Friday, July 19, 2013

Motown Lowdown

As far as I'm concerned, city bankruptcies are good with one possible exception.

The exception is pension funds. If the city changes the pension payments they promised to retirees, that strikes me as pretty evil. People plan their whole life for retirement based on the assumption that they will get certain pension benefits. These should be preserved. If Detroit had been smart, they would have insured or offloaded this liability long ago. It's simple math and stochastics. Let the experts in the financial world make it work.

Bondholders should be aware of the risks of lending money to cities with large deficits, so it shouldn't be any surprise that they'll get a "haircut" meaning less than 100% of their value back. In the mean time, they got interest on the bonds.

Aside from that, city bankruptcies allow cities to renegotiate every contract - suppliers, vendors, unions in a public way (as opposed to back-room deals). I guarantee you that there's plenty of fat to be cut here.

What is sadly missing from most municipal bankruptcies is austerity. Bondholders should really pressure Detroit to not only pay less for what they buy (my prior point) but also to buy less, cut services or at least make them cheaper, privatize or close inefficient departments, etc. These are tough decisions, of course, and can create a negative-reinforcement cycle where the city gets worse and more people move out. Ideally, they offset this by improving the economy and thus increasing revenues.

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