I think it's safe to say that the great majority of people in many First World nations are now more aware than ever that there is something truly wrong with their country, and with their economy, than they have ever experienced before. They seem to agree that the near-term future will not be better but worse than it is now.
Most also seem to be admitting that, while they feel the political party they oppose is even more demonic than they previously believed, their preferred party is also, at this point, a major part of the problem. In addition, more and more people are saying that a negative outcome is virtually a certainty. Or, in the words of a North American acquaintance, “What can you do? We're screwed. The whole world is screwed and there's nothing we can do about it.”
This view now seems to be pervasive in the First World. Consequently, for those of us who have, from afar, been watching the slow deterioration of the West over the years, it seems inconceivable that, as the old system approaches collapse, there is not a mass exodus.
However, history suggests that this is almost never the case. Whenever a collapse of a major power is imminent, only small numbers leave and they generally do so very quietly. So, what of the vast majority who are admittedly unhappy where they are and, worse, see no future for themselves and their families? Why do they stay?
To try to make some sense of this, I'll share a few examples of people from Europe and North America, whom I have known for many years and who have, in recent times, advised me that leaving is out of the question. Here are their situations in as brief a form as can be described.
Sam: A professional, early sixties, with a house in town and a country house for weekends. Never married, no dependants. He feels that, if he were to leave where he is, he is too old to get a job in another country. He has not bothered to save a great deal and what he had invested was mostly lost in the crash of 2008. He would get little if he were to sell his houses and would arrive at a new destination several steps down from where he is socially and economically. He has decided to enjoy what little time he has left at his present level and let the chips fall as they may.
Lenny: Retired union man, early 70s, relies on pension, social security and a part-time job to pay his bills. His house and cars are paid for and he has maybe US$30,000 in the bank, but he lives off the cheques. His children and grandchildren all live nearby and they mean more to him than a better way of life somewhere else. He fears that his retirement fund will be inflated away in the next few years and says that, if it is, he'll cross that bridge when he comes to it.
Mark: Early twenties, has not had a serious job. Keeps going back to school to learn something else. Now he is training to be a chef. Still lives with his parents and cannot afford to be on his own. (He admits he is spoiled and has no particular ambition.) Considers his present location to be an absolute dead end, as it is becoming more depressed each year, but has no money to start over elsewhere. He recognizes that, as he is not attached and has no responsibilities, he has only to get a job in another country with a more promising future, but the effort to do so seems insurmountable. Major life decisions are put off till “when I finish the course I'm taking.” His Mum doesn't want him going anywhere, as he's “not ready.”
Ken: A professional in his mid-sixties, has a wife and four children and owns two houses. A seasoned business traveler, he is always ready to get on a plane and seek a new opportunity. However, his wife and three of his children do not share his concerns for the future and are focused instead on the fact that, today, they have enough to get by. He has saved money and invested it well, mostly overseas, but four of his five family members will not leave the life they are used to and he, understandably, will not go without them. The fifth member, (“she was always the smart one”) is hoping to graduate in 2012 with a nursing degree and exit her country of birth, possibly for Uruguay. Her dad has encouraged her to go.
Gary: A businessman in his 50s. Heads up a group of retail stores belonging to someone else. Loves his job; loves his industry. Loves his home and family. He understands that his present high standard of living will deteriorate dramatically and is especially concerned for his (almost grown) children, as he sees no future for them. However, he sees a move overseas as a big step down and it is too late in his career to accept that eventuality, even though he knows he will soon face a big step down at home regardless.
The above people are quite varied in their situations, yet they have several things in common.
First, they recognize that they are facing a major decline in their economic lives within just a few years – some to the point of putting them on the dole.
Second, except for Mark, who has no assets, each is unwilling to accept losing his home(s) for a fraction of their worth and taking a step down, even if that step may be temporary. In each case, these homes seem to define who they are.
Third, they are either too complacent to initiate a major change in their lives, or they are attached to others who are too complacent.
Fourth, and perhaps most importantly, they consider that whatever befalls them where they are, it is inevitable and there is no point fighting it.
There seems to be a communal feeling amongst these folks that's difficult to define. The closest I can come is that it is as though they have been fortunate enough to have been able to afford tickets for the maiden voyage of the Titanic and have been enjoying the voyage. Now they have been told that an iceberg is ahead and they will soon collide with it. They are accepting their fate like proper gentlemen. This is particularly poignant in Ken, who seems to be passing the only life preserver to his daughter, the “smart one,” as she alone in the family appears to have an exit plan.
Is there a conclusion to be drawn? I'm not sure. It does seem that they have left the decision too late to make a really positive move away from their present situation. Three of the above have stated that they wish they had had more courage, “when I was younger,” and had been more adventurous back when a major move would have been easier.
There is a theory that the latter stages of the decline in a nation are complacency, then apathy, then bondage. If this is so, the five people above (and millions of others like them) are in the stages of complacency and apathy and, presumably, bondage is next.
While those of us who live internationally run the risk of becoming smug that we have prepared ourselves while others haven't, if we take the time to examine closely the lives of those who have elected to stay behind, we, hopefully, will not condemn them as fools, but will instead look upon them with compassion for the difficult times they will soon face.
Editor's Note: If you want to read more about this topic, check out Doug Casey's article: Common Reasons for Staying Put.