The collapse of Detroit has of course been much in the news of late. Detropia does a nice job of documenting the decline of this once great city. A quick Google search reveals hundreds of articles and opinion pieces from all points on the political spectrum pontificating about the root causes of Detroit’s death spiral and its implications (or lack thereof) for the rest of America. Paul Krugman (bless his Nobel Laureate heart) weighed in blaming the fall of Detroit on urban sprawl (shhh, nobody tell Los Angeles!). All of which of course ignores the elephant that truly devoured Detroit: political corruption, union cronyism, and irresponsible short-sightedness of greedy corporate executives. Or take your pick. See, there’s plenty of blame to go around.
But really, as Hillary Clinton might say, what does it matter now? Our focus should turn to how we fix the mess that was once one of America’s richest cities. Now, the mayor of Boston had a pretty good plan–blow it up and start all over again. Assuming that course of action may be a bit extreme for my gentle readers, let’s look for something else. A Facebook friend posted this story on why Toronto is succeeding while the rest of the rust belt is, well, rusting. The solution proposed is to bring in a bunch of immigrants and repopulate the city. Which is a fine plan I suppose except for the parts about there being no jobs and the city can’t be expected to provide much in the way of social services when it can’t even keep the streetlights burning. Lord knows though, there is plenty of available housing. Unfortunately, Detroit can’t even give houses away these days because no one can afford the outrageous property taxes. So, adding more jobless people (even if they are not homeless) won’t fix Detroit’s problems.
We need a radical solution here and after stewing on the problems for awhile I came up with a plan. Let me present to you The Free City of Detroit. My idea is sort of built around the concept of Free Trade Zones, but with much, much more to entice people, and just as importantly, businesses and manufacturing back into this forlorn and nearly abandoned city.
Here’s how it works. Residents of Detroit will still have to pay federal and state income taxes (I just don’t see a Constitutionally viable way around that). However, under the Charter of the Free City of Detroit all those taxes will be refunded to the city. With that money the city will be able to provide necessary services and infrastructure making the city a much more pleasant environment in which to live. But more importantly, the city would not be permitted to impose any additional taxes on people or businesses. No sales tax, no property tax, no business licensing fees, no corporate taxes. It’s a Free City after all. Any federal or state tax dollars not spent by the city would be returned to the people–not unlike what Alaska does with it’s oil revenues. Think about it–you could actually be paid to live in Detroit! It would also be a good way to keep the politicians in check (more on that later)–the people would not stand idly by when money is wastefully spent that would otherwise be in their wallets. The beauty is that the more people who move back to Detroit (along with the businesses that support and employ them) the richer the city becomes.
But wait there’s more! In a Free City the only laws that would be enforced are those reasonable and necessary to protect property and the people from violence. Gambling, prostitution, drugs–all legal in the Free City of Detroit! No longer will residents be victims of victimless crimes. Just making drugs legally available would go a long way to reducing violent crime. Here’s some science to back up that claim. Who wouldn’t want to live in a libertarian paradise like the Free City of Detroit?
Alright, let me answer the questions the preceding paragraph may have sent careening through your brain. Most federal laws and regulations would still apply, unless specifically exempted by Congress. I’m not looking to have workers unprotected, so OSHA standards would remain in place. And any racists out there should not rejoice, the equal protection clause of the Constitution (and all other Amendments) would guard the rights of all citizens. Feel a little better now?
But what about jobs? Detroit didn’t lose it’s historic manufacturing base because of some inescapable natural phenomenon. Rather they were driven away by an unholy trinity of high taxes, unsupportable wages and benefits, and corporate greed. Well, I’ve already addressed the tax issue. Michigan has adopted right-to-work laws which should keep jobs protected from unscrupulous union demands. And hell, corporate greed is what will bring the jobs back! Automobile manufacturers are building cars for a profit in Tennessee and Alabama. If you make it cheaper to build them in the Free City of Detroit, they’ll come rushing back to do so.
Finally, the toughest nut to crack might be political corruption. Lord knows that played a significant role in the demise of old Detroit. So, I propose a five member board of governors to rule the city. And given that I have a certain fondness for democratic principles, the Chair of that board would be elected. The other four would be appointed to represent the various constituencies with an interest in the health and welfare of the city: one from the State, one from the Feds, one for corporate interests, and one for small business owners. They would be required to manage the city in strict accordance with the terms of the Charter, and no funds could be dispersed for any purpose other than for the overall interest of the city at large as determined by a majority of the Board of Governors. As a safeguard, the Board would also be limited to 3 year terms with no reappointment or reelection. Not perfect, but what is in this world?
So there you have it. A viable plan to save the city of Detroit by destroying it (without bombs of course!). And from the ashes of failure a new and free Detroit will arise, built on the principles of freedom, justice, and good old fashioned American ingenuity. Have you heard any better options?
Yes we can! Do we have the courage and foresight to try another way?