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August 22, 2019


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Alright. If you are going to spend that much money on a territory, why would you want it to be an unincorporated territory? I'd think that would be bad for a couple reasons:

1. they could in some scenarios find a way to bolt since unincorporated allows for the US and the territory to separate. You just spent all that money and ... it's gone.

2. While I doubt there's any scenario where the Greenland would have a population above the statehood threshold any time soon, being in the unincorporated status would leave them potentially in the Puerto Rican status hell.

Scared we all should be. Forget about the Greenland idea - ok, he has been asleep for the last 70 years and has been unaware of that minor thing called decolonisation - could happen to anyone, really. But his response to the Danish/Greenlandic reaction is what really scares me. He could have easily gotten out of it saying that this was just a studpid joke blown out of proportion by the fake media trying to sabotage his trip.

He chose to do the opposite. This tells us that he is no longer listening to anyone even on matters of protocol. At this point, it seems clear that if he decides to bomb Copenhagen - or, for that matter, Kansas City - he cannot really be stopped, at least not by persuasion.

Will: in this case, there would be two very good reasons to keep Greenland unincorporated.

First is that you could selectively apply the constitution. Given oddities in Greenlandic land laws (among other things) this is the only way you could possibly get Greenlandic voters to sign on board to U.S. sovereignty, even with $500,000 per person cash on the barrel.

Second is that you keep unilateral secession on board as an option. It is possible that Congress could vote to give an incorporated territory the right to secede, but the Sherman v. Johnston precedent makes that an unlikely move. If the worry is that the Territory of Greenland would declare independence, well, there are ways to structure a contingent loan contract that would insure that the U.S. Treasury would get its money back.

Of course, as Andrei points out, this idea is not serious. (Although a case could be made that it should be.) And the price I mentioned is too high, as it assumes that the returns from those mineral deposits is risk free ...

Andrei: Agreed.

His approach to Greenland is in keeping with his approach to trade.

Consider: If you want to win a trade war with China, then you make a consistent list of demands and bring allies on board. He has done neither. If you want to protect American industry and encourage onshoring, then you make sure the tariffs also hit countries like Vietnam and give assurances to investors that they are here to stay. He has done neither.

The problem isn't so much that the goals are harebrained, it's that they are being carried out with extreme incompetence.

In this, I am reminded no one so much as Hugo Chávez.

But Noel, re his approach on trade....

what is his goal then? I thought you had done a walk through with some students and they came up with the conclusion that he wants to make the trade war permanent. In so doing, wouldn't he be making tariffs permanent?

Re Chavez, now I have thoughts of what might have been had there been a summit of Trump, Chavez and Kim Jong-Un...they might have all (scarily) gotten along to be honest....or despised each other..

I'm pretty sure that Trump wants the tariffs to be permanent.

I'm also pretty sure that he's winging it. He keeps holding back making them permanent. Why? Maybe he likes making threats? Or maybe he's indecisive? It seems to me that he wants permanently higher trade barriers but hasn't worked out a political or administrative strategy for getting there. He certainly hasn't figured out how to raise tariffs at the minimum possible domestic cost.


The problem is once Greenland is an incorporated territory, Congress can do whatever Congress wants with it. Whatever might have been agreed to at the time of the annexation, you can bet it will fall when the pressure gets high enough or the price is right. Do you really believe Congress will resist the enormous pressure from various interests to allow private ownership of property? Or immigration would be restricted? All it takes is 57,000 continental Americans to move and...well...

The bond is interesting, but, well, getting the money back from 57k people seems pretty much impossible.


Well, the whole idea is daft!

I'm reluctant to discuss the idea seriously. (I just got back from hiking and the sun is shining!)

But I have a couple minutes, so ...

(1) It's hard to say what Congress could or could not do with an unincorporated territory that came in under a special arrangement. But that's true of an incorporated territory as well.

(2) I can't say that understand your specific scenario all that well --- 57,000 people aren't going to move to Greenland anytime soon. Congress, historically, has respected special arrangements in Samoa, the CNMI, and the Panama Canal Zone, so I don't see why this would be different.

(3) It wouldn't be at all hard to collect the debt if the contract is structured properly. The income stream that would pay back the Americans would come from Greenlandic mineral exports. Plus, independent Greenland would need new financing, and that would depend on paying off old debts. So if the U.S. drew a hard line with a new Greenlandic government, then that government would pay ... unless if couldn't, but that's a whole nother kettle of fish. After all, a Greenland facing that sort of headwind is a Greenland unlikely to secede. (The place isn't planning to quit Denmark anytime soon.) Plus, $56 billion is chump change, so who cares?

I feel silly even discussing this, but I do have to admit that it is a fun sort of silly.

To be fair, those mineral exports really had better succeed, because Greenland's current GDP is only ~$2.7 billion and there ain't no way on God's green earth that they could pay anything close to that back without that projected oil and mining boom ...

Flip side, of course, is that risk means that Greenland's future income stream from mineral rights and taxes

Will, I don't think it matters if Greenland was an unincorporated or incorporated territory, because once it was a territory at all, Congress could do whatever it wanted with it.

And to the best of my knowledge immigration of American nationals can't be restricted for unincorporated or incorporated territories or for states (even for American Samoa, American nationals can move there...American Samoa's immigration unique immigration laws apply to non-Americans). The only example I could think of would maybe be the Commonwealth of the Philippines and even then I'm not sure if Americans were restricted from migrating there.

Americans were not restricted from moving to the P.I., even during the Commonwealth period. There were, however, very strict restrictions on what Americans could invest in on the islands.

I don't agree that status doesn't matter, however. Consider the Covenant of the Northern Marianas Islands. It stipulates autonomy and (on paper) binds future Congresses from making certain legislative changes that would affect the CMNI:


A fuller discussion can be found on pages 126-29 of the November 15, 2006, Senate hearing on "The Report by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status."

So far, Congress hasn't pushed the issue, so we don't know how the courts would rule if it tried to unilaterally change the CNMI's status. Should Greenland choose to join the United States, I imagine that there would always be some uncertainty.

But saying there is uncertainty is a different thing from saying that it wouldn't matter if Greenland were incorporated or unincorporated! If incorporated, Greenland is entirely subject to Congress's whims, subject only to the individual rights Greenlanders get under the U.S. Constitution. If unincorporated, Greenland is not subject to Congress's whims and Greenlanders, as U.S. citizens residing outside the incorporated U.S., get most of the protections of the constitution, plus whatever else is agreed to.

A future Congress could push the issue, but you'd have to ask why they would.

Calling Doug Muir!

"we don't know how the courts would rule if it tried to unilaterally change the CNMI's status."

It's impossible to predict the behavior of future courts, but so far they have upheld all provisions of the CNMI's Covenant. That includes some bits that have been challenged for violating the US Constitution, like restrictions on land ownership, or /very/ disproportionate representation for the islands of Tinian and Rota.

Those restrictions were upheld under the Insular Cases, btw -- and despite a lot of argument, plus the fact that they're ummm kinda racist? like, actually really racist? the Insular Cases have been repeatedly upheld by the Supreme Court.

So, yeah -- unincorporated territory. The question would then become, how directly does Congress administer it, and how much autonomy is granted? There's a lot of room for creativity there. Normally you'd say the current level of autonomy (high) would set a lower bound.

Doug M.

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