Casaubon's Book

Should Americans Cut and Run?

An anonymous guest poster at ClubOrlov makes the case that America isn’t a place you want to live - and that Americans should get out of Dodge:

Americans, I have some bad news for you:

You have the worst quality of life in the developed world–by a wide margin.

If you had any idea of how people really lived in Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and many parts of Asia, you’d be rioting in the streets calling for a better life. In fact, the average Australian or Singaporean taxi driver has a much better standard of living than the typical American white-collar worker.

I know this because I am an American, and I escaped from the prison you call home.

I have lived all around the world, in wealthy countries and poor ones, and there is only one country I would never consider living in again: The United States of America. The mere thought of it fills me with dread.

Most of the listed reasons are true – we do have an appalling health care system, we do have an economic system that drives people into debt slavery, we are over medicated and fed food that is appalling in a lot of ways. So the question arises, why stay? In our case, we actually could leave – Eric is entitled to German citizenship, because his Grandmother lost her citizenship under the Nazis, so we could have an EU passport. Both of us are employable outside the US. Indeed, our plan, when we married was to move outside the US for part of our children’s childhood, probably to somewhere in the Global South, so that our kids wouldn’t grow up parochially American. So why haven’t we done it?

Part of it is that America is home – my family lives here – my children’s grandparents are here, their aunts and uncles, and all of them are tied here by further family ties. While the article notes at the end that many of us are descended from people who left their families to come here, that doesn’t make it any easier – and I don’t aspire to the lives that my ancestors who came without family lived.

It would be tough to take our stake as well – to give up the time we’ve put into this place, to get rid of the animals we couldn’t import to another country, to sacrifice the half-grown trees and the time.

Part of it is that for better or worse, we are American. I say that without any of the flag waving stupidity that it often comes with, just the observation that this place has shaped me, and that I care for it. I’m not a patriot in the political sense, but I derive a great deal of attachment to the material reality of my country, to the literal earth in which I am embedded.

I’m also not sure that many of the places that we could most easily go will be all that stable – I think there’s no question, for example, that the EU is a more enlightened place to live in many parts than the US is right now, and has better social supports. At the same time, however, the long term history of Europe is of a great deal of internal violence and warfare that has historically broken out at times of great stress. There’s a case to be made that Europeans have resolved those internal tensions. There’s a case to be made that they haven’t. I certainly think, historically speaking, that Jews have often been better off in America than in the EU and in some other parts of the world. That said, however, it is a big world, and there are many places that aren’t the EU, that don’t have those tensions, and Europe itself isn’t of a piece.

Honestly, the biggest reason for me that we don’t go is simply this – I’m curious to see how things play out here. I don’t disagree with Anonymous’s assessment of my country in many respects, but it does leave out some positives, and it also leaves out the emergence of a shadow system of American-ness in which it might be possible to live in a positive and useful way. In response to the collapse of our system, I see the emergence of a shadow food system, and the nascent beginnings of a shadow economy and a shadow health care system. I’m genuinely and deeply curious about what will happen – will America repress its shadow system? Or will the shadow emerge from the shadows and become normative? I don’t know, but I think the future is interesting here.

What about you? Would you live here? Would you leave? Where to?

Sharon

Comments

  1. #1 round belly
    November 30, 2010

    I will stay in my small town America. we have a sustainable house and have worked to build local food networks and a community cohesion. Only a small percentage of our community participates in the official activities- but we are aware of it and proud of it (even when too busy to officially attend any 1 function)

    And I feel the best way around possible collapse violence is to know those around you and share with them.

    to move to a place where i know nobody would be crazy, since the people are you biggest resource.

  2. #2 Claire
    November 30, 2010

    We’ll stay. Not because I think the US is a great place to be right now, but for pretty much them same reasons you plan to stay. It’s our home, we’re tied to our house and land, our relatives and friends are here, we might be able to make a positive difference for ourselves and others by staying and doing what we can to make our lives and others’ lives better. Plus we’re too old to want to make that big a change, especially a language change. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere I didn’t speak the language well.

  3. #3 Kengi
    November 30, 2010

    I grew up and still live in the US (Chicago). I’ve never been a flag-waver, but believe that the freedoms of the Bill of Rights are fundamental, and am especially enamored of freedom of speech since I often have minority opinions about a wide range of subjects.

    The attack on Constitutional liberties begun in the name of 9/11 by Bush and perpetuated by Obama worry me a great deal and have caused me to think about moving abroad, yet I can find no other nation so supportive of personal liberty. Several EU nations even have blasphemy laws (That are enforced!)!

    I have begun to wonder if a crappy healthcare system and an unfair predatory economic system is the price one must pay for freedom of speech. I would enjoy the benefits of living in a “more enlightened” country right up until I was incarcerated for speaking my mind and thus insulting someone. Then I wouldn’t like it as much.

    So, the big question for me is can we change the system in the US to make it a better place to live without selling away freedom of speech as the rest of the world has done?

  4. #4 MacTurk
    November 30, 2010

    Interesting thesis, and a good response also. I have met quite a large number of Americans who “have seen the light” after living abroad, and the initial statement they come out with is “How come no-one ever told us about this?”, with reference to European attitudes to alcohol and drug use, for example, or the insane securitisation of day to day travel in the USA. Not to mention holidays….

    On the other hand, as Ms Astyk puts it, the main issue is people, family, etc, and the distancing therefrom. The lump in the throat, as you find out about some major family event over the internet, at a distance of 4,000km, and know that you cannot be there, is huge.

    Mind you, I reserve the right to reach for my revolver, if I hear one more idiot bloviating about “America, the best country in the world”. The degree of ignorance displayed by the statements which come after that opener is normally immense. Is American exceptionalism just an excuse to be proud of ignorance, or to hide it?

