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]

Jobs, automation and other terrors

In 1910, one out of 20 of the American workforce was on the railways. In the late 1940s, 350,000 manual telephone operators worked for AT&T alone. In the 1950s, elevator operators by the hundreds of thousands lost their jobs to passengers pushing buttons. Typists have vanished from offices. But if blacksmiths unemployed by cars or TV repairmen unemployed by printed circuits never got another job, unemployment would not be 5 percent, or 10 percent in a bad year. It would be 50 percent and climbing. Each month in the United States—a place with about 160 million civilian jobs—1.7 million of them vanish. Every 30 days, in a perfectly normal manifestation of creative destruction, over 1 percent of the jobs go the way of the parlor maids of 1910. Not because people quit. The positions are no longer available. The companies go out of business, or get merged or downsized, or just decide the extra salesperson on the floor of the big-box store isn’t worth the costs of employment.

Deirdre Nansen McCloskey

This is also plays to a contention that I see quite a lot on social media and other places that a “solution” to technology-caused unemployment and poverty is a universal basic income, paid for by taxing robots/capital. The whole notion frankly strikes me as intellectual and economics snake-oil: a tax on robots is a tax on capital, and reducing returns from investing in capital will, in my view, reduce long-term productivity gains and hence rewards to labour that we see every time that productivity has improved. After all, by “capital”, we also must consider human capital (skills, aptitudes, moral character, even) and how is one to distinguish that from simple “labour”? (This is, by the way, a killer argument against the Labour Theory of Value that underpins the rickety structure of Marxist economics.)

Here is an article at Econlog casting doubt on the “robots taking our jobs” theory, while pointing to a debate on the subject worth looking at.

I had a brief comment about this on Samizdata before, on May 23.

I have several problems with UBI, along the lines suggested by a writer at Catallaxy Files here.  Bryan Caplan has written another, in my view, strong take-down of the idea. Yes, I know that a variation on this is a negative income tax, an idea embraced by no less a figure than Milton Friedman.   

The attractions in superficial form of UBI are obvious, not least its apparent simplicity, and the idea that one could cut through the current morass of state entitlements/subsidies etc and even bolster support for a free enterprise system if everyone gets at least some sort of payment. For me, however, an issue is more moral – the idea that one is entitled to a handout by simply being a living, breathing creature – and economic – the potentially deadly impact on incentives and character.

I am planning to give a couple of talks about this subject in London, with one definite commitment being at Brian Micklethwait’s place at the end of September, and other possible talk in August. Details are forthcoming. I am generally, I think, against the idea, but I am happy to hear and read any really strong cases for it if people want to suggest them in the comments.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

Samizdata quote of the day

Yesterday I said the British police had hit rock bottom and started to drill. Last night they shipped in some dynamite:

Tim Newman

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

Samizdata quote of the day

The British police have hit rock bottom and started to drill

Tim Newman

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

Book review: First Hook

Simon Gibbs has a review of Clive Fox’s cute quick techno-thriller ‘First Hook‘, which has launched today.

The series is modelled on shows like the A-team, but produced natively for consumption in written form as a serial short story. Much as Bleak House was originally published by Charles Dickens as a regular newspaper feature this punchy little story will be added to over time in the way that a TV show is added to with a new episode broadcast each week, except that future episodes are not yet all written. As such it borrows something of the currency of a soap opera, able to evolve and adapt constantly, but is firmly in the sci-fi category. This is an interesting and novel form of written fiction.

Anyone questioning why a lightweight techno thriller should be reviewed on Samizdata would do well to read Brian Micklethwait’s summary of The Power of Fiction, a talk given by former City AM managing editor Marc Sidwell. Anyone wondering what on Earth they might do about it, finding themselves unable to write fiction of their own should read the thoughts of Richard Gleaves, author of Ride Headless and Ride (itself reviewed on Libertarian Home).

So anyway, here is the Amazon review. You can buy it, read it and write your own review on Amazon:

Clive Fox is making an important contribution at a critical time.

When business paper The Financial Times offers advice to tech CEOs it is to warn them of their waning popularity and their “responsibilities”. Tech giants in California bring fantastic wealth to the area, and amazing technology to mankind, only to be slammed for the crime of gentrifying impoverished San Francisco – their staff hounded on company minibuses. Those companies branch out to the UK bringing us world changing products and brilliant new services, only to be pumped for more cash. Modern society fails to appreciate the source of it’s modernity.

Aftermath clearly know all about the problems of modern – and future – technology. Yet they have the balls to value it, master it, become one with it, and when necessary to beat it. The resulting tensions and dramas are evident in this first outing. I am thirsty for the next instalment.

