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The Departure: A Conservative Exodus to Costa Rica?

Dallas Morning News columnist Rod Dreher may have to fly to Costa Rica if he wants to see some of his friends.

In one of his recent blogs, Dreher told of multiple people discussing potential moves to Costa Rica if things go downhill. These aren’t people who are eager to join Paulville. Rather, these are normal, middle-class conservatives who are considering moving to Costa Rica if the country goes downhill under President Obama.

One of the commenters on Dreher’s blog asked if this was not unlike liberals throwing a fit in 2004 and threatening to leave if Bush won. Not exactly. The left’s threat was always more of a threat to hold its breath if it didn’t get its way. The concerns of Dreher’s friends seem to have little to do with the election and far more to do with the results of Obama’s policies. So all this talk of leaving doesn’t remind me of Alec Baldwin’s threat to deprive our nation of his presence. Instead, it reminds me of a white Zimbabwean I recently met at a writer’s conference. She spoke with a longing for home, a love of a place thousands of miles away that she could only picture in her memories. Zimbabwe is not a place  where one is able to prosper and thrive. At this time, many people wonder if the same thing could happen in America.

How legitimate is the concern? Senator Judd Gregg (R-NH), Obama’s second choice to head up the Commerce Department, pronounced a single word this Sunday which ought to give us all pause. Bankrupt.

The End of Opportunity

Gregg’s view that Obama’s budget will bankrupt America is backed up by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, which finds Obama’s scenario far too rosy and projects the debt will rise $2.3 trillion more than Obama projects, leading to deficits between four and five percent of the GDP for each of the next 10 years. By the end of 2019, America’s debt will be more than 82% of  the GDP, a rate that Senator Gregg describes as in line with banana republics.

What this scenario introduces is a house of horrors atmosphere that would make the Joker cringe. When this current deflation ends, the full cost of inflationary spending will come home to roost with the potential for hyperinflation with an ever-increasing debt. If, as Gregg has said, the U.S. begins to run out of willing lenders, it will lead to back-breaking taxes and extremely painful cuts in government spending. The combination of high taxes and hyperinflation would lead to high poverty, possibly social unrest, civil war, and heightened risk of a foreign terrorist attack.

If such a scenario develops, will people leave the country? Yes. America is a country made up of people whose ancestors came here in search of opportunity for themselves and their families. As the opportunity to succeed vanishes, it’s inevitable that some people will leave in search of places where they can achieve success, rather than spending the majority of their working time paying off wasteful politicians’ credit cards.

Fantasy Country

Will America have to worry about losing its best and its brightest to Costa Rica? The Heritage Foundation suggests some more obvious choices in its 2009 Economic Freedom Index. Five English speaking — or at the very least English friendly — countries rank ahead of the United States (Hong Kong, Singapore, Australia, Ireland, and New Zealand). Right behind the U.S. is Canada, Denmark, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and Chile. Should the U.S. continue its slouch towards socialism, all of these would be likely places for some of America’s best and brightest to land in the event of economic collapse.

Costa Rica? Not so much. Costa Rica is ranked #46 on the Economic Freedom Index. Costa Rica already has national health care and is working towards being carbon neutral. While it has small government and lower taxes than the U.S., good luck opening a business or getting a hearing in court in a reasonable amount of time. Corruption is a big problem in Costa Rica, with Heritage proclaiming, “The government does not emphasize enforcement of anti-corruption laws, regulations, and penalties. Some foreign firms have complained of corruption in the administration of public tenders.”

How are Americans emigrating to Costa Rica treated? Reports one author:

Costa Rica is touted as a bargain, but I was surprised by how expensive it is. Expatriates have told me there are two economies: one for Ticos (Costa Ricans) and the other for gringos (expatriates). Gringos are charged considerably more for products and services.

Have people who are thinking about Costa Rica even researched the country they’re moving to? Or do they just think that if they’re going to be rolled in a banana republic, they can at least move to one where the weather’s nice?

The Downside

The argument for staying in America cannot be made with reason or logic, but for most of us it’s innate. Every nation, no matter how economically free, has its downside. Hong Kong may enjoy great freedom now, but all it takes is a change of heart in Beijing to upset the whole apple cart. Not only is Singapore overcrowded, it restricts rights we take for granted in America such as freedom of speech. Australia has a top marginal tax rate of 45% and state governments have prosecuted Christians who have made critical statements about Islam. New Zealand’s government spends 41% of its GDP. Other than a high personal income tax rate, there’s a lot to like about Ireland, but that country really doesn’t want immigrants.

Perhaps it would make good financial sense to abandon ship, but emotionally, it’s just not an option for most of us. While there are nations with good policies out there, there is no country in the world like the U.S.A.  If one believes in the ideals of the American experiment, the most likely fate I can imagine for a disgruntled expatriate is wandering the globe in exile, never truly being at home no matter how far they roam.

Rather than dreaming of escape to a non-existent Central American fantasy land, it’s time to realize that America is irreplaceable and worth fighting for with every ounce of determination. The title of this piece was inspired by a 1970 episode of Dragnet, in which Joe Friday rounds up a group of teenagers plotting to start their own country on an island off the coast of California. He gives them straightforward advice that conservatives would do well to consider today:

Don’t try to build a new country. Make this one work. It has for over four hundred years; and by the world’s standards, that’s hardly more than yesterday.