I visited Malta last year. You may have heard of their falcon.
Malta is a country on three small islands between Sicily and Africa, almost dead-center in the Mediterranean. It's about the size of Staten Island, but it's an independent country and a member of the European Union.
It is a very, very old country. In many towns, you could film "The Life of Christ" without changing a thing. It even has a life-sized reproduction of Bethlehem with live chickens running around. It is a $79, one-hour Ryan Air flight from most of southern Europe, and gets millions of tourists each year.
The natives speak Maltese and English (it was a British colony until becoming independent), and a few other languages besides. There is corruption -- where isn't there? -- but as in all small places, people generally know who the corrupt ones are. We all know which lawyers can get you out of a DUI for a price. We know if the mayor is cheating on his or her spouse.
Without saying Malta is more or less corrupt than anywhere else, an anti-corruption journalist died in a car bomb explosion shortly before I visited.
Fun fact about Malta: It's becoming the crypto-currency capital of the world. It is home to many online gambling sites. Flights arrive at its tiny airport just minutes apart. You can almost smell the money pouring in. The skyline is full of giant, self-rising cranes. Across the street from the airport is a giant Microsoft office tower.
In all of Europe, they picked Malta? I'm just sayin'.
So why am I telling you all this? Because if you'd like to become a citizen of Malta, it's really easy. All you have to do is give them a million dollars. And as a free bonus, you'll receive a Maltese passport that will let you travel visa-free to 182 different countries.
Sweet deal, huh? It's a country of about 400,000 people, so even if they add 1,000 new citizens this way, what difference is that going to make? And the country pockets a billion dollars. Well, maybe not the country, but somebody pockets that money.
Maybe that's something we should think about doing here. But then, on second thought, who do you think is buying all those million-dollar passports? Law-abiding, upstanding citizens? Or could it be well-funded terrorists, rich drug kingpins, arms dealers, scam artists and bribe-taking politicians? One would think that most millionaires already have passports from the country in which they made all their money. Yes, lots of people have dual citizenship, but they usually don't have to pay a million dollars for it.
It's hard to think of a legitimate reason why anyone would want to buy a Maltese passport. And that got me thinking about people who have a lot of money. We tend to equate poor people and poor neighborhoods with high crime. When you hear about a convenience store that gets robbed of $75, or when there's a car-jacking or a drug bust, it's not usually done by the folks who live in the fanciest neighborhood in town.
But you know who does live in the fanciest neighborhoods in town? The "good" neighborhoods? The Bernie Madoffs, the Jeffrey Epsteins, the celebrity sex abusers, the guys that ran Enron, the doctors who overprescribed Oxycontin and the CEOs of the pharmaceutical companies that make it, the lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits, the government-subsidized corporate "farmers," the large-scale polluters, the tech wizards who sell your info to the highest bidders over and over again, the credit card company officers that let it happen, the too-big-to-fail bankers, the corporate raiders, the alt-coin scam masters, the college admissions cheaters, the penny-pinching slumlords, the tax evaders, the money launderers, the fossil-fuel lobbyists, the unhappy trust-fund babies, the sleazy plastic surgeons who specialize in butt implants for teenagers, the Russian Mafiosi and the toxic TV execs. Just to name a few off the top of my head.
Without condoning it, I can understand why desperately poor people might make some poor life choices. What I can't understand is why wealthy people make them. What is their excuse?
While it might sound like a good idea for us to offer citizenship for a million dollars a pop, I'm afraid it would attract the wrong sort of people. The ultra-wealthy.