– Simon Gibbs

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

Priestcraft

To the priests of ancient Egypt, the complexity of their writing system was an advantage. To be one of the few who understood the mystery of writing made a priest a powerful and valuable man.

This article, “The EU: Authoritarianism Through Complexity”, is by George Friedman who used to be chairman of Stratfor and now is chairman of a body called Geopolitical Futures.

Reading it made me think that the old term “priestcraft” might be due a revival:

The British team consists of well-educated and experienced civil servants. In claiming that this team is not up to the task of understanding the complexities of EU processes and regulations, the EU has made the strongest case possible against itself. If these people can’t readily grasp the principles binding Britain to the EU, then how can mere citizens understand them? And if the principles are beyond the grasp of the public, how can the public trust the institutions? We are not dealing here with the complex rules that allow France to violate rules on deficits but on the fundamental principles of the European Union and the rights and obligations – political, economic and moral – of citizens. If the EU operating system is too complex to be grasped by British negotiators, then who can grasp it?

The EU’s answer to this is that the Maastricht treaty, a long and complex document, can best be grasped by experts, particularly by those experts who make their living by being Maastricht treaty experts. These experts and the complex political entities that manage them don’t think they have done a bad job managing the European Union. In spite of the nearly decadelong economic catastrophe in Southern Europe, they are content with their work. In their minds, the fault generally lies with Southern Europe, not the EU; the upheaval in Europe triggered by EU-imposed immigration rules had to do with racist citizens, not the EU’s ineptness; and Brexit had to do with the inability of the British public to understand the benefits of the EU, not the fact that the benefits were unclear and the rules incomprehensible. The institutionalized self-satisfaction of the EU apparatus creates a mindset in which the member publics must live up to the EU’s expectations rather than the other way around.

The EU has become an authoritarian regime insisting that it is the defender of liberal democracy. There are many ways to strip people and governments of their self-determination. The way the EU has chosen is to create institutions whose mode of operation is opaque and whose authority cannot be easily understood. Under those circumstances, the claim to undefined authority exercised in an opaque manner becomes de facto authoritarianism – an authoritarianism built on complexity. It is a complexity so powerful that the British negotiating team is deemed to be unable to grasp the rules.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

“…I find it rather regrettable that Lady Hale’s judgment makes so many references to defecation.”

said Lord Walker, a UK Supreme Court Justice in one, rather unfortunate case. However, we had better get used to Lady Hale’s judgments as she has now been nominated as the next President of the Supreme Court, a promotion from her position as Deputy President, and her influence on UK law will grow.

Why anyone should be concerned that a former academic lawyer with her track record should be in charge of a court that does not sit en banc is that she may well control the lists and influence which judges sit on particular cases, thereby having scope to shape the law.

She has long been a supporter of greater diversity in the judiciary.

“It may be a genuine occupational qualification to choose a black Othello or a female Desdemona, but could it be thought a genuine occupational qualification to bring a minority perspective to the business of judging in the higher courts?

“So do we need to revive the argument for some special provision, akin to that in Northern Ireland, to enable the appointing commissions to take racial or gender balance into account when making their appointments? Would that really be such a bad thing? I think not.”

But some might prefer to have judges who judge the case before them on the basis of applying the law, rather than their own perspective, if one hoped for the rule of law to be seen to be maintained.

Lady Hale has however, speaking privately, cast doubt on her own judgment in one case, a meagre consolation for the losing party.

The trouble with the UK’s Supreme Court is that it is really the result of a Lefty wet dream about judicial activism, finally in 2005 (wef 2009) destroying a long tradition (before then vandalised in the 1870s) of the UK’s final court* being a committee of the House of Lords. (* Not for Scots Criminal Law, which remains under the Scottish Court of Session).

The UK’s Supreme Court has been described by one of its justices as a political court, being politicised by its inevitable involvement in devolution issues and interpretation of Human Rights and EU law (as was, to be fair, the House of Lords before it).

I have a modest proposal, that the Supreme Court be abolished, saving taxpayers money and removing an avenue for more legal fees to be charged in pursuit of a result, thereby removing work and money from the legal profession and reducing litigation risk. There is a simple alternative, that should a party find that litigation results in an injustice, or a nonsense whereby different UK courts have different precedents to follow, that party could petition Parliament to change the law, even in respect of that particular case, as happened in the Burmah Oil case. This approach would have the advantage of getting our Parliamentarians to see the consequences of the laws that they pass (or do not pass) and also take up time that could be spent passing more unhelpful legislation.

