Using Immigrants to Save Detroit?

For the open-borders crowd, immigration is a patent medicine, able to cure whatever ails you.

The latest pitch is that requiring immigrants to live in Detroit is the solution to that city’s many ills — see here and here, for instance. The second link, from National Journal, is aptly titled “A Modest Proposal”, because it’s no more real than Jonathan Swift’s 18th century essay by the same name calling for the Irish to escape poverty by selling their children as food to the rich. The problem is that the Detroit suggestions do not seem to be intended as satire.

And yet, what they’re suggesting is serfdom – legally tying people to a particular place on pain of expulsion (not that expulsion would ever happen anyway, since people would just leave Detroit as soon as they could and become illegals elsewhere). When Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was governor of Iowa he suggested a similar effort to make up for all the Americans leaving Iowa.

All proposals like this have one thing in common — they objectify immigrants, imagining them to be something other than human beings, nothing but variables in an economist’s fanciful equation. It’s the geographic version of the “Jobs Americans Won’t Do” fallacy – “Places Americans Won’t Live”, if you will.

In fact, immigrants have the same motivations and goals as the rest of us. And if Detroit is so badly governed, or Iowa is so remote and frigid, that Americans don’t want to live there, why would immigrants? The same factors that lead Americans to move elsewhere will lead immigrants to do the same. Immigration-as-magic-bullet ideas are just cop-outs, a means to avoid facing the underlying problems of such places, either because there’s no way to change those problems (bad weather) or because it’s just easier to weave fairy tales than to deal with crooked politicians, grasping unions, and a degraded electorate.

What it boils down to is this — immigrants go where the jobs are, not the other way around. Detroit can only be fixed by Detroiters (if at all), not by the intervention of magical foreigners.

  1. Not JMR

    I don’t think it’s terribly silly, actually. Any scenario in which Detroit is resurrected involves an infusion of new, productive residents. Why can’t those residents be immigrants?

    Mark Krikorian: 

    In fact, immigrants have the same motivations and goals as the rest of us. And if Detroit is so badly governed, or Iowa is so remote and frigid, that Americans don’t want to live there, why would immigrants?

    The point of a free labor market is that people can go work somewhere if it suits them. Now, living in Detroit may not be to your taste (or mine), but the young man living in constant fear of death in Mexico might find it a substantial improvement in his condition. The point is that you’re in no position to make the choice for him.

    kylez: 1. how can they be forced to live in a particular city?

    Of course this would be impossible; this is more a philosophical inquiry than an actual proposal. Suppose that it were possible to do, should it be done? That’s the question.

  2. kylez

    Well I’m not claiming to be. However, the INS is in that position. 

  3. Zafar

    Some immigrants to Australia are required to live in regional areas for a period of time.  Seems to work wrt filling some skilled labour shortages and it gets some takers.

  4. Xennady

    Immigrants are magic. They can fix everything.

    Are your natives lazy and ill-educated? Are your cities bankrupt ruins? Is your tax base depleted?

    No problemo!!

    Just import a few million serfs- whoops, I mean immigrants- and everything will be a-ok.

    Lickety-split they’ll be paying beaucoup taxes, working for almost nothing, and teaching those good-for-nothing overpaid native born citizens about that good old protestant work ethic that they’ve long since forgotten about.

    Losers. Immigrants will show’em!!

    Yeah.

  5. Not JMR
    Xennady: Immigrants are magic.They can fixeverything.

    Are your natives lazy and ill-educated? Are your cities bankrupt ruins? Is your tax base depleted?

    No problemo!!

    Just import a few million serfs- whoops, I mean immigrants- and everything will be a-ok.

    Lickety-split they’ll be paying beaucoup taxes, working for almost nothing, and teaching those good-for-nothing overpaid native born citizens about that good old protestant work ethic that they’ve long since forgotten about.

    Losers. Immigrants will show’em!!

    Yeah. · 0 minutes ago

    I know this was sarcastic, but darn if you didn’t take the words out of my mouth. Well, except for the immigrants are magic thing. Everybody knows that only blacks have magical powers.

  6. Xennady
    Not JMR

    I know this was sarcastic, but darn if you didn’t take the words out of my mouth. Well, except for the immigrants are magic thing. Everybody knows that only blacks have magical powers. ·

    Heh.

  7. ctlaw
    Not JMR: I don’t think it’s terribly silly, actually. Any scenario in which Detroit is resurrected involves an infusion of new, productive residents. Why can’t those residents be immigrants?

     

    For much of this country’s history, it was the destination for high productivity immigrants. No longer.

    Even if we make the country more attractive, we can’t make the rest of the world less attractive.

    Places like Brazil, China, India, and Russia have learned just enough to keep things attractive for the right end of their entrepreneurial bell curve.

    Although various European countries like to beat up on their entrepreneurial classes from time-to-time, other European countries are typically available to take advantage of the situation.

    That pretty much leaves Detroit with one source of high productivity immigrants from a country that does not appreciate them: White South Africans. Let the fun begin.

  8. Marion Evans

    It would be easy to fix Detroit. No income tax for 10 years for any startup that locates there. And big tax breaks for 10 years for anyone who lives there and invests $500,000+ locally.

