Detroit

Why Rick Snyder's Plan to Conscript Immigrants to Fix Detroit Won't Work

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Michigan Governor Rick Snyder seems to have hit a motherlode of bad ideas to save Detroit last week. First, he announced a bailout plan that'll only feed more profligacy by the city's political classes.

Now, he has decided that he wants to repopulate the city with high-tech immigrants. To that end, he's planning on

Asian Immigrants

asking President Barack Obama to give him a special dispensation of 50,000 EB-2 visas. Although details are skimpy, these immigrants will be required to live and work in Detroit for some time in the hopes that their superior knowledge and entrepreneurial skills will reverse half-a-century of population decline, create jobs and perk up Motown's sad economy.

"Isn't that how we made our country great, through immigrants?" said Mr. Snyder.

Err, yes and no.

Reason and I are all for more immigration now, tomorrow and forever.

I am also for federalzing America's immigration system so that local municipalities have more flexibility in recruiting immigrants that best serve their labor needs, just like Canada does.

But the notion that cities like Detroit can conscript immigrants and watch a comeback happen is fanciful at best, as I wrote in this Bloomberg column last year. Immigrants are ordinary mortals, not miracle workers.

There is no doubt that newcomers are very good at finding and seizing openings in an economy that the native-born residents don't see or don't want. But these opportunities have to exist.

Folks like Snyder often point to examples of Korean storeowners reviving blighted New York neighborhoods in the 1970s. But as I noted:

New York in the 1970s wasn't quite as desolate a place as Detroit is today. Its population losses were not as severe. The financial industry had not retrenched as badly as Detroit's auto industry has. And its government wasn't as badly broken. New York got a federal loan to avoid bankruptcy, to be sure—but not until President Gerald Ford was convinced it was serious about dealing with its structural fiscal imbalances, not to mention crime and crumbling schools. That is when the city became a magnet for immigrants who speeded up its turnaround.

Crucial to whether immigrants can boost a city's prospects or not is why the city went downhill in the first place. Immigrants easily reversed New York's population decline because New Yorkers weren't leaving the city because opportunities had dried up. They were leaving for greener pastures elsewhere. That is not the case in Detroit and other Rust Belt cities, for that matter. As I noted:

[I]mmigrants aren't pioneers whose survival depends on conquering an inhospitable frontier. Yes, they can put up with far greater hardship than the native-born, but they aren't clueless ingenues who are easily seduced. They have word- of-mouth networks that alert them to places that offer them the best economic and social fit, making it difficult to plunk them anywhere and expect results.

So what should Detroit, Baltimore, and other struggling cities do to become more attractive to immigrants? Offer them a decent quality of life at an affordable price. This means improving schools, tackling crime, creating an entrepreneur-friendly climate and keeping taxes reasonable.

You can't pour high-octane fuel into a broken engine and expect it to run, folks. Gotta fix the engine first.

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  1. Why can’t we turn Detroit into a gulag for people who want to inflict it’s policies on the rest of us?

    1. Now that’s an idea. Anyone who serves a term in an elected or appointed political office at the state or federal level will be relocated to Detroit after their term is over.

      After all, these are the smartest, most productive people in the country, right? Working together, they’ll be able to turn Motown around in no time.

  2. Getting rid of a brain-dead federal restriction on immigration is a GOOD idea. It would result in at least a slight marginal improvement in the local economy, and a massive improvement in the lives of many of the immigrants.

    Not a silver bullet to fix Detroit’s problems, but how is this in any way a bad thing?

    1. Because they’re high skilled immigrants who Shikha Dalmia inexplicably hates. This is the woman who literally wrote an article saying that we don’t need high skilled immigrants, we need low skilled ones.

      I like that she says these immigrants won’t be ‘miracle workers’ when she’s assured me in the past that low skilled immigrants will make us hundreds of billions of dollars richer, save us time, and make our economy more vibrant all without any drawbacks.

      I’m in favor of relatively open immigration, but her articles on this subject are schizophrenic and seem to have a bizarre bias in favor of poor immigrants over rich ones. If Rick Snyder had argued that they should allow one million poor Mexicans to move to Detroit, Dalmia would have applauded his foresightedness, intelligence, and general superiority to the rest of humanity.

      1. I don’t see the contradiction. Low (and high) skilled immigrants could generate billions in wealth, just not by working in a place like Detroit or Baltimore.

        Ditto for the low/high skilled distinction. She mentions Korean store owners helping to turn NY around. I assume they’re closer to the low-skilled immigrants she’s always going on about.

        1. Low skilled immigrants could generate billions in wealth

          Low skilled non-immigrants could generate billions in wealth. How long after becoming a citizen does the wealth generation capacity wear off? Maybe we could figure out a way to ship people off while their wealth creation capacity is restored so we can keep a fresh supply?

          1. Labor is one input that creates the total output of the economic system.

            That means that increases in the labor supply have to create increases in total system production (and therefore wealth) if artificial constraints on production don’t exist elsewhere.

            1. That means that increases in the labor supply have to create increases in total system production

              Labor supply doesn’t transform into magic labor supply because it came from India and not Chicago.

    2. Although details are skimpy, these immigrants will be required to live and work in Detroit for some time

      If accurate, that doesn’t sound very good. “You can come here, but you have to live in one of our shittiest, most oppressive cities.”

  3. Send him to Detroit!

  4. So what should Detroit, Baltimore, and other struggling cities do to become more attractive to immigrants?

    They could probably start with not mugging and shooting them.

    1. And rob the doctors and police officers of work?

      I suppose you think they should quit throwing rocks through windows, too.

