It's time for America to colonize the world — for real.
No, not through militant colonialism. Let's do it the ancient way, through immigration.
If there ever were a case for why many more Americans should move abroad, it's been made by our awful, dispiriting, dead-end debate over housing.
In case you hadn't heard, our white-picket-fence dreams are dying. June is National Homeownership Month, and boy do we need a month for it. Although "most millennials prefer and intend to buy a single-family detached home," UT Austin's Mechele Dickerson notes, "more than 40 percent believe they cannot afford to make a down payment or pay for the costs associated with buying a home, and 47 percent doubt that their credit is good enough for them to qualify for a mortgage."
Millennials aren't alone. Dickerson points out that 64 percent of all renters polled told the New York Federal Reserve that "it would be hard for them to obtain a mortgage."
Meanwhile, those who can actually secure a home loan have to worry about whether they'll wind up underwater. Some American neighborhoods are white-hot. Many aren't. As a matter of sheer physics, only a relative few can live where it makes crazy good sense to buy.
On the other end of the spectrum, lots of us moan that we're still too attached to low-density suburban living. Americans need to wake up from their single-family dreams and embrace the future, we're told — high-density, mixed-used developments stacked atop public transportation nodes.
I can't be alone in feeling that sounds just as awful as the suburbs.
Forced to choose between two cookie-cutter models of mass living baked up by policy wonks and culture pundits, Americans would be better off grabbing their passport and opting out entirely.
This isn't a dig against the less fortunate. It's not even a dig at the lazy. Americans spread across our class structure work day in and day out with a vague and anxious belief that it must, in some material sense, be worth it. It just can't be true, we assume, that America's really not the best place under the circumstances for us to personally pursue happiness.
But with that kind of falsely innocent chauvinism, we're shooting ourselves in the foot.
As is seemingly very well known, in the old days lots of our struggling citizens hit the open road, bound for parts of America that weren't, let's just say, Americanized yet. Yet today, we don't have to perpetrate a genocide in order to emulate them. We just have to dare to start over in a foreign country.
The case for doing so ought to be pretty strong. Turned off by an exile in suburban Siberia? Pushed to the brink by gentrification? Unwilling to believe that a twenty- or thirtysomething adult must resign to an overpriced micro-apartment to access a life or a job of adventure?
These are all extremely powerful reasons to take the American Way somewhere outside America's borders.
Now, we'd do ourselves a disservice getting too specific or opinionated about where American migrants could or "should" go, but some broad outlines, beyond relatively "easy" choices like Canada or Australia, are reasonably clear. Libertarian-leaning cosmopolitans already sing the praises of Latin America. (For the not-so-libertarian, soon Cuba will be in play.) Commercial centers in the Persian Gulf and Southeast Asia offer selective but distinct opportunities. Some religious Americans will find deep nourishment in Europe; others, of a different disposition, in sub-Saharan Africa. Few may wind up in Russia, but even China is becoming a destination for young people with the basic capability to handle its scale, pace, and degree of difference. Americans ready to adopt local ways — not just adapt to them — are very likely more welcome, and more desirable, than we are apt to imagine.
So, will it happen?
The obvious answer is "of course not." Americans just feel too tied down emotionally to ever move abroad. In part, that's because our standards are so high. It seems like an indignity to immigrate the way foreigners do — an embarrassing failure, not a proudly fresh start.
There's also our national problem with risk. We'd rather pile up tiny, stupid risks, guaranteeing that we're trapped in lives we dislike, than gamble our futures on one big risk. No one pundit can unravel that paradox. But we all ought to try.
Finally, there are our actual legal obligations to contend with. In an era when the state has had to intervene on a massive scale to adjudicate and administer partially or completely collapsed families, it's just unworkable for many Americans to start over abroad if they've got child support to pay, custody to split, and so on.
But surely these varying challenges should not utterly break our restless American spirits. It's time to admit that too many of us have succumbed to some strange, inarticulate sense that we deserve to live in America — not just on the obviously accurate legal level, but on an absolute moral one too.
That's the sense of entitlement lurking beneath so much of the "entitlement mentality" we accuse our least favorite fellow Americans of possessing, whatever their station in life, or ours.
For their sake and ours, it's time more of us considered shaking loose those chains and going forth into the world. It won't be comfortable, but since when has comfort defined the American Way?