“I never thought in my life I’d see my grandchildren going to China for work,” my wife’s grandfather spoke.
Throughout most of his lifetime China was a poor country, Americans moving there for a better life was inconceivable. Chinese people went to the USA for work, not the other way around. Now, two of his six grandchildren have gone off to China for employment. They are not alone, there are anywhere from 600,000 to a million expats residing in this rising East Asian country alone, and millions more spread around the region. As far as the data can tell, there are over 6 million Americans living abroad.
The economic epicenter of the world is shifting. Some of the places that were backwaters when I was a kid are now the center of the world today. This is normal. The spoils of this earth are rarely sedentary, they move around the globe like the beam of a flashlight slowly moving across a dark room. To keep employed, in business, making money, requisitioning resources we need to keep moving to where the light is. We need to keep chasing boomtowns.
If you want to catch fish you wouldn’t throw your line out into the river standing side by side a dozen other fishermen. No, you would walk upstream, meander down narrow paths, and get to that little eddy the crowd doesn’t yet know exists or is unwilling to walk to.
My home country is arriving at its apex — a position it will likely remain at for a long time from now — and has a massive educated class along with virtual armies of highly skilled foreign workers at its disposal. The competition for high quality work is getting stiff. America is like the place on the river where the fishermen stand eave to eave, their lines getting tangled, and only the best and the lucky catching the big fish because of the crowd. So many Americans have found it wise to abandon the frenzy and seek out smaller fishing holes abroad, where the fish are hungrier and the fishermen far fewer.
The only security that someone can have is the ability to move across a country or across the world at a moment’s notice, ever ready to chase the next opportunity or escape from an impending economic downfall. This has always been the case: chasing resources is an ancient occupation for humans.
People move. We’ve always been a species that has migrated with the herds, with the seasons, towards where the grass is a little greener. We leave over-sapped pastures and find untapped resources. We explore, find, exploit. We’re on a perpetual hunt to not just live, but live better. This is the story that has shaped our world, that has written our history. This will never change.
Imagine our forebears refusing to migrate with the caribou or just deciding to hang out in some river valley that had long been over-exploited. They probably would have died out fast, not passing on their genetic junk to succeeding generations. What we did get was the genetic material of those who moved. Successful groups of humans have never waited for opportunity to come to them, they have always traveled towards opportunity.
My sister had to move from New York to bumfuck Montana to find a job in her profession. Her (now former) husband had to convert to working remotely so they could make the change. She has now been hired full time with a big raise, and he just signed onto a new job paying 110k per year. They did well, but they had to move, they had to adapt. If my sister stayed where she was she would have been another Starbucks barista with a useless masters degree.
My wife is a Montessori teacher. She chose the profession because of the fact that’s currently in high demand globally. She can now show up on the shores of pretty much any moderately developed country and find a relatively high paying job almost immediately. This didn’t happen by accident: she looked at the world before her, evaluated her creds and abilities, and calculated a path forward. Though she didn’t head off into the Himalaya, make camp, and then complain about how nobody is hiring Montessori teachers out there. No, she went to the urban spheres of China, where what she does is highly sought by employers who are willing to pay her a good salary.
I listen to people complaining about how there’s no jobs where they live, as though it is their inherent right to have opportunity showered upon them wherever they decide to root themselves. They seem to expect politicians, government agencies, and corporations to present a livelihood to them, to owe them a living. It’s “damn Obama-nomics” why there’s no work, not the fact that they decided to keep living in a quasi-abandoned, factory-less factory town.
When the Great Lakes was a booming manufacturing region people from all over the world moved into their cities. Buffalo was inhabited as though a dozen ethnic armies met up together and made their respective camps. There was the Irish district, the Italian section, a big Polish neighborhood, a Russian area, and sections that were occupied by blacks from the south. For a while it was the most culturally segregated city in the world, and the street names still reflect this today. But there was work for everybody, the different ethnicities got along, the factories were rocking, everybody was making money, and the place was incredibly prosperous. It was the quintessential boomtown.
Then the factories began shutting down and the place began its descent. The people scattered. Many went south to work in the emerging markets there. There are entire Buffalo neighborhoods scattered through the Carolinas. Though the old Polish district still has Polish named streets, very few ethnic Poles still live there; the Irish area is being overrun with other ethnicities. Massive parts of the city and some of its near suburbs are now total ghost towns — the houses are condemned and falling into ruins. We talk of the travesty when discussing places like Buffalo, Flint, or Detroit, but there is no travesty, it’s normal: places boom then die.
If you want to get a job, go to where the jobs are. Go to where the money overflows, go to where whatever it is that you do is in demand, and reap a good living from the spill over. The economic epicenters of the world are always in flux, always shifting, always moving. Go to these places, get somewhere, live well. Keep chasing.