Reciprocal Vistas

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I've received about 50 emails so far in response to my LA Times piece yesterday—of which my favorite subject line is the succinct and easily satisfied "Shut Up!" There were many more positive responses than I had expected, though they were still far outnumbered by the negatives. Two different people have asked whether there is any group or lobby advocating the visaless intra-NAFTA exchange I proposed, so maybe there's a movement starting! My favorite response was one that took Keynesian economics to where it would have ended up if John Maynard Keynes had been Dr. Strangelove: "We have to eliminate the jobs to eliminate the incentive."

A guy named Mark Sethre said he was going to post my exchange with him on his blog, and I said I'd throw him a link, but it turns out to be pretty much a caveblog and our exchange didn't make it in. Anyway, Sethre raised an issue that was common to most of the dissenters: lack of reciprocity by Canada and Mexico. According to this claim, our neighbors to the north and south will never allow Americans to settle, work, start businesses, or otherwise come and go freely. So why should we?

I'm not too well equipped to address this issue, because I don't know if it's true. I can say I went through more document searches and security rigamarole getting into a press screening of Fellowship of the Ring than I did getting into Canada: They asked to see my passport and I showed it, but I hear tell that I could have just shown them a drivers license, and in any event Mrs. Cavanaugh, in a different line, did not have to show a passport. I've never been to Mexico at all, and am still working off my vision of it as the great lawless frontier where Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw can disappear with their hundreds of thousands of stolen dollars. Is there really anything preventing an American from going down to Mexico, staying indefinitely, working, or starting a business?

If so, I'd be interested in knowing how much of a barrier such regulations actually present. In any event, reciprocity works the same way in law as in oral sex: One partner has to go downtown first.

NEXT: It Still Feels a Little Unsafe. Maybe We Could Require the Swimmers to Wear Seat Belts?

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  1. According to this claim, our neighbors to the north and south will never allow Americans to settle, work, start businesses, or otherwise come and go freely.

    Lots of Americans live on the Mexican side of California and commute to work daily from there.

  2. Is there really anything preventing an American from going down to Mexico, staying indefinitely, working, or starting a business?

    American home ownership in Mexico has been booming over the past ten years or so.

  3. I agree with the idea of open borders with Canada and Mexico. I do have to correct you though on you oral sex comment, ‘someone has to go downtown first.’ Clearly that is just not true.

  4. “reciprocity works the same way in law as in oral sex: One partner has to go downtown first.”

    oh my! mercy!

  5. Of course Mexico has the same problems re: land ownership that it has in other areas of economic life – corruption, poor enforcement of contractual relationships, etc.

  6. What Phil… said. I know American lawyers who live AND work in Mexico, practicing Mexican law for Mexican (and American) clients.

    There is some truth to the reciprocity claim however. Foreigners aren’t allowed to own real estate in many parts of Mexico, for example. But I don’t know that it’d be that hard to work around if you had a trustworthy Mexico-licensed lawyer who could set you up with the necessary title-holding entities. And with the non-existence of regulation for so many industries there, I can’t see why it’d be hard to set up a business there.

    Never heard of Canada being a hard place for an American company to set up shop either.

    I want to know: who are all these people who are being denied the opportunity to set up a business in Canada or Mexico? Have they even tried?

    Even if there were more barriers to entry for Americans in those countries, wouldn’t that in the aggregate be a good thing for the American economy? More foreigners investing their money here is better for our economy than Americans investing their money abroad, right?

    If that’s the case, then the argument that “we can’t set up shop there, so why should we let them here” is self-defeating. They’re only hurting themselves by discouraging foreign participation in their markets.

  7. independent worm,

    Yeah, it is definately an odd argument.

  8. What’s a “caveblog”?

  9. In any event, reciprocity works the same way in law as in oral sex: One partner has to go downtown first.

    Best… metaphor… ever.

  10. I read recently that large Mexican banks were holding land titles in trusts for American owners.

  11. If there are any Mexicans online then I am willing to trade my British passport for it’s mexican equivalent.

    I’ve had it with this country. Rainy, miserable, bumhole of an island.