  5. #5 darwinsdog
    November 30, 2010

    It’s true that the US is a corporatist hellhole. It might not be a bad idea to emigrate to the tropics or subtropics south of the equator, especially if one is young, speaks the language, or has family connections there. At the same time it’s true that how heavily one is impacted by big government on behalf of its corporate puppet masters depends to a large extent on one’s chosen lifestyle. Don’t make use of credit, keep a low profile, be paid & pay with cash, grow much of your own food or else be mobile.. and a person can largely be left alone in the US. An American needs to weigh the pros & cons of emigration carefully, and come to his or her own conclusion based on the circumstances of life, expectations for the future, and opportunities that may be present elsewhere in the world.

  6. #6 kate@livingthefrugallife
    November 30, 2010

    I am glad to see your response to that article, Sharon. Like you, I stay because of the investment I’ve made in a small piece of land, and because my family is here. Though I am not entitled to citizenship in any other country, I did live in Europe for four years during my 30′s. It was indeed a learning experience, but the common refrain among the expats is that there’s a big difference between tourism and immigration. There are plenty of ways the US could profit from imitating the country I lived in, but at the end of the day, for better or worse, America is home. My attachment to this land goes back many generations of European immigrants, and further back to Native American ancestors too. I agree with the article: we have gone badly, profoundly off track in this country. But it is our very freedom to criticize our government and our society which constitutes whatever greatness still clings to my homeland.

  7. #7 Shane
    November 30, 2010

    I can not possibly afford to move.

  8. #8 Brandie
    November 30, 2010

    I plan to move (back) to Latin America, permanently, in the next few years. I want my son to grow up with better values than our consumer culture. I’ll be watching what happens to my homeland from afar and wishing you all well, but I’m just as eager to see what kind of blossoming could happen in Latin America once the USA no longer dominates the region.

  9. #9 Apple Jack Creek
    November 30, 2010

    Kengi, have you looked north? :S

    You said: *I have begun to wonder if a crappy healthcare system and an unfair predatory economic system is the price one must pay for freedom of speech.*

    Well, in Canada we most certainly have freedom of speech. I can post anything I like on my blog, get my letters published in the local paper, print leaflets and hand them out on the streetcorner if I like … the only time I’d be limited is if I were, say, deliberately inciting hatred and violence (e.g. it is illegal to promote genocide, as it would be to say “go beat up all the {insert group here}”. To say “I can’t stand {race/orientation/behaviour}” might be rude, but it’s not illegal. I hear all kinds of ‘minority opinions’ on a regular basis. I suppose our cultural tendency towards politeness keeps that sort of thing from escalating into awfulness, most of the time.

    The economic structures in Canada are of course imperfect – we have homeless people, poverty, hungry families … but at least we make an effort to take care of everyone, even if our efforts fall short of the mark on a regular basis. We would rather risk some abuse of the system than leave those who honestly deserve help with nothing.

    I can see the doctor any time I need to without fear of going into debt. I can worship at any church, coven, or gathering I choose. I can travel from one province to another without fuss, and if I get sick out of province, there’ll be paperwork, but my home province will still cover the bills. I have a library in my tiny community, a school, busses to get the rural kids to class, and the option of home schooling either with an online curriculum completely provided by the province, or by teaching my kids myself and having someone come by once a year to make sure I’m not depriving them of an education (‘unschooling’ is allowed, abandoning your children to fend entirely for themselves is not). My taxes pay for a fire department, ambulance service (which will deliver me to the nearest hospital without once asking me for proof of the ability to pay, or deciding which of the hospitals is allowable under my coverage..), a local hockey rink and the RCMP officers.

    If I lose my job, I’ve got EI coverage for a year. If that runs out, there’s welfare – which is really, truly, not a lot to live on .. but it’s there. Maybe, if I pooled resources with some others, we could get by.

    Canadians tend to believe that my right to swing my fist ends at your nose (well, just before it, actually) and that this is a reasonble restriction for all civilized folk to abide by. We also tend to believe that a people are defined by how they care for those who need a helping hand – any of us could be felled by illness or misfortune, and having everyone who is able to put a bit of money in the pot so that all of us have a meal, a roof, and the care they need just seems like the right thing to do. After all, there but for the grace of God go I, eh?

    Canadian, and proud of it. I only hope we can preserve the best of our culture as Things Change.

  10. #10 Don
    November 30, 2010

    I’ve actually seriously thought of this in recent months. “If Sarah Palin is elected president…; if the Tea Partiers take over…; if the legislature allows concealed weapons on college campuses…; etc.; etc.; I’ll leave…” I could go to Costa Rica–I’m not fluent, but I know enough Spanish to get by. I’ve often thought of New Zealand, or maybe Canada (some of my wife’s ancestors are from the Maritimes).

    Yes, James Howard Kunstler doesn’t have many postitive things to say about the future of these United States, although his most negative comments are reserved for those regions in the southeastern part. Will he be proven right? THere’s really no way to know right now. THings aren’t looking, that’s true.

    Not to take anything away from what Anonymous said–his comments should be taken seriously by anyone who cares about our country, despite the emotional tone. But you know what? I can remember during my undergraduate days in the 1970s, when fellow students came back from their junior year at universities in Germany, France, or wherever, complaining about how uncultured America was. “You don’t even find litter along the streets in Europe!” And you know another thing? The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. Always. Things always look better somewhere else, until you’re actually there. Then some other place will look better.

    Moreover, the crises and dilemmas that are heading our way are global in nature. We won’t escape them by moving to San Jose, or Alsace, or Helsinki, or Christchurch–as attractive, and as free from the troubles that beset us here, as some of those places might seem right now. Some of those places may hold out against the tsunami a bit longer than others, but that’s true right here in the USA as well as in other parts of the world. We’re all (and I mean globally ‘all’) in this together.

