Monday, March 22, 2010

So you'd like to emigrate to America?

British libertarians must be wary of advocating any action which presents itself as an escape clause to the present body-political cancer currently infecting in the U.K.

Emigration to an apparently slightly more free polity is one such escape clause. Some Britons go to France, some to Australia, some to New Zealand. Fine; chacun a son gout.

But many British libertarians look to the United States as a low-tax, smaller-government paradise, at least when compared to the United Kingdom. Do not succumb to this error, for erroneous it is.

British people, as anyone who's anyone knows, are far better educated about the US than Americans are about Britain. But do not be fooled by this into thinking that Americans are poorly educated. No, we can't locate Montenegro on a map, but that's because few Americans will ever even contemplate going there. Most Americans never leave the US, and content themselves with domestic holidays that provide by far more geological and cultural diversity than domestic holidays in Britain. From Florida to Oregon is a greater distance than Britain to Montenegro.

And one thing Americans understand as if born with the knowledge is the federalist nature of their home country. They know that there is greater political variation from state to state than there is between Wales and Scotland, for example; and they comprehend that not only is that variation acceptable, it's practically mandatory.

When Britons think of the United States as a kind of Mecca for the free and the brave, they are rarely taking into account that this view depends entirely on the specific destination envisioned. Consider, as an example, Delaware and Maryland. Two small states (at least by comparison with other American states) that share a border and a coastline. Delaware levies no state income tax or state corporation tax; as a result, a tremendously large number of American businesses have their headquarters incorporated there, and the average Delawarean taxpayer has to file (almost uniquely within the union) only one tax return every April. Delaware, by virtue of levying little tax, has a small state bureaucracy, which can be observed in the simplicity of procedures such as getting a driver's licence or purchasing a house.

Maryland, by comparison, is heavily bureaucratised. It levies taxes and fees for everything; it regulates practically all aspects of commercial and social interaction, at high cost to its residents in both personal income tax, simony, and corporation tax. (Not many businesses are incorporated in Maryland, though this is unsurprising, considering that 90% of Maryland acts as a residential suburb for federal government employees.) Maryland residents, to give one example, are required to bear number plates on both the front and rear bumpers of their automobiles. Car insurance companies will not insure a Maryland driver unless this condition is met; a car will not pass the Maryland equivalent of the MOT unless this condition is met; failure to meet these conditions will also result in heavy fines from the traffic police.

Therefore whether or not America is a paradise of freedom and prosperity depends entirely upon where you live within it.

Fortunately, if you have the clout, wherewithal, and minority status to get into the US (which is harder to enter than a Vestal virgin, unless you come via Mexico, in which case America is a bigger slut than your first high-school girlfriend), moving from place to place is easy. So is trade: the much-praised US constitution does not permit of interstate protectionism. You might fetch up in Maryland, but to move to Delaware would be easier than moving between England and Scotland.

There are currently-newsworthy exceptions to this rule, however. The most significant is health insurance. One of the things the Great Healthcare Bill does nothing about is the fact that health insurance consumers may only purchase health insurance within state lines; and health insurance companies, as a corollary to this unconstitutional privilege, are also granted exemption from anti-trust legislation specifically set up to prohibit the kind of monopoly the federal government permits in this one area of domestic commerce. As with all industries given state protection from competition, health insurance has soared in cost since the New Deal. The Obama administration's solution to same is to prevent such companies from not selling policies to sick people but without, naturally, controlling the cost of such policies, the Great Healthcare Bill promising to pick up the tab for those who can't afford to purchase policies on their own. And so the insurance companies cry like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch, 'Please, please don't give us more customers!'

It is a cry that goes unanswered; the federal government will give the health insurance companies more customers, goddammit, whether they like it or not.

