Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Aftermath of the "Giving up Citizenship" Post

As you can see, there was a bit of traffic spike from my More Americans Giving Up Citizenship Than Reported post.

Mind you, that was at the start of the traffic spike. It's still going on (thank you Google for having an infrastructure which can handle this!) and it's generated an extra 15,000 page views so far and while it's slowing, it's not stopping.

The comment thread was, well, interesting. It demonstrated a few fascinating things.

First, I am not a data analyst. Much of my job is grabbing data, doing unholy things to it and sending it along. I tend to do this with extremely large systems, such as my work with the BBC's central metadata repository, but I don't do the sort of concrete analysis of what the data means. Instead, I twist the data to a more useful representation so that real data analysts can take a crack at it. That's sort of what I did on that blog post.

First, let's look at the summary data for that post:

Summary/Year 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Total Expats 1655 3995 5318 5912 6188 6788 5174 2793 5530
Effective Renunciations 735 638 759 830 910 910 1010 998 961
Reported Renunciations 425 537 631 762 278 470 231 742 1,534

You may notice that while there is a sharp rise in reported renunciations since 2008 (and 2011 was 1,781!), there really wasn't a significant rise in effective renunciations. Further, I mentioned, as did others in the responses, that there are a variety of exceptions to the "no dual nationality" rules which may or may not be significant. Of course, I pointed out that effective renunciations only applied to Europe, but reported renunciations were world-wide, making it very hard to compare them, especially since it's not possible to evaluate the quality of the data. My best guess? I think we're probably losing around four to six thousand Americans per year, but I wouldn't bet money on that.

 Фёдор Михайлович Достоевский
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Finally, to really get to the heart of the matter, you'd have to have a pretty serious study of the data and I imagine it would be expensive. I'm willing to bet that this will never happen. Nationality law is simply too complex and I can't imagine anyone stumping up the money to do that, but even a superficial study would be great.

'Nuff of that. Let's consider the comments. The one comment which exemplified much of what happened was left by an anonymous commenter:
Keep this in mind. There is no right to bear arms in these countries. This is MY country. I will not give it up. For those that have lost their balls(or never had any) go. We don't need sunshime patriots.
There are a variety of interesting issues with that, starting with "no right to bear arms in these countries". Here's a lovely bit about the extensive gun ownership right here in France. Or you can check the per capita gun ownership around the world and you'll see that many European countries score near the top (though nowhere near the US level). Heck, in Switzerland, gun ownership isn't just a right, it's a requirement.

These types of ill-informed comments were the norm even when I lived back in the US: people would boldly assert "facts" that even a couple of seconds of digging would prove were false.

There was also an amusing claim that the EU is "morphing into a super soviet-like monstrosity". I don't get that at all. We have:
  • Freedom of speech
  • Freedom of religion
  • Freedom of travel
  • Freedom to vote
  • No Soviet-style centrally planned economy
And to top it off, Europe is very, very capitalist. True, European style capitalism is often tempered by voter approved government programs to curb market failures. For example, France is often considered to have the best health care in the world, but the French health care system isn't that different from the US system.

How we can be both a very free and open society and a "soviet-like monstrosity" is beyond me.

And then there was the "New World Fourth Reich Fascist Globalist Banking Autocratic Order is a GLOBAL totalitarian eugenics tyranny" comment. I'm not even going to touch that one.

Very few of the people making outrageous claims could even bother to cite evidence for these claims, but it reminds me of when I was a little boy and told my friends that everybody in Russia was a slave. I was just repeating what I heard and that's a lot of what I read in the comments.

I guess this goes to show that many people don't bother to try and dig into the data and, when they do, they don't bother to analyze it (aside from my wife, who mentioned some caveats I needed to include and my friend Ann who pointed out some data quality issues).


  1. "I think we're probably losing around four to six thousand Americans per year, but I wouldn't bet money on that."

    I suspect that you are right, Curtis, but like you I wouldn't bet the farm on it.