To those who say that our politicians should not be our judges, I say ‘Better than our judges being our politicians.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

Of more than local interest

I imagine that for many Samizdata readers, the daily diet of gossip and snark and tittle tattle that dominates the output of Guido Fawkes is not to their taste, even if they do entirely see the point of it, and are glad that it happens.

But every so often, Guido does a posting that is of much more than local appeal, which would connect to a far wider audience, provided only that they are alerted to its existence.

So, allow me to alert you to this posting, which features the maiden speech of Kemi Badenoch, Conservative MP for Saffron Walden. Guido describes this maiden speech as his favourite of the 2017 intake by far.

I especially liked the Woody Allen reference. But basically, I liked it all. Her website is here.

If more British Conservative Party people were capable of talking or even thinking like this, I’d seriously consider joining them.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

Dog biots Mon

Sam Dumitriu of the Adam Smith Institute has written a piece called “Fake news in the Guardian.

Oh dear, how embarrassing. The Guardian’s George Monbiot appears to have fallen hook, line and sinker for Nancy Maclean’s poorly (dishonestly?) researched book Democracy in Chains.

Democracy in Chains smears Nobel Laureate James Buchanan (amongst others) with deliberate misquotes and pernicious accusations of racism. It asserts that Buchanan sat at the centre of an elaborate academic conspiracy to undermine democracy and replace it with ‘a totalitarian capitalism’.

Yeah, I know, the presence of fake news in the Guardian is not news. It’s a “Dog bites man” story if ever there was one. But Mr Dumitriu’s article is still well worth a read. With terrier-like tenacity (I had to justify the “dog” bit of my title somehow) he worries away at the arguments made in George Monbiot’s article and by extension at the arguments in Nancy MacLean’s book. Dumitriu backs up his claim that MacLean misrepresents Buchanan with copious supporting links to Buchanan’s actual words, demonstrating that he has actually read the books concerned. Monbiot usually prides himself on providing references to enable the reader to check his sources but appears to have taken MacLean on trust.

This paragraph shows how little she deserves that trust:

This wasn’t Maclean’s only ‘mistake’. David Henderson at EconLib highlighted a particularly egregious misquote.

Maclean writes

‘People who failed to foresee and save money for their future needs’, Buchanan wrote in 2005, ‘are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to . . . animals who are dependent.’

Contrast that with what Buchanan actually wrote

The classical liberal is necessarily vulnerable to the charge that he lacks compassion in behavior toward fellow human beings – a quality that may describe the conservative position, along with others that involve paternalism on any grounds. George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” can be articulated and defended as a meaningful normative stance. The comparable term “compassionate classical liberalism” would approach oxymoronic classification. There is no halfway house here; other persons are to be treated as natural equals, deserving of equal respect and individually responsible for their actions, or they are to be treated as subordinate members of the species, akin to that accorded animals who are dependent.

Maclean doesn’t just get this quotation wrong—she edits it so that it says exactly the opposite of what Buchanan actually wrote.

This isn’t an aberration. It’s not a sloppy mistake in an otherwise well-researched book. This is Maclean’s modus operandi.

Added later: Gene in the comments has pointed out this detailed and damning analysis of MacLean’s book by Professor Michael C. Munger. It begins,

This essay is a response to the recent book, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America, by my Duke University colleague, Nancy MacLean, a professor in our distinguished Department of History.

It is, let me say at the outset, a remarkable book.

He makes very clear that he does not mean “remarkable” in a good way. It is indeed remarkable that the Professor of Political Science, Economics and Public Policy at Duke University is willing to say the following about a colleague he might meet on campus:

The misuse of the cut-and-paste feature of MacLean’s word processor is not accidental, and it is not intended ironically. MacLean knew perfectly well that the main points of Public Choice are that checks and balances are actually crucial, and that “social consensus in favor of the Constitution” is good, not bad, for Public Choice scholars. Thus, it is not “fair to say” that Cowen was writing a handbook for fifth-column subversion. But the truth is rather boring, and that just wasn’t the story she wanted to tell here. As you read the book, you may notice that when something like “fair to say” is used for a paraphrase, that paraphrase is destructive of the meaning the person being quoted actually intended.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

Samizdata quote of the day

The ADC is a fire-eater and longs for the fray.

– Douglas Haig, Diary entry for 20 July 1917 commenting on a meeting with American Commander-in-Chief Pershing and other members of his staff.

And the name of this fire-eating ADC?

