What is the “system”?

The system is essentially made of three parts. It is important that you identify them, before you can free yourself from their combined action.

government-ministers1. the GOVERNMENT. Many of us grow in a society where the government is considered something necessary, useful, worth a lot of attention. It’s commonly assumed that the politicians in the government have the most important role in the society, because they are seen as “the ones” who are responsible to produce positive changes, and to create better life conditions for the citizens. I think that these expectations are largely unjustified.

Yes, the politicians impact a lot of things with their decisions, but the nature of their role is commonly misunderstood, and the importance of their role is excessively emphasized.

The politicians are mere movers of resources. All they do is to gather public money through the taxes and, after keeping a fraction to pay their comfortable salaries, they redistridute that money to the various sectors, using certain criteria (for example they give 20% to army, 15% education, 16% health care, 17% tourism…). This is their job, simply explained. Similarly to internet routers that route data to various computers, the politicians route public money to various sectors.

So the important question is: what criteria do they use to assign the money? How do they decide which sector deserves more, and which sector deserves less?

If they have good intentions (they work trying to serve the citizens), they assign the money according to what they think it’s best for the citizens. But even in this case, their perception of what the citizens need is usually distorted. Many politicians spend long hours in pompous palaces, do massive paperwork, get lost in the bureocracy. The more time they spend inside the government’s machinery, the more they get distant from the citizens. And not only they get lost in the bureocracy, they also get lost in ideologies (“we are democrats and you are republicans“), and get lost in the ego (“we and right and you are wrong“), as result their action becomes highly ineffective.

Then there are those who don’t have good intentions, and this is not a rare case. Many politicians enter the government paid by the citizens to serve the citizens, but end up working to serve themselves, instead. So the criteria they adopt to route the public money is to get as many personal advantages as possible. They give more to the institutions who work damaging the citizens (for example financing lotteries, cigarette producers, food corporations that use harmful chemicals), subtracting resources to the institutions who work for the citizens (like hospitals and schools). This way they get “favors”, usually money and power, from the institutions who work damaging the citizens.

In both cases consider that the government works on the principle of group consciousness: there will always be a number of its decisions that will go against your interests. As consequence, shifting a lot of sovereignity from yourself to the government, hoping that it will make things right for you, is a losing strategy.

media-distortion2. the MEDIA. Most mainstream media work in extremely deep symbiosis with the government. In fact, the reason why many of us tend to consider the government so important and useful is that, since we were kids, we have been watching its politicians in the news, constantly.

Think about it: when you turn on the tv, what news are given first? Usually it’s something about the government. The president said this. The prime minister said that. The opposition said that other thing. Debate over a new law. We are constantly informed about what the government is doing, and this implicitely creates inside of us the mindset “knowing what the government is doing is important”.

Mainstream media insistently put the government under the spotlight, and often using a very benevolent light: the government’s inadequacies are overlooked, its scarce results magnified. Why? Because they exchange favors, of course. The media that tailor the news in a way useful for the government obtain funds, jobs, favorable laws (all financed by the citizens with their taxes). In return the government can continue its action, as its politicians keep on appearing with suits and ties in the news every day.

Also in the other sectors, the events presented by the media are rarely depicted objectively to inform the audience, but are manipulated to produce a desired reaction instead, to carry an agenda. Most people watch the news on tv and get consequently indignant, scared, discouraged, without even realizing that that’s exactly the emotional response that the person who packaged the news wanted.

The process of selecting which events to show and which events not to show is crucial. Why wars that produce hundreds of deaths are shown and debated for months, while others that produce many thousands are ignored? Why studies that prove the safety of a food chemical are shown, while others that expose its health hazards are ignored? Usually it’s because some lobby makes more money with the first options.

It can argued that pure, objective facts don’t exist, and that everyone who would have to assemble the news would have to do a selection, inevitably adding his personal bias and carrying his own agenda. I agree with this, but then I think it’s very important to try to understand what is the agenda in each case. When you read an article or watch the news, do you see behind the lines the intention of informing the audience, or the intention of manipulating the audience? And in both cases, why? I encourage you to exercise your own critical thinking to answer these questions.

One final, important note: it’s a false myth that it’s important to check the news regularly “to stay updated”. I actually consider checking the news regularly as a very counterproductive habit. The reason is that most news by the mainstream media are about events that will only scare you, issues you can’t do anything about, or things that have nothing to do with you. In the best case they’re a source of distraction, in the worst case they’ll make you seriously depressed.

banking-corporations3. the CORPORATIONS. These are big companies that work for profits, usually with offices/shops in many different countries around the globe.

Corporations exist in almost every sector, from banks to food, toys, clothing, furniture, electronics, cars, tobacco. With a huge focus on making money and the power derived from their gigantic dimensions, many of these corporations developed a predatory behaviour and stopped seing people as people, but as “consumers”. They push a model of non sustainable development which is eventually destined to crash.

The corporations are deeply interconnected with the other two parts of the system: their executives have frequent meetings with the heads of the governments, and they buy plenty of media space to advertise their products.

It’s important to notice that most citizens of a nation don’t realize that behind the decisions of their government there’s frequently a corporation. They only see the government itself, which is the most visible part of the system, without considering that its politicians are often forced to deal with corporations for all the major decisions. Forced, of course, when they are not men put there from the corporations themselves.

