Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Bye Bye Miss American Pie

We’re raised with the notion that we are the greatest country on earth, and by so many objective statistical measurements, we are. But there is this nagging feeling when I talk to a lot of people that our best years are behind us, that we are living in a highly polarized society that no longer knows how to get along, and that many of the indicators of how we define America are sliding into the dustbin.
Whether it is the litany of gun homicides with so many Americans crying that gun control is un-American, healthcare in turmoil and not providing the cost-savings and access so many need, educational standards plummeting as college is becoming increasingly unaffordable, the kind of income equality issues that used to define “banana republics” combined with our shrinking middle class, race riots, staggering housing costs without a parallel increase in earning power, a gridlocked Congress with a massive national debt, crumbling infrastructure, a never-ending parade of natural disasters (many of which could have been contained with preplanning), and so much of the world angry at us (with a few pledging to do something about it)… well, there is sufficient malaise in the air so that increasing numbers of Americans would actually consider emigrating.
We used to think of folks giving up their US citizenship to avoid taxes (the IRS doesn’t exactly let you do that until you have renounced your citizenship and then lived outside the US for a fairly long time). The numbers of those willing give up citizenship and turn in their passports is still small, but it is rising fast:
According to the U.S. Treasury Department, 2,999 U.S. citizens and long-term residents moved abroad and gave up (or abandoned efforts to obtain) American citizenship in 2013. A year later, Treasury Department statistics showed a 14 percent increase in expatriations, to 3,415.” DailyFinance.com, August 14th. But moving overseas for non-tax-avoidance reasons, and under circumstances where it may not even be necessary to forfeit citizenship, may just be a rising trend waiting to happen… or has it already begun?
According to a new poll conducted by British money transfer firm Transferwise, about 35 percent of the Americans it surveyed would consider leaving the U.S. and moving abroad. Only about half of those surveyed, however, cited a desire for lower taxes as one of their ‘major’ motivations.

“Nearly equally important, it seems, is the view that there are better educational opportunities abroad (48 percent cited that as a major motivation, versus 51 percent citing lower taxes). Even more important was the perception that health care is ‘more affordable’ in countries outside the U.S.
 “What Would Make You Leave?
“While the dream of leaving the motherland and wandering strange paths abroad may be more of a daydream than a real option for some, many Americans appear to be giving a move some serious thought. If 35 percent of Americans ‘would consider’ moving abroad eventually, perhaps around retirement age, fully 14 percent of us -- or 4 in 10 of those who ‘would consider’ leaving the States at all -- say they would consider a move ‘within the next five years.’

“What might push them over the edge, and into action? Not taxes. Rather, Transferwise says the three reasons most often named for considering a move abroad are:
‘a better quality of life’ -- 36 percent;
‘a lower cost of living’ -- 33 percent;
and just plain ‘to have new experiences’ -- 31 percent.” DailyFinance.com
It bothers me immensely to read these numbers and to talk to people who believe that except for the top 10% earners and wealth-holders in this country, the rest of us better get used to a steadily declining standard of living, the loss traditional notions of upward mobility, the evaporation of a stable employment environment and forfeiture of any notion of a comfortable retirement.
No matter where you tap American sensitivities, right, left or center, the expressions of protest are everywhere.  We not happy, but we have different explanations for what the problems are and who is responsible. The desire to find scapegoats, which is an historical hallmark of nations in times of severe economic turmoil and general hopelessness, are everywhere. The Chinese are making goods too cheap. The Arabs are controlling oil prices. Immigrants are invading our country, taking jobs away and committing massive numbers of crimes (immigrants have among the lowest crime rates of any demographic group, by the way). Right wingers are clinging to a past long gone, and liberals want to spend money we don’t have.
It’s the blame game, and instead of fixing the system and taking down some powerful incumbents, we look for the “easy solutions,” which if history is any judge never solve anything and the attempted implementation of which almost always makes things worse. Until we face these issues directly, tackle incumbent special interests who don’t want change, our worst fears have been and will be a continuation of that downward movement of our general quality of life.
I’m Peter Dekom, and we have to stop the scapegoating and deal with the real issues… or risk losing it all!

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