Don’t Worry, There Are Enough Lifeboats for Everyone, Ma’am

by Michael Auslin

I’m sure Mark S. has written about this somewhere, but what’s with this new fad of living out one’s golden years in some Third World country? Yahoo had a top news story yesterday about balmy retirement locations, including Vietnam; Medellin(!), Colombia; Panama; Uruguay; and Nicaragua. Weren’t they shooting drug dealers off roofs not long ago in Medellin? I guess they’ve cleaned up their act there, and the narco cartels have moved to Mexico, another top spot on Yahoo’s “get away from it all (forever)” list. And I just came back from Vietnam, which makes for a fascinating trip, but somehow I don’t relish learning Vietnamese when I’m 65 and papering my walls with Uncle Ho pictures. 

My first reaction to the story was that it had to be a joke, given that 90 percent of the places listed are usually encountered by Americans only in the pages of National Geographic. But apparently there is some sort of demand to get the hell out of Dodge as soon as possible after receiving your gold watch (85 percent bronze now). Granted, I grew up in a fairly sheltered solidly middle-class inner suburb of Chicago, but the only foreign land I remember anyone retiring to in the 1970s was Miami, or for the real adventurous, the Gulf side of Florida. Yes, Marlon Brando bought an island somewhere near Tahiti, and if you lived at Scrooge McDuck level, you could retire to the Riveria. But Uruguay?  Malaysia? Have you honestly ever heard anyone say, “Mabel and I just decided to pull up stakes and follow our dream to Nicaragua!”

Maybe there’s something more profound at work here. The Yahoo story practically gives away the game in its opening sentences, which, tweaked just a bit, could have been written by Steyn:

The ideal retirement spot is a place where you can live a rich life filled with friends, travel, discovery, physical and intellectual distractions, and opportunities for growth. A super-low cost of living is great, but more important is the quality of life your retirement budget is buying you. Many of the best options for enjoying an enormously enriched retirement lifestyle on even a very modest budget can be found overseas. [emphasis added]

Translated: Your dollar isn’t worth anything abroad, but inflation and taxation at home will impoverish you quicker than a Bernie Madoff investment, and you’ll get Social Security when the Cubs win the World Series. Oh and by the way, with crumbling municipal services; decaying cultural institutions; and over-leveraged, stressed-out neighbors who resemble Howard Beale more each day, you might just want to pack it all up and move somewhere that at least has nowhere to go but up. 

So, either Yahoo’s editors punted on this one and were just wasting space yesterday or they’ve got their finger on the pulse of some slowly gathering current. If they’re right, is this really where America is headed? Only a fraction of us will ever leave the country, but are things spiraling down so quickly that we’re going to be envious of that nice couple down the street who moved last year and now has to boil their water before drinking it? Here’s what’s worrying: If the market still works as a predictor of future economic growth and stability, and if it’s now registering a not-insignificant movement out of the country, or desire to do so, by those who can cut their ties the easiest, then the rest of us better start worrying. I never thought of Medellin as the canary in the coal mine for America, but Yahoo clearly knows something I don’t.

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