It strikes me that the reason most people emigrate from the country they’ve always called home is to find a “better life”. Granted there are as many ways to define better life as there are people emigrating. Often that means running away from some sort of persecution, or living somewhere with more amenable social customs. But more often than not it means finding a more lucrative work/pay situation. That said, given the migratory nature of the world’s recent economic boom/bust cycles, I wonder if we are in danger of creating a permanent nomadic immigrant community.
The big unspoken question simmering in the back of every immigrant’s brainpan is, “Will it be better in the new place?” Yes, the niggling thought that perhaps you’ve avoided a mud puddle but stepped in shit is a constant companion during the adjustment phase of early expat life. Perhaps it never goes away. I’ll wait for expats with more time on their clocks to weigh in on that score.
In terms of trading good for better (or worse), I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about the economic boom that so many seem to be chasing these days. Living in Ireland we hear on a nearly daily basis that the economy is in a slump as compared to the boom days of the Celtic Tiger (a period of robust economic growth in the Republic of Ireland that lasted from the mid-1990s through the mid to late 2000s, depending on which economist you listen to). The Celtic Tiger, much like the “tech bubble” in the U.S. saw those making money buying houses the size of modest castles and generally spending like drunken sailors. Both countries then hit the skids, hard. The housing markets tanked, and ultimately just about everyone was over leveraged. It’s more than a little creepy to realize that almost exactly two years after America went bust, Ireland did the same thing, in pretty much the same way
These busts didn’t hit just those who were making money. They touched everyone. Some say it’s harder to have money and lose it than it is to never have money. I think that’s bullshit. And I say it’s far worse to lose what little you have because a few hedge fund carpetbaggers tanked the economy for everyone so they could afford their wife’s next Botox injection.
And now, with the economy tanking (or tanked) in Ireland, many of this country’s best and brightest (those with the skills to compete elsewhere) are hotfooting it to other countries. During the Celtic Tiger, immigrants from Eastern Europe made their way to Dublin. Now, firmly rooted in their jobs, they hold down positions that might otherwise go to graduating Irishmen and women. Instead, Ireland’s young workforce is by and large headed to Australia.
Australia is the next big boom culture. Housing starts are way up in Australia. They are desperate for skilled laborers to build their mini-castles. Good on ya, mate. But eight or ten years from now will The Land Down Unda be the next bust? If so, where will all of the young Australians go when they graduate from college only to find every job filled by Irishmen? Are we creating a semi-permanent class of immigrants who don’t really belong anywhere, but follow the economic bubble wherever it drifts?
A while back someone told me that when you are an immigrant you aren’t a perfect fit at home anymore, and you don’t fully belong in your new country either. No matter how long you are there, at some point the chatter at the cocktail party migrates to “I can’t quite place his accent, where is he from?” As a result, immigrants the world over are citizens of a nether land somewhere between countries. They belong to a land of immigrants who are rapidly becoming nomads.
Technology, while making it easier to stay in touch, is also driving boom and bust cycles around the world. Technology has made it easy to stay in touch (and work from virtually anywhere) while it has simultaneously made the world economy incredibly fragile. We’ve spawned a society of Technomads following the high tech gold rush?
To would be emigrants/immigrants I say, before you pack your bags and head off, think seriously about why you’re going and what you’re giving up at home. Remember, the miners rarely get rich in a gold rush. It’s the guys who sell shovels make all the money.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Taxed in Two Places.