Lorenzo & his humble friends

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool

Tag: the economist

Please die where we can’t see you

On the emerging EU approach to refugees – original image here.

KAL cartoon on asylum seekers

2015: resolutions

Go ski touring. Keep playing tennis. Start beating Fabio, Giallu, and Martijn at tennis. Write three good chapters for the Ph.D. dissertation. Publish one paper I can be proud of. Teach in high schools. Enjoy Florence with Thomoose. Buy a typewriter and use it to write letters. Spend time with Camilla in London. Bring the Ladybirds to the Coppa Pavone. Keep reading The Economist. Read all of the seven 1000-page classics of the literature books I bough last month -just kidding. But seriously: read at least three of them. Take the Dolomiti del Brenta Tour with Manuel, Mindo, Dani, Giallu and sleep under a sky full of stairs. Visit Prague, Beirut, and Jerusalem. Work and volunteer in Israel. Volunteer abroad with Legambiente, anyway. Run half a marathon in less than 1h45′. Spend my fifth new year’s eve with the Canadians. Keep writing. Also on the blog.

Discoveries

Once upon a time, there were courageous individuals who dreamed of discovering new lands. And the Americas were discovered. Then came individuals who dreamed of discovering the space. And the moon was discovered. Then came individuals who dreamed of discovering the universe… Well, you get my drift. It is thanks to these courageous pioneers that we can continue broadening our horizons.

Unfortunately, I am not one of them. I am pretty content with the mundane things I can realistically achieve and I am no big dreamer when in comes to uncharted territories. So the only discoveries I can personally claim are rather pedestrian information-wise services. No big deal, you might say. You would be mistaken: it’s thrilling to discover things that I can use for keeping up to date. Best of all, I am happy to share these with you, my reader. And be warned: this was a pretty good year for discovering stuff.

Surprisingly enough, the best service of 2014 turns out to be a paid newsletter. Generally speaking I despise newsletters and I would have never thought I could end up paying for one. Believe it or not, Good Morning Italia is a great treat. It costs less than 20 euro a year and it has become my primary source of information when I turn on my laptop in the morning. (Of course, you can also have it as a mobile app. Now, if there’s one thing I despise more than newsletter it is reading the news on my mobile devices, so personally I wouldn’t go that far. But, hei,  feel free). I almost forgot: it is in Italian.

Speaking of Italian, I have started to read consistently some columns that I used to consult only sporadically: l’Oroscopo di Brezny – e quando capita anche quello di Breznev – le Regole, il Manuale di Conversazione e Buongiorno. Dovrei leggere anche l’Amaca, ma siccome non ha un suo spazio online me ne dimentico quasi sempre. Di italiano ho scoperto anche due siti che scrivono di sport e cultura: l’UltimoUomo e Rivista Studio. Credo che entrambi siano stati avviati proprio nel corso del 2014.

English-wise, I have simply re-discovered a couple of useful services I had given up in the course of 2013. The week ahead by the Economist is a useful podcast that comes in once a week – for free. Similarly useful, only slightly less effective, is The World Weekly with Gideon Rachman – again, once a week, for free, between 10 and 15 minutes. Other than these, I stick to my classics: openDemocracy, the Guardian, and BBC Breaking News now on Twitter. I have briefly tried the Upshot and Five Thirty Eight, but neither of these lasted very long on my bookmark list.

You may or may not use these resources in the coming months. You can think they will help you flourish. Or you can conclude it is a plain waste of time. Just remember: when Europeans first explored the New World, ships captained by Italians led the way. I see a lesson here for you, dear reader.

A good night for marijuana

Republican Party candidates, who had transformed the mid-term elections in a referendum over the Obama administration, slaughtered their Democratic opponents in last night American Senate’s mid-term elections winning 21 of the 33 seats that were contested. They now have a strong majority in the Chamber (they already did before the election) and in the Senate (they did not), leaving very little room of manoeuvre to President Obama for the last two years of his mandate.

the US 2014 mid-term results

So much good news for the Grand Old Party. Indeed, last night was a success for the Republicans, but it was a good night for marijuana too, and for minimum wage. In the referendums held in many states, alongside the Senate elections, voters in Arkansas, Nebraska and Illinois decided to raise the minimum hourly wage from $7.25 to 9, 8,50 and $10 respectively. In Oregon, the District of Columbia and Alaska citizens voted in favor of legalizing marijuana for recreational use – joining Colorado and Washington, where recreational marijuana had been allowed a few months ago. Paradoxically, while the Republicans have been tightening their stance on immigration and public debt over the last few years, they are now back in power at a time when the US is becoming more progressive than ever on social and civil issues. In his effective op-ed, Alessio Marchionna argued that if the Republicans want to capitalize on the success of the mid-term elections and aspire to the presidency in 2016, they will have to change along with the rest of American society.

