If DuckDuckGo does not track us, how come it is not as successful as Google?

For the following reasons:

A. Both are free for the user but Google provides consistently better quality results. DuckDuckGo is the underdog in this field and it is difficult for it to become more popular than Google given that the results it provides are less efficient than Google’s. This is the same problem that Yahoo and Bing are facing: they are not able to match Google’s quality of results and for this reasons users — always in a hurry and hating wasting time on useless pages — keep using what they know works best.

B. People tend to underestimate how bad is the influence of these websites tracking everything we do online thanks to Google’s cookies system. Until our eyes are not opened, this is considered an irrelevant issue, so DuckDuckGo seems to have no advantages (its non tracking feature being irrelevant in this phase) and only disadvantages (lower quality results). Once we open our eyes, it becomes horrific what these website like Google and Facebook are able to do (and actually actively do!). But this eye-opening moment happened only very recently (with the Brexit referendum or Donald Trump’s election for example) and people have only very recently been made aware of how these companies exploit the pervasive tracking of their users.

The advantage of DuckDuckGo (its non-tracking features) has thus only recently come to surface and we will need to see if people are willing to change their deeply ingrained habits for the sake of protecting their privacy.

A big big change would be triggered if Apple would remove Google standard search feature from their iPhones and iPad (knowing that for this feature alone Google, quite understandably, pays Apple 1bn USD a year).

Will the $185k fine against the Airbnb host in NY make people afraid of using Airbnb?

I doubt so.

This is an example of what in political science goes under the name of “the authoritarian illusion of the powerful” whereby those in power pretend to prohibit something by simply out-lawing it and issuing a fine or penalty against a behaviour which is believed by a critical mass of the people in the community to be a legitimate and/or un-harmful service or exploit of resources.

Whenever the authorities tried the “draconian penalty” route in the attempt to prohibit something (lessons can be learned from (a) the war on drugs, (b) the prohibition of alcohol, (c) outlawing sex workers, (d) outlawing of abortion rights) — instead of working out a way to regulate the matter and finding a way to balance the different interests at stake — they have consistently failed and failed again (as we know very well by now, outlawing drugs did not had any effect on drug usage, ditto for prohibition of alcohol or prostitution).

This does not mean that the authority will not go to extraordinary great lengths to (even severely) punish the behaviour of those contravening it: we know, for example, that in US, approximately 20% of the people in jail are there because of crimes related to the sale and consumption of marijuana (which is by now considered perfectly legitimate and un-harmful by the vast majority of the people).

Coming back to the Airbnb case in New York City: obviously the fine against Airbnb hosts is issued exclusively as a deterrent to protect the healthy profits of the “Hotel owners” interest groups. With different luck, the same route has been tried — for example — in Berlin (de facto killing the temporary rent market in the German capital) or Hong Kong (with no effect on the Airbnb market which remains prosperous).

The Municipality of New York, instead of trying to find a way to regulate the opposing interests of 1) the Hotel owners (who do not want further competition in the hospitality market) and 2) the Airbnb hosts (who want to offer a legitimate service, exploiting resources which would remain otherwise unused), preferred to bend to the Hotel owners desires and simply outlawed Airbnb hosts altogether.

This may de facto kill the Airbnb market in NYC or temporarily reduce its usage, but once the genie is out of bottle (i.e.: this behaviour has been tried-and-tested worldwide and it has been considered legitimate and un-harmful by millions of people worldwide), it is only a matter of time until these same people will find a new way to provide this kind of service and to exploit these resources, against the (illusory) authoritarian order of the political class.

Thanks Jonathan Brill for the A2A.

How did you lose your wealth?

My uncle (the brother of my father) never got married. He was born in 1950 and always lived the good life: he never had kids, not one Euro of debt, drove fast German cars, had amazing girlfriends (women literally adore him), made exotic travels, had tailor-made suits, knew literally most of the Bel Paese best restaurants in big and small cities alike, etc.

