Saturday, November 1, 2014

Has the American Dream Moved Offshore?

"To me, the American Dream is being able to follow your own personal calling. To be able to do what you want to do is incredible freedom."   - Maya Lin

For a while now many financial experts, analysts, and commentators have been fawning over China, building and repeating the meme that it will be the new world financial superpower.  I personally don't buy it and expect that while China will be one of several major, significant powers in a multi-polar world, it isn't likely to dominate the way the US had since the fall of the Soviet Union.  However one trend I AM fairly certain of is that people in much of Asia will experience rising prosperity over the next couple decades whereas much of the populations of the Western powers such as Europe and the US will generally experience decreasing prosperity.

Interesting to see that I'm not the only one.... below is an excerpt from a recent Zerohedge article (click the title for the full link)


"Nowhere is The American Dream more prevalent than... In Asia?"


Now this is not to say that the US 'economy' as it's currently measured will necessarily turn into a nightmare (I suspect it will suffer some but not so much as Europe and Japan), only that the prosperity of the average citizen will suffer.  Some might think that doesn't make sense, but I would point out that in the past 5 years of Quantitative Easing the US economy has improved by many measures yet it has been primarily the wealthier echelons of society that have seen their fortunes improve.  Money printing benefits those closest to the printing press (banks, large financial institutions, and the wealthiest 0.1%), whereas the rest either get no benefit or get robbed through increased inflation.  So if we carry this trend forward, it's easy to imagine how the country's economy can stay afloat for many years while at the same time the majority of citizens experience a large decline in prosperity.  Ultimately it is that impoverishment of the majority that most of us are interested in, and it appears that most people are not fully buying what the politicians, mainstream media, and the stock market is telling us.

As for Asia, many of the nations there are starting from such a basic level of economic activity and complexity that economic growth is almost a given considering all the available technologies, business ideas, and services that have yet to be fully introduced.  I've been able to see this first hand in Mongolia where I've spent a great deal of time in recent years.  While there is still a fair amount of poverty and social issues in Mongolia, I find it's telling that the political and social disputes are not on whether the economy is failing or how to turn it around, but rather are largely centered on how best to manage the growing economy and keeping corrupt politicians from stealing too much of the wealth.  Most people I've talked to there do have a general optimism that they and their children and grandchildren will generally prosper, and their primary concerns are political selfishness & idiocy driving away outside investment and the corruption & theft in some areas of government that threaten to direct too much of the economic gains away from the growing middle class.  Even in China where much of the economic gains have already been reaped and economic growth is slowing, the people I've talked to are (perhaps cautiously?) optimistic that they will be more prosperous in the future.  Contrast that with the US and much of Europe, where a lot of people are focused on merely keeping hold of what little they have in the face of declining prospects while at the same time various local, state, and federal governments pick their pockets via higher taxes and increasingly absurd fees and fines. 

Now is the American Dream as it's often defined, i.e. the idea that through hard work and some smarts you and your children can succeed and prosper, really dead in America?  I don't think so, at least not yet.  However it is at least safe to say that the American Dream has taken a rather big beating and is a much harder thing to achieve than it used to be, and that there are some countries where that 'dream' may be more attainable for any variety of reasons.  It's rather tragic, because America really has a great deal of competitive advantages.  Unfortunately, it is being led and micro-managed in such a way that we are making extremely short-sighted and stupid decisions and squandering our country's potential.  And sad to say most Americans are in support of the policies, decisions, and excessive bureaucracy that is killing this potential.  If this country was a person, it would be a gifted prodigy with a major drinking problem and an over-sized ego outmatched only by its proclivity for starting fights and bullying weaker people.  Imagine Sheldon Cooper combined with Biff Tannen and a healthy dose of Rick James, Lindsey Lohan, and Amy Winehouse, and there you have a spot-on personification of the US.

That being said, is it better to pursue the 'American Dream' somewhere in Asia?  Well I'd say it depends.  I'd say if you're the type who just wants a decent job and aren't interested in running your own business, the odds probably tend to favor America.  Sure there are some job opportunities in some Asian countries that pay an equivalent or somewhat better salary that one might get in America, but you'd better be a proven professional and very adaptable in your mindset to enjoy yourself there for the long term.  Having an idea of what most working professionals make in Mongolia and China, more often than not though you will probably have to accept a substantial salary cut even if you do get hired.  For example in Mongolia, a salary of $410 per month is the current average salary, and degree-holding professionals often don't make a whole lot more than that.  Expats in certain fields often get paid more, but it still would be difficult to get a wage equivalent to America.  And the wage difference is especially notable when you're talking about semi-skilled or blue-collar trades.  But if you are motivated and inclined towards in entrepreneurship and have at least a little capital at your disposal, then I see the opportunities being much more favorable in Asia.  Lower taxes, more open business niches & opportunities, and in many cases less bureaucratic hurdles and obstacles to overcome make Asia an attractive place for entrepreneurs who are willing to step out of their comfort zone.  In our recent trips to Mongolia, it's interesting to see how many Mongolians we met who studied and worked in the US, Canada, and parts of Europe have gone back to Mongolia, more often than not to take advantage of entrepreneurial business opportunities.  

I will say that opportunities vary greatly throughout Asia.  Mongolia seems to be one of the better long-term opportunities in Asia (despite their recent slowdown), though some nations like Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma) appear to be even more promising given they've only recently started opening their economies and societies in a big way to the world.  On the other hand, I would personally avoid China like the plague.  There may still be opportunities there, but the high degree of political corruption, difficulty in moving money earned in China out of the country, and their police state society doesn't seem to me the best environment for a foreign entrepreneur.  Their leaders are even bigger thieves than ours, and that's saying a lot.  I admit there are things to like about China such as the food (at least some of it), the sights, and many of the people, but I think there are much better places to build a business.  The US for example, despite its faults and crony-capitalist system, is still better than China.

It's not really my intent to encourage people to move out of the country, only to open peoples' eyes that there are other options.  Most Americans seem to not give much consideration to the idea of making a living outside of the US... perhaps due to fear of taking a risk for some, perhaps due to a misplaced sense of nationalism for others.  In my humble opinion, it's no less patriotic to consider making your life and/or fortune in another country than it is to consider moving to a different state because their taxes and business climate is more favorable...

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