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Which Eastern European countries have the best chances of surpassing Western European countries? (by economic development)

Posted by StepTb su giugno 16, 2018

In terms of GDP per capita, the best positioned is Estonia.

The country has, for now, made all the best possible choices it could have made regarding economic reforms and digitalization of the public and private sector, has a good education system, very low levels of crime, a lean and fast bureaucracy, a sustainable <8% pensions/GDP ratio, a healthy financial sector, citizens with a strong civic sense, and a culture that firmly and instinctively rejects bad populist (both leftist and conservative) policies disguised as “socially good”.

Tallinn is already the biggest innovative ecosystem in Eastern Europe in terms of investments volume and ROI on startups.
They really want you to bring money and businesses there, and have made things as attractive as they could from a bureaucratic and fiscal point of view.

The crucial problem Estonia faces is a dramatic brain drain – young professionals get a good education and formation, but then escape to some other place in Western Europe where the climate is less cold and salaries are high, no matter how smart and effective their own government is.

Other possible issues: geographic location, and small territorial size (but in an advanced digital economy, they can be both at least partially neutralized).

Give it time, though.
We’ve already had two examples of countries following similar patterns and strategies: Singapore and Israel. Look at where they both are now.
Also, many Western European countries seem to struggle quite a bit with heavy debt, aging population, absurd bureaucracy, and are not at the point where they should be in terms of digitalizing the economy and creating innovative ecosystems. The political direction is controlled by baby boomers, and they’re systematically averse to any possible loss of privileges and any status quo change. The majority of the wealth is in their hands, and is not getting invested where it should. The political currents on the rise are infected by far right and far left populists talking about rubbish instead of sound, rational reforms.

Estonia either didn’t start with or already solved those problems when it was time to first rebuild itself fast after 1991, and then to push itself hard to join the EU in 2004. They won’t likely face anything similar in the next decades, and they’re small, flexible and rational enough to potentially become an Eastern Europe’s equivalent of Singapore. Time will tell…

Annunci

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What does the Hungarian language sound like to those who don’t speak it?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 16, 2018

I lived in Budapest for 4 months.

I’m a native Italian, but quite accustomed to listening to Slavic languages, especially Croatian and Slovenian, and with of course an obvious exposure to Germanic languages as well as other Romance languages.

The first big thing I noticed was how it didn’t sound Slavic at all, and it didn’t have any of the typical Slavic sounds. Ditto for Germanic. Almost all Slavic (with, for me, the interesting exception of Russian, which I find quite “polished” and musical compared to the others) and Germanic (yes, even English, at least in part) languages can sound quite harsh and “angular” when you come from a Romance language – while Hungarian doesn’t. The sounds are softer and the words and sentences have a better flow, more fluid.

The second, surprising one, was that it didn’t seem like it had an accent. Not only that, but it sounded more “natural” and similar to what I’d recognize as an Italian speaking. The bizarre sensation was to feel like people could have easily switched and talked to me in Italian from one moment to the next if they wanted. That’s probably because of the ancient connection to Finnish, which is oddly similar in phonetics and pronunciation to Italian.
Written Hungarian doesn’t look like anything else (you can just find some similarities with Finnish, Estonian and Turkish, but it’s a stretch), so you have to start decoding it from absolute zero, and this created the very weird contrast of listening to familiar sounds, which thus sounded easy to the ear, that at the same time looked impossibly alien once seen in their written form.

Finally, Hungarians sounded to me like having a quite “steady” way of speaking, with little swings or peaks in any direction. And, when someone had a more different tone than the average, it almost always was on the soft-spoken side of the spectrum. I never heard anyone shouting, and rarely someone even being just loud (then again, my benchmark is Italians, so I’m sure many Northern and Eastern Europeans will disagree). This also contributes to the way you process what you hear.

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What’s a better personality indicator test than the MBTI?