He started working in the Italian branch of a British company (at the time based in Naples) at 21 as a clerk and became a top manager in his late 40s. He was suddenly fired in the late 90s because of a restructuring and since he was already in his late 40s it was impossible for him to find a similar job at a competitor. Actually he could not find any job at all. Once out of the job market for a few years he basically gave up on looking for even a low-level job.

Nevertheless, he had saved enough money to make a (very good) living without any job: in particular his wealth consisted of 4 flats in the city center where he was living. Normally, he would sell one flat and make a living for the next 10 years. He calculated that his flats would allow him plenty of money for the rest of his life.

In 2004 he was driving on the highway late at night when a truck driver crashed on his sporty car (police ascertained that it was not my uncle’s fault).

The accident was very serious: my uncle was taken to hospital in critical conditions, had a few surgeries and eventually had a heart valve replaced during a very risky operation.

When he was still at the hospital, the insurance very ably tricked him into quickly signing an amicable settlement for 70k Euro: this seemed a lot of money right after the accident but soon revealed to be “peanuts” given the kind of injuries he suffered and the expenses he would have subsequently incurred in order to fully recover.

He got the insurance money immediately.

The surgery, rehabilitation and other expenses of the next 5 years basically cost him one of his flats (i.e. instead of lasting him 10 years, it lasted only 4-5).

Most importantly, after his heart was fixed he was not allowed to drive a car for some time and was very lonely (old friends disappeared quickly), slipped into depression and his lifestyle changed: he was buying a myriad of useless stuff like (admittedly majestic) Iranian carpets and expensive furniture, he was traveling continuously to some exotic locations with some new fake friends, had a few high-maintenance girlfriends scattered across Europe, etc.

The money from the second flat he sold lasted him only 4 years.

After he sold that second flat, he remained with only 2 more flats (and he was living in one of them).

He finished the money of his third flat in 3 years. He gradually started selling, one by one, all the useless stuff he bought (often times for very little money).

He then went into “panic mode” since he had no money, no other income and only his flat where he was living.

Also, because of the recent economic downturn in Italy and lack of expensive refurbishment works, his last flat was rapidly decaying and had dropped in value almost 40% in just a few years: to sell it would have been a disastrous decision.

At that point he was basically broke as he had one asset — the last flat — but had literally no cash.

He sold his last “substantial” asset (a Toyota Yaris he bought used just a year earlier) for 3k euro.

With this money he managed to live 3 more months when he received a letter confirming that the State will finally start issuing a pension.

This was summer last year: since September last year he is a happy – albeit very frugal – pensioner.

How can I improve myself in 6 months?

Self-improvement is a marathon which involves following a path different for each of us and my advice is as follows:

