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The Real "Decoupling" That Deserves Your Attention


The real "decoupling" of note is the decoupling of more and more Americans from America -- not those seeking citizenship in other countries, but rather those looking to live and work elsewhere.


The socio-political mess in the US could be called surreal, although that is much too sophisticated a word for it. Infantile, absurd, ridiculous...there are so many substitutes that speak the truth more clearly.

In past essays at Minyanville, I have discussed the "decoupling" of non-US economies from the US economy (see: Global Decoupling Underway and A Look Back on the Decoupling Debate). I pointed out that it is a process, not an event, something that is underway and continuing. To debate whether it has "occurred" or not is a waste of time. It is occurring and will continue until there is a good reason otherwise. But to refer only to the economy is too limited a use of the term.

As far as I am concerned, the real "decoupling" of note is the decoupling of more and more Americans from America. I am not speaking of those who are seeking citizenship elsewhere, the migrants, but those who are leaving to live and work elsewhere, the relocators. They are by far the greatest in number, but they are the least recognized.

(See also: Bye American: Flaccid Economy Drives U.S. Residents Abroad)

Since 2005, my firm and I have contracted with IBOPE-Zogby (formerly Zogby International) to survey statistically-valid samples of the American people on the subject of relocation outside the US on nine occasions. The survey was structured to remove those relocating for reasons of government service, either civilian or military, or as a result of private sector employment. We were solely interested in those voluntarily relocating by their own decision. We have several different levels of interest and commitment to relocation, but I will focus on only one group today: those who have decided to relocate and have moved beyond interest to the planning stage.

Our seventh survey in mid-2007 before "sub-prime" became a household term found the number to be consistent with the average of the prior six surveys. An eighth survey in 2009 demonstrated a substantial drop-off, unsurprisingly. Our ninth survey in 2011 shows something else. If a picture is worth a thousand words, here is a picture.

Back in 2007, that 1.4% was equivalent to roughly 1.6 million households, more than 3 million Americans. I felt the results were sufficiently substantial to bring them to the attention of the wider investment community in an article for Barron's in September of 2007 followed by an interview with Erin Burnett, then at CNBC's Street Signs.

They met with passing interest in the US. Follow-up requests for information and interviews came primarily from Asia, somewhat to my surprise. But most Americans apparently couldn't come to grips with the idea that any significant number of their fellow citizens would actually pack up and move somewhere else.

The 2011 survey results came as a complete surprise. If the drop-off in 2009 resulted from a loss of financial resources that made relocation impossible or simply too risky, I saw no reason to expect that critical factor to have changed in the two years following. I expected a rise from the lows of 2009 perhaps, but nothing impressive. I came very, very close to not commissioning the survey at all, but I finally went ahead with it.

You can imagine the expression on my face when I first saw the new results; 2.5% meant close to 3 million households and more than 6 million individuals, nearly 80% more than in 2007 and triple the results of 2009. It was a "new high" by a very wide margin.

If I included above those who were relocating for reasons of service to the public and private sectors, the results would be higher, but not as instructive. And if I had included those who were "seriously interested and likely to relocate" from our surveys, the results would have been much more dramatic, but there is no need for additional drama.

If I was surprised at these results, I had a lot more to learn as I looked at the changes in the various characteristics of those planning to relocate.

We provide considerably more detail at a special non-commercial website (no ads, no sales, no donations), should you be interested. I have told my friends that this is my "Hail Mary pass" -- one last attempt to bring this to the attention of the American public. You see, there is no leader, no protest movement, no organized effort underway in support of relocation. It is the result of millions of individual decisions taken independently. It is no surprise that it goes ignored, but it deserves more attention.

At a time of great financial stress when the US seems so self-absorbed with its own self-inflicted wounds, I would argue that the decision to pack your bags, sell your home (if you have one) for what you can get, and set off to live in a foreign nation is not lightly taken. I would further argue that many of these people are "risk-takers," the sort of people who challenge the status quo and help move a nation forward.

Why are they doing this? I am a relocator myself, an American citizen residing in Panama, one of more than 100 nations that our surveys show attract American relocators. From the perspective of an American living outside the Old World of the North Atlantic, the debacle underway in the US and Europe is reason enough.

Napoleon summed it up quite well in 1812 in a remark to the Polish ambassador following the French retreat from Moscow, "Du sublime au ridicule il n'y a qu'un pas." You probably will recognize the English translation, "From the sublime to the ridiculous is only one step." I believe we have taken that step in the US and it has not gone unnoticed by our own citizens.

Yes, there is a slow but sure decoupling underway between the US and "the rest" economically, but when all is said and done, the decoupling that is the most important for America may well be the one above.

See more from Bob Adams at America Wave.

Twitter: @AmericaWave

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