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What I Would Do With Found Treasure – Help Fix Detroit

July 6, 2011 · 30 comments

in Commentary, Personal Finance

A recent inspection of vaults in an old Hindu Temple in India revealed at least $22,000,000,000 in diamonds, gold, and other valuable objects.  This discovery is surprising to many, and the vaults were only opened and inventoried on orders of the Supreme Court of India.  (The Supreme Court got involved because a lawyer petitioned the government to take control of the Temple because of a possible lack of security.  I can’t imagine what kind of security is now in place since everyone knows what lies inside the Temple.)   The question in all of this is, what should be done with the new found treasure?

These valuables have been donated to the Sree Padmanabhaswamy Temple over the course of hundreds of years, and subsequently kept in vaults.  Some people feel the artifacts should be displayed in museums.   Others want the treasures to stay inside the Temple.  There are also those that want the money to be placed in government hands and used to help the poor and hungry.   The last option sounds the kindest, however, not everyone is thrilled at the thought of the government managing the money.

There is no easy answer in this situation.   The thought of unexpected treasure made me think about what I would do if I had twenty two billion dollars suddenly at my disposal.  Assuming the money was to be used for something other than myself or my family, what would I do with a large sum of cash?

My Spending Options:

The funny thing is, $22,000,000,000 sounds like a lot of money, and it is.    However, it would hardly make a dent in the national debt.   I can’t think of a single major problem I could fix with that amount of money.   The last thing I would do is run around and pay off everyone’s mortgage, the government is already doing a great job at that.

If there was a major disease I could effectively cure with the money, I would lean toward that.   Since that probably isn’t possible either, I would probably plow money into Detroit and its education system.

The more I think about the city of Detroit, the sadder I feel. I hear story after story about school closings, poor facilities, lack of supplies, shootings, corruption, etc.  The dropout rate in Detroit is staggeringly high, as is the number of single parents.   Parental involvement is so important, but I can see where it is hard for a parent to get to school conferences and such when they are a one income family, and someone has to work.   Actually, when my daughter’s high school played a couple Detroit schools in basketball this year, not one parent from Detroit showed up to watch the game.   Some teachers came and showed their support, which was wonderful, but kids also want their parents to cheer in the stands and be proud of them too.

I also got another glimpse into Detroit last month when I drove to see a concert at Ford Field, where the Lions play. Traffic was crazy because the Tigers were playing baseball, and the concert was expected to draw 50,000.  Since the two fields are right next door to each other, it was very difficult to find parking.

It was a beautiful night out, and I was not having any luck finding a parking spot anywhere.   So, I drove out about 3/4 of a mile from the stadium and I found one spot available.  It was in an abandoned lot that an old, burned out, shell of a house existed.  There were people all over the place, so I had no issue with walking to the concert. I was glad to have found parking, even if it probably was not legal.  (There were 9 other cars parked there too.)  As I parked the car and looked at the house, I imagined what the home probably looked like 40 or 50 years ago.  I bet it was a very nice, multi-story home that kept a family very happy and warm.  Now, it needs to be knocked down, along with thousands of other homes in Detroit.

My Extremely Simplistic Thoughts on Fixing The City of Detroit

I do have hope for Detroit though now that the city is rid of Kwame Kilpatrick and Dave Bing in charge.  However, the problems will not go away just by spending money.  I would take that money and hire someone with experience in turning around cities (if that person exists) and would want to do it for the right reasons, not personal gain.  I would use the cash to support a volunteer program that would mentor the kids in all phases of childhood (including college), and teach citizens the basics of personal finance.  I would find an expert in turning around schools that would properly allocate the money to make the Detroit Public Schools the best they can be, and create scholarship programs to help kids attend college.   Money would be spent on the Fire and Police departments to ensure there is enough manpower to properly cover the city’s needs.  Fire hydrants would be inspected to make sure they actually function. All of that is just a start!

