Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Why do you want to leave?

For those who don't want to read all of this, that's fine. However, I would love a short response explaining which country you currently live in, whether or not you wish to leave and why.

Yesterday's "United Kingdom profile" took just a few short hours to enter the "top ten list" of most popular posts in the past month, despite not having much information there. Part of this is due to the fact that it's an English speaking country and viewed as accessible and part of this is because many grow up with "romantic" ideals of what Europe is like. As I've mentioned before, when people tell me they want to live abroad, they usually mean "I want to live in Europe", though I've found that if I start asking questions, there's often only a vague sense of why they want to go there.

110118 Tunisia unity government unravels 08 | تشكيل حكومة الوحدة الوطنية في تونس | Echec du gouvernement d'unité nationale en Tunisie
Tunisian 2011 Revolution
Photo by magherebia
But Europe is a huge immigration target, often sought out by those with no cultural ties to Europe. Why would they want to leave their home countries? There are both "pull" — why go to country X? — and "push" factors — why leave country X? — in these decisions. While the pull factors are often complex, the push factors tend to be relatively simple: your home is pushing you away. It can be any of a number of factors, including political oppression, suppression of your religion, war, famine, drought, or any of a number of things. However, when there are push factors involved, the one thing the the emigrants don't want is to wind up in another country like the one they've come from. This is why England and the rest of Europe are so damned popular. Would you really want to be an emigré in Tunisia right now? Or how about Egypt? Expat oil workers are having their families evacuated and the US State Department has warned Americans already in Egypt to "defer non-essential movement and exercise caution".

Then there are people like Arthur C. Clarke who emigrated to beautiful, peaceful Sri Lanka and spent the rest of his life there, the last 25 years of which were in a country engaged in a civil war withe Tamil Tiger terrorists.¹ If you are, for example, an American who desperately wishes to leave your home country for a "better life", keep in mind that you'd probably find your home country pretty damned attractive if you were sitting in Cairo right now. That's why people in the US who say they want "asylum" in another country should probably consider that asylum is something which should be offered to those truly in need. Compared to political refugees like gays from IranChristians in Afghanistan, or Somali refugees now being harassed by Kenyan police and soldiers, most people don't really have much room to complain. The "push" factor for most reading this blog is pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things.

That being said, Americans still want to leave. Lots of them are desperate to leave. Bob Adam's broke this down in a story for Barron's where he commissioned a survey of US households and found the following (note that these are households, not individuals):
  • 1.6 million U.S. households have already made the decision to relocate. That figure has remained stable over the year and a half during which seven surveys were conducted.
  • Another 1.8 million households are seriously considering relocation and are likely to do it.
  • 7.7 million households are "somewhat seriously" considering relocation and "may" do it.
  • Nearly 3 million households are seriously considering the purchase of a vacation home or other property outside the U.S., and another 10 million are "somewhat" seriously considering it.
In other words, 10% of US households would like to emigrate with another 10% considering living outside the US "part time". If these numbers are true, this is astonishing. I knew many of my US friends wanted to emigrate, but I assumed sample bias. Finding out that much of the US feels the same way leaves me astonished. There is no war, famine or pestilence driving them out, nor is there serious political oppression. Is everyone just looking for adventure or is this normal for a country's population? I have no idea.

1. To those familiar with the situation and who object to the term "terrorist", I use the term in the strictest sense of "the threat or use of violence against non-combatants to effect political change".  There is no judgment there, only description. See Louise Richardson's excellent book What Terrorists Want: Understanding the Enemy, Containing the Threat if you wish to know more about this fascinating subject (and understand some of my point of view here).


  1. Adventure! Japan is usually the target country when I think about living abroad, though.

  2. The grass is always greener on the other side of the hill...
    And it's non ending process actually...

  3. We are a nation of emigrants living in a country with very easy mobility. There is a inherited wanderlust not dulled by political geography. Combine that national character with a divisive political culture, can do attitude and romanticised views of elsewhere. These factors provide the move meme with a fertile growth environment.

  4. I grew a military brat and lived many years in Europe. It's my 'hometown' that I feel homesick for. Almost that simple.

  5. Ivan may be right, but when it comes down to it, but I feel that I don't really fit in in America. There are so many things I like about travel, the newness of the experience, adjusting to language and culture, being out of my element, the age of the societies, the traditions around food, the socialism and in-this-together, and the architecture and musea (goth, the architecture!). There is just so much richness in other nations that aren't all WAHOO AMERKA! and LOLWTF. Hipsters are rarer in Europe, the worship of everything shitty America has to offer isn't endemic in Europe, and it is just a cool place to go.

