Why do Americans go abroad to live? Amidst all the news reports about U.S. citizens giving up their passports, getting their Social Security payments sent abroad, and other expat-oriented news, it’s one issue that’s often overlooked.
One thing’s absolutely certain: Whatever the reason for moving overseas, everyone who goes is hoping that things will be better over there. People seek a lower cost of living, a better climate, fewer restrictions on their financial freedom, and so on. Nobody wants things to be worse in their chosen area(s) of emphasis, which is the risk of expatriation when you don’t do the proper research.
For this reason, in my article on Monday, I argued that it’s important to pay attention to the economic trajectory prospective countries are on — specifically, whether the workforce is becoming more settled or not. Countries with high proportions of informally-employed, struggling workers tend to be unstable.
The same thing applies to civil liberties … as recent events in France clearly illustrate.
Liberté? Pas toujours
We Americans don’t like to be told what we’re allowed to say, write or think. I know I don’t. With some worrying exceptions, we usually aren’t.
Sure, you may suffer consequences if you say things the wrong people dislike, and you will bring attention to yourself if you criticize the powers that be, but generally we respect the right to free expression. It’s baked into our DNA as the first modern democratic republic, where sovereignty derives from the citizens. (Whether this will last, time will tell.)
Not so in Europe. Although the continent is typically seen as a bastion of social liberalism and laissez-faire attitudes, its history of respect for individual rights is relatively short. Before World War II, all of the major nations of Europe retained strong elements of their absolutist, feudal past. Unlike the U.S., where (most) individual citizens were seen as having sovereign rights that overrode those of society at large, European countries continued to think and act in ways that reflected the assumption that the nation and its needs were always more important than those of mere individuals.
This was so even in France, cradle of the democratic revolutions that swept the continent for the next century or so. Even under the Third Republic of 1870 to 1940, France did not allow unfettered liberty of speech and conscience. The Law on the Freedom of the Press of 29 July 1881, which remains in effect, contained significant restrictions on the right of citizens to criticize each other and government. “Press offenses” included “outraging public morals” and insulting high-ranking public officials including the President of the Republic, heads of foreign states and ambassadors.
Given that history, it is perhaps no surprise that La Belle France has responded to recent acts of terrorism with draconian restrictions on free speech that exceed anything we’ve seen in the U.S. so far. By a vote of 438 to 86, with 42 abstentions in the National Assembly, France has given its security services the power to tap phone calls and read emails, plug “black boxes” directly into networks and servers owned by telecom and internet operators to monitor digital traffic, and monitor the online activity of any individual.
Sacrificing Freedom for Security, Eurostyle
The new French law provides for an independent commission that can review surveillance activities, but not block them. The prime minister will decide who the spies will target. If they like, French intelligence can decide to go ahead without permission.
Unsurprisingly, the opposition, the National Front party, resisted the bill, fearing its members could become targets on “national security” grounds. One protester held up a sign outside the National Assembly saying “What if Pétain had the same tools?” in reference to the French head of state who collaborated with the Nazis during the Second World War.
But it isn’t just the French who are doing the terrorists’ dirty work for them by eliminating the very liberties that supposedly motivate them to jihad.
In Britain, David Cameron has basically gone insane, proposing a range of severe restrictions on civil liberties. He essentially says that individual rights don’t matter — what’s important, apparently, is to have the correct ‘values’: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: As long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values.” Cameron wants the power of the state unleashed to enforce his preferred values on everyone.
Hitler couldn’t have said it better. In fact, he did: “The National Government will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built up. There is a road to freedom. Its milestones are Obedience, Endeavor, Honesty, Order, Cleanliness, Sobriety, Truthfulness, Sacrifice, and love of the Fatherland.”
Look Before You Leap
Such issues might not matter to some people. But I for one would not want to plant my personal flag in a country that’s headed in a direction dictated by the French National Assembly or David Cameron. That would be going from the frying pan into the proverbial fire.
This is the risk of expatriation without doing your research: You can go from bad to worse. And countries that disrespect the rights of their citizens usually get worse over time … on matters like taxation and financial freedom, for example.
If and when you decide to move abroad, look for genuine liberté, egalité, et fraternité … not the fraud being dished up in the Old Country.
Offshore and Asset Protection Editor