    I want to be where the sun shines and people grow moustaches without irony.

  12. When I was growing up, patriotism had a strong dose of sanctimony. We were the greatest nation ever. Not only were we a free people, but we a beacon of freedom to the rest of the world, leading by example and always treating everyone else better than they treated us (not torturing their POWs, low tariffs, dissenting views printed in our press e.g.) Damn, how I’d like to get that feeling back.

    Oh, and what is a “caveblog”?

  13. There is some truth to the reciprocity claim however. Foreigners aren’t allowed to own real estate in many parts of Mexico, for example. But I don’t know that it’d be that hard to work around if you had a trustworthy Mexico-licensed lawyer who could set you up with the necessary title-holding entities.

    It’s usually gotten around with a 100 year lease, or a lease into perpetuity.

    Never heard of Canada being a hard place for an American company to set up shop either.

    What they get stinky about is an American taking a job that could be filled by a Canadian. If you’re not competing against a Canadian for a job, you’re usually ok.

    According to this claim, our neighbors to the north and south will never allow Americans to settle, work, start businesses, or otherwise come and go freely.

    AFAIK, nobody has ever tried to negotiate the appropriate treaties. You don’t ask, you don’t get.

    If your end game is some sort of North American Federation (and I’m not sure the Open Borders Bliss Ninnies have even given much thought to what it is they want to accomplish), then I’d like to see some treaties in place ensuring a baseline of reciprocal property rights, political rights (if Americans marched in Mexico like Mexicans march in America, they’d be escorted to the border, pronto. Not that I’m complaining, but I think it’s only fair Americans living in Mexico have the same right to try to influence the Mexican government that Mexicans have to try to influence the American government), and civil liberties.

    Considering we have a fair amount of leverage with the governments in question, I don’t think negotiating the appropriate treaties would an insurmountable obstacle, it’s just never been attempted.

  14. Tim’s reciprocity analogy doesn’t necessarily apply because, just like NAFTA, freer immigration could be negotiated between various nations and then applied simultaneously (which I suppose could also apply to oral sex, but that’s another matter!). Still the question arises as to why should there necessarily be linkage between what we do with our borders and what others do with theirs, since the right thing to do is the right thing to do whether others are doing it too, and two wrongs don’t make a right. That said, and while I’m no expert on immigration laws around the world either, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s no lack of hypocrisy on this issue from those with whom libertarians are aligned because too many of them are arguing out of expediency rather than principle.

  15. A friend of mine has been dating a woman from Minnesota for the past four years and they intend to get married. After many lawyer’s visits, pouring over the required paperwork, etc. it seems it is much easier for her to move here (Canada) than for him to move to the US. This is under marital immigration laws, and so I can’t speak to the rest of it. Though I do know that Canadians are forbidden from entering the Green Card Lottery y’all have every year.

  16. Mexico has a completely outdated and inefficient oil sector primarily because it is state owned and they will not allow any foreigners to come in and invest because that might prevent the elites from ripping everyone off. The same is true of the telecom sector as well and probably others. The consensus has always been that Mexico totally screws itself by its jingoistic foreign investment laws and looses 1000s of jobs and billions of dollars in low wage employment to places like China. Think about it, why would you site your low wage labor intensive factory producing goods for the U.S. market in China rather than Mexico, which is much closer? The reason is that Mexico makes it very hard for you to settle there.

    That said, there is a difference between investment and immigration. Saying that Mexicans shouldn’t be able to invest in the U.S. is not the same thing as saying millions of low-skilled Mexicans should be able to come here illegally. They are two separate issues.

  17. “reciprocity works the same way in law as in oral sex: One partner has to go downtown first.”

    Tim,

    Has comment #69 here taught you nothing?!?!

    tsk, tsk. Today is indeed a dreary day.

  18. reciprocity works the same way in law as in oral sex: One partner has to go downtown first.

    Poor Tim. You’ve never heard of a position called 69 I take it? Or is that illegal in whatever state you are in?