Are there corporations powerful enough to control the governments of the nations? Of course: banks. Banks are the most powerful type of corporation without any doubt, and they built a complex financial system which is very hard to understand for the average citizen, and that gives them huge competitive advantages in the market. This without providing any useful value in return.

Of course not all the corporations are this powerful, and not of all them market products of such fake value as paper money. However, selling stuff of questionable value with the endorsement of the governments and using marketing tricks in the media is a common trait of many corporations in the modern world.

The endorsement of the governments explain why crazy things happen under a model of globalization. For example in my country, Italy (currently the world’s largest kiwifruit producer), I often encounter kiwis coming from New Zealand in the supermarket. There’s clearly someone who decided it’s more convenient -for them- to carry kiwis from the other side of the planet rather than from the farmer nearby.

And about the marketing tricks, you just need to turn on the tv to see the plethora of ads related to snacks full of refined sugar and flavor “enhancers”, clothes and shoes that make us “beautiful”, loans that allow us to be owners of houses and cars that are status symbols, latest versions of electronic gadgets that make our previous ones obsolete, and so on.

I think that this consumistic model, pushed by the corporations, will not last. But even until it does, it creates a lot of problems because it spreads the illusion that we become happy by adding objects to our lives. Instead, just the opposite is true: “the best things in life aren’t things”.


Notes: more about the non sustainable model of development pushed by the corporations is explained very well in the documentary “The story of stuff”.

Related: How to free yourself from the system

How I found freedom

how-i-found-freedom-in-an-unfree-world-harry-browneIn this article I’ll discuss the book How I found freedom in an unfree world written by the American Harry Browne. This book is about personal freedom, a topic that often receives too little attention, in my opinion.

Loren Howe defined How I found freedom in an unfree world as “probably the most dangerous book ever written”, and I agree. In fact I’ve known about the existence of this book listening to that premise, I put my hands on it, I read it, and it was true: the power and the beauty of the ideas it contains not only hit me like a train, but they also brought meaningful changes to the way I think -first- and to my practical daily life -then-.

I want to remark that this is not the typical self-help book, in fact, as Browne himself explains in the introduction, he choosed the title “How I found freedom” rather than “How to find freedom” to clearly show that the ideas he talks about are not abstract, but they are achievable and possible because there is at least one person in history who put them in practice: him. He succeeded in increasing significantly his level of personal freedom. Now, with me I’d say we are at least two. But I’ll talk about me later.

how-i-found-freedom-frontWhy should you care about freedom?

The first thing to notice is that very few people care of increasing their level of personal freedom. Almost everybody accepts as inevitable a series of limitations that are imposed by the society, the government, the economy, the public moral, the parents, the friends, the common beliefs. All these causes can limit our freedom in several ways, creating what Harry Browne calls traps. Traps into which, in a certain point of our lives, we get caught.

A very valid point that Browne presents is in the affirmation that, it’s true, a life 100% free from the conditioning of these actors is unrealizable in the real world. On the other hand, it’s also true that today a lot of people accept to live with a degree of freedom of 20%, of 30%, while increasing it to 80%, to 90% is possible. It is possible. And such an increase in the degree of freedom brings huge positive consequences in life.

For this reason the author analyzes in his book the traps, one by one, those in which more frequently we find ourselves trapped and those that oppress us more significantly, explaining with an extraordinary simplicity that there is no reason to remain stuck inside of them: being free is as easy as opening the traps and fly away.

Create your own personal free world

Before commenting some of the most remarkable traps that Browne debunks in his book, I want to try to summarize the global message of How I found freedom in an unfree world, the way I understand it. The message is the following:

Do not wait that the whole world changes, before you can be free. Do not try you to change the whole world, before you can be free. Even in a planet full of problems, unfree people, dogmas and control structures that are huge and appearently very powerful, you can be free now: all you have to do is to create around you a subset of this planet in which you minimize the intervention (or in which you completely exclude the intervention, when possible) of those subjects that decrease your freedom.

You can be free even if the rest of the world is not, which is in fact the title of the book.

Consider that in the world there will still be wars, corrupted governments, unhappy families, abusive relationships, injustices for a long while. Maybe for ever. It makes no sense to live life repeating “if it wasn’t for the taxes/my wife/the job/the prejudice… then I would be free”. What makes sense instead, once identified a cause that limits your freedom, is to take positive decisions that allow you to reduce as much as possible the influence of that cause over your personal world, a world that you can populate mainly with people and structures that act according with your values.

This is a crucial point: we cannot decide how our familiars, our friends, our colleagues, our bank, our government deal with us. But we can surely decide how we deal with them. In particular, we can make choices that regulate the intensity with which these subjects are present and influent in our life.

And we can do this regulation because we have available a tool of enormous power: the power to take positive decisions.

What is a positive decision?

A positive decision is the one where you choose among alternatives in a way that maximizes you happiness. One example could be the one where you choose if you’d be happier going to the movies or to theatre.

Instead, a negative decision is the one where you choose among alternatives in a way that minimizes your unhappiness. One example could be the one where you choose betweeen repairing your roof, with a leak, and emptying your bank account.

As Browne writes, the typical characteristic of a free person is that he spends most of his time taking positive decisions.

Unfortunately instead, the large majority of people spend most of their time taking negative decisions, evaluating what alternatives are the less displeasant, trying not to make things get worse.

the reason why many insist in taking this second type of decisions is that they stuck in the traps. Common beliefs, that are taught to us and repeated to us since we are kids, but that really make no sense. These traps exist until exists the unawareness of having many different alternatives available, every time we make a choice.

Let’s see some of my favorites then, in the following I reformulate the ideas from the book and add my interpretations.

1. The previous investment trap

The previous investment trap is the belief that since in the past you invested a certain amount of resources (time, money, efforts) in an activity, in a relationship, in acquiring an object, that investment made in the past must condition the way you handle the activity/relationship/object also in the present.

The truth, the resources only have value until they’re not spent.Once that they are spent, they become completely ininfluent.

Here I immediately use a personal example: my career. I spent years at the university to get a difficult degreewhich is highly considered in the job market: engineering. I studied so many hours, spent money to buy books and to pay the university taxes. After graduating, following the common trend (“graduate and then go out and search for a job”), I found a job in a prestigious corporation, obtaining what at that time I considered a dream job.

Instead, despite the benefits, despite the career possibilities, despite everybody kept on repeating how lucky I was, after some years I realized it, that type of job made me unhappy. I had nothing to do with that environment, nothing to do with the people were working in it, nothing to do with the common values in the sector. In addition, I understood that even if I considered -and still consider- what I learned in my engineering studies very useful, I wanted to work in another sector.

If I stayd in the previous investment trap, I shouldn’t have abandoned that career because otherwise I would have “throwned away” all those years of study. This is infact what relatives, friends and acquantances repeated.

But the question is, exactly, in what way continuing to do a job I hated would have resurrected those years of studying? Would I have got back the hours spent on the books, or the money for the universitary taxes? No. Once I realized that the job was a source of unhappiness, the choice was simply between adding other years of unhappiness or peacefully accept that I took the wrong path, resign and start from that point a new path more in line with my values and where more likely I could find happiness.

Other examples are easy.

If you invested 20 years in a marriage and now you realize that the marriage makes you unhappy, should you stay in it to not “waste” the time you invested previously? No: it makes more sense to accept the new situation, save yourself other years of suffering and close. Maybe life has in store for you another relationship, and you can be happy at least from that moment on.

If you spent time, money and effort to buy and them rework a house, and after many years you notice that for whatever reason you’re not happy in that house, do you have to continue living in it to “legitimate” the resources you invested in the past? Those resources are lost anyway: you can sell the house and go to live somewhere else, where you can be happy from that moment on.

2. The utopia trap

The utopia trap is the belief that it’s necessary to change the world, aligning it with our standards of pleasant place, and changing others, convincing them to agree with our ideas, before we can be free.

It’s easy to fall into this trap because very often we see things that we consider wrong, for example: iniquitous laws that are approved, malicious behaviour by those who have the power, lies that are spread. Our reaction often is to fight to contrast these things, animatedly discussing with others, doing debates, jumping on the stages to rally people, doing protest marches. In fact, politics is the most classical destination for those who are trapped in the utopia trap.

What we typically try to do is to convince others to embrace our positions, because we want to create a better world, where we could finally feel free.

Well, the truth is that this behaviour not only leads us very often to frustrations, not only makes you waste a lot of your precious time, that you could use to enjoy your personal freedom instead, but more than anything else it’s not necessary.

Why trying to convince others is not the best strategy? Simply because we’re all different and each one of us see the world in a different way. It doesn’t matter how much an argument seems right, true and reasonable to you. It doesn’t even matter how solid and evident are the proofs that support your position. You will find a quantity of people who will ignore your argument or will even contrast it, no matter how good you are at explaining your thesis.

Thinking that what is true for you is true also for the others means to fall into another trap, the identity trap, which is the error of thinking that other people interpret the facts in the same way you do.

I spent a lot of time inside the utopia trap, and I had plenty of experience of the frustration it leads to. For example, I spent years trying to convince relatives and friends to adopt an healthy diet, to make them avoid self-injurious behaviours (like smoking), to agree on my political, phylosophical, spiritual views. And each time, after providing with emphasis proofs, motivations and explainations, I was definitely surprised, negatively, of how little my suggestions were received.

What I understood with time, and of which I had definitive confirmation reading Browne’s book, is that changing the opinions and the behaviours of people is yes possible, but there are two different approaches of doing it, and the first is less intelligent, the second is more intelligent.

The less intelligent method to produce change is all in this phrase: trying to convince others. Rarely it brings results. People don’t change simply because you push them to change. Some people will never change during their life, others change, but only when they will be ready and it will be their moment.

The second method is definitely a better strategy, and explains why some paragraphs ago I wrote that creating the ideal world, an utopia, to be free is not necessary.

This method consists of mainly taking care of our own freedom, ensuring that we are happy and fully satisfied. Living according to our principles and enjoy the consequent benefits. After that, instead of making pressure to convince others, give them some indications. Maybe just even with our own example.

Those who will be interested to the indications we give, will probably follow them. If we’ll be lucky we will have the chance to enter in relationship with those people and enjoy the similarity of views. Instead, it doesn’t make sense to waste our time and energies trying to deliver those messages to who’s not ready to receive them.

If one day the world will reach the stage when a critical mass of people, individually, will be ready to understand a certain message that is valid for us, then probably there will be a global change in the direction that seems “good” to us. But in the meanwhile, it’s important to give priority to our personal freedom, without continuously postponing it waiting for an utopia to happen.

Politics produces change?

Note, as consequence of the utopia trap, that politics is a method to achieve change that is often very inefficient, since it’s founded on the ability to convince others. The job of the politician itself, especially in democracies, starts only after a certain amount of people have been convinced to give their vote to this or that other party.

I think that the role of politics is misunderstood by many, and especially that often it is credited to it an exxaggerated importance compared to other factors that are more determinant to produce changes in the society.

3. The government trap

Harry Browne defines the government a “fascinating topic”. I guess he kept his focus mainly on the operations of his own government, the American one. I think that if he saw the operations of the Italian one he would have probably written the same things more or less, but I wonder if he could have resisted to add a comic vein, considered the big number of dwarfes, jugglers, burlesque and sluts that populate the political scene in Italy.

What Browne writes in How I found freedom in an unfree world can even be shocking at the first reading, especially considering that for ever we have been used to the fact that there is a government, to turn to the government when we have problems, to believe that the government performs socially useful actions.

But is it true? The government adds or subtracts value from our lives?

Browne writes it rather clearly: usually the government creates problems, rather than solving them. If a government that today is composed of n representatives tomorrow doubles its dimension and become of 2n representatives, not only the problems would not diminish, probably a lot of new problems would born.

Why should this happen? Simply because the government intervenes on the free market, the place where the citizens trade goods and services according with their desires, walking over their will and “doping” the supplies. This is in synthesis what a government does: it performs an action which is coercive for the individuals.

Just to make a practical example, related to the period in which I’m writing this article, in Italy there is an airline that doesn’t work at all in the market. The customers prefer to fly with other companies, that are cheaper and that satisfy their needs better. Despite this, the Italian government continues to subsidize this malfunctioning airline, at loss since many years, using the money from the taxes. This way it protects the interests of few groups of powers connected to it.

As a fact, the free market is indicating that this airline must go out of business. If there would not be the doping intervention of the government, the inefficient airline would close and new opportunities would arise for new realities in the sector of air transportation, that could bring innovation and provide a better service for the customers.

A lot of examples of this type can be made, they all lead to the same conclusion: the government is a group of people that doesn’t know exactly what the single citizen wants, or it’s just not interested in solving his problems, or it’s not able to.

As Voltaire wrote: the art of government consists in taking as much money as possible from one class of citizens to give to the other.

The brilliant point that Browne develops is about how to defend ourselves from the coercive actions of the government.Often it looks to us as an entity so big and powerful that we have no chance to be free from its restrictions, its obligations, its taxes.

So here there is an important concept, which is valid not only for the government, but also for all the other oppressive structures of big dimensions: these structures of control that try to limit our personal freedom are big and slow, while we as individuals are small and fast. Using this characteristic of being small and fast, we can still succeed well in our mission of living in a predominantly free world.

We must always remember in fact that we have the possibility of taking positive decisions. For example, to avoid the high taxes that a government imposes, we don’t necessarily have to evade them or to commit in political action to reduce them: we can simply choose a job in which the taxation level is lower, or choose a country where the taxes are lower.

For example I that the tendency that the media have -to give merits and write in positive terms of the entrepreneurs who “resist” with their activity in Italy, despite the Italian government applies very high taxes to entrepreneurs- doesn’t make sense. These entrepreneurs have to carry on their activity with many more efforts and working harder.

What the media do, in reality, is to praise the attitude to slavery of there entrepreneurs who resist. Frankly, I don’t see much sense in keeping on hitting the wall with the head, staying connected to a government that becomes progressively more abusive, in the name of “continuing to produce in Italy”.

Instead I see much more sense in the choice that other entrepreneurs do (on these the media point a negative light, of course) to go outside of Italy, bringing the production estabilishments in countries where the taxation is more favorable.

The latter looks much more like a positive decision.

4. The unselfishness trap

No one knows you as well as you do. Not your mother. Not your children. Not your wife. Not your friends. Not the bank. Not the government. You are the one who knows yourself better.

What descends from this statement? That no one in the world knows better than you what you need to be happy. You are the best person to turn to. Focusing instead on others, your wife or the government, expecting that they act in altruistic way and make you happy is a strategy that doesn’t make much sense. Even if they’re moved from the real desire to make you happy, they have less chances than yourself to succeed, simply because they are not you.

This is valid also in the other direction: we’ve been instructed to be altruistic and not be selfish, when the opposite makes sense. Living your life putting before indiscriminately the happines of others to your own personal happiness, not only will make you unhappy, but very often will not even make the others happy. Because the others need different things, from the things you think, to be happy.

I observed that often is much more pleasant to stay around people who are focused on their own happiness, like kids. Kids have not been trained yet to make choices that go against their own interests to avoid being considered selfish.

This doesn’t mean that sometimes it’s not pleasant to act in a way to make happy the people we have around, especially because later we can also benefit from their happiness, but what surely doesn’t make sense is to do it indiscriminately and with the fear of appearing selfish, otherwise.

5. The box trap

With box Harry Browne means every situation of discomfort you are in and that limits your personal freedom.

It could be a job you don’t like anymore, a ritual lunch with tedious relatives, a social obligation you feel you have to partecipate to.

The point made about this trap is very simple, and it’s not even a schocking revelation, but it’s the prominence that is given to the following concept, that I find very appropriate.

The concept is this: everything has a price. There’s a price for changing things and coming out of the box, but there’s also a price for not changing things and staying inside the box. You pay this second price in instalments, day after day, for all the time you stay inside.

What happens is that a lot of people accepts a limitation to their personal freedom because they think that the price to pay for coming out of the box is too high, but I think that the real reason why they stay closed inside is that they fail to see the real identity of the price.

I use again my personal example of leaving my previous career. When I was evaluating if leaving or not, I took some time to reflect on the scenario I would have faced if really I had taken the decision of leaving. I understood that the heavier price -for me- necessary to get free of the job I hated was not the uncertainty of what to do after, or the possible economic difficulties I would have faced, but the strong opposition I would have had from relatives and friends, and the suffering I would have caused to my parents.

After some thinking, I decided that I was definitely available to pay this price to get free of my box. In fact, I clarified with myself that I gave so much value to the possibility of managing my own time and to do a job I was passionate for, that I would have paid much more than this.

This is again a professional example, but it’s easy to extend to other fields: romantic relationships, social obligations, moral obligations and so on.

In general, as Browne suggests, when you’re evaluating if coming out of a box, it’s conveniente to anticipate mentally the possible scenarios that could realize in this operation, all of them, and evaluate how to reach in front of each of them.

There are always many, many different prices that can be paid to get out of the boxes in ways that increase significantly our personal freedom: cultivate the art of searching for the prices each time you are in a situation of discomfort.

6. The rights trap

The rights trap is a concept where Harry Browne really shines, because he expresses a very simple and a very original idea, that I found definitely intelligent.

The rights trap consists in believing that your rights will make you obtain what you desire. Classic example: how often we hear discussions about civil rights? And how many of us are grown with the idea of having the right to property, the right to be treated with respect, or to have a job?

The most interesting point about rights is this: they imply the existence of someone who doesn’t want to give those rights to us. Otherwise, we would not even talk about it.

An homosexual couple would not invoke civil rights, if there weren’t other people who don’t want that the same-sex marriage is approved. A precarious worker would not invoke the right of having a job, if there wasn’t the entrepreneur who would want to fire him. A tenant would not invoke the right to have a house, if there wasn’t the owner who wants him to leave his house.

Browne considers three different ways to obtain what we want:

  1. Invoke our rights
  2. Act in a way that what we want is also in the interest of the other person
  3. Obtain what we want without involving at all the other person in the situation

In agreement with the author, I also found myself in situations where I experienced that the second and third method work better. Invoking our rights often means searching for support from the government, the associations, consumers groups, that produce unsatisfactory results (sometimes even null results), especially considering, in fact, the efforts spent in the “battle for the recognition of rights”.

A very fitting exaple is the marriage for homosexual couples. In Italy and at the moment of writing for example, it’s still not recognized legally. Periodically and fruitlessly, the debate starts between those who want a law to have it approved (“it would be a sign of civilty”), and those who oppose because not acceptable according to their values. Every tot of time there is a protest march, a manifestation, a talk show in television where the flame burns again.

Actually, for homosexual couples who want to get married there is a simpler solution (which makes perfectly sense also for heterosexual couples) that belongs to modality 3: obtaining the marriage without letting the opposer get in the situation at all. Possible? Totally.

Thinking about it, it would make sense if marriage would a contract of two, because two are the people in love and who want to get married.

Instead, with marriage a lot of people try to give birth to a contract of three, sometimes even of four. The contract of three involves the spouses plus a religious entity, or the spouses plus an governative entity. The contract of four involves the spouses plus the religious entity plus the governative entity (pure masochism?).

There is no need to involve in the marriage the religion or the government: if you want to get married do it, with a party in front of your friends, of your relatives, of those who love you, without any need from an external entity who give you “permission” or his approval to be united. You could let a kid, or a friend who knows you and loves you, celebrate the marriage. Wouldn’t he have more authority for you than a stranger in uniform?

Behind the request of a law that approves homosexual marriage is often hidden, by homosexuaol people, the hope that after the approval of such law their identity would get recognized and the intolerance and homophobic behaviours would decrease, but it’s not like this. If you’re homosexual, who hates you for being homosexual will keep on doing it even if homosexual marriage becomes legal. It’s very likely that you will not make him stop by claiming your rights, on the other hand you have great chances of excluding him from your life.

Isn’t it wonderful?

The other traps

There are several other traps, typical limitations to our personal freedom, that Harry Browne discusses intelligently in How I found freedom in an unfree world.

Many of these descend from two main traps:

the identity trap, that the author actually presents first in the book, it consists in the belief that you have to be someone different from yourself, and in the assumption that others will do things in the same way you would do them.

the group trap, the belief that you can reach your goals better if you share responsibility, efforts and rewards with others, compared to what you can do acting alone.

I avoid to enter in the details of all the traps because, on the wave of the enthusiasm that I have for this book -that I consider very precious-, I would probably end up writing a second version. I close instead, beside with the suggestion of putting your hands on it as soon as possible, with a last message that I consider important.

Your freedom is your own task

In this article I associated often the adjective “personal” to the word freedom for a precise reason: the responsible for your freedom is you and no one else. Don’t consign it to the government, to your children, to your partner, to none of the people closer to you.

You arrive on this world and you find in it some programs, some structures, some thought patterns already pre-packed by those who passed on the world before you. You find a government done in a certain way, a public morality intended in a certain way, social relationships conceived in a certain way.

You have no duty to accept these ways.

Freedom means living your life the way you want to live it. It doesn’t mean living it the way I, Paolo, tell you, how Harry Browne tells you, or anyone else. You can know yourself better than anyone else (know yourself, enormous wisdom from ancient Greece): use this knowledge to select the part of the world that you need to be free.

Good luck!

… and I?

I read How I found freedom in an unfree world several years ago now. As i wrote at the beginning, its ideas brought evident changes to my way of seeing and doing things. Some of these changes are:

– I quit my corporate job to become an entrepreneur, today I focus mostly on jobs I am passionated about, always being careful to have a good amount of free time. I can peacefully say that I prefer to work few hours a day, without feeling guilty because I’m not “productive”, a sort of obligation I felt until some time ago instead.

– I diminished the time spent trying to convince others, stressing myself, and I made peace with the idea that a lot of people simply don’t want to be helped. I still enjoy political and social activism, but I do it with a different spirit, and more targeted.

– I consciously loosened some relationships with long time friends and acquaintances, not very interested to be free, and I had the luck to start new ones with people who are closer to my values. I also learned that no matter how much, a lot, I love my parents, my sister, my closest friends, sometimes they are the most insidious obstacles between me and my freedom. I learned to fight them with determination, when I recognize that their advice is based on fear.

– I oserve what the government does with interest, and I talk with my friends and joke about it… but in the meanwhile I go on with my projects.

– I increased considerably my level of honesty, even if for now I’m still far from the 100% level of honesty I aspire to. Harry Browne’s book made me understand, even more, how being ourselves is one of the most powerful tools to get to freedom, but also one of the most rarely used in the planet. This is a very big work in progress for me, in which I’m working (hitting my head on the wall a lot).

In general, I recognize that reading the book had on me the ffect that now I do more introspection, I listen more to my intuition, and certainly I developed a healthy critical sense regarding the big institutions, especially politicals, banks, pharmaceuticals, religious.

Let’s say it clear, I still have a lot of work to do. A lot. Increasing personal freedom in fact means hard work. But I use this book as a guide, and it helps me a lot.


Notes: Translated from the original article in Italian, published on date August 31, 2014.

How to earn money without working

how-to-earn-money-without-working-frontEarning money without working is perfectly possible, and it’s also a very smart way to earn money.

It’s not necessary to do any scam or anything illegal, and I specify this because, let’s say it, there are a lot of scams behind this idea. In this article instead I’ll explain how to succeed at it, giving you so many reasons to earn money without having a “regular” job, that having a job will not seem like something desirable anymore, but a calamity, like it seems to me today!

Since I often say that it’s necessary to get rid of the dumb burdens to make room for the smart alternatives, I want to start by explaining why earning money through a job is the dumbest way to earn money. And here I refer to the typical employee job, where you are locked 40 and more hours per week in an office or a workshop, often with your time monitored by a magnetic badge o by your boss.

(if you’re earning money exactly in this way, don’t take it bad. It’s easy to fall into this mechanism, in fact I also spent years trapped in an office, before arriving to the conclusions that I’m about to explain).

Why is it dumb? Simple: because you only earn money when you are working. Don’t you realize that this is a problem? Money flows to you only when you are at work. In the exact moment you lay down the pen and leave the office, you stop earning money. As soon as you leave the tools and get out of the workshop, money stops entering your account.

This is how a lot of jobs are conceived: you get paid for the hours, the salary is tied to the time you spend at work. And doesn’t it seem dumb to you?

Have you ever thought, instead, that you could earn money also when you are NOT working? When you’re sleeping perhaps? When you’re on vacation? When you’re spending time with your family? Well think about it now because it’s possible, and actually in the world many people are doing it already. If you want to do it as well, all you have to do is to switch from systems that produce active income to systems that produce passive income.

The common employee job is a system that produces active income, because you only earn money when you’re actively working. I list in another article the many reasons why this work model is often a failure, but here I want to debunk a myth about it, shocking you with a huge revelation:

The world doesn’t give a damn about how many hours you spend in the office

Really, only a small handful of people cares about how much time you spend at work. Among these there is your boss, who often is one of those who got brainwashed himself, to make him believe that this work model is the only possible one. And among these there are your colleagues, who often hate their job, but unconsciously become active part of a slavery-like job system because they check each other’s times, to make sure also others are suffering from it.

And all the rest of the world? There are many sectors in which the rest of the world will never know how many hours it took you to produce the good/service you’re producing, or they will be totally not interested. The only thing the rest of the world cares about, in fact, is the good/service itself. If it’s valid, they will buy it anyway.

Maybe for you this article is worth more, if I reveal that rather than one hour it took me ten hours to write it? Maybe the bread that you buy from the baker is worth more, if you discover that rather than half an hour he worked three hours to make it? Do you decide to buy the bread for its taste… or for how many hours the baker worked to produce it?

It’s obvious that this idea of tying the money that you earn to how much time you spend actively working is a nonsense. It doesn’t matter that the school system trained you specifically to search for a time-bound job, and it’s not important that “everybody” earns money exactly in this way.

The fact that “everybody” sell their time doesn’t mean that selling your time is a good idea, the contrary: it’s the dumb burden you have to get rid of if you want to make room for a different way of producing income, the smart alternative that really leads you to earn money without working most of your time. The alternative is a system that creates passive income.

What is passive income?

Passive income is the income generated by a web site on which there are ads (the “banners”). If the web site works and has interesting contents, in the night you’re actually sleeping while on the other side of the world, let’s say in Italy, an italian clicks on your ad and makes you earn few cents. You earned money while you were sleeping.

