June 10, 2011
New York City
I don’t come to the United States very often, and when I do there’s usually a pretty good reason. In this case, it’s because of the annual Atlas 400 meeting which kicks off today in New York. I get a ton of value out of the group, and for me it’s worth making these trips (you can find out more about Atlas here.)
Because my US visits are generally short and sporadically infrequent, I’m highly attuned to little changes; this is something like out-of-town relatives who notice how much a child has grown over a period of several months, whereas parents seldom notice the small, daily changes.
On the surface, it seems like a pleasant enough place. Underneath the facade of shopping malls and little league, though, there are clear signs of decay. Eroding economic opportunities, increased bureaucracy, emerging class warfare, police state conditions, deteriorating infrastructure, reduced quality in service, etc.
Again, these changes are more acutely felt when you’ve been gone for a while because you have fewer recent experiences to normalize the extremity of a new incident.
To give you an example, I have a friend who spent 15-years living overseas without once setting foot in the United States starting in 1990. The first time he came back was in 2005, having completely missed the slow, gradual security rollouts at US airports throughout the 1990s and 2000s.
You may remember long ago, they used to let anyone and everyone into the airport gate areas, you just had to go through a dinky metal detector. Friends and family could accompany you all the way to the gate and wish you well before your flight.
This was the America that my friend left in 1990. He came back to the post-9/11 dehumanization of airline passengers without having been slowly indoctrinated into the nationwide fear of boogeymen who live in caves, and the consequent security paranoia at airports.
When he got home, the first thing he did was head down to the US Embassy and find out how he could relinquish his citizenship. That’s when he discovered that he essentially had to ask permission and seek approval for what is clearly a very personal decision. He told me later, “I felt like a feudal serf…”
One of our readers, Roger from Sweden, recently wrote to us and echoed this point: “As long as someone else is the true owner of most of your so-called assets, you’re just a modern day serf, just possibly dressed up in fancier clothes with whiter teeth. The scheme is very clever because we provide much higher yield.”
He’s right, and if you doubt it, just ask yourself a few questions–
Do you really own your home? Stop paying property taxes and find out.
Do you really own the cash in your bank account? Offend any number of state or federal agencies and see how quickly it gets confiscated.
Do you really control your own body? Try taking HGH, drinking raw milk, or even buying a simple chocolate Kinder egg.
Do you really have the right to bear arms? Try buying several magazine-fed automatic weapons and see who comes knocking at your door.
Do you even have rights to your own kids? Spank them in public and see how quickly the state protective service agencies show up.
Certainly, such dystopian anecdotes are not just prevalent in one country. As reader Aryan recently wrote, “the nation state is still alive and well… even in a capitalist paradise like Hong Kong, there are rules and regulations which you MUST follow.”
This is true. It’s not like there is any freewheeling anarcho-capitalist paradise anywhere in the world where the pure market prevails and government does not exist.
Every country has some system of law, whether corrupt or transparent, and real freedom is when individuals have the right to choose… to opt in to their preferred system, not to be incarcerated by one simply by accident of birth.
Of course, everyone’s perception of cost/benefit differs. For some, the benefits of Norway may outweigh its extreme financial costs; others may see a country like Uruguay as a better fit for cost/benefit.
There is already strong competition emerging among nations trying to attract productive residents, whether entrepreneurs, retirees, investors, professionals, or laborers. From Panama to Qatar to Canada to Singapore to Latvia, the options are expanding all the time for those who care to look.
The idea is simply to be able to choose… to make an honest and complete appraisal of the situation and decide from an entire universe of options– “are the financial and freedom costs I’m paying in this country worth the lifestyle benefits, especially considering the future trends and my international options?”
Weighing the options and making a conscious, informed decision to stay in one’s current situation with a solid backup plan is certainly a valid choice. Sentencing oneself to geographic captivity out of ignorance, indolence, or arrogance, however, especially without a credible backup plan, is just plain foolish.
On Monday I’d like to dive further into the ideas of ‘is this fixable?’ and ‘what happens next?’ Stay tuned, and thank you for being a member of this community.