In the end, there are a million different ways the money could be spent that would revitalize the city in the long term.  (As opposed to just handing out the money to citizens, which seems to result in only short-term benefits.)    However, if the money is combined with determination, intelligence, hard work, integrity, and care, perhaps the city can and will turn around.   Only time will tell what the future of Detroit holds, but I sure would love to see the city prosper and grow.  I personally feel the best way to do that is to educate and help people believe in themselves so they will have the ability to take care of their families and provide a good example to others for life.

What would you do with a large sum of money that cannot be used for your family?



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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

101 Centavos July 6, 2011 at 6:47 am

Your motives are pure, and as such you’d never run for office. In a democratically elected government (city or state), you’d be fighting hundreds of other greedy government hands itching to get their hands on that windfall money to keep their departments going. The Commission for Building Neighborhood Self-Esteem and Increase Attendance At School Ball Games performs a useful function too, don’t you know.
You’d have to first fire half a dozen department or commission heads as an example to the others, much in the same way the Romans executed every tenth soldier (decimated) after a defeat to motivate the other 90 percent.
If I were Mayor, my administration would gradually cut taxes and bureaucratic red tape to encourage small businesses to relocate to our city from out of state. We’d eliminate tax breaks for large corporations that got them by taking the mayor golfing (or other more sleazy activities). We’d staff offices in large coastal metro areas to poach business away from high-tax states. The increased business activity and resulting tax revenue would offset the gradual decrease in taxes.
We’d use these funds to buy up old houses and lots in mid-town and old-town, renovate them, and auction them off for fair market value. Part of the deal would be giving the homeless that want to work jobs at fixing these houses up.
We’d encourage small urban farms through tax credits.
We’d fix the damn roads.
It would be a busy first week.


Kris July 6, 2011 at 9:12 am

101- But I would have absolute control over the money and I would bring in my honest cronies to do all the work! :). There would be mass firings, that is for sure. Since I wouldn’t have any side deals with contractors (corrupt friends) and such, I wouldn’t be accused of ulterior motives.

Taxes are incredibly high in the city of Detroit, and I totally don’t think residents get what they pay for. Our former Governor Granholm also gave a lot of tax breaks to corporations, and I am not sure how those would be undone.

The roads are abysmal. Somehow they have been fixing every dent in the concrete in my subdivision, but major roads are a disasater, especially in winter time.

Oh, I would also make white-collar criminals work to tear down/renovate houses and clean up the parks. (I have often wondered why this type of program hasn’t been initiated all over the country.) The city is actually working on urban farming on a small scale, which I think is great.

Great ideas 101!


Nicole July 6, 2011 at 7:29 am

What I would do in Detroit: Put in an El like in Chicago. If that city had better public transportation it would have a chance at attracting industry (and professionals) that wasn’t just the auto industry. It wouldn’t matter so much how ridiculous their city roads layout is if a subway/elevated system could zip you from place to place (like in Boston). Detroit could be more like Chicago if it just had better transportation and infrastructure.

I’d also do some major redoing inside their damn conference center since you should be able to get inside and out and from floor to floor without a map and without having to use both an elevator and stairs/escalator. You should be able to get to any floor with either elevator or stairs. Like a microcosm for the city. Indestructible concrete and the worst design for practicality. The place is a nightmare– more conferences might be willing to go there if it wasn’t.


Kris July 6, 2011 at 8:13 am

Detroit and the surrounding cities definitely need mass transit. I am always so envious when I go to Chicago and I see how easy it is to get around. Trains used to run more frequently to Detroit, but not nearly like they used to. The people mover works ok for a very small section of Detroit, but I do think there needs to be a way to also get people in to the city.

When you reference the conference center, do you mean the Renaissance Center? I have to say I have never been to a conference downtown, but I have worked plenty at the Ren. Cen.

I can’t speak for businesses, but I am guessing crime is a huge part of why people aren’t clamoring to come to Detroit. I hoped that more companies would consider moving to the city since I am guessing office space is cheaper here than in most other big cities, especially given this economy. Again, time will tell.