  1. Stop keeping cash in your bank account: start saving money and, after you have set up a good emergency fund in cash, invest everything else in one or more low-commission, index-tracking, ETF funds, as soon as possible. The Vanguard 500 ETF is a good starting point (also Vanguard’s VIG is very good). This must be a priority. Because compound interest takes time (like a decade or more) to produce its amazing results, the younger you start, the better. (Since many asked in the comments, I also recommend to Google: compound interest+ dollar cost averaging in order to understand the benefits of this double-pronged strategy). In this way, money in your bank account will grow steadily during the years and give you an invaluable peace of mind in case of emergencies and allowing you to take new opportunities down the road.
  2. Stop smoking, doing drugs, drinking alcohol for the sake of having fun: these things do not add anything to your life, and only subtract cash from your bank account (that you should rather invest in ETFs). We live in a society that for marketing purposes has almost inextricably attached the idea of fun to the act of smoking cigarettes, getting drunk from alcohol or stoned by drugs. This is purposely done exclusively for the benefit of the people selling cigarettes, alcohol or drugs: in reality there is no reason to think this way. Respect your body and your bank account by eradicating yourself from this mental layer as soon as possible.
  3. Stop watching TV: same as alcohol, TV does not add anything to your life. By not watching TV, you can spend more time reading interesting non-fiction books to educate yourself about the most different topics. Knowledge has a powerful compound effect: as you progress putting different knowledge eggs into your basket, your analytical firepower will gradually increase and the benefit that you will derive will be exponential. TV does not add anything to your knowledge basket. Sell it, and invest the money (either by buying ETFs or by buying many interesting books) instead. After 6 months without watching TV, if occasionally your eyes will happen to look at it you will be amazed to think that people spend hours every day watching that crap.
  4. Stop eating outside too often: learn to cook your own meals. Cooking at home will naturally push you to learn new recipes from different countries: many of these new recipes that I learnt turned out to be new “classics” at home which you cannot even find at the restaurant downstairs. Delicious! Also in order to save money and be healthy: limit red meat if possible (as it has many bad implications both for your health and the environment), and prefer beans and vegetables instead. Do not buy sugar-based snacks & sugary drinks (we are becoming addicted to sugar in the last 30 years with direct impact on the rates of people getting diabetes later in life) and bottled water (a big scam) at the supermarket.
  5. Stop Facebook and other social media: remove the Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest apps from your iPhone so that you can only access them via your desktop computer (you will automatically reduce your wasted time by at least 90%). Social media are monitoring everything you do & even think throughout the day, thus allowing advertisers to haunt you wherever you go online. Also, many social media outlets (like Instagram, Facebook, etc.) allow by design infinite scrolling, so that they trap you into scrolling and scrolling with no end for an immense waste of time and impact on your productivity.
  6. Stop sitting on the couch playing PS4: it’s probably as bad as Facebook. Every time you want to play a game, go for a run outside instead.
  7. Stop surrounding yourself with all these fake friends you don’t care about: they don’t care about you either and they will dump you at the first time you will be in need. It is better for you to be prepared not to count on them (or on anyone, actually). Choose your friends extremely carefully and text/call/see your parents/grandparents more, instead.
  8. Stop shopping to impress or please other people. It doesn’t work. They will still hate you even if you have a new car or some ridiculous Gucci shoes. The rare, true friends will like you and be at your side regardless of what you own. Once you will start doing this you will learn that you are not what you own. We do not need99% of the stuff for sale out there anyway. Acquiring this mindset will free you from a thousand mental layers that cloud many of our life choices. It feels amazing.
  9. Stop being a cheapskate: show the fewpeople that matter to you how much you care about them. Bring flowers to your girl/wife/mum/grandma. Make a nice wedding gift to your best friend. Offer discreetly to pay a dinner out if your friend cannot afford. Be a gentleman for all people you interact with. Write a thank you card to a colleague who was helpful in a difficult situation (I still remember the “thank you” card that one of my first bosses left to me — a young and inexperienced trainee at the time — 19 years ago just saying: “You are a star!”) . Be grateful, very grateful, for these good people that touch your life kindly. Do not be afraid to spend money for those who are important for you and deserve your attention, kindness and generosity. The sky will not fall if you spend money and give them your attention and, most importantly, they deserve it. I have seen countless of truly good persons being hurt, friendships broken-up in horrible ways, just because of people being outright stingy. Also, remember to give a part of your profits to a charity that is important for you: the good these people do to this world is invaluable.
  10. Stop taking new debt. Ditch your credit cards. Pay all the new stuff you want to buy upfront. No exceptions. If you cannot afford something upfront, simply do not buy it (most likely you will not need it anyway). Same for the “mortgage” (from the French “death pledge”): rent / share a cheap place and invest your savings in stocks instead. If you already took debt, repay it as soon as possible: sell stuff & work double shifts if necessary.

Where and how do you invest your monthly salary?

This is how I have been doing since 2008 and how I highly recommend you to do.

