Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Alternatives to America

It seems like an eternity ago now. It was the 2004 presidential campaign. George W. Bush was running for re-election against Senator John Kerry in a bitter campaign. Many prominent liberals, upset at the prospect of a Bush victory, threatened to move abroad if President Bush was re-elected. Of course, President Bush was re-elected and none of the celebrities made good on their promises to relocate. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed those sentiments recently when she was asked about the possibility of Sarah Palin becoming president. Clinton said that she would “not be emigrating,” but would visit Canada “as often as I can” [1].

In the current political climate, there are looming taxes and regulation that would hamper economic freedom, as well as the possibility of new restrictions on the freedoms of speech, religion, and gun ownership. The explosive growth of the national debt and the threat of Islamic nuclear and biological terror attacks on American cities make it conceivable that the United States will not survive in its present form beyond our lifetimes. Some suggest that, as with the Pilgrims and countless immigrants from around the world, it might one day be necessary for American conservatives to flee to a new homeland where they can live in freedom and security.

The thought of becoming an American refugee made me wonder where a conservative, freedom loving American could emigrate to in the event that America ceases to be a conservative, free country. There is no shortage of viable alternatives to which Clinton and the Hollywood leftists to flee, but there are precious few beacons of liberty and economic freedom left in the world.

There are several things that an expatriated American conservative would need to look for in a host country. The ideal country would have broad economic freedom. This would include low tax rates and a small, unobtrusive government. It would value and protect the freedom of religion and the freedom of speech. The ideal candidate would also be founded upon ideals similar to those of our Founding Fathers.

A good homeland would also have to guarantee security. It would have to be large and powerful enough to deter attacks from terrorists as well as other nations. A strong economic system could be a tempting target. Security would also include the right to self-protection and safety from crime. Constitutional provisions should guarantee security and protection from the government itself.

A good place to start looking might be the Index of Economic Freedom [2]. This list ranks 179 world countries on the basis of how free their economic systems are. The United States now ranks as “mostly free” instead of “free” and is at the number eight position on the list… just behind Canada (Clinton’s choice!). Hong Kong and Singapore are the top two countries in the world with respect to having free economies. They are followed by Australia and New Zealand at three and four. Two European countries, Ireland and Switzerland placed fifth and sixth. Behind the US, Denmark and Chile round out the top ten. Of the top ten, only Switzerland and New Zealand became more free last year. The US became less free by the largest margin of the top ten countries.

It is important to note that this list includes only economic freedoms. Additionally, both Hong Kong and Singapore are rated only “partly free” by Freedom House [8].

Additionally, Australia and Canada have very restrictive gun control laws [3, 4]. Although some states and cities in the US all but ban guns, after the Supreme Court’s Heller decision, the trend here is toward more freedom. Both countries also have politically correct laws that restrict freedom of speech [5]. It might be illegal, or at least a tort, to write a blog condemning Islamic terrorism or to speak out against gay marriage. The US has some laws against hate crimes that chill free speech and leftist special interest groups have been known to harass and intimidate people that they don’t agree with, but by and large, speech is still free in the US.

I would rule out Hong Kong because of its proximity to the People’s Republic of (Red) China. It is actually now a part of China, although it remains politically separate. Similarly, Singapore is too small to defend itself without outside help (which would presumably come from the US or Australia). Likewise, Ireland and New Zealand would be dependent upon other nations in an emergency.

Switzerland is an interesting option. Nestled in the Alps, the Swiss have a long tradition of independence and financial freedom. Throughout both world wars, the Swiss maintained an armed neutrality while other nations were gobbled up around them. Swiss independence is largely due to its well-trained civilian militia (as well as its utility as a money launderer for despotic regimes such as the Nazis). Nevertheless, Switzerland could not withstand a determined foe indefinitely and gun ownership for citizens not in the militia is heavily restricted [6]. Plus, an American moving to Switzerland would most likely have to learn German.

What about other countries not in the top ten? Macedonia (56) and Montenegro (68) both made dramatic gains, but were still far enough down the list to be listed as only moderately free. The Caribbean has beautiful scenery and a laid-back lifestyle, but none of these island nations even crack the top twenty on the freedom index. The Middle East, Asia and Africa hold very few countries that could be considered free and prosperous.

Mexico is not far from home and Mexican food is popular in the US. It might not take a lot of dollars to live very well there, but they only rank moderately free at number 41. Most of the factors in the rankings are improving in Mexico, but there are other factors to consider as well. Even though Spanish is easy to learn, Mexico is undergoing on a crisis with drug cartels and corruption. This is seen through its dismal 89th place finish on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index [7].

Interestingly enough, many of the top finishers on the Index of Economic Freedom also did well on the Corruption Perceptions Index. New Zealand placed first on the CPI. Denmark, Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, and Canada were also in the top ten for both lists. The United States placed 18th.

Another country that many conservatives are drawn to is Israel. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It is listed as “free” on the Freedom House Map of Freedom [8] even though liberal activists do not consider it as such. In reality, Arab Israelis have almost exactly the same rights as Jewish Israelis and freedom of religion is respected in spite of the fact that many of them may not be loyal to the country. Israel ranked 32 on the CPI and 44 on the economic freedom index. Israel’s gun laws are restrictive [9] , perhaps out of necessity due to the proximity of millions of people who want to kill as many Jews and Israelis as possible. According to George Gilder’s The Israel Test [10], Israel is moving to an even freer capitalist economy, which will hopefully lead to increased transparency and freedom. Nevertheless, Israel is remarkably free and prosperous for a nation that is under almost constant attack.

Israel is also relatively secure. Suicide bombings and terror attacks have declined since the construction of a defensive wall. The combined forces of its Arab neighbors have been unable to conquer it since 1948. The next test will likely come soon as Iran grows closer to developing a nuclear weapon.

With respect to religious freedom, most nations that score well on the economic freedom index and the CPI also seem to do well with religion. According to Voice of the Martyrs [11], most religiously restrictive nations are found in the Muslim world and communist nations such as Cuba, China, and Vietnam. The United States is still one of the most Christian nations in the world however, since many of the other Christian nations have forsaken their religious heritage.

When religion is thrown into the mix, a surprise contender becomes South Korea. Approximately one quarter to one third of South Koreans are Christian and constitute the largest religious demographic in the country [12, 13]. South Korea also rates as “free” by Freedom House, 31st in economic freedom, and 39th in corruption perceptions. On the down side, their closest neighbor is North Korea. North Korea, of course, is a starving communist state run by a madman who has nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. And as for the gun laws, don’t even ask.

A fine point that is often missed is that many or most of the countries rated as free, do not have the constitutional protections that we enjoy in the United States. Their freedoms are deemed to be granted by the government as opposed to our belief that we all men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. What the government grants, the government can take away.

We are left with the conclusion that the United States is a unique blend of freedom and security. The precise mixture has not been replicated anywhere else on earth. Perhaps this explains why novelist Ayn Rand was forced to have the capitalists of Atlas Shrugged create Galt’s Gulch as a secret refuge for freedom as opposed to fleeing abroad.

We also must realize that if we lose American freedom there is no other place on earth where we can find the unique mix of American freedom. As Abraham Lincoln wrote, “we shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth” [14]. With a return to the principles of our Founding Fathers and the Constitution, we can survive this crisis and, as Ronald Reagan said, “With our eyes fixed on the future, but recognizing the realities of today...we will achieve our destiny to be as a shining city on a hill for all mankind to see” [15].


Chicago IL
February 16, 2009

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