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Some of my fellow malcontents in our comment section challenged me to defend a line in a recent column by my colleagues, Ted and John: “Illinois is worth fighting for.” P.M. wrote a detailed, thoughtful comment why he thinks it’s not.

So, here goes. Actually, however, you’ll see it kinda depends on how you use the phrase, and I suspect we’re pretty much in agreement.

It’s certainly not that I care about the majority of voters in Illinois. If I believed in hell, I’d believe in a special place for them. And it’s not that I think Illinois government, as we’ve allowed it to function, should be saved from the ash heap of history. It will get there, though that will take a while. I’m a free markets guy, and I get the creative destruction thing.

But this is an exercise in disaster mitigation, and the humanitarian consequences are enormous for many with no culpability. Millions of families have had their home equity confiscated. The mentally ill, developmentally disabled, indigent criminal defendants and many others deserving assistance have been thrown overboard. Decades of unemployment and underemployment have produced immeasurable hardship. The free market sometimes doesn’t work fast enough because of “friction,” economists say. The blood on many Chicago streets is sometimes from innocents. Friction, indeed.

“Just move”? I don’t fault for a minute those who do. All else being equal, I recommend it. Three of my four nieces and nephews, born here, live elsewhere. My son, who just started college, wouldn’t even apply to any Illinois school. I, too, will be gone after my youngest is out of high school, except in the unlikely event that radical reforms come first (though I’d keep up this fight from beyond the border).

It’s just not practical, however, for many to move. Even if they can, it takes time. The largest group stuck here should be obvious — the underaged, including kids in the slums. Many more simply can’t leave, from little guys to big guys: franchise owners, family farm owners, car repair people who built up reputations for honesty, professionals in partnerships that are hard to undo, beauticians with loyal clienteles, folks with a specialty and a unique employment contract that would be hard to replicate. The list goes on, all the way up to banks that can’t move their charters.

But the biggest reasons why our fight matters go far beyond our borders. Our failure and how we deal with it will set precedent for other broke cities and states not far behind us. “Illinois’ Lessons” should be a book, and be on shelves across the country. Pater Tenebrarum, a commenter here, said:

 I am not a resident of your illustrious region, but… I watch the situation unfold from afar. I find it an utterly fascinating case study that has implications that go well beyond Illinois… (another case worth studying in this context is Greece, which is already a few steps ahead of Illinois).

We are dealing with very weighty matters here. Did the Founding Fathers miss something? Is our form of democracy fundamentally flawed? Isn’t this about a flat-out failure of a constitutional republic? Tenbarum was dead right: “The main lesson so far is that it is evidently impossible for the political class to solve this problem.” Yet Illinois voters this month ratified and promoted the same political establishment.

So, maybe I’m thinking about whether Illinois is worth fighting for differently than those who say no. Or maybe Ted and John should have used a slightly different phrase. Maybe they should have said “The fight is worth the fight.”

Whatever. The point is that the fight matters, for profound reasons extending far beyond Illinois.

It’s being waged legitimately in many ways. Emigrants vote with their feet. Nonresidents like Tenbarum absorb our lessons. Ted, John and I do our research and writing here. Actuaries from other states help us expose the myths. An elderly lady who asked me to add that Print button on our articles passes them out in her broke, corrupt suburb. Others are in the trenches, running for office.

I say all of those are on the same side.

Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.


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The smart people have left, or are planning on leaving Illinois.


I have held my hand at typing a response for some time. The initial response was more of an article length commentary, which I’ll attempt to reduce. You make an interesting point that I agree with, quoted below: ” We are dealing with very weighty matters here. Did the Founding Fathers miss something? Is our form of democracy fundamentally flawed? Isn’t this about a flat-out failure of a constitutional republic? Tenbarum was dead right: “The main lesson so far is that it is evidently impossible for the political class to solve this problem.” Yet Illinois voters this month ratified and… Read more »

Joseph Hillström

“The prophetic principle [of Judaism] states that the prerequisite of political stability is social justice, for it is in the nature of things that injustice will not endure.” Article 22 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states “Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.” So are pensions aimed at social justice or at political… Read more »

Mike Williams

Well said. Illinois must fail. The sooner the better …. but if not, I’m a patient man when the eventual outcome is guaranteed.


Chicago is great because it has always been willing to tear down as well as build up. It changes, it’s not just a statue. But in its current financial condition it can only be a statue, a decaying one. One only needs to pass under all the decaying bridges along the congress heading inbound. Chicago cannot be dynamic anymore, when every cent goes off to Florida as pension checks. This time it actually needs to tear down, go through bankruptcy, so that it can be dynamic once again. All of Illinois is worth saving, it’s just that the salvation we… Read more »


Mark, I think the biggest reason that Illinois is worth saving is that Chicago is an amazing city that should not have to die a ghost town death. The built environment of Chicago is amazing, the transportation system is amazing, the culture, Wrigley Field, Frank Lloyd Wright houses, museums, the lakefront…….the list goes on. Yes it’s corrupt, yes it’s a mess. But it’s amazingly unique. If Indianapolis were to die, another average sprawl-burg could pop up somewhere to take its place. No city in the modern day will ever grow to be like Chicago. Growing cities of today end up… Read more »

Mike Williams

Chicago is somewhat special and unique. That’s what the Chicago politicians will say when they ask for a bailout. I believe what it needs is tough love. It needs to swallow it’s pride and admit it has behaved badly. Before I lift a finger to help, I want an apology and some strong indication it has learned it’s lesson. If it can’t do that, let it all decay and turn to dust. I love the Bears, Cubs, lakefront, and museums, but if they disappear I’ll survive just fine.


