Detroit’s limited industry(job) options… and how Oakland compares

Primary Industries, Thus, Employment Opportunities

There’s a Grist post today about how waste and inefficiency of the Soviet type are good, socially and ecologically speaking. (One example: the internet is inefficient – there are thousands of possible “pipes” to get your “dumptruck’s worth” of data around, instead of just one cable somewhere that can be snipped. This allows for a million small scale business startups to jump onto the dance floor instead of one big corporate bouncer controlling access.) The importance of inefficiency is also covered in Dmitry Orlov’s 2008 book Reinventing Collapse as well as at his blog Club Orlov.

Our current centralization and concentrated wealth are possible in crazy quantities (JPMorgan Chase, Buffet, WalMart) only because of fossil fuels. Centralized is what cities are, too. Decentralized systems are more robust, resilient and human-scale. Even within the city “organism.”

The article speaks about how centralization and over specialization or optimization makes for a stool with one leg. (also known as “just-in-time” inventories at our safeways, trader joes and toyota factories — everything comes in the night before with a 2 day supply on 18 wheels.) Efficiency saves money but is not resilient.

The article looks at how Detroit became the Manchester (UK) of America. Detroit, like Manchester, overspecialized in one industry. (Spun textiles in Manchester’s case, which India offshored back in the 1800s… instant replay with Jaguar being bought by Tata?)

How about Oakland. How do we compare? Ah, to bask. Or should we? Detroit has lots of great farming soil. We do not. But we also have a large urban saltwater pond. Who would try to invade or control Oakland, with its lack of any sizable amounts of fresh untreated drinking water? That would be like invading LA!

Oakland’s Industries

Oakland’s primary industries and employers are quite mixed vs Model D: Kaiser Healthcare, Clorox consumer goods (corporate office), Port of Oakland dock workers, West Oakland Post Office building, EBMUD the water utility, City (public works, fire/police, admin) and Alameda County governments, public school district, charters, libraries and BART HQ. Bart Stations must contribute at least 20-30 bored booth employees and janitors. Add to that Merritt, Mills, Laney and CCA.

The rest of our employers are a few more dentists and tiny clinics, banks, one hundred (??) non-profits, lawyers, a trophy shop, grocery stores, little trinket shops and hair cutting services, gas stations, bike repair shops, the occasional sweatshop in Chinatown, (used) car dealers and mechanics, DIY self-employed consultants and artists; and lastly, the bars/eateries soup of nightlife. No wait: we also have private security scattered about, plus a few newspapers, “AK” Press and many churches.

We never were a rust belt but obviously we’ve matched the general nation-wide off-shoring of most manufacturing gigs to India and China, which is why they can spend $88 and $30 billion on new rail systems respectively this year to our dingleberry $9 billion worth. That’s not my point here.

I’d say we don’t have enough tourism (SF), local food production (Marin Co, Detroit), high-tech (SJ), other natural resource extraction or light/heavy industry. There’s not enough makings things of Real Value(TM). We lost our military base. (As useless as they are these days.)

[4/4/09 UPDATE: I forgot to mention DRUGS and THEFT. These are probably two of Oakland’s larger industries as well. Musn’t forget the underground economy. I’m sure we have fewer white collar “blow parties” than SF or LA, but I’m sure there are a few in Oakland. Plus we have marijuana sales legal/organized and otherwise, not to mention meth and crack cocaine.

Read “Bullets from the Drug War” if you don’t already know anything about the history of drugs and powerful countries over the past 200 years. Before the CIA ran drugs into the US, the British empire ran opium into China setting off the “opium war” back then. I suspect the Chinese remember their history very well. Kudos to them for clawing their way to the top of our new world economic order.

And theft and crime generally? There is plenty of red hot auto theft in Oakland, done by chop shop rings in and outside of the city. People come to Oakland from all over to steal cars. I’ve seen evidence aplenty, helping victims out. Want this to stop? We need our alamedaa country district attorney Tom Orloff to actually prosecute criminals! And more OPD investigators!]

What can we do individually? Lessen reliance on centralized systems for transport and food. (Hahahaha!) No really. I’ve planted my own strawberries, potatos, carrots, tomatos, peas, cilantro, and fruiting trees. All this on an apartment balcony. I have a zipcar membership, a plethora of bicycles, live near BART, and own sturdy hiking boots. Some of these depend on central systems. But it’s a diversity of options.

We can buy local.

We can carrotmob.

We can start and use our own local OAKLAND CURRENCY.


Of course, many of us work in SF/Berkeley and the rest of the Bay, so this is a biased look at our “local” economy. The regional economy is more accurate to look at, and things probably should be organized more with the whole region in mind. (watershed, landfills, transit routes, where people live and work, where food comes from, etc.) But, city officials and staff have jurisdiction within city boundaries (slightly) to make changes, and a city is easier to dissect than a region.


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