    Furthermore, I have all the same reasons for staying around that Sharon articulated: the same sense of home, family, friends, and other ties. Besides, I’m a bit on the old side, not that that doesn’t mean I couldn’t move, but I’m not as likely to be around to see all of the unwinding as some of you younger folks. If we ever make another move, it will likely be closer to my original home in northern Ohio. I do think the Great Lakes region will be somewhat better prepared than other parts of the country.

    I just wish I could live closer to a passenger rail connection. It doesn’t look like Columbus is going to get the rail project we bid on two years ago, thanks to our newly elected governor, who thinks the whole thing is a joke.

  11. #11 BruceW
    November 30, 2010

    I looked at this question about three years ago, and decided to stay. And let’s be clear, I am staying in Los Angeles, the San Fernando Valley to be specific – almost 2 million people squished into 260 square miles of suburban development, industrial sprawl, asphalt and cement, a place generally conceded to be the poster child for suburban unsustainable living.

    And yet, in the three years since I made that decision, I’ve shifted my efforts toward shoring up my own living arrangement with a goal of resiliency (not resale value), reconfigured my surrounding landscape for food production and water storage, lowered my energy consumption, and developed contacts with a growing network of urban permaculture practitioners and Transition folks who are doing the same. And that simply would not have happened if I hadn’t made that initial investment in favor of staying.

    I don’t know if it will ultimately prove to be a good or a foolish decision. Like Sharon, I am curious to see how it turns out. I live in a place that is embedded in a whole legacy of (to be kind) inappropriate design choices, so many that it’s often overwhelming to contemplate where to begin making the changes. Better perhaps to just throw ones hands up in the air and back away from the mess? I don’t think so. People have lived here for a long time, though not in these numbers or with this level of environmental impact. One way or another, people will continue to live here for some time to come.

    I believe the work I have done, as well as the choices that enabled it, would probably be pretty similar wherever I went; and I would be starting over from scratch to attempt to build the connections of a support network, as tenuous as it may currently be. So, for better or worse, this is home. Having made that decision makes it easier to direct my efforts toward making it a better, livelier, and more productive place.

  12. #12 Paul S.
    November 30, 2010

    The post sounds wildly skewed to me – one can always make a country sound bad if one emphasizes the worst things about it and only mentions the best features of other countries. I think a more balanced view would look different.

  13. #13 Paul S.
    November 30, 2010

    I meant the anonymous post linked to above, not Sharon’s post.

  14. #14 Shamba
    November 30, 2010

    Maybe the writer of this article (not Sharon) should ask the rest of the world if they want all us Americans to go live with them?? :)

    Or maybe when we’ve all left here, everyone else in the world will be happy to move here in place of us? So, all the criticism of the USA is a conspiracy to make us all move away so they can all come live here. :)

    The article’s criticism of the US culture is valid but citizens of the United States have good things going for them too. Just because we’ve done some things wrong doesn’t mean USA citizenship is a waste of life!

    For sure, Americans need to examine the myths we have believed about ourselves and see if they have any truth in them.

    I’m not going anywhere and that’s fine with me. At least I know the history, politics and culture of where I am. If you don’t know the language, culture and etc. of another country or region or family there, you’re going to have an interesting time adapting there.

    Not that there aren’t perfectly good places to live in the world outside the United States, I know of some and I’m sure there many I don’t know about.

    re: our health care in US. Someone has to pay for the cost of care, whether the American way or Europe/Canada’s way. The Europeans have their debt problems these days, too, and their health care availability may shrink or disappear in the years to come.

    peace to all and thanks to Sharon for writing her columns,
    shamba

  15. #15 sealander
    November 30, 2010

    I did see a job ad for an astrophysicist here in NZ the other week and thought of you all, Sharon ;)
    I’ve never felt any great urge to emigrate, although since the earthquake DH has been muttering about moving to Canada, because he thinks they don’t have earthquakes there!

  16. #16 m
    November 30, 2010

    I was offered a green card back in the 90′s

    i told them they were nuts to think anyone would ever want to live in such a place if they did not have to – i detested everything about the US except maybe the Mexicans and a few New York Jews, yeh and maybe Magic Mountain was ok for a day

    i knew people who commuted from San Diego to Irvine every day yet were so proud of the McMansion (that i detested for its clinical lack of eathiness)

    most of the people i worked with shunned Mexicans yet from my small town New Zealand background they and the South Central blacks were about the only real people i ever met – everyone else was living in ga-ga land

    i detested the shallow view of everything – even amongst the supposedly educated – narrowness, bigotry, racism, elitism, arrogance

    really, i have yet to go to any country on earth that i detested and pitied more than the US

    so when they offered me a green card i just laughed at how really really dumb they were to think that i could see it as the great gift they thought it

    since then the world has become a grimmer place

    and the US has done ever so much more damage world-wide

    and the average US citizen seems, as impossible as i might have thought it in the past, even more narrow, more blind and more arrogant than ever before – though at least sometimes i detect a hint of desperation in the claim to the moral high ground

    so no, i’d never ever ever consider living amongst such a vast number of totally sociologically sick people

    as for going elsewhere

    today, i get in the elevator to go to the office – and invariably the lift is full of new-comers – mostly English and American

    i listen quietly to the banalities – the same shallowness i heard everyday in the US and wonder just how much more Australia can become like the US

    yes yes i know, people are trying to find a better life – for themselves and their kids

    yes yes i know that i am selfish to want to keep my countries the way they were before globalisation and dominance by the US made them into lackies to the great satan

    but deep down my biggest wish is that the American people change

    that they rise up and depose their federal leadership and federal laws and institutions

    that they dissolve the union

    that they stop seeing themselves as Americans and start seeing themselves as what they are

    and, instead of fleeing to ever shrinking areas of “hope” and ruining those places with their translocated but undiminished consumer values, you all start to take responsibility for what’s going on around you

    not in your shallow “the postman” approaches or even your silly attempts at small scale “evolution”

    but in a totally concerted focus to change things

    but it will never ever happen

    so i wait patiently for peak everything to destroy the US (and it’s ilk) from within and without

    and hope that in the mean time not so many of you flee to here and further ruin our lands

    so – yes bravo stay and defend your little bit of earth and your desperate grasp of times gone by

    or yes – flee

    but better still rise up and change the whole nation and rid us all of the blight at the heart of the earth

    m

  17. #17 JDClark
    November 30, 2010

    Sharon: I’m not sure how pertinent this is, but the original (longer) essay was written by Lance Freeman and posted on a blog site last April 5.

