Do Failing Cities Need an Immigrant Infusion?

Can poor foreigners save Detroit? It’s a provocative question that Matt Yglesias poses, and there’s a certain bent appeal to his logic:

There are clearly insurmountable logistical, legal, practical, constitutional, and political obstacles to doing this but I can’t help but think that with 165 million people around the world telling Gallup they’d like to permanently relocate to the United States that it would be possible to find 1.3 million people who’d be interested in permanently relocating to Detroit and bringing the city back up to its peak population level. Economic and governance opportunities in Detroit are poor by American standards (or even by Italian standards) but they’re great compared to what you’ll find in Haiti, Gaza, Myanmar, Chad, or Nicaragua.

Or Mexico! Of course, millions want to live in America forever but nobody wants to permanently relocate to Detroit. A more serious problem is that dreaming of the restoration of ‘peak Detroit’ is sort of like dreaming for the restoration of Greater Bulgaria — perhaps even stranger, because there’s no ethnonationalist rise to get out of a bigger Detroit. There’s just a bigger Detroit. Presumably in Matt’s mind the numbers would connect up with a restoration of Detroit’s economic productivity and quality of life. But why? Maybe they’d head toward the level of Haiti’s or Gaza’s instead.

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.