Dateline: Krakow, Poland
I spent my last weekend in Europe doing a little shopping and stocking up on clothing for the next season before returning to Asia and its penchant for huge import taxes on foreign-sourced and name-brand clothing.
To me, one of the most interesting branding tools is employed by Louis Vuitton, which places giant old trunks in its stores to remind shoppers of its origins in the high-quality luggage business so many years ago.
With the advent of cheap air travel and frequent flying, these massive trunks are no longer practical nor necessary. However, as a student of history and frequent traveler myself, I find them a fascinating remnant of the past.
Back in the day, those setting sail on month-long or even multi-month comfort cruises would pack much of what they owned in a sturdy trunk, which they would live out of while sailing from Southampton to New York… or around the Horn of Africa… or through the straits of Asia.
Those days fascinate me for reasons far beyond the idea that a bunch of wealthy people could simply put their business on the back burner for months at a time or the vintage luggage they took with them.
Even more interesting to me is that barely 100 years ago, in the era of Titanic and other luxury vessels, the idea of carrying a passport was practically unheard of. In fact, it was World War I that made passports a reality in Europe, and the end of the war that made them common in the Land of the Free.
Europeans and US persons alike took to the high seas to visit countries near and far without having to carry around documents. It wasn’t too many decades later that the idea of bureaucrats calling for “papers please” became a rallying cry against authoritarianism.
Yet back in the days before the wide issuance of passports, many people saw the idea of a national identity card used for visiting other countries as “inhumane”.
I mention this because I continue to see a banner ad for Puerto Rico that boldly proclaims “No passport required!”
Personally, I find it fascinating that an island destination so far from most points on the US mainland has to use such logic to get people to visit. However, it just goes to show how isolated the United States has become, and how much propaganda has taken over the country.
Imagine the idea of sitting in Seattle and wanting to enjoy a winter getaway. You have to buy plane tickets, book a hotel room, research the best lazy river ride… whatever it is tourists do. (Not that I would know; I spend much of my time in overcast emerging countries.)
I have to imagine that the average US family puts a lot of effort into their annual beach vacation, so I find it odd that they put so little effort into obtaining a document required to leave their own country.
In fact, barely one in four US persons have a passport that even allows them to leave. Compare that to some European countries where passport adoption nears 90% and international travel is much more common and you have among the biggest – and most unsettling – differences holding the United States back.
Do a Google search and you’ll see incredulous travelers asking “since when did I need a US passport to travel to Mexico?!”
Such apparently is how vacations are marketed in the United States; why go through the hassle of filling out a one-page form and paying all of $100 when you can simply limit your vacation choices to destinations within your country that makes up 1/14th of the earth’s surface?
Worse yet, for as many “preppers” as live in the United States, I find it disturbingly ironic that barely 25% of those eligible for a passport have one. If you understand history, you know that there are countless examples of times when fleeing the empire was, at least in hindsight, the safest thing to do.
Now, I’m certainly no fan of passports. I have been asked many times why I recommend having a second passport when I find the idea of having to carry a passport at all an intrusion by big governments.
Having one passport, of course, limits your options. More passports mean more options. Having a second passport is a pragmatic strategy for the world we live in.
The fact that only around one in four Americans have a full-featured United States passport – not some ID card only good for coming back from a day trip to Tijuana – shows a strong nationalism that is not a good sign for investment or freedom.
It is hard evidence that US persons really mean it when they say “our country is still the best place on earth”.
How many times have you heard a political conservative suggest that, despite all of the high taxes and regulations and madness emanating from Washington – all of which they claim to disagree with – that the United States is still “#1”?
To them, it’s a heck of a lot better than all of those other countries they’ve never been to. Heaven forbid they would get out and rub elbows with the arrogant French or the smelly Turks or whatever other stereotype permeates the travel discussions in nationalistic circles.
As someone who avoids the tourist scene as a matter of course, this doesn’t bother me personally. In fact, I almost welcome it as a way to hasten the decline of a country that thinks it can’t learn anything from anyone else.
But consider that such a nationalistic mindset only hurts foreign investment. It only hurts retirement portfolios. It only hurts personal freedom.
Quite simply, a country that believes it is so superior to everyone else that the mere idea of sending away for a cheap booklet to visit other countries is absurd is not one that will grow.
When I spend time here in Europe, I see investment from countries all over the world. The “socialist French” has a fantastic train company that has expanded into Germany.
While I for one would never start a business in France, I can accept the fact that there are some well-run French businesses that can add to other countries’ economies.
While there has certainly been plenty of foreign investment over the years into the United States, figures I see show those numbers as waning. If and when the US dollar is no longer the world reserve currency, look for that number to drop even more.
Each year since I’ve been writing on this site, fewer foreigners want to immigrate to the US. In many parts of Asia, London far outpaces Los Angeles as a desired place to live. Here in Europe, few people I come across want to live in the US or even visit.
You can do as they say here in eastern Europe and say “good riddance”. That attitude is a path to failure.
Look at the world’s most successful countries, from wealthy Singapore or Liechtenstein to tax havens in the Americas and you’ll see that they are accepting. They don’t discriminate. They don’t say “our way or the highway” or act superior.
If they did, they wouldn’t be Liechtenstein or Singapore.
Look at the countries with the world’s highest penetration of passports – Germany, Norway, Finland, and others – and ask yourself whose population is more prepared to participate in a truly global economy in which resting on your laurels, past military victories, and tenuous currency dominance no longer works.