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I have a site, Gary North’s Specific Answers, where subscribers can post questions. I answer a lot of them. I have a lot of practical subscribers who also answer.
One of my site’s forums is “Safe Places Forum.”
Here is a question that was posted recently. I think a lot of people would like a correct answer.
Is there a place, anywhere, where a law abiding person can go? and live in quiet peace?
The questioner did not add the crucial question that economists are trained to ask: “At what price?”
At some price, the answer is easy: yes. But this price is higher than most Americans are willing to pay.
Almost any town under 6,000 people is safe and quiet.
Go to this site: www.City-Data.com. Click on any state. Then click the link for “Cities, towns, and villages in between 1000 and 6000 residents.” There will be lots of choices.
The page for each town has detailed statistics on crimes. You can compare these rates with national crimes per capita. In almost all cases, the rates will be lower.
One reason why these towns are still under 6,000 people is because they are so quiet. For two centuries, young people have left towns like these and headed for cities, where employment opportunities are better, educational opportunities are better, and marital opportunities are better.
What is happening on a gigantic scale in China and India has been happening in the West for two centuries. The vast majority of people have headed to cities.
Urban crime can be bad in the inner cities. But if we are talking about suburbs and bedroom communities, violent crime is low. How many people do you know where a close family member was murdered? The sense of crime is great because of the rule of media news: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Stories about violent crime attract readers. But the locations in which most middle-class people live are low-crimes areas in a way that the world would have regarded as utopian in 1800. Older Americans compare our with the world of 1960, which was far more crime-free than today. But in the grand sweep of things, modern middle-class living is safe.
Is it quiet? It can be. People live in a digital world in which entertainment is close to free and is available day and night. As digits get cheaper and choices get larger, people do not have to leave their homes. This is a worldwide trend in technologically advanced societies.
In the suburbs, people live isolated lives geographically. This is why Facebook has been a sensation. Through digits, people establish community. It is called virtual community, but it is not virtual. It is real. When you can talk face-to-face (Skype), exchange ideas, post videos, and post photos, this is community. People can organize politically. They can develop social programs that can be implemented by local organizations.
In what way isn’t this real community? In what way is this less communal, for example, than a rural family without electricity in the United States in 1940?
Think of “Little House on the Prairie.” The weekly TV stories all assumed that there travel time was low. They went into town often. Also, it was never winter there. In winter, no one went very far in a wagon. There was little community. Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote a book on this: The Long Winter.
So, why don’t most Americans head for small towns? Because they don’t want to live there. Some people prefer to dream about living there.
ENGLISH-SPEAKING SAFE HAVENS
Immigrants must earn a living. How? This barrier puts a halt to most would-be emigrants most of the time. Only the very poor and the very rich leave their native lands for distant shores.
Americans could move to Canada and gain more safety and more quiet. But it’s cold in Canada, except in Vancouver. You might as well live in Point Roberts, that peculiar bit of American territory that is located south of Vancouver and is cut off from the mainland. There is no state income tax in Washington. My guess is that it will never be invaded by Canada. But there are not many jobs in Point Roberts.
Americans could move to New Zealand. They could move to Ireland. They could move to Scotland or England. Outside the cities, crime is low. But taxes in these countries are higher. The welfare state is more developed.
These countries don’t welcome oldsters with open arms. Old immigrants can get access to socialized medicine, but they paid in no taxes. This is why older immigrants need to deposit large amounts of money in local banks to get permanent visas. They are not given permanent status if they don’t.
They could move to a tax haven like the Bahamas. Crime would rise. Mainlanders get island fever. Then there is the mantra of the Caribbean: “No problem.” Nothing gets done fast, and little gets done right.
There is always the cost of cultural adjustment. People in foreign countries do things differently, such as driving on the wrong side of the street. Most people do not want to adjust, so they don’t become expatriates.
Then there is the problem of retirement income. Retirees get income in U.S. dollars. That has been profitable, but for how much longer? Will these retirement programs remain solvent?
LATIN AMERICAN SAFE PLACES
I have known people, all rich, who have bought homes in Latin America: Ecuador, Costa Rica, Panama, Nicaragua, and Argentina. Property can be cheap there. But the culture shock of moving permanently can be huge. Only one of the people I know has moved there year-round. They have multiple retreats and always at least one in the United States.
One of them seems to have dug in. He is rich beyond your wildest imagination and unknown to the public. He lives in Panama. He lives in a compound with very rich people and former senior government officials and generals. He has his own helicopter. He does not venture out of this compound except to fly to the airport in Panama City to fly to one of his other isolated villas around the world. You would have to learn a new language. You would be a lifetime gringo. You would be cut off from your family in the United States.
Hardly anyone makes a move like this. Hardly anyone ever will.