    http://americathegrimtruth.wordpress.com/

    It was posted in many places last spring and seems to have found new life after someone posted a shorter version on Orlov’s site.

  18. #18 Kristi
    November 30, 2010

    We’ve thought about it quite seriously. Dh has the ability to pick up his German citizenship, if necessary, and his company has offices in several european cities.

    Having two teenage boys who only speak English is mainly what’s holding us back from moving. They’d need to go to an international school unless we moved to the UK, and they’re quite pricey. I’d homeschool them, but it’s not allowed in Germany, and although I could teach them math and science, it would be doing them a disservice in all other subjects. We’d go if things got really bad here, although it would be hard leaving our families and home.

    Once the boys are in college, we might go for a short stint, at least. Six weeks of vacation a year, plus lots of holidays, and cheap flights would give us ample time to tour all of Europe.

  19. #19 Greenpa
    November 30, 2010

    There is a very serious philosophical reason not to leave. I’m a little surprised it hasn’t come up here yet (sorry if I missed it.)

    A very large proportion of the world’s/our species’ problems come from exactly this; making a big mess of our nest, then leaving it, to make a new mess elsewhere.

    It’s a bad habit. I’d possibly go so far as to suggest that if we were required to stay put, and clean up our messes, physical, political, etc; the world might be a better place.

    Many will instantly argue “look, I didn’t make this mess (so it’s not my responsibility)” … but… to whom then does the responsibility fall?

    Is it your job to clean up when your child makes a mess? How about when it’s your brother- who is an adult, but is irresponsible?

    It’s a crappy job. But how is any society, anywhere, going to function without a few actual grownups?

  20. #20 Kengi
    November 30, 2010

    Apple Jack Creek #7:

    in Canada we most certainly have freedom of speech

    In Canada “inciting hatred” against any “identifiable group” is an indictable offence under the Criminal Code of Canada with maximum prison terms of two to fourteen years.

    That doesn’t just mean inciting violence or genocide. The problem with “hate speech” laws all over the world is that nations (including Canada) think they can regulate hatred and end up with broad, vague censorship laws in the name of regulating hatred.

    For example, Section 319 of the Canadian Criminal Code says “Every one who, by communicating statements in any public place, incites hatred against any identifiable group where such incitement is likely to lead to a breach of the peace is guilty of…” And these laws get applied:

    http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/Ottawa+withdraws+from+clash+interests+over+hate+speech/3715859/story.html

    The Canadians hate speech laws are based upon the British hate speech laws. The same ones used to convict people for things like leaving atheist literature in a public airport chapel. (It’s not illegal to leave religious literature at public atheist gatherings, though.)

    In the US hate laws themselves are illegal since it infringes on the First Amendment. Any speech is protected unless it calls for specific violent acts, meets a specific definition of defamation against an individual, or is a direct incitement to riot.

    It’s always best to use extreme incidents to test such laws. For example, would idiot Nazi’s be allowed to march and give speeches about white supremacy? Would idiot preachers be allowed to burn Korans in massive publicized events?

    You say you are allowed to say anything you want and therefore there is freedom of speech where you live. That’s a common attitude amongst people who hold mainstream opinions. Hate speech laws invariably protect the opinions of the majority, but it’s the minority opinions which actually need protection. The US First Amendment (and the legal interpretation of it) is, as far as I know, unique in the world.

  21. #21 GS
    November 30, 2010

    Canada is a co-conspirator to ecocide via the tar-sands. The flush of oil money into Canada has caused a neocon-like wave of global warming denial-engineering. So let’s not idolize it too much. No country out there is morally pure.

  22. #22 Inter Nationale
    November 30, 2010

    Precisely what would be involved in your getting German passports? The more passports you have, the more options you have. In times of strife, options are good. Do tell us more.

  23. #23 Paleo
    November 30, 2010

    I have thought about moving to Australia at one point… but the only thing stopping me is my second most prominent hobby: video games

    Which oddly enough, America seems to be the best place for a gamer, since they’re not marked up in price as much as other territories.

  24. #24 Jennie
    November 30, 2010

    I think Greenpa has (once again) succinctly stated my own nebulous objections to leaving.

    Yes, there are “better” places I could try to take my family, but the cost in time and energy and money could arguably be used to better end here in America.

    I will stay because deep down I hope that a difference can still be made. I hope that I can contribute to something better, even if that has to happen after things come crumbling down. I hope that some of the mess can be fixed, and even though it’s not my mess to clean, I’ll do it for my son and his children. I’ll do it to help me forgive the generations that came before me. Because as I clean up their mess I know my mistakes will cleaned by my son and his children.

    Plus, I live in NW Iowa. Sparse population, harsh winters and lots of space between me and crowded cities. Good rain fall, excellent soil and some decent hunting left, in spite of the farmers trying to put everything in corn/soybeans. There aren’t many better places to go. :-)

  25. #25 Kim
    November 30, 2010

    Errr … Kengi. Most of the rest of the world has free speech, actually. We don’t even preferentially incarcerate blacks or muslims.

