Saving Energy

Jan 14, 2015

As everybody who isn’t in solitary confinement knows, gasoline prices are now unbelievably low. So is inflation, and as a result there is less interest in energy conservation these days. Sales of electric vehicles and even hybrids are down, and there doesn’t seem to be as much interest in them from reporters gearing up for the annual auto show in Detroit.

Over a Barrel

Jan 13, 2015

Regardless of your politics, you have to feel a little sorry for Governor Rick Snyder. He tore a tendon jogging in Florida on vacation, and is on crutches and in a cast.

Courtesy of Urban Ashes

The Next Idea

I think most people would agree that Michigan is on the rebound. In Detroit, where I live, new restaurants are popping up on a weekly basis, national retailers are moving in, and corporations are opening new offices. This hint of change in the Pure Michigan air is still polluted, however, by many of the same intractable issues -- homelessness, unequal access to education and food, and environmental degradation, to name a few. Much like the rest of our economy, these old problems require a new approach.

Cockeyed Agenda

Jan 12, 2015

I am lucky enough to have a wonderful local electrician, which is a good thing if you live in an almost ninety-year-old house. He works hard and knows what he is doing. If a job is too much for a single man or his skills, he is honest enough to tell me.

Detroit’s economic decline and population flight to the suburbs was a long and gradual process. But there was an iconic event that serves as a precise marker of when it started.

That would be March 1954, when the Lodge Freeway was completed and Northland, then the world’s largest open-air shopping center, opened at the freeway’s end, across the border in Southfield.


Six years ago, when President Obama first took office, the United States was in the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Unemployment was heading towards nine percent.

Barack Obama walked into the Oval Office to find the previous administration had left a budget with a projected deficit of $1.2 trillion. He knew things would get worse.

Free Press

Yesterday, terrorists walked into an editorial meeting at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and started shooting. Twelve people died.

The whole world finds this horrific attempt at media intimidation in Paris unacceptable, but there remains an acceptable form of intimidating the media that we operate under every day.

I will be sixty-three years old in three months, and this was the first morning since I was three that I woke up and John Dingell wasn’t a member of Congress.

user anna / Flickr

  KENTWOOD, Mich. (AP) - A company in the Grand Rapids area is not required to provide employee health insurance for birth control as a result of a U.S. Supreme Court decision.

Maternity leave

Jan 6, 2015

I teach at Wayne State University, which, more than any other school in our state, offers working people a chance at a first-class education. Last year, I had a woman enroll in two of my classes who was obviously heavily pregnant.

Focus on STEM overshadows importance of music education

Jan 5, 2015

The Next Idea

When we talk about building an education system that prepares children for the creative thinking and collaboration skills necessary in today’s -- and tomorrow’s --  job market, there’s an amazing resource here in Michigan that, like most places, gets almost criminally overlooked: music educators.

Every so often, the justice system gets it wrong. Take David Gavitt of Ionia. He spent twenty-six years in prison after being convicted of setting a fire that burned down his home and killing his wife and daughters.

Well, we’ve come to the end of the year, and I do have a little good news: There are already three more minutes of daylight than on the year’s shortest day. There’s a long winter ahead, but at least that’s something. And while Detroit certainly faces a lot of difficult challenges, the year ends with the city in better shape than when it started.

Patricia Hill Burnett was a folk hero of sorts in a most unlikely way. Wealthy, glamorous and Republican to the core, she was nevertheless a feminist who was a co-founder of the Michigan chapter of the National Organization for Women back in 1969.

She became a legend in Detroit, where she might hold court one day at the fashionable Midtown Café, and the next day lead a sit-in at the Detroit Athletic Club, which then did not allow women.

In some ways it was easier to be a journalist back in the old pre-cyber days. Yes, the technology was harder to manipulate and information was harder to get. Yes, some of us actually worked in a world without Google.

