We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Tim Harford on the power of bottom-up decision making (and on H. R. McMaster)

If you haven’t already partaken of this bit of video, then you really should. It lasts just under twenty minutes.

Tim Harford is speaking, in 2011, at some gathering of the clever and the smug, but it’s better than that. The name H. R. McMaster comes up several times, and this is, among other things, a very good quick way to learn why McMaster’s appointment by President Trump as his National Security Adviser might turn out to be such a very good one. It certainly explains why this appointment is already so very popular. You don’t have to believe that the USA rearranging matters in faraway countries is always or even ever a wise policy to get the points that Harford is making.

Harford also mentions, in passing, Hayek. From this, you may guess that this is a talk about decentralised decision making, and how on the spot knowledge, again and again, trumps the wisdom of the Central Committee or the High Command. If that is your guess, you would not be wrong.

The story that Harford tells reminds me of another transformation of policy that happened in China, and gave rise to what is now called the Chinese economic miracle. This miracle is now starting to look rather less miraculous, but it was still a massive improvement over what preceded it. That change too is usually attributed to a change of top leadership and of its top-down policies, but that policy also, I seem to recall reading, began at the bottom of the chain of command and in spite of the chain of command.

I even seem to recall having linked to stuff about that from here. Yes, here is that posting, about teeth of all things, and here is the article at Planet Money that the posting linked to. It’s the same story as Harford tells in the above-linked-to video.

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Samizdata quote of the day

“So much of our popular culture depends on the loudly proclaimed pose of being “rebels,” of being outside the mainstream, of being “transgressive”—while repeating clichés that have become deadly boring through decades of repetition. It reminds me of a brilliant little bit in The Onion: “Purchase of Jeans Ushers Man into Exclusive, Ultra-Cool Subculture of Jeans-Wearing Americans.” They all want to be nonconformists just like everyone else.”

Robert Tracinski

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When does a child become an adult?

Milo Yiannopolous seems to have got himself into a spot of bother over remarks about homosexual sex with teenagers. The gist of it – especially if you read his clarification – seems to be that he was ready to take it up the bum at 13 and if it was OK for him then it would probably be OK for others. I suspect – given the little I know about him – that Milo at that age would have been capable of weighing up the pros and cons of such a decision. But not many others.

Milo raises – albeit indirectly – an important question: when does a child become an adult? As it happens, I drafted an attempt at an answer to this some time ago but lacked the guts to publish it. It’s time I did:

As the law stands if a man has sex with a female of 15 years and 364 days he is a scoundrel who should be imprisoned for a very long time. However, if he has sex with a female of 16 years and 0 days that’s just fine and dandy.

Or to put it another way, in the opinion of the law all women undergo the transition from young, innocent child to responsible, rational adult in a split second at exactly the same age.

That’s absurd; but, for the law, hardly uncommon. Similar rules apply to all sorts of aspects of growing up: when you can drive a car, enter into contracts, vote, marry, drink alcohol, leave school, get a job etc. And in each case the state’s answer is some arbitrary, one-size-fits-all number. And often it is a different number: 17 for driving (I am referring to English law here), 18 for drinking, 16 for sex. That can’t be right.

Could there perhaps, be a solution that is – to paraphrase H. L. Mencken – simple, neat and not wrong? The argument for numbers is that you have to draw the line somewhere, meaning: the law has to draw the line somewhere. But why should it be the law drawing the line? Why can’t it be the child? What if when the child comes to the decision that he is old enough to take on the rights and responsibilities of adulthood he just does? Obviously, he would have to tell people but that implies some sort of arrangement not unlike marriage with documents, ceremonies and cooling-off periods. Hardly beyond the wit of man.

I’ve been trying to think up some drawbacks. One might be that a girl’s declaration of adulthood might look awfully like a declaration that she wanted to have sex. And women are a bit coy about that sort of thing. Another might be that some children would decide to become adults at an absurdly young age and then proceed to ruin their lives, perhaps by driving the car into a bunch of passers-by. Or drinking themselves to death. But how likely is that? My personal experience of childhood is that I was perfectly well aware of my unpreparedness for taking on the responsiblities of adulthood. Perhaps we should be more worried about the other end of the age scale. Would some people choose to extend their childhood into their 20s and beyond?

Perhaps one way to look at this is to consider when we might ourselves have felt ready for the transition. In my case I think it was about 14-15. The only issue for me at that age would have been the predatory homosexuals who made up the school’s English Department.

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On political ignorance

A commenter over at the Guido Fawkes blog, with the joyful name of “Rasta Pickles”, comments on the notion that the UK electorate is too thick to figure out the complexities of Brexit, and that such complex matters should be left to a political class that has done such a tremendous job down the years. He or she notes a flaw in this “argument”:

“99.9% of the UK electorate have no idea what they’re voting for every time they vote in a council election; they regard local elections as a popularity poll on what’s happening in Westminster. Your local Labour/Tory council might well be planning on a compulsory purchase order on your house and those around you in order to build a new mega-PoundLand store and you’d still have people voting for them out of sheer ignorance.”

Even so, there are libertarians/classical liberals who point out that democracy, unless hedged with checks and balances, isn’t compatible with liberty and can be harmful to it. Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of The Rational Voter is a good read, as is this recent effort by Jason Brennan. But my problem with the arguments they make is that what, realistically, can they propose other than the sort of return to oligarchy of “smart people” that, as history tends to show, descends into corruption pretty damn quick?

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Samizdata quote of the day

Besides Yiannopoulos, his publishers and the concept of free speech, the big winners here are booksellers. Or at least you’d think so. But at least one Sydney outlet says it won’t stock Dangerous.