Passive income is generated by an apartment -of which you’re the owner or maybe you just have the permission to subrent it- that you rent to someone. Periodically you’ll receive payments from the guests without any need for you to work, apart from organizing sporadic maintenance.

A vending machine selling snacks, placed in a public building, is a simple and effective source of passive income. Periodically you have to refill it with snacks, but for the rest of the time you don’t need to work at it: you can rest or do other activities, in the meanwhile the vending machine keeps on generating income for you.

All the products that come from creative work, for example the books you write, the music you compose, the movies you make, once they’re completed and put on the market will make you earn money without working anymore. At every sale you will receive the “royalties”. Sometimes you don’t even need to create new products, but you can use the public domain resources, for example ancient classical music, to create a passive income system.

Financial investments are another source of passive income. Examples of this type are precious metals, foreign currencies, stocks. You buy these at a certain moment, then as time goes on -time in which you will not work- their value increases.

Notice that this last field is a bit treacherous: you need a lot of time to decipher the world of finance, surrounded by a lot of false and misleading information, before you can invest intelligently. Naturally, if you’re trapped in an office job 40 hours a week you don’t have any chance of deciphering anything, just because you’re too busy selling your time to the employer and you don’t have time to get informed on what’s best to buy.

A lot of other examples can be made: investments on internet domains, art, patents on inventions, buying and renting industrial machines, generally a lot of entrepreneurial jobs produce passive income, but I don’t want to list all of them now, I’ll probably do it in another article. Here instead I want to highlight some aspects that the sources of passive income have in common.

You don’t earn money by never working

The contrary, a lot of these systems require extra work especially in the initial phase, to be “launched”. But once they’re launched…

You earn money without working all the rest of the time

This second fact will motivate you strongly to create passive income systems, if like me you assign a gigantic value to the possibility of getting rid of a hourly job nonsense. It’s true, you have to make a bigger effort at the beginning, but the fact that after it you can keep on earning money without working for years, often for all the rest of life, is really amazing.

Let’s start from the creation. Building a passive income system can require big initial efforts. The nature of the efforts depends on the type of system that you choose. For example, builing a web site has the advantage that it has a very low initial cost (hosting + domain) but it surely requires a lot of effort in the first phase to fill it with high quality contents, original, that attract many internet users.

Buying an apartment to rent out requires a big initial investment (but consider that during the periods of “crisis” you can successfully buy with few tens of thousands of dollars) and also some stress to find the right apartment, deal with real estate agents, lawyers and do the paperwork.

Entering in the sector of vending machines can be difficult, because a lot of public buildings are already managed by big companies well estabished “in the business”, and they hardly leave any room for new competitors. You have to make some extra effort to find new opportunities. For example you can start by putting a machine in the music school of your friend, or in the touristic apartment -in which there’s a frequent turnover of guests- of your relative.

Producing creative work is definitely not easy. Creating music, movies, or books that people are willing to pay for takes talent (it’s also true that you will hardly develop any creative talent by staying locked in an office, doing repetitive work). Also “re-packaging” public domain resources in a way that people will like requires a certain amount of work.

Financial investments cost study. A lot of study time to understand how finance works, which products will really gain value with time, and which products to avoid. Avoiding the advice of many financial advisors who populate the bank offices can be a great start. I suggest instead to start by understanding the -paramount- difference between finance and real economy.

So, the most difficult phase is without any doubt the initial one, the launch phase. But once this phase is over everything runs really smoothly: the system you built continues to deliver value without need of your constant intervention, and at this point you get rewarded for the value it delivers, rather than for the time you spend working.

“How much” automatic your passive income system must be, you decide it. The system can get close to be perfectly passive, meaning that once it’s created it’s practically not needed anymore that you work on it, and all you do is to receive the earnings, for example the financial investments or the royalties for a book.

The system can also be partially passive, for example an internet web site can make you earn money without working most of the time, but it’s still necessary to do periodic updates. An apartment that you rent out makes money flow to your account for most of the time while you’re doing something else, but from time to time you have to do maintenance or deal with possible problems of your guests.

Naturally I advise to create passive income systems that are in line with your interests, this way even if these systems are not 100% passive you will feel like working on them, to maintain them, or even improve them.

Remember that the quality of anything that you produce, whatever good or service it is, takes off if you work on it with passion. This is why I think that if many people would reach economic freedom by stopping to earn money through “regular jobs”, and would start instead to earn money through systems based on their passions and talents, the entire society would greatly benefit from it. There would simply be more quality goods and services available in the market.

Decouple your income from your work

separating-income-from-workIn general, I consider very desirable that my income is as much as possible decoupled from how much time I work and where I work. Instead I want to earn money in proportion to the value that I produce and deliver to people. This because I realized, as I wrote above, the after all people don’t care about how I produced that value, but they care about the value itself.

I also consider desirable that there are automatic systems (and the growing technology is a formidable ally in this) that take care of delivering the value that I produce to people, so in the meanwhile I can use my life for activities that make me happy. For example writing, traveling, making comic videos, staying with family and friends are all activities that make me happy.

Get paid for the value you produce, not for the time you spend in the office

I write this in blue because I consider it the key advice of this article. Focus on creating and then delivering value to people, rather than worrying to comply with weekly schedules that interest only to a small group of office employees (on a world population of billions).

Value is what people desire or need. As long as you care about creating and delivering value to people, you will always find ways to earn money without working most of your time. This because you have the possibility to only create the value (starting the passive systems that I mentioned above), while you can delegate the delivery to technology or coworkers.