Posted by StepTb su giugno 5, 2018

The MBTI has four main problems:
1. The black-and-white dichothomy, which is enough to make it unscientific: a person scoring 49% on Extraversion will be classified as Introverted, and more similar to someone scoring 5%, while instead being basically identical to an Extravert who scored 51%.
2. The cognitive functions theory; this is absolute pseudoscience with no empiricism behind it whatsoever. But you can choose to ignore that whole part, like many do, and only read the result as a 4-dimension measure – that approach will actually lead to more accurate insights.
3. There is an industry behind it, that is interested in pushing it and promote it to make money.
4. The whole F/T dimension is bogus. First of all, it’s been proven by science that all our choices and decisions derive first from an emotional impulse, and there’s a process of rationalization after it that works to justify the impulse (this is why the scientific method is hard – you have to train yourself to go against human nature – and necessitates of peer reviews and communities). Which means that we’re all actually “F”. Second, the work of Kahneman and Tversky on the difference between intelligence and rationality is quite brilliant, and it would make sense to have a dimension for that, but that’s *not* what F/T measures, even if most of the people who score T will tell you otherwise to feel superior (while in reality a person scoring high in T can be completely irrational). Third, we now know (from research with the Big5 model) that feeling often/strongly positive emotions is associated with Extraversion, and feeling often/strongly negative emotions with Neuroticism. Thus, those two Big5 dimensions actually capture much better (and they do it twice more precisely, by separating them) what’s *really* going on in the F/T dimension. So you have “super feelers” (high E + high N) as well as “super stoics” (low E + low N), plus all the other possible combinations in the middle.

The Big5 solves 1 and 4, doesn’t have 2 and 3, and at the same time doesn’t sacrifice any of the “good” parts, because S/N gets captured by Openness, J/P by Conscientiousness, and E/I remains the same.
On the other hand, it has the annoying issue that the 5 dimensions were named with an obvious implicit value judgment. For example, why call it Agreeable/Disagreeable instead of Non-Confrontational/Confrontational? The name choice is clearly biased and quite irksome. But still, the scientific value of the test is definitely higher than MBTI’s.

Also, Kibeom Lee and Michael C. Ashton expanded the Big5 model with an additional dimension, H, which measures Honesty-Humility.
The only problem is they also rebranded Neuroticism as Emotionality, which is misleading.
With the additional H dimension, it’s also possible to identify narcissistic (low H, high E) and psychopathic (low H, low C, low N) tendencies.
One of their most interesting/useful findings is that high Agreeableness doesn’t actually predict high Honesty-Humility, which makes high A + low H people particularly deceitful and dangerous, since the high A works like a social mask hiding the low H.
I strongly recommend reading their book The H Factor of Personality for a breakdown of all the 6 dimensions and the research behind them.

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How can Peter Thiel reconcile his libertarianism with mimetic theory?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 29, 2018

It seems quite straightforward to me.

Girard’s position on Christianity derives from the fact that the more you emphasize the innocence of the scapegoat, the more difficult it becomes for people to fall into the trap of scapegoating.
So the Gospels were an especially important milestone in human cultural history because of their role in the unmasking of the mechanism.

In the very same fashion, the more you emphasize the uniqueness and centrality of the individual, the more difficult it becomes for people to fall into the trap of mimetic desire.
So probably Thiel thinks libertarianism is the best we currently have in politics to reach the goal of independent thought and differentiation at the individual level, in stark contrast to the nature of the dominant political currents, which instead seem to encourage and exploit various shades of mimesis and scapegoating.

Of course, this is also tied to a problem already noted by Girard himself, especially in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World: mimesis could very well be this powerful because it’s the easiest way to escape the problem of meaninglessness. So is it really feasible to someday reach a society that avoids it on a mass scale?

Some more Girard-inspired reflections on modern politics can be found in Psychopolitics, which expands on the observation that scapegoating doesn’t work as well anymore and therefore ‘traditional’ politics and its electorate are facing a crisis.

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Which is the most liberal European country in terms of culture?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 25, 2018

With liberalism defined as the maximization of both personal/social and economic freedom:

Switzerland.
It ranks as world’s #1 in:
– Cato’s Index of Personal and Economic Freedom
And Europe’s #1 in:
– Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom

Followed very closely by:
Ireland.
Sky-high in all three as well.

Other super rankers:
Denmark, Netherlands, UK, Luxembourg, Estonia, Sweden.

All these countries rank higher than the US in all three measures.

If your question had more to do with the personal/social dimension, add to the list Norway, Finland and Austria, which surpass all the others there.

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Who is the most underrated rapper?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 25, 2018

Treach, of Naughty by Nature. I’ve never understood why his name has never become huge. Yes, they’re not unknown, judging by the number of views on YouTube, but when I say huge I mean Biggie/Ice Cube/Ice-T level of huge.

When I was just discovering hip-hop by digging through bunches of cassettes, it was clear to me from the first listening that he was one of the best, but whenever I see people talking about the greatest MCs his name never seems to come up… I don’t get it.

Just listen to his absolute jaw-dropping flow and use of syllables on these three songs, paired with a naturally great vocal timbre.

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How does Elon Musk organize his time so that he can work 80 hours a week?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 25, 2018

I don’t know when and where the “5 minute slots” story started, but it’s false.
He just wrote on Twitter he doesn’t use it:

Which is perfectly in line with what all the research on creative and “deep” work (I use this term since it’s been popularized by Cal Newport) says.