British libertarians, do not deceive yourselves: the United States is the largest and best-run fascist nation the world has ever seen. It is not as overt about it as Mussolini, perhaps, but it makes him look like a rank amateur. Do you think that the health-insurance lobby would for one second permit their pocket Congressmen to pass the Great Healthcare Bill if it were truly detrimental to their interests? Of course not. The Great Healthcare Bill does nothing to help the consumer of healthcare. If it did, it would revoke the monopoly exemptions of health insurance companies and encourage a great flourishing of insurance competition, which as we all know would serve to decrease the price of same. It would allow consumers to purchase plans covering only healthcare they expected to need, rather than mandating that every plan include e.g. gender reassignment surgery, chemical birth control, and cognitive behavioural therapy. Instead, what it actually does is *gasp* force health insurance companies by law to take on new customers. Way to stick it to big business, there, Obama.

The fact of the matter is that all politicians, British or American, are subject to the same pressures from corporate interests. The corporate interests might differ—witness the cash-recirculation scheme operated between the Labour party and the unions—but the pressures never change. Large businesses, be they unions or health insurance companies, have money and influence individual voters can only dream of. As the left wing are so fond of emphasising, collective action is powerful. Whether the collective in question is businesses seeking legislative protection from competition or unions seeking public funding for their oh-so-necessary efforts not to be sacked makes no difference. The individual voter serves one real purpose, and that is to provide democratic legitimacy for whatever the legislature does to service its well-organised and well-funded corporate paymasters.

If this is true in Britain, it is doubly true in the United States, which has bigger corporations and more money. There is no better proof of this than the Great Healthcare Bill, which will enrich the monopolistic insurance companies at the expense of both the individual consumer and the taxpayer. Perhaps, being a non-federalist Briton, you think this bill will help the poor who cannot afford insurance. If so, I urge you to rethink your view.

One of the most prevalent criticisms of American health insurance is that insurance companies are reluctant to take on customers with the much-publicised 'pre-existing conditions' and to pay out for procedures not even tangentially related to same. What do you think will happen to insurance premiums when insurance companies are no longer permitted to refuse customers who will cost the company more than they will pay in? What do you think will happen to the Medicaid budget when it is forced to purchase the healthcare of those who can no longer afford private insurance premiums? If you think the answer is anything other than 'There will be a gigantic increase,' you are living in cloud-cuckoo land.

An interesting unintended consequence of the Great Healthcare Bill has been the resolution passed by various Southern and Mid-western states to ignore federal action they deem to be outwith the 10th Amendment of the US constitution. We will not implement these programs, they say, or penalise federal offices that do not implement these programs. And in fairness to them, nothing in the constitution makes provision for vast incursions by the federal government into the American economy, regardless of the perceived importance of a particular commercial sector. By and large the states that have passed this resolution are ethnically homogeneous and economically self-sufficient, with a few notable (and notably contrarian) exceptions such as Alabama and South Carolina.

Such resolutions are in one sense laughable; state legislatures have absolutely no power to impede federal directives, or to impede the activities of the multiplicity of federal offices that abound within every American state. They might as well try to dam a river with a pebble. On the other hand, these resolutions are a powerful signal. American states, after all, have a history of secession, a will to the kind of self-government the United States supports everywhere else in the world. It requires virtually no stretch of imagination to view these 10th-Amendment resolutions as a waving flag to the other states of the union declaiming, 'We are ready to secede, if the rest of you are.' Eleven states have done this; they represent much greater than 20% of American land area, though not 20% of the American population. Alaska is one such; known for its bloody-mindedness and eccentric independence, it would not find it at all difficult to secede. Not only are there few people in Alaska, they are badass too. Even federal employees are more Alaskan than they are federal. Five minutes after secession would see drills all over the ANWR reserve and the start of a pipeline to Russia (who still unfashionably persist in this oil-drilling business). Dead caribou would represent what is commonly known as a bumper harvest. Mind you, the Alaskans wouldn't allow them to become extinct; they would farm them for their succulent meat and durable furs.

Ask yourself, after all: how many of our current domesticated mammal species would have been extinct hundreds of years ago if we didn't husband them for other purposes? Do you think the average sheep would have survived in wolf-filled Europe if we hadn't killed all the wolves in the name of protecting the wool-bearing, tasty-lamb-producing sheep?

