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.