Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Healthcare Systems and International Mobility

I've had the pleasure of knowing three different healthcare systems in my time:  U.S., France and Japan.  All have been outstanding  I'm a skilled IT worker and I was legal resident of all three countries so I never had any problem with payment.  I was always covered under either private insurance through my employer or a national healthcare system.  Sounds simple and straightforward, right?  Not exactly.  For people who are highly mobile and move from one country to another there are some special challenges that are not necessarily taken into account by healthcare providers and networks in any country.   Here are a few thoughts about things I've noted over the years that sidesteps the question of which healthcare system is best and focusses instead on how well these systems work for highly mobile international migrants :

Relationships:  Once you get beyond the question of how it will be paid for and get inserted into whatever system exists in the host country, there is the important task of finding a doctor you like and building a relationship based on (one hopes) trust.  This doesn't happen overnight.  Leaving the country means leaving that relationship behind and having to build new ones in the new country.  I know that my own impressions of the different healthcare systems I've used are heavily colored by the doctors who treated me.  I still miss my ob/gyn in Seattle and have never found one as good or who I liked and trusted so much.  Same for my dentist in Tokyo.  I was very lucky to find a GP here in Versailles who is, for me, the very best I've found yet.  But building those relationships takes time and can involve a certain amount of trial and error.  I've talked to a number of migrants who rely for years on drop-in clinics and emergency services because they just haven't found someone they like and trust enough to become a regular patient.  This can translate into a situation where migrants don't get preventative care:  standard tests, immunizations and the like.

Continuity:  Having to rebuild relationships with healthcare practitioners means a lack of continuity in care.  All too often medical records  don't follow or have to be translated.  Immunization records, for example, have to be interpreted in the light of whatever the practice is in the host country.  There are similarities between the immunizations given to children in the U.S. and France but it's just different enough that the new doctor has to struggle to fit one system into another and determine what needs to happen next to comply with the host country's standard immunization schedules.  For adults the onus is on them to keep track of things and provide the new doctor with enough information about care received elsewhere so that he or she can pick up where the last doctor left off.  In the stress of moving and the adjustment to a new location, this is not usually a top priority, but can come back to haunt the migrant when he or she is asked by the new doctor, "So when was your last tetanus shot?"

Learning Curve:  The systems are very different from one country to another and a migrant has to spend some time learning how it all works in the destination country.  The processes are very different and you have to learn what forms to file, who to talk to or call, what to do in case of an emergency, what options are available and so on.  I know very few migrants who've actually researched the health systems of the new country or took the time to read all the terms and conditions for private insurance.  A lot of the information on-line, or provided through pamphlets and the like, all too often assumes some basic knowledge of how things generally work here which may be radically different from they worked over there.  It can be overwhelming for a new arrival and tends to be put off until he/she simply has no choice.  It comes down to "learning by doing" which can be very frustrating and very hard for someone who needs the access but isn't feeling that well and is not in an optimum frame of mind to assimilate new information.

Culture:  Aside from the basic protocols which are usually pretty similar between developed nations, the doctor/patient relationship varies radically according to the culture.  In some places doctors are remote paternalistic figures (gurus) and they don't like to be questioned by patients and would be very offended if a migrant sought a second opinion.  In other places, a migrant may be inundated with information by a doctor with a very informal familiar style.  This is not a statement about which is style is better, it's about the impact of that style on a migrant who is accustomed to something else and has different expectations and needs.  It can be very destabilizing and be an important barrier to building trust between the doctor and the patient when they are operating under two different cultural codes.  Adaptation is necessary and ideally should come from both sides.

Language:  On top of the cultural issues there is the issue of language.  To get and provide good care the doctor and patient have to be able to communicate.  Where the two don't share a common language this is a real problem.  One solution for the patient is to actively seek out a multi-lingual doctor.  This is easiest in big metropolitan areas and almost impossible in rural areas.  Sometimes the migrant actually waits until he/she has a basic command of the language before seeking any healthcare outside of an emergency.  It's simply too frustrating for both parties.  The cultural and language barriers can also be deadly.  I know one woman married to a Frenchman who was diagnosed with cancer after a few years here who became so frustrated and so depressed during her treatment that she ended up in the psychiatric ward.  Because of the communication problems the healthcare professionals simply didn't see the deterioration of her mental state until it was too late. Given how important morale is to successfully treating conditions like her, this was something that very much threatened her survival.

All of the above has a real impact on access to healthcare and the ability of any system to provide the kind of preventative care needed to avoid costly life-threatening situations.  The extent of the impact varies according to the migrant (socio-economic status, language ability, cultural knowledge and other variables) but anyone who is highly mobile will most likely encounter one or more of these difficulties. There is no one solution to all of them but I would like to propose that, instead of arguing about which system is "better," we might want to turn our attention for a few moments to the global arena and think about how we could make these systems work together to provide the best possible care for the mobile international migrant.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Antithesis of a Fairy Tale

Remember how I was saying that not every migration story (even to an exotic locale like France) turns out to be a fairy tale?  I contend and will defend to the death my belief that my life in France is not better than the life I might have had had I stayed in the U.S., it's just different. In the cosmic crapshoot of life, stuff happens wherever you are and you don't always get to have things your way.

About two months ago I was diagnosed with cancer.  Since then I have been learning an awful lot, not only about a part of the French healthcare system I was kinda hoping I'd never need to use, but also about people here in my host country.  A new situation, new relationships, lots to learn.

Originally I was not going to post about this on the Flophouse.  In fact, I pre-programmed a week's worth of posts when I was in the hospital so that no one would know.  Since then I've changed my mind.  As I've been talking with people privately via the phone and email, I've found all kinds of people that I've known for years who have faced this and I never knew.  I've been given a lot of useful information about how to get through something like this from old friends and new ones.  I've spent many hours on Loic's blog, Carnets de Seattle, (he's a French expat in Seattle being treated for leukemia) and it's been a wonderful resource and a great comfort to me.  I'm also in touch with organizations here in France that have support groups and workshops.

I guess that I just came to the conclusion that keeping all that information to myself was both a form of delusional self-protection - yet another unhealthy manifestation of my own fears  - and a kind of selfishness.  Perhaps, just perhaps, there may be something in what I'm going through right now that just might be useful to someone else, somewhere on this planet.  Can't know for sure but then I'll never know if I don't try to connect through my experience.  It's what I've always tried to do with this blog and it would be contrary to my intent here to do otherwise.

It is not my desire to turn the Flophouse over to this topic alone.  My diagnosis and treatment is a part of my life but I don't want it to define my whole life. I love to write and do research about all kinds of topics (citizenship, FATCA, immigration and the like) and I am going to keep the focus there because I love to write, I love to share interesting things I've discovered, and because it makes me happy. But from time to time I'll talk about this too.

May it be of benefit.

One U.S. Politician Who Gets It

In the brouhaha over Eduardo Saverin's renunciation of American citizenship and the subsequent attempt by some U.S. politicians to make political hay out of it, allow me to introduce one who has clearly given this matter some thought.

Ron Paul is a Republican Senator from the state of Texas.  A medical doctor by profession, he is a conservative and some folks refer to him as a libertarian.  I am an admirer not because I support everything on his platform and not because I consider myself a conservative.

I like Ron Paul because he says what he thinks and sticks to his principles of "limited constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, and a return to sound monetary policies based on commodity-backed currency." He is in the race for president.  He will not win but he's great to watch and worth listening to.  He released this piece recently (hat tip to Just Me for the link) about Casey and Schumer's ex-Patriot Act.  It's a sober and cogent analysis of why this is a very bad idea.  Either he or someone on his staff took the time to examine the proposed law and seriously consider the potential untended consequences. He actually noted the impact this Act and laws already on the books like FATCA (destined in theory for the rich) would have on regular folks like retirees.  He then took all that information and decided that, no, this just isn't right and said so out loud and in plain English.

Have a listen.  Made me feel a bit better about the American political process and perhaps it will have the same effect on you.



Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Population and Politics in North America: Mexico

A place I have never visited and thought I had no real connection to.  Last night I parsed my memories and realized that isn't true at all.  We have at least one extended family member who went south to Baja a few years ago and decided to stay and retire.  I also know folks from my childhood in the U.S. who regularly went down for seasonal work in the tourist business in Puerta Vallarta.  Finally, one of my oldest friends in Paris, a long-term Mexican resident of France, decided to return home to Mexico City just last year and is sending regular updates on Facebook. Which just goes to show you (and remind me) that we can wallow in the narcissism of difference and deny our connections to people, places and things.  Or we can perform what Amin Maalouf called an "examen d'identité" (an examination of identity) and find the things that link us to many places and many people.
Grâce a chacune de mes appartenances, prise séparément, j'ai une certaine parenté avec un grand nombre de mes semblables; grâce aux memes critères, pris tous ensemble, j'ai mon identité propre, qui ne se confond avec aucune autre.
Thanks to all my adherences, taken separately, I have a certain relationship with a large number of people like me; thanks to the same elements, taken all together, I have my own identity, which can never be confused with any other.

Mexico

Mexico sits in the southern end of North America and has borders with three other countries:  Guatemala, Belize and the United States.  Like the U.S. and Canada it was a European settler colony but, unlike the other two which were primarily under the control of the British and French, Mexico was claimed and conquered by the Spanish Empire.  When the conquistadores arrived the area had already been the home of several ancient civilizations:  Olmecs, Mayas, Aztecs and others.   The Spanish controlled this territory and a fair amount of what is now the United States until Mexico achieved independence in 1810.  At that time Mexican territory extended way beyond its present border into what is today the U.S. and included the states of California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.  These territories were ceded to the U.S. at the end of the Mexican-American War under the terms of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848).  A large number of Mexican settlers in those areas were left behind when the border shifted and may have been "involuntary Americans."  Under the treaty these settlers had the choice of remaining where they were or being resettled in Mexican territory.  According to Alexandra Delano in Mexico and its Diaspora in the United States, 75,000 of the 100,000 Mexican settlers in that territory remained after the borders were fixed but there's real question about how well informed these people were about their options at the time.  In any case, this is an important historical fact that puts some of the debates about the presence of Mexicans in the American Southwest into perspective since their settlement preceded American expansion into the area.   They were there first (or second, if you prefer, after the indigenous people).

Today Mexico is the 12th largest country in the world in terms of land mass and it's the 11th largest in terms of population (right behind Japan) with 114 million people in 2011.  Population density is high compared to other North American countries at 52 people per square kilometer (much higher than Canada, Greenland or the U.S.) but not very high compared to Europe.  It is a young country - the median age is 27 years (37 years in the U.S. and 41 years in Canada).  The fertility rate is above replacement but not terribly high - 2.29 children per woman - as of 2011. The ethnic composition is different from other parts of North America - a lot more mixing of the indigenous and settler populations.  Index Mundi gives this breakdown:  "mestizo (Amerindian-Spanish) 60%, Amerindian or predominantly Amerindian 30%, white 9%, other 1%."   

Like Greenland it has more people leaving than coming in.  The net migration rate as of 2011 was -3.24 migrant(s)/1,000 population.  But if you look at this number compared to past years, you'll see that the net migration rate peaked in 2004 at -4.87 and has been dropping ever since (even before the recession).  Some of this certainly is a result of tighter border controls by the U.S. post-911 but the other side of the story is liberalization of the economy,  NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and more economic opportunity which tends to slow emigration.  This chart (again from Index Mundi) shows Mexico with a above 5% real growth in GDP compared to Canada at 3% and the U.S. coming in last with under 3%.  In fact it's worth looking at that world map and going from north to south and clicking on each country in both North and South America.  Growth seems to just get better and better as you move south with Argentina and Brazil at 7.5.   Another interesting indicator is the unemployment rate.  In 2011 the Mexican unemployment rate was about 5% - the U.S. rate was over 8% and Canada was hovering around 7% as of March 2012 .  I'm not an economist or a statistician and I can't vouch for the veracity of these numbers but clearly Mexico is not doing too badly these days compared to its northern neighbors.

In the last post about the U.S. I talked about Mexican immigration to the U.S. and mentioned the political fallout on the American domestic politics related to that.  Let's turn the tables and talk more about it from the perspective of Mexico which remains one of the top sending countries to the U.S. and has a huge diaspora there.  The numbers vary but it's safe to say that over 90% of migrants from Mexico move north and that isn't something that started yesterday.  This migration path has a long history and both countries have had an interest in keeping it going and not necessarily trying to control it too much.  On the U.S. side industry and agriculture want this labor and they have always fought against bureaucracy or any formal arrangement that would prevent them from getting it "just in time."

Even when there was agreement between the countries (Bracero program from 1942 through 1964) there was still a lot of informal migration and border-hopping.  On Mexico's side this migration was not necessarily a bad thing since it meant opportunity for its people and remittances for the home country.  At different points in the history of both countries it's become a political issue in domestic politics and a source of contention between them at the international level.  When Mexicans in the U.S. have been subjected to discriminatory treatment and poor working conditions in the U.S.,  the people of Mexico have put political pressure on the Mexican government to do something about it.  Historically, the Mexican government tried with varying degrees of success in different eras to protect its people abroad without antagonizing its neighbor and without getting involved in U.S. politics.  

That was the situation up until the 1990's when Mexico decided to redefine the nation to include its "domestic abroad."  Mexico began programs to forge closer ties with its diaspora:   the Program for Mexican Communities Abroad was created in 1990 within the Secretariat for Foreign Affairs.  A decade later other institutions were established to formalize the relationship between the homeland and emigrants:  the National Council for Mexican Communities Abroad and the Institute for Mexicans Abroad. In 1998 Mexico changed its citizenship laws to allow dual citizenship and just before the 2006 presidential election, Mexicans abroad were given the right to vote in national elections.  The Mexican government maintains an extraordinary number of consulates in the U.S. and started expanding services to its citizens there.  And finally they have more and willing to tangle with the U.S. over how its citizens are being treated.  Call it a strength or a weakness but in the U.S. political power is shared by the Federal government, the fifty states, and thousands of counties and cities and the Mexican government has established relationships with many of these entities at all levels.  In addition the list of American politicians of Mexican descent is quite large and growing.

Today Mexico is even looking toward international organizations like the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations and NGO's to put pressure on the U.S. when it feels that the U.S. is not being respectful of the human rights of its people.  In 2004 Mexico won a case that was before the ICJ (called the Avena Case) which concerned 52 Mexican nationals that were tried and charged with the death penalty.  Mexico claimed that their right to due process and consular protection under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relation was violated.  The ICJ agreed and ruled against the U.S.  It did not stand up in U.S. court but, let's face it, the U.S. looked terrible and it was an important moral victory for Mexico.  Then in 2006 Mexico sent a direct message to the American government and the people with the diffusion of a document called Mexico and the Migration Phenomenon.  It was very clear statement of how Mexico viewed U.S.- Mexico migration and offered some solutions (or at least a basis for negotiation).

