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Where huge numbers of anything are concerned, money will follow

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Sixty-five years ago, when this dear island of ours was in even greater danger from continental Europe than some think it is today, with German tanks already lining the cliff tops of northern France and the French government in flight from Paris and drafting surrender documents, the British prime minister devised a mammoth gesture intended to keep France in the war at all cost.

In the event, the measure Winston Churchill proposed was dramatic, but also impossible, for it offered the French people equal citizenship with Britain, which is something like France giving Germany to Argentina. Actually, such propositions are not quite as rare as one might suppose.

Unusual but not unprecedented, might be a better descriptor.

Such measures became part and parcel of the unsatisfactory settlement of the treaties of Versailles and Saint-Germain that brought an end to the Great War of 1914-18, for, as part of the Peace Settlement of 1919-20, most of the states of Central and Eastern Europe were required to sign treaties or make declarations ensuring that their racial minorities would receive equal treatment under the law. These rights were guaranteed by the League of Nations, which conspicuously failed to uphold them 20 years later.

About 100 years before that reorganisation of a continent came the Louisiana Purchase, the biggest land sale in history, wherein the US purchased from Napoleon Bonaparte's France the whole of the Mississippi Valley up to the Rocky Mountains, an area of 830,000 square miles acquired at a cost of only $15 million in 1803.

Another 60 years passed before another historical anomaly came along.

On this occasion the government of Imperial Russia was eager to sell and the US government was eager to buy. By 1867 a deal had been worked out and Alaska had changed hands for $4 million. Then the most recent stand-off, the US versus Canada in the matter of another border dispute, was resolved in 1903 by means of neutral adjudication. The Canadian government opened its cheque book and ended a longstanding border dispute over Alaska, which was finally settled at a territorial level.

Now I am sure we all understand that this is merely speculation, all the figures are round numbers, surnames only and so on, but the point is that wherever huge numbers of anything are concerned, money will come tumbling after. Thus, if it was possible to buy 8,300 square miles of prime virgin plantation in America's deep south in 1803, then it would be reasonable to expect to have to pay at least double the same sum to make the same transaction 100 years later, and probably three times as much after 300 years. The difficulty, of course, would be finding a responsible client body, eager to make such a transaction, human mortality being what it is, on such uncertain terms.

Meanwhile, we have to make do with leaseholds of 999 years (already challengeable in law), freeholds that are borrowings in all but name; £5 meals in a million restaurants; and an improbable estimate of 67 million credit cards in circulation, the grand total adding up to a much-quoted £1 trillion debt - the bulk of it consisting of mortgage and credit-card transactions.

So what can be done? Nothing could be simpler, but first we must divest ourselves of any reliance upon the remedies (chiefly, doing nothing) offered by all the parties, and rely on history instead. For example, the history of mass population movements in the 20th century. Or why not spread our net a little wider? Why not see what the going price is for equal citizenship with France on the Bourse?

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