For example, if you choose to generate passive income through a web site, you only have to create the site and fill it with contents. Pay attention to create contents that are valid in the long term (for example I expect that this article will continue to be interesting for many years, if I’d write an article about the last model of cell phone it would stop being interesting as soon as the next model comes out). Once the site is ready it’s the server that takes care of delivering the value to a very wide audience, and with ridiculously low costs by the way.

A less virtual example is the apartment to rent out. You create the “value” by buying the apartment, doing rehabs, refurnishing it, installing all the services. After that you can pay an agency to manage the delivery of that value: an agent will find the guests, assist them, do maintenance, periodic cleaning, or other services that you can decide together.

Similar case with the vending machines: you can delegate to a coworker the periodic refilling operations and make the business perfectly passive. At that point you’ll be completely free from the phase of delivery of the value.

It depends on you a lot. For example, I have friends who systematically rent out their apartment to tourists. For some of them maintenance and interactions with the guests are rather pleasant, so they prefer to manage in person also these aspects of their business. This way they have the disadvantage of an income system which is only partially passive, but the advantage of saving the costs of the agency.

Others prefer to delegate everything to an agency: their system has the advantage of getting close to be perfectly passive, but the disadvantage of having to pay the agency.

How many passive income systems is better to build?

I think that it’s definitely useful to build more than one passive income system, in different sectors.This way, even if one of them stops working for events you didn’t predict (for example you buy an apartment in a touristic city to rent it out, but after few years the tourist flow in that city drops drastically) you still have sources of income that allow you to not return to work by hours.

Examples of combinations are: renting out apartments + web sites + precious metals, or: publishing books + publishing videos in internet + stocks, or: vending machines + online shops.

(remember to always prefer evergreen topics for your web sites, books, videos, rather than current news topics, for which the interest grows and dies within few days. Only the first ones are suited to produce passive income, the second ones require continuous work to “chase” the news.)

Consider that every system requires initial efforts to be created, so it’s not convenient to aim at 20 different passive systems, but that’s not even necessary. Often 2-3 passive systems guarantee a good diversification, and they can already produce earnings comparable to those of many employee workers. In addition, if like me you give more importance to your lifestyle than to money, you’ll want to keep things as simple as possible, avoiding to create an empire of systems that at the end would complicate your life.

Ok, if you arrived here reading it’s probably because what I wrote so far makes a lot of sense to you. But still, maybe while you were reading a couple of doubts appeared in your mind. Let’s see if I guess what they are.

Well. Isn’t earning money without working immoral?

Not working most of your time is generally seen as deprecable. Are you ready to be deprecated? I live without working most of my time and I don’t feel guilty for this.

Actually, I feel rather proud for projects that I created (online in internet an offline in the real life) that served thousands of people. I surely would feel rather guilty if instead, like it was happening when I had a regular job and I was doing consultancy work in the offices, I would still get paid to spend 8 hours “at work”, of which 4 really producing and 4 wasting time between email, phone, meaningless meetings, social networks or half asleep in front of a monitor for the post-lunch digestion.

I am convinced that working few hours per day, on the right projects and in the periods in which there is more energy, is the real recipe for productivity. And I even venture to predict that it will be a main trend for the future: people will work few hours per day and almost exclusively in creative sectors (painting, music, poetry…), while the machines will take care of the other jobs.

So do yourself a favor: be ahead of time and save yourself from the nonsense of badge swiping. Many unproductive employee jobs in which people are trapped will end up being done by the machines anyway. You can focus and acquire economic freedom now already, building passive income systems that do good to you and to others.

Ok, but not everybody can leave all the jobs

Naturally there are sectors that are not suited to produce passive income. A shop salesman needs to be physicaly in the shop during the opening time. An airport security agent needs to work in the check points at specific times. A programmer needs to be in the office in contact with the colleagues of the project, during the day.

In these examples there’s necessarily a strong bound between how much the worker earns and how much time he spends in the workplace.

The news is that exactly in this type of jobs, the active income jobs, the bound between income and labor often becomes a blackmail for the worker, who, if he wants to earn enough money to live, has to work dozens of hours every week, without having any time left for all the other aspects of life.

Many active income jobs could already be done in smaller doses, with part-time contracts, and in fact they would have much more sense this way. Unfortunately the opposite is done, there’s a dumb system that regulates the market. How crazy is it, that a person has to ask for permission to the boss if he wants to travel and explore a bit the world he lives in (often receiving a no)? Or that he has to ask for permission to spend time with family and friends?

It’s not convenient to repeat continuously “I hate my job” and “I hate monday” like many people do. You are not forced to choose this type of jobs. I wrote this article to make you see that now, already there are alternatives, systems that really allow you to earn money without working most of your time. Look around you and you’ll start to notice that many people live this way.

If you’re trapped in a time-bound job, start to build passive systems that produce flows of automatic income. Once the flows will be enough to pay your expenses, you’ll be able to get rid of the time-bound job and reach economic freedom.

To make it remember to focus on the right phylosophy: get paid for the value that you create and deliver to people.


Notes: this article has been inspired by the popular article “10 reasons why you should never get a job” by Steve Pavlina, of which I considered useful to write my personal version, a bit different. June 12, 2016: fixed few grammar errors and rephrased better few parts.

Related: The function of labor, 5 Cool ideas for entrepreneurs, What is your work ethic?