The plan to move a nation
Upon his election, Mohamed Nasheed, the new president of Maldives suggested that his government will “divert a portion of the…annual tourist revenue into buying a new homeland—as an insurance policy against climate change.” While this prompted the Economist to engage in some levity—it proposed that Maldivian government buy Iceland or Wales—Mr Nasheed has something of a good idea.
Investing a portion of short-term revenues to address long-term, inter-generational problems is sound public policy. But there are practical challenges. The principal challenge is whether the destination country will accept a whole nation—even if this is a mere 370,000 people—to set up a homeland within its borders. Three precedents from the previous century come to mind: the Jewish settlement in Palestine, the Nationalist Chinese settlement on Taiwan and the Tibetan settlement in Dharamsala, India. The Jewish settlement became an independent state, and caused a high level of friction with the local population that exists to this day. The Nationalist Chinese settlement became a semi-independent state/renegade province (take your pick) and the local population got marginalised. In the Tibetan case, the refugee settlement is self-governing, but not independent, and there is little friction with the local population.
What this suggests is that if the Maldivians are transplanted into settings more or less similar to the society they leave behind, things might just work out. Such a place could be India, but it is unlikely that the religious factors involved will make this option feasible. It could be Sri Lanka or even one of Gulf states. Even so, resettling an entire nation as a political entity can have destabilising effects on the destination country.
But there is another approach—although it would mean a dissolution of the Maldivian nation-state. Instead of the Maldivian government purchasing land to house its people, it could just assign a fixed portion of the national resettlement fund to each citizen. Maldivians could then—individually or in groups—purchase land wherever they like (and are permitted to). Societies are likely to be more receptive to the idea of accepting Maldivian immigrants rather than importing a whole nation. Perhaps Mr Nasheed could implement Overseas Resettlement Vouchers, redeemable against purchase of real estate in foreign countries.
Yet the most economically efficient approach would be to simply pay the Maldivian citizens hard cash and let them spend it the way they want. Some might buy property in Kochi, Colombo or Reykjavik. Others might spend it on getting a decent education. Still others might drink themselves to death. There still is good reason to say to each his or her own.
Related Link: Over at Global Dashboard Charlie Edwards links to a map of countries buying land in other countries.