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]

Economics in One Article

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, who is not the only socialist currently running for the U.S. Presidency, but who is the only candidate honest enough to openly say that he’s a socialist, has recently gotten a bunch of buzz in some circles for saying this:

You can’t just continue growth for the sake of growth in a world in which we are struggling with climate change and all kinds of environmental problems. All right? You don’t necessarily need a choice of 23 underarm spray deodorants or of 18 different pairs of sneakers when children are hungry in this country. I don’t think the media appreciates the kind of stress that ordinary Americans are working on.

Kevin Williamson has written a brilliant summary of what is wrong with Senator Sanders and his ideology. It is well worth reading even if you already know the topic well.

Here’s a link: Bernie Sanders’s Dark Age Economics

I have heard one friend refer to the essay as “Economics in One Article” and there’s some truth to that. It’s very well written, very general, and filled with amazing quotes, such as this one:

Markets adapt to political changes, and the hierarchy of values that distinguishes between an hour’s worth of warehouse management, an hour’s worth of composing poetry, an hour’s worth of brain surgery, and an hour’s worth of singing pop songs is not going to change because a politician says so, or because a group of politicians says so, or because 50 percent + 1 of the voters say so, or for any other reason. To think otherwise is the equivalent of flat-earth cosmology. In the long term, people’s needs and desires are what they are; in the short term, you can cause a great deal of chaos in the economy and you can give employers additional reasons to automate rote work. But you cannot make a fry-guy’s labor as valuable as a patent lawyer’s by simply passing a law.

Do give it a read. You may be linking to it for years to come.

EDITED TO ADD: A friend pointed out this important message from the Bernie Sanders Save The Children Fund:

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So… people’s “wellbeing” is better in Albania than the UK or France?

When I read ‘studies’ like this one, I just marvel at what loaded assumption they must be using.

The Boston Consulting Group has just released its assessment on sustainable economic development, which gives each country in Europe a figure (it calls it a “growth-to-wellbeing coefficient”) based on how much residents feel the benefits of an expanding economy. The better it is at converting growth into wellbeing, the higher the number.

At the very top of the list is Poland with a coefficient of 1.55, with many of the other Eastern European countries dominating the top of the list, such as Croatia, Bosnia, Albania and Ukraine. Germany comes in fifth place with a coefficient of 1.34.

I wonder if they check their assumptions by taking a random sample of one hundred random people in (say) Birmingham and Tirana, or Lyon and Odessa and offering them the opportunity to swap places? What do you think the result of that might be, eh?

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The Snooper’s Charter returns

As expected, the ghastly Snooper’s Charter is back and this time Dismal Dave will probably find it easier to push through.

snoopers_charter

To protect the children of course.

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Chávez’s Better World

Presented for your consideration, two quotations and a hyperlink:

“I am convinced that the path to a new, better and possible world is not capitalism, the path is socialism.”

-Hugo Chávez

“I have said it already, I am convinced that the way to build a new and better world is not capitalism. Capitalism leads us straight to hell.”

-Hugo Chávez

Venezuelan Bolivar now worth more as toilet paper than as money.

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The salty tears of the parasites

This gem of a remark is to be found here in an article about people planning to protest against largely trivial ‘cuts’ in state expenditure (but note, lower state spending is not “austerity” and I refuse to call it such).

Please come along and let them know that we have no intentions of accepting this oppressive, draconian lifestyle they are trying to impose

This thug wants the state to impose his tax funded lifestyle on other people purse, yet sees a life with less state looted largess as being ‘imposed’ on him? Most parasites have a shameless sense of entitlement and this one is clearly no exception.

Oh how I wish these turgid excuses for ‘conservatives’ we have truly stuck it to them, with genuine cuts that hacked entire limbs off Leviathan, for then I truly would bathe my smiling face in their salty tears each morning. Sadly I cannot see Cameron doing more than fiddling around at the edges.

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Samizdata quote of the day

“With regard to the idea of whether or not you have a right to healthcare, you have to realize what that implies….I’m a physician, that means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me, it means you believe in slavery. It means you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the assistants, the nurses…There’s an implied threat of force, do you have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away, and force me to take care of you? That’s is ultimately what the right to free healthcare would be.”