    Back on topic, I personally see no reason why we need free trade agreements in the first place. We are better off with no barriers to trade to our markets. True, we are also better off with no barriers to other countries markets too. However the game theory rationale for free trade agreements (they won’t open up their markets otherwise, hurting both of us, or at least not helping either of us) has pretty much run its course.

    The Doha round seems essentially dead and buried. Time for us to take our lead from Estonia (!) and open our markets 100% to everyone. Of course, since Estonia joined the EU they were forced to partially enact artifical barriers to entry again, hurting their economy, although I think the entry into the EU was worth the damage.

  19. Canada is touchy on jobs. For years, we U.S. employees have had to say “I’m attending a meeting of our Canadian sister-company” in order to not be turned away at the border. A new employee once said “Our Canadian lab needs my input on a new product they are developing.” and was told to turn his car around and head home.
    I was once asked if I was to speak at the meeting and was quick-witted enough to deny any participatory role.

  20. In regards to reciprocal immigration barriers, I see that idea the same way I see reciprocal trade barriers. Just because some nations decide to hurt their country’s economy by artificially driving up prices, that doesn’t mean we should join them out of spite.

    …emulating the stupidity of others is stupid.

  21. “If so, I’d be interested in knowing how much of a barrier such regulations actually present.”

    Quick! Somebody get Sammy Hagar on the horn!

  22. They asked to see my passport and I showed it, but I hear tell that I could have just shown them a drivers license, and in any event Mrs. Cavanaugh, in a different line, did not have to show a passport.

    Were you touristing, or were you there to settle and hold down a job? It kind of makes a difference.

  23. As many are pointing out… Just as it is with trade, your nation is better off when it permits free immigration even if the other nation doesn’t reciprocate. Not opening your borders because the other nation doesn’t open its borders is harmful to your economy, and for all the wrong reasons.

    That said, it is an interesting notion if it makes open borders more palatable to more people.

  24. Im guessing a caveblog is one with only one link in and none going out, or very few, hence, little traffic.

  25. Im guessing a caveblog is one with only one link in and none going out, or very few, thus, little traffic.

  26. Were you touristing, or were you there to settle and hold down a job? It kind of makes a difference.

    If you say the former and do the latter, how do they know? I’ve always kinda wondered that, and on another thread, someone claimed they’ve heard that, contrary to common perceptions, Mexican illegals mostly arrive in the US legally but merely don’t go back when they’re supposed to, which, despite the secret source of this info, strikes me as very plausible. Am I missing something, or isn’t it actually very easy to cross a border with the claim that you’re vacationing and then just do something else?

  27. Please don’t bring Dr. Strangelove into this. It’s to Keynes as Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper is to economics.

    I’m a stickler for proper Obscure References, and Dr. Strangelove (Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying…) is my favorite movie.

  28. I should follow-up my own post to say that I realize that if one wants to be and remain legal when they cross a border (and it’s generally a lot easier to run a business legally than illegally), then of course one wants to be honest about one’s intent from the start. So my observation that it would seem hard to hold border crossers to their originally stated purpose applies more to the issue of how easy it is to break immmigration laws than to the issue of what those laws are to begin with, and thus RC Dean’s question and observation were perfectly valid to the matter he was addressing.

  29. Were you touristing, or were you there to settle and hold down a job? It kind of makes a difference.

    No, it kind of doesn’t, because they didn’t ask me what the purpose of my visit was, require a visa, or in any other way attempt to determine the purpose, length, or validity of my trip.

    Has comment #69 here taught you nothing?!?!

    I may as well add sexual heresy to my many other sins: Anything other than an FF 69 is only interesting as a stunt. An upside-down blow job just isn’t that satisfying an experience.

  30. I heard an NPR piece recently saying that Mexico has very stringent anti-illegal immigration on it’s own southern border, but of course that says nothing about how easy it would be for someone of a fairer complexion and fatter bank account to make it in from the north.

    As for reciprocity, an old econ prof of mine put it nicely. Say country A produces the cure for cancer, and country B produces the cure for AIDS. If country B decides to stop importing from country A, it is certainly sub-optimal. But the last thing country A should do is stop importing the AIDS cure!