The biggest barrier to moving to a safe, quiet place is that most people have family members nearby. Grandchildren are major anchors. Grandchildren are a source of community that digital communications cannot establish.
Oldsters can follow the grandchildren. My wife and I did. Or they can stay put because that is where the grandchildren are.
This is why I think that most plans to depart for safer, greener pastures will not come to fruition.
Let’s say that parents sit down with the children who are the heaviest family anchor. Are the children concerned about safety and lifestyle? Is the breadwinner willing to take a cut in pay in order to buy peace and quiet? That’s the key: the willingness to suffer a loss of income for the sake of a major move.
The parents should show a willingness to move to a new area if the children do. If they are willing to move, this removes one of the anchors from the younger family. The grandparents will be around.
This reduces the risk of growing old with no close family members to help. Parents should factor this into their calculations. The thought of living in an assisted care unit a thousand miles from your children should concern anyone.
I face this situation. My mother is on the other side of the country. She is in an assisted care unit. It is a nice unit, but I cannot visit often. My father is dead. Virtually all of her peers are dead. She no longer can phone out: her memory is almost gone. It is not Alzheimer’s, but she can remember little.
I have a friend who has recently moved his mother, age 89, to an apartment close to him. She had been 700 miles away. She had spent her whole life in Pittsburgh. She had outlived her relatives. She had missed seeing her grandchildren grow up. It was best that she move. Now she must adjust to totally new surroundings.
This means that parents must be willing to make the move. They become dependent on the careers of their in-laws.
If the in-laws’ anchor is career-based, which is likely, then there is a possible strategy. It takes money, but not as much as you might think.
If the in-laws do not want to move, the parents can still do some something to reduce the risks to both families.
If the assumption is that there will be a broken economy coupled with turmoil close to where one or both of the families live, the parents can start looking for a small town close enough to the families to serve as a port in the storm in a major economic crisis.
I think a 90-minute radius is sufficient. Take a map and look at drive times. Is there an area that would provide safety and quiet in a crisis when unemployment is over 20%, prices are rising at 20%, and the in-laws are out of work?
In such a scenario, the two families can move to the new area. The parents don’t lose much, and the in-laws don’t either, given the new job situation.
If the parents locate such a place, they can visit on weekends to see what kinds of housing is available, and at what price. The ideal situation would be a pair of houses inside the city limits, but which have enough space in the back yards to plant gardens. There are neighbors to keep an eye on things.
Then the in-laws are brought in. Would they be willing to live there? If so, the parents can buy two properties as rental units. Then they rent out both units. This way, the income pays for the properties. There may be red ink for cash flow, but that becomes a safe haven investment. It probably will appreciate over time.
If the parents buy from distressed sellers through a short sale, or from a bank, the cost of getting in will be low. This takes a lot of the risk out of the deal. We are still in a real estate recession. There are deals out there.
If the children decide to move to a different state or region where one or both can get jobs, the parents can sell the houses and move closer to the in-laws. There is risk, but if the parents’ concern is turmoil, this strategy can solve the problem without too much loss.
If the crisis hits in full force, both families can move to the agreed-upon location. They can ask the renters to leave. The leases should be six-month leases. Price the rentals below market. This reduces vacancies.
A variation would be to buy a property out of town. It should have a water well. It should be legal for mobile homes. It’s possible to buy double-wide mobile homes for $25 per square foot. Put in concrete foundations for two homes. Put in septic tanks. Plant a few dozen fruit-bearing trees. Plant berries.
Work a deal with neighbors. Let them have two-thirds of the berries if they will do some weeding and keep an eye on things. They can save some fresh ones for you or else freeze them. Make the same deal for the fruit trees. The idea is to have a good relation with a local family.
Tell them that you plan to retire there pretty soon, but things have not worked out just yet. This is true.
Which neighbors to choose? The ones who go to church.
As a long-run investment, plant whatever commercial regional trees grow fast without maintenance, or else buy a place that has young trees already. Urban residents ignore trees as a way to make rural land pay. In an economic crisis, it will be possible to buy the mobile homes and install them.
This way, the initial expense is limited to the land cost and minimal improvements. The biggest expense – the mobile homes – can be deferred. In a crisis, they will be available.
Most middle-class Americans who want to buy peace and safety can do so today. In a crises, maybe not. In a crisis, when 10% or 20% of the urban population really wants out, prices in 90-minute drive-time locations will get more expensive, Urban property will get harder to sell.
Buy rural land that would make a nice summer retreat for grandkids. Maybe you can rent a couple of RVs each summer for the families to use. Make the property part of the families’ memories. For that alone, the investment may be worth it.
Buy low, sell high. Better yet, buy low and don’t sell.