Post Brexit, the Cato Institute Wants UK-US Freedom of Movement, But Forgets that Workers Are Citizens, Not Commodities

Animal, mineral or vegetable?

The Cato Institute just floated a radical and fascinating plan for a UK-US trade deal to follow Brexit that would include freedom of movement for workers. The Cato Institute should be commended for thinking big and pushing radical ideas. While there have been many trade deals over the years, few have included freedom of movement for workers. The EU is actually one of the few comprehensive schemes that liberalizes and regionalizes all sectors of the economy, including goods, services, workers, money and intellectual property. One thing the EU has failed to completely regionalize, however, is government. While EU citizenship brings many powerful benefits, it falls well short of a true nationality because the EU government is relatively weak, which allows countries like Germany to impose austerity measures on smaller, weaker countries like Greece and allows northern members to force southern members to deal with external migration on their own.

And in this key way, the EU is much weaker than its great competitor and more perfect union, the United States. While both fruit and fruit-pickers can get from Croatia to the UK as easily as fruit and fruit-pickers can get from Florida to Maine, Croatia and the UK have wildly different governments and are much more isolated from one another politically than Maine is from Florida. (It is one of the great ironies of Brexit that the UK, one of the EU’s most powerful members, has now voluntarily chosen to give up its powerful role and resign itself to second-tier country status.)

Are the Brits really ready for this to be permanent?

For such an imaginative, world-changing proposal, the authors of the report seem to not have given a moment’s thought to what the UK would look like should thousands, or perhaps tens of thousands of Americans choose to settle in Britain. Maybe they believe that most Americans are pretty happy in the US and have no desire to move someplace cold where there are no wildfires or hurricanes. Maybe that’s true, maybe it isn’t. It would be a fun experiment to find out!

Underlying the entire Cato report is the assumption that because the US and UK have what people like to call a “shared history” and “similar culture,” it will be easy for us to all get along, to open our borders to one another and slowly merge into one, giant, English-speaking, economically dominant super-power, all while retaining our separate military, governments and tax bases. Somehow, where the Brits, French and Germans failed, we will succeed. They seem to have totally forgotten that much blood was spilled on US soil because there was a time when we didn’t like political integration with the Brits that much.

What, specifically, does the Cato Institute envisage? The Cato Institute is calling for a trade deal that would include “freedom of movement” for “workers” between the US and UK, but with no shared governmental functions at all. There would be no common citizenship, only some sort of visa. What rights would this visa give? The authors don’t say. Politically, the UK and US would remain totally separate from one another, except that presumably millions of US citizens would be settled in the UK, and millions of UK citizens in the US.

The potential for long-term political destabilization from this state of affairs is not even mentioned. Thanks to our jus soli nationality laws, UK families would likely integrate well into the US, their children receiving automatic citizenship. But what about the millions of US children born in the UK? This problem is not addressed anywhere in the report. For how many generations would these “off shore Yanks” retain their US citizenship? Would they tend to congregate in wealthy, American enclaves, playing US football and putting ketchup on everything, while voting in elections in places they had never even visited? Would they continue to pay taxes in the US? What about in the UK?

A better report would have addressed these issues head-on, instead of pretending like “freedom of movement” magically answers all of life’s problems, because, as Brexit has shown, it doesn’t.