  1. Open a Stock Account with your bank and every month save 20%/30%/40%/50% of your net income and invest it in a low commission S&P500 ETF by Vanguard (like “VOO” or “VIG”: google them).
  2. Google: “dollar cost average” + “compound interest” in order to understand the benefits of this double-pronged strategy (in short: you will beat 90% of all the professional Fund Managers out there).
  3. Set up (both mentally and practically) a bare minimum that you must invest every month and deposit it into your stock account at the beginning of each month so you will not be able to spend it to buy useless stuff.
  4. This will do marvel to your sleep and to your income as long as you will be consistent, patient and NOT touch your investments for a decade or so.
  5. As soon as your career will progress and you will earn more, this strategy will also prevent you to fall into the “increased lifestyle” trap (where you spend more money on useless items just to show your status to your peers or because you become lazy).

If Brexit already seems a failure before birth, why aren’t the UK citizens taking to the streets to reverse it?

I obviously agree that Brexit is un unecessary self-inflicted damage and I have also been surprised by the lack of protest by people in the UK (especially people from the large British upper-middle class whom I believe will have the most to lose from Brexit).

When I inquired about this with people in London (all with very good jobs, families, some are even (long time) immigrants from other EU countries, none of them is even remotely of the hidden-racist, nostalgic/exceptionalist, British upper class that we read so frequently about on the internet and social media), this is what they explained me and made them reluctant to protest against Brexit:

First: what we must keep in mind is that in the last 20–30 years London proved to be an Eldorado… a city where hundreds of thousands of people and families from all over Europe have been made millionaires just by flipping real-estate, with little to zero risk, just pure time-based speculation financed by super-easy-to-get mortgages. The market has been going up and up and up for decades at rates anywhere to be seen in Europe (except maybe for Central Paris).

Families who bought a three bedroom flat in London Zone 1 or 2 in the 80s could easily double the capital every 4-5 years, sell their flat, buy an identical flat in Zone-2 and have money to buy even a smaller flat in Zone-3.

Rinse and repeat: after 2000s a simple family with a clerk job could have millions in the bank and a steady inflow of cash from their tenants.

In short: London has been a godsend for all Europeans living there and these people owe everything they have (millions of pounds!) to London: for this reason, it is extremely difficult for them to imagine that things will change for the worse.

The numbers in their bank account scream way louder than any possible prediction they may hear on the street or read on The Guardian. As far as they are concerned, they cannot be bothered by Brexit and they have been repeatedly assured by the Government that almost nothing will change except that there will be less immigrants on the streets and competing for jobs at home. Why protesting then?

Second: I spoke about Brexit with a nice guy who works in Venture Capital in London. He relocated there a few years ago, got married and settled there. I obviously wanted to know his opinion about Brexit, knowing that he is sensitive to the business and political environment and that he was heavily invested (both financially and personally) into the whole British ecosystem. To my surprise, his reasoning was along the following points:

  1. London was predicted to be destroyed many times in the past and look where we are now? A city of millionaires. Maseratis everywhere. Don’t believe what you hear from Bruxelles: look around, there has never been a better place to live”.
  2. The weaker pound will allow UK to attract even more investments. I will work even more and gain even more money. Rich foreigners will buy even more real estate. EU countries already stopped investing here a decade ago and nothing bad happened”.
  3. I just made 100k pounds profit selling the tiny flat in Victoria that I bought just 2 years ago: where is the crisis everybody is talking about? A small, 1 bedroom, flat in Maida Vale costs 1m pounds, same price of a 4 bedrooms Villa on Lake Como!”
  4. London attracts investments from all over the world: Marble Arch is a Lebanese enclave. Knightsbridge is a Saudi protectorate. All Italian and Greek tax dodgers that had money to invest already came here 5 years ago: Brexit cannot change that”.
  5. Europe is a bureaucratic hell and Euro is a failure”.
  6. My salary is almost double what I would get in Europe. Even my wife who is an accountant here in London gets more money than what I would get in Europe. Salaries in Europe are simply too low and taxes too high”.

My impression is that when things go well (and they have been going well for decades) it is very difficult to think that the wind may change.

Are people in Milan nice?

I am from Venice and I have traveled quite a lot and I think Milanese people are a special breed of humans: they are amazing.

Milan is Italy’s business pivotal center so you will find a huge community of Italians coming from every region (North, Center and South): so much so that real 100% Milanese people are actually not that common!

