Is the ‘Balmoral test’ compatible with the rules of hospitality?

According to the Netflix series The Crown, there is an informal ‘Balmoral test’ which guests of the Royal family, when invited at their Scottish country house, are expected to pass. This ‘test’ is a lot about wearing the right clothes, enjoying the right activities and doing the right things in different particular situations.

Apparently, the then prime minister Margaret Thatcher, by joining the hosts at 6 pm dressed up for dinner while everyone else was dressed informally for the drinks, has dramatically failed the ‘test’. While Mrs. Thatcher’s ‘failure’ is probable (after all she came from a different background: less privileged and more free-market oriented), it is quite unlikely that she failed it in that way.

British newspapers are currently filled with quiz-articles asking readers if they would pass the ‘Balmoral test’.

A ‘Balmoral test’ surely exists in one form or another, and not only in the Scottish residence of the Queen. Most importantly, it exists in the minds and even in the instincts of many individuals. And I venture to say that the more elevated individuals are in their own field (whether it is aristocratic background or bitcoin expertise; alpinism or sailing; etc.) the more they will tend to impose the ‘Balmoral test’ on their guests.

But is this test (or rather its more or less explicit disclosure to the guest) compatible with the rules of hospitality?

First of all, what kind of rules are these?

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You can’t have your cake and eat it too

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 23.9.2020

Like many other articles of The Telegraph, this beautiful one by Allison Pearson, where she criticizes the government for violating liberty too much rather than too little, would be almost unthinkable in any Italian newspaper.

However, the very concept of violating liberty “too much” is part of a paradigm which itself is incompatible with liberty (scientifically defined) and which, in the long run, inevitably contributes to increase (and not to decrease) the legal violations of liberty.

For the same reasons why you cannot logically steal “too much” or “too little” (you can steal a lot or a little, but either you steal or you don’t), you cannot violate liberty “too much” or “too little”. Either you violate liberty or you don’t. Either you are in favour of a social structure in which the government can legally do things that individuals cannot do without committing a crime, or you’re against it. It’s not about seeing the world in black and white: it’s about applying logic where logic is needed. Continue reading

Economic Cycles

Giovanni Birindelli (guest lecturer), June 2020

Economic Cycles. The perspective of the Austrian School of Economics

University of Milan, Course in Economic Geography (Prof. Alessandro Vitale)

LLM in Sustainable Development, Faculty of Law

Book review: Edward Snowden’s “Permanent record”

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 26.11.2019

(Italian version here)

While reading Edward Snowden’s Permanent Record, I was astonished by the qualities of the author. Notwithstanding his understatement, these qualities clearly emerged from the details of his story: his courage, above all. His intelligence. His computing abilities, which to me seem almost supernatural. His rectitude. His profound kindness that is revealed in every line of his book. His great humaneness.

While each one of these qualities in itself would have already been extraordinary because of its intensity, the contemporary presence of all of them in the same person at the same time made me rethink the limits of what I once considered to be humanly possible.

In this article I will not discuss these qualities. I think that the best way to appreciate them is to buy the book and read it.

I’m so much humbled by them and by Snowden’s purely heroic gesture that I’m instinctively inclined to censor my own criticism of some aspects of his thought that I believe are logically inconsistent. In fact, in relation to the choices, the capabilities, the actions and the qualities of a hero of this magnitude, these inconsistencies have such little importance that they appear to be almost negligible. However, they are about the very ideas on which his gesture was based: namely, the very concept of privacy and the difference between what is legal and what is right. Therefore, perhaps a discussion of these inconsistencies may be not entirely useless. In addition, I do not believe that self-censorship would be the best way to homage the person who, at the beginning all alone, has defied the most powerful nation in the world (and its allies) to denounce its mass surveillance programs and start a debate on these issues.

