Is it time to run?
That's what I've been asking myself for three years now.
Before that, I thought it was simply a matter of finding a better place to live. A place that was quieter and cheaper. Where flippers and developers hadn't taken over the neighborhood. Somewhere safe I could park my car on the street and not worry about it.
But by the time I found it, I also found that the thieves were inside the house, not on the street. There's really no hiding from them. And no hiding from what they can do.
Our mene, mene, tekel upharsin is on the wall.
It's time to run, not hide.
I mean that. We're in the throes of an economic collapse of a kind last seen in the 1930s. The government is intent on grabbing control of whatever it can. American firms are dropping like flies. Unemployment is soaring. Debt is soaring. The money supply is soaring. Our foreign policy is a wreck – we have more enemies than we can count. We have a drug war on the borders, we have gang war in the ghettos, we have culture wars in the academy and media.
We have criminals in government.
The future isn't any brighter. Subprime is only the first leg down. We still have a second wave of housing trouble in store, centering around commercial real estate and option ARM loans.
Gerald Celente, the CEO of Trend Research, wrote a piece last year predicting that by 2012 there would be food riots, tax rebellion, and revolution across the country. Celente has a good track record in the forecasting business.
Experts predict a 100% rise in prices across the board. In the best-case scenario, it will happen over ten years. In the worst case, it might happen within months.
More "hate crimes" laws are on the table. They'll not only crimp political speech, they'll make it criminal. The likely targets will be people who propose tax rebellion and secession or oppose US support for Israel or militant Zionism. Other candidates for thought reform are Christians who oppose abortions and gay marriage and environmental and animal rights activists.
Homeland Security is preparing a network of emergency facilities for civilians. Innocuous? Maybe, but it's odd that these holding camps should be built on military installations.
Medical information is being centralized in online data banks accessible by the government, and some favored groups.
Bills to snoop, bills to spy, bills to control. Each time one gets struck down, another sprouts in its place.
Is it really the best strategy to fight each bill one at a time, over and over? Why? If this is what the public and the congress want, so be it. So what if they're unconstitutional? We've long ago established that the constitution means just about whatever anyone wants it to mean. When it comes to torture, Republicans rip up the constitution. When it comes to tax and spend, Democrats rip it up. The whole thing is a partisan racket. Whoever shouts the loudest gets what he wants. So be it.
Rather than forcing the country to change, a far simpler and humbler strategy is to let the country go whichever way it wants, and get out of its way. I'm not a cynic. I'm not telling you to stand on the sidelines and egg both sides on. I'm not telling you to forget your native soil or your community. I'm suggesting that it might be easier for you to defend them from abroad. And I'm suggesting that you start making yourself a foothold abroad. Just in case.
If you're finding it hard to manage, if you've reached a dead end, if you're depressed by the way things are here, go.
How to do it?
First. Get your papers in order. I'm amazed at the number of people who don't have passports. A passport is the nearest thing you have to a veto on Washington. Get it in order. You'll also need other valid documents. Now is the time to start getting them together. You should at least have your driving license, passport and birth certificate ready to go. You should also start collecting other documents you might need (marriage, divorce, and adoption papers, incorporation papers, name changes, social security papers, bank statements, recommendations, letters of authorization, educational and work certifications). These can take months to get from the proper source. You might also need to have them validated by the embassy of the country where you want to move.
Second. Figure out where you want to live. This is not as hard as it sounds. Almost all your research can be done on the net, though at some point, you'll have to buy a ticket and try living where you want to move.
A good place to start your research is the CIA fact book, which lists current geographic and economic statistics. Wiki will give you maps, photos, and general background. For property prices, viviun.com or glo-con.com have a wide selection of all kinds of property in practically every part of the world. Be aware that prices on English language international sites are usually higher than what you will be able to find from local sources. I suggest you pick a dozen countries you think might interest you and start researching them systematically.
How you choose your country will depend on who you are and what you plan to do. Families with children should look at job opportunities, political stability, crime rates, and schools. Cheap prices can't be their only criterion. For retired people on a fixed income, warm weather and good health care might be much more important. For those working on the net, an important factor will be good DSL and accessibility to a major city for tech help. I remember I saw what looked like the perfect little farm in the remote highlands of a little visited Central American country. The excitement faded quickly when I found that it was on top of a volcano and more than hundred miles from any kind of town. The volcano was extinct, but a little googling told me that "extinct" volcanoes can come to life.
Spanish will take you anywhere in Latin America. French helps in Africa and in some parts of Asia. But language is made out to be a much bigger problem than it really is. Buy a decent phrase book and a dictionary, make good use of online translators like babel fish, and you'll be fine. I have conducted lengthy email conversations about renovation costs, world politics, alternative medicine, and Dick Cheney, all with babel fish. The translations are crude and sometimes off the wall, but foreigners are forgiving of people who at least try to talk their language.
Purchasing property in a foreign language is a bit trickier. For that, you're wise to look for local lawyers and notaries. A good place to make contacts is the online forum of an expat community in that country. Get an internet alias and start asking questions before you leave. Make sure you double check everything your hear against the local government's official information. Ownership, work, and residency rules for foreigners are constantly changing.
Third. Visit your safe-haven. Every fantasy has to hit the ground for it to become real. For many people, this is the hard part. Dreaming is one thing. But only people who are willing to do the hard work, take some risk, and live with something less than perfection get to make their dreams come true.
Each time you try anything, you'll always have a hundred naysayers at your elbow, most of them, your nearest and dearest. They mean well. They're doing what they think is best for you. And about half the time, they may even be right. Don't bite their heads off. Smile sweetly, listen to all the advice, and when it's over, make your own decision. Weighing pros and cons is a good start. But ultimately, don't flinch from making a decision based on gut feeling. Two heads may be better than one. But one strong gut reaction is far better than any number of heads. Listen to it.
You need about two months to prepare for a trip properly. Book well in advance to get the best prices. I started using the site bootsnall.com many years ago and it's still one of the best. Some places need you to take shots, but usually you can skip this if you've not been out of the US in a while.
Here are a couple of important tips:
- Book a hotel or a hostel for the first few nights. Then find an apartment from there. You need to meet the owner in person to feel comfortable in a rental apartment.
- Pack light. Security checks are increasingly uncomfortable and time-consuming. The less you carry, the easier your trip will be.
Make it a priority to visit one foreign country within the next six months. You're going to find that having another option besides staying put is going to change the way you think and feel about everything here. It may be that leaving for good isn't for you. You may find that you prefer home with all its problems to a strange culture. Well and good. What have you lost? A small amount of rapidly depreciating money.
It's an insignificant price to pay for something that will renew your spirit no matter what you decide. And one day, it may end up being your only avenue of escape from trouble.
June 6, 2009
Lila Rajiva [send her mail] is the author of the ground-breaking study, The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American Media (MR Press, 2005), and the co-author with Bill Bonner of Mobs, Messiahs and Markets (Wiley, 2007). Visit her blog.
Copyright © 2009 Lila Rajiva