But maybe these are surmountable problems. Maybe Denmark would part with the territory for the right incentive package. Maybe Greenlanders, whose fjords play home to polar bears and sea eagles, are secretly fonder of their grizzly and bald American equivalents. Maybe one day, sooner than we think, with a hefty direct deposit, some dull paperwork, and a very cold flag ceremony, this transaction will be complete.
On that day, President Trump will launch an unprecedented experiment in American federalism. For in adding Greenland as the 51st state, he will permanently adjoin to the United States one of the most socialist political systems in the world.
Read: Greenland is falling apart
How socialist? Well, private land ownership does not exist in Greenland: All the land is controlled by one of five local kommunes, a word that looks a lot like “commune” but is usually translated into English as the more innocuous “municipality.” Greenlanders neither own nor pay rent for the land they live on. In 2017, a sheep farmer in southern Greenland told me how he had recently built a new pasture: After deciding that he wanted to expand, he told the local kommune, which posted a sign advertising the change publicly. When no one protested, he went ahead and did it.
And forget opposing Medicare for All: In Greenland, the entire health-care industry is nationalized. Both medical care and prescription drugs are free. When I toured a Greenlandic hospital, I was struck by how much it felt like an American public school or library, with well-lit hallways decorated with local art, warm and serious professional staff, and an ambient sense of shared ownership. The country’s health-care system does not perform terribly, given the circumstances: While Greenland’s infant mortality rate of 8.9 deaths per 1,000 births is higher than the U.S. average of 5.8, it is lower than the rate for black Americans (11.4) and for Native Alaskans and American Indians (9.4).
The ethic of common ownership extends to just about every enterprise in Greenland. The country’s largest fishing company is state-owned. Its largest retailer is state-owned. Its only seal tannery is state-owned. Air Greenland, its flagship carrier, is jointly owned by Greenland, Denmark, and the SAS Group, a semiprivate conglomerate that is itself partially owned by the Danish and Swedish governments.
To underwrite all these endeavors, Greenland relies on $591 million in annual subsidies from the Danish Parliament, or about $10,550 in aid per resident. This sum makes up a large portion of Greenland’s federal budget. And while it may sound like a lot, it is not so far outside the bounds of state spending in the United States. Today Congress gives an average of $12 billion in grants to each state government every year, and in 2016, each New Mexican received roughly $9,700 in net federal subsidies, which is only slightly less than the average Greenlander’s $10,550 haul.