Getting rid of Debt: How About Replacing Money with Social Credit?
20 May 2019 | 5:24 pm


Mark Twain had a genial idea with his story "The One Million Pound Bank Note" published in 1853. It was such a huge amount of money that it couldn't be exchanged, yet it gave its owner all sorts of perks and goods. It was, in a certain way, an anticipation of what we call today the "social credit score" obtained on the various social media services on the Web. It is a form of money that can be owned, but cannot be exchanged -- in most cases, you can't even go negative with your social credit. So, no debt, no bankruptcy. Would it be possible to build a financial system based on this concept? Not easy, but also an idea being examined nowadays, especially in China with their state-owned social credit system (shèhuì xìnyòng tǐxì). The text below is derived from the chapter on financial collapses of my new book "The Seneca Strategy," to be published in later 2019.



The whole problem of financial collapses is the result of the existence of money. But what is money exactly? Without going into the various theories of money that economists are still discussing, we can say that once, money was something that everybody agreed on: a weight of precious metals. After all, the British currency is still defined in units of weight, even though one pound (in monetary terms) does not weigh a pound (in physical terms). Still, up to not too long ago, money was simply a token representing a physical entity, typically a certain weight of gold and silver. But things changed a lot with time and, with the 20th century, the convertibility of the dollar into precious metals was more theoretical than real. In 1971 president Nixon formally canceled it. From then on, money has been a purely virtual entity created by central banks out of thin air. How people accept to be paid for their work by something that doesn’t exist is a little strange, if you think about that. But that doesn’t change the fact that money is the backbone of society: it is exchanged, lent, borrowed, distributed, spent, and more. And, with money, there comes debt, and with debt there comes insolvency and, with it, bankruptcy.

Could we think of going a step beyond the institution of bankruptcy laws and imagine a financial system where people can’t go bankrupt? This is an idea that floats nowadays in the world’s global consciousness. Perhaps the first proposal in this sense was made by Cory Doctorow in 2003 (during the pre-Facebook age) in his novel “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom” where he proposed a kind of “merit money,” called “Whuffie,” that people could accumulate on the good deeds that they performed. This money was a form of credit, but it couldn’t be spent – it just produced perks and advantages for its owner. It was something that pre-figured the “credit score” that Facebook and other social media would later develop. Maybe Doctorow was inspired by Mark Twain’s story "The Million Pound Bank Note" (1903), where the protagonist finds that the mere possession of this banknote of enormous value entitles him with honors and goods, without the need of exchanging it. But Doctorow may have been thinking of the concept of personal honor, fashionable in less monetized times than ours. As an honorable man you were entitled to some privileges, but enjoying them didn’t mean that your honor would be reduced as a consequence.

Later on, the concept of on-line credit score was developed by social media sites such as Facebook, taking the Web by storm starting in 2004. It had been preceded by what was perhaps the first modern social media system, “Friendster” which appeared in 2002 and went bust in 2015. The variety of these sites is large today and most of them use some kind of “credit scoring” for their users. In Facebook, there is no such a thing as a negative scoring, but the possibility of rating users down exists in other social media, for instance in Reddit, where your “karma points” can go negative if you happen to utter an especially ill-thought comment.

The idea of using the social media on the Web as a form of money was proposed perhaps for the first time by Solitaire Townsend in 2013. The Chinese government seems to have taken the idea seriously and they are implementing a statewide system of social credit (shèhuì xìnyòng tǐxì) that's supposed to “grade” Chinese citizens on a merit score. You get positive points for being a good citizen: helping an old lady crossing the street will bring you points from the lady and from the people who witnessed the good deed you performed. You get negative points when you do something bad, like getting a traffic ticket or just a bad report from someone who felt hurt by something you did.

The Chinese social credit system can be seen as a form of money, in the sense that it is based on the yin-yang opposition of debt and credit. Having a sufficiently high social credit score is a prerequisite for being able to purchase certain things which, in the West, are not for everybody anyway, plane tickets for instance. Something similar had been developed in earlier times in the Soviet Union, where the members of the Soviet Communist Party were considered as having a higher “credit score” than the others and they enjoyed non-monetary perks and services that were denied to the normal Soviet citizens. It was the “nomenklatura” system, not so much different from what we call the “establishment” in the West.

