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Orr wants Manhattan Institute fellow to evaluate his plan

Edward L. Glaeser

Edward L. Glaeser

By Curt Guyette
Special to the Michigan Citizen

Of all the people in America who might be considered a candidate to evaluate the effectiveness of Detroit’s so-called “plan of adjustment,” Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr and a team of lawyers from his former law firm, Jones Day, suggested Harvard economist Edward L Glaeser.

Glaeser’s name popped up after U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Steven Rhodes announced he is considering calling in an expert, or maybe several of them, to go over the plan produced by Orr and his high-priced consultants to make sure the city will actually be on a stable footing and in a position to rebound once bankruptcy is complete and Orr’s appointment expires in the fall.

Why Glaeser?

In court documents filed by the city, it is explained that Team Orr concluded the professor is “a recognized scholar in the field of municipal economics, crime, housing markets and other urban issues.”

Edward L. GlaeserAmong Glaeser’s many accomplishments is the fact he’s a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, where he is a contributing editor.

A conservative think-tank based in New York City, the Manhattan Institute is both influential and controversial. The left-leaning group People for the American Way describes the organization this way:

“The Manhattan Institute … has a long history of working to privatize, undermine, and cut public schools, social services, and public transportation. …

“More broadly, the Manhattan Institute pushes a right-wing agenda that is only partially obscured by the intellectual veneer it projects on its work. Whether it’s equal rights for gays and lesbians, immigration reform, equality between men and women, or affirmative action for minorities, the Manhattan Institute is working against it. In fact, the think-tank’s best known ‘scholar’ is Charles Murray, co-author of the discredited book ‘The Bell Curve,’ which claimed a genetic link between race and IQ — e.g. Blacks are genetically less intelligent than whites.”

That kind of track record is apparently of little concern to Orr and his boss, Gov. Rick Snyder. Both men journeyed to the Manhattan Institute last month to participate in a panel discussion about Detroit and the bankruptcy it is going through.

The message they delivered there was decidedly upbeat.

“Detroit has a lot of issues, a lot of problems still, but the comeback of Detroit’s been under way for a number of years, particularly with respect to Midtown and downtown Detroit,” the governor said. “It’s not like we have to wait to have great things go on. They are already there, and once we resolve this municipal issue, Detroit’s poised to be one of the great value opportunities in the country and the world.”

Orr chipped in about all the great projects on the city’s near horizon, pointing specifically to a new bridge linking Detroit to Windsor, a welcoming center, light rail along Woodward and a new hockey arena. The irony of touting four projects requiring substantial amounts of government investment while appearing before a group that is all about privatization seems to have been lost on the emergency manager.

In fact, Glaeser himself commented on one of those projects in a March 2011 opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal.

“The defining characteristic of declining cities is they have plenty of infrastructure relative to the level of demand,” he wrote.” Detroit didn’t need the People Mover — an expensive monorail that glides over empty streets. And today, a Light Rail project is being pitched by the federal government, which seems to have learned nothing from the failures of past follies.

“Neither Detroit nor the U.S. suffer from any profound transportation problem that can only be fixed with vast federal spending. The country doesn’t need more People Movers. It needs unleashed, educated entrepreneurs — and they will only be held back by taxes being funneled into fanciful make-work projects in a futile attempt to fix our economic malaise.”

Glaeser has said he’s willing to come here with other experts from Harvard and work free of charge if Judge Rhodes wishes. If so, it won’t be the first time folks associated with the Manhattan Institute provided pro bono services to the city — at least for a while.

Rhodes agreed to set up a panel of three lawyers — one representing the city and two representing creditors — who will assist him in interviewing candidates to be an expert witness in the case. Rhodes, late last month, said he wanted to hire the expert to help him evaluate the feasibility of Detroit’s bankruptcy restructuring plan.

Rhodes said he is looking for an impartial expert with municipal finance expertise, no conflicts of interest and a clear concern for Detroit’s future. He set an April 9 deadline for applications and conducted interviews of candidates on  April 18 in open court.

Wayne State Law Professor Peter Hammer, who holds a Ph.D. in economics, also applied for the position. The only Detroiter to apply, Hammer is the director of the Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights at WSU’s law school. He recently hosted a forum to discuss the city’s financial crisis, called “Detroit Bankruptcy and Beyond: Organizing for Change in Distressed Cities.”

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