Dateline: Johor Bahru, Malaysia I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of borders. Growing up on the United States, we learned early on about The Land of the Free’s only two neighbors: Canada and Mexico. And as we got older, we were told that on one side was a country exactly like ours. On the other side was death, destruction, poverty, and misery. It’s funny how governments use borders to control us and condition us to follow their will. After all, while Canada had its own run trouncing the United States, it is still just a watered down version of the same anti-freedom trends present in its neighbor to the south. The only difference is that the Canadian government isn’t entirely run by megalomaniac sociopaths with visions of bending the entire world to their fascist will. Recently, it’s been Mexico that has begun an ascent against the United States. As Congress debates “comprehensive immigration reform”, much of their work has already been done. Migration from Mexico to the US has come to a halt as Mexicans find better opportunities at home than in the bankrupt, recession-mired United States. As much as Americans – and conservatives in particular – want to believe they’re living on the freest patch of dirt God ever laid his eyes upon, a lot of Mexicans – and a lot of other nationalities around the world – are deciding against moving to the United States. In a free market economy, that’s what we call “proof” that the US is not the bastion of freedom it thinks it is. When Mexico, long the recipient of pity from the north, offers its own citizens and expats alike greater personal freedom and more career opportunities, you know you’ve got a problem. I’ve said before that I believe that while freedom is on the decline in much of the western world, I’m optimistic about the world as a whole. Outside of the American echo chamber, countries are forced to react to good ideas or become irrelevant. Not everyone has a manipulated reserve currency and an angry military to let it do whatever it wants without consequences. You could practically throw a rock and hit Singapore from here in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. While I do think Malaysia – and Kuala Lumpur in particular – is a great place to live on a reasonable budget, it doesn’t compare to the economic freedom available across the imaginary stripe in the sand that divides Singapore and Malaysia. Barely fifty years ago, after a western occupation, Singapore was part of what was then Malaya. It took all of two years for the folks down in the postage stamp-size colony to realize they wanted to go their own way and break off into their own sovereign nation. This year marks the half-centennial of Singapore’s independence. It didn’t take them long to go from one-time “malarial swamp” to bastion of freedom. Why exactly is that? What separates the less than 300 square miles of Singapore from the much larger Malaysia across the Strait? Two years ago, I crossed the Lo Wu border crossing from the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong into Shenzhen in Mainland China. The whole process is almost surreal: you take the Hong Kong subway until it goes no further. Then, you hand over some scraps of paper that Hillary Clinton scribbled on, walk through a plastic gate, and enter a country with fewer freedoms. Just like that. It’s not that Shenzhen looks any different from Hong Kong. Shenzhen’s Lo Wu marketplace, with its tailors and cheap electronics, looks no different than the merchant stalls on suburban Hong Kong Island. The people speak the same language. Go all around the world and study why things are so much better across one artificial line in the dirt than on the other side. Whether it’s poverty versus wealth or war versus peace, the idea of borders have been burned into our minds as a way to divide people who aren’t like “us”. I look at it differently. There’s a reason Hong Kong has more freedom than China. It comes down to who has the best mafia. Sure, I’d like to eliminate the mafia entirely. I don’t want anyone coming into my bodega and engaging in racketeering or smashing my glass display cases. But since every set of arbitrary borders has its own mafia known as the government, it’s not likely we’ll entirely eliminate them anytime soon. In that event, I believe we owe it to ourselves to be pragmatic. That means choosing the best mafias to deal with, and leveraging our power against them by spreading ourselves and our assets out amongst them. If given a choice, I’d rather deal with the Sicilian mob that has some kind of honor code rather than a Latin mob that will come and sadistically stab my wife and children with a letter opener if I screw something up. Similarly, I’d rather keep my money in Singapore. The mafia there knows that they have to kowtow to wealthy investors to maintain their status as an international financial center. Take that away and it’s a one-way ticket back to malarial swamp land. However, because Singapore has all of its money needs satiated by foreign investors and rich depositors, it figures it can afford to set high standards for its own citizens within its borders. Want to sip a Sprite on the subway? That’ll cost you S$500. Likewise, people say I’m crazy when I say I’d gladly live in China. Under the American paradigm that uses borders as a method to stereotype “everyone else”, China could look relatively unappealing. But when you understand how to deal with the Chinese government by minding your own business, it can be a lot easier to live in China than it is in the United States. I, like you, was raised to believe that these imaginary lines in the sand that divide what we’ve decided to call “sovereign nations” are an excellent way to pretend that what lies within our own borders is all we’ll ever need. As a lifelong contrarian, I believe there is great opportunity in this concept for the fact that most people don’t believe in it. While everyone is else is busy declaring they’d never live in China because of how the government deals with political activists, I’m more than happy to go to China and benefit from how the system works. Is that my ideal political system? No. However, it’s a practical solution to the reality that “our” country – the United States of America – is more corrupt and a bigger bully than just about any other country on earth, and no one wants to acknowledge that. Like any other mafia, having good PR is important.
Last updated: Dec 28, 2021 at 10:54AM