Declare Detroit A Free City

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We who advocate the free market as the sure path to peace and prosperity often hear that the U.S. economy has to get much, much worse before any real reforms will be allowed. Why must we continue to wait before taking serious action to throttle back parasitic government? A common response is that we need to wait until things are so bad that no one will be able to deny that government is the problem and not the answer. Then, even died-in-the-wool socialists will give the free market a chance.

Well, what if we hit the brink and people want more government and not less? The result would be fascism in the United States. Given a choice, I for one prefer not to wait for such an eventuality. I would rather have an American test case to illustrate that radically less government leads to peace and prosperity.

Detroit As A Test Case For Economic Freedom

The decades’ growing tragedy of a now-bankrupt Detroit provides a unique opportunity to test our fundamental principles. What if Detroit became a free city in which government provided for public safety, honest courts, protection of property rights and little else? Might not unabated free enterprise take hold, as it always has in America?

Detroit is bankrupt, and its problems appear to be unsolvable. Its population peaked in 1950 at 1.85 million only to fall to 706,000 in 2011, surely representative of people voting with their feet. As British politician Daniel Hannan has written, the Detroit disease may be well advanced in the rest of American cities and perhaps in all of America as well. Before the disease can kill the rest of America, we have the opportunity to give free market reforms a chance in a fairly controlled setting: the bankrupt and dysfunctional city of Detroit.

All that Detroit really needs is economic freedom and secure property rights. Give Detroit its freedom from all manner of government, including the Federal government. Declare Detroit a free city. (You can rest assured, Detroit, that America will come to your rescue if those bloodthirsty Canadians attack!) In other words, no one would pay any Federal taxes whatsoever or be subject to any Federal regulations whatsoever. Wouldn’t it be nice not to pay Federal taxes, not even Social Security and Medicare taxes? Do the same with Michigan taxes. No taxes, but also no Federal or State aid either.

A free Detroit would have absolutely no labor and workplace regulations, including minimum wages, mandatory insurance, equal opportunity rules, occupational safety rules, etc. People would be allowed to work together cooperatively for whatever terms their marginal productivity of labor will secure.

End all red tape that thwarts business start-ups and hobbles their expansion, such as licensing, public health regulations and inspections, zoning restrictions, etc. Do not be concerned that people may be employed in low-wage, dangerous jobs against their will. The reality is that business owners must recruit workers and not dragoon them and chain them to their workplaces. Nor are business owners interested in harming either their workers or their customers. If they do, normal civil and commercial law will suffice.

Privatize all government services, such as garbage pickup, water and sewage services; and allow for unbridled competition in these and other areas, even fire protection. Sell off city property (who needs offices that are empty of government bureaucrats anyway?) and deed public housing to its current occupants, making them responsible for their own abodes. You may be surprised how responsible people can be with their own property. End public education and all its costs. Allow the people to get the kind of education that they desire, whatever that may be. Since half the current population of Detroit is functionally illiterate, what’s the risk?

Do you want a safe society? Then let people arm themselves without any licensing requirements. Since it takes Detroit police about an hour to answer a typical 911 call, this is simply a practical solution to the basic human right of self-defense. Above all, end welfare. The destructive cycle of dependency is driving American cities to the financial and cultural wall.

Do not expect overnight success, but who knows? A free market always surprises us with new innovations. At first, one can expect lots of mom and pop start-ups, sidewalk vendors, and unlicensed and untaxed services, such as simple property repair, home schools, private taxis, etc. But if Nike and other American businesses are enticed by lower costs and fewer regulatory burdens to outsource their manufacturing operations overseas, why would they not take a good look at a free Detroit? Expect to be amazed.

Allow Detroit to become a safe, cooperative city that represents the best that America can be. Economic freedom will ensure the rebirth of Detroit. This city can become the beacon of true prosperity to the rest of America and to the world.