The idea of a universal social credit score is being experimented in various forms, but in the West, it is regarded with suspicion, at the very least considered as an invasion of people’s privacy and the denial of personal freedom. There exists a site called “people” (peeple.com) trying to assign a merit score to everyone – it doesn’t seem to have been very successful, so far. But even in the proud West, there exist smaller scale credit rating systems. For decades scientists have been using “academic credits” designed to establish a pecking order among the scientists working in the same fields. Initially, the system was based just on the number of scientific publications (“papers”) that a scientist could produce. That led to the concept of “publish or perish” and to the multiplication of both papers and scientific journals in a gigantic jumble of low-quality publications. Attempts to remedy the disaster led to various schemes to grade both journals and publications. The latest, currently the most popular, version of scientific grading is called the “h-index” and it provides individual scores depending on how many times a paper published by a scientist has been cited by other scientists. The h-index system, just like all the other scoring systems in science, is based on peer evaluation, therefore it is a kind of social credit system.

The common element of these social merit systems is that points cannot be exchanged among owners. We could imagine a society fully based on a credit system where you obtain goods and services just on the basis of your credit rating. So, suppose you want a coffee, you pay for it by adding a number of credit points to the coffee shop owner/waiters, but you don’t detract these point from your score. Things get a little more complicated if you want something expensive. So, suppose you want a fancy car: you can have, say, a Ferrari if your credit score is sufficiently high. Again, the fact of “buying” a Ferrari in this way doesn’t reduce your credit score but, of course, there has to be some kind of record keeping that prevents high-score people from accumulating Ferraris as if they were toy cars. There is some similarity, here, with the way the Soviet Union market system worked. In order to have a car, you had to register on a list and wait for your turn. Years later, you could see that car delivered to you and you were erased from the list and prevented from re-enlisting from a certain time. That made sure that you wouldn’t waste the products of the people’s factories by having more than one car. But Nomenklatura members didn’t need to wait, being high in the credit score list.

So, a “reputation currency” could work, at least in a certain way. An advantage of such a system is that it may be rigged in such a way to create no negative credit (no debt). Could we eliminate the bad consequences of insolvency in this way? And, in a single sweep, we would eliminate such things as theft, robbery, corruption, swindles, and all the crimes related to money. We can imagine ways to swindle the system, but nobody ever could steal your credit rating at gunpoint!

But, obviously, there are problems with the idea. Doctorow says about his creation, the “Whuffie” money, “Reputation is a terrible currency” and that’s very true for those who are at the wrong end of the scale. Have you ever been bullied as a teen? If it happened to you, you know how hard it can be to be the boy at the lowest rung of the ladder. And the only way to move away from the bottom is to behave in the most abject way with the leaders of the group: flattering them and obeying their orders. Doing so, eventually ensures that another hapless person will eventually occupy the bottom place in the pecking order. Then, if you are a scientist, you surely know how powerful a merit score can be as a factor pushing you to conformism. If you are a young scientist, you know that your career depends on never-ever criticizing or disparaging your senior colleagues. That’s a privilege you’ll gain only after getting your tenure and even then you’ll have to be careful about displeasing the powerful dons who control the financing of research.

Doctorow understands this point very well when he says in his book

Whuffie has all the problems of money, and then a bunch more that are unique to it. In Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom, we see how Whuffie – despite its claims to being ‘‘meritocratic’’ – ends up pooling up around sociopathic jerks who know how to flatter, cajole, or terrorize their way to the top. Once you have a lot of Whuffie – once a lot of people hold you to be reputable – other people bend over backwards to give you opportunities to do things that make you even more reputable, putting you in a position where you can speechify, lead, drive the golden spike, and generally take credit for everything that goes well, while blaming all the screw-ups on lesser mortals.

This is similar to the situation in science nowadays. There is no “scientific bankruptcy” for scientists: their h-index, as it is now, can’t go negative. So, no matter how bad a scientist can be, there is no direct way to hit him or her with a bankruptcy sentence and remove it from the pool of the recognized scientists. This is probably the reason why it is often said that “science progresses one funeral at a time.” (a quote attributed to the German scientist Max Planck). It means that old scientists tend to block scientific progress until the natural phenomenon of biological collapse removes them from the system. It would be an interesting reform to introduce “negative points” in science and fire the scientists who manage to go negative because of one or more truly bad papers. But, before that happens, the “Whuffie trap” that Doctorow described would play its role to push scientists toward the most abject conformism. For a scientist, avoiding to be being the target of the wrath of the scientific powers that be (SPTB) could only mean that they should be extremely careful to avoid to publish or voice anything that goes against the current consensus. And that would destroy that spark of creativity that, despite all odds, science still manages to maintain, so far.

So, switching to an always positive form of money would have some advantages in the sense that it would eliminate debt and, with it, insolvency and all the related problems and traumas. But it wouldn’t in itself, change the fact that currency is just a proxy for something real, the entities we call “goods” or “commodities.” Social credit money wouldn’t do much to solve problems such as resource depletion and pollution: people would still want to consume and waste resources and those who have a high social credit would do that just in the same way as those who are rich in terms of conventional money.

In the end, money may be a virtual entity and you may also define it as the devil’s dung. But we are addicted to it and we keep playing the money game. Money is so deeply intertwined with the way our society works that we can’t even imagine how it could work without it. What could happen to us if a large financial collapse were to destroy the value of our mighty dollar? We can’t say for sure, but the mighty Globalized Empire might crumble like a house of cards in a single, huge, Seneca collapse.





Human Extinction: An Idea Whose Time had to Come.
12 May 2019 | 9:02 am






A few years ago, a political movement taking the name of "extinction rebellion" would have been wholly unthinkable. On the other hand, after more than forty years of warnings on climate change and ecosystem collapse from the world's best scientists, the message had to start going through, somehow. And it does.

One consequence is the appearance on the social media of a crowd of deranged, depressed, misanthropic, and generally nasty people who have decided that the extinction of humankind is what's going to happen, no matter what we do, and they even seem to like the idea. Others, fortunately, seem to think that we can still do something to avoid this manifest destiny and the consequence is the birth of the extinction rebellion movement. Can it accomplish anything? Hard to say, it sounds a little like an "asteroid rebellion" movement that dinosaurs could have created just before the end of the Cretaceous era.

These openly declared attitudes may be just the tip of the iceberg, others may well have decided that, if overpopulation is the problem, then there are quick and very dirty ways to solve it. They may be concocting dark and dire things and they won't care too much about who thinks exactly what about the likelyhood of a coming human extinction. Their only concern would be that THEY won't go extinct. But, as usual, we see the future darkly, as in a mirror, and the time when we'll see it face to face has not come, yet. 

Below, a text by "Reverse Engineer" of the Doomstead Diner who examines the question and, at the linked page, you'll find also a longer video. (U.B.)



Guest post by R.E. (Reverse Engineer).



Extinction has moved from the dark corners of the Collapse Blogosphere into the consciousness of the mainstream.  Just a few short years ago the discussion of human extinction was relegated to a few fringe websites, but not so anymore.  Now it has become Topic #1 in the discussions on many websites that concern themselves with topics of collapse.  Sometimes this comes to the exclusion of many other collapse related topics in economics, geopolitics, energy and social psychology that are impacting more directly right now.

Generally, my focus over the years has been on the economics and energy end of the spin down we are immersed in, and I don't dwell too much on the issues of extinction.  However, here on the Diner we have treated the subject to analysis on a few occasions, most notably the Human Extinction Survey, which we ran a couple of years ago.  It garnered the most respondents of any survey we have run at around 350 submissions until recently, when our Collapse Projections Survey brought in responses from over 600 Kollapsniks.  The extinction survey also inspired a month long email stream between various bloggers and pundits which was quite interesting.

I generally tend to avoid extinction discussions though for a few reasons.  First, I have discovered over the years that it attracts a certain type of reader/commenter who is often nihilistic, misanthropic and sometimes suicidally depressed.  The blog becomes consumed with the discussion of the topic while more proximal problems get ignored.  Who cares if the monetary system is going to crash if we're all gonna die anyhow, right?  It also sometimes inspires people toward counter-productive behaviors.  If we're all destined to inevitable death here no matter what, let's just Party like it's 1999!  It leads to inaction on problems we still can have an effect on as we move forward in collapse.