  9. Percival

    Bob Filner just called:  he’ll quit San Diego for a barony in Detroit.

    Something about droit du seigneur.

  10. ctlaw
    Marion Evans: It would be easy to fix Detroit. No income tax for 10 years for any startup that locates there. And big tax breaks for 10 years for anyone who lives there and invests $500,000+ locally. · 1 hour ago

    Edited 1 hour ago

    BS. What if the country’s GDP could be better advanced by giving tax breaks elsewhere (including the possibility of just lowering overall rates)? The people of Detroit chose to make it a hell-hole and will continue to do so. Because they will continue to do so, the likely marginal return on every dollar spent will be less than if spent elsewhere. It is a waste of my money to give them anything whether called a welfare payment or called a tax break.

    If Detroit were destroyed by a comet impact, killing all the people and leaving a nice flat piece of ground, would any subsidies be needed to rebuild?

  11. Marion Evans

    ctlaw, I was coming at it from the perspective that it is always a good idea to cut taxes anywhere. But the other party does not let us do it. In this case though, they ran out of money and may have no choice. So yes, sure, tax breaks everywhere if we can get them.

  12. Marion Evans

    ctlaw, btw, it isn’t the current people of Detroit you would be giving money to. It is a new batch of newcomers who are entrepreneurs. In addition, I do not equate a tax break to a subsidy. A tax break is taking less of something that is yours. A subsidy is giving you something that was never yours.

  13. FloppyDisk90

    Yea, this is a silly idea but thanks, Mark, for using it as propoganda to stir up the nativists.

  14. ctlaw
    Marion Evans: ctlaw, btw, it isn’t the current people of Detroit you would be giving money to. It is a new batch of newcomers who are entrepreneurs. In addition, I do not equate a tax break to a subsidy. A tax break is taking less of something that is yours. A subsidy is giving you something that was never yours. · 7 minutes ago

    The whole point is that you would largely be paying the immigrants to effectively reimburse what the current populace will extort from them. Thus you are effectively paying the current populace. That immigrant would have moved to Texas and created as much wealth for far lower a subsidy (if any).

  15. Douglas

    The elephant in the room is that nothing can really save Detroit. Detroit is Detroit because of the people that live there and the rulers they elect to run the place. Mark is right in that an influx of low-skilled immigrants would almost certainly vote for the same types of politician that ran the city into the ground in the first place. Detroit is a hell of their own making.

  16. Mark Krikorian
    C
    FloppyDisk90: Yea, this is a silly idea but thanks, Mark, for using it as propoganda to stir up the nativists. · 1 hour ago

    You’re welcome!

    Sure it’s a silly idea, but it’s being promoted by people who actually take it seriously, and those people aren’t tin-foil-hat cranks but educated people in important positions. (Though they usually seem to be libertarians, so decide for yourself whether that makes them cranks.) This just serves to distract attention from the real problems, and plausible solutions, to the problems both of Detroit and our immigration policy.

  17. FloppyDisk90

    This just serves to distract attention from the real problems, and plausible solutions, to the problems both of Detroit and our immigration policy.

    …which probably involves a healthy dose of limited government and free enterprise.  But, sure, go ahead and make a whipping boy of all libertarians if it spins your sneakers.

  18. Mark Krikorian
    C
    FloppyDisk90

    This just serves to distract attention from the real problems, and plausible solutions, to the problems both of Detroit and our immigration policy.

    …which probably involves a healthy dose of limited government and free enterprise.  But, sure, go ahead and make a whipping boy of all libertarians if it spins your sneakers. · 52 minutes ago

    Importing immigrants into a system of serfdom isn’t “limited government”. The problem with too many libertarians is that they agree to all kinds of expanded and intrusive government action, so long as it increases the number of people allowed in from abroad. See, for instance, here:

    Just look at S. 744, the bill passed by the Senate and largely embraced by Ryan. Not only does S. 744 set strict immigration quotas for each sector of the economy for the next couple of years, it sets wages for entire job categories. “Agricultural equipment operators” are to be paid exactly $11.30 under S. 744, while crop harvesters are set to make $9.17. There simply is no free-market justification for any of these wage controls.

  19. FloppyDisk90
    Mark Krikorian

    FloppyDisk90

    ….

    Importing immigrants into a system of serfdom isn’t “limited government”. The problem with too many libertarians is that they agree to all kinds of expanded and intrusive government action, so long as it increases the number of people allowed in from abroad. See, for instance, here:

    Just look at S. 744, the bill passed by the Senate and largely embraced by Ryan. Not only does S. 744 set strict immigration quotas for each sector of the economy for the next couple of years, it sets wages for entire job categories. “Agricultural equipment operators” are to be paid exactly $11.30 under S. 744, while crop harvesters are set to make $9.17. There simply is no free-market justification for any of these wage controls.

    8 minutes ago

    Which is why I called this particular idea (importing immigrants to Detroit) “silly.”  It’s not even all that libertarian.  Obama has supported middle class tax breaks.  Does that make him a supply-sider?