Evaluating the North American Union
David Corn describes the premise of a new online game:
It’s January 2011. The GOP is about to assume control of both houses of Congress—having been voted in by a public deeply suspicious of Democrats after President Barack Obama conducted clandestine talks with President Felipe Calderon of Mexico and Prime Minister Stephen Harper of Canada. But two days before the new conservative majority is to be sworn in, Obama announces that this Congress will not be seated, that the United States (a creation of “racists and warmongers”) will be replaced by a North American Union, that the US Constitution will be dissolved, and that private ownership of firearms will be outlawed (as part of a United Nations treaty banning firearms globally). In response, millions rise up, and the Revolution begins.
Interestingly, the United States Constitution itself (indubitably the creation of racists, though not necessarily warmongers) was formed through just this sort of backroom deal-making among elites determined to ignore the existing legal procedures laid out in the Articles of Confederation. Which is just to say that crazier things have happened.
Talk of a North American Union or a NAFTA Superhighway has mostly been used as a launching point for sociological speculations but I think it’s an idea worth taking seriously. Insofar as the concept has any real origins, it seems to be in a 1999 report by the Frasier Institute, which is a free market Canadian think tank, called “The Case for the Amero: The Economics and Politics of a North American Monetary Union “. To be a bit flip about it, the author seemed upset that Canada didn’t undergo a Reagan/Thatcher-style assault on trade unions in the 1980s and believed it had escaped this fate by devaluing its currency to maintain labor market competitiveness. Under a monetary union, this would be impossible and Canadian unions could be crushed. Taking the longer view, it now simply appears to not be the case that the Canadian dollar is in some consistent downward trend relative to the dollar.
So the issue this was meant to address actually looks like a bit of a non-issue. But the case for US-Canadian political union is pretty clear. As things stand, Canadian citizens are intensely impacted by decisions taken in Washington but have no real ability to influence them. Political union would give residents of Vancouver and Toronto an opportunity to have a say in decisions that are important to their lives. What’s more, the politics of AmeriCan would be more sensible than current US politics. There’d be a lot of microeconomic efficiency gains, and bringing America’s higher per capita income together with Canada’s vast natural resources could be beneficial for everyone.
Monetary union with Mexico, by contrast, seems like a bad idea—the economies are too different and too out of sync. But of course the European Union didn’t begin its political integration with monetary integration. And the case for deeper political ties between Mexico and the US/Canada seems fairly compelling.
The general idea would be to go beyond “immigration reform” to look more comprehensively at the trends driving migration. Immigration reform is part of that, but so is revisiting the intersection between NAFTA and US agricultural policy, so is confronting global trade negotiations as a unified North American bloc to address the issue of Mexico-China competition as a manufacturing ground, continent-wide air travel and energy grid issues, etc. Hopefully part of the conversation would involve some more robust discussion in the U.S. about the relative merits of spending money on immigration enforcement (a negative sum enterprise) versus spending money on improving living standards in Mexico (a positive sum enterprise).
In the most general sense, it’s hard not to notice that Mexican people, in general, seem to wind up doing much better for themselves when they’re able to relocate and live under American or Canadian institutions. So one of the goals of North American political integration would be for Mexico to begin to be governed by more US/Canadian-style institutions, extending the opportunities that are currently provided only through migration. You might also see more reverse migration, as retirement to Mexico could be a compelling opportunity for American or Canadian senior citizens living on fixed incomes.
At any rate, this clearly isn’t on the agenda in the short-term. But never say never. Political structures are always changing. The United States dates back to the late-18th century and is an unusually old country. Canada was created in 1867. Belgium’s been around since 1820, but may not last long.