The Nation State

Where is the best place to live?

This is a popular question I’ve received over the years.

It makes sense, because if you feel like you have one life to live, then it would be nice to live in, move towards, or at least dream of that optimal place….

To make this more interesting, just pretend that you can get any citizenship, have no ties, and can get up and move easily.

The answer to this “best” question is found easier in another question: What do you value?

In my early twenties snowboarding was my center point; Lake Tahoe, CA and the Swiss Alps were my best places.  Now, I’d rather live in San Francisco because stimulating conversations and authentic Vietnamese food doesn’t originate from tall pine trees.

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Lake Tahoe, CA

So the “best” is difficult to determine, since it’s so case specific.

Do you desire predictable employment or entrepreneurship? Is cultural connectivity important? Do you like space?  What level of safety do you need? Do you have a proactive or reactive mindset? Do you value vacation time? Architecture? Weather?

Many of these criteria vary dramatically within a country.

In America it’s possible to live toxic 60-hour workweeks on Wall St. that includes railing lines of coke and hookers, or one can live a stoned-out existence in a mountain cabin in Northern California petting animals.

To keep this post shorter than the 1200-paged Atlas Shrugged, I’m going to speak in the language of countries/continents, and work within generalizations.

If you want to work a “normal” job, say a bank teller, municipality worker, secretary, etc., the existence in Western Europe might be your best place.

Normally a block of vacation time is considered a human right (instead of the average 2-week insanity American workers are given).  Health insurance isn’t an ambiguous burden like the U.S., college is generally cheaper, and job security is much higher (once you have a job).

You’ll most likely have the opportunity to walk to a café and drink something real near architecture that isn’t a structure focused around a minimart… perhaps you’ll actually have the time to embrace a meaningful conversation that isn’t on the “to go” menu.

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But don’t expect to park your car anywhere near the café.

If you’re an entrepreneur, France is a horrendous place to be… payroll taxes are insane, taxes in general are insane.

If you make any real money, the French government will cut off your limbs, hold you captive in a dungeon with small rations of Roquefort cheese, and force you to watch reruns of the Tour de France in black and white. The ability to fire poorly performing workers is extremely difficult, and long vacation times make running a business a nightmare.

France is for: beauty, architecture, cheese, wine, culture….

If you’re in Norway, then your retirement is more of a reality than a shaky Social Security Trust Fund. State-run oil companies profits are poured back into their citizen’s pensions.  The government is solvent, and not desperately broke like most Western governments.

The Norwegian government actually does this crazy thing where they take in more money in revenues than they spend in expenditures.

But in Norway you will freeze; if you love salmon you will learn to hate it… really how much salmon prepared in how many different ways can one handle?  And for breakfast again?

If you seek social and cultural cohesion then much of the Islamic world is a good place to be (if it’s not at war).  But then you might deal with insane inflation, (Iran)…, or insane boredom, (Saudi Arabia).   The M.E. is the nucleus of fragility in the world… one crooked sound bite from a politician can send things screaming sideways the next day, including bread prices.

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Tehran, Iran

If you want a warm beach and palm trees then the Philippines or Indonesia are good options… just figure out a way to make dollars, because the average salary in the local currencies is dismal.

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The beaches in the Philippines are dreamy.

And if you’re into drugs, don’t bring them with you to Indonesia!

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If you want to create something in an optimistic and forward-thinking environment then the U.S. is attractive.  The U.S. and especially the west coast is a place where your family name is much less important than your idea and ability.

This is a nice bonus to those who didn’t grow up in some sort of aristocratic dynasty.

If you want to purchase the latest Apple product for less than a new car, then the U.S. is boss.

And if you want to live in a place where all the animals of the zoo are in one cage—and sort of get along—then the U.S. is good for this too.

But for all of its influences from around the world… America is very much an island.  It influences itself through its own: sports, cinema, music, pop culture, and ideology.  This can be stifling if you’re a person who loves being connected to the world.  And it takes a lot of jet fuel to get to the rest of the world.

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Canada is cool if you like a lot about the States but want to mellow down the aggressiveness and soften the edges. It’s a temperate and more humbled place, but the weather is anything but… Moscow has a better climate than most of Canada. Hockey is king.

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My 7-year-old nephew Max blocking grownup slap shots in Montreal.

If you feel like the world is rushing by and you want more time in your human experience… then many countries in Africa are good places to be. Just don’t try to do anything like get involved with politics, get from point A to B in any reasonable timeframe, or find a decent meal at a restaurant in the countryside.

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My friend Gavin post meal in the Ugandan countryside… trying to figure out what he just consumed.

If you enjoy the fire and spice of life, then much of Latin America is attractive… if dancing into the night and igniting the soul is your thing. But in the big cities, the fire may also come in the form or a bullet exiting the barrel of a gun, so be cautious of the fire (okay, it’s not all that bad).

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We didn’t start this fire… it was a celebration.

China—from what I’ve experienced—is a tough existence.  Brutal social dynamics in the cities, heavy stress, pushy behavior in lines, a serious gender imbalance, bad air, and a firm government that is fearful of a cultural and ethnic jigsaw puzzle falling apart.

But if you’re old, you just might get some respect, unlike the youth-centric cultures of the West.

England has a lot of things going for it, diversity (in the cities), excellent dry humor, and a useful geographic position if you like travel… London is home to the world and you can fly to roughly 40 different countries in about the time it takes to watch a long movie.  But the weather is soggy, and the English on average piss and moan a bit much.

If you feel like the world is going down and we’re all screwed, then New Zealand is a solid go to.

But in the end none of this really matters. Instead, surround yourself with awesome people, and do what you enjoy and love. This human existence is short.

Just don’t make a lot of money in France… and don’t bring drugs to Indonesia!