Louisiana and Alabama are more puzzling in these terms; both those states are the recipients of considerable federal largesse as well as having an uncomfortable history of fighting for the continued enslavement of the black man. On the other hand, they possess access to Gulf oil. The Mid-western states produce a giant proportion of the world's grain. At the moment, they are subsidised by the federal government which places restrictions on where and how they can trade. Imagine how prosperous they might be if they could junk the restrictions and sell vast loads of wheat at rock-bottom prices to places like India, China, and Japan!

So there are some places in the United States that reject, if only implicitly, the fascist union of the federal government to federal business. But their resistance will be a long time in coming, if ever; do not count on emigrating to Wyoming to provide you with the libertarian paradise about which you have always fantasised. Better to go to Montana, where state troopers can scarcely enforce speed limits. You'll be branded as a Militiaman, of course (something which the New Hampshire Free Staters have not yet experienced, if only because New Hampshire is a miniscule state filled with agricultural white smallholders—or perhaps in spite of this, now that I consider it), but Montana is filled with vast open ranges wherein nobody lives and thus no federal officials intrude. It also happens to host numerous Native American reservations, where federal taxes and regulations are something that happens to somebody else.

Allow me to be reactionary, therefore, and say the following: America is great, if you can go there, and if you go where there are basically no poor people or immigrants. (Native Americans, ghettoised as they are, don't count.) Where the country is Anglo-white, suburban/rural, and largely comprises the descendants of doughty homesteaders, it is a vaguely low-tax, smaller-government paradise. But this cannot last. For one thing, places like California are getting a bit bolshie. Why? It turns out that, for decades, they've been fulfilling their moral mandate by subsidising states less rich than themselves though their federal taxes. Now suddenly they find themselves in a budgetary hole, and they can't convince those less-rich states to pull them out. You owe us a debt, they claim, despite the fact that the inhabitants of those less-rich states are still, per capita, less rich than Californians. Redistribution, it seems, is not a moral good, but a store of credit, much like a medieval indulgence. The Californians never helped the Louisianans (some of the poorest Americans) out of the goodness of their hearts; they helped in the implicit expectation of getting a return when they fucked themselves. And with their bizarre government-by-plebiscite-and-an-Austrian-movie-star, they did indeed fuck themselves, and now they expect the dispossessed poor of Louisiana (and Mississippi, and Alabama) to help them out of the hole.

Is this what a nation is all about? Monopolistic concessions to health insurance companies, preludes to secession, poor states bailing out rich ones, a government that ignores its own Prime Directive? Where big governments override smaller governments and vice versa, and the only thing holding the place together is the fact that breaking it apart has been tried and failed, and besides, it's still the best place in the world for making money, if making money is what you happen to want?

British libertarians, do not look to America for succour, for it is a sink of redundancy, corruption and fascism. Even if you manage to get in, which would be hard enough even for my husband who is married to an American citizen, expect not an end to ills. Recognise that it is a nation more moribund, more steeped in procedure, tax, and waste than even the United Kingdom. If you think Scotland is a millstone around your neck, imagine the weight of the shackles of California. You will have no relief, no extra freedom unless by accident, no respite from the predations of the moneyed and powerful. Take my word for it. I am an American in Britain. I see no difference, except that as a percentage of my income, I actually pay less tax here. There are many things wrong with the British body politic, but moving to the United States will cure none of them.

Briton: heal thyself.


Anonymous said...

Link is broken. Fixy-fixy-.

Also "to move to Delaware would be easier than moving between England and Scotland": only if the removal companies are cheaper in Delaware. Shitty as this country may be, we don't yet actually need government authorisation to move between the constituent parts of the United Kingdoms.

Lola said...

Excellent. Thanks for that. It's what I have alwasy thought and it's nice to have one's own prejudices confirmed.

Roger Thornhill said...

"Briton: Heal thyself"

We need to lance the boil of State corruption, let the blood of the public sector and most of all, cut out the tumour of Fabiansim.

davidncl said...

Well stated.

I realised many years ago that America was deeply and profoundly fascist. It happened under Woodrow Wilson and never really went away. It was something of a shock to me to realise that the fascism of Mussolini and Hitler were actually American exports. That includes the Nazi eugenics program too which got started in Cold Spring Harbour in Long Island.

