Michigan’s Governor Snyder said Detroit’s bankruptcy is “an opportunity to stabilize Detroit and grow Detroit.” In his official recommendation to Snyder, Emergency Manager Kevyn Orr said the bankruptcy is needed, in part, “to attract new residents and businesses to foster growth and redevelopment.” Mayor Dave Bing told ABC’s George Stephanoplus that the bankruptcy will put the city back on the road to prosperity.

The story politicians tell us is that economic growth means prosperity for all. The story is in no way limited to Detroit’s bankruptcy. It takes many forms. A rising tide lifts all boats. Lower business taxes will stimulate job creators and increase revenues. Drill, baby drill; jobs, jobs, jobs; etc.

Propaganda like this is a constant stream, going past flood stage in every election cycle and in response to every economic crisis. It’s increasingly obvious that it’s all bullshit. For Detroit in particular, it hasn’t worked that way for over 30 years, since the oil crises of the 1970s collided with the American automotive dream.

For at least the last three decades, economic growth has not meant prosperity. Since the 1970s, real wages have been flat or declining. Since the 2008 economic crisis, the rate of decline has increased. Since the 1970s, per capita energy consumption has been declining. Since 2008, the rate of decline has increased.

Since the 1970s, the published, official rate of inflation has been minimized by several creative changes in the way it is calculated. Even though measured with inflating dollars, the absolute dollar amount of wealth per household has been declining through the supposed “recovery” from 2009 to the present.

In summary, economic growth does not mean prosperity, although plenty of destitution is associated with a shrinking economy. Since the 1970s, benefits of economic growth have gone to the wealthiest 10% of the population, and most of that, to the top 1%. After the downturn of 2008, the great banks and financial corporations were “bailed out,” while the rest of us got to pay for it and services and benefits were cut. However wrong they might have been with tactics and strategy to deal with the issue, Occupy Wall Street was right about this.

Whether we like it or not, our economy is bumping into limits to growth on our finite planet. Many essential resources are now depleted to the point that they are harder to find and more expensive to extract. Oil, copper, iron and phosphorous head up the list of minerals. Other potentially renewable resources like fish, forests and topsoil are being overused and destroyed instead of renewed. The negative consequences of producing so much electricity, using so much powered transportation and turning so much wilderness into farmland are also accumulating – climate change, radioactive releases, choking pollution in cities, mass extinction, and so on.

It’s increasingly clear that economic growth does not mean prosperity. “Bankrupt,” if strictly limited to finances, means owing more than you can pay. It also has a secondary meaning, of lacking believeability or trustworthiness about promises for the future. While Detroit may be the largest American municipality so far to declare bankruptcy, the entire American economic empire is bankrupt in the more general sense.

Endless war on “terrorism,” a war that requires police states at home and abroad, a war that does nothing to curb emissions or adapt to resource depletion, is a bankrupt policy.

Snyder and Orr have declared bankruptcy for Detroit. They’re right, but they haven’t gone nearly far enough. Snyder and Orr are part of the cause of bankruptcy, and not just for Detroit. The American / corporate / global economy is bankrupt.

Detroit is not going to be fixed by a court process, because Detroit, like Fukushima and Fallujah and hundreds of other locations in crisis, is just one more symptom of economic, environmental and political failure of the global economy.

Transition is a way of – possibly – living in the ruins. It’s certainly not a solution to the issues mentioned above. It is, at best, part of a solution.

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