the same thing could happen elsewhere. But, when we dig into it, we see that complacency had set in long ago, and the money that made Detroit a one time “urban-envy” went into the economy like everywhere else and can only re-emerge through new ideas and the efforts of today and tomorrow, not yesterday. You can’t on the one hand, take credit for the car, and on the other hand not take responsibility for its faults. If you do your job, the car evolves. If you don’t, it either dies, or is taken over as a concept. It doesn’t live on its legacy, nor are the citizens of Detroit entitled to anything today and tomorrow, for what was done yesterday. If you don’t want pity, tell the UAW to quit asking for it.
    Thank you.a
    Mr. & Mrs. Menton

  2. 2
    Eric D. Rittberg says:

    I’ve traveled all over the United States.  I’ve listened to tons of local radio talk show hosts.

    I gotta say, Mitch Albom is the worst of the worst.  He’s the ultimate anti-Freedom/Pro-Nanny-State/Pro-Union/Anti-Capitalist crusader on the Left. 

    I was forced to listen to him for a few weeks cause a friend of mine would turn him on in his car radio.  It literally made me sick to my stomach. 

    The guy is a menace to society.  I cannot imagine why anyone would want to give him any due. 

  3. 3
    Ron Chusid says:

    Eric,

    Most of what Albom does is fairly apolitical. Of course pull up any name and you would probably claim they were a dangerous leftist, considering that you see anyone who is not a far right conservative as being on the far left.

  4. 4
    Mike says:

    Mr. and Mrs. Menton,

    Reading your comments leaves me believing you haven’t been involved in owning a consumer business or nor having managerial positions in a consumer business. 

    If you had, I think you would understand that the domestic carmakers have been building cars/trucks that many consumers prefer.  “Gas guzzling” vehicles is what many people like to drive.  Don’t blame Detroit for building them.  Why even the Japanese build large trucks, SUV’s and the like.  Yet you don’t hear anybody criticizing the Japanese automakers.

    Did the Japanese do a better job at building cheaper smaller cars?  Sure they did.  And they ate Detroit’s lunch in that market.  There obviously has been a market for smaller cars, your family for example.

    By the way, do you know which automotive company has the highest fleet mpg?  By reading the press, the uninformed American will most likely guess Honda or Toyota.  Yet the correct response is General Motors.  But you would never guess that buy reading many national publications.  The slant you read definitely favors the Japanese.  And that is what is so frustrating.  It is in vogue to trash Detroit in favor of the sexier foreign names.  Why just in the past two weeks Time had a blip on the “10 Most Fuel Efficient Cars” (I may have the title slightly off but it is very close to the above.)  There were 9 foreign (am tempted to say Japanese but am not certain) cars and only one domestic car!  The domestic car was a Ford hybrid.  Time did not bother to identify GM’s Aveo, Cobalt, and Malibu which all get higher than #10 on Time’s list which came in around 26 mpg.  The same kind of misleading articles are published with respect to today’s quality as well.

    Speaking of green versus less green cars…much was made of this topic when gas hit $4.00/gallon this year.  The country pounced on Detroit for building big cars (that people like to buy and that the Japanese build as well).  Congress telling Detroit what kind of cars need to be built (because they haven’t bothered to look at the cars actually being offered already).  Auto sales plummeted at the beginning of the financial crisis with the exception of the greener cars.  Well guess what?  Gas drops to $1.50/gallon and green car sales dropped TWICE AS FAST AS LESS GREEN CARS in December…Japanese and domestic.

    GM and Ford have been working on these cars for years, but to hear our Congressmen talk you would think Detroit was still building the Chrysler K car.  In fact the K car was brought up as a recent example of Detroit’s problems!  Those bombs were produced from 1981-1995.  Much of the media, and thus the country’s, perception is terribly slanted.

    Did Detroit spend years in complaceny? Yes.  Were (past tense) the cars inferior to many of the imports?  Yes.  No doubt Detroit created much of the lack of goodwill it has with America.  But times have changed.

    Enough of the slanted, biased, and misinformed comments, articles…and blogs already.

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