Patrick Barron

Personal Liberty

Patrick Barron

is a private consultant in the banking industry. He teaches in the Graduate School of Banking at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and teaches Austrian economics at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City, where he lives with his wife of 40 years. Read his blog. Send him mail. See Patrick Barron's article archives. You can subscribe to future articles by Patrick Barron via this RSS feed.

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  • vicki

    It would be a really good test case if Detroit were to become a free city. Though I’m not sure how well the protection will work with the people denied the possession of firearms.
    http://www.policymic.com/articles/22835/gun-control-facts-detroit-crime-rate-is-the-result-of-gun-control

  • Whackajig

    If welfare funds are eliminated, where would the money come from?

  • sketz

    It would come from bartering…you do this for me and I’ll do this..I can weld and lay block..you can work on cars and carpenter work…that’s the why things used to be if one didn’t have a lot of money..before I think 1946 no one payed income tax or federal…

    • rbrooks

      what will you use to barter for your electricity and internet. your water and sewer. or were you going to give all of that up.

    • rbrooks

      what will you use to barter for your electricity and internet. your water and sewer. or were you going to give all of that up.

      • vicki

        That is why money was invented. To vastly improve the efficiency of barter.

        • rbrooks

          so what will you do that brings in money.

          what will you do with all of those who will not have money?

          • vicki

            rbrooks writes:

            so what will you do that brings in money.

            Create wealth thru labor.

            what will you do with all of those who will not have money?

            Teach them to fish that they may be fed for a lifetime.

          • rbrooks

            so you do not have any viable answers.

            seems to be the norm on this site.

  • Rb

    First….Utopia does not exist. It never will. Second most third world workers have no wage or safety standards in their workplace. I haven’t seen where the corporations that employ them have been looking out for their well being. It wouldn’t be any different here.
    That said…..has anyone looked at what has happened outside of Detroit proper? It’s one of the fastest growing places in the nation for high income tech and engineering jobs. Everywhere out side the people’s republic of Detroit and the corruption that has ruled there for decades is thriving. But you can’t fix a complete breakdown of civilization. That is what has happened to Detroit because the people chose it. 79% of all children born in Detroit are born to single moms. Wild dog packs roam the streets in some neighborhoods. Street lights don’t work and trash cannot even be collected. Police take an hour to respond to 911 calls. But they want more government not less.
    In the riots of 1968 much of the city was burned and looted. The majority of business that made the city great never re-built. They left. None came back. Even Motown bailed. The great shell that was once the home to an entertainment empire is still empty. Those who still live in Detroit have fought hard to achieve their current standard of living and seem to be fighting harder to keep it. As a resident of this great state I say say let them. We will just move on without them.

    • Ringgo1

      Well put and practical.

    • Ringgo1

      Well put and practical.

  • Warrior

    Never going to happen. Here’s the beauty of “one size fits all” oblamacare. All these broke city/state union health benefit packages will somehow mysteriously be financed under the err, “affordable care act”. Oh yes, it is coming. The “progressives” know exactly what’s in this bill. Their “salvation”.

  • Al Chemist

    ” Give Detroit its freedom from all manner of government,
    including the Federal government… Wouldn’t it be nice not to pay Federal taxes, not even Social Security and Medicare taxes? Do the same with Michigan taxes. No taxes, but also no Federal or State aid either.”

    What percentage of people in Detroit pay taxes of ANY kind? I would bet that it is very, very low.

    • rbrooks

      who is going to pay for the services you demand. or were you planning on giving up that road system. and all of the rest of the infrastructure you use.

      • Al Chemist

        I don’t use the road system in Detroit, and I don’t plan to visit it anytime soon, and so I don’t give a (bleep) what happens to the roads and services there. The people living there should solve the problem. The point is that there are not enough people in DETROIT paying taxes to keep that bloated liberal/commie/democrat government going. A lot (evidently too many) are taking from the tax pool…not paying taxes.

        • rbrooks

          do you live in a country that uses socialism to pay for the infrastructure.
          or do you build your own.

