Friday, August 15, 2008


A stand-up comic on the radio (I forget her name) made me laugh when she talked about Canada. She said it's like America's attic; we forget it's there, then when we go up there we find all kinds of interesting stuff we had forgotten about. Mexico, she continued, is like America's basement -- messier, but a lot more fun.

I don't know if her jokes would make Canadians laugh or just remind them of how Americans think of their country as "America's attic" -- when they think of it at all. America is so dominant in every aspect, from economy to military to culture, that many Canadians must feel some envy and resentment to that big noisy place down south.

Canada has a population of some 33 million, a little less than that of the state I live in, California. With 36 million people, California is the seventh largest economy in the world. Canada ranks ninth.

Canada has a disproportionate number of comedians in American culture. Jim Carrey, John Candy, Dan Aykroyd, Phil Hartman, Rich Little, Howie Mandel, Rick Moranis, Martin Short and many other funny people. It's that accent. It's like Minnesota, only more so. Luke, I am your father, eh?

The most interesting question about Canada to me is defining its national identity. Is Canada more European than American? Something in between? Something its own?

The Canadian Objectivist John Ridpath, as I recall, noted that America revolted against British rule, but the Canadians never did. This difference is reflected in the character of the two peoples. Americans are more independent and individualist; Canadians are more collectivist and statist. I know there are many exceptions in both countries, but we're trying to define the culture-wide sense of life.

I think of Canada as the canary in the statist coal mine. It serves as an existential cautionary tale: this is what happens when a nation gives up its freedom to the encroaching welfare state. How bad will things get in America? Just look north.

Freedom of speech has suffered dreadfully up north in our time. The Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn cases show what happens when political correctness pushes individual rights out of a culture. In Levant's latest post he mentions the case of Guy Earle, a comedian who must stand trial for his politically incorrect retorts to hecklers. If you want to see in concrete, horrific fact how welfare states lose their freedoms, just look north.

You might remember that a few years back some books from the Ayn Rand Institute were held briefly at the Canadian border for suspicion that they were hate speech. (I couldn't find a story about it to link to.) Free countries do not tell their people what they can or cannot read. In its egalitarianism and multiculturalism, Canada is destroying freedoms that Enlightenment thinkers thought had been established for all time. 18th century intellectuals could not have imagined the irrationality of modern welfare states banning speech because it is is hateful. They took it for granted that the individual can use reason to judge hate speech for himself. They would have thought it absurd that a government should protect individuals from even hearing offensive speech.

Canada's system of socialized medicine is another dying canary that Americans would do well to observe and learn from. As Richard E. Ralston writes:

Canadians, we are told, have a better system because they live longer than Americans. Are there other demographic factors involved—didn't they also live longer before they nationalized their heath care system? Is it a better system because, although some prescription drugs are sold at a lower price, many more are not available in Canada at all? Is it better because Canadians wait an average of 17 weeks for referral to a specialist? Is the fact that Canadians come to the United States to spend more than $1 billion a year on health care an indication that Canada has better health care? One wonders why this superior system resulted in the Canadian Supreme Court striking down the law forbidding private insurance "because access to a waiting list does not constitute access to health care." Why did the Canadian Medical Association recently elect as their new President a physician who owns an illegal private clinic in British Columbia if they think Canada has a better system? Significant new spending by the federal government in Canada does not seem to be having much impact on improving the situation.

As I always ask my liberal friends when they advocate more state intervention in medicine in America, "If we socialize medicine in America, where will rich Canadians go for health care?"

If you look at one of the "widgets" in the sidebar on this blog, the one labeled Flags, you'll see that Canada is second only to America in reading this blog. As I write, 5.1% of the hits come from Canada; the next highest, the UK, is only 1.9%. Does this mean Canadians are more interested in American politics than the rest of the world? Since most of my readers are not statists -- like most people, statists prefer to read blogs they agree with -- can we conclude that Canada is a mixed case, with more individualists than the rest of the world? I'm not sure what to make of this anecdotal evidence.

I've never been to Canada. From horror stories I've heard, you do NOT tell Canadian border agents that your trip to Canada is in any way related to work. You tell them you're going on vacation. If they hassle you, maybe it would be best to say, "I'm just a dumb American with a wallet full of money that I want to spend in Canada to help your economy. Would it expedite things if I directed some of my money your way?"

I'm keeping an eye on the country to our north. You can learn a lot that way.


Galileo Blogs said...

Nice post on Canada. The saga of both free speech and medicine are very disturbing "canaries in the coal mine" that Americans would do well to study. Both issues frighten me. Which is worse? It is hard to say, but the extinguishing of the mind through censorship would surely mark the end of freedom. In this country, we are already suffering the beginnings of this censorship, in particular through self-censorship of speech about Islam. Westerners who criticize Muhammed have to fear either violence or legal terror through Saudi-financed lawsuits.

As for traveling on business in Canada, you are entirely right. One time I traveled there on a day trip. Wearing a business suit, briefcase in hand and with no luggage, I approached the Immigration officer. He asked, "Are you here on business or pleasure?" I said to him, "What, do I look like I'm here on business?" No, in truth I just said, "I'm a tourist," and he waved me through. There was no wink and a nod, just a sideways glance from a tired bureaucrat waving through a businessman who wanted to be on his way.

In any case, there is much I like about Canada (in particular, Vancouver). It saddens me that they have traveled so far down the road to statism. Let's stop it at our border, and roll it back!

Billy Beck said...

In 1987-88, my brothers and I were running crews that built scaffold staging systems for outdoor shows. (Two premier runs of work for us then were Pink Floyd and Monsters of Rock with Van Halen). My brother Bryan was young, but very good, and he got a lot of responsibility.

At one point, he ended up running west from Buffalo or some damned place. He took it in mind to go through Canada on his way to Detroit, which is not a bad move on the map. He was carrying twenty-three thousand dollars in cash, in order to pay the crew at the next gig. His entry to Canada was completely uneventful aside from a couple of sideways glances among the border agents at realizing this kid was carrying all that money.

At his U.S. entry across from Windsor, U.S. agents took the seats out of his car. He thought that were going to get out the air-tools and complete the job, but they suddenly determined that he was telling them the truth about his work and all that money, and they just tossed him. He put his car back together and turned up at the Detroit gig four hours late but happy.

Thing are different now, up there. Of course, they're different down here now, too. I can't imagine running down the road with twenty-three grand in cash anymore.

Inspector said...

I like your "future America" comparison with Canada, at least as far as the ratchet to socialism is concerned. Actually, I'd say that the Mother Country is an even starker example of how far things can go, what with them banning foods left and right and, last I checked, actually contemplating out loud sending fat people to concentration camps or some such. Which of course only scratches the surface of the horror that is England.

Valda Redfern said...

"Which of course only scratches the surface of the horror that is England." Well... I don't know enough about Canada to compare it with Britain. But, during a brief stint working for the MOD, I browsed through an employee intranet site devoted to the topic of immigration. More than one poster warned that though Canada was great for those who liked the great outdoors, being pleasingly empty, its bureaucracy was a significant drawback. A Civil Service forum complaining about bureaucracy! In my view, the only good reason to emigrate to Canada from here (I live in England) is to be physically closer to the USA.