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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Whose Future Is Flint's Present

Residential water in Flint, Michigan


Would you let your family use or drink the water above (click here for source of the picture)? Until bottled water was provided for Flint, Michigan, many residents there had little choice. This was especially true after government officials denied there was a problem in the first place. 

What caused this problem is that, in order to save money, the financially troubled city of Flint switched their water source to the Flint River. It was a horrible decision despite the financial pressures. The water from this river has a greater corrosive effect on pipes than the previous water source, water from Lake Huron. We should also note here that government ineptitude prevented at least a partial mitigation of the corrosive effects of the water from the Flint River. And while much of the attention is being paid to the lead levels of lead children are exposed to from Flint's river, an increase in Legionaire's disease is also being reported due to the increased amount of bacteria that comes from iron leaking into the water. Here we should note that the iron destroys chlorine (click here, here again, and there). 

One other question that should be asked is this: How did water from the Flint River become so corrosive? Another question becomes this: How did Flint, Michigan get into such financial straights? At least there is a partial answer to the latter question: industrial abandonment. This occurs when businesses must lay off workers or can close or move factories in order to increase profits. In other words, either our economic system isn't working or businesses are leaving in order to seek greener pastures. Sweetheart tax deals and, sometimes, fewer regulations in other parts of the country inspire companies to move rather than to stay. And some economic ideologues will justify moves by saying that the first responsibility of these companies is to their shareholders. This line  of thinking has evolved into an understanding that such is the only responsibility businesses have. Such denies businesses' responsibility to the community. And when a business's responsibility to the community is recognized, it is reduced to that of providing employment. This means that maintainance of a community's infrastructure rests solely on workers who sometimes must accept lower wages in order to remain employed because of competition. Here we could see how Martin Luther King's complaint about how foreign nations were being exploited by Capitalists solely for  personal financial gain now applies to American cities (click here for the source of the quote):
With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say: "This is not just."
For we know that to expect businesses to be concerned for the 'social benefit' in the locations of their investments today flies in the face of the "economic freedom" demanded by owners and investors as well as ideologues.

We do know that both the switch from Detroit's water system to the Flint River and the decision not to try to prevent damage to the lead lined pipes and connectors was to save money. And, again, money needed to be saved because of the financial straights of the city. And the financial straights came from industrial abandonment.

With deminishing school budgets and the increasing decay of our nation's infrastructure because corporations are maximizing their profits by minimizes their taxes, those places in our country that are booming today only need to look at cities like Flint, Michigan to see how they will grow old in the future. After all, cities like Flint were once vibrant and prosperous. But now, Flint's troubles show that it qualifies for what Chris Hedges calls a 'sacrifice zone.' 1


References

  1. Days Of Destruction, Days Of Revolt, by Chris Hedges, pg 226 (click here for a review of the book)

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