The eighties were such a different time. The Soviet Union was a thing. The Republicans were the party of fiscal restraint. Concorde was losing money at almost three times the speed of sound and America had reuseable spaceships. The North American economy was booming and all Europeans dreamed of was a “green card” or, failing that, a card of whatever colour a Canadian work visa is. Anything to escape the economic hellscape that was Western Europe.
The only people who migrated the other way were itinerant communists and burned out executives who sold their houses to buy a Spanish fishing boat or the fabulously wealthy. Maybe the occasional hockey player who couldn’t make it out of the farm team but could captain a top-rung side in the Italian league.
That’s all changed. Europe’s economy has been catching up rapidly since then and anomalies like Greece are being well matched by self-inflicted wounds in the US and in any case in the long run they’re just going to put Germany more firmly in the driver’s seat where, let’s be honest, they belong.
I don’t actually know anyone anymore who seriously wants to move to North America. When I first got here that was pretty much the default topic of conversation but while it still comes up occasionally it’s typically more about the quality of skiing than of life. Times are good here and they’re good in a way that’s built to last — socialist good. While the visionaries were quietly introducing free-market reforms disguised as more short-sighted goals like “peace” public policy on mainland Europe has remained resolutely left-wing. The result has been the historic coinciding of economic success with societies that are mainly structured for the greater good. It’s not perfect and it never will be but that’s at least what it’s aiming for.
I appear to have been part of a tide. I work with many North Americans — I’m in France at the moment so mostly Canadians — and they’re here for good. And they’re not making sacrifices and waiting tables and living in tiny apartments. They’re living well and working in IT and engineering and living in tiny apartments. Some came over for a while, sent by the American head office, and just stayed. Others married a European and where ten years ago that would have meant starting a family in Toronto these days it means, on balance, preferring to raise kids in an environment of multiple languages and cultures and opportunity (that still sounds like Toronto but I mean Europe). Still others are, like me, economic refugees and they’re doing better here than they could hope to in the relatively insular North American marketplace.
Which is the intangible edge granted an economic migrant. It wasn’t part of the plan (there was no plan) but the vastness of the European market has turned out to be an advantage I hadn’t anticipated. An American can elect to leave his home town to take a job in New York but it’s a big deal. Economic migrants have no roots and no loyalties and not a lot of friends and I’m as happy taking on a two-month project in Milan as I am extending my contract in London and opportunity is multiplied in a way that can’t really happen at “home”.
Personally I welcome the global economy and the sooner I can start looking at opportunities in Africa and India and China the better. It’s only occurring to me now, but perhaps one day when the US catches up to European social standards I can start looking again to the west.