What has the University of Michigan done to stop Detroit’s decline?
Dialogue with the Alter Ego on Detroit’s bankruptcy, drafted and published on July 22, 2013
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Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE): Is there any piece of news that has managed to attract
Noah denkt™’s attention lately?
Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Well, the bankruptcy of Detroit has us thinking these days?

AE: Why is that?
Nd: Because we keep asking ourselves why a cutting-edge university like Ann Arbor hasn’t been able to help
Detroit reinvent itself in the face of an eroding industrial base?

AE: Well, the answer to that is obviously threefold: First, it isn’t just the loss of traditional factory jobs that has
brought about Detroit’s decline; it is also true that the city has been seriously mismanaged over a longer period of
time. Just look at the inflated pension obligations that the city has. That tells you all about the absence of public
sector reform in Detroit. Secondly, it is simply unrealistic to believe that one top-notch university could produce
enough start-up jobs to counter the loss of traditional industries. Don’t forget that there will likely be a serious
culture clash between light-footed new service ventures and clumsy blue-collar traditions. And thirdly, it is
probably also true that the power of university education is overrated anyway.   
Nd: In other words, even an ivy league brain trust can’t make the difference?

AE: We are surprised that you should plant this question. After all, it is Noah denkt™ that in previous times never
got tired of
illustrating the difference between entrepreneurial courage and academic brain picking.
Nd: Well, our previous comments pertained more to European university education. It always seemed to us that
American academia is less eggheaded than its European counterpart.

AE: So, let’s assume for the sake of the argument that first-tier US universities would in deed be as visionary as
you suggest them to be: What then would you have expected Ann Arbor to do in this case?
Nd: Ideally, the University of Michigan would have understood the severity of the challenge that Detroit is faced
with ahead of time and they would have responded accordingly. In practice, this would have meant that they focus
all their efforts on producing a new economic future for the Greater Detroit region and the State of Michigan as a
whole.

AE: To be fair to Ann Arbor and the Michigan State University, it has to be recognized that they did in fact create
a considerable biotech cluster, to give just one example. But for all this to really flourish on a broader scale you
also need a well equipped venture capital base. And last but not least, you also need a national and international
economy that isn’t being hamstrung by a Great Recession.
Nd: Surely, all this is correct. But contrary to eggheads, true entrepreneurs do not look for excuses but try to
prove themselves against all odds. And that is exactly the mindset that we would expect of an ivy league institution.

AE: Perhaps, they tried and we just don’t know about that!
Nd: Well, if they would have seriously tried to make a change and to break new ground, some of that effort would
have certainly trickled down to our attention.

AE: It is not fair to base you judgments on this kind of assumptions.
Nd: It is absolutely fair to do that. Because that is the way entrepreneurs work. They do not need scientific proof
before they can put their heart into something. Instead they go with what they feel is right, and let the world find
our later whether their initial take was on the money or not.

AE: Clearly, we are
reverting to the many previous discussions that we have had about a responsible and
irresponsible approach to managing things.
Nd: Correct. And Noah denkt™ is quite aware that it will probably never agree with its Alter Ego on this particular
point.
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Keywords:

bankruptcy of Detroit, reinventing Detroit, University of Michigan and the future of Detroit,
a new industrial base of Detroit, ivy league brains for Detroit, ivy league entrepreneurs for
Detroit, Ann Arbor and the bankruptcy of Detroit
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