When President Obama announced last week that we would restore diplomatic ties with Cuba, it wasn’t that big a story in Michigan. For one thing, we were still waiting to see what our lame-duck legislature would do about the roads. And there aren’t many Cuban-Americans here.

There’s a great deal of celebrating over the fact that the Legislature reached a last-minute deal to fix the roads. Gov. Rick Snyder and the establishment Republicans are happy.

There’s a reason college professors historically were given tenure. It was so they couldn’t be fired for politically unpopular views.

Ron Kagan has been head of the Detroit Zoo for more than 20 tumultuous years. During that time, he fought off an effort by Detroit City Council to close the zoo and helped win its independence years before the city’s bankruptcy gave the art institute its own near-death experience.

He’s also led a transformation of the zoo from a somewhat tired park to a leader in worldwide conservation efforts and a much more exciting place.

The zoo’s Arctic Ring of Life is the nation’s largest polar bear exhibit; next year, a new penguin conservation center and wolf habitat will open. Attendance has swollen so much that Kagan is now facing the unwelcome chore of planning a new parking structure.

Four years ago, Michigan voters were asked if they wanted to summon a convention to write a new state constitution.

We said no, by a two-to-one margin. Nobody collected signatures to put that on the ballot, by the way. Under the current constitution, we’re automatically asked every 16 years if we want a convention to write a new one.

We’ll be asked again in 12 years.

But I now think the voters made a mistake in 2010. We may well need a new constitution, because there’s increasing evidence the old one, written in the early 1960s, no longer works.

Nearly a year ago, as car after car was damaged or destroyed by potholes, State Sen. Majority Leader Randy Richardville went to see his constituents in Monroe, a town between Detroit and Toledo.

The Next Idea

You may have never heard of Joseph Schumpeter, an eccentric Austrian economist who taught at Harvard in the 1930s and '40s. But to those of us who study the strategic and financial dynamics of innovation, he is far more influential than his peers John Maynard Keynes or Milton Friedman. Schumpeter is the guy who made the entrepreneur the engine of growth for an economy, and several Nobel Laureates since have suggested that he was right on most counts.

Unions don’t represent as many workers as they used to, and we are increasingly ignorant of labor history, though it includes some of the most fascinating episodes in Michigan’s glorious past.

Detroiters woke up this morning in a city run by an exuberant, can-do mayor, in a city finally out of bankruptcy and with a spirit of optimism that hasn’t been seen for at least half a century.

It should already be perfectly clear why they call what the Legislature is doing now the “lame-duck session.” Much of what they are doing has been pretty lame.

Turning a dreamer into an entrepreneur

Dec 10, 2014

Once someone learns that I’m an entrepreneurship professor, sooner or later I’ll be asked: “Can you really teach entrepreneurship?” This seems to come from the long-held – and consistently disproved – belief that entrepreneurs are special and if you aren’t born that way (props to Lady Gaga), there’s no point in trying. So let’s get that out of the way right now. Yes, entrepreneurship can be taught and learned, and entrepreneurs are just like the rest of us.

Last night I talked to a woman in her 40s who grew up in a rural town in the northern Lower Peninsula and then lived for a couple decades in Boston and New York, before coming to Detroit for a job.

I had lunch the other day with Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, who in a few weeks will be out of office for the first time in fourteen years. The last four years have had to be frustrating for her.


Anyone who believes exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” -- Kenneth Boulding, economist and political philosopher

As we approach the holidays and we are encouraged to do our civic duty by shopping until we drop, it may be helpful for us to reflect on the concept of innovation and what it may mean to us as consumers.

User the commedian / Flickr

In yesterday's Detroit Free Press, Stephen Henderson, editorial page editor, wrote:

"We need to concentrate on reinstalling basic covenants that value life over property or attitude or even respect. And we need to remind ourselves that when police decide that their job is to compel submission rather than enforce the law, the slide to the role of executioner has too few speed bumps."

Stephen joined me to talk about his column and what recent national events mean for Detroit.

Here's our conversation: