In the Unrest postmortem, someone kicked off a discussion about cost-of-living and the advantages of living outside of the USA. As someone who has worked from home for most of his professional life, this is something I’ve thought about a great deal.
Back in the dot-com days – before the bubble burst – the entire idea of Silicon Valley drove me crazy. Great, tech jobs are plentiful and pay is astronomical, but the cost of living is equally astronomical, everything is crowded, and your commute is likely going to be murder. I can understand why a person might dare to live there, but I could never fathom why a company would choose to live there. The cost of doing business is sky-high, real estate is high, labor costs are SUPER high, and California is notoriously difficult and expensive with regards to regulations and taxesThe linked site is the first search result. I’m not endorsing it politically. Even if you think California “isn’t that bad”, the people who usually run companies DO think it’s bad.. Why not locate somewhere nice but cheap, and simply pay relocation costs? Assuming you’re a small company (say, a dozen employees) you could easily move to some nice but affordable little suburb and make back those relocation costs with lower overall costs of doing business. (Or, you know, start a new company in one of those places.)
When the dot-com bubble popped I realized that “fiscal responsibility” was never on anyone’s priority list in Silicon ValleyOr even “making money”.. For a bunch of companies with no coherent business plan, the high cost of their office space was the least of their problems. More importantly, there’s the pull of networking. You don’t just want to be in the valley because that’s where the labor is, you also want to be there because that’s where all the other tech companies are, and you’re probably doing business with them in some way. And finally, there’s prestige. The big-shots live in the valley, so the people who want to be big-shots live there too.
Fine. But now we’re in this whole “internet economy” deal and a lot of us are no longer shackled to the whims of aspiring tycoons who think the best way to become successful is to live in the same neighborhood as successful people. We work remotely or are self-employed and can live anywhere we like. Why not take my initial question even further: Screw Silicon Valley, why live in the United States at all? If you’re making money off of (say) YouTube and you live in (say) San Fransisco then you could nearly double your income simply by moving to Indianapolis. But if you’re bold and adventurous you could move to New Delhi and your money will be worth about fours times as much. If you’re middle-class in America, then that same income makes you rich in some parts of the world.
Of course, all of this is extremely approximate. For example, western goods like Coca-Cola will be at a premium, so if you live on Coke and Doritos then your food dollars will only double. But if you eat home-cooked meals then food will be incredibly cheap. On the other hand, we usually measure standard of living by how much disposable income we have, and cutting living expenses can greatly multiply the supply of disposable incomeIf I have $10 and spend $9 on bills, then I have $1 for entertainment. If I cut my bills in half I’ll have $5.50 for entertainment – over five times as much.. On the other other hand, some luxury goods – like cutting-edge electronics and good internet – might cost vastly more in other parts of the world, or be effectively unavailable. On the other other other hand, they’re called “luxury goods” for a reason – you can live without them. On the other(×4) hand, what’s the use in having extra disposable income if you can’t use it to get the things you want mostFor the purposes of this exercise, we’re assuming you’re not saving all this money for humanitarian purposes.? On the other(×5) hand, beer, internet, and junk food are available just about everywhere, and what more do you need? On the other other(×6) hand, if you can handle the massive up-front cost of moving to another part of the world, then you probably already have more enough money to buy those sorts of simple pleasures.
Ever since the rise of the internet economy I’ve been expecting this gradual shift away from congested, crowded, expensive, noisy, tax-ridden, crime-drenched major city centers to a more distributed populace, but so far it’s not happening. Maybe it’s going to take a generation. Maybe it won’t happen at all.
So I don’t know. I think about this a lot. But I’m still hanging around near PittsburghI’m actually an hour away, but in global terms that’s basically “in Pittsburgh”., in the town where I grew up. I’m here because I want to be near family. It makes economic sense to move, but not personal sense.
If you could move anywhere, where would you live?
 The linked site is the first search result. I’m not endorsing it politically. Even if you think California “isn’t that bad”, the people who usually run companies DO think it’s bad.
 Or even “making money”.
 If I have $10 and spend $9 on bills, then I have $1 for entertainment. If I cut my bills in half I’ll have $5.50 for entertainment – over five times as much.
 For the purposes of this exercise, we’re assuming you’re not saving all this money for humanitarian purposes.
 I’m actually an hour away, but in global terms that’s basically “in Pittsburgh”.
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