All of the above seems to make Americans very nervous.  The political rhetoric in the ramp-up to the 2012 presidential election is almost quaint in the sense that it seems to be behind the times.  There is much talk of electric fences and the like to keep Mexicans out.  The Pew Research Center reported recently that "Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less."  With massive deportation of undocumented migrants (400,000 people in 2011 alone) by the Obama administration, the number of "illegals" is dropping steadily and Pew reports that of those deported more and more are saying that they now prefer to stay in Mexico.  None of this is having a calming effect - on the contrary some of the rhetoric on the U.S. is incredibly inflammatory and hostile with an eye toward whipping up public sentiment in the U.S. for a solution to a "problem" that may be solving itself.  And it surely doesn't mean less immigration to the U.S., it just means that the immigrants will come from other places like Asia.  For the future much depends on economic growth in both countries, demographic changes, trade, need for labor and immigration policies in the U.S. and Canada (Did you know that Quebec actually has an immigration office in Mexico?) 

A situation to watch closely and the Migration Policy Institute is doing just that.  For the most up to date reports take a lot at their website.  For more information about the Mexican diaspora in general and its history in the U.S. I really recommend the book I cited earlier in this post: Alexandra Delano's Mexico and its Diaspora in the United States.  This is emigration as viewed from the sending country perspective.

And now I see that the sun is out so I'm going to leave my virtual tour of North America and spend the rest of the day enjoying my country of residence here in Europe.   Bonne journée à tous!


Monday, May 28, 2012

Population and Politics of North America: The United States

My country of origin.  I come from the region called the Pacific Northwest which includes the Canadian province of British Columbia.  Like many I have family on both sides of that border with relatives in both B.C and Quebec. On the U.S. side we are scattered all over the West in the states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California.  Our family origins are very diverse - we are a mix of Native American, French, English, Scots-Irish, German and Norwegian (my maiden name is Reslock, the American version of Reslokken).  In short, not at all unusual for the U.S.

I preface this post with a brief mention of my origins because it has and will always have an impact even today on how I look at my home country.  My view of the U.S. is filtered through the prism of my childhood passed in one, and only one, region.  I was raised to have a very particular view of "us" (Seattleites) and "them" (people from the Wicked East, the Midwest, California, and the South).  Before I left the U.S. I had never traveled extensively in my own country and all the regions I just mentioned were a complete mystery to me.  Oh, imagine my shock to discover in my early twenties that the world was vaster and infinitely more complicated than I ever imagined.  In this piece I will try to be as neutral as possible given the limits of my experience then and now.

The United States

The United States is the third largest country in the world after Russia and Canada.  Like both these nations the U.S. has a very diverse topography:  mountains, prairies, forests, deserts.  The population was around 313 million in 2011 making it the most populated country in North America (Mexico comes in second at around 114 million).  The fertility rate is about 2.06 children per woman (higher than Canada, closer to Greenland's and just slightly below replacement level).  Population density is low compared to Europe but much higher than Canada.  Fly over the country from east to west and there's a lot of empty space with no cities, towns, roads or other evidence of human presence.  Some regions are downright unwelcoming:  too hot, too dry, too remote.  Even in areas perfectly suitable for human habitation, some very basic services (electricity, sewer and the like) are not not necessarily a given. When I was a child we had a piece of property in a remote area and we had to put in a septic tank and a road from the main road to the house and dig ditches for the electricity to be brought in.  It was not unusual in the winter to lose power  because the lines would go down.  A woodstove was not a "nice to have", it was a "very important to have" and it was used. I learned how to manage a chainsaw before I learned to drive.

Life expectancy is 78 years which is quite good.  Infant mortality is high (5.98 per 1,000 live births) compared to many other developed countries but low for North America - lower than Mexico (16.77) and Greenland (9.83) but higher than Canada (4.85).  The net migration rate (difference between immigration and emigration) is also very good:  4.18 migrant(s)/1,000 population which is lower than Canada (5.65) but higher than Mexico (-3.24) and Greenland (-5.98).

The U.S. is so obviously a country of immigration that it seems almost silly to point this out.  But the history of that immigration is fascinating and there are a few things worth mentioning here that have a bearing on the situation in 2012.  Race, for example.  Even when immigrants were highly sought after to the extent that the U.S. actually sent agents abroad to poach people, the U.S. tried to manage that immigration via policies that favored Europeans (Canada did the same thing by the way).  Not all Europeans were viewed alike however.  The Irish were heavily discriminated against when they came in large numbers as were Italians and Eastern Europeans.  The Germans fared better except for the period of the two world wars in the 20th century (my second generation German-American grandmother had some amazing stories to tell about that period).  Probably the most blatantly exclusionary policies were directed again Asians during the 19th and 20th century with laws passed to exclude Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Japanese, Southeast Asians and to prevent some of them from acquiring U.S. citizenship (policies by the way that were much admired by some French politicians at the time who tried to propose something similar for the Hexagon).  This changed in 1965 with the abolition of national origin immigration quotas.

I would remiss if I did not mention two other populations.  Millions of Africans were brought to America as "involuntary migrants" to labor as slaves.  That "peculiar institution" began in the 17th century and was not officially ended until the middle of the 19th century and it took a Civil War to eliminate it entirely.  Today their descendants make up about 13% of the American population.  The other group predates the arrival of European settlers.  Known as "American Indians" or "Native Americans" these were the indigenous people who were displaced or eliminated by European settlement.  Estimates of their population at the time of the European "discovery" of the continent vary widely and the sheer diversity of the different peoples and their customs and languages make lumping them under the "Indian" label very misleading.  Many tribes still exist and there are around 300 reservations today.  Some tribes are prosperous and growing, others are struggling.  In 2011 the U.S. reports they number 5.2 million and are projected to grow to 8.6 million by 2050 (about 2% of the population.)  I'm a bit curious about those numbers because I have cousins from two branches of my family who are from two different tribes and are also part European-American.  I seem to recall that one cousin said she self-identified as "Native American" when asked.  Honestly I'm not sure how it works - any clarification on this would be welcome.

So this nation, already very diverse, is undergoing some interesting demographic changes as we enter the 21st century.  This article has a very nice summary of the major trends.  We've already seen that the fertility rate has dropped slightly below replacement and the population is getting older:
Between 2010 and 2011, the number of children declined by 190,000, while the number of elderly increased by 917,000; just a decade ago we added more children than elderly. Also down sharply is growth in the number of working-age adults, including those in prime childbearing ages. With more baby boomers retiring and fewer people of reproductive age, births could decline further, and the United States could start to resemble elderly-heavy, slow-growth European countries, Mather noted.
Net migration is down slightly but is still pretty high.  Most immigrants seem to be allowed entry though family ties, not professional or educational qualifications. In my previous post I cited a U.S. government report (see table 6) that said that in 2010 out of the roughly 1 million requests granted, 476,414 applicants for residency were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, 215,000 were "Family-sponsored Preferences" and only 148,343 were economic migrants ("Employer-based Preferences").  In the 19th century most immigrants to the U.S. came from Europe.  Today, of those seeking permanent residency status, migrants are most likely to come from (2010 data from MPI):  Mexico, China, India, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Vietnam, Haiti, Columbia and South Korea.  This report, The Changing Demographic Profile of the United States published in 2011 has some fascinating stats. By 2050 the U.S. will be more Asian and Hispanic.  The Pew Research Center concurs and says that Hispanics are now the largest minority group in the U.S with a little over 16% of the population and will make up 29% of the population by 2050.  Going back to the first report, have a look at Table 2. "U.S. Immigration and Estimated Emigration, by Decade: 1931-2009" on page 12.  You will see the first statistics I've seen that show U.S. emigration as well as immigration.  For those of you with an interest in this topic, it might be interesting to get a copy of their sources.