  26. #26 clew
    November 30, 2010

    I’ll third Greenpa and Jennie, in my phrasing: I indubitably am a USian and had better stick around for the hard parts. Indeed, my family in its small way has benefited so much from rich centuries on this continent, and is in its small way so responsible* for how our history turned out, that it seems particularly proper that I stay and help.

    I’m lucky enough not to know, personally, how hard it is to love ‘my mother, drunk or sober’; and I know love and care don’t always fix the problem of a drunk mother or a wrong country; but nothing else does.

    *Cue cries of ‘I’m not responsible for what my forebears did!’. I’ll believe that anyone who turns down a positive inheritance believes that… and anyway, they aren’t here to fix it, who else?

  27. #27 Andy Brown
    November 30, 2010

    If things go well in our ratcheting down from consumercide, I think I’d happily live in Europe or Costa Rica. By “well”, I mean we all grow poorer, but with enough food in our bellies to get by. I have a feeling that other places will do that more gracefully than post-imperial US. But if things fall hard and fast, and 500 million North Americans (or 700 million Europeans) suddenly look around and find themselves utterly, utterly unprepared to feed themselves, I think there are no good places to be – except maybe sitting it out in the Aleutians with a good stash – so I might as well be on familiar ground.

  28. #28 Jim Burke
    November 30, 2010

    I’m reminded of something that happened during the Nuclear Freeze movement, back in 1980 or so, in SF Bay where I was living. A group of Ba’hais wanted to escape the coming nuclear war, leave the northern hemisphere; they sought an island (continental masses were prone to havoc), with democratic traditions. Cut to the chase, they ended up in the Falklands, a year or two before Argentina invaded them, only to be retaken by a British expeditionary force. Meanwhile, the Bay is peaceful and prosperous/over developed.

    I left the Bay for a small town 20 years ago, and have no regrets. I was priced out there, but also I longed for the life of a small town. I married a woman with a lot of family here, and my extended family followed me, so we’re all together. But of course there are problems everywhere. Ours is that we’re right on the Mexican border, and we’re constantly aware how fucked up things are just 3 miles away, and how easily it could spill over. Also, there are limited economic opportunities, but I gladly trade them all for small town living.

    Ten years ago I was working as a curator of the local museum and fielded a call from S.F., from a guy who wanted to move here. But mostly he was outraged by the price of housing. Two weeks later he showed up in my office, 1,000 miles away! He showed me real estate folders showing dingy row houses going for 1.4 million.

    My advise for him was to move here if he thought he’d like it here, but that his distaste for where he was living wasn’t going to carry him very far once he got here. It’s better to have a positive reason to move to a place than a negative one.

    He didn’t move here. I think that might have woken him up, and he looked around and decided that whatever he was looking for, wasn’t here. That saved him, and saved his future neighbors.

    We get a constant stream of people from big cities who think that this might be shangri la, but it never will be, because everyone always brings themselves with them. If you have bad attitudes, you’ll be in exactly the same boat as before.

    Anyway, I’m certainly not a “patriot,” and if someone wants to try out life abroad they should by all means try it out. I myself travelled extensively around Africa, and it changed my life. But if one thinks that they’ll “escape” disaster here, I hate to disillusion you but things are likely worse virtually everywhere else. The US has a whole host of problems, and we’ve heard them all. We haven’t heard the problems elsewhere, and for the most part they’re worse. For instance, the E.U. is much closer to bankruptcy than the US, and it’s currently having huge impacts on standards of living and services in the UK and Ireland, and soon all parts of the continent. Also, Japan is almost bust, and China is in what’s probably the biggest economic bubble in history. When it breaks, it will have huge impacts on all east Asia.

    I’d like to quote Voltaire’s last sentence from “Candide.” “In the end, what can we really do but tend our own gardens?”

    Jim Burke

  29. #29 Jim Burke
    November 30, 2010

    oh, not to hog space, but my wife and I are creating as green a lifestyle as we can, we built a paper adobe house by hand, and have a large garden, humanure, etc. Much of it illegal. If you don’t urinate and defecate into your drinking water, you cannot get permitted. Fortunately, Arizona has enough outlaws that we blew off the govt and did it anyway, and got away with it.

    That would be very difficult in other countries, particularly high social service countries like Europe. (A friend had a child in Germany, and she had to pick a name for him from a state approved list).

    Much worse, from my perspective, is how restrictive European regs are for experimental farmers. For instance, BBC did a fascinating video (I think it would be fascinating to watch, if I had a DVD player that played Euro vids). called “Tales from the Green Valley,” about recreating a 16th Century farm. Amazingly, their recreationists (archaeologists, etc.) were not allowed to actually stay on the farm! They had to commute by car to their “job” tilling fields and raising livestock the old fashioned way.

    Most of the green living we’ve been experimenting with over these past few years would have been impossible in the UK.

    Jim Burke

  30. #30 Eric in Kansas
    November 30, 2010

    Yeah, I’m staying in the US. For all the reasons above. Especially Greenpa’s. Laziness & inertia too. But mostly because this is my home. So I sympathize with BruceW. I grew up in Southern California, and it is hard to leave, but it was one of the best things I did – I’m staying in the US, but in the interior where life is so much more pleasant. I know my neighbors, the real (non-dollar) economy is growing, and things are starting to get interesting.

  31. #31 Stephen B.
    December 1, 2010

    The farm I’m closing on in a month is 2 miles from Canada, making the latter a half hour away (assuming one can brave the Bush/Obama motion detector cameras, etc. in the mowed DMZ line carved through the woods.

    Maybe I just bought a house on the wrong side of that boundary line?