    I read through the comments on your previous post and I would just say that I've heard worse (up close and personal and in my face - I will never forget the American man in an airport who, once he found out I married a Frenchman and lived in France, started shrieking at me that I should have my citizenship pulled for being a traitorous bitch. I have since learned not to "overshare" with Americans I do not know).

    That said, I smell a lot of fear in that comment and in the others I read here on your blog. Something about these topic (renunciations, overseas Americans) seems to touch homeland Americans in a very painful place and they lash out. I wish I understood better why this is so threatening to them. Americans are the products of generations of people who left their homelands for one reason or another. Is it so inconceivable that Americans today in an increasingly globalized world should follow in the steps of their ancestors and cast themselves upon distant shores? The United States of America is a wonderful country but other countries are just as wonderful in their own way. If I have learned nothing else after nearly 20 years abroad, I have learned this: there is no magical mythical "best place", just different places.

    My .02.

    1. Victoria,

      I think a lot of this stems from two things:

      1. The "Greatest nation on earth" assumption, coupled with ...
      2. Ignorance

      If Americans have no idea what the rest of the world is like but they continuously insist that the US must be best, I don't think there's any escaping a certain subset of people who are going to have strong emotional reactions. They live on Mount Stupid .

      Sadly, they don't think they're ignorant because they hear tidbits about the rest of the world, often blatantly false (Amsterdam riddled with crime, no in Europe can own a gun, and so on), which allow them to say something and thus convince themselves and others that they're knowledgeable about a subject. Stir in a bit of jingoism to up the laugh quotient and the US starts churning out the idiots left and right.

    2. That's exactly what I was going to say. What I've observed in people is that they get really touchy when you challenge their image projection. So, challenging the 'greatest country on earth' myth gets a violent reaction. Challenging the validity of their Sky Cake provider will also result in shrieking/tantrum throwing/violence.

      But as Curtis alludes to, all of this idealism/ignorance/etc. is based on simply not doing any sort of research and just finding arguments that support your belief system. I posit that by simply having a belief system you probably have to bury your head in the sand a bit and screen out things that don't fit within your worldview. Worldview is an extremely interesting illusory process, and I'm fascinated by how they are developed, supported, etc. I have a worldview, as well as a vision for how I think the world 'should' be, but I know now that isn't a reality and the 'should'-ing just causes pain.

      I'm getting off track and way too big-picture for this. In summary, shattering people's images makes them angry. And tribalism, nationalism, racism, homoism, etc. are all based in illusion and ignorance. That's why they shriek at you and threaten you.

      Question for those overseas, especially in Europe: due to your socialist/communist/scary education systems [runs in terror /sarcasm], do you find that Europeans have the same level of freakish nationalism and rampant ignorance? Do they have pride issues that verge on comedic? Are the religious people angry/upset/victims as a whole?

      My sense is that Europe is a bit wiser as a whole, but that's my illusion. So please, shatter it as you need to. I won't yell at you.

    3. I think it stems from the indoctrination with the idea that the USA is 'the greatest' rather than 'a great' nation. When someone has then chosen to move away and thus either implies simply by doiing so, or explicitly states that another country is as good, or possibly when talking about a range of aspects, rather better, then that's going to be hard to accept. All the moreso as that person is likely telling you facts you believed to be false, and knows just how sugar-coated your own view on the USA might be. Egos are fraglie.

