“Go where you’re treated best”. That was the simple philosophy with which I started Nomad Capitalist.
It’s simple, really; why would you stay somewhere where you’re not appreciated or unable to maximize your talents fully?
Beyond matters of capitalism, it’s also a general philosophy that applies to many other aspects of life. At its core, it’s a symbol that we as human beings want freedom, wherever it may be found.
The affluent class in China is no stranger to this philosophy. In 2011, 150,000 Chinese left the country, moving to places like New Zealand, Canada, and Australia.
Chinese are far and away the largest holders of US EB-5 immigrant investor visas, although The Land of the Free is not that high on their list overall. Most of these expatriates are highly-educated and successful people who are welcomed into another country in exchange for being a sought-after skilled professional or having money to invest in the country.
The numbers beyond those actually leaving are those hoping to leave or in the planning stages. As many as half of rich Chinese fall into such a group. It highlights the challenges countries must deal with in remaining competitive and retaining talent.
Why are they leaving? Largely, for quality of life. It’s not that success can’t be had in China – they’ve already had it – but with pollution, infrastructure, and food quality concerns, they’ve had enough and are voting with their feet.
While the concept of Chinese expatriation is nothing new, its application among the wealthy largely is. As more and more Chinese travel, they’re experiencing what a pain it is even to hold a Chinese passport, which many nations treat like dirt. That alone is part of their motivation to move.
I have a Chinese friend moving to New Zealand so he can eventually get a New Zealand passport and finally travel somewhere without begging for a visa to some degrading consulate officer.
The idea of packing your bags and going somewhere with better opportunity is noble. The fact that the Chinese are doing it shows that they understand their money and talents are a resource to be fought for. They aren’t just going to give it up because they were born on a patch of dirt.
While my Chinese friends fiercely defend their culture, they are willing to go where the best opportunity is. And I suspect they’ll be vigilant in the new home, as well.
A big part of this expatriation movement is an insurance policy on economic freedom. I suspect many of these expatriates would love to stay in China, but they don’t believe they can fight a system or fix all of its problems overnight. This is a big difference between where I was born in the US.
Americans love to believe that if they fight hard enough and clean up the air overnight, or create better investment rules for themselves in short order. The Chinese expat movement is about “planting flags” the way we talk about here. It’s about having options and being pragmatic.
Having access to two countries is better than being stuck in one.
On top of that, the average Chinese realizes just how corrupt government can be. They’re building an escape hatch against the government that they believe won’t look out for their interests. Many Communist Party officials have relatives living in the west and store their assets there in case of a total crash. Even they don’t have faith in the system.
Of course, there is always a class of people who think we should all remain chained to wherever we were born. In China, an editorial titled “We Should Make It Harder for the Wealthy to Emigrate” went viral and caused quite a stir. Among other things, it proposed an “exit tax” on expatriates, the ultimate slap in the face for those who helped create wealth in a country.
There’s always a group of people unthankful for what you’ve done. In this case, the discussion veered toward the typical “loss of patriotism” among those who become wealthy, as if “patriotism” is defined as forking over whatever the Envy Class wants you to pay.
One commenter called Chinese expatriates “peacetime traitors”, arguing everything they had was because of China. I hear that a lot when I’m in the United States, as well, and it’s the most insidious argument ever.
Do these people think there’s some magic pixie dust in the air in these two countries that created such success? If these people could only continue their economic success by staying in China, why would they leave to start a business in another country? If Australia doesn’t have the same magic potion for magically creating millionaires that China or the US does, they’ll be screwed.
Fortunately, many Chinese “get it”. Even if they’re not wealthy or planning to leave, they understand the challenges their homeland faces. Personally, I think China is a better place to invest than United States, and people like Steve Wynn agree with me. But I also understand the sovereignty of man and believe we all deserve to go where we feel most free.
What’s interesting to me, however, is that few Chinese I talk to seem overly concerned with the political process there. Westeners would think Chinese are fleeing for the freedom to vote for their leaders or voice their opinion, but that’s not really their thing. It brings up an interesting political dialogue that I think more people ought to engage in. The idea that people in the west view “our system” as the only way to have freedom is a bit silly.
After all, we’ve seen how well Big Government treats the Constitution. One laissez-faire thought leader told me in an interview the US might as well get rid of it. And voting? If Barack Obama can get elected twice, just how much faith do you have in the other people voting? Has voting stopped the burgeoning surveillance state, the massive devaluation of the dollar, or the erosion of liberties?
While I want as many tools in my toolbox to fight a bigger and bigger government, it’s important to note that those seeking their own version of freedom elsewhere aren’t all clamoring for those rights. They, too, believe in the power of the individual over the concept of “better government”, as if there is such a thing.