  32. #32 ET
    December 1, 2010

    The assumption that it would be possible to move to another country is amusing. To think that another country would want you is arrogant.

    Spend some time reading up on immigration requirements – the days of easily moving on are over. You need to be employable, and have time, money, an education, prefect health and sometimes there is an age requirement, too. Oh and no criminal record. Same goes for all accompanying members of your family.

  33. #33 Sarah
    December 1, 2010

    I live in Australia, but have lived in Europe for several years and in America for about a year in several short bursts. Under our previous government, I was ready to move to New Zealand, but since both governments have changed, Australia now has the more liberal (Labor in our terms) government.

    Like Apple Jack Creek from Canada above, I find it amusing that Americans think that they have a freedom of speech not found elsewhere. Like Canada, Australia has freedom of speech and freedom of the press, which only stops at defamation or incitement to hate crimes. While it’s not perfect, we also have robust freedom of information laws which allow us to see any information held on us by our governments.

    We have free public education, and almost free public health care. I have had to go to Emergency on three separate occasions this year, being admitted on each time, with a lot of expensive scans and tests each time. Total cost to me: $0. My costs for other medical treatment and prescription medicines are capped. If I were unemployed or in receipt of a pension, they would be free or very nearly so. My father receives twice daily nurse visits and subsidised transport; my mother receives a pension for caring for him. If I’m unemployed or ill to the point that I can’t work, I’m support (at subsistence level) by the state for as long as I need it and nobody tells me how I can or can’t spend my welfare money.

    I’m entitled to have union representation in my work, and can collectively bargain, but no-one forces me to join a union.

    Children are educated in state schools for free or very nearly so. Private schools, including religious schools, receive state subsidies, regardless of the religion. We have 100% literacy for practical purposes, but not in our tiny indigenous communities. Entry to university is on merit, and while university education is no longer free as it was when I was an undergraduate, students pay relatively small fees which can be taken as an interest-free loan and paid back through the tax system when they have a job. Students from low-income backgrounds are paid a living allowance by the state, so that there are no real impediments to bright students from any background going to university. The corridors of power in Australia are full of people from working class backgrounds who have made it to the top on the basis of their ability.

    I can travel without restriction, and I’m not going to be subjected to an invasion of my bodily privacy to do it.

    I am rarely subject to surveillance by closed-circuit cameras, such as are ubiquitous in Britain.

    If I had children I could call them what I wanted, provided it wasn’t something offensive.

    Building restrictions are mostly common-sense and can be appealed. (In a note to Jim Burke, above, the Occupational Health and Safety Laws which prevented the reenactors in Tales from the Green Valley are there to prevent employers from making their employees live in housing that doesn’t meet reasonable standards, and reading between the lines, I’m pretty sure they stayed at the farm anyway.)

    Video games and books may be a little more expensive here than elsewhere, but I can’t say that it stops anyone buying them, and you can always order them from overseas.

    And I can dry my washing outside.

    Australia does have some serious problems – there’s an underlying racism which is sometimes barely below the surface, and our treatment of indigenous people has been and continues to be shameful. But on the whole we are a tolerant, successfully multi-cultural society which embraces diversity. Like other developed nations, it’s overconsuming and overly ruled by corporate interests, and we have rapidly looming problems with climate change and food security, which is ridiculous given the range of things that can be grown here. But on the whole it’s a pretty good place to live.

    I’ve really enjoyed my trips to America, and I’ll probably visit again (though I’ll be thinking twice if they don’t stop the invasive airport security scanning), but I certainly don’t think that it has the best standards of living or quality of life in the world, and I wouldn’t want to live there permanently.

  34. #34 Dunc
    December 1, 2010

    I would enjoy the benefits of living in a “more enlightened” country right up until I was incarcerated for speaking my mind and thus insulting someone. Then I wouldn’t like it as much.

    Firstly, that happens a good deal more rarely (in Britain) than many in the US seem to believe. Secondly, you’ll probably get treated better in one of our jails that you do walking around “free” over there. ;)

    There is absolutely no way in hell that I would ever consider living in the US. I like my 30-hour work week and my 7 weeks paid leave. What you call “freedom” looks a hell of a lot like slavery from over here.

  35. #35 Apple Jack Creek
    December 1, 2010

    Kengi – I don’t WANT to live anywhere that legally protects mobs of idiots marching through the streets calling for violence against the target of their choice. If you can’t figure out how to phrase your “minority opinions” so that they don’t incite hatred or violence then I humbly submit that said opinions have no place in civilized discourse. Part of the point of having ‘civilization’ is to keep things like slander and hate mongering out of the commons. I’m really quite okay with those ‘restrictions on my freedom’.

    But then, I’m one of those ridiculously “polite” Canadians.

    Sarah and Dunc – VERY well put!

  36. #36 Joseph
    December 1, 2010

    Meh. I’ve lived in both the US and Germany and they’re more or less interchangeable in my experience. When in one, I miss big chunks of the other, and realize the insanities of each.

  37. #37 Paul S.
    December 1, 2010

    Different countries work better for different people. I have a brother who married a German woman and now lives in Germany – one of the reasons that they chose to live there rather than the USA was the universal health care. In most European countries you pay much higher taxes and most things are more expensive (largely because of said taxes), but you don’t have to worry about funding three of the huge expenses that Americans have to worry about – healthcare, education, and retirement – because most or all of the expenses for each are handled by the state. You still pay for them, via the taxes, but for some people that still comes out as cheaper than having to save for them on your own. A lot depends on your individual financial situation and your priorities.

    There are certainly arguments that could be made for either the US or other countries – again it depends on your priorities.