    All in all, there are thousands of reasons to leave (many I have blogged to you and on my own blog) and few reasons to stay. I have a great quality of life in Portland, multiple friends, a band, a fantastic house... but it doesn't seem like the big picture is there. I'm working against the grain here: America still lacks an energy policy, it uses a lot of energy per capit (second to Dubai, I believe), people identify with their cars, unsustainability is considered 'independent', doing the right thing is outlawed, the corporatocracy runs this place... all things are done for capitalism and the mighty dollar, environment, society, and people be damned. America worships its rich, the very people that sap the lifeblood from the poor. The megarich here (the top three) get it and give most of their money back in the form of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; they're directly working against the Waltons, who couldn't care less about the world around them.

    I'm odd because I walk to work and try to not eat packaged food. I'm a fancy-pants liberal, cast to the sidelines because of my views. I'm a majority, but I feel like a minority. The politics here are very fucked up and people are very disengaged. Consciousness is not a virtue.

    It seems that even the conservatives in Europe understand the value of socialising certain costs.

    The bottom line is that I don't feel comfortable growing old in America. I think the food supply is poisoned (via capitalism and a lack of regulation; for-profit food, rather than a traditional network of family-owned farms is dangerous in so many ways) and the healthcare debate /is a debate here/. The arguments are that socialised healthcare is bad (i.e. the poor people having access to preventative care is bad) because government (who can't be trusted) will do a worse job of taking your money than a for-profit entity (who pisses your money away on the golf course and through luxury goods). This versus the argument (sensible in my mind) that socialised healthcare works EVERYWHERE ELSE IN THE WORLD THAT EMPLOYS IT at a much less costly way.

    I'm currently a drowning man; in Europe, I'd be a fish.

  6. Oh, and two more words: Religious Right. You can't even make sense with these people...

  7. C stole the words right out of my mouth.

    Although, I wouldn't mind emigrating to either Canada, England, or Germany. I don't have fantastically thought through reasons for one country over another. Those are places that I would certainly start researching. I've just never been in a position where emigration would be a realistic option, which is why I haven't done anything sooner.

  8. While I'm certainly not interested in permanently relocating, I'd love to spend a year or two checking out another country. Iceland, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, and Norway are at the top of my list right now -- all for their outdoor recreation opportunities.

  9. I don't feel a push factor, as you call it, but more of a pull factor. I'm physically comfortable where I am, and my small family is here with me. However, as much as I love Portland, Oregon, USA, it is just one small corner of the world, and there's a lot more out there to see and experience before I die. This has been my empty-nest goal since leaving Germany in 1992. I've been raising my family here in Portland since then, and am just about ready to get started on my travels while I still have the health and energy to do it.

    I've said that my goal is to live at least two years on each continent before I die (but I'll let Antarctica have a bye with really *any* period of time). Yet in reality, I think it is likely that somewhere along these travels I will find someplace I want to settle down. I may not make it to all five of the continents I have less than two years on, but I do know that wherever I am, it will be different than where I am.

  10. How is the United Kingdom "better" than the usa? From my readings on the web, Britain is fast devolving into the kind of superstate the soviets could only dream of having. What kind of pie-in-the-sky scam are you pulling here? True, things are bad in the usa, but the EU? THAT'S where you want to put down roots? LOL, Fine by me, get lost in the new soviet state of EU, and please don't come back. You are cowards who abandon ship in its hour of greatest need, and frankly I hope you find whatever it is your looking for. We certainly don't need you.

    1. I certainly don't claim that the UK is better than the US, but I will claim that for some people, many European countries have societies that will better reflect their values. There is no "Soviet superstate" here. The EU is not a single monolithic country. It's a group of countries that have a framework of treaties in place to build common bonds with the goal of avoiding a repeat of the first two world wars (read the history of the European Coal and Steel Community for more background).

      The EU today is heavily, heavily capitalist, with some government intervention in areas that the people voted in to help deal with areas that they felt the free market does not adequately deal with (labor laws being a prime example). Given that free speech is the norm, speaking out against the government is perfectly OK and people vote about issues rather than receiving grand five year plans from a central planning body, making any sort of comparison with the former Soviet Union is ludicrous at best.

      In particular, there tends to be a strong rejection of religion in politics and the "every man for himself" style capitalism simply doesn't appeal to people here.