          • Bill

            It is built from taxing the private sector. Without the private sector producing anything, their is no tax dollars to build any infrastructure.
            Your analogy is flawed, rbrooks

          • rbrooks

            it is built from socialism. using money collected from the population.

            eliminating that revenue is what the op and the author are advocating.
            none of you self proclaimed genius’s can show how you will maintain the current system without that revenue.

          • Bill

            rbrooks,
            Before you can collect any money from the population, they have to be producing; as in working a job provided by the private sector. You like to talk condescending to everyone one else and act as if your communist ways are best, but you are just showing us how ignorant you are

          • rbrooks

            a job is not required. revenue is required. revenue that is not derived from tax dollars.

            you want to stop collecting money.

            which means you will no longer have any of the infrastructure you rely on.

            industry is not going to provide that infrastructure.

            you will no longer have that infrastructure.

            you related to daveh?

            going to build your own road? lol.

            your lack of comprehension of basic economics is astounding.

            try living in some of these country’s that do not have the infrastructure that you currently take for granted.

            it is not as much fun as you envision.

          • momo

            “a job is not required. revenue is required. revenue that is not derived from tax dollars.”

            Then where is the revenue going to come from if not taxes?

            “going to build your own road? lol”
            They’re called toll roads, God you’re ignorant.

          • rbrooks

            all roads will now be toll roads?

            you are not going to be able to find investors for all of the roads we have in this country.

            what will you do with all of those that will not be built or maintained by private company’s?

          • vicki

            Every road that has value to the people it serves will be taken care of by those people. This is how it is done in rural areas of the country now.

          • rbrooks

            what country. not this one. roads are maintained by tax dollars. it is the only reason rural areas have roads at all.

            tax dollars collected from the population and disbursed to that rural area.

            those costs are not being borne only by those who make use of those roads.

            under your plan, that would be the only way those funds would be collected.

          • Al Chemist

            “…maintain the current system…” How many conservative posts have you seen advocating the “current system?”

          • rbrooks

            that is the point al.

            you are advocating the end of the current infrastructure.

            no electricity, water, sewer, roads, etc.

            i doubt you will like that as much as you claim.

          • Al Chemist

            Nope. I am advocating the end of the present liberal/progressive/commie/democrat administration.

          • rbrooks

            you mean the one that is just like the last one? lol.

          • Al Chemist

            What is the difference between where I live and Detroit? There are more people working here and paying taxes than there are people on the dole…so far. Detroit is a perfect example of where this country is headed under this liberal/commie/democrat administration.

          • rbrooks

            there is no difference. we have an increasing population with fewer jobs.

            has lead to a decreasing tax revenue.

            an increase in social services.

            the only real difference is what you stated.

            you have not been affected as drastically as detroit. so far.

            you have not shown any viable alternative.

            the alternatives you have suggested will simply accelerate your reaching the detroit stage.

            either way, you will eventually get there.

            you refuse to address the real cause. you can not change the affect until you do.

          • vicki

            The internet is proof that socialism is not required to make infrastructure.

        • Bill

          Good Analogy, Al
          Detroit is the future of Democratic/socialist policies

      • vicki

        The internet is proof that socialism is not required to make infrastructure. Long before Al “invented it” the internet was alive and well in several forms across this country.

        • rbrooks

          al never claimed to invent it.

          we had very limited coverage and it was rather expensive to use.

          shall we go back to days of the aol hourly charge?

          • vicki

            No need to. Technology has already replaced AOL.

          • rbrooks

            the internet was expanded. allowing more to make use of it. do you know how that was done?

      • vicki
        • rbrooks

          lol. try some thing a bit newer. with out ike, you would not have the road system we enjoy today.

          • vicki

            Of course we would if there was a need we would build it.

          • rbrooks

            lol. there was a need. industry was not building it. it required govt planning and funding.

            with out the funding it was never going to happen.

            with the funding, industry was able to build it.

            it is the one vital part that is lacking from every presentation made.

            you have no funding for your project(s).

            you are unable to show how you would ever get that funding.