Rand Paul.

I came across this quotation via Facebook, which in turn had been posted up by someone on a sort of “celebrity” website. The person who put up the posting in the first place is clearly traumatised at the statement of principle by Rand Paul about the bogus “right” to healthcare. RP is to be congratulated for spelling out in the clearest fashion what is wrong with notions of claim rights where what is involved is not the classical (correct) notion of a right to be left alone, but the contrary attitude about a “right” to demand that others give you something even if those others haven’t taken it away in the first place.

This sort of confusion, famously skewered many years ago by Isiah Berlin in his essay about two concepts of liberty, still persists. I often find Rand Paul’s sort of argument particularly powerful when putting the problem with such “rights” in human terms.

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The driverless-car revolution: how far, how fast?

There was a news article a week or two back saying that driverless cars currently under test in California had been involved in four collisions. This sounded bad until you dug into the details and it turned out that in each and every case it was a human driver at fault. As Nassim Taleb points out there is no such thing as confirmatory evidence, but this in no way falsifies my theory that driverless cars are already safer than their human-directed equivalent.

This makes me think that the driverless car revolution is on the way and is going to take place far sooner than most of us think. Yes, there are legal issues to be resolved. Yes, government will drag its feet. Yes, there will be horrible accidents of the sort only computers can cause. Yes, there will be a transitional period of mixed human and computer driving. But it will happen and it will – over all – be better. But given it is going to happen I wonder what it will be like? For instance:

  • Will cars continue to be user-owned? Will we even have “our” exclusive cars or instead use cars in the same way we use taxis today?
  • Could this make micro-cars more attractive?
  • Will styling continue to be so important?
  • Is there anything to prevent a speed-limit of 120mph, or higher, on motorways? If so, what future inter-city trains?
  • Will this advantage electric cars?
  • If buses can self-drive is there any future for commuter trains?
  • If cars can drive themselves to and from our doorsteps will we still need driveways?
  • Is this good or bad news for Uber?
  • What will cabins be like without the need for a driver and a steering wheel?
  • Will there be implications for the layout of vehicles?
  • How soon will it become illegal to drive a car on the public highway?

It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Hopefully they'll look better than this.

Hopefully they’ll look better than this.

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MPs: don’t pay them a penny

We seem to shy away from constitutional matters at Samizdata. I think in part this is because we have a distaste for government and would like to see an end to the whole shebang.

I can’t argue with that but it seems to me that freedom is a slow process and the state is going to hang around for a good while yet. So, how it is set up is something we probably ought to concern ourselves with.

Amongst all the other rows engulfing UKIP last week, one concerned whether they should accept so-called “Short” money. This is money handed out to opposition parties to help them with their parliamentary duties. If memory serves, the argument is that the government has an army of civil servants to help them, so the opposition needs the help to even things up a little. For us libertarians, there would be no need for Short money if we had less government but there you go.

All this can be traced back to 1910. Before then, as I understand it, MPs weren’t paid a penny: no salary, not even expenses. The problem was what to do with these newfangled Labour MPs. They tended to be less well off and were unable to support themselves by either private means or by moonlighting as barristers or journalists as figures like Carson and Churchill were able to do. The obvious solution was to allow trade unions to pay them. But this fell foul of the principle that MPs could not be bought.

Scared of the implications of denying Labour voters representation – riots were a frequent occurrence at the time – MPs started paying themselves. Pity. The great advantage of the previous system was that energetic statists had to do something useful before becoming MPs. This meant they had some idea of the difficulties of running a business. While we can’t prove that it was a bulwark against socialism it is difficult to imagine it did a great deal of harm.

By the way, on the question of UKIP and Short money I understand they decided to take no money at all. If this turns out to be true, good for them.

