September 27, 2011
Cape Town, South Africa
If you’ve followed this letter for any length of time, you know that I tend to roam around the world with great frequency; we’ll typically have these conversations across 40 to 60 countries in 6 continents over a year’s time.
Lots of international travel means lots of silly stamps, seals, and stickers to fill up the visa pages in my passports. Even though I have multiple passports, they tend to fill up within 18-months or so given my travel schedule.
My current US passport, for example, was issued last February while I was in Thailand. By late summer, there was barely a single square inch of space remaining, so today I had the unfortunate displeasure of heading down to the US consulate in Cape Town to have them insert more pages.
Each time I’m forced to demean myself in this way– sitting around those sterile government waiting rooms and filling out useless paperwork only to justify the salary of some bureaucrat– I have plenty of time to reflect on the nature of this system.
You see, for hundreds, even thousands of years, people moved about the earth without any bureaucracy whatsoever. Just like the African elephants I encountered last week who roam freely between Botswana, Zambia, and DR Congo, people too used to travel freely without worrying too much about invisible lines on a map.
Even up until World War I when boundaries between empires were clearly defined, people could still cross borders without the need of a passport.
After the war, some do-gooders at the League of Nations decided that we couldn’t have all those people traveling freely without government intervention… so they sponsored a series of conferences aimed at designing an international travel document, and worked to establish global border checkpoint protocols that required having one.
Of course, all of this bureaucracy is dressed up to make it sound like it’s for our protection. On the first page of my US passport, for instance, it says:
“The Secretary of State of the United States of America hereby requests all whom it may concern to permit the citizen/national of the United States named herein to pass without delay or hindrance and in case of need to give all lawful aid and protection.”
Sounds nice enough, right? It sure is great to know the government has our back to make sure we’re safe and sound.
What a total farce. The passport isn’t about the State Department ‘protecting’ us anymore than Homeland Security fondling 4-year old girls at the airport. It’s about control.
Why else would they implant RFID chips inside passports, or require biometric data like fingerprints and iris scans? These are all things that have significant costs… but absolutely zero benefit to taxpayers.
What’s more, these days you can’t even leave most countries unless you have a passport… ergo you’re forced to APPLY to the government and give them a host of personal and biometric data just to be able to leave the country when you want. Land of the free?
Oh, and speaking of free, it ain’t. I’ve had fresh pages inserted into my passports so many times, I keep watchful eye on the ever-increasing cost of doing so. Just over 2-years ago, it cost me nothing at the consulate in Panama. Last year, around $40. Today in Cape Town? $82.
Needless to say, this is pretty significant price inflation from a government that pretends inflation doesn’t exist. And I’m pretty sure everyone on the planet can think of better ways to spend three hours and 82 bucks than on furthering a pointless bureaucracy.
And so… after negotiating the -six- security checkpoints at the consulate, I walked out of there with a fatter passport and a thinner wallet, no better than when I had walked in.
This is all a slippery slope… and under the pretext of ‘jobs’ or ‘security’ or a number of other unrelated reasons, it’s likely that the grip will tigthen. This means higher prices, higher hurdles, more data, and more bureaucracy.
Imagine not being able to receive a passport until you obtain police clearance. Or perhaps a certificate of tax compliance. Or a DNA sample that ties in with your government medical record. Or simply paying an exorbitant fee.
Nothing is out of bounds for these people.
Ironically, one way that I’ve mitigated the constant encroachment on my freedom is by obtaining multiple citizenships. Frankly I wish I could have zero, but it’s nearly impossible to be stateless today.
Rather, having multiple citizenships keeps your options open. You can always ‘opt out’ if/when I reach my breaking point… but before you can do that, you have to at least have one alternative.
It’s not as hard or far-fetched as it seems; many people qualify for dual nationality without even realizing it thanks to a distant relative or marriage. We’ll talk about how to do that in a future letter. Stay tuned.