It’s pretty much well-known that he splits his time 50/50 between Tesla and SpaceX (confirmed recently by Gwynne Shotwell).
On more than one occasion (here’s one), Musk stated he enjoys focusing on engineering and design, not on sales and finance.
He also doesn’t enjoy managing in general, as confirmed by another recent tweet:

And, as documented in his biography (plus various interviews), he typically sleeps 6.5 hours and eats meals in 5 minutes.
Add to all this the fact that he obviously outsources a lot, just like any other CEO.
So, combining all these info, I think it’s plausible to say he tries to organize his time to do what he enjoys the most – which is uninterrupted, focused, creative work on engineering and design. And that’s the reason why he’s able to work like crazy, to the point of seeing eating and sleeping as distractions to optimize.
He likely tries to outsource everything he can – but of course it’s not possible. So he still has to do a lot of stuff in operations, processes, finance, sales, PR via media and interviews, etc. But he likely sees all that as a necessity to be able to do what he actually enjoys and would potentially spend all his time doing.

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Are conservative individuals more authoritarian-minded than liberal individuals?

Posted by StepTb su maggio 17, 2018

Any person can be “conservative” on any single issue, just like any person can be “liberal” on any single issue.
But let’s assume individuals can be classified as being “liberal” or “conservative”.
“Conservative” means you prefer the traditional way of how things have worked until the present moment, and you want to preserve it.
“Liberal” means you want to maximize liberty and freedom, and this goal takes priority over traditions if they’re an obstacle to it.

”Authoritarian” means you want a single, specific set of views, preferences, values, clothes or whatever to be forced on everyone else, with no room or tolerance for differences.

Therefore being a true “liberal” means being anti-authoritarian, since authoritarianism decreases (or opposes any increase of) liberty and freedom, instead of the opposite.
And having “conservative” preferences doesn’t tell us anything, because you could be an authoritarian conservative as well as a non-authoritarian one. Just like the terms “right” and “left” don’t tell us anything, because both preferences can be expressed through tolerant as well as intolerant means.

P.S. A super-professional visualization!

How the typical American mistakenly reads the political spectrum:

VS.

How the political spectrum is actually supposed to be read:

Hope this helps!

P.P.S. See also Why did Europe become so leftist and liberal?

P.P.P.S. A timeless, recommended read: The Open Society and Its Enemies

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Stuff Seen, Jan+Feb+Mar 2018

Posted by StepTb su aprile 3, 2018

Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990) [9]
Heat (Michael Mann, 1995) [9]
L.A. Takedown (Michael Mann, 1989) [TV] [7.5]
Casino (Martin Scorsese, 1995) [8+]
Blade Runner 2049 (Denis Villeneuve, 2017) [7]
The Insider (Michael Mann, 1999) [8.5]
Black Rain (Ridley Scott, 1989) [6.5]
Ransom (Ron Howard, 1996) [7.5]
Donnie Brasco (Mike Newell, 1997) [7.5]
Ronin (John Frankenheimer, 1998) [7.5]
Following (Christopher Nolan, 1998) [8]
The Enforcer (Bretaigne Windust, Raoul Walsh, 1951) [7]
Brokeback Mountain (Ang Lee, 2005) [8]
Memento (Christopher Nolan, 2000) [8]
To Catch a Thief (Alfred Hitchcock, 1955) [6.5]
The Lineup (Don Siegel, 1958) [7.5]
Payback (Brian Helgeland, 1999) [6]
Pociag / Night Train (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1959) [6]
Katok i skripka / The Steamroller and the Violin (Andrei Tarkovsky, 1961) [7]
Something Wild (Jonathan Demme, 1986) [7.5]
The Wild Bunch (Sam Peckinpah, 1969) [9.5]
Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Sam Peckinpah, 1974) [8+]
Major Dundee (Sam Peckinpah, 1965) [7]
Charley Varrick (Don Siegel, 1973) [7.5]
Taxi Driver (Martin Scorsese, 1976) [9+]
2001: A Space Odyssey (Stanley Kubrick, 1968) [9.5]
Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014) [7.5]
Dunkirk (Christopher Nolan, 2017) [7]
The Martian (Ridley Scott, 2015) [7-]
Nocturama (Bertrand Bonello, 2016) [6]
Iron Man 2 (Jon Favreau, 2010) [6]
Iron Man Three (Shane Black, 2013) [6]
L’eau froide (Olivier Assayas, 1994) [8]
Fin août, début septembre (Olivier Assayas, 1998) [7]
Die xue jie tou / Bullet in the Head (John Woo, 1990) [9] [Yes, this movie clearly wouldn’t even have existed without Cimino’s The Deer Hunter. But Woo managed to basically take that classic and change it on such a personal level, infusing it with his own complete philosophy and his own complete set of both East Asian and Western filmmaking influences, that Bullet in the Head really manages to stand on its own as a masterpiece]
Ying hung boon sik / A Better Tomorrow (John Woo, 1986) [7.5]
Dip huet seung hung / The Killer (John Woo, 1989) [9]
Fong juk / Exiled (Johnnie To, 2006) [7.5-]
Irma Vep (Olivier Assayas, 1996) [7.5]
Demonlover (Olivier Assayas, 2002) [7.5] [What a pity – it could have been an 8, if it wasn’t for that sudden fall into incoherent plot devices (which starts with the murder and then escalates at about 2/3), with the clear intention of imitating (without any of his brilliance) Lynch’s Lost Highway, then closed by a not really convinced moral provocation halfway between Videodrome and 8mm, just used as a tool for trying to give the final a meaning]
Clean (Olivier Assayas, 2004) [7]
Boarding Gate (Olivier Assayas, 2007) [6.5]
L’heure d’été (Olivier Assayas, 2008) [7.5]
Clouds of Sils Maria (Olivier Assayas, 2014) [7]
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, 2016) [6]