    If Canada/Mexico failed to reciprocate, we would lose the benefit of allowing U.S. citizens to exploit profit-making opportunities in those countries that make us all richer. But by closing our borders as well, we add the harm of not allowing their citizens to exploit profit-making opportunities here, which could also make us all richer.

  31. Side topic,
    I use to drive across Ontario, from MI to NY and back, every year. Twice after 9/11 I got lectured by US customs for not having my passport on me, (apparently a birth certificate would also suffice) but let me through anyway. Then last year, a week or two before I made my pilgrimage, the POTUS nixed the passport idea. I made a hardcopy to have “at the ready” but got waved on through all four crossings.

    Another thing, I think it’s US customs you have to deal with whether you’re going in or coming out of Canada. I could be wrong. Does anybody know if Canadian customs mans any inspection booths?

    Oh and,
    Anything other than an FF 69 is only interesting as a stunt. An upside-down blow job just isn’t that satisfying an experience.

    Too true that.

  32. If Canada/Mexico failed to reciprocate, we would lose the benefit of allowing U.S. citizens to exploit profit-making opportunities in those countries that make us all richer. But by closing our borders as well, we add the harm of not allowing their citizens to exploit profit-making opportunities here, which could also make us all richer.

    OK, just to play devil’s advocate: There’s another complication involved with non-reciprocity. If Mexico continues to clamp down, it’s economy will continue to deteriorate, ultimately having some negative effect on the U.S. economy and driving more people to flee north.

  33. An American living in Mexico is probably a little bit like being gay and living in Nebraska.

    Best if you keep a low profile. Owning property is a challenge in many places, but can usually be worked around with a good lawyer. An American (or other non-Mexican national) cannot hold most public sector jobs. (Cop, fireman etc.) Even if you naturalize most foreign born cannot hold these jobs or be elected to a position like mayor of city council.

    As a non-citizen you have relatively few rights. However, depending on your point of view, and the cash in your accounts, this is not really a problem. The number one suggestion I make to folks is to put all thoughts of ethics and traditional safety behind them, find a good lawyer who knows which wheels to grease and keep them greased, and your “rights” increase radically.

    Basically, it’s most enjoyable if you have a flexible morality. And if you do, well…I can’t recomend living there enough. Prime opportunities for the adventurous on the eastern coast, and easier to fly beneath various radars.

    All of this is contingent on your gender however. It is significantly more difficult and expensive to maintain long term security in such a situation down there if you are female. (there are still portions of Mexico that consider certain types of rape to be part of the mating ritual).

    Definitely not reciprocal compared to the US however.

    And should you happen to get on the wrong persons bad side, cash and connections may not save you. But probably will.
    Power is more significant than law.
    Unlike Europe or the US, the abusers of power are not yet plugged into a centralized power structure. This does not make Mexican power heirarchies less intrusive. But it does make it easier to engage in “individualized” negotiations.

  34. Another thing, I think it’s US customs you have to deal with whether you’re going in or coming out of Canada. I could be wrong. Does anybody know if Canadian customs mans any inspection booths?

    No you deal with Canadian customs entering Canada. Customs and Immigration are dealt with by the same agency.

    It’s been over ten years since I’ve crossed the border so I may be wrong on some of this. But this was the way it was then.
    You have to deal with two different agencies Customs and Immigration when you enter the US. Both are now under the Dept of Homeland Security now. Customs used to be under Treasury and Immigration was under State. I think the guys manning the booths when you drive thru are Customs, they only send you to Immigration if they think there’s a problem with your status.

  35. Tim,

    If Mexico continues to be a basket case while the US has fully open borders, it won’t be solely the Mexican would-be serf class coming to the US. Not to sound like Atlas Shrugged, but the productive classes of Mexico will also flee such abuse, leaving the parasites to live off the remains.

    Also note that your hypothetical devil’s advocate position works only if the benefit of migration to the Mexican migrants themselves is not included in the equation.

  36. Anything other than an FF 69 is only interesting as a stunt. An upside-down blow job just isn’t that satisfying an experience.