America has a much longer road to travel back to freedom that even we do.

Anonymous said...

Califorinia and New York have even worse nanny state regulation than the UK.
Some counties in the US are dry counties.

Anonymous said...

"economically self-sufficient". Say what!!!

dearieme said...

An American blogger once assured me that America was free because it was relativly easy to get a licence to start a business.

Wat Dabney said...

When fascism comes to America, it will come wrapped in the flag and waving a cross.

As the bulwark and guarantor of Western freedoms - such as remain - it is nothing short of a tragedy to see the US itself accelerating down the road to serfdom.

Hysteria said...

Some truths in here. As a Briton in the US I recognise I can see that the theoretical benefits of "freedom" have been weighed down over the years by a stultifying, confusing and inefficient statist approach to business.

Dealing with the DVLA is sheer joy compared with changing the address on your licence here (Texas) - to take but one trivial example.

The Second Amendment is good though......

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure people are giving the American psyche enough credit. Take movements like "The Free State Project", for example. Likely in Britain? I think not.

Anonymous said...

I recently had a telephone interview with a company near Palo Alto that is starting to look quite positive. Does this mean I should call the whole thing off?

The fact is, the United States is able to unleash human potential like no other nation on earth. They are at least a decade ahead of everyone else.

neil craig said...

People in California may earn more but their taxes are & houses used to be (which means mortgages still are) higher. The fact that people are leaving the place suggests that disposable incomes are not higher.

Sort of Grapes of Wrath in reverse.

bootsy said...

Wow. Now that's an article.

Where are these sort of things in the mainstream media. If they were there, maybe a more informed debate could be had. But then, who owns the media firms, would it be large companies by any chance?

Umbongo said...

I went to university in the US and worked there off and on for about 15 years. The obvious point missed by Julymorning is that the US is Germany leavened by the Common Law of England. For instance, US schools and universities are modelled on the German (not the British) system. The military was originally modelled on the Prussian system (but without, at the time, universal conscription). The US is (or was) wonderfully efficient and works in the individual's favour as long as you have the right piece of paper in the German fashion.

Americans are generally humourless (or, rather, serious) in the German fashion but leavened this time not by British humour but by New York/Jewish humour. However, the legal system works in favour of freedom because it is derived from the Common Law. Analogously, since the Common Law is dying in the UK freedom in the UK is also dying.

I would have loved to emigrate to the US (and still would) had Mrs U not opposed it. It is still a land of opportunity and, as one can see from the Tea Party movement, a land where the electorate is neither supine nor (yet) completely corrupted by the political class.

qwerty said...

If you are genuinely less taxed in UK than USA, then international USA taxation will sort that out.

Vladimir said...

Very interesting and informative. Wishing to escape the "liberal" Left, I have often thought that I might be better off in America than Britain, if I could only afford to get in! You've highlighted a number of downsides that I was only vaguely aware of.

Anonymous said...

Can we have a piece on Canada, Australia and New Zealand?

Anonymous said...

"Maryland residents, to give one example, are required to bear number plates on both the front and rear bumpers of their automobiles."

Sums it up for me: what in the US is some crazy tyrannical aberration is universally mandatory in the UK.

yokel said...

It is correct to point out the the whole Anglosphere is going down the same chute. I knew I didn't have the stamina to try the "vestal virgin" so thought about down under instead. Too old to get into Australia, I looked closely at New Zealand. A wonderful country for a holiday.

But talking to people, reading the news and the blogs, one quickly realises that although they are treading a different path, the destination is the same. Heavy Socialist government, permits for things that we still don't need permission in the UK, high taxes and going higher, and unfettered immigration just like the UK. No, there is nowhere to run to, nowhere that will just magic the decent human soul back to normal life.

We've just got to get stuck in here.

John Trenchard said...

at least in america you have free talk radio unregulated by Ofcom, an armed populace and an Constitutional Republic.

we on the other hand have ended up with the Civil Contigencies Bill.

Fight Tyranny said...

It's not the governments of the US that move libertarians to the idea of emigrating. It's the fact that there is already a large libertarian movement.

80 million gun owners is also something that will help should the fight turn nasty.