A Model for Freedom… in Detroit?

If you could distill the essence of the morning hangover and turn it into a city, that city would be Detroit. Everything seems “ok” during the party as both booze and money are consumed in excess. But as with all such excesses we are eventually (and often unceremoniously) awoken to the consequences of the cold hard reality we have wrought. Not quite the “morning in America” Ronald Reagan envisioned, but it is indeed now “morning” in Detroit.

Detroit is not alone in its profligate tax and spend policies that have slowly destroyed cities like a silent cancer. Stockton, California. Jefferson County, Alabama. Pontiac, Michigan. And the list goes on. Municipal debt has nearly doubled since 2000 from $1.5 trillion to $2.8 trillion as of 2011. Since municipalities can’t print their own money like Uncle Sam can there is a municipal debt bubble getting ready to burst that will make the housing bubble look like a hiccup. But there is a bright side to all of this, and Detroit is it. How so? For sure Detroit is in the condition it is in (abandoned homes, cars, factories, etc.) because of the actions of its overlords (city council). However, the response of its citizens to those actions has yielded the city we see today. Those citizens left. Those businesses left. And the fact that they were free to do so reveals the glimmer of hope for us all. We can at least (still) leave any relationship that is injurious. If the city had erected a wall and made it illegal to leave the city, illegal to close down a business, illegal to quit a job, it would no longer be a city but a prison (or any Ayn Rand novel, take your pick).

Where did those citizens go? To other cities. Detroit, just like any other city, county or state must compete for citizens on the open market. Create an environment that is conducive to freedom (low taxes, low regulations, civil liberties) and you will attract citizens. Create an environment opposed to those principals and the opposite occurs. Government decentralization is the reason we still enjoy some measure of freedom today. When government competes with government they all (mostly) behave. It is no accident that those states with the highest tax rates have been steadily losing citizens and those with the lowest gaining citizens.

However, there is a movement afoot from both the left and the right to set us on a path of complete nationalization. Each side falls sway to the delusion that they’ll be the ones “in control” and thus there is nothing to worry about. Under this “one nation” path the Federal government’s judgment will reign supreme in all areas, not just the annoying few outlined by the Constitution. But this reality is not new; we started down this path long ago. For those things controlled by the Feds there is no escape in moving. Don’t like paying into a bankrupt Social Security system? or Obamacare? Or funding endless wars (on terror and drugs)? Too bad, there is nowhere to go to opt out. Removing the Federal government would not necessarily mean an end to these programs however – it would simply mean that those programs could only exist in those areas where 100% of the citizens desired them. Anyone opposed would leave for cities with different policies.

But even such a geographically decentralized system of governance is but a mere compromise on the road toward true freedom. The dream is that someday humanity will evolve beyond our territorially driven reptilian brains to the point where geographical boundaries are irrelevant in defining political allegiances. Just as religious allegiances are blind to geographical boundaries so too should political allegiances be likewise blind to such boundaries. Although we can move to escape tyranny we shouldn’t have to.