The good advice (original title: Le bon conseil), by Jean-Baptiste Madou.
There are many considerations here: one’s age, occupation, income, family status, foreign language abilities, potential destination, etc. Clearly moving to Central Africa would be unwise but what about moving to a country notably better than the US in terms of happiness? One could consult the UN’s World Happiness Report where the US was ranked #17 and move to a happier country like Denmark, Norway, or Sweden. Or one might move to one of the most democratic countries as rated by the Democracy Index. (For more see my best countries list.)
But it isn’t that simple. If one didn’t speak the language of the destination country then one would be isolated after moving there. So for our purposes let’s consider English-speaking developed countries, the kind that a US citizen would most likely consider like Canada, England, Ireland, Australia, or New Zealand. Suppose, for example, that you were a young married couple with a newborn considering such a move and you could get a job transfer to one of these countries. Would it be wise to do so?
In some respects, it obviously would. The chances your child would be the victim of sexual assault, gun violence, or incarceration would drop dramatically. If you were concerned about economic equality or a strong social safety net, all of the above countries would be more aligned with your values than in the USA’s “winner-take-all” society. Still, suppose you had to leave an extended family in the move? Would it be worth it then?
Consider this thought experiment. Suppose you lived in one of the worst countries in the world surrounded by a loving family. Now suppose you had the chance to move to Denmark, the world’s happiest country in the 2014 survey, where you had a good job waiting. Suppose also that you spoke Danish fluently. In that case, moving to Denmark is an obvious choice, and your loved ones would likely encourage you to move.
Now suppose you had the choice of staying in a country with your loved ones or moving to a country you thought was a bit better to live in, but to which your extended family could not move. In that case, most would probably stay put. The benefits of family support would probably outweigh moving to a slightly better country. Of course, this might depend on how often you could see your extended family, how much they help, etc. If you could see them often and they provide crucial support, it makes less sense to move than if the opposite is the case.
Still any calculations on such matters depend on whether you are single, married, married with children, etc. For example, if one has no family, then the choice is straightforward— go to the best place that satisfies your other criteria. But if one is married with children and relies on family support, then obviously dthat must be considered in the equation.
Yet all of this depends too on your best estimate of a country’s future. In the case of the USA, increasing social corruption and political dysfunction (primarily of the Republican party) make the future seem bleak to me but, on the other hand, it is nearly impossible to predict future trends. In the end, we make life’s decisions with imperfect information; that is the state of the world that we must accept. And all advice is imperfect too.
With that caveat in mind, I would advise all young people (and others as well) to seriously consider emigrating from the US if they have the chance, especially if all or some of their loved ones could accompany them. After observing trends over the last 50 years, I believe America will increasingly become a worse place to live, except (possibly) for the very wealthy. But even they suffer from living in a country with high levels of violence, social instability caused by wealth inequality, the hatred of the US by others around the world, our denigration of science and other expertise, and our increasingly lax environmental regulations which put us all at risk. To have a better life, seriously consider moving.
Note – This essay originally appeared on this blog in January 2014 and has been updated multiple times.
(Update Jan 20, 2021 – These concerns have been slightly lessened with the election of competent, moral leadership in the USA. However, the damage done over the last 40 years by Republicans will take decades to reverse. For more see “The Best Countries to Live In.”)
(Update Jan 4, 2021 – The current US president, and many members of his party’s attempt to ignore the will of the people after losing an election by more than 7 million votes—and thereby engineer an autocoup—foretells extreme danger in the USA. If members of that party control both the House and the Senate in the future they may be able to invalidate any presidential election results they don’t like. This would lead to tyranny. For more see “The Best Countries to Live In.”)
(Update April 8, 2020 – The Republican party-led government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic reveals the danger we face with government in the hands of those who don’t believe in it. I urge my readers, especially those with young children, to strongly consider leaving the USA. For more see “The Best Countries to Live In.”)
(Update November 11, 2019 – We are on the verge of violence and fascism. Strongly consider leaving the USA. For more see my best countries list.)
(Update July 21, 2019 – The situation is getting worse. I encourage anyone with the means to seriously consider leaving the country.)
(Update June 30, 2018 – This situation is getting progressively worse. The fascism/
authoritarianism in America is increasingly apparent. The executive and judicial branches are merging and if control of the legislative branch remains with the Republicans then the final checks on the corruption and cruelty of the tyrants will be gone. I urge all young readers to either fight the oppression or seriously consider moving from the USA.)
(Update 2017 – There is now more reason than ever to leave the USA. I would encourage all my readers with the means to consider this carefully, subject to the caveats below. And if the Mueller investigation is undermined or ignored, as I’m assuming it will, then the rule of law will have been undermined. And that would be the real canary in the coal mine.)