We buy health insurance should we need an emergency appendectomy. We take out life insurance policies should we be hit by a bus tomorrow. But when it comes to the systemic risk of a collapse in the social order, we can’t readily buy an insurance policy. And we’d rather not think about the uncomfortable prospect of a future pandemic, an Artificial General Intelligence with misaligned goals, or other catastrophe. When it comes to some of the biggest potential perils, we by and large stick our heads in the sand.
Civilization is fragile. At all times, we’re about three days from riots: a few days without food on the shelves of grocery stores, or the time it takes for the drinking water supply in your house to be exhausted. And if the past two years of COVID lockdowns have taught us anything, it is that the government’s function is to facilitate social stability — not to help you. If stability means you live in a refugee camp, so be it.
I spent time in Argentina in 2013. I was surprised to find that there, nearly everyone who is upper or upper-middle class holds a second passport. In an economy that undergoes regular hyperinflation and faces capital controls, a second citizenship can be both a literal ticket out of the country, as well as a metaphorical ticket to a more stable banking system.
Could I too obtain a second passport as an insurance policy against some of these risks?
There is a phenomenon known as social proof. It’s the idea that if everyone is doing something—whether it’s buying a certain pair of shoes, seeing a particular movie, or criticizing some unfortunate individual—it must be right. So if no one else was trying to escape the country besides me, then it must be wrong.
The problem with that logic is that by the time everyone is doing it—after the next terrorist attack or economic depression or political clampdown or epidemic disease—it will be too late. And those who want to escape will be left trying to barter money, sex, connections, and everything else they have just for the privilege of living.
If you’re extraordinarily wealthy, getting a second passport is easy. Many countries, including Ireland, Spain, and Portugal, offer a fast track to citizenship in exchange for a significant investment in local real estate or an approved investment fund. However, those of us without a spare €1 million who don’t want to wait five years for full citizenship need to explore other options.
If you’re feeling bold, have a child in Brazil. The child is automatically granted Brazilian citizenship, and after one year of residency the parents can obtain Brazilian citizenship as well. Brazil also receives bonus points because it will not extradite its own citizens under any circumstances.
But I was looking for something a bit less extreme. I had heard of people getting Irish citizenship because their ancestors had emigrated from Ireland. However, this is only a possibility if your grandparents or parents were born in Ireland. Since my great-grandparents emigrated from Ireland, I was not eligible.
But I also have great-grandparents that emigrated from Italy. And Italy determines citizenship in a slightly unusual way. Many countries offer citizenship on the basis of jus soli (right of soil). You become a citizen of the country in which you are born.2 Others offer citizenship based on jus sanguinis (right of blood). This gives you the right to citizenship based on the citizenship of your parents. Most countries today (including the US) apply some combination of jus soli and jus sanguinis to determine citizenship.
Italy applies the concept of jus sanguinis broadly. Citizenship can be transmitted through any number of generations. So I was able to obtain Italian citizenship because:
My great-grandparents left Italy and became naturalized US citizens after June 14, 1912. (Had they become citizens before this date, I would not have qualified.)
My grandfather was born before my great-grandparents became US citizens. Thus Italian citizenship was passed on to him before it was renounced, and was passed on through his bloodline.3
If you’re going through a similar process, you should make a consular appointment as soon as you can. The Consulates have limited slots available for citizenship appointments, and are often completely booked 12+ months in advance. You should expect the process of obtaining documents, getting them translated, and having an “apostille” added (the equivalent of notarization) to take about six months. Budget $1,500 or so to be safe for all of the documents and the application fee for citizenship.
After roughly three years of on-and-off back-and-forth, I became a proud Italian citizen residing abroad.
Dual Citizenship Advantages
As previously mentioned, the main advantage to dual citizenship is to hedge against an economic or social collapse in one country. (Admittedly, the correlation between Western Europe and the US is strong, so an Italian passport is of limited utility. But something is still better than nothing.) However, there are a few other significant benefits, specifically to having an EU passport:
Live and work anywhere in the EU, visa-free. I love travel, and should I want to move to, say, Berlin, I could do so tomorrow. No visa or additional documents required for residency. This is particularly relevant since so many jobs have gone fully remote in the past two years. I also may be able to pay EU tuition rates for universities throughout Europe (though this varies based on country).
Unlock additional travel opportunities. With current COVID restrictions, an EU passport is much more powerful (at least in Europe) than a US passport. In more normal times, I’d love to travel to some countries where a subset of people don’t have the best assumptions about Americans. But I don’t think they have as many preconceived notions about Italians. Additionally, some countries (e.g. Brazil) charge a visa fee to US citizens, but not to Italian citizens.5
Pass the same benefits along to family. My future wife and children will have the same benefits of Italian citizenship.
Are there potential downsides to citizenship? Not many. Taxation treaties prevent paying additional taxes on income. I suppose should Italy go to war, I could be drafted. But in that case, I would renounce my Italian citizenship. A more likely scenario would be the US going to war, in which case I would have a backup country should I want to renounce my US citizenship.
Does this affect my day-to-day life at all? Not a whit. But I sleep slightly better at night knowing that should the worst happen in the US, there is another country in the world that would welcome me.
Interestingly, the city of Trapani in Sicily was by far the most efficient office to deal with, sending me my great-grandparents records via FedEx within a few days and not charging the $50+ postage fee. (The State of Ohio was the worst.) ↩
Unless you’re traveling all the time, this is not a good primary reason to get dual citizenship. I spent way more time and money going through this process than I saved ($160) when traveling to Brazil. But it’s a nice side benefit. ↩
Tether is the biggest openly acknowledged fraud in crypto.1 Over the past several years, Tether has claimed one-to-one USD backing, yet has refused to show any proof of it. When pressed, the company has employed a misdirection strategy by redefining “one-to-one backing”. In short, there is a hell of a lot of smoke – even if Tether were not a fraud, its executives act exactly how you’d expect the perpetrators of a fraud to act.
So what? The current modus operandi of the crypto world is to collectively shrug. They take George Soros’s approach: “When I see a bubble forming, I rush in to buy, adding fuel to the fire.” There is more money to be made on the gravy train of providing liquidity for trades, yield farming, etc. than in trying to short Tether and potentially bleeding out before it goes bust.
Maybe Tether will be able to accomplish its implicit goal: Fake it until it makes it, becoming the fractional reserve banking system for all of crypto.
But let’s assume that eventually Tether’s shenanigans catch up with it. What happens if USDT loses its peg?
Tether sells its crypto and other assets to cover redemptions, driving down the price of those assets.
Eventually, Tether limits withdrawals, as it is running low on funds.
The average USDT holder is stuck with USDT they cannot exchange for fiat. They try to exchange it for Bitcoin or Ethereum (“blue-chip” crypto), which they can then hold or cash out on an exchange that is USD- or USDC-denominated.
Any exchange with USDT-denominated crypto prices will see those prices explode, as there will be few sellers of crypto for a soon-to-be-worthless asset.
The average crypto holder will lose confidence in all crypto assets, and there will be a large market sell-off.
We will see some very strange market dynamics where USDT-denominated Bitcoin on Bitfinex costs $500,000, while USDC-denominated Bitcoin on Coinbase costs $10,000.
Anyone still stuck with USDT will lose all of their money, or things get tied up in court à la Mt. Gox.
This is a purely speculative piece that solely represents my personal views. I do not hold any Tether, nor do I have a short position (synthetic or otherwise) in Tether. I do hold various cryptocurrencies and a small amount of USDC. I am long cryptocurrency adoption, mainly through my choice of employer.
This post was heavily inspired by patio11. I’ll shortly drop a hash of it on Twitter.
SBF has argued that the likeliest scenario, assuming Tether isn’t fully capitalized, is that nobody notices. If there are no mass redemptions, the capitalization level of Tether doesn’t even matter. The next most likely scenario is a 10-15% haircut taken by Tether holders…and the cryptoverse continues on as usual. The cynical reader will here note that SBF and Alameda are likely to fall into the “important customers” bucket here, and that as Alameda is a major liquidity provider in the crypto industry, SBF has a vested interest in Tether usage. ↩
Trigger the overused (but in this case applicable) phrase: “Not your keys, not your coins.” ↩
Christianity grew from a tiny Messianic Jewish sect to the cultural backdrop of all of Western civilization with a radical message: that all human life is valuable and capable of redemption. In fact, it goes one step further, revering the poor, sick, and outcast; in the next life, “the last shall be first”. That is a powerful story.
But in our postmodern world, we have lost faith in both God and reason. We no longer dream of going to the stars and populating the universe; rather, we squabble over the taxes paid by the only man trying to make us multi-planetary. We face a dearth of unifying narratives, resulting in feelings of anxiety, helplessness, and alienation. We yearn for a story that gives our lives meaning. We want to know that we matter.
This context makes the events of the past two weeks so compelling. The story currently playing out in Ukraine, a story with forcible Biblical parallels – from David vs. Goliath, to the invasion of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple, to the final battle at Armageddon – is perhaps the strongest narrative I’ve seen in my lifetime.
“On résiste à l’invasion des armées; on ne résiste pas à l’invasion des idées.”
– Victor Hugo
The Ukrainian cause has united nearly every country on Earth. It has shaken American politicians out of their myopic political point-scoring and rallied the world around a good vs. evil struggle the likes of which we haven’t seen since World War II.
In short, Ukraine’s story is superior to Putin’s. While Russian soldiers fight due to dictate, Ukrainians fight for ideals like democracy and freedom. They fight for their way of life and very lives. They are defending their homeland and asserting independence.
This story is more powerful than any conqueror’s.1 And Ukraine has done a masterful job in crafting the narrative.
A month ago, Putin was considered the quintessential strongman. Over the course of the past two weeks, he’s gone from projecting strength to showing distrust and weakness. His physical distance is indicative of his isolation from the world.
It’s not just Zelenskyy. Individual stories serve as an inspiration, and demonstrate the moxie and chutzpah of the Ukrainian people. Foreigners are flocking to Ukraine to fight for democracy and freedom, reminiscent of the international volunteers who bore arms against fascism during the Spanish Civil War.
These stories give Ukrainians, and the world, hope. They will last for generations in the hearts of those directly affected.
Our Stories No Longer Serve Us
And yet, stories require constant retelling. The power of narrative decays exponentially with time and distance.
“We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use these words as a backbone to a life spent defending something. You use them as a punchline.”
– Colonel Jessup, A Few Good Men
The American people have become effete. And the stories foundational to our nation – freedom from tyranny, “all men are created equal”, representative democracy – have become a punchline.
The West may talk about defending freedoms, about supporting Ukraine, but stands by and watches a European power annex lands from its neighbors. Appeasing the last leader who pulled that stunt sure worked out nicely.2 At the same time, it directly contributes to the Russian war effort with its purchase of Russian energy.
We defend our ideals when it’s convenient for us. We care about Ukrainians about as much as we care about the plight of the Uyghurs: enough to say that it’s very sad, but not sad enough for us to pay double for our iPhones. It’s great that the Ukrainian people are struggling for democracy…as long as we don’t need to pay more than $5 per gallon for gas.
We pat ourselves on the back for sanctions, but what is the endgame? In the most charitable interpretation, politicians are thinking several moves ahead and giving Russia an out. They’re trying to not squeeze so hard that Russia snaps and lashes out, à la Japan in 1941.