It is difficult to generalize, but Milanese people tend to be:

a. Very focused on their job and career prospects.

b. They all want to make good money (i.e. better money compared to their peers, at least).

c. They “never” stay in Milan over the weekends as they always take the car and go either to the beaches in Liguria (during Summer-time) or to the Alps (during Winter-time). Milan (particularly the city center and during summertime) is beautiful over the weekends as it is basically empty, I’m not kidding.

d. Some of them are incredibly wealthy but their wealth is incredibly understated. Those with flashing cars and the usual expensive watch are usually either the football players or not that rich as it may appear.

e. They rarely socialize out of their usual group of friends: Milanese “friends” go to holiday together, find their partner exclusively among their group of friends, oftentimes work together or have businesses together, etc. If you are not from their group it is almost impossible to gain their trust and become one of them (this is a common trait of Northern Italian people, not just Milanese, but I think that with Milanese people this trait is particularly exacerbated). Exceptions apply in case you are particularly famous and/or rich: in that case they will come to you first.

f. They are extremely careful about their look: a Milanese woman would not even dare to go food shopping downstairs without being 100% perfect in her look. This also applies to Milanese men (within reason).

g. For unknown reasons, they are / pretend to be always in a rush to do something or go somewhere. It is true

h. Socially they rarely make the first step to make (or keep) contact: if you want a Milanese friend you need to work damn hard! They naturally do not seem interested (they have their own circles of friends dating back to at least their high-school years and they are totally happy with them).

i. Politically, they can veer from being extremely conservative to extremely liberal but, in general, politics are not their focus of interest.

l. They only buy German cars (no other option is even remotely taken into consideration). On a September Sunday night, the interminable line of Audis, Mercedes and BMWs coming back from Liguria is (metaphorical) illuminating of the Milanese lifestyle.

m. In Milan, they always commute with their scooter. While commuting, they stay on the phone (uninterruptedly) with someone at work or with their partner.

n. They like to travel to remote places during summer. Nevertheless, they think that Milan is special and whenever they are abroad they keep talking about how things are better in Milan, how they miss Milan, etc.

o. They can be occasionally very generous but also incredibly self-centered. Some of them can spend their weekends to help the poor or the homeless and some others can forget to come to your wedding because they are working too hard.

p. For reasons that I am not really able to grasp, they are very proud to never socialize with the neighbors and to never even know their names even after decades of living next to each other.

What is the best way to build resilience?

Start achieving results: from the smallest task during your daily life to gradually the bigger goals you set up for your journey.

As soon as you will achieve (small and big) results against the adversities (downfalls, lack of motivation, adversarial circumstances, lack of support, etc.) you will grow more confident of your incredible strength and ability to pass above those obstacles.

This attitude will start building up with very small tasks already: that is why it is a very common advice to start doing your own bed in the morning, as this annoying, small little task — achieved first thing in the morning — will hardwire into your brain that you can achieve results even if they look dreadful at first. In this respect, small or big achievements do not really make a difference.

Resilience is built upon the strength that you already have and the confidence that you discover to have.

Nurture these two factors and you will build up a stronger resilience every day.

How do rich people who came from poor backgrounds handle the relationships with their still-poor friends? Do they get approached for money a lot? How do they handle these requests?

I once had a friend who, coming from a totally normal background, made a career as a very successful finance lawyer and eventually his picture ended up on a specialized magazine with a list of his highly prized clients.