    Of course — it’s always more enjoyable when the woman is subjugated.

  37. I don’t think the upside down or female subjugation has anything to do with it(maybe for some guys it is). It’s that neither person can do a good job on the other while being done themselves. Your concentration is just shot.

  38. Dammit, David, why you gotta get all smart on us. It was just a snark! A SNNAAARRRK!

    *punches wall*

    *breaks knuckles*

    ow.

  39. “OK, just to play devil’s advocate: There’s another complication involved with non-reciprocity. If Mexico continues to clamp down, it’s economy will continue to deteriorate, ultimately having some negative effect on the U.S. economy and driving more people to flee north.”

    I think that is a good point. If Mexico were as productive or even close to as wealthy as the U.S. I would totally support getting rid of the border completely. Hell, if Mexico had a decent government I would have moved there by now, there are some great places in Mexico.

  40. No, it kind of doesn’t, because they didn’t ask me what the purpose of my visit was, require a visa, or in any other way attempt to determine the purpose, length, or validity of my trip.

    Unlike some of our other commenters.

    I’ve only been to Canada a couple of times, and I was asked why I was there (touristing, thanks for asking). Apparently, it can make a difference why you’re going in if your border official isn’t semi-catatonic.

    Just because Canada has lazy border officials doesn’t mean it has open borders. I’m not sure what it would take for an American to set up indefinite residence there and take a job or go into business, but I bet its not nothing.

  41. I’m not sure what it would take for an American to set up indefinite residence there and take a job or go into business, but I bet its not nothing.

    Dave W. was able to move there and start practicing law.

    Make of it what you will.

  42. “Does anybody know if Canadian customs mans any inspection booths?”

    Sure they do. I went through a painless inspection on the I-89 crossing between Vermont and Quebec: I had my bicycle along to do some riding in Quebec (highly recommended), and this was a point of brief discussion with the inspector. As long as the bicycle left the country with me, there was nothing to declare.

    One time, I took a day trip from Seattle to Vancouver (just to be a tourist, I’d never been to Vancouver). The Canadian border inspector really grilled me, especially about if I was employed, where I was employed, and just how long was I going to be in Canada? It was a 10 minute interview, and he sounded incredulous about my stated intent to visit for less than a day, and having a job on the east coast. Coming back (and this was less than a year after 9/11), the US inspection was “Any fruit or vegetables? Move along” – I barely flashed my driver’s license.

  43. I’m not sure what it would take for an American to set up indefinite residence there and take a job or go into business, but I bet its not nothing.

    Having been thru it, yes you have to apply.

    They have a point system based on education, occupation etc.

    Every time I’ve crossed the border I’ve been asked the purpose of my visit.

  44. Tim’s article omits an essential element of his proposal. Remember that back in August of last year, the Pew Hispanic Center released a study showing that 46% of Mexicans indicated they would go live in the United States if they had the means and opportunity. This figure would certainly increase substantially if barriers to their entry were lowered, and the compounding effect would ratchet up the percentage at an ever-increasing rate. This fact makes Tim’s proposal unreasonable on its face.

  45. Yeah, Chuy, we don’t want too many of them fucking greasers moving here, do we?

  46. Bob, there about 106 million people who live in Mexico, and if you think that the US could absorb more than forty million of them without catastrophic economic distress, then you and Tim must be the only people so deluded.

    Why the racism and profanity? If using language like that is supposed to make a point, it’s lost on me.

    I don’t believe that the US could absorb forty million people from any nation, particularly not forty million of any nation’s most desperate.

  47. If Mexico continues to be a basket case while the US has fully open borders, it won’t be solely the Mexican would-be serf class coming to the US. Not to sound like Atlas Shrugged, but the productive classes of Mexico will also flee such abuse, leaving the parasites to live off the remains.

    I’m seeing a lot of that with Hondurans and Salvadorans now. Where I live we have tons of them, opening small businesses, working their asses off, buying up houses, renting them out to their workers, and making a killing. These are guys with sophisticated business sense who recognized that they could do things here that they couldn’t do back home — namely, to cash in on their fellow immigrants. In 10 years they’re accumulating a net worth of what it takes typical educated Americans 25 years to pull together. To say nothing of how badly they’re outperforming the American-born “serf class”. Just Sunday I saw a Salvadoran guy in a white Ford work-truck with ladders and buckets in the back, stop and grab a sales flyer from a house listed for sale for $550,000.