“Jon Page, owner of Pages & Pages, Mosman, and the online retailer Boomerang Books, became the first Australian bookseller to publicly declare he would not stock or promote the book by Yiannopoulos,” The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week, describing the author as “a mouthpiece of the hard right and a figure of controversy for his anti-immigration, anti-Islam stand”.

Page is wrong to say he won’t promote Yiannopoulos’s book. He just did, and in a far more effective way than if he’d filled his bookstore’s windows with Milo posters.

By taking his anti-free speech stand, Page ensured further publicity for Yiannopoulos and even more sales — but Page won’t be sharing in the profits.

Tim Blair

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Repentance

Political correctness is not some sort of politeness, it is a cancer, a disease that eats away at society, allowing the poison to fester, for it stifles free speech and attempts to control our very thoughts, encouraging self-censorship. Freedom to speak means the freedom to offend and those so offended may respond in kind.

These days, if someone calls out “racist” or uses the terms such as “Islamophobe” or “homophobe” or some other variation, I switch off as they have labelled themselves as someone whose opinion I may safely ignore.

It’s nice to see that [Trevor] Phillips has finally seen the light, but the damage has been done and he was part of that.

Longrider.

But I would respectfully take issue with the last line, which although undeniably correct, suggests a counterproductive sentiment. Nevertheless I strongly suspect from Longrider’s choice of title, Much Joy, that in truth he also sees this much as I do. And thus, although I am an atheist myself, this second quotation actually expresses my view rather well.

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

Welcome to the fight, Trevor, let me show you to your place on the forward edge of the battle area.

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Samizdata quote of the day

The result of [the ‘sharing economy] is that in many ways, private tech companies have ended subsidising new forms of public services, for the public good.

That ought to make them the darlings of the Left. Yet unfortunately, the Left just can’t rid itself of its urge to regulate, legislate and tax. And in their efforts to thwart consumer freedom, they have a useful ally in the shape of a legal framework which was developed for the analogue age.

Uber, for example, is the poster child of the sharing economy. Yet 2017 is make or break year for its European ambitions – and at its core is an age-old political battle of Left versus Right.

This battle isn’t on the streets of San Francisco or London; Uber has already won over consumers. Instead, the fight is moving to a soulless courtroom in Luxembourg. The question is whether the company is a technology or a transport company; and the answer is incredibly complex.

Daniel Dalton

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How dare the U.S. demand NATO states have the means to defend themselves!

If you needed yet another reason to reject the EU as an utterly toxic organisation, here is an absolute corker:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday that Europe must not cave in to U.S demands to raise military spending, arguing that development and humanitarian aid could also count as security.

No doubt Jean-Claude Juncker feels that NATO should deploy Oxfam, Save the Children & Charlotte Church to Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn in order to deter any Russian incursions into the Baltic states.

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Samizdata quote of the day

This is what the British Broadcasting Corporation considers front page news.

Rather, who was for decades one of the best known and most trusted figures in US journalism, said in a Facebook post: “Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now.”

What the BBC doesn’t tell us is that this “most trusted figure” saw his career come to an abrupt end when he was fired by CBS for pushing a false story about George W. Bush’s service record which was based on forged documents.

Tim Newman

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Sticking it to Ken Loach

Comedy might not be Loach’s forte. But there is splendid unintentional humour in this class warrior standing up at a dinner sponsored by large corporations to denounce the Government that pays him so handsomely to keep churning out his Marxist drivel.

Harry Phibbs

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Taking banks from the stock market doesn’t make them more prudent

Below is an interesting riposte to the idea, entertained even by pro-market folk such as Kevin Dowd in a recent study of the 2008 banking crash, that a way to make banks more prudent in lending and savings policy would include weakening limited liability of the shareholders and even removing, in whole or in part, banks from listed markets, returning them to more like partnerships, so that we come back to some purer, saner age. It is not quite so simple. The article is from Tim Worstall:

But we can go one level deeper into this as well. It’s common enough to hear that the crash of 2008 was all about the quite despicable idea of shareholder capitalism. That the hunger for profits among the capitalists is what drove us all off the cliff. This is not so. Just as many, if not more, building societies went bust in the crash as did banks. The Derbyshire Building Society, Chesham, Cheshire, Barnsley, Scarborough….

Capitalists have a use. As shareholders, they provide the capital. And if things go kaboom then it’s they who lose their money. Plus, in the case of a banking organisation, what tends to drive it off the cliff is not the capitalist lust for profits: it’s bad banking.

In the US, meanwhile, Donald Trump has won some free market points – for now – by promising to reform, and hopefully roll back, the monstrosity that is the Dodd-Frank legislation of 2011.

 

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Samizdata quote of the day

After the Commons vote on Brexit last week, Davis is said to have approached Abbott for a kiss but apparently she told him to ‘fuck off’. Later, a Tory friend texted Davis to ask him about the incident. Davis texted back saying he hadn’t tried to kiss Abbott, and wouldn’t, because ‘I am not blind’. In short, he thinks Abbott is unattractive.

It is tempting at this point to say Davis’s text messages were crude. But that would be wrong, because the fact is they’re none of our business. He did not say these things for public consumption. It was an off-hand, matey remark of the kind all of us make via text or email or WhatsApp or whatever. That Davis’s texts were leaked doesn’t make it okay to haul him over the coals for them, to insist that he retract and repent, because this still amounts to shaming someone for a private conversation. The correct response to the texts would be to say: ‘This is not my concern. People can think and say whatever they like in private.’

Of course that hasn’t been the response, because such is the stifling intensity of the ‘You Can’t Say That!’ culture that now even private speech, glorified thoughts in essence, are considered fair game by the shut-it-down brigade.

Brendan O’Neill

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