The referendum in Scotland

It was 2011 when I read a letter by Alex Salmond published on the Economist. The letter was about his vision for Scotland and his promise to deliver a referendum on the independence of the country by 2014. I was struck, and deeply fascinated by the arguments in favor and against independence. Since then I started studying citizenship in Scotland, a place I would have visited four times in the following three years.

Now here I am again, just one day to go before the long-awaited referendum. I arrived in Edinburgh on September 2nd to follow the campaign and the post-electoral debate. With less than 24 hours to the vote, here are some of my preliminary reflections. (Note: I have already published one article on the matter. You can find it in Italian on Unimondo following the link here).

1. Who will win. When the campaign started, the objective of the Better Together was to make sure that the victory was as big as possible and the only thing to do was to “bayonet the wounded”. For months to the referendum the polls showed a solid lead of the No with over 20 points of advantage over Yes Scotland. Unionist parties were confident their side would win comfortably. Yet, on Sunday 7 September, only five days after my arrival, the YouGov poll came out showing that the Yes side had taken the lead. It was a major shock for the Better Together and the three British parties defending the Union.

scotland referendum polls

How did the Yes campaign achieve so much in so little time? I think here there are two crucial lessons to be learn. First and foremost, Yes Scotland is a movement, not a campaign: it is broad and imaginative and richly textured, it involves artists, intellectuals, students, veterans, not just politicians. Second, Yes Scotland is about uplifting progressive ideas: it proclaims a fairer, more equal, younger multicultural society as opposed to the individualistic neoliberal policies pursued by Westminster. Put these two features together and you have passion.

Passion, in politics, is a powerful tool. The Yes volunteers are, in fact, enthusiastic volunteers, as opposed to the Better Together volunteers who are, err, paid activists. This tells a lot about the two sides of the campaign, a campaign the Yes Scotland has already won on virtually every front: it has given out more leaflets, put up more posters, knocked on more doors, dominated on twitter. It takes very little to understand how much of a difference this makes. Take my personal experience. In the neighborhood where I live there is one Better Together office and one Yes Scotland. I visited both. The latter was crowded and I was offered plenty of leaflets with facts, pictures, and texts explaining why Scotland should be independent. One could even buy a mug, a poster, a t-shirt, or a comic book. (I did buy the mug and the poster). The Better Together office, by contrast, was deserted and the only thing I could get was a ‘No, thanks’ poster. The girl who was working there asked me if I wanted to volunteer too; I said ‘no, thanks’.

Will the Yes eventually win over the voters on referendum day? I honestly do not know. The two sides are neck to neck and the outcome is too close to call. But there is little doubt that one of the two sides has won already. Think back to how the No entered in the campaign and now consider that when Gordon Brown – backed by the three Westminster party leaders – last week promised Scotland “nothing less than a modern form of home rule” if the vote is no, it signalled that the constitutional make-up of these islands is about to change irrevocably. This will be a historical referendum, regardless of the final outcome, and much of the credit goes to the Yes side.

2. It has been a big debate. There is one more reason why this is a historical referendum: the campaign has been hugely engaging, energizing people everywhere in the country, reaching disaffected voters, and ultimately making people think about the kind of community they want to live in. I was walking around Edinburgh the last week and I have witnessed an extraordinary flowering of local-level discussion in the streets, the university, community halls. These were not political rallies: they were meetings well beyond the slogans of the official party politics. They were challenging discussions about the currency, Europe, the kind of democracy and institutions that would best serve the people who live in Scotland. There were extremely few incidents and the two sides remained respectful of each other: I can’t tell of any personal attack, insult, or threat. As a result, around 97% of the population have registered to vote and turnout will almost certainly be far higher than the 63.8% who voted in Scotland at the 2010 general election. The process leading to the referendum has been an admirable democratic exercise.

3. It has not been about economy (primarily) or the identity (at all). My friends who do political economy, study finance, or work in business are all convinced that this referendum boils down to economic assets and the rest is cheap talk. I think they are profoundly mistaken. As it should be clear from the explanation I have provided thus far, the campaign has been mainly about the kind of institutions that can do a better service to Scottish democracy. It has not been about the economy only. Of course, the pound, the tax revenues, the oil: all of these are important issues at stake. But they are not the only ones.

A similar point needs to be made with respect to identity. Nationalism, history, Scottishness and blood: none of these features have been present in the Yes campaign. This is a remarkable feature and the Yes side deserves credit for that. Quite paradoxically, the only time I have been thinking about ethnic nationalism was when I listened to David Cameron appealing to Britishness as a “magical identity”. What is important to emphasise is that there has not been a nationalist call to arms from the Yes campaign.

