Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Citizenship for Sale

Citizenship and nationality are two distinct entities. While citizenship can be changed relatively easily, nationality is a birthright. One is Chinese, or Pakistani, or Jewish, but all three could themselves be French citizens. Citizenship is different in that it merely represents under which state’s jurisdiction an individual lies. To that regard, citizenship is a possession. One may reject his citizenship in favour of the citizenship of another nation. Is it then not so, in that case, that citizenship should be available for exchange? Indeed, if an individual wishes to sell his citizenship, why must he be prevented from doing so? In fact, there can be some very distinct advantages to allowing such exchanges to occur.

A transaction between parties benefits all parties, or else the transaction would not occur. When Bob buys a soda from the general store, the transaction benefits both Bob, who derives utility from the soda, and the general store owner, who gains income from Bob’s purchase. There is no potential transaction that is not associated with negative externalities that the government should coercively halt. To that end, the government has no right to infringe on the individual’s right to buy or sell his citizenship unless the transaction leads to the rights of another individual being infringed. And indeed, the transaction costs of buying and selling citizenship can be effectively screened, using the same processes that screen immigrants.

There are many reasons why an individual would wish to sell his citizenship. He might be mired in poverty, with no opportunity for success in his country of citizenship. He would be better off selling his citizenship for a lump sum and moving to another country, where with his newfound wealth he can create for himself a better life. Or he could be too greatly in opposition to a state’s government to be able to live in that state in peace. In both cases both the state and the individual benefit from the individual selling his citizenship and moving elsewhere. In the first situation, the state benefits by losing a despondent member of society and in the second situation, the state benefits by losing an antagonistic member of society. Coercing such individuals to leave would greatly infringe on their rights and thus cannot be condoned. But by presenting them the mechanism by which they may leave on their own terms, both the individual and the state benefit.

Furthermore, the state has much to gain from those who buy its citizenship. States now adopt immigration policies that favour those potential immigrants that can contribute to society. The buyers of citizenship would have a certain amount of wealth accrued that can help a country in two ways. First, that an individual is wealthy is in all likelihood an indication that he has skills that have allowed him to obtain such wealth. As such, his skills will be useful to the economy into which he is entering. And even if the buyer of citizenship did not accrue wealth due to his skilfulness, that he has wealth indicates that he will be able to obtain such skills and contribute thusly or, at the very least, participate in the economy as a consumer and tax payer.

There will be those that argue that opening citizenship to exchange opens likewise potential wrong-doers, such as terrorists, to easily buying citizenship so as to harm the nation. But if a nation would screen potential buyers of citizenship as vigorously as it does screen normal immigrants, that problem is eliminated. Of course, the threat remains, but no more so than it would if the exchange of citizenships were not allowed, and potential terrorists were forced to go through the usual means of immigration.

It will also be argued that a price cannot be put on citizenship. Why not? Selling one’s citizenship is not selling one’s identity, it is selling away the right to be governed and protected by a particular state. The government does not hold monopoly over such a right of a particular individual. Nor is it damaging the fabric of society. After all, if an individual is willing to sell his citizenship, he is in all likelihood not a willing member of society anyways.

If a state is permitted to disallow the exchange of citizenship it should also be permitted, as a matter of constancy, to disallow freedom of movement or, for that matter, freedom of any sort of exchange whatsoever. That would be unjust coercion and that is the fundamental reason why the exchange of citizenship should not and indeed cannot be forbidden.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Mal-Effects of Paternalism

The erosion of individual liberty lies in direct correlation with an increase in governmental involvement in every day life. In other words, government paternalism and the loss of freedom go hand in hand. Such paternalism is intended to cure societal ills, but what does it really do? Supporters of such practices must believe that the government is better suited to decide for individuals than the individuals themselves. The movement has widespread support (which is oftentimes contradictory) among America’s left yet what advocates of government paternalism fail to grasp is that government policies intended to help individuals by steering them towards the ‘correct’ decisions actually have the opposite effect.

