Saturday, June 13, 2009

Citizen: What is Your Worth?

Economists have a way of placing an economic value on everything. Free capitalist markets have a way of placing a monetary value on nearly everything. Notable exceptions are love, life, and citizenship. But are these really exceptions?

Love is the most complicated of these examples and deserves a deeper look within itself. For the time being, if we confine "love" to a definition that two people chose to maintain a (hopefully long-term) for some mutual gain and strip the emotional dimension, you can see where the argument goes.

Human life clearly has a value and its creation is becoming more and more a sell-able product. On the creation side, witness the availability of fertility clinics and surrogate mothers. On destruction side, witness life insurance, and hit men who charge a fee to end someone's life.

And, in a world where nothing is sacred, citizenship is also for sale. Per USCIS, EB-5 visas grant the right of immigration to alien entrepreneurs who invest either $500,000 or $1,000,000 (depending on conditions - see here for details). US is not alone is offering this type of immigration. Nearly all countries offer some sort of immigration rights by virtue of cash. In some cases, like the US, the cash has to be invested into a business activity. In other cases, cash could be offered as a bribe to a government official in exchange for citizenship rights.

So, after all, citizenship is for sale and its value is determined through some non-transparent national policy or government agent individual action. Given that this is the case, why not call a spade a spade and make citizenship a sell-able good on open markets?

Corporations sell ownership shares on stock exchanges. Market activity and (hopefully sound) financial analysis determines the value of those shares. A company that is succeeding in increasing its market share, profit margins, and future prospects is valued richly. A company that is seen on the decline is punished through a lower valuation of its shares.

The same analogy could apply to countries. Just as companies sell shares in the open market, countries could sell citizenship. The value of each citizenship share could be determined through market activity and the prospects of individuals in those countries. For example, if universal health care and very high social safety nets (through government handouts) are seen as highly desirable traits, those factors will drive up the value of citizenship in the open market. Or, if a favorable business environment and the possibility for individuals to "strike it rich" are seen as important traits of a country, then citizenship in that country will be valued more richly.

For a market to exist, there needs to be buyers as well as sellers. Identifying buyers is easy. Today, they are the immigrants that leave their home country for another in search of better prospects. But who are the sellers?

The sellers will be those who willingly sell their citizenship to immigrants on the open market for cash. They could then use the proceeds to buy citizenship in a "cheaper" country and use the residual cash to pursue whatever they please in that country in accordance to the new home country's laws.

In effect, the case is for making the value of citizenship more transparent, and its transfer through monetary means more facile. This will attract like-minded individuals into a common country where the perceived virtues can be accentuated through the injection of new participants into the political and policy making scene. And for those who do not like it, well, they could cash out and pursue their individual interest elsewhere.

The word citizenship, at some level, connotes patriotism and nationalism. Because of this baggage, citizenship has become a sort of an ephemeral and in some cases sacred concept that has made it difficult to acquire and impossible to transfer through financial means. Yet, citizenship is for sale.

So, why not call a spade a spade and make citizenship a trade-able good on open markets?

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