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My old neighborhood

August 16, 2009

Last month while back in Milan I took the opportunity to renew my Italian driver’s license. So I went back to the “driving school”, around the corner from my parents’ house, where I learned to drive. A lot of things have changed in 20 years. The office used to be located in a fairly typical Milanese street and even though it is still there and still functions as a “driver ed school” it might as well be located in China. The whole place was full of people, all of them Chinese, including the girl behind the counter. The entire street where the office is located is covered in Chinese (bulk) clothing stores. As an aside, I’m used to being surrounded by Chinese people: all the physics guys on my floor in Cardwell Hall are Chinese and they seem to be working 24/7, exactly like the folks in my hometown neighborhood. The classroom was exactly like I remembered it, except now there are several computers loaded with a special software where you can learn the road manual in Chinese. The girl behind the counter was entirely bilingual and spoke perfect Italian. In fact most of the customers where very yuppie-looking youngsters and spoke very animatedly interjecting Italian words every now and then. Who knows? maybe they even knew some words in Milanese! I can’t deny feeling some sadness when I walk down a very familiar street (I spent a lot of time in the streets as a kid) and see store after store, miles of stores, all selling the same cheap clothing items. How these Chinese stores make money is a big mystery, and a puzzle: you rarely see a customer in there. However, the little experience with the driver license gave me an inside look in the exploding Chinese community in my old neighborhood, especially the younger generation. I felt happy, because there I saw my theoretical precepts reconfirmed. Studying economics makes one appreciate the theory of “open borders”. Economic change is not always easy, especially from an emotional point of view. But learning can change your mind. Free immigration and free trade are actually the same thing: one is about the movement of people, the other about the movement of goods and services. Like everything they entail some costs and some benefits. The real advantages are harder to perceive, they are truly “unseen”. But you can get a glimpse of them by observing the younger generations: their lifestyles, their opportunities, and their enthusiasm.

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From → Milano

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