60 years ago, the city of Detroit was booming.  It was the city of the future, teeming with life and energy, an economic juggernaut.  The population was nearly 2 million.  Today, the population is around 700,000.  And that is precisely why Detroit is not as tragic as other failed states around the world.

Imagine if the governments of nearby Oakland and Macomb counties, the suburbs to which most of the denizens fled, had erected walls and prohibited Detroiters from coming in.  Detroit would still be the institutional basket case it is today, but we’d have 2 million people plus all of the children and grandchildren they’ve had by now permanently trapped within.  Part of the reason most of us don’t feel quite as sad and hopeless about Detroit as we do about many third world countries is because Detroit, screwed up as it is, sits in a state that’s not so bad on the world scale, and that state sits in a country full of other not-so-bad states.  Detroiters have the option to exit legally, without hassle or threat of violence.  This does not mean exit is free or easy economically or socially, but there are no legal barriers, walls, two year wait periods, complicated paperwork or armed guards to contend with.  I know many individuals who have taken advantage and left for a better life.

Not only does the exit option open the possibility of escape for Detroiters, the free flow of labor improves the city as well, allowing many suburbanites to commute to work in the city.  It also puts a little competitive pressure on Detroit’s government.  Again, imagine if we opted to wall off citizens of the D, condemning them to the conditions in which they were born.  We’d feel bad when we saw the pictures so we’d send money, missionaries, or relief packages (which would likely be taken by city leaders).  Yeah, we’d want to help, but certainly we could not allow the chaos of unrestricted immigration!

Free and open immigration is the most humanitarian policy in the world.  Not to mention, one that could massively increase wealth and productivity.  Free markets aren’t perfectly efficient, hence the constant opportunities for entrepreneurs (the proverbial “twenty dollar bills sitting on the sidewalk”), but only government restrictions can result in trillion dollars bills sitting on the sidewalk.

Some states are a lot worse than others.  The most inhumane thing you can do if you were fortunate enough to be born into a decent one is point guns at people trying to get there.  You’re not obligated to hire, house, or help them, but you shouldn’t prohibit me from doing so.