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Posts Tagged ‘choosing a place to live’

Did I choose the wrong country?

In aging, behavior, business, cities, Crime, culture, immigration, life, news, urban life, US, work, world on July 26, 2012 at 12:05 am
Globe

Globe (Photo credit: stevecadman)

How interesting to see that Canada — where I was born, raised and lived until 1988 — now has a higher per-capita wealth than the United States; $363,202 in assets to the average American’s total of $319,970.

From the website Daily Finance:

Indeed, the crash in U.S. home prices means that Canadians own real estate that is on average worth $140,000 more than that held by Americans. They also own twice as much property and have nearly four times as much equity in it after mortgages are taken into account.

One small bright spot for residents of the beleaguered U.S.: Americans still have greater liquid assets than Canadians. But even this statistic serves mainly to underscore the magnitude of the housing market catastrophe.

Public policy may be in part to blame: As The Globe and Mail points out, “Canadian leaders rejected mortgage interest deductibility,” making it somewhat harder for citizens to get so deep into mortgage debt. Moreover, subprime mortgages — those ignes fatui of the American economy — did not catch on in Canada the way they did here.

All of which leaves our “thrifty, socialist neighbors to the north” — who have long eschewed both the dynamism and the risk of the American system in favor of higher taxes, greater regulation and a sturdier social safety net — looking pretty clever right now.

Having survived three (so far) recessions in the U.S. since moving here, I’ve often questioned my decision. But I’ve also met some of my professional goals here, and more easily in a nation whose population is 10 times larger, than would have been possible at home, where about ten people in my industry got the best jobs and clung to them for decades.

I’ve married two Americans, one wretched, one not. I’ve survived being a crime victim here twice and the subject of a $1 million lawsuit from a minor car accident. Instructive!

Canadians are generally much more risk-averse, which I find boring and annoying (if, yes, more fiscally prudent.) Americans, for better or worse, are generally excited to try new things and less freaked out by failure. I like this a lot, and it’s one reason I came and stuck around. But it also assumes — which isn’t true for so many people here now – you can actually afford to fail.

Without a toxic mortgage I kept my home and built equity; the U.S. mortgage interest tax deduction (thank heaven) was a real help to me as a single freelancer.

The “American dream” of home ownership is typical of a major difference between the two nations — because it has long been such a powerful part of how Americans view their lives, no politician (even if it would have been wise to do so) dared mess with it.

And so bankers made out, literally, like bandits, selling the most appallingly toxic mortgages to people with no clue what they were getting into.

Canadians don’t have a “Canadian dream”, at least none I’ve ever heard as part of the standard cultural conversation.

The CDO crisis, fueled by greed on both sides and fed by the oxygen of enormous profits on one side and the illicit thrill of actually buying a house with 0% down, almost left the financial system here DOA. If you want to watch a real thriller, which really explains it, rent the terrific films Too Big to Fail and Inside Job.

While Americans, once more, are this week mourning the latest massacre of civilians attending a film near Denver by a deranged shooter armed with four guns, urban Canadians in Toronto are also confronting a shocking level of gun violence; ironically, Jessica Ghawi, a young sports reporter, had just escaped a shooting in June at Toronto’s Eaton Centre, a huge downtown mall, when she was killed in Aurora.

I wrote my first book about American women and guns, which one critic called “groundbreaking and invaluable”, my goal to understand, and explain, why Americans are so deeply attached to private firearms ownership.

But another recent shooting in Toronto claimed the lives of two people and when I went to check that story, yet another shooting had occurred since then.

So — which country is the better choice?

It’s an ongoing question for ex-patriates like myself, some of whom have husbands or wives or partners and children and jobs they value in the United States (or vice versa.) After the horror of 9/11, many of my Canadian friends urged me to “come home”, even though I’d already lived in the U.S. since January 1988.

While he loves Canada and would be happy to live there, my husband has a great job in New York City, which offers a pension we will both need. As an author and freelance writer, I can, theoretically, work from anywhere.

Both my countries have strengths and weaknesses.

The reasons we each choose to move, or stay, are multi-factorial: friends, work, climate, proximity to (or blessed distance from) family, excellent medical care and insurance, history, geography, a spiritual community, a landscape we love, a sense of history or shared culture…

Here’s a recent radio interview with Paul Martin, former Canadian Prime Minister, with Brian Lehrer, one of my favorite interviewers, on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. He does a great job explaining the differences in public policy-making between the two countries.

If you’ve left your native country to try another, how’s it working out for you?

If you’ve moved to the U.S., do you (ever) regret it?

Do you plan to move elsewhere?

Why?

Louisianians Happiest, New Yorkers Most Miserable, National Study Finds

In behavior, US on December 30, 2009 at 12:50 pm
Skyline - New York City, New York at night

Image by Trodel via Flickr

A study of state residents’ happiness by professor Stephen Wu, assistant professor of economics at Hamilton College, finds New Yorkers the least happy of all — unfortunately, it didn’t break out the difference between upstate and downstate, so we don’t know if people in Park Slope or Staten Island are actually ecstatic while those in Rochester or Newburgh or Albany are mad as hell.

Wu’s study found that people in poor states like Mississippi and Louisiana, which, despite chronic poverty, were a lot cheerier than in New York, which came out at the bottom of their list. His research ties into a new book by former Harvard president Derek Bok’s “The Politics of Happiness”; both were interviewed today at great length (43 minutes), on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show.

As someone living 25 miles north of Manhattan in a county with insane property taxes, (mine are mitigated because I own an apartment), I get it. My county lacks many of the things that make me really happy, some deeply personal, others less so, from no decent florists, few cafes or other cool, hip “third spaces”, not enough sidewalks, lousy public transportation to the predictable — it’s boring! I stay for an affordable quality of life and quick, easy access to Manhattan. I enjoy a great view of the Hudson River and would be hard pressed to give it up.

Any New Yorker paying crazy-high taxes to the clowns in Albany, who recently shot down gay marriage, also gets it.

Like my partner, I moved here primarily for work; my family and long-time friends are far away. I certainly do enjoy the amenities and culture of Manhattan, but I won’t describe my experience here as one of relentless joy. It’s too hard, too expensive and you need to hire and pay lawyers for some of the simplest transactions. With long and expensive commutes and tolls of $5-9 each way to cross almost every bridge or tunnel, even going to hang out with a friend face to face who lives some distance away from you can feel like a costly hassle.

I do like the weather, which some New Yorkers find appalling — try Ottawa, Montreal or Toronto winters! I find New York plenty sunny and the cold is nothing as long as the sun is shining; in Toronto, the “lake effect” ensures months of cloudy, gray days, no matter how sunny the day begins. Much as I hate New Yorkers’ elbows-out pushiness, I do enjoy the variety of work and cultural opportunities.

Bok says that it’s social relationships that make people happiest — friends, family, trust, enjoying your neighbors. Wu agrees, that connection is the bigger factor than just knowing lots of people.

Callers to the show, and Bok, suggested that the chronically ambitious — what Bok called “excessive expectations”  — are de facto grumpy. New York City, certainly, attracts those who have extremely high expectations of themselves and others, making it easy to be disappointed about every five minutes if that’s your style.

Time to lower the bar?

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