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Is Poland growing to be the next economic powerhouse of Europe?

Posted by StepTb su aprile 3, 2018

Poland and Slovakia have been absorbing the bigger chunk of the European industrial sector that has relocated or expanded in the Visegrád area; Poland has also worked extremely well on its internal reforms and, especially, has managed to build one of the current best education systems in the world, which positions the country to be the most likely of the Eastern region to successfully make the jump to the advanced tertiary sector in the next 10–20 years (the first one has been Estonia, but the size isn’t comparable).

Emigration from Poland started to explode in the late 1990s, and hit a peak with the 2008 recession. A lot of young Poles with a good command of English and an excellent human capital overall were not able to be absorbed by the national labor market, and went on to be successfully absorbed by other economies.

It seems reasonable to think Polish emigration rate should now start to decrease, since the system has fully recovered from the recession, and has kept growing and showing its strength and sustainability, unlike what has happened in other countries (ex. Italy), but it’s not happening, and the net migration rate is still negative.
Recent political shifts and turmoils have also impacted negatively on this possibility.

Unfortunately, even without considering the brain drain issue, there’s an even bigger problem: their current birth rate, which is one of the lowest in the world and also a bit of a puzzle, is not conducive to reaching the status of “next economic powerhouse” in the span of the current + the next generation in any case.
This doesn’t mean we couldn’t see the relative birth rate trend reverting, the emigration rate trend reverting, and that result happening in the long-run, though.

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Is the media overreacting to the incident with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

Yes, and it’s easy to choose between yes and no: compare this media hysterical coverage about a data breach interesting 50 million users to the same media’s reaction to the actual Internet biggest data breach ever, the Yahoo! one:

Marissa Mayer says Yahoo still doesn’t know who was behind Web’s biggest breach

Every single Yahoo account was hacked – 3 billion in all

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/busine…

Yahoo! data breaches – Wikipedia

Which was reported with quite a “normal” bad news tone, like “Yeah that was quite bad. Now here’s Tom with the weather”.

And did you see an Altaba stock crash after their public statement (Oct 2017)? No.

But we’re talking about a 60:1 ratio of hacked accounts (and actually, much more “hacked” in the Yahoo! case).
Do you see a 60:1 ratio in the coverage/reaction as well? No, and in fact it’s more something like 1:10.

Of course, it’s also easy to see why.
This time, the hype supports a story so many people desperately want to be true – we didn’t lose the election, it was STOLEN from us with a trick!
A bipartisan classic (sadly).

Despite next to zero proof behavioral microtargeting could reach similar results.

In general, people will always ignore the obvious when it comes to their own political bias.

Posted in food for thought, news | Leave a Comment »

What is the Cambridge Analytica controversy regarding Facebook data?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

The story‘s biggest takeaway is that, in the “wonderful” world of invasive, data-hungry social media and network effects, you’re only as smart, safe and in control of your data as *your weakest link* is, not as *you* are.