Given that a lot of the immigration is coming from Mexico, a state that borders the U.S., this makes for an interesting political problem.  On the U.S. side the rhetoric has become very ugly recently with talks of building an electrified fence to keep people (primarily those from Mexico and other countries in Latin America) out.  Some analysts believe that the right-wing party in the U.S. (Republicans) is committing political suicide by becoming too closely associated with anti-migrant sentiment - something that is likely to deeply offend the fast growing population of Hispanics in the U.S who have friends and family who are immigrants.  However, the Obama administration (Democrat) has been very aggressive about deporting undocumented Mexican nationals which is causing tensions within the U.S. and with its neighbor, Mexico.  Whatever their status in the U.S. these being deported are citizens of Mexico and the Mexican consulates in the U.S. are said to be providing help when possible. On the Mexican side the government has made things much easier on their diaspora in the U.S. by allowing dual citizenship and giving limited voting rights to their citizens abroad.  The Mexican government has also joined with  other nations like Peru to challenge in U.S. court the new immigration laws of Alabama and Georgia.

A last word.  Though immigration from Mexico to the U.S. is the subject of many headlines and much heated debate what is often neglected is U.S. immigration to Mexico.  Remember, most international migration is regional and just as there are many American in Canada, and Canadians and Mexicans in the U.S., there is also a growing population of Americans in Mexico.  Estimates range from a a few hundred thousand to as high as 500,000 (or even 1 million).  Hard to know.  Many are retirees, some are reported to be there for more reasonably priced healthcare, others are teaching English or working. And it may come as a big surprise to Americans in the homeland that not all of them are there legally. In addition to that article, the BBC recently published this piece about "Illegal Americans" which I found mighty interesting.  

In the next post let's leave the U.S. behind and talk more about Mexico, a really beautiful country.  I'm going to see if I can dig up some pictures from a friend of mine in Mexico City to show you...

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wonderful Weather in Versailles

After weeks of rain, the sun came out yesterday and it was glorious.  Temperatures hit 24 degrees (75 F) yesterday and it will be even warmer today.  It's way too nice to sit inside and tickle keys so I'm taking the weekend off to work in the garden and to clean up our patio.  The capucines (nasturtiums) finally came up.  The ever reliable geraniums are blooming.  The dahlias are being attacked by some unknown insect and will have to be sprayed.  The very first blossoms have appeared on the tomato plants.  In the two small vegetable beds under the horrible locust tree there is lettuce (to be picked soon because with the warm weather it gets bitter fast), an artichoke and lots of broccoli (the Frenchlings are fans).  There are herbs as well:  thyme, lavender, rosemary, parsley.  But the most outstanding feature today really is the roses in full bloom. The pink one is very fragrant and only blooms once or twice at most.  The three reds on the other side are a little more prolific and can be coaxed into blooming all summer long.  A few photos:







Friday, May 25, 2012

Population and Politics in North America: Canada

Canada

The second largest country in the world (Russia is first).  9,9 million square kilometers (3.8 million square miles).   If you move from east to west you will cross no fewer than 6 time zones. Shares a border with the third largest country, The United States.

About that border - I'm old enough to remember a time when Americans and Canadians crossed over that border with relative ease and very little formality.  My first visit to our northern neighbor was when I was a teenager and all I needed was my Washington State driver's license.  These days everyone needs a passport,  though frequent border-hoppers can apply for something called a Nexus Card.  Another interesting fact about that border is that Canada and the U.S. have been jousting over the exact location of that border since the 18th century.  They even set up something called the International Boundary Commission in 1925 to settle disputes. Nonetheless in 2012, the CIA World Factbook lists the following maritime boundaries over which the two countries are still negotiating: "Dixon Entrance, Beaufort Sea, Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the Gulf of Maine including the disputed Machias Seal Island and North Rock; Canada and the United States dispute how to divide the Beaufort Sea and the status of the Northwest Passage but continue to work cooperatively to survey the Arctic continental shelf."

Given its geography, Canada has some very interesting population statistics.  It is one of the most sparsely populated countries in the world with only 3.5 persons per square kilometer (it's 118 persons per square kilometer in France and around 80 in the U.S.). In 2011 Canada had a population of 34 million and a literacy rate of nearly 100%.  Its fertility rate is shockingly low (below replacement) at 1.58 children per woman (only slightly higher than Germany).  On the other hand life expectancy is very high at 81 years for the population overall and 84 years for women (yes, it's the men who drag that figure down).   The other very high figure is the net migration rate (difference between those immigrating and those emigrating) of 5.65 migrant(s) per 1,000 which is the highest rate of any country in North America.

So here we see a sparsely populated country with a low birthrate, low population, low population density, high life expectancy, high literacy, skilled workforce, a pretty decent economy (it has a trade surplus with the U.S.) and abundant natural resources (forests, water, minerals, metals oil and gas).  A country like this on the prowl for human capital and, sure enough, immigration is a top priority for Canada.

Unfortunately Canada sits right next door to another country of immigration that is also thirsty for human capital, the United States.  The book, The Making of the Mosaic: A History of Canadian Immigration Policy by Ninette Kelley and Michael Trebilcock describes centuries of rivalry between the two nations for migrants.  In the era when both were chasing the same target population (Europeans) it got downright dirty with negative marketing by immigration agents:
Another grievance frequently aired by Canadian agents was that American agents engaged in misrepresentation of both their own country and Canada. It was alleged that they desseminated false reports of the rigours of life in Canada as a way of diverting people to the United States. Similarly, Canadian agents claimed that American agents provided a deceptively false picture of their own country, promising abundant employment opportunities for workers of all descriptions.
In addition to this intense competition both countries also went about trying to poach each others citizens.  U.S. immigrants agents and consuls actively promoted the U.S. to Canadian, leading to Norman McDonald's accusation that they "almost depopulated whole counties in Nova Scotia alone."  It should be noted however that Canada returned the fire and made a strong effort to get its emigrants back by sending agents to spread the word among their expats in the south about opportunities back in the home country coupled with very attractive incentives to return (land grants, travel assistance).  Canada also waged campaigns to get Americans to move north and succeeded in attracting skilled workers, cattlemen (lots of cowboys) and farmers.  This tradition continues in the 21st century with Canadian provinces actively seeking American workers today in some of the U.S.'s most depressed cities.

There have also been at least two major political migrations from the United States to Canada.  In the period after the American War of Independence (1783 - 1812) Loyalists (those who supported the British) fled to Canada where they were given land grants and other compensation. It's estimated that about 40,000 of the 62,000 dissenters loyal to the British Empire preferred to stay in North America as opposed to returning to the British Isles.   In the last century it was the Vietnam War that spurred an exodus of Americans draft evaders, deserters and dissenters to the north.  Official figures are hard to come by - Canada only shows around 16,000 Americans (mostly young men) in its official immigration statistics for that era.  The U.S. reports nearly 300,000, "209,517 cases of accused draft offenders and 100,000 less-than-honorable military discharges for absence offenses."  The true figure is somewhere in between but note that in January of 1968 Canada revised its immigration policy to legally allow deserters and draft evaders from foreign armies to immigrate and apply for residency.  Clearly that made Canada a choice destination for Americans who strongly disagreed with U.S. policy and decided to vote with their feet.  Very embarrassing for the U.S. and even with the pardon announced by then President Jimmy Carter in 1977, very few people applied and even fewer returned to the U.S.