Nowhere in the article it was stated specifically that he had become rich but that could be inferred even from a baby and as soon as the news spread in the business world, my friend told me the following happened:

  1. His inner-circle of close female friends started expecting him to pay dinner for them whenever they went out. This attitude changed immediately and automatically (once the bill arrived at the end of the dinner, they did not take their wallet and simply waited for him to pay, smiling) even if there was nothing more than just a good friendship between them (i.e. they were not dating): he paid them for dinner regularly as otherwise he would not be able to go out for dinner with them anymore;
  2. A former colleague who he had not seen for at least 15 years called him out of the blue to congratulate and ask him out: after a pleasant dinner, he explained that his wife and two young daughters were living an impossibly lavish life and his revenues were drying up and did not know how to deal with the expenses amassed by the wife: he had already asked money to everybody he knew (including relatives) and eventually he ended up asking him 2.500 Euros to pay certain debts with close deadlines: he gave him the money and never heard from him again;
  3. Relatives started asking for money again and again: a medical bill, unforeseen taxes, the son’s first communion, etc. There was always a new reason for them to ask money. For his extended family, he became the one to call every time there was a need for some money. Small or large sums, it made no difference: by asking for “loans” that everybody knew were not going to be repaid, the relatives were very able to tap on an emotional chord and he regularly gave them more or less any sum they asked for. Once, his own father — with whom he had extremely rare contacts — asked him for 20k Euro to pay for certain (uninsured) damages to his house;
  4. He once decided to go on a holiday to Japan with a male friend and his friend asked him to book (and pay in advance) the very expensive plane tickets for the two of them: eventually they could not make it to Japan for some reason but they could not get a reimbursement from the airline (as the ticket fare did not allow that) and the friend never repaid him any money (basically subtly “forgetting” to repay him). He told me that the friend was smart enough not to forget about asking for the Air Miles for his own (unused) ticket and getting a refund for the part of his expenses that he pre-paid in advance of the trip.

What do rich people who have lost everything miss most about having money?

My 68 years old uncle lost his job as a top manager in a British company in his 40s and was unable to find any job since.

When he was fired, he had accumulated quite a fortune that he estimated would have lasted him for all his remaining life (he never had kids or a spouse).

Due to medical emergencies, depression, bad friendships and decisions, he depleted his fortune in less than 20 years and he is now completely money less and lives an extremely frugal life as a retiree.

He is still resilient and upbeat, and I speak frequently with him about his life, what he would have done differently and what he misses the most of the good years.

Here is a short list of what my uncle misses of his “good years”:

  1. Girlfriends: as long as my uncle was rich he always had an amazing touch with women. He maintained a bit of this touch even after he was not rich anymore but obviously now he cannot do with these girls all the things he did before. In particular, when he was rich he was traveling a lot with a series of girlfriends scattered among Europe. These trips started in the 70s and he still remembers amazing hotels in Capri, Venice, London, Prague, Budapest, Paris which he visited with these girls and made amazing memories with.
  2. Most of his friends: when he was rich he was surrounded with friends (particularly in Venice, Italy). My uncle was in particular friend of the late Emilio Vedova and his circle of artists of the Informal Waveat the Venice Biennale. He fondly remembers the fantastic adventures, dinners, anecdotes with these friends. Once he ran out of money, he slipped into depression, some of these friends died or had troubles with their families and thus the group dissolved. As far as I am aware, he does not have more than 1 or 2 friends now and is social activity is close to zero.
  3. Eating out: my uncle still knows by name basically all the most important restaurant in Italy. If I tell him that I will go to visit a new city, he invariably would tell me where to go and eat and what to order there. He was eating out all the time in probably the best restaurants in Italy and I am conscious he misses this dearly.
  4. Cars: my uncle always loved fast German cars. In 2002 he had an bad accident (a truck driver crashed on his car, almost killing him) and had to go through serious heart surgery. The doctors did not allow him to drive for almost 2 years after surgery due to some complications. Eventually, because of bad investment and drying up resources he had to sell his cars and now (happily) drives a 12 years old Renault Megane my parents gifted him a few months ago.
  5. Healthcare: my uncle cannot afford to go to dentist when a tooth is painful. He had to wait 16 months to have an hernia fixed as he cannot afford to go to a private doctor.
  6. His Persian carpets: when money started finishing, my uncle had to sell one by one all his amazing Persian carpets which he had at home in Venice. When only the last two carpets remained, my uncle gifted one to me and one to my parents rather than selling them for peanuts to loan-sharks.