  2. @thedrowningman - I'm going to answer that very carefully because the reality is "il y a des cons partout." (There are idiots everywhere). I have encountered in my day a fair amount of "freakish nationalism" and a fair amount of ignorance in my host country. Among my friends and family here I know people who sincerely believe that 1. their country is the most "civilized", 2. that non-Christian immigrants are impossible to assimilate and ought to be discriminated against and forced to go home and 3. there is some other nation out there in the world that is the source of all evil. I've met people who, upon meeting me, tell me such things as, "You can't be an American, Madame, you are not fat." Probably the worst moment we had was when my daughters were in elementary school here in France and one day my younger daughter's teacher decided to tell the class exactly what she though of Americans: stupid, all ate at McDonald's, crass, obese, ignorant to the point of being illiterate, watched too much television, religious fanatics and so on. She was clearly not aware that my daughter was a French/American. My daughter came home pretty traumatized. That teacher didn't say anything I hadn't heard before in various ways and in the 20 years I've lived here but it was rather shocking to have a teacher say these things to the young. I knew another woman at the school who was from Brazil and had similar issues - she was told that Portuguese was a lesser language and not worth teaching French children. My elder daughter is a student at McGill in Canada - not one member of my family here knew the university (one of the top 20 in the world) and most heartily disapprove that she left France for her higher education because, as they pointed out to me, France has the best education system in the world. And then there was the time I was having lunch with colleagues one of whom was Jewish and the entire table got into a discussion about anti-semitism and they agreed amongst themselves that it doesn't exist in France at all today and probably didn't exist in the past either and all this was just lies told by people on the Left. I just looked at the lone Jewish guy at the table and we both rolled our eyes at the same time. :-)

    So yes there is ignorance here just as it exists everywhere. Nobody is special (not the Americans or the French or the Japanese or anyone else) or more enlightened or sophisticated or cosmopolitan or wise. Because behind every nationality are human beings who are capable of anything.

    I have no answer to the overall problem of human nature but I do believe that the only response in any circumstance is "loving kindness." We can meet aggression with aggression and add to the sum of sorrow in the world or we can open ourselves to the fear and rage swirling around us and try to inject some serenity and peace into the tornado.

    My .02.

  3. It's not that Americans are any more ignorant than anybody else, they just export it to a greater extent. There are myriad examples but if your average French, German, Finn, etc. watched Fox News—which even airs in Indonesia for some reason—for a few hours, what opinion do you think they'd walk away with?

    1. My wife has seen a few things from Fox News and she's just shocked by it. We had a lovely (cough) discussion one day when I tried to explain how Fox News was allowed to lie on air (they won a court case for the right to do so) and she asked why is your news allowed to lie but you have truth in advertising laws?

      That was rather embarrassing.

  4. FYI: you listed France as your first example for gun rights, but you seem to confuse laws allowing guns with a recognized *right* to guns. I've not found evidence of the latter in France.

    1. It can be argued that there is not "right" to bear arms in the US outside of a well-regulated militia. The problem is in the wording of the second amendment: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed."

      Ia a well-regulated militia an example of why we have this right or the reason we have this right? In general, the courts have held that the militia is the "reason" we have this right and it's largely superseded by the lack of a civilian militia and the existence of a professional military (something we did not have at the time of the signing of the Declaration of Independence). Thus, lower courts have often consistently held that states have the right to regular gun ownership or ban it entirely because a well-regulated militia no longer exists.

      The Supreme Court has largely side-stepped this issue and not until the court's 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller did they clearly assert a right outside of militia service.

      Thus, while Americans might think they have a right to bear arms, the courts have often been quite happy to avoid this issue, or argue that there is not de facto right. The 2008 Supreme Court ruling will not be the final precedent and it's entirely possible that this "right" might be struck down.

      That being said, I support the "individual right" interpretation, but I agree that the Second Amendement was poorly written in that regard. For more information, I strongly recommend In Our Defense, by Ellen Alderman and Caroline Kennedy. It's a great breakdown of the history of the Bill of Rights.

  5. I used to work for Brinks here in France and the way it was explained to me was that anyone needing to have a gun had to ask the prefecture for permission. Whether it was granted or not depended on the prefecture and the circumstances. Oddly enough some of the guys who worked for me had this permission even though they worked in IT and not on the CIT (cash in transit) side of the business. So I think Chris is right and there is no "right" to have a weapon but they do recognize that in some cases it's justified.

  6. The US has forgotten its own principles. It is no longer the beacon of liberty it once was.

    Americans living abroad have had enough and are breaking the chains of empire being wrapped around them.

    Citizenship renunciations are on the rise!