Americans are often reluctant to part with their possessions even when it becomes necessary to jettison some assets in order to balance the books. But once it becomes evident that they simply can’t afford to keep everything they own, they’re usually willing to engage in a debt-clearing fire sale.
On a much larger scale, I think that’s what’s happening to the United States. The country has acquired a lot of assets over the years and now that the economy is on the decline, it can no longer afford to keep all fifty bedrooms. There is obviously a sentimental attachment to many of these properties but the ever-increasing national debt dictates that some hard decisions have to be made.
The first and easiest decision is to reverse the Alaska Purchase of 1867. Even at the time, many observers ridiculed the $7.2 million acquisition as “Seward’s Folly” in honor of then-Secretary of State William H. Seward, who was responsible for the deal. Critics argued that nothing was gained from this vast wasteland, and the last century and a half has done little to change that view.
Despite their libertarian self-image, Alaskans cost the nation a great deal of money. The federal expenditures to keep Alaska afloat far outweigh the sealskin and mukluk revenues earned from that remote territory. In short, America would be better off without that non-contiguous icebox of a state.
With any luck, you could sell Alaska back to the Russians. 1867’s $7.2 million purchase price works out to roughly $20 billion in today’s dollars. Hopefully, the Russians would cough up something close to that figure which could then be applied against the national debt.
If Russia won’t bite, maybe Canada would take the bait. Since Alaska is right on their western border, it should be an attractive acquisition for them. They might even pay full price if you sweeten the pot and exclude Sarah Palin from the deal.
Once you start the divestiture ball rolling, it becomes easier and easier to unload unprofitable properties. It’s kind of like when you finally start cleaning out the basement and decide to get rid of everything from the second beer fridge to Uncle Ernie’s ratty old moose head trophy.
Take Hawaii, for example. It’s a pretty spot, no doubt, but it’s so far away that few Americans even consider it a real state. Since it only cost $4 million to acquire back in 1898, it should turn a tidy profit on today’s global real estate market. Let’s say you could sell it for $50 billion. That could buy a whole lot of pineapples and surfboards.
Speaking of a waste of space, how about getting rid of that ugly peninsular appendage on the southeast coast, namely Florida? It cost less than $7 million back in 1821 when it was purchased from Spain. Given its current status as a readymade retirement community, it’s quite likely that some giant corporation would be willing to take it off your hands. I can see “God’s Waiting Room” going for $100 billion or more.
Remember the Louisiana Purchase of 1803? Me neither, but apparently the U.S. paid France over $23 million for a huge swath of what is now the Midwest. Superficially, it sounds like a great deal until you consider that it basically covers the modern states of North and South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Iowa and Nebraska. Honestly, now, unless you’re a right-wing Republican presidential candidate, are you really going to miss any of those states if the whole territory goes in a giant prairie clearance sale?
Perhaps the best real estate do-over to consider is the island of Manhattan. There’s no telling how many hundreds of billions of dollars the denizens of Wall Street have cost the nation. But one thing is for sure: if you could re-sell the island for the $24 worth of trinkets and beads that the Dutch paid for it back in 1626, you’d be making a better deal than even Donald Trump.