Thoughts on Saving Detroit

I really need to go to Detroit and see this for myself.  There’s something unreal about the statistics, something that seems more fitting in a South American or Mediterranean setting.  And there’s something in me that responds “This can’t happen in America!”  But it has.

And since I’m more focused on finding solutions than ranting about problems, my brain has been turning the problem of Detroit over and over for years, hoping to stumble on something conservatives can do.  Something that *I* can do.

Real estate is pretty cheap – I’ve confirmed that by looking at real estate sites with Detroit listings.  There are people who could work – unemployment is upsettingly high – so there’s obviously a need for jobs.  But in spite of the city of Detroit attempting to create full employment based on government jobs (or so it seems, given that the government payroll didn’t shrink as the population did) the fact remains: governments don’t create jobs.  But what industry or business is going to invest capital in Detroit now?  Between a failing government unable to provide basic city services, a persistently high crime rate, high taxes and terrible poverty; if a business is concerned about the bottom line, why would management think it wise to take a gamble on Detroit?  It’s really a Catch-22.  Detroit can’t attract business to help the city recover, and the city can’t recover without attracting business.  And there’s also the peril of expecting an industry to come in and “save” the city.  When an area’s fortunes rise and fall with a single local industry, bad things can happen.  We’ve seen it before.  We’re seeing it now.

In the meantime, there are the people caught in the middle.  They survive on government assistance, live in government housing, send their children to government schools.

“Let it burn” I hear from friends on the rightward end of the spectrum.  “They voted for it.”  But again, I can’t help thinking that’s wrong.  There are real people hurting.  Writing them off with a sour shrug doesn’t say anything about them; it says everything about us.

We talk about private-sector solutions on our blogs, on our shows, and among our friends.  When we get together over drinks and talk policy, we solve all the country’s problems with phrases like voluntary society and smaller, limited government.  And then we go home, catch the news, and shake our heads that things never change.  We should know by now that merely spouting our ideology isn’t going to change one damned thing.

And there are people, especially right down the road in Dearborn, who will see the opportunity Detroit offers and be glad to appear as saviors, at the cost of maybe just a little Sharia.  And then a little more…

But what if…

If you’re a “let it burn” type, I want you to put that aside for the next few minutes as you think about this proposal.  Pretend you’re open to helping Detroit.

What if…

What if conservatives and libertarians tried to put into practice all those great ideas?  What if we got behind a huge, insane experiment to help Detroit with private-sector solutions?  What if we sought private grants, donated money, bought property, and started to help people?  And what if we did this without any government assistance at all?

What if conservatives helped impoverished residents of Detroit to plant urban farms, and start Farmer’s Markets and restaurants and small stores.  Imagine if our tradespeople would give some of their time to go to Detroit and teach the residents some basic skills – carpentry, auto repair, plumbing, appliance and computer maintenance, landscaping, home repair.  Imagine establishing something like a gated suburban community, right in the center of the city.  And imagine helping the residents of that crime-ridden area to navigate the Michigan gun laws, and helping them acquire weapons for defending their lives and property.  Imagine establishing citizen patrols to fight crime, rather than waiting on the police, who may or may not ever show up.

And imagine further, if we started schools, real private schools that were totally privately supported, offering scholarships to as many students as we could take.  Imagine if these children had futures beyond living in a war-zone.  Imagine Detroit’s children able to escape from the clutches of government bureaucrats and union leaders.  Imagine if those kids could not only have real career opportunities, but preparation for college if they desired it.

And what if the Detroit government attempted to throw up roadblocks, such as subjecting us to the circle of permitting hell for “code violations” or “food safety violations.”  Imagine capturing that on camera, and sharing it with the community.  Imagine the conversations among the people of Detroit, seeing a group of private people helping and doing good, versus a government that was effectively trying to stop the help, either to extort fees from them or to maintain control of their lives.  Imagine how that would play, and imagine the party and political labels those aggressive, authoritarian, obstructionist bureaucrats would be wearing.  Imagine how that might impact voting in that city.  What could call into question Democrat policies and politicians better than this: the hard and obviously personal truth that they are doing imminent damage to good people doing good work?

Imagine this too: rubbing Michael Moore’s nasty face in it.

I don’t know how to begin going about making this happen, but I desperately want to try.  I spent the morning hashing out a lot of it with NJlibertarian, and we both think the more people weigh in on the ideas, the more likely we’ll come up with a way to make this work; how to foster an effective, mutually supporting, liberated-from-government-assistance community right in the middle of Detroit.

So here are some of the basic questions that need to be answered:

  • How much funding would it take to start, and how much to sustain an effort like this?
  • How long would a project like this reasonably need funding?
  • Where can/should the funding come from?
  • What private grant programs are available to help with an endeavor such as this?
  • Are there enough committed private-sector advocates willing to try this crazy scheme?
  • Which ideas should be implemented first?
  • Which ideas need to be added?
  • What businesses should be encouraged first to set up in the area?
  • What trades are best to start teaching, that enable people to get work quickly?

I’m sure there are many more questions that I’m not even able to think of at the moment, but it’s a start.  We need you to add to the list.  Please add your comments, questions, suggestions and input below, and share this with others to get them thinking about it as well.  We’ve talked so long about the problems that liberal progressive policies have caused.  Shouldn’t we be talking about how to solve them beyond hoping for miracles at the ballot box?  Shouldn’t we be serious about offering solutions?  I can’t think of much more radical than establishing proof that our beliefs work by putting them into practice.

Check out our conversation on these ideas on Prue’s View on the News this past weekend – the chat comments alone were a great discussion!