One of Machiavelli’s wiser points was that one should never give people too much. If the government engages in largesse, giving tax breaks to the rich, constructing a welfare state, holding up greed (aka ‘self-interest’ and ‘comparative advantage’) as a virtue, then people become profoundly resentful when it is taken away. Far better then to be frugal, to operate within an economy of scarcity – for the government as well. Then, if it becomes possible to grant a few things, people are far happier and more grateful.

This thought strikes me again and again in Western Europe, where people have become far too comfortable with life. Now, when the situation is little more difficult, they find discomfort very hard to stomach. They blame everyone else, mutter and complain, wondering what has happened. I find that those who are more accustomed to discomfort, or rather to a life that is simpler and more frugal, are much better equipped to deal with with troubled times. They seem to know what it means to live and enjoy life.

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