New York City, in recent months, banned the use of trans-fatty acid (better known as trans-fat) in all restaurants in a move to curb obesity among its citizens. The thought was that the government knows better than the individual what the individual should and should not eat. Whether or not NYC’s ban of trans-fat actually contributes to reduce obesity in the city is irrelevant because what the ban symbolizes has far greater and more devastating effects. What the paternalistic government does is give the individual, as is inherent in human nature, an excuse to not shoulder the burden of responsibility himself.

Because the government has decided to involve itself in such paternalistic practices, such activity has come to be expected by the people. So when children become fat, for example, parents rush not to blame themselves for not feeding their children correctly, but rather blame the government for not preventing such obesity to occur. It is simply easier and less guilt-ridden for parents to do so. If the government did not involve itself in attempting to correct obesity, however, parents would recognize that it is their burden, and not the government’s, to take care of their children properly.

So while Americans get fatter, or do more drugs, or continue to utter racial epithets, supporters of government paternalism will advocate more and more government involvement in the decisions of individuals. Such will only exacerbate the problem. Less government involvement, although a seemingly riskier proposition to those who feel that society is held in balance by the government, would allow responsibility to be shifted back to the individual. And supporters of paternalism might be surprised at what they see. Without the government to act as the easy excuse, individuals would be responsible for themselves. After all, who else has the right to be responsible for them?

Friday, March 02, 2007

A Market in Babies?

A 23 year old Mexican woman is being detained for allegedly selling her 5-month old baby. Why? On the face of it, a market in children seems immoral, unethical and wholly irresponsible. But who is the state to impose its morality on the individual? And surely if parents do not wish to raise their children, and instead wish to sell them, they should be allowed to do so if we disregard morality. After all, parents frequently give their children up for adoption. Why is selling them any different? In fact, legalizing the sale of children by their parents might have some profound advantages.

First, in all likelihood the majority of parents who will sell their children if the practice is legalized will be poor. They need the extra income and certainly will be hard-pressed to feed another mouth. And, conversely, the most common purchaser of children will be rich. As a result, children who would have grown up in crime-ridden neighbourhoods, and attended substandard schools, would now be able to live a life of comfort, with the best opportunity to succeed. Not only does this help the economy and society as a whole, but the children themselves. Why stop such a practice?

Further, crime will be reduced. Children who are unwanted by their parents are far more likely to commit crime. Studies have linked a rising rate of abortion with a lower crime rate for this very reason. Parents who do not wish to have children, but have them anyways, are likely to be apathetic parents and not provide the best environment for their children. Additionally, children who grow up under the strains of poverty are far more likely to commit crime than those who grow up with luxury. By allowing poor parents to sell their unwanted children to rich parents, crime will be reduced, and the effects of poverty itself will be less hard-felt, as families will have fewer mouths to feed.

Besides, a market in children already exists. The problem is that it is entirely black market. Therefore, unscrupulous child-buyers often force children into sex-slavery, or use them in combat. Governments and international organizations have done their all to stop such horrific practices but to no avail. Introducing regulation and administration over the selling of children would add much legitimacy to the process, and allow parents the option to sell their children to buyers who are known to have the child’s best interests in mind. Without a legal market with which to regulate the sale of children, parents who are unable to afford their children often have to either abandon them or sell them to whichever buyer they can find. Surely something must be done to stop this practice. Obviously, if poverty is eliminated, so is child-selling to a large extent. But poverty hasn’t been eradicated in millennia. Instead, governments need to adopt practical solutions, and establishing a well-regulated market in children is just such a practical solution.

One may complain about the morality of condoning such activities to occur. Detractors of such policy may state that every human has the inalienable right to his or her own life and therefore cannot be sold by any party, even their own parents. We must acknowledge, however, the fact that until a certain age, children have minimal reasoning and survival capabilities and therefore are entirely dependent on their parents or guardians. They must, consequently, sacrifice some of their natural rights to their parents until such a time as they have the faculty to make decisions by themselves. The best solution, for that reason, is that parents have the right to sell their child only up until they reach a certain age, as determined by experts to be the age that the child gains proper decision-making ability and thus gains all natural rights granted to humans.