Transferable Citizenship

In 20th century USA, many feared that if a black moved into their neighborhood, “white flight” would greatly lower their property values. In many places it was illegal to sell your house to a black. But it was never illegal to sell your house to outsiders. At the national level today, however, we actually do adopt the extreme “no house selling” analogy: we don’t let folks transfer their citizenship to foreigners.

Imagine each US citizen could transfer her citizenship to a foreigner, as long as she found somewhere else to live, [added: hadn’t recently given birth,] and wasn’t about to die, and the foreigner was at least as old, and wasn’t a terrorist, ex-con, etc. Benefits:

  • Citizenship could be collateral for loans for school, houses, etc.
  • We’ll prefer those who’d pay to come, over those who choose to leave.
  • Undesirable poor folk are especially likely to leave.
  • Retirees could be paid to retire more cheaply abroad.

Similar to those old rules against selling houses to blacks, we could also add more restrictions on to whom citizenship could be transfered. At least if we were willing to publicly own up to the racism, ethnism, etc. that such restrictions embodied.

Now folks like Julian Simon and Gary Becker have proposed selling citizenship before, without much success. But it seems to me better marketing to first focus on giving each person a direct benefit: more freedom to use an asset they already own, citizenship. First, get folks to see that selling citizenships makes as much sense as selling houses or club memberships. Then suggest that letting government add to the pool of citizenships for sale might raise revenue, and maybe help the economy as well.

This post was sparked by hearing a talk by Michael Clemens, who noted that we saw no effect on wages from either the Cuban boat lift that suddenly increased Miami’s population by 7%, nor the sudden elimination of migration restrictions within South Africa. Those sound like great pro-immigration arguments to an economist, but alas seem a bit too indirect for the public.

Added: Bryan suggests immigrants pay extra taxes, while Alex suggests giving visas to house buyers.

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