Acton Institute Powerblog

Detroit’s ‘Get out of Bankruptcy Free’ Card

250px-Bankruptcy_monopolyAaron M. Renn’s reflections on the implications of Detroit’s bankruptcy are worth reading, especially as relate to the DIA, a topic of some previous interest over the last year or so:

In the case of the DIA, the city owns the museum and the collection. Hence the question of whether or not art should be sold to satisfy debts. If it were typical separately chartered non-profit institution, this wouldn’t even be a question.

At this point, I’d suggest cities ought to be taking a hard look at whether they own assets like museums, zoos, etc. that should be spun off into a separate non-profit entity. Keep in mind, the tax dollars that support the institutions can continue flowing to it. But this does protect the assets in the event of a bankruptcy.

I think Renn’s advice is spot on, but I would also caution that Detroit’s experience might not be replicable elsewhere. As DIA director Graham Beal put it previously, the DIA’s dilemma is “singular and highly complicated.”

How many cities own art collections worth potentially billions of dollars? Not too many, I’d suspect. And just what would the motivation be for city governments to reduce assets that could be leveraged in bankruptcy negotiations? What is in the best interest of the institution may not be in the interests of the city government and pensioners.

The DIA might be something like Detroit’s “Get out of Bankruptcy Free” card. (Or if not “free,” then less scathed than otherwise. And that’s not counting the loss of cultural treasures, of course!) But even so it’s a card that can only be played once, and it’s a card that other cities might not have.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.