by Jack Campitelli | August 9th, 2010
When Indiana newspaperman John Soule (later popularized by Horace Greeley) said “Go West, Young Man” in 1851 it was a call to action; it was the trumpet of hope. In fact, history shows that young men who went West actually did come “back” with more than they left with. “Go West!” turned out to actually be a very good idea.
Flash forward 150 years. West is now California. The Golden State’s over-pledged bureaucracy is bankrupt. We’d all like to live at the beach and “Wish They All Could Be California Girls.” But California is no place for someone to “Go West” to.
Young men don’t “Go West,” anyway. They get tattoos and piercings. They’re going nowhere. The Asians who represent the new generation of the best and brightest and who work like the dickens in school, already came to the West from the East. The other sober “young men” scamper about for a job. Maybe a “good job”. Maybe a job of promise. No one is taking up the call to “Go West” – even if the slogan is viewed as a metaphor.
But there IS a whole new “generation” of folks looking for a new frontier. They’re looking for a place they can afford. A place with promise. A place of peace. And so it comes to pass that the generation of “baby boomers” – old men (viejos en español) — whose pension funds are bankrupt, whose IRAs were cleaned out by the stock market tanking, whose retirement is looking bleak, who are fed up with losing a country they love to governmental stupidity — it is this generation that is trying to “Go West” except the only place left is to “Go South.”
There is a steady stream of “gringos” — pouring out of “America” for Central and South America. Grappling with learning a new language, being taken advantage of by the locals (usually early-on gringos) in the time immemorial tradition of plucking the new arrivals. Landing with little more than the clothes on their back and few hundred a month of social security. Maybe enough left of a pension to buy a cheap house. And start the long retirement.
Some of them still have a young man inside them and in their mid-60s are trying to re-build a life massacred by the death of the American dream. They don’t want to leave “America” — they are trying to find America again before they die. They pour into Mexico because it’s close. Ecuador because it’s cheap. Chile or Argentina because it is beautiful and as far away from trouble as they can go. They leave their credentials behind. Their resumes behind. Some, accepting of a life of vegging that they can afford, are content with a cheap apartment and a TV. Others want a civilized life at 20% the cost. Others want a chance at self-sufficiency with a garden and some chickens and health care they can afford that has no “death committee” provision. Some brave souls might try to run a small vineyard or a cocoa plantation. Some will make it. Some will just experience more financial tragedy before the final tragedy.
But the whole “Go South” exodus is a tragedy. Just another of a long list of what is ailing in the land of the free. To quote Buffett.
A hundred and fifty years ago, young men went West to find fortune. A hundred fifty years later old men go South just to survive.
This, too, is America. And it is as shameful as many of the other tragedies that are befalling a great nation.