The timeline question becomes very important here, because if extinction is indeed going to happen, when will it actually occur?  If it's in the next 5 years say, that has one set of problems and responses, if it's going to happen in 50 there's another set.  Nobody can really finger this accurately, it's all speculation but some true believers hammer down on anyone who doesn't buy the whole ball of wax on Near Term Human Extinction (NTHE) is in denial and shooting up too much Hopium.  Amongst this crowd, hope is a bad thing to have.

Recent events however compelled me to discuss this subject in detail, which I do in today's Collapse Morning Wake-Up Call.  The first is the rise of the Extinction Rebellion movement, which recently held a week long series of often very theatrical demonstrations in London to raise consciousness and hopefully get some real ACTION out of governments to combat this problem, which looms larger each day as more climate related calamities strike in more places with incresing ferocity and frequency.all over the globe.  The second is a corollary issue of Population Overshoot, and the fact that many Millenials are now choosing to remain childless, for one reason or another.  What kind of difference will this make to our society as time marches on here?

All in all, Extinction is a difficult conundrum to deal with, a Wicked Problem.  Hopefully, I clarify some issues with this discussion, or at least lay out my position on where I stand on these issues.

Save As Many As You Can

Video
 

Are the Martyrs Coming Back? Julian Assange and the Fall of the Global Empire
6 May 2019 | 6:35 pm




And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand (Matthew. 12:25)


The more the current world drama unfolds, the more I am amazed by how closely we are following the path that the ancient Roman Empire followed toward its final collapse. Dmitry Orlov, another student of civilization collapse, seem to think in the same way. In a post on his blog, he notes how Julian Assange could be the first martyr for truth of modern times, he calls him "St. Julian." Says Orlov:

If all goes well, he (Julian Assange) will be released and reestablish himself as a media personality of great stature. And if everything goes badly and the Americans do get their hands on him and torture him to death, he will die as a martyr and live in public memory forever.

I don’t know whether Assange has been baptized, but a proper choice of saint for him would be St. Julian of Antioch, who was martyred during Emperor Diocletian’s persecution of Christians between 303 and 313 AD. Julian was stuffed into a sack filled with sand, vipers and scorpions and dumped in the sea. Diocletian’s initiative was a failure: the son of one of his lieutenants, Constantine, not only canceled the persecution of Christians but made Christianity into Roman Empire’s state religion. He then moved its capital to New Rome (Constantinople), abandoning Old Rome to languish in the Dark Ages while his New Rome went on for a thousand glorious years.

Should Julian Assange end up martyred by the Americans, we can expect a vaguely similar result: future generations of Americans will say: “There once was a great journalist by the name of Julian. He died as a martyr for the truth. It was a long time ago, and we don’t know what’s been happening to us since then, because all we have been hearing ever since have been nothing but lies…”


I think this post by Orlov goes to the heart of the matter. A civilization collapse is, in the end, a collapse of trust. An empire, a state, a family, any social structure, can be rich or poor, powerful or weak, new or old, happy or sad, but if there is no trust keeping it together it cannot exist for long, it is like a solid turning into a gas when the chemical bonds keeping the atoms together are not strong enough. It is what happened to the Roman Empire, it is what's happening to us. As Matthew says, "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand" (12:25).

Ultimately, trust is based on truth. Without truth, there cannot be trust. In Roman times, the fight of Christianity against the Empire of Lies was more than everything else a fight to rebuild trust by establishing a new truth, the revealed one. I wrote in a previous post that:

Augustine and other early Christian fathers were engaged, first of all, in an epistemological revolution. Paulus of Tarsus had already understood this point when he had written: "now we see as in a mirror, darkly, then we'll see face to face." It was the problem of truth; how to see it? How to determine it? In the traditional view, truth was reported by a witness who could be trusted. The Christian epistemology started from that, to build up the concept of truth as the result divine revelation. The Christians were calling God himself as witness.
In the name of truth, the Christian martyrs (a Greek term meaning "witness") were willing to give their life, to die vilified and tortured in the most gruesome manners. It was the courage of the early martyrs that eventually brought down the zombie creature that the once great Roman Empire had become.

