60 Stars in the American Flag?

| 16 Feb 2015 | 04:50

    Let's annex Mexico, Cuba, the West Indies and Canada?except for Quebec

    The name of the largest bank in Quebec is Des Jardins. Recently, a group of American academics met with the management of Des Jardins and were told, to their amazement, that the bank was not in business to make a profit. Des Jardins, according to its chairman, had a higher social purpose than that.

    The professors were very impressed. They had never heard of such a wonderful thing: a bank that didn't make money. But a look at the bank's balance sheet revealed that the chairman was not kidding. The bank was losing money and, from the looks of it, would continue to do so for years to come.

    Banks that lose money go out of business. The problem in this particular situation is that if Des Jardins goes out of business, Quebec goes out of business, because Des Jardins is, basically, the national bank of Quebec.

    Should Des Jardins go belly-up, it would then become the obligation of all Canadians to bail it and, by extension, Quebec, out. And the question is: Is there a province west of the Quebec/Ontario border that has any interest in bailing Quebec out of what will be, in American terms, a massive savings and loan crisis? n The answer to that question, after years and years of Quebecois whining about cultural identity and independence, is "never." The western provinces have had it up to here with the Quebecois. Provinces like Alberta and British Columbia are pining for Quebec to declare its independence from the Federation; the sooner, the better.

    The Des Jardins "situation" in Quebec is not some wild what-if scenario. It is happening, as described above, right now. Just as the Indians in Mexico, right now, are planning an uprising against the Mexican government. Just as the Mexican drug cartels, right now, are reaping the returns of a resurgent drug market and using the proceeds to extend their influence over the Mexican government. Just as the Castro government, right now, is teetering on the verge of collapse.

    Americans tend to think of our borders as stable, even sacrosanct, but they are anything but that. They are fungible, and the question that faces American policymakers in the next few years is whether it is in the national interest to add states to the United States?or to put it more visually, whether we should add stars to the flag.

    A while back in these pages, I argued that it would be a good idea for the United States to buy Siberia from the Russians. The theory was that the current Russian government would sell anything for cash and that incorporating Siberia into the United States would do for today's United States what the Louisiana Purchase did for Thomas Jefferson's United States.

    Boy, did the investment bankers like that idea. Visions of an endless stream of underwriting fees danced before their eyes. But everyone else who read about it wrote it off as too crazy and far-fetched, just as they did in 1991, when the idea was first proposed by political theorist Walter Mead in The Los Angeles Times.

    Okay. But the situation in this hemisphere is different. The United States would not be "buying" provinces from federal governments or "buying out" sovereign states. The United States would be enticing provinces and states to come aboard, to add their star to our flag.

    Is this a good idea? It is argued ad nauseam that in the new economy, property is unimportant. What matters are ideas, information and knowledge. This is undoubtedly true in the economic realm, but is it true in the larger geopolitical realm? It's an interesting question.

    Consider the possibilities. The Canadian Federation as currently constituted will break up, because Quebec will either vote for independence (as it almost did in 1998) or because its sister provinces will no longer pay the costs of Quebecois intransigence and arrogance.

    The Castro government will collapse of its own foul weight, just as every other former Soviet satellite state has done. There are those who believe that Mexico will break up in less than 10 years as corruption ravages the north and the Indians rise up in the south. And Puerto Rico is percentage points away (in recent popular referenda) from voting in favor of joining the United States.

    Does it benefit the United States to entice these Canadian provinces, some Mexican states and "nations" like Cuba, Puerto Rico and the West Indies into our federal system? The answer, it seems to me, is clearly "yes," even though real estate is currently out of intellectual fashion.

    For one thing, there's nothing wrong with real estate. This notion that only ideas matter is nice, but it's not true. Space matters, both physically and psychically.

    Second, enlarging the United States and welcoming in diverse populations would send a very strong message to the rest of the world that we are not only an open-border country, we're an open-border country that is willing to literally embrace our neighbors.

    Third, if Alberta or Puerto Rico or Saskatchewan or the West Indies or even the Inuit Indians want to become part of the United States, then by all means. Better our software (political, legal and regulatory systems) than theirs.

    Fourth, the best way to control borders is to erase them. Fifth, borders are being erased by Internet technology anyway. The only way for a country to protect its interests in the Internet economy is to be as borderless as possible.

    Sixth, when Castro collapses and travel restrictions abate, more than a million Cubans will move to Miami immediately. Miami doesn't have the infrastructure to handle that kind of action. Wouldn't it be better if we just ask Cuba to begin the process of statehood (protectorate, territory, statehood) while tweaking the tax code to make it especially attractive to invest in Cuba?

    What's the downside of adding Canadian provinces, Puerto Rico and Cuba to the United States? They're all lands rich in natural resources and full of smart people. In 1776, there were 13 stars on the American flag. In 1876, there were 37. In 1976, there were 50. Why not add 20 more over the course of the next 76 years?

    Pat Buchanan and others like him argue that we must do more to "control" our borders. Factions of the Democratic and Republican parties argue that we should erect barriers to trade to "protect" our workers and, more inanely, to preserve "our heritage."

    Our heritage?indeed, our lifeblood?is immigration. The United States could use more land and space for people to immigrate to. Adding stars to the flag would be a policy of enlightened and enlightening self-interest. On some level, we'd be crazy not to do it. Opportunities like this come around only once in a while.

    For decades, the issue of an expanding United States could not be broached because of the Cold War. The addition of territories might have had geopolitical ramifications that could have escalated into nuclear confrontations. That's what the Cuban missile crisis was about.

    But the Cold War is over now. Who cares whether the French object? Let's erase the borders and invite our neighbors onto the flag. A bigger country is a better country.

    E-mail: jellis@nypress.com