Detroit Files Largest Municipal Bankruptcy Ever

A blog about business and economics.
July 18 2013 4:27 PM

Detroit Files Largest Municipal Bankruptcy Ever

robocop-guns
Amazing in retrospect that the implausible part of this movie is that someone would want to take over Detroit.

Orion Pictures

Today it's official. Detroit is bankrupt. Not like metaphorically bankrupt as politicians tend to say in order to criticize opponents' fiscal policies. Actually bankrupt, as in filed under Chapter 9 of the bankruptcy code.

This is the largest city to ever file for bankruptcy, and obviously no large city goes bankrupt without a complicated array of problems. But the basic reason Detroit needs to do this is pretty simple. In 1950 there were 1.85 million people in Detroit. In 1970, it was 1.5 million. In 1990, it was a million flat. By 2010, it was down to 710,000. When your city is shrinking like that, you end up with a tax base that's inadequate to maintain the fixed infrastructure or to pay off pension costs that were incurred in more prosperous times. Shedding legacy obligations is a necessary part of the fix. You can shed legacy obligations without filing for bankruptcy by just stiffing pensioners. But the scale of Detroit's fiscal problems are so enormous that doing it entirely that way would be cruel and pointless—bondholders need to take a hit and this is the way to do it.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 20 2014 6:30 AM The Man Making Bill Gates Richer
  Life
Quora
Sept. 20 2014 7:27 AM How Do Plants Grow Aboard the International Space Station?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 20 2014 7:00 AM The Shaggy Sun
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.