Nicole July 6, 2011 at 11:32 am

If the economy were better, there would be less crime. Right now the small area that does have public transit is very safe and upscale. I think the conference center is the GM building? I vaguely recall its name was something auto-related. It’s designed as a large circle that has walkways getting to smaller circles on the outside, but you can’t get to each outer circle from each floor, and to get out of the building on foot you have to both take an elevator down and an escalator up.

Detroit is actually a textbook example for terrible layout and transportation (we spent a full week on it in Urban Economics in graduate school– here’s how the city’s design is destroying the city and stopping growth, and that was before the recession). It was designed in such a way to maximize segregation, and that just doesn’t work in today’s integrated economy. Public transit would break those barriers and make it more attractive for businesses and educated professionals. Michigan has one of the top 3 state university systems in the country (after CA and NY). Downtown Detroit has good bones. It wouldn’t take a whole lot to tip Detroit, but public transportation infrastructure is key.


Kris July 6, 2011 at 8:24 pm

The current ‘GM building’ is called the Ren Cen and is on the waterfront. The Ren Cen is a bunch of circular glass towers that you cannot walk between unless you are on the ground floor. The former GM building is similar in that it is a bunch of different tall, cement ‘sections’ that were connected only on the ground floor. That building is further up Woodward, and not on the waterfront.

The downtown area of Detroit is actually quite small compared to most other cities, and is actually at the southern end of the city. (Which makes it somewhat inaccessible for many people since there is very limited mass transit.) There is a lot of really nice parts of the downtown area, and the waterfront is totally underused, as is Belle Isle. Kilpatrick did a lot of damage to the city, and it was already in trouble to begin with.

Many people have been wanting mass transit in Detroit. Finding the money and such is another story I guess…


Niki July 6, 2011 at 8:40 am

I saw this a couple months ago, but this reminded me of it.



Kris July 6, 2011 at 10:04 am

That is a really interesting link. Unfortunately, the pictures shown are true representations of what you can find all over Detroit. Actually one looks similar to where I parked my car for the concert.


Little House July 6, 2011 at 9:25 am

I haven’t been to Detroit, but I know a bit about its problems. I think your idea is great; I wonder if there is a person or team who knows how to turn a city around. There are so many variables to what makes a city great vs. a slum. It would be an interesting case study if someone or many could turn that city around for the better.


Kris July 6, 2011 at 9:59 am

Little House- I think Dave Bing is trying to a good job, but there so many factors involved. The City Council is a joke, I am tempted to go to one of their meetings just to watch how crazy it is. It is like the entire slate needs to be wiped clean and started from scratch. Kilpatrick was so corrupt, and his charisma is what got him in office in the first place.

From what I hear, Pittsburgh is a great turnaround story. It can be done, but I wonder if it will happen in my lifetime or not. Maybe I should check for vaults full of treasures in my basement.


Kris July 6, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Little House, each time a new mayor comes in, I hope that something can be done with the city. Unfortunately, the city of Detroit and the state of Michigan as a whole have both suffered greatly with this recession. Turnaround takes money and people with integrity, and both can be hard to find unfortunately.

I will keep writing about it, and hope to report some good news!


MoneyCone July 6, 2011 at 11:21 am

It is actually sad to see Detroit like this considering it’s past and place in American history. I do not know how typical are the pictures I see of Detroit homes in disrepair, but sad nevertheless.


Kris July 6, 2011 at 8:26 pm

MC, it is probably more common than you think unfortunately. There are pockets of nice homes in safe areas. However, I am seeing more and more homes that have no windows and are obviously vacant. The Michigan State Fairgrounds used to be a wonderful place, now it is a wasteland.


Jeff @ Sustainable life blog July 6, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I have never been to detroit, but I want to go so bad. If I was at all confident I could find a job there, I would seriously consider moving – things are cheap, property, etc and there is endless opportunity, as long as you’re willing to work for it!
If you’re looking for a turnaround expert – richard florida did pittsburg, you should read some of his books.