This goes against what we’ve been told over and over by both sm/data companies and public institutions about “make sure you keep your privacy settings in order and that’s it“.
It’s near-useless advice, because we’re not in control. But switching your point of view to adopt the correct one, in this case, implies going against the human deep instinct of believing you *are* in control (of your online persona, your data, your actions and their consequences…). It would be comparable to a paradigm shift– at least in the countries/cultures that score high on the individualism dimension, like the US, where the emphasis on the single person’s responsibility for anything that happens to him/her is deeply embedded and the automatic answer to all societal problems.
It also (together with many other stories in the recent past) flies against all the stuff we’ve been told about the greatly positive, progressive impact of digital democratization through social media.

Most sm users have yet to understand the degree to which they’re giving up control and the fact that you can’t know in advance how the data about you are going to be used, and even this big story will most likely have a limited impact on them – I doubt any change will come from the bottom-up, for the aforementioned reason (+ a layer of abstraction which makes the whole issue non-immediate to most).

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When will cryptocurrency holders realize that cryptocurrency is a scam?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

A bubble is not necessarily a scam, just something hyped and overvalued because of irrational exuberance and a relatively strong narrative behind it (the crypto narrative seems to fit very well the current climate – decline of trust in all kinds of institutions; pseudo-conspiracist bs a go-go everywhere online*; economic low growth, wage stagnation and increasing internal inequality in all the developed world; unsustainable levels of debt for either nations or households; long-term effects of austerity policies where they’ve been applied; widespread overvaluation of anything tech; etc).

Was the dot-com bubble a “scam”? No.
Were there scammers riding the wave and trying to make a buck? Yes.

To answer your question:

Nobody can say cryptos are a “scam” at the moment.

But basically everyone knows it’s a bubble. I’d say most holders have already realized that. They just hope to make money in it. But, in bubbles, late joiners typically don’t.

When will the hype stop? In terms of the aforementioned underlying climate changing, I don’t see the wave turning anytime soon, so the narrative is unlikely to lose force, but fads lose their excitement factor after a while nonetheless. If the narrative behind them maintains momentum, something new can easily come along and attention/excitement can easily change ship – that’s in the intrinsic nature of fads (and, in this case, I think we’re already seeing the 2017 excitement fading out, but there’s no equivalent substitute ready to catalyze it yet).

(*with the main one having been elegantly and succinctly debunked by Kevin Johnson on Quora, if you’re interested)

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What is the single most underrated trait a person can have?

Posted by StepTb su marzo 28, 2018

Historical perspective.

“A man lives not only his personal life, as an individual, but also, consciously or unconsciously, the life of his epoch and his contemporaries. He may regard the general, impersonal foundations of his existence as definitely settled and taken for granted, and be as far from assuming a critical attitude towards them as our good Hans Castorp really was; yet it is quite conceivable that he may none the less be vaguely conscious of the deficiencies of his epoch and find them prejudicial to his own moral well-being. All sorts of personal aims, hopes, ends, prospects, hover before the eyes of the individual, and out of these he derives the impulse to ambition and achievement. Now, if the life about him, if his own time seems, however outwardly stimulating, to be at bottom empty of such food for his aspirations; if he privately recognises it to be hopeless, viewless, helpless, opposing only a hollow silence to all the questions man puts, consciously or unconsciously, yet somehow puts, as to the final, absolute, and abstract meaning in all his efforts and activities; then, in such a case, a certain laming of the personality is bound to occur, the more inevitably the more upright the character in question; a sort of palsy, as it were, which may extend from his spiritual and moral over into his physical and organic part. In an age that affords no satisfying answer to the eternal question of ‘Why?’ ‘To what end?’ a man who is capable of achievement over and above the expected modicum must be equipped either with a moral remoteness and single-mindedness which is rare indeed and of heroic mould, or else with an exceptionally robust vitality. Hans Castorp had neither one nor the other of these; and thus he must be considered mediocre, though in an entirely honourable sense.”

– Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain

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Oct+Nov+Dec 2017 Log

Posted by StepTb su gennaio 1, 2018

VIDEO:
Gaichû / Harmful Insect (Akihiko Shiota, 2001) [7]
Nabbeun namja / Bad Guy (Kim Ki-duk, 2001) [6.5]
Becoming Warren Buffett (Peter W. Kunhardt, 2017) [6.5]
Office Space (Mike Judge, 1999) [7]
Who Killed the Electric Car? (Chris Paine, 2006) [7]
Revenge of the Electric Car (Chris Paine, 2011) [7]
Baby Driver (Edgar Wright, 2017) [6.5]
Who Am I – Kein System ist sicher (Baran bo Odar, 2014) [6-]
Racing Extinction (Louie Psihoyos, 2015) [6.5]
The Intern (Nancy Meyers, 2015) [6.5]
Joy (David O. Russell, 2015) [7+]
Hua li shang ban zu / Office (Johnnie To, 2015) [6]
Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (Mark Achbar, Peter Wintonick, 1992) [8]
Requiem for the American Dream (Peter D. Hutchison, Kelly Nyks, Jared P. Scott, 2015) [7-]
The War Room (Chris Hegedus, D.A. Pennebaker, 1993) [5]
Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy? (Michel Gondry, 2013) [7.5+]
Nomads (John McTiernan, 1986) [7]
Heathers (Michael Lehmann, 1988) [7]
Clueless (Amy Heckerling, 1995) [6.5]
Hype! (Doug Pray, 1996) [7.5]
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster (Joe Berlinger, Bruce Sinofsky, 2003) [7.5+]
Fail-Safe (Sidney Lumet, 1964) [8]
The Offence (Sidney Lumet, 1973) [6.5]
Running on Empty (Sidney Lumet, 1988) [7]
La société du spectacle (Guy Debord, 1973) [7]
The Cars That Ate Paris (Peter Weir, 1974) [6.5]
Maidan (Sergei Loznitsa, 2014) [6.5]

BOOKS:
The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills (Daniel Coyle, 2012) [LINK]
The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses (Eric Ries, 2011) [LINK]
Status quo: Perché in Italia è così difficile cambiare le cose (e come cominciare a farlo) (Roberto Perotti, 2016) [LINK]
On Rumors: How Falsehoods Spread, Why We Believe Them, and What Can Be Done (Cass R. Sunstein, 2nd ed. 2014) [LINK]
Misinformation : Guida alla società dell’informazione e della credulità (Walter Quattrociocchi, Antonella Vicini, 2016) [LINK]
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (David Hume, 1748) [LINK]
The Death of Ivan Ilyich (Leo Tolstoy, 1886) [LINK]
Blood Meridian: Or the Evening Redness in the West (Cormac McCarthy, 1985) [LINK]
Al tempo di papà (Jirō Taniguchi, 1994) [LINK]

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Why is Italy poorer and more underdeveloped than other European countries?

Posted by StepTb su dicembre 18, 2017

First of all, Italy is quite wealthy, it’s one of the 10 top economies in the world.

And not only that, but the Italian super-rich cohort keeps growing. In fact, it has just pushed the country to the world’s #8 for financial wealth, says a report by The Boston Consulting Group.

The problem is where all that wealth gets produced, and where all that wealth goes.

That’s why the country falls down to somewhere around the 25-36 position once you look at the GDP (PPP) per capita.

A small part of the country (the North, and not even all of it) produces >60% of the national GDP; at the same time, internal inequality has been steadily increasing for decades, with fewer and fewer people actually seeing that wealth because of internal dysfunctions in both the public and private sector.

The dysfunctions are due to excessively high costs, excessively low productivity, family and personal relationships considered more important than skills when hiring and promoting, protectionist laws, and a distorted use of public resources. These problems found a weird vicious balance during the decades right after the economic boom, but the 1992 (both political and economic) crisis first and the 2007–2008 financial crisis later inflicted a fatal blow to the absurd system that was built up until then. Italians have yet to wake up to the fact that that system was absurd and that it needs to be forgotten, though. Unfortunately, it seems like it’s also impossible to make most of them understand the basic point that a country grows if its productivity does. For some reason, the argument gets constantly ignored or rejected by the public.

The 5 key reforms Italy needs ASAP are:
1. Making pensions sustainable (pensions/GDP is at 16%)
2. Making the public sector efficient and accountable, and creating a federalist system (a real one, unlike the fake federal reforms that have blown up public debt for decades), to make regions (especially in the South, but also Rome) accountable and fiscally responsible
3. Cutting regressive taxes and bureaucracy (you can do this only after #1 and #2)
4. Increasing the private sector productivity by removing laws and subsidies that are artificially keeping unproductive firms alive and new, better competitors out of the market (you can do this only after #3)
5. Reforming the banking system, which is undercapitalized and unable to guarantee access to credit