  • rbrooks

    you can find your vision in africa, much of the ME, south america, southeast asia, china, mexico, to name a few.
    very few regulations of any type. minimal taxes.

    poor roads, limited electricity (you will love the irregular service), water (do not drink the water) and very few sewer systems. (the smell from the sewage is amazing)

    large portions of those populations spend their day fighting for survival.

    be careful of what you eat. what health regulations. and who would enforce them.

    you will love the working conditions and the extremely high wages. lol. that is why so many corporations set up their sweat shops in those country’s.

    civil and commercial law? not much of that and it does not apply to the working peons. who is going to pay for that enforcement. no taxes to support that.

    instead of bringing third world economics back to america, move to a third world country.

    • Bill

      Typical Marxist drivel

    • jaalessi52

      The difference is in what the people are used to and what they will put up with. The people you speak of think that these conditions are better than what they are used to therefore they do not leave. If these things started to happen to a people who were used to better, they would go someplace where conditions were better (which would not be far away).

      • rbrooks

        very country’s allow open immigration like we do.

    • TIME

      Dear r brooks,
      Spoken like someone who has never been anywhere, and yet you did such a fine job of displaying that, so much so that anyone who even has a beater computer can prove you oh so wrong.
      World Traveler you’re not, ~~~~ yet so over opinionated.
      But I digress with yet one more of the sheep from La La land.

      • rbrooks

        nice bit of nonsense.

        i will wait while you provide the proof.

  • me

    I think free trade didn’t help. I read all the ford trucks are made in mexico. That probly put hundreds of Detroit workers out of jobs. there’s bunches of american cars made overseas. with everything going overseas i can see why Detroit had problems. they lost a huge part of their tax base.

  • rbrooks

    technology is the cause of job losses. low wages are the cause of lost customers.

    combined, they are the reason for the failing economy.

    • Bill

      Show us more of your genius, rbrooks

      • Ringgo1

        rbrooks is such a hoot! I hope it never leaves! What a mental giant…

      • Ringgo1

        rbrooks is such a hoot! I hope it never leaves! What a mental giant…

    • vicki

      Technology is the cause of job creation. Millions of people are now employed making/doing things that were only pipe dreams before technology made them possible.

  • Terry Bateman

    Detroit is good place to build oil refineries with its proximity to Canada
    and the Dakotas.

    • rbrooks

      let us know when you find a company willing to build a refinery.

      • Ringgo1

        What? Are you the gloomy cloud that presides over the world of butthurt? Is a possibly helpful suggestion too much for you? Why are you here, on this forum? Always the putting down. Well. We see you quite clearly.

        • rbrooks

          reality.

          something you and most of the other posters have no concept of.

          • Ringgo1

            “Reality” is that Tony Bateman’s suggestion might be a good idea. Why are you the voice of doom and gloom?

          • rbrooks

            you mean terry bateman?

            we have not built a refinery in this country since 1979.

            where will you and terry get the funding for your refinery.

            the oil company’s have no intention of financing one.

            reality.

            obviously, none of you have any clue how to present a project or what it would require to obtain the financing for that project.

      • Ringgo1

        What? Are you the gloomy cloud that presides over the world of butthurt? Is a possibly helpful suggestion too much for you? Why are you here, on this forum? Always the putting down. Well. We see you quite clearly.

  • Vash the Stampede

    The first city to tax itself out of existence talk about irony.

  • Rocketman

    Unfortunately, liberals would never in a million years allow free enterprise to happen in Detroit. They know it would work and would have to answer to the black community why this wasn’t done sooner and the federal government would stop it as well. It would be a lesson to everyone that small government works while big government doesn’t. And if somehow it got passed them and Detroit became a beacon of light for the rest of the country the liberals would be loudly proclaiming that it was all their doing and every person should give them the credit for it.