Kris July 6, 2011 at 8:15 pm

Jeff, my husband always talks about Pittsburgh and their great turnaround story, as he has visited there many times for work. From what I understand, that city was a mess, and look at it now!

I really do like Michigan. I live in Metro Detroit and I don’t like what has happened to the housing prices. However, for someone looking to relocate here, it is great. From what I understand, all of the Big 3 have been hiring recently, which is fantastic. Have you seriously considered looking for work here?


Squirrelers July 6, 2011 at 1:11 pm

I think you posed the question as a general question. Now, if we changd the question to how would you help Detroit with that sum of money, it’s a fascinating question with much different answers. The first thing I would do would be spend money on law enforcement and on schools. The latter would be a monumental investment as that city’s schools are reputed to be a total nightmare disaster.

I think that key parts of the foundation of a community are safety and it’s investment in it’s children’s future. Beyond that, the city needs to attract investment in terms of business relocating/starting there. Funding toward making the city a more attractive place for business, be it in infrastructure or incentives – could help things. The big thing though – there just has to be people with integrity in positions of leadership. It will be difficult to achieve success without that in place.

My folks attended Michigan State in the 1960’s, and tell me how Detroit as a city was into a slow decline then, but Downtown was still fine to go to – and that shopping at this big Hudson’s (local brand) store there was a real treat. Then, all heck broke loose in the 60’s, and the city totally accelerated it’s downward spiral. It’s interesting to me how Chicago, a large midwestern (and formerly industrial/blue collar) city with big problems in the 1960’s (and different big ones now) has deftly managed many things over the years and has thrived to become a truly great American city with a cosmopolitan feel and some very cool neighborhoods, a dynamic downtown, fantastic attractions etc. Yet, Detroit very rapidly went downhill and is barely a shell of it’s past glory and population. Two once-big cities that took very different paths.

I spent 3 months in Detroit over 10 years ago, and found it so striking how people frequently discussed 2 different things: 1) how things in Detroit “used to be”; and 2)How someone could be from a “GM family” or “Ford Family”. Very unique, one-industry centric approach that seemed so ingrained locally, yet disarming and foreign to someone not from the area. I’ve been to 47 states and this includes most major cities, and have never seen or heard anything quite like it in the psyche of the community, to the point where people didn’t seem to realize how extreme it was to just casually and naturally talk in those terms without a second thought.

There’s no city, outside of my own area (Chicago), that I pull for more than the Detroit area. Maybe it’s the Midwestern roots involved, but it would be great to see Detroit have success. After all that’s happened there, how can anyone not root for Detroit?

Kris, you guys are in suburban Detroit, right? Curious what you think of what I as a non-local am suggesting…


Kris July 6, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Squirrel, I grew up literally one mile north of Detroit, so I know the city very well. (I live about 15 miles away from the border right now.)

You make a lot of great suggestions. There has been so much corruption in the city, look at our former Mayor and all his cronies. I think Dave Bing seems to have integrity, and I am hoping that maybe a businessman will have some insight that others have not had previously. As we both said, the education system in the city is a disaster. Many classes don’t even have textbooks. The dropout rate is ridiculously high, it is all very depressing. The police and fire departments both need help. Response time is generally slow and both departments are just understaffed. Recently, a house caught fire and the hydrant didn’t work, so two other adjacent houses caught fire too. In essence, there is so much that needs to be done.

My parents both grew up in Detroit, as did many other people I know. Anyone I know that grew up there pre 1960 talks about how great it was to take the bus/trolley down to Hudsons and spend the day shopping. It was an all day event that people got dressed up for. Now, Hudson’s is long gone, and homeless people are standing at so many of the intersections asking for money. (That happens in pockets, not everywhere in the city.)