Today both countries swap citizens as a matter of course. The North American Free Trade Agreement is a factor as is the reality that a lot of the international migration in the world today is regional:  Europeans moving to other countries in Europe, Africans moving around Africa and North Americans circulating among the nations of North America.  Proximity is important.  So is opportunity.  After the worldwide economic meltdown Canada had a lower unemployment rate than the U.S.and according to this recent article from CNN, "Canadian officials say the number of Americans applying for temporary work visas doubled between 2008 and 2010."  Since both countries tolerate dual citizenship, the number of duals (and families with some members holding one or the other citizenships) likely numbers in the hundreds of thousands (if not millions).

The immigration rivalry continues.  Neither country can really make immigration policy without taking into account the policy of the other.  In times past they vied for farmers and skilled laborers.  Moving into the 21st century both want that population of young highly-skilled migrants and both are casting much wider nets and looking to countries other than Europe for people.  Up until now the U.S. was winning the race but there are indications that this may not be true in the future.  The recession and a political system that has not been able to channel the raucous national debate over migration to make coherent immigration policy have taken its toll.   Most immigrants to the U.S. come through family reunification policies (476,414 were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and 148,343 were economic migrants in 2010).  Immigrants to Canada mostly come through a skill-selection process (76,561 economic migrants applying for permanent residency versus 48,482 family class in 2010).  It is also instructive to look at the net migration rates.  The U.S. has a net migration rate of 4.18 migrants per 1,000 people which is very good. Canada's, however, is even higher at 5.65 migrants per 1,000.    Something to watch and I sincerely hope that researchers like Hristina Petrova come up with more comparative studies such as this one.

Tomorrow we'll take a much closer look at the other country of immigration in North America:  The United States.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Population and Politics of North America: Greenland

Always good to look at things in context.  A lot has been written about European demographics and the slow birth rates in Germany and other countries in Western Europe.  Inspired by Hans Rosling's  talks (and just because I'm insatiably curious)  I thought it would be interesting to look at what's happening in North America:  Greenland, Canada, the United States and Mexico.  Let's take them in order from north to south and look at birthrates, net migration and other statistics to see what's going on today using data from Index Mundi and other sources.  First up is Greenland.

Greenland

Interesting place.  I've always been curious about this country since it does not exactly figure prominently in the international news.  It is in North America but is still tied to Europe through Denmark. In 2011 it had a population of 57, 670 souls:  about 90% Inuit and 10% European (mostly Danish).  The literacy rate couldn't be better:  100%.  The birthrate is 14.6 births/1,000 population with a respectable fertility rate of between  2.1 and 2.4 children per woman.  It is a country of emigration with a negative net migration of -5.98 migrant(s)/1,000 in 2011.  This article lists some destination countries for Greenlanders:  Norway, Guatemala, Iceland, Australia, the Netherlands, Panama, Greece, Mexico, New Zealand.  Is this a problem?  You bet it is.  How do you build a viable country with numbers like these?   Greenland was granted home rule but it is still heavily dependent on Denmark.  Immigration to Greenland is still controlled by the Danish Immigration Service which decides such matters according to something called the Greenlandic Foreigners Act.

I was very curious about why exactly Denmark continues to subsidize Greenland and why full independence is moving so slowly.  The answer seems to be location, location, location (it's close to the North Pole)  and natural resources (yes, it's all about oil and gas).  If that weren't enough, this article made another point about which I was totally ignorant:
Greenland has served as an essential host for numerous US military bases and installations, and by controlling Greenland, Denmark grew in significance to the American administration. To this day, the US still has a very potent military radar situated in the North of Greenland. There has been, and still are, considerable geopolitical and military interests linked to us.
I checked and, yes, there is still an American presence there today.  It's called Thule Air Base and it's one of the most isolated U.S. military installations on the planet.  

Greenland may not have a high population but there are good reasons for several countries (not to mention the Greenlanders themselves) to want it to be viable.  It's also worth pointing out that (if the theories are correct) Greenland may actually benefit from global warming.  Reindeer, ice caps and traditional ways of life will surely suffer but milder weather and a longer growing season may make Greenland more attractive to immigrants, might encourage population growth (and discourage emigration) and thus make it more economically viable.  Not an argument in favor of climate change, mind you, I'm just saying....

Tomorrow:  Canada

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

U.S. Tries to Build Its Own Berlin Wall

I mentioned a few days that Eduardo Saverin's renunciation of U.S. citizenship has ruffled a few feathers back in the homeland.  Didn't take long for the politicians to take up the cause in the name of "justice" for the American people.

Two Senators,  Charles Schumer (Democrat-NY) and Bob Casey (Democrat-Pennsylvania), have proposed a nifty new law called the Expatriation Prevention by Abolishing Tax-Related Incentives for Offshore Tenancy Act (aka the Ex-PATRIOT Act).  Catchy title - must have taken them hours of meetings to come up with that one.  I would have preferred that they had spent that time thinking a little harder about the impact and the potential consequences of such a law.

What does their bill propose?  It would "amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to provide that persons renouncing citizenship for a substantial tax avoidance purpose shall be subject to tax and withholding on capital gains, to provide that such persons shall not be admissible to the United States, and for other purposes."  It would assume that anyone renouncing citizenship who had over 2 million USD in assets or a tax liability of 148,000 USD is guilty of tax evasion until he or she proves his or her innocence.  So much for "Ei incumbit probatio qui dicit, non qui negat."  And who gets to decide the merits of their case?  The Internal Revenue Service.  Brings to mind the old saying about putting the fox in charge of the henhouse.  But that's not all, once these "covered expatriates" have been scolded and found guilty, they will be forever barred from traveling to or living in the U.S.  This proposed law is retroactive which means that they could unleash the IRS to go after anyone who renounced U.S. citizenship in the past decade. You read that correctly - they are proposing to go after people who legally renounced in the past but who could now be judged guilty based on a law to be passed in 2012.

Just a quick glance at the particulars reveals all sorts of things that are just plain wrong about the Ex-PATRIOT Act:  presumption of guilt, lack of due process (shouldn't the courts be deciding guilt, not a government bureaucracy?) and the idea that you can turn perfectly legal past behaviour into a crime that can be punished today.   For the edification of homelanders, the U.S. already has an Exit Tax passed by Congress in 2008 which Eduardo Saverin paid for the privilege of renouncing his U.S. citizenship.  Rest assured, folks, the U.S. government got its cut of his wealth as he walked out the door.  The only new thing about Schumer and Casey's law is that it would punish Saverin for his cheek by keeping him out of the U.S. and ensuring that they get even more money out of him after Facebook goes public.  This isn't about Saverin evading taxes so much as it's about punishing people who dare to do something that Americans don't like and don't want others to do.  That may make some Americans feel better about being divorced but it has some real consequences they need to think about before cheering Schumer and Casey on:

Barrier to Naturalization:  Look at this from the perspective of a potential citizen who is being invited to the "land of opportunity" to inject his human capital (forged in another land) into something that may or may not pay off.  This is a huge risk - not every immigrant is successful and failure is a real possibility.  If this immigrant has the good sense to look before he leaps, he will see that becoming a U.S. citizen is fraught with peril.  As a citizen or Green Card holder not only will he be taxed on what he earns in the U.S., he will have to pay (or at least report) on everything he owns and earns outside the U.S. even if none of those assets or income came from the U.S.  Does that sound like a good deal to you?  No other country does this which makes the U.S. very uncompetitive in the global citizenship market.  On top of that, if said immigrant does actually make some money and wants to return home (reverse migration) or move on and tries to renounce, he is going to have to pay out a considerable amount of what he earned in the U.S. just to exercise his right to expatriate.  You know, the right that was confirmed by the U.S. Congress in 1868 when they said, "the right of expatriation is a natural and inherent right of all people, indispensable to the enjoyment of the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"?  