And now? We are rapidly entering a phase when the lies told to us by our governments and our elites are so huge, so pervasive, so blatant to qualify as diabolical. But in the great confusion of our times even the good among us are confused, they can't discern the truth anymore. And the time may have come when we need a new generation of Martyrs for truth is needed.





Climate Science Deniers Start Feeling the Heat. Now it is Foot-Dragging Time!
2 May 2019 | 3:28 pm


Greta Thunberg is both a cause and an effect in the great shift that's ongoing in the public opinion about climate change. Climate science deniers are feeling the pressure and they are preparing to change their strategy. No more denying that AGW exists and that it is a danger for all of us. It is time to move to foot-dragging for profit. 



A post by Tim Ball on the despicable WUWT blog is well worth reading because it summarizes the plight of climate science deniers in the current debate. Ball says that he calls it quits because:

"you are asking people to believe that a small group of people managed to deceive the world into believing that a trace gas (0.04% of the total atmosphere) was changing the entire climate because of humans. In addition, that group convinced many others to participate in the deception. The public view is that deceiving so many is just not possible. "
Stark clear: Ball perfectly summarizes the problem for him and his band of science-deniers: how could anyone believe what they are saying? With Greta Thunberg bursting into the debate, their position is rapidly becoming untenable. So, they are shifting away from discussing whether AGW exists or not. Ball says,
"I decided to stop trying to educate people about the global deception that is AGW. ... The challenge now is to help people understand the differences between deceptively derived policies, and what is the best, most adaptive, most profitable, and most rewarding strategy for survival of the individual, business, or industry. "
And I couldn't have said it more clearly. Ball and his ilk are preparing for a war of attrition against the attempt to do something to save humankind before it is too late, all in the name of the "most profitable" strategy. 


(I know, I know, I shouldn't link to anti-science blogs, but this one is a must read -- anyway I put a no-follow clause on it. Note also a recent post by Michael Barnard on Medium that notes the same thing as I did)



The Great Fossil Cycle and the Story of a Family
29 April 2019 | 4:16 pm

Last week, I published a post on how the economic decline of Italy led me to move to a smaller house, abandoning the mansion that my parents had built during better times. Complementing that post, I thought I could repropose a post I had published in 2017, reproduced here with some minor modifications. You can find more data about the story of the Bardi family on the "Chimeras" blog.



My great-great grandfather, Ferdinando Bardi. The story of the branch of the Bardi family to which I belong is inextricably linked to the great world cycle of the fossil fuels. (this painting was made by Ferdinando's son, Antonio)


There was a time, long ago, when the Bardis of Florence were rich and powerful, but that branch of the family disappeared with the end of the Renaissance. The most remote ancestors of mine that I can track were living during the early 19th century and they were all poor, probably very poor. But their life was to change with the great fossil revolution that had started in England in the 18th century. The consequences were to spill over to Italy in the centuries that followed.

My great-great grandfather Ferdinando (born in 1822) lived in an age when coal was just starting to become commonplace and people would still use whale oil to light up their homes. He was a soldier in the infantry of the Grand-Duke of Tuscany and then of the King of Italy, when Tuscany merged into the newly formed Kingdom of Italy, in 1861. The family lore says that Ferdinando fought with Garibaldi in Southern Italy, but there is no trace of him in the records as a volunteer of Garibaldi's army. He may have fought there with the regular army, though. In his portrait, we can see the medals that he gained. Today, I still have the ribbons, the medals were lost during the 2nd world war when they were given to "the country" to support the war effort.

Despite the medals, there is little doubt that Ferdinando was poor; his condition is described as "dire poverty" in some documents we still have. But things were changing and the conditions of the Bardi family would change, too. The coal revolution had made Northern Europe rich. England had built a World Empire using coal, France had its revolution and Napoleon, and the industrial age had started. Italy had no significant coal resources but coal could be imported from England and that changed many things. Tuscany was slowly building up a certain degree of prosperity based on a rapidly developing industry and on a flow of tourism from Northern Europe that, already at that time, had Florence as a favorite destination.

