Thursday, December 2, 2010

Robin and Batman

An interesting part of the fallout from the Wikileaks release of US diplomatic cables is the degree to which diplomats are concerned with the petty insecurities of nations. Canadians, for example, “'always carry a chip on their shoulder' in part because of a feeling that their country 'is condemned to always play ‘Robin’ to the U.S. ‘Batman.’" This strikes me as true enough, though Tony Blair might have disputed who the real Robin is.

Deriving a sense of personal prestige from a sense of national prestige, though irrational, is real and not unique to any nation. People outside of the U.S. think 'American exceptionalism' is ludicrous: We would never fall for such a stupid idea here...we're just exceptional like that.

The fact is that a country as underpopulated as Canada will always have a hard time playing Batman. It reminds me of how rural Canadians resent Toronto for being so dominant. Toronto is dominant because it's where all the people live. Don't live where bears outnumber people if you want to feel a part of a powerful society.

Luckily there is a policy that will solve Canada's national inferiority complex once and for all: open the borders. Canada is vastly underpopulated. There are a lot of people in the world that would jump at the opportunity to move here. Double the population, triple it, quadruple, and suddenly the importance of the country on the international stage will zoom to supersize. Batman? I'm talking the Silver Surfer.


  1. I think Wolverine is Canadian..?
    The best part of this is that the only Americans who dream of living in Canada are educated people in northern states (and San Francisco).
    But... Canada benefits from a favorable ratio of population/space and natural resources. Fewer people are easier to manage, educate, involve in politics, and invest in.
    Is Canada not better off maintaining a "quality over quantity" philosophy?

  2. I'm sure there are a lot of people that come to, or stay in, Canada mostly for its size and emptiness, but I do think that increasing population density is a net good. Obviously, if you tripled the population but all the new comers decided to spread themselves evenly across the country, you'd have a pretty miserable situation on your hands, but immigrants don't tend to move into the woods.

    I don't think it's right that "fewer people are easier to manage." More people using and paying for the same infrastructure increases efficiency. The Yukon has an unbelievable number of road mileage per tax payer relative to southern Ontario.

    I heard that if the entire U.S. population lived at the population density of Brooklyn, all Americans would fit into Texas, leaving the rest of the entire country untouched. Personally, I think that's a kind of ideal, if not practical.

  3. I completely agree Jacob. I think there are two competing forces at work: natural resources per person, and the advantage in modern economies from living near others. So lower infrastructure costs as you said but also taking advantage of knowledge networks (think Silicon Valley or Manhattan). For Canada there is a case to be made for natural resources mattering so it's probably not that obvious which direction the effect goes. (That is, if we're thinking about per person income - if it's total national income we're worried about then more people is better in all cases, there's no real tradeoff.) In the long run higher density is likely better for quality of life, since the sustainable sources of growth mostly have to do with ideas.