      In short, having lived in both the US and Europe for many years, I can tell you that life here is not much different from life in the US, except that there's more history, more vacation time and better health care in Europe. We still have family and friends, we hit pubs with out mates and enjoy sitting back and shooting the breeze. When government gets too annoying, we vote them out and deal with the next annoying government. That's really not that much different from the US.

  11. I'm a first generation American citizen. I was born in India, and moved to the US when I was a few months old. My parents decided to leave India to find better jobs, raise me and my sister in a more stable economy, and generally to give us a better future.

    I want to expatriate for the exact same reasons that my parents left. I'm 19, in my second year of college. I'm already $50,000 in debt due to college, and it seems like there's very little hope of finding a well paying job in my field (neuroscience/psychology), without getting at least a master's degree.

    If I don't find a decently paying job, it will be impossible for me to pay off all of this debt until I'm well into my 40s or later. I'm not sure if I want to get married and have kids yet, but if I do, I want them to have comfortable lives, and in order to do that, I have to get this debt under control.

    Also, I really do not like the direction that politics are headed. It seems to me that the only thing that politicians are concerned about are pleasing their corporate sponsors, invading our privacy, and trying to force Christian values. These are the exact opposite of what we NEED to do if this country wants to stay alive for more than another 15 years. In my opinion, the most important things are the economy, education, civil rights, becoming energy independent through nuclear power or environmentally friendly renewable resources (not fossil fuels), and stopping the useless expensive wars.

    Other than that, it seems to me that Americans are becoming stupider as time goes on. Popular culture is more fascinated with Kim Kardashian's vagina than they are with things that actually matter, such as science and the economy. Late last year when the debt cap was reached, I only heard of it for maybe a week in passing statements on the news, while at the same time, Casey Anthony's court case was taking up hours of time on news channels for over a month after the fact. I'm aware that stupid/ignorant people exist everywhere, but our popular culture glorifies being ignorant. Reading is considered lame, if you pay attention in school you're considered a dork, and schoolteachers are paid poorly and their reputation are even worse. That's the exact opposite of how it should be.

  12. I'm another being pushed because the corporate looting, right wing dominance of public space and glorification of ignorance are not a cultural fit for me. I'm looking for human scale community. Someone referred to American culture as the ultimate 'anti-community' and I think that's what I want to leave.

    My concerns will be cost if/when I go, as in, where I can live decently on about $2k/month. The "if" part of going is my worry that, four years from now when I can go, things in the U.S. may have devolved to the point that the borders are closed. That strikes me as unlikely, so I probably will make it out.

    I would also like to spend some part of my life in a place where I can just forget the damn United States for days at a time. I've spent forty years watching my friends and this country be destroyed by spiteful, ignorant scoundrels. So many of my old friends are financially ruined or literally dead before their time because they couldn't afford healthcare that I have stopped counting them. I'm tired of the gnawing heartbreak and grinding low-grade dread that living in America now brings.

    I want simplicity, community and a little relief from hopelessness before I'm dead. Paris would be my dream, but if that isn't possible (or even if it is) I'm giving Montreal a long look. Or, if making it out of the country doesn't happen, I'm pleased to hear that Portland, Oregon appeals to Europeans because that's where my remaining friends are and that's where me and the dog will be headed.

  13. My husband and I have great jobs (both devs), we get paid a lot to do what we love and we live in a beautiful city (Cape Town, S. Africa) where we have a fairly good quality of life. Crime and corruption in our country is rife, unfortunately, which makes it unappealing as a place to raise children. I loved growing up here, had a lot of physical freedom and hate that I have to be barred and alarmed wherever I go now. For that reason we want to emigrate asap.

    We figure that it's better to have and raise our children elsewhere - while our skills are in great demand worldwide, the same may not necessarily be true for the careers they wish to pursue. Better to give them the option to return here than have them struggle to get out.

  14. So there is a lot of countries in a lot worse shape than the US, but there are also a lot of countries in a lot better shape. The choice is simple, if you can move to another country you feel gives you more freedom, privacy, is less dangerous, less corrupt, uses its tax dollars in a more humane way, etc..., you try and make it a reality.
    I think it would be a great idea if countries had like a swap scheme that allowed exchanges of citizens as migrants. The governments would never want this though, their most valuable commodity is their native population and even though some are blighting the living conditions of their own country, need their slaves.

  15. I grew up in West Africa in a missionary family and moved to the US for college and have been here for the most part ever since. Although I'm definitely acculturated as an American and I can fit in here I've never really felt at home. Ironically the US feels too familiar, too bland perhaps. I miss the daily tension of experiencing different cultures and speaking and hearing different languages.