That had consequences on the life of Florentines. Antonio Bardi (1862 - 1924), Ferdinando's son and my great-grandfather, was little more than a street urchin when he was befriended by a "gentleman in the service of the Emperor of Brazil," then visiting Florence. It may have happened in 1877 and some of the newspapers of that time report the story of how this gentleman, whose name was "Pedro Americo," paid for the studies of this boy in whom he had somehow noticed a special artistic talent. The papers of that time don't seem to have considered the implications (obvious for us, today) involved in the story of a mature and rich gentleman befriending a poor boy, but those were different times. In any case, Antonio started a career as a painter.

That such a career was possible for Antonio was due to tourism becoming more and more common in Florence. Tourism had not just brought there the Emperor of Brazil, but a continuous flow of foreign tourists interested in ancient paintings and works of art. Color photography didn't exist at that time and this led to a brisk market of hand-made reproduction of ancient masterpieces. These reproductions were especially prized if they were made by Florentine artists, in some ways supposed to maintain the genetic imprint of the people who had created the originals. So, the main art galleries of Florence would allow local artists to set up their easels in their rooms and they would later provide them with a stamp on their canvases guaranteeing that it was "painted from the original". It seems to have been a rather diffuse occupation and, already at that time, Florentines were adapting to the opportunities that the world changes were offering to them. My aunt Renza, grand-daughter of Antonio, was still doing the same job -- making copies of paintings from the originals -- in the 1930s.

Some of the paintings of Antonio Bardi are still kept by his descendants and, for what I can say, he seems to have been a skilled painter with a special ability with portraits. But he never was very successful in this career: Florence was not Paris, it was a backwater of Europe and there were little chances for artists to become rich and famous there. As he got old, Antonio developed health problems with his eyes and he couldn't paint anymore, so he moved to a job as a guardsman. Still, he had escaped the poverty trap that had affected his ancestors. Many other Florentines of that time were doing the same, although in different ways. From our viewpoint, Tuscany in the 19th century was still a desperately poor place, but its economy was rapidly growing as a result of the ongoing coal age. That opened up opportunities that had never existed before.

My grandfather, Raffaello Bardi, was born in 1892. His instruction was limited but he could read and write and perhaps he attended a professional school. When he was drafted for the Great War, he had a hard time with the defeat of the Italian Army at Caporetto, in 1917, but he managed to get back home, all in one piece. There, he married Rita, a Florentine seamstress, and he found a job in a Swiss company that had established a branch in Florence and that manufactured straw hats, exporting them all over the world.

There were reasons for that Swiss company to exist and to be located in Florence. One was the tradition of making straw hats in Tuscany: it had started already during the 18th century. Another was that the Italian economy in the 20th century was rapidly growing. Many Italian regions were playing the role that today is played by Eastern European countries or South-Asian ones. They were being colonized by North European companies as sources of cheap labor. Tuscany had a well developed hydroelectric energy system and could offer a skilled workforce. Swiss, German, and British companies were flocking there to establish profitable branches for their businesses.

That was the opportunity that my grandfather exploited. He was only a modest employee in the company where he worked but he could afford a lifestyle that his ancestors couldn't even have dreamed of. In 1922, he bought a nice home for his family in the suburbs. It was no mansion, but a step forward in comparison to the small apartments where the Bardi family had been living before. It had a garden, three bedrooms, a modern bathroom, and it could lodge my grandparents, their four children, and the additional son they had adopted: a nephew who had been orphaned when his parents had died because of the Spanish flu, in 1919.  Raffaello could also afford to take his family on vacations at the seaside for about one month every summer. He could send his sons to college, although not his daughters; women were still not supposed to study in those times.

There came the Fascist government, the great crash of 1929, and the 2nd world war. Hard times for everyone but this branch of the Bardi family suffered no casualties nor great disasters. Raffaello's home also survived the allied bombing raids, even though a few steel splinters hit the outer walls. With the end of the war, the Italian economy experienced a period of growth so rapid that it was termed the "economic miracle". It was no miracle but the consequence of crude oil being cheap and easily available. The Italian industry boomed, and with it tourism.