No it wouldn’t. Chicago was a great city 100 years ago.
Like Detroit.
Yet somehow America survived the collapse of Detroit just fine. America will move on from Chicago
Those sprawl-burgs as you like to say are the future growth cities in America. The fact you want to trash talk them shows how out of touch you are. But hey enjoy fighting an unwinnable losing battle. Maybe when your family is homeless and has their life ruined you’ll learn.


How can there be any hope for Illinois, when many voters (particularly young idealistic people who have been sheltered and had their heads filled with biased progressive [basically socialism] ideologies and women who believe they are victims of a male-dominated society [which is not really true anymore]-some have been, but many are just victims of progressive brainwashing) keep voting for the party and Illinois House and Senate members that have bankrupted Illinois. They essentially vote on the basis of emotions and ideologies, not facts. DuPage County which was the last Chicago-land bastion of fiscal responsibility, quality services, low crime, and… Read more »

This is very true among the entrepreneurs and startup community. They are basically socialist in their ideas until it affects them. “Pay more taxes”-sure, and they will pay it to a point because they believe centralized govt is basically good and allocates resources better than the free market. As to DuPage County, the problem there is they are a bunch of establishment Republicans. They don’t really care about the voter as long as the voter gives them a seat at the table. John Kasich is performing in true establishment manner in Ohio right now. At that point, why not throw… Read more »

Tim Favero

Excellent column Mark. I too, will be leaving as soon as I can sell my home (I am currently underwater). People like Michael Madigan, John Cullerton, Ed Burke, use laws that they enacted to enrich themselves with millions of dollars, leaving those who can least afford to pay the highest property taxes as a percentage of home value in the country. It’s pathetic. I had high hopes for Bruce Rauner, but Madigan stymied him at every turn, and Illinois is far worse off now than we were four years ago. The Democrats only want control of how money is spent… Read more »

Rip the band aid off. You aren’t going to get above water. Especially when you figure in tax increases (both property, income and others)

Mike Williams

Yes Mark, it is very difficult for many to leave Illinois….. but not impossible. It has now been several years where it has been obvious that Illinois is past the (debt) tipping point, so there has been plenty of time to make long term exit plans. Suppose you stay and fight, and a miracle did occur, and the constitution was changed to address the debt. Do you think any of your outrageous taxes would then be lowered? If you stay and fight, then at best things will remain as they are right now. If you stay, you continue to provide… Read more »

world with end

That’s a very insightful thought. What you’re saying is that there’s no hope for IL even if a constitutional amendment reduces debt. That’s very depressing to read, but it may be true. If the reduction occurs, do the property tax rates drop to one-point-something percent (the average in the country) from 2-8 percent? I don’t think so, either. Neither would the outrageous user fees be significantly reduced. The IL pols will always find something on which to spend the excessive tax dollars and user fee dollars. In this scenario, they’d have some justification, given the many years of underfunding essential… Read more »


The best solution is for a mass exodus of taxpayers that creates a swift economic collapse. It is critical for the welfare of this nation that Illinois public sector retirees lose a good deal of their pension and healthcare benefits. In no way should any of them collect more than the PBG would pay in a private sector single employer plan.

So for a 65 year old retiree the maximum monthly benefit would be $5,420.45 or $65,405 a year. For an early retiree,retiring at 55 the maximum monthly benefit would be $2,439.20 or $29.268 yearly.

world with end

I agree there needs to be a major adjustment downward in pensions and health care benefits. Currently, there are many retired IL teachers with pensions of around $100K or more with free health care and a large number of teachers in the queue. Once again, these types of retirement packages are way out of line with the typical American retiree. It’s shameful that the IL pols continue to keep this imbalance in place, resulting in the continued and accelerated deterioration of IL.


People need to wake up and insist their school boards start going to virtual classrooms. For example there is no reason in the world employ a history teacher – period. Clearly the material is delivered in a superior manner through technology. History teachers are a clear misallocation of society’s resources.


If you are a certain age, you will lose whatever you might have left of your home equity or employment or even retirement if you stay to see how the Illinois disaster ends. You cannot fight the majority who believe that beggaring your neighbor is sound fiscal and social policy. And that concept is spreading like cancer across the national landscape. Soon there will be nowhere to hide.


Karl Marx once said “As soon as the majority figures out they can vote themselves resources, Capitalism and Democracy will Collapse.”

Illinois and Chicago especially, are beyond saving now, it’s just a matter of time. And just a matter of will the Collapse stay in Illinois or will there be a Federal Bailout. Will the future prevailing Federal powers force Texas, Wyoming, Florida, Nebraksa, North Carolina, ect. ect. to effectively pay part of any Federal Bailout or indirectly through Federal Reserve inflation.


But is the fight even worth the fight? I don’t have much hope that the present or future powers-that-be will have learned anything.
The cost of this state and of the taxing bodies therein will simply be the new normal.

Bill Bergman

Consider the federal government as a big Illinois