Just the other day, I was talking with a stranger in a bar about living in China and weighing the pros and cons about working and doing business there.
Needless to say, China is THE place now, arguably the most exciting country to do business in with a bucketful of opportunities (not to mention their corresponding risks).
It also goes without saying that living conditions there are atrocious, what is with air pollution, congestion, food safety and so on and so forth.
Let's just say that it ain't a place to raise your family, if you can avoid it.
Then it occurs to me...
A declining empire is the best place to live.
I mean who would want to live in Rome during its empire building era? You are subject to arduous military service as civic duty, dispatched off to some heathen land for more than a decade in the service of some megalomaniac aristocratic brats. I mean I am so glad that I can deal with the likes of Pompey or Caesar at the safe distance of 2000 odd years. At the end of it all, if you are lucky enough to survive the ordeal, you will be given a piece of land to labour on as a not-so-gentleman farmer. And all of this is the case provided you are fortunate enough to have been born as a Roman citizen. Heaven help you if you are a slave. "I am Spartacus!", indeed (my previous entry about the film here).
On the other hand, if you are living in Rome during its "decline" (as opposed to its "fall"), you have hit a jackpot. It's circus almost every other day at Colosseum and relaxing bath at the Caracalla's afterwards. Even if you are a bottom-feeding slave, the wealth and prosperity of the empire would trickle down to you in such a way that you may be able to hope for a funny thing happening on your way to the forum. In short, unless you are a fun-hating, life-denying Christian zealot about to be fed to a lion for entertainment at Colosseum, you can have a pretty good life.
On the same note, who would want to live in London in the 1850's. You would be having a cracking imperial adventure like Flashman, offering your precious life to vain imbeciles like Lord Cardigan or reckless empire builders like James Brooke. In London, you would be living through the Great Stink next to an open sewer called Thames River and in fear of cholera. You would be much better off in the early 20th century, living the life of Bertie Wooster (avoiding two world wars, of course).
Similarly, one should avoid living in America during such times as you need to circle your wagons to protect yourself from the native hostiles or die amongst thousands in order to settle some difference of opinion as to the federal government's constitutional powers to defend the union of states (not to mention an inconvenient issue regarding slavery).
The best time to live in America is, clearly and definitively, NOW.
Nowhere else on earth you would be provided day in day out with the top notch entertainment in the shapes of various professional sports, films and mindless TV shows and hordes of media channels to supply them through to you directly in your living room. Food is plenty (and also directly delivered to you at home) and your personal needs are attended to by every imaginable service provider (who would have thought that you need a personal shopping assistant). Fact, your material desire has been satisfied to saturation, you need a personal storage room on the edge of town to hold your possessions for you. Having more than you need is not luxury anymore. It is the norm.
A great thing about the empires is that they take time to be replaced by their successors. They do not die a sudden death, because by the time an empire becomes well established, the wealth of all the world around it is linked to the continuing prosperity of such empire.
Empires must decline first, and then fall.
I suppose the knack is in realising when the decline gets so steep that it becomes a fall.
I wonder if I live long enough to see the fall of America. As I do not want to be hit by such a fall in my old age, I must prepare myself well for it. And that probably means doing business with, but not in (if one can avoid it), China.
As for Japan, well, it has never been an empire but it sure has a long way to fall, if you ask me.