In the end, the reason why the Yes is winning over many voters has been explained very clearly by of the best professors I have had in the last few years: because it appeared more concerned with the democratic deficit in current UK political structures, the gradual erosion of the welfare state, and the need to create a fairer, more just society. If it’s a Yes on Thursday, voters must have felt that these social and political goals would be more easily achievable in an independent Scottish state than in current UK structures. Yes Scotland’s campaign has won over Scots’ desire for a country that is stronger and fairer. Short of winning independence, that will be the Yes campaign’s enduring achievement.

4. A look to the future. So much for the good news. I believe most of the problems lie ahead.

The No campaign  has lost a precious opportunity to strengthen the union. It could have emphasized the collective achievements of the Union (the industrial revolution, the victory in World War II, the welfare system, Andy Murray…) to project a different future together.  It has not done any of that, conducting a campaign based on scaremongering and marginal concessions. Should the No win, the main parties have already committed to a great devolution for Scotland. But there are huge problems coming with it. First, the legislative timetable set out is barely credible, as it intends to carry out in four months what normally takes several years of consultation. Second, the plan provides no scope to consult the wider public and lack of public engagement will make it difficult to secure popular legitimacy for the new devolution proposals. For these reasons, it is unlikely that a No vote will bring about the kind of change that the Union needs, as it has been dramatically showed by the direction and the arguments of this campaign.

On the other hand, the Yes campaign has offered a vision for an independent Scotland. And what a vision! Universal childcare, free prescriptions, no fees at university, free social care, higher pensions, an end to nuclear weapons, a challenge to the bedroom tax and a securely non-privatised welfare state. At the same time, it has advocated “a light touch” on business, cutting public expenditure, opposing 50% as the top rate of tax, promoting deregulation, and competing with the Treasury to slash corporation tax. It is very, very difficult to see how these things can come together without generating profound tensions and unsatisfactory compromises.

In short, if the No campaign has been dire, punitive, and disengaged, the Yes campaign has promised much more than what it can realistically achieve. Of course, it remains tempting to hear the siren call of a young, independent state making its way in the world; but as it has been recently reminded to me, Antonio Gramsci, the Italian philosopher and politician, famously advocated pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will: the Yes campaign, understandably, has emphasised the latter but effectively ignored the former.

2014: resolutions

Go ski touring more than twice. Cook often, and do it with Stefania. Learn how to smoke the pipe. Make it to the second year of the Ph.D. Go hiking with Manuel, Mindo, Gian, and the Canadians. See Thomas. Get drunk with Thomas. Print all the pictures I always wanted to print and never did. Take yoga classes with Mariana. Brew my own beer. Re-start reading The Economist and The Time. Spend more time with Camilla and Anna. Go back to Slovakia. Spend two Summer weeks volunteering abroad with Legambiente. Learn French (decently). Visit Prague and Vilnius. Run half a marathon (10km races do not count). Ride at least 2,000 km on my bike. Take one vintage picture involving friends, food, and bicycles. Keep writing for Unimondo and the blog.

Is The Economist right-wing or left-wing?

Some readers, particularly those used to the left-right split in most democratic legislatures, are bamboozled by The Economist’s political stance. We like free enterprise and tend to favour deregulation and privatisation. But we also like gay marriage, want to legalise drugs and disapprove of monarchy. So is the newspaper right-wing or left-wing?

Neither, is the answer. The Economist was founded in 1843 by James Wilson, a British businessman who objected to heavy import duties on foreign corn. Mr Wilson and his friends in the Anti-Corn Law League were classical liberals in the tradition of Adam Smith and, later, the likes of John Stuart Mill and William Ewart Gladstone. This intellectual ancestry has guided the newspaper’s instincts ever since: it opposes all undue curtailment of an individual’s economic or personal freedom. But like its founders, it is not dogmatic. Where there is a liberal case for government to do something, The Economist will air it. Early in its life, its writers were keen supporters of the income tax, for example. Since then it has backed causes like universal health care and gun control. But its starting point is that government should only remove power and wealth from individuals when it has an excellent reason to do so.

Read it all on The Economist.

The light!

After one intense week in Trento I’m now back in Brussels. Straight into the proper European mood thanks to this week’s Kal’s timely cartoon.

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Confused?

A PEW Research Centre’s report on Muslims and their attitudes to sharia law reflects man’s capacity to hold contradictory views. Almost 80% of Egyptian Muslims say they favour religious freedom and a similar number favour sharia law. Of that group, almost 90% also think people who renounce Islam should be put to death.

source: The Economist

Tuscany

All those who have been considered for premiership (Enrico Letta, Giuliano Amato, Matteo Renzi) are from Tuscany. Perhaops unwillingly, tomorrow’s Economist will recognize the new centrality of Italian’s most beautiful region.

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