But will sanctions truly pressure Russian oligarchs to overthrow Putin? Will they lead to a decrease in Russian morale and end the war? Or do they only serve as a deterrent to other nations thinking of doing the same (see China vis-à-vis Taiwan). If sanctions are meant to be a future deterrent, we need another solution to get out of the current crisis.
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
Syria was a much less clear-cut moral dilemma: with ISIS fighting on one side and a dictator on the other, perhaps it was best that the West largely remained uninvolved. But Ukraine is not Syria. Ukraine is a nation that dared to have a democracy, that ventured to operate outside of the sphere of influence of an authoritarian state, that is now struggling against an evil empire.
The very least we owe ourselves and the Ukrainian people – who are fighting for their lives, for the very freedoms that we supposedly hold dear – is the truth: We no longer believe in our principles. Sure, we’ll fight if the war comes to American soil, but the post-World War II world order is dead. Raise an army, develop nuclear weapons. Because you’re on your own. Treaties mean nothing; no other country is coming to bail you out. With every day that goes by, I agree more and more with Zelenskyy:
Ukraine knows its story. It believes in its story. The Ukrainian people are fighting and dying for that story. In the long run, they are likely to prevail – Russia will not be able to hold a hostile Ukraine. Still, how many will die in the interim?
But their story is not good enough for us. We’ve forgotten that freedom requires sacrifice. We have no story worth fighting for.
We need a new story.
For all its evil,war sometimes has a tiny silver lining. It can clarify the mind and reboot our ethical compass. It puts less serious things in perspective. It nudges us towards our neighbor and reminds us that our needs and interests are intertwined. It reignites our compassion.
I distinguish four types. There are clever, hardworking, stupid, and lazy officers. Usually two characteristics are combined. Some are clever and hardworking; their place is the General Staff. The next ones are stupid and lazy; they make up 90 percent of every army and are suited to routine duties. Anyone who is both clever and lazy is qualified for the highest leadership duties, because he possesses the mental clarity and strength of nerve necessary for difficult decisions. One must beware of anyone who is both stupid and hardworking; he must not be entrusted with any responsibility because he will always only cause damage.
In June 2020, I packed the contents of my Chinatown apartment into a rented minivan.
I parked the minivan on the curb with its flashers blinking. Then I raced back and forth between my 4th floor apartment and the van with all of my earthly possessions. I had to physically stop passerby from stealing my furniture, dodge a drunk man who spat at me and pounded on the door of my building for at least 15 minutes, and triage which items would remain on the curb (as I lack both the prudence to adequately predict how many items from a one-bedroom apartment will fit in a Dodge Caravan and the spatial awareness to efficiently pack said Dodge Caravan), all while wearing a bandanna around my face as a symbolic, if not entirely functional, talisman against COVID.
It was chaos.
But my partner and I made it out of town, arriving late the next day at my parents’ house in Chicago. There, we plotted our next steps: buy a car and take a road trip around the country.
On the Road
Living nomadically at the beginning of the pandemic was a great decision. I was in the sweet spot of life where I had a stable relationship (i.e., a default travel buddy) and a good job where I could work remotely, but no kids or family obligations tying me to a specific location. And with many people afraid to travel in late 2020 and early 2021, long-term Airbnb prices were quite reasonable – little more than what we had spent on rent in New York.
We drove across the country: first south from Chicago through St. Louis and Tulsa to Austin, then west. We snowboarded in Colorado, hiked in Utah, and surfed in California.
Train tracks through Moab
Leaving New York was one of the best things I could have done for my mental and physical health. When your baseline is a one-bedroom apartment quarantine, getting outside in the sun, not following the news, and experiencing the diversity of land and people in the United States is delightful.
That said, life on the road became tedious after a while.
Everything that is nice about a vacation is annoying when you need to work from a new place. The lack of a routine and office setup led to decreased work productivity. At the same time, because we were working, we had limited hours to explore the places that we were visiting.
