Somewhere on the Canada United States Border

June 13th, 2011 § 2 comments

I am waiting besides an empty Customs and Border Protection counter. In a room behind me, the officer speaks on the phone.


“Yes.” I walk to her.

“What is the name of the conference you are going to?”

“The Association of Environmental and Resource Economists’ Summer Conference.”

She speaks into the phone, “The Association of Environmental and Resource…” She is looking at me.

I too have trouble with the word ‘economist’ sometimes, so I say it again.

She repeats. Listens.

She asks the person on the phone: “Do you know of the association?”

She listens. Hangs up.

“He has not heard of this conference. He does not know the association.”

This was her conversation with Marilyn Voigt’s office, the Resources for the Future (RFF). Marilyn, the association’s business manager, is already at the conference. It seems that the rest of RFF does not share Marilyn’s intimate knowledge of our association.

The bus taking me to Seattle has been waiting for half an hour.

I think about how hard it is to get back home from the border.

Again on the phone, the officer starts describing her concerns to—presumably—a superior. I start searching through my email to find something to convince her. An invitation from!? Couldn’t the organizers use a university address? This is only going to convince her that I am faking it. I show it anyway.

At least the email begins cheerfully, “Dear Presenter: We are happy to inform you that your paper ….” She reads it and continues speaking into the phone.

“I am going to let him go based on an email invitation. The next time, he should have a formal one.”

§ 2 Responses to Somewhere on the Canada United States Border"

  • Shi-Ling Hsu says:

    I have always wondered how Immigrations and Customs officials throughout the world, even in tolerant countries such as Canada and Sweden, can recruit the most small-minded and arbitrary and capricious people in their respective countries. Surely, there is a selection bias, but why? Wouldn’t immigration and customs select for people that are welcoming? Or is it really just like toll-taking on the New Jersey Turnpike?

    • Hi Shi-Ling, it was great to see you at the meetings. Just to clarify, I think this officer was generally quite nice and understanding. In her case, it might not be the selection of personnel that was the issue, but the rigidity of rules she has to operate under. Sumeet.

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  • About Me

    I am an Associate Professor in Environmental and Resource Economics at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

    Through my research I try to gauge the efficacy of policy designed to help the environment. This research is usually joint with colleagues from the University of British Columbia---the real brains behind it. I recently studied automobile sales in Canadian provinces to determine if tax rebates for hybrid vehicles were cost-effective. Studying appliance sales in the US, I analyzed whether mail-in rebates for energy star appliances helped promote their adoption. I am currently studying whether British Columbia's vehicle retirement program, BC SCRAP-IT is cost-effective and am trying to understand what motivates someone to participate in it.

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