Recently I had an email conversation with a writer friend who is really, really down in the dumps about the political and social direction in which the USA is headed. She remarked that she has thought more and more often about leaving the country altogether and making a fresh start somewhere else. As I reflected on this, a somewhat radical but, I think, entirely sensible question occurred to me: Why not?
We live in a global village. No place is more than a plane ride away from anywhere else. And there are plenty of countries out there that offer lower costs of living than the US, much more liberal social-economic policies, and unpolluted beaches or forests. If somebody is really fed up with America, to the point where it's hard to turn on the TV for fear of what the latest news may be, then really, why not take the show abroad?
Personally I have neither the desire nor the adventurousness to live outside the country. But other people do. In fact, in doing a little Web research on this topic, I came across some interesting info. According to a decade-old Money magazine article :
-- As many as 250,000 people emigrate from the U.S. each year, up from approximately 160,000 a decade ago, according to estimates by Census Bureau officials and experts at the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).
-- These days, as many as half of those who emigrate are native-born Americans, say government officials, while an estimated 80% of those who left for good between 1900 and 1980 were former immigrants returning home.
-- Among college-educated Americans and those who earn $50,000 a year or more, an astounding one in four reports that he or she has considered moving to another country, according to an exclusive MONEY poll taken this spring (margin of error: plus or minus 3.1%).
-- There's evidence that more skills are draining from the country than are entering it. For example, a 1990 U.S.-Canadian Government study of migration shows that American immigrants to Canada were nearly 50% more likely to hold college degrees than the general U.S. population or than Canadian immigrants moving here.
As I said, this is from a decade ago - 1994 to be exact. But it's doubtful that the numbers have declined since then. If anything, I would guess they have gone up.
The Money article is posted on a site called EscapeArtist.com, which has comprehensive resources on relocating to foreign soil. Want to learn about, say, life in the British Virgin Islands? They've got the goods. Want to read whole books on specific countries? They offer e-books.
Another worthwhile site, which will appeal especially to disaffected liberals, is American Emigration. Though not updated recently, it contains a lot of links and info.
I myself am not that upset about current government policies. I support the War on Terror and think the Bush administration has done a relatively good job under extremely difficult circumstances. My personal happiness does not stand or fall on the issue of gay marriage or tax-the-rich or legalize-marijuana, or whatever the "progressive" issue du jour happens to be.
But quite a few people feel otherwise. They wake up grinding their teeth at the very thought of another day in George W. Bush's America. They are convinced that the last two presidential elections were stolen. They are afraid to speak or write openly on the phone or via email, for fear of NSA spy satellites. They feel, quite literally, that they are under siege.
Rather than live this way, why not explore other options? It's what I would do if I were similarly disaffected. In fact, it's what I did after twelve years in Los Angeles. Though I loved the scenery and climate, and I had many friends there, I finally became so fed up with the political, social, and cultural atmosphere that I moved to another state. I chose Arizona, where the cost of living is dramatically lower and the politics are more my style.
Admittedly, trekking from SoCal coast to the Arizona desert is not quite as daunting a proposition as relocating t0 a whole new country. But in an age of jet aircraft, long distance phone calls, and global Internet access, is changing countries really an impossible task? Sure, there are legal hurdles to mount, and there may be language barriers to cross, and acclimatizing to be done ... but it's far from impossible. Just ask the 250,000 (probably more, now) who leave these shores each year.
Also, those of us who stay behind can look forward to some very cool postcards.