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Detroit isn’t a Libertarian City, But it Should Be

A well-spoken and economically inept media pundit has claimed that Detroit is “fast becoming the most libertarian city in the United States.” His proof? There are no government services to speak of. Forty percent of Detroit’s streetlights don’t work, roads are a mess, and parks are closing. The government can’t keep up with the city so it’s giving up, hence, supposedly its libertarian label.

But this could be the most doublespeak-ish claim of all time, right up there with Big Brother’s “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength,” contradictions. Libertarianism means that people have the right to do whatever they want as long as it doesn’t interfere with that right of others. The problem is that there are a lot of people in Detroit interfering with the rights of others there and they’re called government officials.

Libertarianism doesn’t mean corrupt government officials failing to do their job, it means limited or no government officials. Libertarianism doesn’t mean, as the above pundit seems to think, the lack of roads, parks, and street lights. Libertarianism means the respect of liberty. And it just so happens, when liberty is respected, roads, parks, and street lights take care of themselves along with the rest of the thriving economy. Wherever it has been tried (West Germany versus East, South Korea versus North, Hong Kong versus mainland China), freedom always performs better than top-down state control.

There are a lot of logical and economic fallacies in the above diatribe but the one that stands out the most is the who will build the roads fallacy: government has been doing certain services since we can remember, so they’re the only ones capable of doing those services. But private enterprises have built roads, parks, and street lights throughout history. It doesn’t take a collection of people to steal money from one group of people or take out loans they can’t pay with the money they currently steal from people to produce vital services. In fact, as we see in Detroit, that philosophy inevitably ends up devastating those services.

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The pundit’s solution, of course, is to bail out the city—in essence, steal money from people who had nothing to do with the failure of the city in order to prop it up a little longer like Weekend At Bernie‘s. This is so backwards and unsustainable that it frightens me. Punishing the innocent for the sins of a few is unacceptable and that would no doubt lead to larger municipalities and even states (ahem *California*) following suit.

No, the solution must be the opposite of the problem. The solution must be radical. The solution is to actually turn Detroit into a libertarian city.

Hong Kong took a rock with limited resources and a small population with a similar composition as mainland China and became the fifth largest economy in the world. How? Limited government and freedom. North Korea and South Korea split after the war and one took off economically and the other went backwards technologically. East and West Germany is another example of how freedom works. The people of Honduras are waking up to this fact and considering creating real libertarian cities.

Sandy Springs, GA is an experimental jurisdiction that outsources everything and has no long-term liabilities. This is the opposite of Detroit. This is a libertarian city:

As I wrote in Gods of Ruin, it would take a disaster for the state and federal government to allow a charter city within its borders and to forgo taxation, but what is Detroit if not a disaster? Some of the pictures from it look more like Nagasaki after the atom bomb dropped instead of a North American city. It’s time to do something about Detroit. It’s time for America to have its first charter city. Who knows, when government gets out of the way in Detroit, they might even get street lights that work.

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