Oct 21, 2022 5 min read

💷 The Economy for Nomads (Best/Worst of Times)

💷 The Economy for Nomads (Best/Worst of Times)
Photo by Ibrahim Boran / Unsplash

The global economy enters a recessionary era

I'm not an economist.

I'm a commentator in the field of remote work.

But macroeconomics and geopolitics are conspiring to change the calculus for hundreds of millions of workers around the world.

Here are some things that seem to be happening, in parallel:

One. The money printing machine that supported global populations during the coronavirus lockdowns has exhausted our ability to create money out of thin air without causing hyperinflation.

Two. One of the most significant asset bubbles of all time in the stock market has already reset. The bond markets are volatile. Yield curves are out of whack. The financial markets are still going through a hard reset.

Three. In several G7 countries, a real estate bull market that has been inflating for between 15-25 years (depending on the country) is finally bringing prices back down to earth.

Four. Every country that is not the United States has to keep up with the Fed's interest rate hikes — balancing nominal asset value destruction on the one hand with currency devaluation and runaway inflation on the other hand.

OK — that's the most I'm ever going to use economic jargon in this newsletter for at least another year.

What does this have to do with remote work?

People are going to need to make choices.

People are not used to making choices this hard.

Our ancestors, who immigrated somewhere in the 1800s during the wars of religion, famine, poverty, rising nationalism, and industrialization? They made choices.

Our more recent ancestors who immigrated during the Depression or adjusted their lives to fight World War II? They made choices.

Even the Baby Boomers, who rejected certain long-standing social mores and transformed society? They made choices.

Here's why it's the best of times and the worst of times:

It's never been easier to pick up a skill online, turn it into a digital income, and choose from over 50 countries that will let you legally visit and work remotely.

Feeling punished by the cost of living? It's possible to just move. It was virtually impossible for most people before 2019, and totally impossible for most people on Earth before 2000.

I'm not talking about becoming a Silicon Valley coder or fancy entrepreneur.

I'm talking about customer service, bookkeeping, photo editing, basic email writing, project management, call center work, marketing management, basic graphic design, editing and proofreading, and much, much more.

YouTube is free. Learning is free. Skills-building is free. Online jobs are truly plentiful, despite the dour economic climate

It's the best of times because billions of people can theoretically re-invent themselves and protect themselves from poverty with an Internet connection — circumventing the need for the fate of your life to be entirely dictated by the whim of a mill closing, a communist government suppressing your innovative idea, a local warlord extorting you, a suburban office park IT company downsizing your position, etc., etc.

Not everyone has the motivation, contextual awareness, safe environment, or mentorship to actually take advantage of this theoretical freedom. But the freedom is there — and it is growing.

It's the worst of times because the middle class in G7 countries is going to have to go through some pain — pain that most under 40 have not experienced as adults.

House prices don't always go up. They can go down, stay down, and not recover for 7-10 years on a full round trip back up.

I know for a fact many people will want to or have to take advantage of remote work to change their situation — a move to the countryside, a move to a smaller city, a move to a nation with a much lower cost of living.

Most people under 60 don't realize that Detroit used to be a thriving, major, top-ten American city — and now it isn't.

The same thing could happen to San Francisco. Maybe it is happening already.

It's the worst of times because fewer members of the middle class will be able to pursue prosperity on autopilot.

Remote work isn't just about going to Indonesia to explore Ayurvedic yoga and catch waves.

Remote work could look like this:

  • A family of two in Burnaby, Canada can't afford their variable mortgage payment that has gone from $4,500 a month to $7,000 a month between the spring of 2022 and the spring of 2023.
  • One partner works for Electronic Arts and the other for Ernst & Young.
  • Everything at the supermarket and hardware store costs twice what it used to in 2020. Inflation is out of control. Bills are up. Expenses are up. Stress is up.
  • In the spring of 2023 they swap their $1.4 million house (which used to be $1.9 million on paper, with a lower mortgage payment) and move to a small town along the Okanagan Lake in British Columbia
  • They cut their mortgage payment back to down to $3,500 a month. Their kids still have a good education. They get a bit of breathing room. Maybe they even just sell the place and bank cash.
  • Because they're saving so much money — they can actually spend two months of the year in Costa Rica, and a month in Phoenix. Their kids love it, and they learn loads from being in another environment for a part of the year.
  • Because of the flexibility of remote work, they don't have to give up their careers for this freedom — they can stay productive and not take a leave of absence. They don't have to go off the grid or re-live The Mosquito Coast. They don't even have to really do their taxes that much differently, or sacrifice any pension or retirement goals. They just do it.

Saying goodbye to the big house and the big mortgage — it could feel like a step backward. But it doesn't have to be.

Everyone's goals are different, and I believe people should pursue their goals to the best of their ability—including the goal of the white picket fence.

But for many, with hard choices—choices that seem to go against the grain of what society or one's peers or one's parents expect—people will be able to adjust their lives and be fulfilled like never before.

Even with all this economic s*** going down.


🇳🇦🌍 Namibia's nomad visa points to Africa's future

Africa has suffered from colonialism and the overhang of being a highly-populated continent with the lowest GDP per capita in the world.

As an addendum to my thoughts on economic mobility, I wanted to call out the Namibia Digital Nomad Visa, recently announced.

The African continent is the center of gravity for the young people of the world.

In the UK, Japan, China, and in the USA — policymakers worry about how to deal with a glut of pension and healthcare obligations that will strain fiscal policy to its limits and squeeze both tax collectors and taxpayers.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa, the demographic struggle is figuring out how to harness the passion, ambition, and sophistication of an enormous youth population.

One billion people on this Earth are young Africans under the age of forty-five.

With aging Great Powers fighting wars-by-proxy and economic battles that harken back to one hundred years ago — Africa can look forward to the next one hundred years.

Their Gen Z generation is a Boom generation.

They are already changing the world, participating online on TikTok and on social media at an unprecedented scale, embracing a digital-first approach to careers, and building businesses and venture capital ecosystems that are entirely homegrown.

With digital nomad visas, they can invite intrepid travelers to their centers of innovation, cross-pollinate ideas, and join the old, greying empires of North America, Europe, and Asia at the forefront of dynamism and innovation in this still-young 21st century.

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