It is amazing how closely things are tied to the auto industry here, and you are right, a family usually either worked for Ford or GM (and sometimes Chrysler). (Kind of like here you are either an ‘east sider’ or a ‘west sider’.) When the auto industry tanked, it hit this area so hard, and it was scary for everyone. Even if you don’t work for the auto industry directly, chances are, your business will still be affected by the auto industry.

Thank you for rooting for Detroit! I would love to see it return to some semblance of glory.


The Biz of Life July 7, 2011 at 9:19 am

I’m not sure any amount of money could fix Detroit or return it to anything close to its former glory. The auto industry has moved a lot of its manufacturing to more favorable business climates, and nothing has stepped in to fill the void. It just seems like a city decaying from within. It’s ultimate destiny may be to become farm land.


Kris July 9, 2011 at 10:54 am

Biz, I keep hoping that with the cheap office rent and such, that another ‘industry’ will find its way to Detroit. Still waiting though…


First Gen American July 8, 2011 at 7:04 am

Since Detroit was built around the success of the big 3, I think I’d use the money to solicit businesses to come into town that would benefit from the infrastructure already in place. I think if there are jobs, everything else follows. There was a time not long ago when it was a desirable place to live and housing was outrageous.

I really hope the big 3 get their act together and start making reliable cars that people want to buy again. I mean, it’s no secret what’s wrong with Chrysler’s. They don’t run and you know, cool design only takes you so far. At some point, people say that they want their transportation to um actually transport them.


Kris July 10, 2011 at 11:21 am

FGA- I have to say that I think the quality of the Big 3 has increased dramatically in my lifetime. Our last 2 GM cars had zero issues except for general maintenance, and the same is true with my last 3 Ford cars. Actually, in some ways, I think American cars are started to surpass the quality of some overseas manufacturers. However, perception is perception, and that takes a long time to change.


Invest It Wisely July 16, 2011 at 12:07 am

It’s too bad about Detroit. If not for the decadence and downfall of the big three, things could be different. I wonder what would have happened had GM not been bailed out…

As for the wealth, if it was donated to the temple, then it belongs to the temple. I’m sure many others, government or no government, would like to get their greedy hands on it, but ultimately it should be up to the temple to decide. Hopefully they do choose a good path.


Invest It Wisely July 16, 2011 at 12:08 am

(and Chrysler before then. Maybe things could have been changed a long time ago and the city could be a hub of many different companies, not just the shell of a few. I don’t know, but I wonder…)


Kris July 16, 2011 at 5:08 pm

I am so grateful that GM/Chrysler got bailed out. I know it was not a popular decision, but it would have ruined our area, and we have had it hard enough as it is.

We did/do have other headquarters here, but some are moving. The Kmart headquarters was here, but they moved to Chicago years ago, and their building is still just sitting there. I think they filmed a scene for the movie Red Dawn in the parking lot, that was kind of fun to watch.

Remember, the Detroit area is going to be the new movie capital of the world! 🙂


Invest It Wisely July 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm

I believe you, but I think it’s always seen versus unseen. It’s always easy to see who gets saved, but you don’t see what would have happened over the long run had the other choice been made. Creative destruction does have its downsides. Maybe Detroit will find a new future though; like the others I’d like to see them have revitalization. So many historic buildings; was definitely a great city!


Invest It Wisely July 16, 2011 at 12:14 am

Oh, I didn’t say what I would do with the money. 22 billion? I’d start a charter city in a part of the world (assuming the neighbours let me) where the people have a lot of potential but the governments aren’t willing to allow them to rise up. I would set the city up to have fair laws and justice, which no unequal treatment for one group over others. I wouldn’t try to centrally plan everything but would let people choose via their own values as expressed through the market. I’d probably be accused of being a colonialist or a capitalist pig, though. 😉


Kris July 16, 2011 at 5:06 pm

That is a very neat idea Kevin! Would you move to that city?


Invest It Wisely July 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm

For sure. 🙂


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