My wife and I attended a benefit on Saturday night, dressed in our finest, drinking wine and enjoying the fruits of civilization during Earth Hour. But before the benefit, we attended a pre-party at a neighbor’s house. One of the couples who showed up is relatively new to the neighborhood, having recently moved from Canada. I spent a fair bit of time talking to E. and his wife, P., and our conversation provided a fascinating comparison and contrast between life in Canada and in the States.
What started off the whole discussion was an unexpected answer to a standard cocktail party question I asked. I already knew that E. came to Massachusetts to work for a biotech firm, so I asked P. what she does for a living. Her answer? “Nothing. I can’t work in this country.”
My mouth dropped open. It simply hadn’t occurred to me, but as I learned, the family is in the U.S. on a special visa, and the only one able to work legally is E.
I was immediately outraged on her behalf, and stated that the borders should be open with no restrictions on who can come in and work in the U.S. Both of them started to say that some protectionism is needed for a country, that the borders couldn’t be completely open, but I stopped them short when I said, “One of the main reasons people are against open immigration is the fear that moochers will come in and live off the welfare state. But what if there were no welfare programs to mooch from?” That generated a chuckle from P., who proceeded to tell of how big of a problem perpetual welfare families are in Canada. They’re born on the dole, and their kids go on the dole, and it’s a never-ending cycle.
I then made a joke about the other protectionist bugaboo, and said to E. in mock tones that I was angry that he was in our country stealing our jobs. He laughed and said, “You joke, but I’m applying to change my visa to a green card so that P. can work too, and in order to do that, my company has to post my job for six months and then prove that there was not a single qualified American candidate who could do it.” Again, my mouth dropped open. He continued, “Of course, the company simply makes the job description so specific that they can game the system, and I’m the only one who fits.” How absurd that these are the lengths productive people and companies need to go through to get around the irrational regulations of the U.S. government. What a perfect example that the government is the problem, not the solution.
“As bad as that is, though,” E. went on, “it’s still better here than in Canada. Here you get to keep so much more of your money.” He told of how much higher the income tax is, and on top of that, there is a sales tax of 15% on everything, including homes.
“And do you know what’s the most expensive of all?” E. asked? “Free universal health care.”
I laughed and said, “Yup, it’s free, but you can’t get any care, right? Unless you drive across the border for your MRI.”
“Funny you should mention that,” he said. “I injured my knee two years ago and the pain kept bothering me. I saw my doctor and he gave me pain meds and a prescription to get an MRI, as he assumed it was a ligament injury. But he said it was a six month wait, and that in reality, they would just keep pushing my appointment back because I didn’t have a life-threatening problem. So I just didn’t get any treatment at all. Then I moved here, and a few weeks ago I went to the chiropractor. While I was there I mentioned that my knee was also bothering me. The doctor said that he’d write me a prescription for an MRI, and when I went to the desk for the referral, the receptionist said that there was an MRI clinic about 5 minutes away and they might have an opening for me. I asked when, and she said, ‘Tonight or tomorrow.’ I couldn’t believe it. The next day I went to the clinic, got the MRI, and found out it was a slight tear to the ACL and damage to the meniscus. I have laparoscopic surgery scheduled next month.”
He also told of how small private clinics are popping up in Canada to meet the demand for care, and that while they are illegal, the government is in such dire straights that it looks the other way. I said that, in effect, it's a black market for health care, just like Cuba pretends not to notice small private restaurants and other businesses operating from people's homes.
I commented that, even though we have a horribly mixed economy, when the free market is left alone to work, amazing things happen, and they both agreed. I mentioned that there may soon be nowhere to go for an MRI, if Obama’s plan goes forward. I told them about the Massachusetts “mandatory health insurance” debacle, and that Obama wants to follow that example. I said that it was already costing the state ten times what they had planned, and that people on the state plan couldn’t get appointments for routine visits. Then I asked, “Do they have group physicals in Canada?”
“No, I don’t think so,” said E. “What is that?”
“It’s where a number of people see their primary care doctor in the same room at the same time.” He looked at me in astonishment. “The doctor talks to and examines everyone, but of course no one takes off their shirts.” E. could barely believe me. It’s an unfortunate foreshadowing of bad things to come that someone from a country with socialized medicine could be surprised at the effects of the Massachusetts plan.
As we were all preparing to head to the benefit, E. mentioned that people he knew in Quebec had questioned his decision to come to the U.S., mainly because his kids would lose their “French roots,” and reminded me that they speak and teach French in all the schools there. He said, “But I don’t see how they can think that. What’s losing a bit of the language or culture when you compare it to the incredible opportunity my kids and I have here?”
America is still the Land of Opportunity. Though it’s limping along, trying its damnedest to abandon that essential nature, it’s still one of the last places in the world for productive men and women to come seeking relative freedom and opportunity. Our society thrives on brainpower, on productive achievement, and rather than pushing it away with irrational regulations and restrictions, we should be welcoming it with open arms. My chance encounter with a recent immigrant reminded me of how great this country still is and how much better it could be if we simply had more of the one critical element: freedom.