  48. …our neighbors to the north and south will never allow Americans to settle, work, start businesses…

    I thought I knew the general answer to this already, but I googled a bit and confirmed it.

    There are numerous exceptions (refugee status, entertainer, diplomat, academic, etc), but with both Canada and Mexico it all basically comes down to money (and skills). If you want to come and retire and you have lots of money, great, they want you. If you want to be an investor, entreprenuer, or otherwise open a business, great: as long as you also bring lots of money with you (40,000 times the minimum daily salary in Mexico; 400,000 Canadian dollars to directly invest in Canada, or a net worth of at least 300,000 CDN, etc.) Otherwise, if you want to work for someone else you’re going to have to get a confimed job offering in advance from an employer and then apply for a work permit. The country’s agencies will then evaluate whether or not that would take away a position that could otherwise be filled by a Canadian or Mexican citizen. Even if that’s approved, in general you’re going to have to demonstrate that you have the financial resources to survive during an initial period (Canada, six months) on your own.

    The bottom line, as it appears to me, is that for the U.S. illegal immigrant scenario that’s usually being discussed– people without many financial resources, with lower skill levels and education, coming in to work in menial jobs– that both Canada and Mexico would boot them out as well.

  49. Mexico has made big changes to encourage the inflow of foriegn money, especially in the area of property/business ownership. Property ownership – in areas more than 50k from the coast or 100k from the borders, foreign interests own and hold the deed. In the coastal regions where most foriegn i.e. largely U.S. interest lies, you own through a Bank Trust that is established in your name, with you as the beneficiary. You have the right to transfer, refinance, will, seel, incorporate. You renew this trust every 50 years. 1 in 4 U.S. citizens that live outside of the country reside in Mexico. Banking in Mexico is largely owned by U.S. interests. There are segments of the economy that barre or restrict foriegn ownership (oil, railroads, etc). This is all a consequence of NAFTA, and represents true success in opening up the Mexican, as well as U.S. economies.We want labor and they want investment, and we will either have laws that support this reality or we will have that that reflect our neurosis.

  50. This guy is an expat living in Mexico. In addition to some good stories, somewhere he links to some Mexican immigration law.

  51. On the oral sex analogy: Oral sex is like every thing else. If you have enough money, you never have to go down.

  52. So – yer broke and angry, there, bob?

  53. BOB is a woman’s best friend.

  54. FWIW: I used to live on the Mexican Border. Going across to Mexico was easy. Coming back, not so easy. Take from that what you will.

  55. Many believe that this (plus the immigration of a lot of British trade unionists) is as responsible as anything for Canada’s drift to the left.

    Wow, and all this time I just thought it was because Canadians were hosers.

  56. I crossed over into Canada in the company of a small group of delightful female exchange students a few years ago, and was very closely questioned as to their origins, did I have signed letters from their natural parents, etc.

    Apparently, they thought that I looked like a pimp or something.

    Anyhow, returning to the US (even handing over a passel of non-US passports) was a breeze. Go figure.

  57. Im guessing a caveblog is one with only one link in and none going out, or very few, hence, little traffic. — Comment by: Matt at May 24, 2006 12:10 PM

    Im guessing a caveblog is one with only one link in and none going out, or very few, thus, little traffic. — Comment by: Matt at May 24, 2006 12:11 PM

    Or maybe it’s a blog where the comments echo.

  58. FWIW: I used to live on the Mexican Border. Going across to Mexico was easy. Coming back, not so easy. Take from that what you will.

    No joke! I had a friend who was in grad school who visited Mexico with two other friends. On their way into the states, they were held at the border in jail. They were only released and allowed to cross the border back into the US after they gave the Mexican cops all of the money they had on them. FWIW, I don’t have any reason to believe my friend was lying about this.

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