  38. #38 aimee
    December 1, 2010

    My husband is from southern Mexico, and we own some land there. Our plan had been to retire to his hometown after our children were grown and gone. However, I seriously doubt that by the time we asre of retirement age, southern Mexico is going to be a place anyone wants to live. I am thinking of climate change and the social upheavals that will happen when large swaths of now marginal land become closer and closer to uninhabitability, due to heat, changing weather patterns, hurricanes, or what have you. Mexico is a state in a great deal of trouble, and while I certainly hope they can pull out of their current tailspin, I don’t know how likely it is, given the enormous challenges of the coming decades. So most likely we will be staying put in the Pacific Northwest, on our own smallholding, becoming gradually more and more independent over the years.

  39. #39 MsBetterhome
    December 1, 2010

    Another Australian resident – my family migrated from the US in the ’70s, and I’ve visited quite a few times in the past 30 or so years.

    I would not move back. Like Sarah, I find the gap between haves and have-nots and the user-pays health system in the US deeply unattractive. While I have experienced civics education in the US, and find the sense of history admirable, I am concerned that the US doesn’t raise it’s citizens to see themselves as part of the world… that disturbs me.

    I have freedom of speech here… and the freedom to line-dry my laundry. I miss my family in the US, but I’m staying in Australia.

  40. #40 Mark N.
    December 1, 2010

    I’m staying here to see what becomes of this land and the critters that occupy it.

  41. #41 Eric Smith
    December 1, 2010

    Everything in the US seems to be designed to separate people from the money that they earn. The only question is how much pain will people accept before they protest. Health care, taxes, consumerism, etc. Supposedly – America is supposed to be a land of individuals; but we follow policies that force some people to be prisoners – of poverty, of lost opportunity, of handicap (try getting around in the Midwest if you’ve got a handicap), of their environment.

    I often feel that, as I get older, I’m losing ground…

    Eric

  42. #42 Billie
    December 2, 2010

    My family lives in Canada and I liked in Canada until I was 28. I moved down here to be closer to a guy and a great job offer. After 14 years I am still here and in the meantime I got my American citizenship. For now, I am staying here.

    There are some things I miss about Canada – like the shorter work week, cheaper health care, my family and so on and so forth. But there are some advantages to living here too – better opportunities for work, streaming Netflix(my step-father is so envious!) warmer weather and so on and so forth. In the end, I think it is basically even in terms of pros and cons.

    I still have Canadian citizenship and intend on keeping it because one never knows if I might not return to Canada to retire. Some global warming scenarios make it sound as if Canada won’t be hit quite as hard so I would like to keep that option open.

    One thing that almost made me return home was 9/11. I was told on more than one occasion to go home where I belonged. In the US, it seems that racism is often floating just below the surface ready to rise to the occasion. If things had of gotten more serious, we (my American husband and I) would have went to Canada.

  43. #43 Pat Meadows
    December 2, 2010

    Hi – We’d emigrate to Canada in a heartbeat, if they’d have us. They will not have us – their criteria are clearly posted on the Immigration Canada website, and we do not meet the criteria.

    We could legally live anywhere in the EU – my husband has dual British/American citizenship. We cannot *afford* to live anywhere in the EU. The cost of housing in the EU is way, way beyond our reach.

    We’ve already lost our home, having just been driven out of Pennsylvania by the terrible catastrophe that is under-regulated, unconstrained natural gas drilling (and all its concomitant horrors).

    So it appears that we stay in the USA. I have no strong emotions about the USA as a whole; I had very strong emotions about the place we used to live in. It seemed to be my One True Home, after a life of being bounced around by economic necessity.

    Well, it was not to be thanks to Bush, Cheney, & Co. having exempted the gas, oil, and mining industries from all Clean Air and Clean Water Laws, and to the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania state legislature who have made a bad situation even worse.

    If anyone tells you that all is rosy and bright in Fracking Land, don’t believe them.

    Pat

    Pat

  44. #44 Lisa Z
    December 2, 2010

    What an interesting discussion. I have often thought of leaving, and will certainly consider it if Sarah Palin is even nominated to run for the Presidency. Seriously. The wars and the widening gap between the rich and poor, along with it the erosion of the middle class life would be my main reasons. It is getting disgusting here, and not just because of peak oil and climate change. Many of these things could be improved by the will of the people, but here people are too dumb to even want it.

  45. #45 Milurie
    December 2, 2010

    First off — Pat, my sympathies at the loss of your home. My brother was forced to close the business my father began 40 years ago, and the gas company is now leasing the building. He’s not able to sell the house he built beside it, and is very likely going to give it back to the bank.

    I am a member of a forum for Americans who have emigrated to the UK. The very first question we ask someone who wants to move there is “What visa do you qualify for?”

    Work-based emigration from outside the EU is being capped at under 22,000 next year: one of the members works for a international accountancy with 300,000 employees and they received NO visa slots; intra-company transfers require a minimum income of £40,000 for a visa that MIGHT lead to citizenship after five years.

    Or might not: the emigration rules and citizenship requirements have changed tremendously in the last three years, and the amount of money required to get through the entire process is in the four figures. Thinking of going back to school? Overseas student visa slots are being cut by 40%.

    Also bear in mind that you’ve still got to file a US tax return, no matter where you’re earning your income: a number of members who didn’t think it applied are now facing enormous penalties, and in two cases aren’t able to sponsor their spouse to the US until the taxes are sorted. You may say “If I left, I’d never go back”, but in the last year a number of our members who swore blind there was nothing for them in the US have repatted, either for family reasons or due to losing the job that provided their visa.

  46. #46 Andrea G.
    December 4, 2010

    I lived in Seattle for a couple of years when I was four, and then my family up and moved to Las Vegas. It was only on a recent visit that I realized I’ve spent the past twenty years trying to get back there, without knowing what I was looking for.

    So. New game plan. I’m going to do my best to move west of the Cascades and then never leave.

