© 1991 Karen Selick
 Now, That's What I Call Cross-Border Shopping!
An edited version of this article first appeared in the December, 1991 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.


 Now, That's What I Call Cross-Border Shopping!

These days, manufacturers of globes and publishers of atlases must be having trouble keeping their merchandise up to date, as borders in Europe and the U.S.S.R. keep changing.  But they must be pleased with the opportunity to sell more maps, and they're probably hoping for Canada to break up into tiny pieces too.

They're not the only ones who view this possibility as a welcome opportunity.  No matter what the movement is called--secession, independence, self-government, sovereignty, home rule--I, too, relish the thought that all over the world, little groups of people are struggling to separate themselves politically from bigger groups.  I hope it happens here.

Unpatriotic?  I guess so, but I've never considered patriotism to be a particularly virtuous sentiment.

What is it that we're supposed to love about our country?  The scenery?  There are lots of places in the world that are just as pretty as Canada.  The people?  I frequently find I have more in common with friends in Massachusetts and California than with many of the people in my own neighbourhood, let alone the strangers in Newfoundland or B.C.

Sure, Canada is a better place to live in than most of the world.  I regard the fact of my birth here as a fortuitous circumstance.  But it's hard to really love a place where you work from January to early August just to pay your taxes.  If Canada treated me less like a serf, I would love it more. 

What's important to me about a country is whether it leaves me free to conduct my own life and keep what I earn.  Whether the country happens to occupy the entire northern half of North America or only ten square miles of some isolated corner of the globe, is quite immaterial.

Clearly, I would stand a much better chance of influencing the degree of lovability in a small political unit than in a large one.  If Canada remains intact, my voice in federal issues is only one in 26 million.  If the village in which I live (population 700) declared independence, I'd obviously have a lot more say in things.

Just as consumers of goods and services have always been well served by an abundance of choice in the marketplace, so can the subjects of governments be well served by an abundance of choice in the political and ideological marketplace.

Competition produces satisfaction in two ways.  First, it ensures that consumers needn't all buy the same thing.  Each individual can choose the product that suits him best.  Second, it ensures that suppliers of the product will strive continuously to improve their product in order to keep market share. 

To put it in more concrete terms: the more independent nation-states there are, the easier it will be for people to vote with their feet for a system they prefer.  And if it turns out (surprise!) that one system of government produces a happier, healthier, wealthier populace than another, then there's going to be pressure on other states to emulate that successful formula, before their citizens emigrate en masse.

A number of historians and legal scholars, including Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell, Jr. in How the West Grew Rich, have recently theorized that it was the profusion of small, independent states and competing legal systems in medieval Europe that set the stage for the industrial revolution and the widespread affluence which developed there.  Tyrannical rulers who imposed excessive taxation, trade barriers, or arbitrary laws triggered a flight of people, know-how and capital to the realms of less oppressive princes.  Now, that's what I call cross-border shopping!

Most governments these days view competition as a fate worse than having to keep election promises.  While grass-roots movements everywhere are hurtling towards decentralization, governments everywhere are frantically trying to shore up their crumbling local monopolies.  They push for uniformity and centralization.  If they were corporations, they'd be facing criminal charges for conspiring to lessen competition.

Here's an example from a discussion paper released by the Ontario government in September, 1991:  "If one province attempts to attract industrial investment by weakening social programs and cutting corporate tax, other provinces may want to follow suit.   This could result in a downward harmonization of social policy.... National norms in social policy [would] limit this type of competition." 

It apparently never occurred to that bureaucrat-author that if a province cut taxes sufficiently and attracted enough industrial investment, it would become so prosperous that it wouldn't need gigantic social programs.

John F. Kennedy once said, "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country."  I have never understood why this utterance, which in essence urges everyone to volunteer themselves as unquestioning slaves, guinea pigs and cannon fodder to a grasping state, is quoted with such reverence.   

What Kennedy should have said is this:  Ask lots of very pointed questions about what your country promises to do for you, and don't forget to ask exactly what it proposes to do to you.  Then pick the place that offers the best deal.  You will be doing a favour not only to yourself, but potentially to all of mankind. 



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