Anyone with a lick of common sense can see the solution to this little dilemma;  just don't become a U.S. citizen.  Ever.  Nothing prevents anyone from coming to the U.S., living there for years, enjoying almost all the benefits of citizenship (except for voting) but never pledging allegiance.  This will increase the number of resident aliens in the U.S., people who may be very fond of America but who are not willing to see their ability to work where they like, live where they please, and to participate in business ventures and to build enterprises outside the U.S. (all the goodies of globalization) compromised.

Increases renunciations:  Look at this from the perspective of an overseas American who is debating whether or not to renounce.  This proposed law sends an important signal to them:  get out while you can. Today the threshold is 2 million USD.  What will it be tomorrow?  200,000 USD?  A Congress that is capable of making a law like the ex-Patriot Act retroactive sounds perfectly capable of deciding one day in the future that every expatriate will have to pay an onerous exit tax no matter what level of income or assets.  This is what many of us suspect is going to happen if those renunciation figures get so high that the U.S. starts to get queasy and finds itself embarrassed in the national and international media.  Jumping now is starting to look like a very good idea.  Could Congress lower the threshold and make that retroactive?  Sure they could but renunciants could fight back in the courts and just might have a better case that says, "Look, what we did was perfectly legal at the time.  Not cool to play "gotcha" now."

Punishes Homeland Americans:  The inability of renunciants to return to the U.S. to visit may turn out to be a heavier burden on the people they left behind in the homeland.:  their families.  One reason many overseas Americans have for not renouncing has nothing to do with the U.S. and everything to do with aging parents and other family members still living there.  People who would otherwise have no reason or desire to be American citizens are nevertheless concerned that their families will bear the brunt of their defection.  This is a bit of collateral damage that Schumer and Casey probably didn't consider.  The reality is that potential renunciants may also have family outside the U.S. that they need to protect from U.S. citizenship-based taxation and the new FATCA laws.  What a terrible choice:  aging parents in the U.S. versus spouses and children outside the U.S.  Where parents and grandparents are in ill-health and unable to travel, this will prevent them from ever seeing their children again and potentially their grandchildren.  All potential renunciants are aware of this.  Given the current situation, I think many will renounce anyway because they feel they must act now to protect immediate family.  If this law passes, expect some interesting headlines like "U.S. government prevents daughter from visiting dying mother in Houston because of U.S. exit tax laws."

Aside from this short list of potential consequences, have homelanders thought for two seconds what this law says about the United States of America in 2012?  Is the U.S. so desperate for citizens, so eager to prevent people from leaving, that it must do everything in its power to discourage it?  Since when did Americans have so little confidence in themselves and their country that they have to build a wall to keep people in?  I understand that Americans feel angry and out of sorts when people renounce, but, you know, that's what countries who invest in their citizens and watch them pack up and leave for the U.S. often feel.  Most have the good sense to be gracious about it and some even welcome back the descendants of their emigrants with open arms.  Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Americans find that they don't much care for the rules that have benefitted them for over 200 years.  

Here are a couple of radical ideas:  if Americans think an Exit Tax is such a great concept, then why don't they ask every immigrant at every U.S. citizenship ceremony to cut a check for 30% of their assets earned in the States to be sent back to their countries of origin with a note of thanks signed by the head of the USCIS?  Or if they are so convinced that Saverin owes something to the countries that "made" him, perhaps they would share what they have already collected from him in taxes with Brazil, his other country of citizenship?

I don't care much for that idea and I think most Americans wouldn't like it much either (the Brazilian government, on the other hand, would probably be tickled pink to get a check from the U.S. Treasury).  So let's stop with the petty small-minded rubbish coming out of Washington .  To do otherwise would clearly give credence to what a lot of Americans inside and outside the U.S. have been wondering about:  that the "land of the free' has become something else altogether.

Ted Talk: Hans Rosling on Religion and Babies

Watching Hans Rosling work his magic is better than eating an entire box of vanilla-flavored raspberry-filled Enigma Cornettos.

A lesser mind with weaker diplomatic skills could not have pulled off this talk on a topic so sensitive in front of such a diverse audience.  But he did it.  Amazing.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Living in the Wreckage of the Future

If you read the headlines, listen to the news or just have a cup of coffee with a few friends the consensus everywhere seems to be, "The world is a cruel and violent place and every day, in every way, it's just getting worse."   Some days it fills me with despair that we revel in the bad news.  We seem to actually prefer having emotional orgies where we tsk tsk over the present (awful) and the future (will undoubtedly be worse if "something isn't done.")  Funny how we don't bring the past into the conversation.  Or if we do, we make vague noises about how things were so much better in times before.  Really.  And what is the evidence for that?

That is why Stephen Pinker's book, The Better Angels of Our Nature is such a good read.  Using hard data he makes a very good case that the past was not a bucolic idyllic place of peace and harmony where people knew how to get along and that modern man is not a hopeless degenerate wreaking havoc on his fellowman. In fact, he argues convincingly that things are looking mighty good these days compared to the world of our ancestors.

Just for fun let's examine a few figures for Europe and the United States.  Looking at one city in Western Europe, 14th century Oxford had around 110 homicides per 100,000 people per year.  What's the rate in modern times?  Less than 1 homicide per 100,000 people in all of London in the mid-20th century.  Was this decline only in England?  Not at all and Pinker devotes an entire chapter to the European Homicide Decline.  The timing and rate of decline varies according to country, and some centuries were more violent than others, but looking at Manuel Eisner's graphs, the data show that Western Europe went from between 4 and 100 homicides per 100,000 people in the past to its current all-time low of less than 1 per 100,000 and seems to be holding steady.  This story from 13th century England will sound very familiar to modern readers (and most certainly to any present day police officer):  "Symonet Spinelli, Agnes his mistress and Geoffrey Bereman were together in Geoffrey’s house when a quarrel broke out among them; Symonet left the house and returned later the same day with Richard Russel his Servant to the house of Godfrey le Gorger, where he found Geoffrey; a quarrel arose and Richard and Symonet killed Geoffrey."  Old scenario but all the evidence shows that it's happening a lot less today.  Simple prudence, however, would dictate against picking violent quarrels with one's friends.