Nobody is touching #5 because of rampant cronyism and corruption. Some micro reforms have been done during Italy’s darkest hour, after the financial recession nearly made us collapse (2011), especially about #1. But it wasn’t enough. Renzi tried to do something about #2, but it wasn’t enough, and his main idea (the referendum that didn’t pass) was going in the wrong direction in more than one sense.
The perfect moment to do all that was in the early 2000s, a stagnant but stable time when we had just joined the Euro and were enjoying low interest rates. But we lost a decade thanks to Berlusconi and his banana republic antics on one hand, and thanks to people obsessed by him 24/7 (rather than by those issues) on the other. Now it’s late. Anyone attempting to attack those points will lose the elections, because most Italians live with the dream that things could just go back to Eldorado (the 1980s, basically, when money was growing on trees), and, if they don’t, it’s because there’s some conspiracy going on (blame the EU, the Euro, the immigrants, the masons, the technocrats, Germany, CIA, politicians’ salaries, you name it – you can even find several examples in the other answers to this question here on Quora). They just can’t accept the fact that the world has changed and that’s what we should do as well, radically. Because we can’t afford to have an inefficient public sector anymore, we can’t afford to compete on low costs of labor anymore, and we can’t afford not to invest in innovation and not to jump to produce new things and leave behind the old models (non-innovative, non-meritocratic, family-run or relationship-based businesses and protected professions) anymore.

Until then, we’ll just keep stagnating and electing worse and worse demagogues promising us to go back to Eldorado through some silly or nasty slogan.
And, with a stagnating growth and a broken public sector, wealth will be shared with fewer and fewer people.
And young people with college degrees and work ethic will remain unemployed, or forced to compete like crazy for the few good jobs in the few productive centers, and to accept miserable wages to sustain the privileges accumulated by the Baby Boomers during the past crazy decades. Or forced to move out of the country, somewhere where they can be absorbed by the economy and be productive.

If you want to know more about the crazy policies that undermined the Italian public sector and distorted the social contract, I suggest two books: Il macigno and La lista della spesa.
If you want an overall analysis of the major problems of the Italian economy, then read I sette peccati capitali dell’economia Italiana.
All these three books were written by the economist Carlo Cottarelli, who got hired by the Government to help solving them, and then left the role once he realized nobody actually had any intention of applying his tips.

P.S.
Two related videos, in English.

The first one focuses especially on the productivity problem of the Italian private sector and how it deliberately missed the IT train in the 1990s.

The second one explores three hypotheses to the question of “why has Italy stopped growing?”: 1. the size of the public sector, 2. the Euro, 3. the failed transition from an imitation to an innovation economy. Then it shows how some popular explanations (joining the Euro and having the wrong sectoral allocation) don’t hold once you scrutinize the data. The data show instead that the inequality of productivity and profits between exporting firms and firms oriented only to the local market has dramatically increased – with the first ones driving up the economy, and the second ones driving it down, since they should close and disappear, but they don’t because they’re protected by anti-competition laws and rules.
So the only possible solution should be to enable the reallocation of capital from the inefficient protected firms to the efficient and competitive ones, but it can’t be done because the large institutions (built during the imitation phase and useful back then but not now) have gained too much power to be dismantled, and the political parties’ culture is generally anti-competition across the entire spectrum.
The other odd difference found is that, unlike in other developed countries, in the productive firms, management comes mostly from within the family who owns the business.

They’re both must-watch, and probably the best ones on Youtube on the subject, if you’re interested in understanding the Italian economy.

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Why did Europe become so leftist and liberal?

Posted by StepTb su novembre 6, 2017

When will you Americans stop using the term “liberal” in the wrong way?

It’s quite sad to hear, especially since the US was founded as a liberal society.
The US, EU, and the rest of the modern developed nations are, thank God, all liberal societies, with a strong rule of law that exists to promote and protect individual liberty.

Then, within liberalism, there are different currents and schools of thought.
Social liberalism thinks that putting public money into the creation of safety nets and development programs is a better way to achieve the collective sum of individual liberties, because without a certain level of fairness in society, a random-born individual will have too high a probability of being unable to have choices and thus freedom. The debate among parties, here, is more on the effectiveness of specific solutions and resources allocations than on anything else.
Economic liberalism thinks the individual should be as free as possible to create wealth, and this will translate into a wealthier and freer society. Social liberalism advocates normally agree with this position, both in the US and in Europe. The whole debate on the best degree of economic freedom revolves around market failures and negative externalities. European countries are well aware of those points, and actually the debate in a lot of EU countries on how to best preserve economic liberalism is conducted in a more serious way than in the US, see for example Sweden’s fiscal policies for innovation and new businesses (How Sweden became the startup capital of Europe, Why does Sweden produce so many startups?), or Denmark’s labor market liberalizations, or anti-trust actions against big business giants.
(Your real-life average conservative is actually a mix of the two; for example, he thinks putting a lot of public money into military and defense is a good strategy to protect people’s freedom, and is ok with politicians doing it. So it comes down to a difference in allocation preferences.)
I’m making it brutally simplistic, but that’s how it is, basically. The differences are really small.
Take a look at China if you want to start to see some radical differences, not at the opposite party or at Europe.
I’m well aware politicians and media pundits want to create a climate of cultural war and polarization so they can manipulate your emotions and profit, but you shouldn’t play their game. That’s what a negative externality looks like.

