P.J. O’Rourke writes today of a fantastical pipe dream (legalized pot?): Turn Detroit into a new Hong Kong. That is, turn the bankrupt wreck that used to be a thriving American city, albeit decades ago, into one of the most successful and dynamic cities on earth.

Don’t know what he’s smoking or injecting, but it must be some of the good stuff. There is one reason this could never happen, and that reason is summarized in a single word: culture.

The key factor that mitigates against Detroit ever becoming a thriving capitalist paradise such as Hong Kong is the culture of the resident population. Sure, if Michigan’s tax policies were drastically improved, and sure, if the federal government could ever be persuaded to allow an entire metropolitan area to be exempt from federal corporate taxes, there would be improvement in Detroit.

But the salient difference that made Hong Kong what it is today was Hong Kong’s inpouring of refugees who were, for the most part, Han Chinese. Think of hundreds of thousands of “Tiger Moms” and their families, all eager to work, eager to save, eager to invest. Full card-carrying members of the capitalism-is-good society. People who will work as hard as they must to not just put food on the table, but prosper and take the long view that their children will be middle class, their grandchildren wealthy.

Now contrast that with the thieving, entitlement culture that Detroit is and has been for many, many years. Culture matters a great deal. Culture likely trumps all other factors in whether a given place can succeed or fail. Right now, Detroit is the poster child for “Big Fail.” The culture of Detroit is far too much an entitlement mindset, and there is no way in this universe that the Obama administration (or, likely, any that follow) will have the courage to allow dynamic capitalism to revive Detroit. Or, for that matter, any other failing American city or state.

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