That's Europe.  What do we see if we take a trip across the Atlantic?  The U.S. is a bit more complicated and those who say that the U.S. is a violent place are not entirely wrong.  Pinker, however, paints a more nuanced picture.    He argues that, "The key to understanding American homicide is to remember that the United was originally a plural noun, as in these United States.  When it comes to homicide the United States is not a country; it's three countries."  If you look at his map of the U.S. homicide rates you'll see that they vary enormously according to region.  Northern states like Minnesota, Iowa, Montana and the Pacific Northwest have rates that are comparable to Western Europe:  less than 3 per 100,000.  The situation degrades the father south you go until you start arriving at places like Alabama (8.9 per 100,000), Arizona (7.4 per 100,000) and Louisiana (14.2 per 100,000).  If you are a potential migrant and personal security is high on your list of priorities, you might want to skip these regions (I personally recommend Portland or Seattle myself - some recent crime statistics for both cities can be found here.)

Putting these numbers in context, there are several historical peculiarities about the U.S.  Instead of a steady decline over time, the U.S. saw murder rates shoot up in the mid-19th century which might have something to do with the civil war we were having at the time.  As for the Wild West,  "wild" doesn't begin to do it justice (pun intended).  In fact it was the lack of official justice that seems to have been one root of the problem.  In the world of my recent ancestors, if you lived in a small community or on a farm in the West, you couldn't necessarily just call the police in the event of crime - people pretty much had to take care of themselves. Here are a few homicide statistics from that era cited by Pinker:  Dodge City (100 per 100,000), Fort Griffin, Texas (229 per 100,000) and Wichita, Kansas with an incredible 1,500 murders per 100,000 people.  (Important to note here that some of these statistics are challenged by gun rights advocates in the U.S. who argue that they are outright false.)  All those numbers have come down and today, depending on who you ask, the national murder rate stands at somewhere between 5 and 7 per 100,000.  Anyone who wants to argue that the U.S. was a safer place in the 19th century is going to have a very hard time backing that up.

The above is just a thin slice of Pinker's book.  In addition to statistics in crime, he also talks about the prevalence of war.  Is the world overall more peaceful?  He contends that indeed it is and he cites some very interesting research to support this.  (Have a quick peek at the Correlates of War Project for some fascinating data about war and violence, territorial changes, military budgets and alliances over long periods of history.)  I also have not touched in this post some of his hypotheses for the reasons why he thinks peace is a trend.  I invite you to read the book, look closely at his evidence and judge his arguments for yourself.

I personally found it a nice counter-argument to the nearly universal discourse that the "world is going to hell in a handbasket."  Of course, if enough of us argued differently, it might take all the fun out of family dinners and coffee klatches with friends (not to mention that it would probably be the death of the media.)  After all, whatever would we find to talk about if we lost our very favorite all purpose guaranteed to fill the void under all circumstances with any audience topic:   the past was better than it was, the present is worse than it is, and the future is sure to be much worse. (Marcel Pagnol)

Monday, May 21, 2012

EU Diplomatic Service

An awful lot of what the European Union is up to passes completely under the radar of the people who have a direct interest in its actions:  Europeans.  The EU has been accused of having a "democratic deficit" which I think is a fair criticism.  The other side of the story is that most Europeans I meet aren't terribly interested in following the more arcane doings of this complicated political/bureaucratic monstrosity.  No sparkling photogenic personalities to grab and hold the public's attention and their initiatives tend to move at a snail's pace - very small steps over long periods of time (years, decades even).   The Blue Card is a perfect example.  Every month I meet people in Paris who have no clue that the EU has mandated the creation of this new work permit for Europe and once I explain the scheme to them, the reaction is almost always, "That's crazy!  We didn't vote for that! What do you mean it's been implemented in France?"  Hey, mes amis, try to keep up here.  This is your government at work and you have no idea what's going on?  Maybe Europeans could convince Fox news to start operating out of Bruxelles?  I think they would be thrilled at a chance to inform the public here.  On second thought, a U.S. news service that seems to take very seriously Tallyrand's maxim, "Agiter le peuple avant de s'en servir..." might be one Yankee import that Europe could do without.

So how many of you are aware that the EU took a big step in 2010 by creating its very own diplomatic service?  That's right.  In addition to all the diplomatic corps of the member-states, the EU now has its own diplomats who represent the Union as a whole.  It's called the European External Action Service (EEAS).  "The service integrates the European Commission's existing foreign representations into a network of embassies representing the EU. It is staffed by officials from the Commission and European Council Secretariat – who represent 60% – and national civil servants."

The creation of this service was not without controversy even though it was part of the Lisbon Treaty (you know, the one the member-states actually signed in order to "take Europe into the 21st century"?).  After much muttering and infighting about the composition, administration and financing of the service, a compromise was brokered by the Spanish in mid-2010.

Today the service is up and running under the leadership of EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.  I was tipped off to their existence and recent activities by this article,  Rotation 2012 de la diplomatie européenne : 17 nommés, in a blog I follow regularly called Bruxelles2:  "Le premier blog – webnews francophone consacré à la Politique étrangère de l'UE et l'Europe de la Défense."  A really excellent source for news about EU foreign and defense policy.  They report that 17 new EU ambassadors were put into service in May of this year and there is an on-going recruitment process for "les chefs de délégation pour Cuba, Djibouti, l’Islande, le Maroc, le Nigeria, le Paraguay, la région pacifique (Fidji) et l’Uruguay."

Does the existence of this service mean that Henry Kissinger's cynical (and very condescending) question, "Who do you call when you want to speak to Europe?" has been answered?  Debatable.


But what it is today is less important than what it could be in the future.  EU integration marches on - slowly but surely - a steamroller with no reverse gear.  Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but something Europeans should watch closely lest the centimeter they hand over to them today becomes a kilometer tomorrow.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Flophouse Garden After May Showers

A quiet Sunday here at the Flophouse.  We'll be going into town later on this morning to have lunch with my mother-in-law in Paris.  Good thing we are going somewhere because today our house is the equivalent of a very bad neighborhood.  There is a mountain of clean laundry for the Frenchlings to fold in the living room.  There are books, magazines, brochures, unopened mail (the snail variety) and homework to be found on every surface on the main floor.  The dining room sure could use to be vacuumed and mopped (hallway too) and one of our cats, Minouche, just threw up all over the kitchen floor.

Since there is nothing particularly inspiring inside the house and we won't be leaving for a couple of hours at least, best to put on the comfy shoes and take a tour outside.  Ah, much better.  I may be a lousy housekeeper but I'm a fairly respectable gardener.  All the May showers combined with compost have done their work.  Here's what's blooming:







Bon dimanche, everyone!

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Flophouse Citizenship and International Migration Reading List Updated

Citizenship issues are in the news these days and I've been doing a lot of reading and blogging recently on this topic.  So I thought it was timely to update this reading list.  Out of all the books I've read in the past few months, these are the ones that made the cut.  New stuff is in green.  I highly recommend all the titles below - read them and you will never look at citizenship or migration the same way again.  Oh and this time around all the underlined titles take you directly to the book on Amazon (many thanks to a reader who pointed out this lack the last time I published this list).

This is a very well-written, well-argued book.  The author is ambitious and confronts some of the most difficult topics around migration:  Why is International Migration Such a Contentious Issue?  Are Goods and Capital More Important than People?  Don't Always 'Blame' the North, and so on.

International Migration and the Globalization of Domestic Politics edited by Rey Koslowski.  Some very good insights into how international migration and diaspora politics affect politics back in the home country.

International Migration and Citizenship Today by Niklaus Steiner (2009).  A very fine book on the political, economic and cultural impact of immigration.  He frames the discussion around two essential questions:  What Criteria to Admit Migrants?  and What Criteria to Grant Citizenship?

