Reporting from: Seattle, Washington
When flying to the Land of the Free from Asia, I try to fly into Seattle. San Francisco is a nice airport for international travel, but agents there tend to be jerks (imagine that). LAX is a disintegrating dump, right on par with what you’d expect from that city’s mayor.
Seattle is the only west coast port of entry I’ve found where customs and TSA officers are actually human beings. Not that that entirely excuses their career choice as agents of statism, but it makes the day a little more pleasant.
It’s ironic that I’m arriving in the United States the same day a close friend of mine and his wife are returning home from Italy. In many ways, I view the US in the same way as I view Italy.
A couple years ago, I visited the Coliseum, the Tuscan wine country, and the beaches of the Cinque Terre. The landscape of Italy is beautifully diverse and exciting. Millions of tourists flock there for the amazing history and scenery.
Yet, no one is flocking to Italy for safe banking. Or to store their gold. Or to become a resident to save on taxes from some other country. While I might encourage you to get an Italian passport if your ancestry qualifies you for one, I would be suspect if your plan was to renounce your current citizenship. Italy is flat broke and you have no idea just how irrational they will be.
After all, their craziness has already begun.
The same goes for here in the Land of the Free. Sure, you can say people here work longer hours and get fewer vacation days to drive up to Lake Como. But what else is different?
Yesterday, I reported from Tokyo on how Ben Bernanke not only helped open the door for easy money around the world, but will now take cues from the Japanese, who’ve practically been patted on the back for keeping their printing presses rolling.
The whole “old world” is in a state of turmoil. And that includes the United States.
Sights set somewhere else
While spending almost a month in Southeast Asia, I noticed an interesting phenomenon. Young people in the various countries I spent time in are all clamoring for freedom. Nothing new there.
Yet, very few of them mentioned anything about the United States. Among Filipinos, for instance, almost no one mentioned moving to the US to find better paying work. While the Philippines is a cheap place to live and one can get by alright if they have a job that requires some education, many of these educated kids want to earn more and do more.
However, their desired places to relocate seemed to always include Qatar, Dubai, Australia, and Singapore. One girl mentioned Canada. When you consider how many younger Filipinos have second cousins who are Americans, their lack of interest in working or living here (or even visiting) is downright stunning.
The patina of United States grandeur has long faded. Centuries ago, foreigners persuaded their relatives to join them here by saying the streets were paved with gold. People bought it and came in droves, only to realize that the streets were unpaved and dusty. Word has gotten out that the US is no longer the epicenter of freedom or prosperity.
Economic stagnation in the United States
Were you really surprised by today’s news that 93% of households lost net worth between 2009 and 2011?
Meanwhile, domestic entrepreneurship and small business has plummeted. While the ranks of the self-employed had risen drastically since the early 1980s, more than 1.6 million Americans have left said ranks since the recession. Optimism about starting a business has never been lower.
I reported last Friday how opportunities in Southeast Asia just might perk up many a downtrodden American entrepreneur’s spirits. Today, conclusive evidence has come out showing that such a pick-me-up would be quite welcome among businesses depressed with the still-stagnant economy here.
As far as immigration goes, it’s true that more H1-B visas will be filled this year than in recent years. (H1-B visas are non-immigrant visas, mainly used to hire computer and technical workers.) There will always be a number of people around the world who want to come to any developed country to work. Many of those workers would be willing to also go to Canada, Europe, Hong Kong, Australia, or any number of other places. Like a child applying for colleges, they go to the best place where they can qualify.
Another dot on the map
Yet, in the grand scheme of things, the US is becoming just another dot on the map for many foreigners. I’ve talked to people in China who would believe the Land of the Free isn’t so free. And I have a good Chinese friend who is packing her things and moving to Australia next year, fed up with the system here.
Many will say “good riddance” and not give all of this another thought. Like the 21-year-old who keeps getting rejected by potential suitors, they’ll blame the “other side” and figure it has nothing to do with them. What could the US possibly have done wrong? How dare these people not want to come here, and if they don’t, “we didn’t want them anyway!”
But talent, like capital, goes where it’s treated best. If your country isn’t the envy of the world and the dream of immigrant workers, maybe it shows there’s something going on that makes it less desirable.
Living inside the belly of the beast you might not see it, but it sticks out to those taking an objective look from far away. Consider that the next time you choose not to diversify your own money on the basis that it just can’t get any better than where you are right now.