Dateline: Guangzhou, China
You know what it’s like when you haven’t seen somebody for a few years – especially if it’s a young person – and when you finally see them you really notice all the profound changes?
Well, that’s sort of what it’s like for expats who return to the United States after a long absence. Certain things are very noticeable because, for you, they didn’t happen gradually.
Although I’m not a US citizen, I emigrated legally in 1985 and spent twenty years raising an American family and truly enjoyed the experience and the friends we made.
However, the country changed dramatically post-9/11. I returned my Green Card, left the country and ceased to be a ‘US person’ as Andrew calls them, and as defined by the new regime.
I love what “America” did over a 200 year period and I like Americans as people. But, wow, has the country changed! For a country that once boasted of “the American way” and the world’s highest standard of living, things have certainly taken a turn for the worst.
Let’s leave for another time the complete collapse of the Fourth Amendment and the way citizens are searched without cause in their cars, on the street, and in any place of mass gathering like airports or sporting events.
Let’s also not get into how every scrap of your personal electronic communication and personal commerce is spied upon and stored by the US government without probable cause or by virtue of a warrant.
American Cost of Living
Last year an article at Yahoo! Finance titled “Why Walmart is Getting Too Expensive for the Middle Class”. It got a lot of traction, although I read the article from afar and never thought too much about it.
But last month I was in Boise, Idaho visiting our daughter. We lived in Boise for ten years and it was a nice place to raise a family.
What I noticed since we left is that the retail sector had moved way downmarket. There are thrift stores everywhere and they are huge. Dollar stores, 99-cent stores, 98-cent stores… the whole lot. These stores’ parking lots are filled with cars.
People are buying used clothes, used furniture, used appliances and everything else you might find in a Target, K-Mart, or Walmart.
A few years ago there were a few small thrift stores operated for charity by organizations like the Salvation Army or a Mormon charity. Today it’s a common way to shop… just to make ends meet.
Retailers and manufacturers are using every trick they can to reduce the sticker shock of common items. You don’t buy a pound of coffee anymore. The bags are 12 ounces these days, not the 16 ounces in a pound.
For all my life a bag a sugar was 5 lbs. Today those bags are 4 lbs and, of course, cost much more. That’s twenty percent price inflation hidden in new packaging. Pay more, get less.
We lived in Europe for most of 2015 and I can promise you, it costs less to live in Germany or Spain than it does to live in the United States these days.
Imagine that. Europe with a lower cost of living than the US. And it’s not like Europe is run by free-market brainiacs.
The war on terror in the Middle East has come to the US in the form of a war on the citizenry. US cops are fitted with paramilitary equipment and — worse — a military attitude that every citizen is a ‘threat’ that has to be suppressed.
My Facebook feed seems to have a new video every day of some unarmed US citizen getting shot by the police, sometimes within seconds of them arriving at a scene.
By contrast, in the United Kingdom in June 2015 a crazy man beheaded an elderly woman with a large hunting knife while on a 45-minute rampage. When the cops arrived on the scene the killer was still in the road holding his knife and menacing people.
Rather than shooting him fifty times, the very professional police stood a safe distance from him and warned nearby people out of the area. Then they tasered him and took him into custody.
US police kill more people in one month than UK police killed in the last century. It’s crazy.
The reality is that being a peace officer is a very different job than being a soldier. Yet, the US is moving toward a model of having de facto Military Police patrolling at all times.
If that’s not alarming enough, these new police are expected to generate substantial revenue through fines and asset forfeiture. So much as glancing at your mobile phone when in your car can cost you hundreds of dollars in fines. In fact, one of Andrew’s friends was arrested and spent over $15,000 in legal costs just to clear his name… all for “swerving” after looking at his phone.
No accident. No victim. Just harsh financial penalties as often as possible. And all to support the bankrupt state and local governments of a mismanaged United States.
I’m old enough to remember when the words Eastern Europe brought thoughts of a dull, third-world lifestyle and police who were abusive and corrupt.
For example, my wife and I just spent a month in Romania and I can tell you the roles between East and West are pretty strongly reversed. I’d happily live in Romania. The cost of living is low, the internet is the fourth fastest in the world, the people are friendly, and we barely saw any police the whole time we were there.
The one exception was when an Interpol conference was occurring in the hotel next door and the police were checking our building. They were polite, professional and went out of their way to show a calm, respectful demeanor.
When I’m in the US I feel like I’m one traffic stop and one hot-head, poorly trained cop away from a dangerous confrontation that could end with me in court, prison, hospital, or even the morgue.
In 1985 there was no place on earth I wanted to live more than the U-S-A. Times have changed.
It’s not the country it used to be, and hopefully, it’s not the country it will be in the future. My personal advice to my own kids and to the people I care about is to find a better alternative. There are plenty of them if you look around.