Blame richer foreigners: Welcome to the new nativism

In the fifth season of the TV series, “Yellowstone,” protagonist John Dutton makes a speech, having been newly elected as governor of Montana, in which he promises Montanans that he will use his power to disincentivize wealthy outsiders from New York and California from coming to the state, buying up vacation properties, creating demand for airports and resorts and generally driving up the cost of living.

A similar sentiment is cropping up around the world, in which urban locals blame foreign tourists and digital nomads and Airbnb for the rising cost of living and rising rental costs.

We first heard this sentiment from residents of Mexico City, where some feel gringos are showing up in unprecedented large numbers, spending lots and lots of money and driving up the cost of living.

Now Portugal is enshrining this idea into law, banning new Airbnb properties, revoking their Golden Visa program and generally seeking to disincentive wealthier outsiders from coming to the country and driving up the cost of living for the Portuguese.

I fear this idea will spread globally as people in the post-pandemic era travel more, work abroad more, and seek out more exotic vacations, workstations and temporary residencies.

The fact is that when foreigners with money to burn show up in large numbers in any place, there are winners and losers. They boost employment. They might as well be dropping hundred dollar bills from helicopters. They drive up home valuations for those who own homes. At the same time, they drive up rental costs for those who don’t own homes And they drive up the price of going to some restaurants and some bars, and using some other services for locals, whose income has not increased to accommodate the rising cost of living. 

There are winners and losers. But for the most part, these locations benefit. The reason is that foreigners take their money from abroad, and they spend it in the countries where people are complaining. More money means more employment, more tax revenue to improve local services are in general make things better.

It’s no coincidence that these notions are cropping up in an era of inflation. As I travel around the world, I’ve noticed inflation everywhere. But everywhere you go locals have a local reason why they think global inflation is taking place. 

I fear that if local regulations in places like Portugal succeed in reducing the number of foreign visitors, they’ll find themselves with all the inflation and all the rising costs of living, but with fewer jobs to pay for it all.

Inflation is global and to assign a local cause to it is mostly misguided.

In any event, a new nativism is taking hold, and it’s going to seriously impact Wii, global travelers, digital nomads, and remote workers.