Natural in Tooth and Tax Code

The process by which one becomes a citizen is called naturalization. It’s an intriguing term; implicit is the assumption that someone who does not hold citizenship is unnatural. Yet it doesn’t take much imagination to imagine a time not so long ago when citizenship was not quite so formal. And it is also easy to think of place where the inhabitants wear the identity of citizenship very lightly.

A recent The Economist editorial praises the value of a second or third passport, which is very much in line with the values and wants today’s global, multi-cultural populace. Drawing on its nineteenth century liberal heritage, the publication argues for more free migration of peoples, just as does for goods. Restriction of dual or multi-citizenship, a trend in some countries, is likened to protectionism by the magazine.  “A better approach,” goes the argument, “would be to use residence (especially tax residence) as the main criterion for an individual’s rights and responsibilities.”

If only citizenship – and naturalization – was governed by rational actors and economic issues. For many, the very potential of lightening the burdens and obligations of citizenship pull at the very fabric of national identity. Tax codes may drive decisions for some; for many people, the idea of changing citizenship is extraordinarily traumatic.

I anticipate increasingly freighted debates about citizenship in the future, particularly as the culture of educated people moves farther and farther away from those that are less educated. Education in a developed country today is synonymous with access via the internet to information, people and ideas of almost incomprehensible complexity. The boundaries of space and time are much different for the educated and connected than from those that are not – and here will see ever greater tensions. And those that feel threatened with the loosening bonds will demand ever greater national compliance.