Criticizing from the comfort of one’s desk, on a theoretical level, the ideas of someone who risked his own life to defend them (and who’s living in exile for having defended them), is not usually an aesthetically beautiful thing to do, I believe. However, in this particular case, I consider this criticism a tribute to the man who has risked his own life to start a much-needed debate on privacy and on the difference between what is legal and what is right. This criticism is for me a way to acknowledge the debt that I, together with my family, have with Edward Snowden and that I know I will hardly ever manage to pay back.

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The intellectuals and the left

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 15.10.2019 (updated 18.10.2019)

Giovanni I have a question for you, as you’ve studied politics much more than me. I wonder why most intellectuals worldwide (in any case an overwhelming majority of them) lean towards the left, or identify themselves with the political left. I know that, as a libertarian, you oppose both right and left, since you oppose the state itself, but I’m asking about the reason(s) for intellectuals’ predilection for the left (J.)

I have never studied politics but the science of liberty and economic science. Also, it is not entirely correct to say that I oppose both right and left. Those of the right oppose those of the left, and vice-versa. Having a scientific approach, I don’t “oppose” them. At least not in the way they oppose each other. I observe that they are both different expressions of the same religious, anti-scientific and anti-social phenomenon (which has different names: collectivism, positivism, statism, totalitarianism, etc.). A phenomenon which is expression of mental illness (namely, the Stockholm syndrome among others) and which, especially when it is imposed on a systemic scale, destroys liberty and the process that, because it is the only one that can make use of peripheral knowledge which is available only to the acting individuals and cannot be available to any “directing mind”, is the only one capable of creating sustainable prosperity: the free market process. Continue reading

Decline, political stability and bitcoin

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 7.9.2019

(Traduzione italiana qui: link)

In a recent article on The Wall Street Journal, Gerard Baker gives an effective (though a bit banal) picture of the decline of Italian society and economy, which is seen as the tip of the sword of the decline of Western civilization. This decline is depicted in stark contrast with the beauty that can still be found in that country (and specifically in Tuscany, where I live and where the author went on holiday and was inspired to write his article).

If we see the decline (Italian and, more in general, of the Western civilization) as a mountain of rubbish that the statist system (and especially the democratic one) necessarily makes ever bigger in the long run, then we can see bitcoin, at least in part, as a technology that allows to produce (totally clean) energy from this rubbish. In other words, the same decline (the same growing mountain of rubbish) can have different implications (and therefore be a resource or its opposite) according to whether such technology has been invented or not. Baker’s article, however, while discussing decline does not take into consideration this aspect of the problem. And in my opinion it doesn’t do it because it does not take into consideration the scientifically relevant causes of the decline, namely:

  1. the distortion of the abstract idea of law: from non-arbitrary limit to anyone’s coercive power, to instrument of arbitrary coercive power by some over others;
  2. the distortion of the concept of money: from an asset which has been spontaneously selected by the free market process because (among other things) it is scarce, to pieces of paper (or their digital equivalents) which have been coercively imposed by a particular criminal organization because they are infinitely abundant;
  3. and other distorsions (regarding the concept of equality before the law; the concept of economic value; etc.).

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The author of The Bitcoin Standard has not understood the principle of decreasing marginal utility

GIOVANNI BIRINDELLI, 7/8/2019

Wow, what a mistake! It came completely out of the blue in an otherwise truly wonderful book!

In The Bitcoin Standard, the author Saifedean Ammous writes:

The marginal utility of money does in fact decline, as evidenced by the fact that an extra dollar of income means a lot more to a person whose daily income is $1 than one whose daily income is $1.000.

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Protectionism (2019)

Slides of the lectures on the subject of protectionism given at the Course in Economic Geography (Prof. A. Vitale) LLM in Sustainable Development, Faculty of Law, University of Milan.

To download the .pdf file click on image

Main changes from previous version (2018) include:

  • added section on the structure of thought (section: Introduction)
  • added section with data on new protectionist measures by US (global), between US and China, and between the US and the EU (section: 4.b)
  • added section on ‘free trade’ areas (section 4.h)
  • general revision and update