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The gloves come off

It’s been an interesting couple of months a hundred years ago. There have been the landings at Gallipoli, the German use of gas at Ypres, the imminent departure of both the First Lord of the Admiralty and the First Sea Lord, the failure of the British attack at Aubers Ridge and the “Shell Scandal” – the claim that the Aubers failure was due to a lack of shells. Meanwhile, the Lusitania has been torpedoed, Zeppelin raids are continuing and the Bryce Report into alleged German atrocities in Belgium has concluded that most of the allegations are true. In shades of the London riots of 2011 – demonstrators have asserted their right to protest at the uncivilised behaviour of the German government and – additionally and in consequence – to steal and break the property of all those who have German names.

There are a couple of ideas going on here.

The first idea is that we – the British – are dealing with a ruthless and unprincipled enemy and that therefore we must at least be equally ruthless and possibly equally unprincipled. The second idea is that it is the state’s responsibility and privilege to lead and enforce British ruthlessness. There must be no more amateurism or muddling through. Everything must be systematic and uniform and directed from the top. Early signs of this change in approach will be the formation of a coalition government and the foundation of the Ministry of Munitions. Already there have been calls for conscription which is odd given that the New Armies raised in 1914 have yet to fight.

I suspect that, like most things that government does it didn’t work, or at least, worked no better than if they had left things to market or – given the central role of government in any war – near-market forces. However, he who wins gets to write the myths. And so the myth that government direction works got established in the UK. Probably.

The Times 19 May 1915. Talk about "The Thunderer". I particularly like the reference to the "mutilated and twice-censored" Times article.

The Times 19 May 1915. Talk about “The Thunderer”. I particularly like the reference to the “mutilated and twice-censored” Times article.

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Who are you and what have you done with the real Guardianista?

“Bring back self-defence classes for women – it’s the feminist thing to do”, writes Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett in the Guardian. That’s right, Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, more typically to be found writing such gloriously quotable effusions as “Why it’s OK to cry about this election”, is writing kick-ass pieces about kicking ass in the Guardian. This is strange but good.

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Bravo, Rand Paul, whatever you were doing

I do not entirely understand why Rand Paul spoke in the Senate for ten hours, accompanied by ten other senators, three Republicans and seven Democrats. It was something to do with derailing an extension of the Patriot Act. Apparently if he had gone on fifteen more minutes longer, past midnight, it would have been a proper filibuster. But he did not. Weird. Still, Paul is a man whom I credit with having a decent reason for pretty much whatever he does. Well done, I think.

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Forced speech

The Times reports (paywalled):

Christian bakery guilty of discrimination over ‘gay cake’

A bakery whose Christian owners refused to make a cake carrying a pro-gay marriage slogan has been found guilty of discrimination after a landmark legal action.

Ashers Baking Company discriminated against Gareth Lee when it refused to create the cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, with a slogan “Support Gay Marriage”, a judge has found.

Ruling in the case that has split public opinion in Northern Ireland, Isobel Brownlie, the district judge, said: “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination.”

So, you can be forced to say “Support Gay Marriage”, on the grounds that if you don’t say it someone will be left feeling “like a lesser person”, to quote Mr Lee, the plaintiff in this case.

How might this principle be extended?

Added later: in answer to my own question, a scenario:

Following the Labour victory in the closely-fought election of 2020, the new prime minister made good on the pledge made to the Muslims who had formed such a reliable part of the winning “coalition of the oppressed”. (In fact the promise to outlaw Islamaphobia had first been made by Ed Miliband back in 2015.) The relevant amendments to the Equality Act 2010 having been made, it seemed a natural next step for many Muslims to press for the UK to follow the example of several Canadian cities and give legal weight to the verdicts of the existing informal network of Sharia tribunals to which Muslims could choose to bring civil cases as an alternative to the regular channels of English or Scottish Law. It was as part of the campaign for this that the plaintiff, Mr A, approached the Rainbow Baking Company, run as a family business by the defendants Mr B & Mr C. The judge ruled that “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of religious discrimination” when they refused to bake a cake bearing the message “SUPPORT SHARIA LAW”.

As it happens I am not in principle opposed to parallel systems of arbitration running in parallel to the ordinary law, so long as they are strictly voluntary. But my imaginary gay bakers might well profoundly object to being obliged to make a cake bearing that slogan. However by then the precedent that they can be forced to by law will have been set.

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