Please educate yourself – consider that if you keep talking in those terms, when you’re doing it with someone coming from a European university or even just high school, you’re showing a lack of basic knowledge about Western history and/or a lack of critical thinking. Not a good signal to give, *especially* if you label yourself as a conservative. Conservatives should be the first ones to be interested in preserving historical knowledge.

See also:
– Human Freedom Index
– Index of Economic Freedom – Country Rankings
Year after year, these indexes keep showing a strong correlation between freedom and higher incomes, between democracy and freedom, between personal freedom and economic freedom.
Feel lucky and grateful to live in a liberal society where these are the common values.
Try to live for a couple of years in some of the countries scoring <5.5 if you think a less liberal society would be better.

P.S. A timeless, recommended read: The Open Society and Its Enemies

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Why do Americans work more than Europeans? Is there a cultural bias to live to work?

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 2, 2017

There are many countries with longer working hours than the US: Mexico, Korea, Greece, Chile, Russia, Latvia, Poland, Hungary, Israel, Estonia, Portugal, Iceland, Lithuania, Turkey, and Ireland.

Which countries work the longest hours?

With 1788 hours, US workers are just above the OECD average, which is 1770. So they’re not exceptional in this area.

Why then do Americans say they work so much more? Probably it’s just a cultural thing. Compared to other countries, Americans overwhelmingly believe everything in life depends just on hard work and not on luck, so they prefer to tell themselves and to people around them they work all the time.
Check the “Work-Luck Beliefs” map in the paper Culture and Institutions by Alesina & Giuliano.
When just the idea of “working hard” is so much linked to personal sense of worth and “social capital” compared to other places, you’re incentivized to signal to the rest of the world that you do work hard, and ironically it becomes even more important than *actually* working hard.

So you have this surreal situation where the average-working American thinks he’s the hardest worker in the world, and calls the extreme-working Mexican “lazy”, while instead Mexico tops the world’s chart.
Another seemingly bizarre thing is that nobody would ever call the average German “lazy”, but Germans are at the bottom of that chart, at 1363. How is it possible? Probably because they’re high in Conscientiousness but also strongly believe hard work *doesn’t* trump luck for life outcomes, unlike Americans. This combination makes you engineer a system where productivity gets maximized, instead of working hours, so you can have a more balanced overall life and at the same time feel like you work a lot. So you don’t waste time chatting and checking emails at work, you actually follow priorities. And then you also get to enjoy leisure/family/private time.

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Stuff Seen, Sep 2017

Posted by StepTb su ottobre 1, 2017

Twin Peaks, s3 ep17 (David Lynch, 2017) [7.5]
Twin Peaks, s3 ep18 (David Lynch, 2017) [7.5] [TP3 had its ups and downs, and it probably should have been a 12 eps. season, but it’s been overall a satisfying experience, with an otherwise just ok quality bumped up by 4-5 excellent episodes and a good “one-two combo” finale; let’s hope to see Lynch work again soon, and, even more importantly, to see other series with a similar or larger degree of artistic boldness]
Drachenmädchen (Inigo Westmeier, 2012) [7]
Real Value (Jesse Borkowski, 2013) [5]
Brother (Takeshi Kitano, 2000) [7]
Dolls (Takeshi Kitano, 2002) [6.5]
Zatôichi (Takeshi Kitano, 2003) [6.5]
Takeshis’ (Takeshi Kitano, 2005) [8]
The Wrong Guy (David Steinberg, 1997) [7]

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Who is the richest person alive right now?

Posted by StepTb su settembre 27, 2017

I agree with Jasmin Bataille’s analysis.
Not to mention all the other natural resources other than oil that Russia is full of.
Putin de facto has strategic control over the entire national economy, which at 1283 billion US dollars constitutes the 2.07% of the entire world’s economy, and rule of law doesn’t apply to him (and others).
Proof and reinforcement to this is also the fact that, in just 10 years (2005-2015), Government plus State-owned companies have grown their share from 35% to 70% of the Russian GDP.
Even Saudi Arabia, at 646 billions and without a single person having a comparable position, is no match.
Charts like the one by Forbes only estimate wealth obtained via the very well defined set of rules of current US free market capitalism, they’re useless once you move away from that. You can’t use those formulas to compute how much wealth public sector (or crony private sector) figures de facto control in countries with a non-liberal, non-free market (by the western/US definition) system.

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