    Although the author may be right about a variety of things, they also ultimately do not matter. I prefer to work with rather than against the various parts of myself, and if that dictates where I live, so be it.

  47. #47 Ant
    December 6, 2010

    So how many of you have bothered to become involved in the local or national political system to work to actually effect change? I have. How many of you have worked with in a volunteer organization to support the less fortunate or the community? I served over 8 years as a volunteer firefighter. How many of you actually built a sustainable house with your own two hands? I have. How many of you created successful companies with high paying jobs – I did.
    How many of you served your country when it called? I did.
    How many of you have actually traveled and done business outside of the US – I have. I worked 50-60 hours a week for years, raised two kids, put them through college, paid my taxes, my mortgage, my employees and my creditors – and kept a marriage working for nearly 30 years now.

    So when it comes to the United States of America as a home, I think I’m qualified to comment.

    The first time I lost a job, I went out and started my first company with barely had enough to pay for the business licenses. Losing that job was the best thing that could have happened to me. If you don’t like working for somebody else – for cripes sake quit and work for yourself. The operative term here is of course WORK. Here’s a little hint – 80% of any job is tedious crap – the trick is finding the 20% that you can be really passionate about – then it’s all worth it. If it seems like slavery, then you’ve got something wrong – quit – walk away – start over!

    As for oil and gas drilling in residential areas being a problem, it CAN be stopped cold – dead in it’s tracks – by unified, effective, political action at a local and state level. If you sit on your butts and don’t get politically active and work to protect your homes and livelihoods – then in my humble opinion you deserve what you get. Again the solution to to problem is that nasty old “W” word, WORK.

    The USA has come a long way since Kent State, since Watts, since legally mandated segregation. We’ve still got a long way to go. But there is still nowhere – absolutely nowhere – else on God’s Green Earth where progress is so possible – with a little work.

    There is nowhere where the rule of law holds sway, where government bureaucracy and taxation is less burdensome and intrusive, where organized crime or religious zealots are less of a threat, than here in the United States of America. You don’t believe it? Just try starting a company, hiring employees and doing business in say Britain just to make it easy – or China if you really want a challenge – I wouldn’t advise Latin America or most of Africa to start with unless you have really strong family connections, and South-East Asia is another whole game entirely. Australia and New Zealand might be OK – the Brit’s idea of rule of law seems to have taken there – taxes can make profitability ( that is having anything left over to pay yourself with) a bit tricky though. Note that I left the Euro-zone out as completely hopeless – you’d be better off in India – or even Nepal. And after you’ve settled in in your new found home – just try being politically active and see where it gets you!

    You think you can lead a better life elsewhere – then go right ahead – show the courage of your convictions, pick a spot, move, renounce your US citizenship, get a job, build a home, raise a family and prosper. Good luck with that.

    My bet, however, is that most of you slackers will just continue sit on your asses and whine about how unfair it all is. So do me a favor – shut up while the rest of us are trying to work.

    Sincerely,
    Ant

  48. #48 darwinsdog
    December 6, 2010

    Dang, Ant. Your post made me want to stand up & recite the Pledge of Allegiance – if I can remember how it goes!

    My bet, however, is that most of you slackers will just continue sit on your asses and whine about how unfair it all is.

    Guess this slacker had better get up off his ass & get something done around here, for once..

  49. #49 annette
    December 8, 2010

    I lived in Mexico for almost 4 years (2005-2009)and when my husband & I left the US, we were seriously considering not coming back. I love Mexico, the Mexican people, are almost uniformly incredibly friendly & generous & we made some good friends there. But the reality is, as a number of people have noted, that it is very difficult to adapt to a different culture and language, especially when you’re older (I’m 58). I speak Spanish well enough to carry on conversations, but my Mexican friends had to dumb it down for me and I strongly suspect they always would. And I understand the politics and culture here in a way that I never would in Mexico no matter how long I lived there. And most of all, I lived nearly my entire adult life in the Seattle area, nearly all my friends and family live within 100 miles of here, and I was homesick for my life here to a degree I never would have believed possible till I left here. So I expect to live out the rest of my life in the greater Seattle area – and frankly, if you’re going to stay in the US, I think the Pacific Northwest is about as good as it gets.

  50. #50 Heather G
    December 14, 2010

    I’m from the U.S. but do know that many other countries have freedom of speech, thank you very much.

    Have only lived in Hong Kong and parts of the U.S. Would have loved to see some other places, but life is what it is. I’m not interested at this point in comparing different countries’ rights, health coverage or what-have-you.

    We need to do a lot better for the planet than we’re doing, here and elsewhere, but as for me and my husband, it makes the most sense to try to improve things in our current community, rather than up stakes and move somewhere else. And no, I’m not being arrogant — we could probably qualify for work visas, etc. for some other countries. I suppose if we _had_ to move to another country for some reason, we’d probably end up in Canada, as we have quite a few friends there.

    Well, my time’s up for being on the computer. Got work to do around the farm — gotta make use of the daylight!

  51. #51 risa b
    March 11, 2011

    Huh. Late to the party, as usual.

    Well, our family got most of our homesteader ya-yas out in the 1970s, back when we thought we were the only ones thinking of this stuff. We were dropouts from “the system” but never really talked about LEAVING, though.

    Now we’re in our 60s and apt to just ride it out, greenpa fashion, and for much the same reasons. Wherever y’all go, or don’t, remember to do like Heather does — make use of the daylight!

  52. #52 minerva
    March 30, 2011

    I left the US for England seven years ago, and it was the best thing I ever did. I can see the doctor when ill without financial worry, I have decent employment laws that protect me, and financially, I’m better off than I ever was in the States. No debt anymore either.

    When I visited my sibling last year, I just want to leave the soulless suburban wasteland in which he lives as soon as possible.

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