      1. I suppose you think they should quit throwing rocks through windows, too.

        And get rid of all that stimulus?

  5. That is when the city became a magnet for immigrants

    “Magnets, how the fuck do they work”
    -Michigan Governor Rick Snyder

  6. If these visas can only be used inside the city limits of Detroit, wouldn’t that incent high tech businesses to open satellite offices there so that they could employ the visa holders?

    I think the idea isn’t that immigrants themselves are miracle workers, but that the employers who beat the doors down at the Capitol for more H1-B visas every year would be.

    The problem with the policy isn’t that it wouldn’t attract immigrants. It probably would. The problem is that it would do so by incenting Microsoft and Google to transfer facilities there. And I see no reason for the federal government to beggar one state to help another.

    1. And I see no reason for the federal government to beggar one state to help another.

      Isn’t that how a free market works?

    2. There’s a surprising amount of high-tech in the Detroit suburbs. Troy, just to pick one, has a number of high-tech firms.
      So, granting a host of assumptions, this either turns into suburban companies relocating back into Detroit proper or Google-style bussing of high-tech immigrants from cheap housing in Detroit proper out to their jobs. Guess which is more cost effective; guess which will do Detroit more good.

    3. The problem with the policy isn’t that it wouldn’t attract immigrants. It probably would. The problem is that it would do so by incenting Microsoft and Google to transfer facilities there. And I see no reason for the federal government to beggar one state to help another.

      It’s not some zero-sum game being proposed here. What is being proposed appears to be that more immigrants would come to the U.S. than under the status quo limits, which is a good things for the extra individuals getting to move to the U.S.

      It’s not like there’s a fixed number of jobs, and every individual added to Detroit’s workforce means fewer jobs everywhere else.

      That it would be limited to Detroit means it wouldn’t be as good as if a lot more immigrants were allowed to move anywhere they wanted to in the U.S., thus meeting the demand for labor more precisely, but it is still better than the status quo and it’s not harming anyone.

      1. Or maybe we could do something about rampant native unemployment, like, I dunno, stop letting companies hire foreign slaves!

        1. So you basically want to make other businesses your slave?

      2. Prole, I admit that’s a good point.

        If the total number of such visas increases, concentrating the marginal increase by region does not in and of itself take anything away from other regions. (Except indirectly, but that would be true of any policy change that singled out one region for special treatment.)

  7. Why is everyone so obsessed with saving Detroit? Let the fuckin’ thing die, already.

    1. Because if we let an idiotic experiment in high taxes and government intervention fail we’d prove the Democrats wrong.

      As a result, we have to continuously throw good money after bad.

      1. Except that the governor proposing this is a Republican, who is trying to make Michigan a more desirable place to do business, using proposals that would actually help, which seems like a laudable thing to me.

        1. You can have Michigan be a desirable place to do business without Detroit. Detroit isn’t the be-all, end-all of Michigan. Why not let economic activity move fluidly to where it works best? Someone even said that the Detroit suburbs like Troy are doing OK.

          I’m just baffled why Detroit is so all-important?

        2. why is this proposal superior to giving IT companies some sort of incentive to move to Detroit where they could hire either foreign or domestic tech professionals? It’s not like no American has technology skills.

          1. What kind of American wants to live in Detroit?

            1. Mad Max cosplayers?

  8. I think the 13th Amendment applies as much to indentured servitude as it does to slavery.

  9. Want another reason that it won’t work? Because there’s absolutely no way to enforce an immigration visa that requires the holder to live in a specific area.

    That is, unless they’re going to set up immigration checkpoints around the city limits, checking passports and visas to make sure the special Detroit immigrants don’t move out of the city.

    1. That’s what walls and fences are for.

    2. Non-immigrant work visas require visa holders to work for a specific employer in a specific location. So, the solution is to lift limits on H-1B visas for Detroit employers. You may say that the governor talks about immigrant visas, but the H-1B visas in Detroit can be improved by providing a more straightforward path to a green card. In other words the existing immigration system in the US is quite capable of imposing settlement restrictions on future immigrants. A few tweaks here and there and it’s almost the pale of settlement. (I’m exaggerating but only a bit.)

  10. Wait, what’s a “high-tech immigrant”? Someone like this?

  11. Detroit needz moar desperate workerz

  12. I]mmigrants aren’t pioneers whose survival depends on conquering an inhospitable frontier. Yes, they can put up with far greater hardship than the native-born

    Where do you get this ignorant shit? It’s as if the only Americans you have ever come into contact with are sixth year undergrads who are still thinking about changing their major and those who have had their work ethic destroyed by the welfare system. .

  13. I don’t think that word [“conscript”] means what you think it means.

  14. Where do you get this ignorant shit?

    The same place “immigrants are hard workerz” comes from. You pull it out of your ass because you saw someone with dark skin and a straw hat harvest a cucumber.

    1. Thanks for your ignorant “input”, Tulpa Jr.

      1. Obviously touched a nerve with a moron that uses the phrase.

  15. It won’t work unless the state and Detroit drastically reduce their regulatory regimes – remember that “closing 30 (or was it 300?) businesses a day” business? Anyone who goes there to start a business will get hit by the wall of regulations and likely say “fuck this”.

    1. And they could come to Illinois and…. oh, nevermind.

  16. Government is incapable of fixing problems caused by government. They aren’t exactly offering something immigrants want, like “more freedom”, here.

    I figure the only takers will be Cubans, North Koreans, and Taliban.

  17. Can we promise them all concealed carry permits on a shall-issue basis?

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