Citizenship Today: Global Perspectives and Practices edited by T. Alexander Aleinikoff and Douglas Klusmeyer (2001).  This was one of the best books I read on the topic of citizenship with essays by Patrick Weil, Karen Knop and Richard T. Ford, among many others.   I particularly enjoyed Ford's contribution called "City-States and Citizenship" which was, for me, a real revelation.

States without Nations:  Citizenship for Mortals by Jacqueline Stevens (2009) A strong critique of birthright citizenship in all forms and a call for citizenship based on residency.  

The Perils of Belonging: Authochthony, Citizenship, and Exclusion in Africa and Europe by Peter Geschier (2009).  Outstanding read.  States make citizens and states can also "unmake" them.  Nativism and the never-ending debate over who really "belongs."

The Politics of Citizenship in Europe by Marc Morje Howard (2009).  A really fine study of the citizenship policies of the oldest member-states of the EU.  Read this book to grasp how citizenship laws have changed over time and the reasons why.

The Future Governance of Citizenship by Dora Kostakopoulou ((2008).  Good overview of the current citizenship models and a proposal for an "anational" citizenship framework.

Beyond Citizenship:  American Identity After Globalization by Peter Spiro (2008).  Excellent book that examines how globalization has changed the value of citizenship overall and American citizenship in particular.  Very thoughtful.  Very well-written.

Qu'est-ce qu'un Français? by Patrick Weil (2002).  Mr. Weil spent over 8 years in the archives researching this book and it is fascinating.  France has been something of a test lab for just about every combination of jus soli and jus sanguinis citizenship possible.  Everything has been tried and tried again.  I read the book in French but it is also available in the usual places in English.

Gender and International Migration in Europe by Eleonore Kofman, Annie Phizacklea, Parvati Raghuram and Rosemary Sales (2000).  If you are looking for some empirical evidence (as I was) for how migration, immigration policy and citizenship rights have different outcomes and impacts for women, this is a good place to start.

The Birthright Lottery:  Citizenship and Global Inequality by Ayelet Shacher (2009) An attack on both jus soli and jus sanguinis methods of transmitting citizenship.  Fascinating argument.

Aliens in Medieval Law:  the Origins of Modern Citizenship by Keechang Kim ((2000).  I've been meaning to write a post about this book since it has a very original take on the historical roots of modern citizenship.  I recommend it highly. 


Human Rights or Citizenship? by Paulina Tambakaki (2010)  Interesting ideas about how traditional models of citizenship and  human rights legislation are in conflict.

International Migration, Remittances and the Brain Drain edited by Caglar Ozden and Maurice Schiff  for the World Bank (2006)  This book contains a number of very interesting essays about the economic impact of remittances and brain drain/gain.  The editors point out that the potential for economic benefit for all parties (individuals and sending and receiving countries)  is substantial but policy decisions need to be made carefully (we are talking about people after all).

Let Them In:  the Case for Open Borders by Jason L. Riley (2008)  The author makes a very radical argument for simply opening the doors and letting people move where they wish.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Gathering Data about Citizens Abroad is Not Mission Impossible

In yesterday's post I talked about how odd it was that the U.S. government does not make any attempt to track Americans leaving the U.S. temporarily or permanently and has no clue about how many U.S. citizens live abroad or what they are doing.  I'm sure some of my fellow emigrants were mightily content with this state of affairs since it made it possible for Americans to leave the country and completely fall off the radar of the U.S. government (Tea Partiers take note.  Want to be free of U.S. government interference?  Leave the U.S.).  At least that used to be true.  With FATCA this state of affairs is now effectively over since the U.S. government has delegated the management of its emigrants to their host countries. Of course the only information that will be turned over is financial which, if I were very cynical, I might interpret as a complete disinterest in my well-being by my home country for anything other than the contents of my wallet.

Not every country sends that kind of signal to its citizens abroad.  Yes, financial data might be of interest (not just for tax purposes but also to get a feel for what money is available for investment in the home country and remittances) but it's not limited to that.  For a very good example of a very interesting expatriate study conducted by a home country government, have a look at this Enquête sur l’expatriation des Français en 2010.   In their words, this study was held because the French government recognizes that its emigrants,  "Contribuant pour beaucoup au rayonnement de notre pays à l’étranger, cette communauté reste cependant en partie méconnue." (Though they contribute a lot to the influence of our country abroad, this community remains, at least in part, unknown.)  And the final objective is to: "mieux cerner les besoins et les attentes des Français expatriés et d’identifier d’éventuelles vulnérabilités des dispositifs d’accueil et de traitement des demandes de nos consulats." (better understand the needs and expectations of expatriate French and to identify shortcomings in their host country welcome and in the services provided by French consulates.)  In short, they were curious about their own people abroad and how they are being treated.  Imagine that.

Here are some of the areas the French government decided to learn more about:

Demographic and socioeconomic profile of the expatriate population:
55% male in 2010 (down from 66% in previous years)
97% have French nationality - only 14% have dual citizenship
Of the duals citizens:  12 % are French/Turkish, 11 % are French-Canadian, 8% are French-American and 7 % are French-Algerian.
70% are married.
54% have no children.
74% of the French abroad have a Bac + 3 or above (so at least a university degree)
8 out of 10 work in their host countries
Most have salaries superior to the French national average with 26% earning between 30,000 and 60,000 Euros per year.

This chart shows in what fields they work:



What were their motivations for expatriating?
55% left for work
27% left for family reasons
6% are students
5.4% are retirees

Where did French expatriates go?
Mostly Western Europe but Asia and North America are also top destinations:


Of the potential emigrants interviewed the top destination was clearly Canada (nearly 10%) with the United States in second place (6%) and Australia and China in third place (about 5%).

How do the French find their lives abroad?
80% report that they are happy with their expatriate lives.  Difficulties encountered were:  integration problems, trouble learning the local language, missing their family and friends at home.

When I came to this section of the study I was absolutely floored by this question:  "Quels aspects de la vie quotidienne vous semblent meilleurs dans votre nouveau pays de résidence qu’en France?"  (What aspects of daily life seem better to you in your host country compared to France?)  Wow.  I can't even begin to envision an American government study that would ever include this kind of question.  Its funding would be pulled faster than you can say, "Best country on Earth and how dare you imply otherwise...." (I'm not kidding here, folks.)  So what did the French abroad have to say?

A clear majority preferred the following in the host countries:  standard of living and taxes.  They were evenly divided concerning social climate and safety.  They definitely preferred France to their host countries for transportation, cultural life and healthcare.


Questions were also asked about what consulate services the French abroad use and their overall satisfaction with the service delivered.  Fancy that, the French government actually wants to know if their customers abroad are satisfied (or not) with the level of service they (expatriates not tourists) receive.  Amazing.


Now let's be brutally honest here, ladies and gentlemen, this is not only fascinating data that shows a curiosity about, and a real interest in, the welfare of its citizens abroad, it is also the kind of study that is not that tough to put into place and administer.

So, as an American citizen abroad who pays taxes and votes, I want to know why in heaven's name my own government seems to find this sort of thing "too hard."  Clearly, if other countries can do it, the U.S. certainly could if it wanted to.  But it doesn't.  Or, if it does, it certainly isn't advertising it (I can just imagine some report gathering dust in the bowels of the State department in Washington.)  In either case, I would like an explanation.

Or would a clear answer be another thing that my government thinks is too much of a challenge? :-)