America has always been a nation of risk-takers.
From the iconic images of millions of Ellis Island immigrants who picked up stakes when the going got rough back home, to the great westward expansion in the mid-1800s, there just seems to be something in our collective DNA that can’t resist the urge to explore, seek out opportunity and pursue liberty and independence wherever it can be found.
America has also been uniquely blessed for most of its 237-year existence. A vibrant free market, limited government and a strong rule of law made America different than other countries. These factors encouraged and rewarded our inherent appetite for risk.
But while America has had it good for most of its existence, every country on the planet eventually has its not-so-good times.
Since 2001, Americans have suffered one body blow after another: the World Trade Center catastrophe; the 2008 financial meltdown; a moribund economy; a catastrophic national debt; a steady diminution of our civil and economic liberties; and a political leadership that seems unwilling and unsuited to deal with the problems.
Under these circumstances, Americans are doing something that shouldn’t be surprising: We’re leaving.
The IRS reported that in 2011 a record 1,788 Americans officially renounced their citizenship, more than in the years 2007-2009 combined. While the number may seem like a drop in the bucket in a nation of 311 million people, immigration officials projected the number to jump more than fourfold to 8,000 in 2012.
And if you dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s not just 1%’ers leaving for tax reasons, it’s regular Joes and Janes as well.
Meet Bob Adams
Bob Adams advises clients who are relocating abroad. Since 2005, he has partnered with the Zogby International polling firm to explore Americans’ attitudes about moving overseas.
In his 2011 survey, Adams found something astonishing: In record numbers, young Americans were either seriously considering packing their bags and moving abroad, or had already done so.
Adams’ survey carefully distinguished between those voluntarily moving abroad and those whose move was a requirement of the military, work for the government or a foreign job. He was also careful to ask whether survey participants were in the planning stages or simply considering the option.
Remarkably, he found that 2.5% of households, roughly six million people, were actually already in the planning stages of moving overseas.
The survey results were surprising for other reasons as well. While one might assume that moving abroad is an advantage only enjoyed by the wealthy, the largest percentage considering moving were those making $50,000 per year or less.
And while the tendency of retirees to seek a lower cost of living abroad is well known, the largest age demographic considering the move were 25-34 year olds.
In other words, the members of the most innovative, creative and opportunity-seeking demographic in America today are precisely the ones who are most open to the idea of leaving America’s shores.
What’s driving Americans to leave?
According to Adams, the answers shouldn’t be surprising.
Younger Americans are independent and more willing to take risks. They rapidly adapt to changing circumstances. They are more entrepreneurial. And they are more willing to up and skedaddle when they sense things aren’t right.
In today’s America, they see skyrocketing debt that will leave a horrible burden for their children; the arbitrary application of law that protects and coddles Wall Street cronies while coming down like a ton of bricks on regular Joes who consume raw milk or just seek a second opinion on their child’s medical care; the steady erosion of their civil and economic liberties; and few job opportunities.
And they are saying to themselves, “Maybe it’s time to go.”
Moving abroad as a hedge strategy
In 1978, libertarian economist and free-market advocate Doug Casey wrote a book called The International Man, which suggested that the key to maximizing personal and economic freedom was at least being open to the idea of looking for opportunities beyond your home nation’s borders.
Today’s young American emigrants instinctively know this.
In Latin American countries like Panama, where I live, a steady influx of younger Americans are setting up shop. Many have families and young children. They aren’t working for international businesses and they aren’t even getting work visas.
They’re creating their own jobs and filling business niches that are lacking in their host country. Some are consultants who can work from anywhere with an Internet connection. Others are creating new businesses that don’t “take” jobs from the local population, but “create” jobs for locals that otherwise wouldn’t exist.
Consequently, many foreign governments that recognize the potential of this knowledge transfer of America’s most entrepreneurial are responding by easing immigration and residency policies for entrepreneurs and job creators.
What all of this demonstrates is that even in bad times Americans’ unquenchable appetite for risk, opportunity and economic freedom is the same as it’s always been.
Only now, as Bob Adams says, the most industrious people aren’t always hitting the streets to demonstrate; sometimes they’re hitting the road.