During this period, the Italian labor was not anymore so cheap as it had been in earlier times. The activity of manufacturing straw hats was taken over by Chinese firms and the Swiss company in which my grandfather had worked closed down. Still, there was a brisk business in importing Chinese-made hats in Florence, adding to them some hand-made decoration and selling the result as "Florentine hats."  One of my aunts, Renza, continued to manage a cottage industry that did exactly that. My other aunt, Anna, the youngest of the family, tried to follow the footprints of her grandfather, Antonio, and to work as a painter but she was not very successful. Tourism was booming, but people were not anymore interested in hand-made reproductions of ancient masterpieces.

For my father, Giuliano, and my uncle, Antonio, both graduated in architecture, the booming Italian economy offered good opportunities. The period from the 1950s to the early 1970s was probably the richest period enjoyed by Italy in modern times and the moment of highest prosperity for the members of the Bardi family in Florence. All my relatives of that generation were rather well-off as employees or professionals. Their families were mostly organized according to the breadwinner/housewife model: even a single salary was sufficient for a comfortable life, with my mother being an exception, like my father she had graduated in architecture and worked as a high-school teacher. Most of them could afford to own their homes and, in most cases, also a vacation home in the mountains or on the seaside (also here, my family was somewhat an exception, preferring a single home on the hills). They also owned at least one car, often two when their wives learned how to drive. On the average, the education level had progressed: some of the wives attended college. Few of the people of that generation could speak any language but Italian and very few had traveled outside Italy, even though some of my uncles had fought in North Africa.

Then, there came the crisis of the 1970s. In Italy, it was normally defined as the "congiuntura economica" a term that indicated that it was just something temporary, a hiccup that was soon to be forgotten as growth were to restart. It never did. It was the start of the great oil crisis that had started with the peaking of the US oil production. The consequences were reverberating all over the world. It was in this condition that my generation came of age.

Our generation was perhaps the most schooled one in the history of Italy. Many of us had acceded to high university education; we traveled abroad, we all studied English, even though we were not all necessarily proficient in it. But, when we tried to sell our skills in the labor market, it was a tough time. We were clearly overskilled for the kind of jobs that were available in Italy and many of us had to use again the strategy of our ancestors of old, emigrating toward foreign countries. It was the start of what we call today the "brain drain".

I moved to the US for a while. I could have stayed there, but I found a decent position with the University of Florence and I came back. Maybe I did well, maybe not, it is hard to say. Some people of my age followed the same path. Some moved to foreign countries and stayed there, others came back to Italy. Some worked as employees, set up their own companies, opened up shops, they tried what they could with various degrees of success. One thing was sure: our life was way more difficult than it had been for our fathers and grandfathers. Of course, we were not as poor as our ancestors had been in the early 19th century, but supporting a family on a single salary had become nearly unthinkable. None of us could have afforded to own a home, hadn't we inherited the homes of our parents. Fortunately, families were now much smaller and we didn't have to divide these properties among too many heirs.

There came the end of the 20th century and of the 2nd millennium as well. Another generation came of age and they faced difficult times again. They were badly overskilled, as we had been, perhaps even more internationalized than we were; perfect candidates for the brain drain trend. My son followed my example, moving to a foreign country to work; maybe he'll come back as I did, maybe not. It will have to be seen. My daughter still has to find a decent job. The oil crisis faded, then returned. The global peak of oil production ("peak oil") was closer and closer. The Italian economy went up and down but, on the average, down. It was a system that could grow only with low oil prices and the period of high prices that started in the early 2000s was a hard blow for Italy, causing the start of a de-industrialization trend that's still ongoing.

Only agriculture and tourism are still doing well in Italy. That's especially true for Florence, a town that went through a long-term cycle that transformed it from a sleepy provincial town into a sort of giant food court. Tourists are still flocking to Florence in ever-increasing numbers, but they don't seem to be so much interested in art anymore; their focus today seems to be food. It is for this reason that, today, almost everyone I know who is under 30 is either unemployed or working in restaurants, bars, or hotels.

People in Italy keep adapting to changing times as they have always done, everywhere in the world. It is hard to say what the future will bring to us, but one thing is certain: the great cycle of the fossil fuels is waning. The hard times are coming back.


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