It took time and mental energy to repeatedly plan where we live in the next month. Once we agreed on where to go and found an Airbnb, we’d spend an entire weekend packing the car, driving to a new city, and unpacking in the next rental. It was essentially the stress of a move, every month.
Then, we’d need to figure out where to go grocery shopping, find a new gym, and see which restaurants in the area that we liked. But just as we were settling into our new routine, we would pack up the car and do it all over again. We found that constantly changing our environment was not the best way to have a good night’s sleep, a healthy diet, or a consistent workout routine.
We also ended up spending a lot of time in our parents’ homes. We had to weigh whether or not to spend $3,000 to rent an Airbnb for the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Was it really worth the cost when we’d be driving back so soon?1
Cows on the open road
Additionally, the trip was at times quite lonely. During the majority of our travels, vaccines weren’t yet available, meaning a lot of in-person events were cancelled. So there were not many opportunities to meet new people.2 Pandemic aside, it is hard to build a community when you know you’re only in a city for a month. If we were to do this again, we’d get a WeWork membership and head into the coworking space each day to help develop a work routine and have at least a bit of human interaction.
The Town and the City
After traveling around the country, we realized that we had a few priorities for where we wanted to live long-term. We wanted to be somewhere with good weather, where we wouldn’t mind riding out more COVID lockdowns. We also wanted to be near friends and family. It is difficult to move somewhere where you start from scratch — we wanted the beginnings of a social network to build a community.
This narrowed down our options to either Southern California or to Austin. We loved Orange County…who doesn’t? Some of my best friends live there, the weather is perfect, and you can go surfing in the middle of the workweek. But ultimately we chose Austin for a few reasons:
Cost of living. Orange County was significantly more expensive than Austin. Rent is 50% higher. And with a 0% income tax rate, living in Texas gives you an immediate ~10% pay bump vs. living in California.
Good weather. Well, good weather for about nine months of the year. However, see point #1. If we are craving the SoCal lifestyle and want to escape the summer heat and humidity of Austin, the tax savings from my salary alone will pay for a three-month sublet in Orange County.
Job opportunities. Austin has a great tech and startup scene. There are a ton of other people working in crypto and building cool companies. Many companies are moving their headquarters to Austin from the Bay Area (Tesla, Oracle, etc.), or at the very least, opening huge satellite offices here. I only see this trend accelerating in the next few years, and think at this point Austin is just as good as the Bay Area for ambitious people working in technology.
Excellent culture. People are really nice here! Austin feels like a mix of Midwestern friendliness and Southern hospitality. There is also a live and let live attitude and self-reliance mindset that strikes me as very Texan.
Diversity. Austin has true intellectually and political diversity when contrasted with New York. (Let’s hope this holds up with the influx of new residents.) Austin, while a fairly liberal city, is still part of Texas. This leads to an interesting dynamic where you don’t know where people stand politically. I find this refreshing, after being in a work environment in New York where everyone’s politics were assumed and discussions could become a virtue signaling competition. Essentially, the reasons Tim Ferriss had for moving to Austin a few years back hold up.
Tremendous food. I am happy eating tacos and barbecue for every meal.
COVID concerns. If we are to lock down again, we want to be in both a red state (to minimize restrictions) and somewhere with a lot of outdoor space and activities.
Personal network. Both my partner and I have friends in Austin. With her family in New York and mine in Chicago, it’s also close enough to home to go back for a weekend. There is a big difference between a six hour flight and three hour time difference from LA to New York, vs. a three hour flight and one hour time difference coming from Austin.
The downsides…aren’t so bad. People talking about how the rent is too high here have never lived in NYC. People talking about how bad the traffic is have never driven in LA or Chicago.
So, like many who fled San Francisco and New York in the past two years, we’re Texans now. Giddy up. 🤠
Here, the sunk cost fallacy that comes with paying for a yearly lease can work in your favor, at least when it comes to the mental health improvements that come with controlling your environment. ↩
It’s hard in general to make friends as an adult, but that’s the subject of another post. ↩