FDI, International Property Markets and the Individualisation of Risk: Structuring Lifestyle Migrant Investments in Panama

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:30
Oral Presentation
Michaela BENSON, Goldsmiths, United Kingdom
In this paper, I illustrate how state-led promotion of property investment in international markets, are a significant feature of the structures that support and facilitate lifestyle migration. As I argue, the explicit pursuit of migrant capital through property investment is embraced by nation-states as a channel for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). With many countries involved in courting FDI through such mechanisms, there is a competitive arena for such investments, an international and global market in international property investment. A vast industry has grown up around international property investment including the myriad smaller property fairs, magazines, investment seminars and workshops, and broadcast media. The global middle classes, the prime neoliberal entrepreneurial subject, are courted and rewarded, their needs and desires for a better way of life met, through an industry that has been set up to pursue international and individual investment capital.

The paper brings together understandings of the relationship between migration and development with the emerging body of work on transnational gentrification to highlight how (middle-class) migrant capital is being courted in the service of neoliberal economic development strategies. It presents the case of lifestyle migration to Panama, highlighting the development of the lifestyle industry that supports this. It outlines the place-making and marketing through which Panama was made one of the best places in the world to retire to. Further, it highlights how this understanding of Panama becomes part of the cultural logic of lifestyle migrants, feeding into the practice of their everyday lives in the destination. And yet, income distribution in Panama is one of the most unequal in central and south America, widening as neoliberalism seeps further into the economy. As I conclude, such foreign investment through property is part of the problem in ways in which the migrants themselves are unaware.