Is Detroit Too Corrupt to Succeed?

(cc photo by Bob Jagendorf)

(cc photo by Bob Jagendorf)

James Poulos responds to the idea of granting special visas for foreigners who might want to move to Detroit by saying the city is too malgoverned for anyone to succeed there:

On the other hand, maybe America still offers the kind of opportunity that turns former residents of doomed regions into hardworking winners. The sad spectacle of Detroit suggests that’s not the case. But Detroit is badly misleading, because Detroit has been captive to a crushing (liberal-approved) agenda of unearned government dollars and public-sector corruption for decades. That’s not the only reason Detroit is on the skids. But it’s a powerful, perhaps dominant, contributing factor. All the luck and pluck in the world won’t make winners out of immigrants condemned to eke out an existence under that kind of yoke. Before we think about sending the foreigners in, it’s time to think about rooting the government rot out.

This seems to me like a textbook case of subordinating actual analysis of the issue to a political agenda. It’s quite true that Detroit suffers from corrupt, inept governance. But precisely the point of my proposal is that though the situation in Detroit is bad enough by American standards that people have been leaving in droves, it’s good enough by global standards that people might want to come in droves if given the opportunity. Is Detroit more corrupt than China? Than Belarus? Than Armenia? I doubt it.

So to reiterate, it seems to me that for all Detroit’s problems if we said to the world “in addition to existing legal avenues for immigration, we’ll hand out extra visas to people who want to live and work in Detroit” that a whole lot of people would take us up on it. Some entrepreneurs would probably want to set up industrial production facilities in Detroit to take advantage of the low-wage labor force. And the new migrants would inhabit Detroit’s large quantity of existing vacant structures, investing “sweat equity” in refurbishing them, and providing new customers for existing Detroit retailers, new tax revenue to fund social services, and a source of stabilization to the local property market. The city would be better off and so would the migrants.