George S. Patton.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

German cyclists competing at this year’s Tour de France

Those with French-sounding first names:
Marcel Kittel
André Greipel
Simon Geschke
Emanuel Buchmann
Marcel Sieburg

Those with first names that could be either French or German:
Paul Martens
Christian Knees
Robert Wagner
Marcus Burghardt

Those with British-sounding first names:
Tony Martin
John Degenkolb
Rick Zabel

Those that don’t seem to fall into any of the above:
Nikias Arndt
Nils Politt
Jasha Sütterlin

Those with out-and-out, no-question-about-it, traditionally German first names:
Rüdiger Selig

Update: As of this afternoon both the Marcels are out. There is a lesson in there somewhere.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

There are several reasons, mostly to do with me getting older, which have caused me to slow down as a Samizdata contributor, but just recently something more mundane has been getting in my way. I needed a new computer screen, my previous one having stopped working. I thought that a sprint, metaphorically speaking, would sort this out, but the sprint turned into a marathon.

When buying things like computer screens, I prefer shopping in actual shops to internet shopping. I find returning defective goods to shops less complicated than returning them to internet suppliers, not least because I now get free travel on London’s public transport system, but also because I have a face in front of me to complain to and from whom to demand satisfaction. But more fundamentally, I like to see, close up, what I am thinking of buying, rather than relying on imperfect internet imagery. When I start out buying something like a new screen, I don’t really know what’s now being offered or what I would now like, until I start looking at what’s now available, in the flesh, so to speak.

So, for instance, as I got stuck into my screen browsing, I realised that I might appreciate at some time in the future being able to attach my screen to one of those bolted-onto-my-desk swinging arms, thereby freeing up some desk space. Not all screens have the screw holes in the back of them to make this easy. Often, those imperfect internet images don’t tell you about this.

I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of everything that happened during my screen marathon, but two particular things made life difficult. One, shops (Currys PC World in particular) have a nasty habit of displaying screens as being on sale when, it turns out, they aren’t available on account of having run out. Only the one manky old display version remains. Twice, my efforts to buy a screen were thwarted by this nasty little shop habit.

But worse, far worse, was that the first screen that I decided to buy, a Samsung S24F356, turned out to be defective. When I got it home and plugged it in, I discovered that it was seriously overheating. The right hand edge of the screen, near to where the power feeds in, quickly became almost too hot to touch. That couldn’t be good. The tropical weather that has been afflicting London lately solidified my determination not to tolerate this. So, back I went with it to Currys PC World Tottenham Court Road. And I swapped my Samsung S24F356 for an identical model, another Samsung S24F356. Everything else, apart from the overheating, about the Samsung S24F356 seemed very nice, and I assumed – well, I hoped – that the overheating on the first Samsung S24F356 was a one-off misfortune.

→ Continue reading: The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone

Class and all that

Obviously life is far harder than it used to be for young graduate professionals, and an increased reliance on the state (which the Labour vote represents) would be a completely natural, self-interested response. Today’s Labour middle classes, though, do often sound a little bit like they themselves don’t quite recognise that this is the dynamic here. ‘It is vital that we keep having free healthcare and education so that you do, too!’ they’ll say, effectively, to the far poorer. Or better still, ‘My mediocre philosophy degree contributes to the intellectual health of the nation at large!’ And at what point, I’m wondering, do the people who aren’t ever going to have a mediocre philosophy degree call bullshit on that? At what point do they look at the resources doled out to people far richer than them and ask bluntly whether this alliance is really working in their favour?

Hugo Rifkind, pondering on the love by some affluent people for Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of hard-Left politics

There are of course several factors in play: forgetfulness about how awful 1970s Britain was in an era of strikes, hyper-inflation, price controls, etc; a period of (relative) affluence that dulls the senses (at least for some of those, such as those without student debts); a Tory Party led by a “blue-rinse socialist” who seems almost as keen on regulation and state interference as some on the Labour side, thereby blunting the appeal of Tories to genuine limited-govt. conservatives; an education system that has turned out a group of “educated” people blind to the dangers of state power and reflexively hostile to the open market economy, and a legitimate sense of grievance over inflated house prices (planning laws, QE), heavy student debt/worthless degrees. As a set of background conditions, these are all ideal soil for a leftist politician, never mind a devious one as extreme as Corbyn, to grow in.

Rifkind is right to ask the question as to at what point does the middle-classness of Labour come into conflict with its purported “soak-the-rich” agenda particularly when said middle classes realise they are “rich” for the purposes of said agenda? For the time being, though, a large chunk of the “middle class” (well, the bit that works in the public sector and hence from the taxpayer) think the bearded one and his colleagues are just great.

All this stuff about class got me thinking. Recently, there was much muttering about how utterly middle class these days the Glastonbury music festival is, what with the fact also that the price of an admission is just shy of £250, which even today is a lot of money. Last weekend I went with friends to the utterly non-Corbyn spectacle, the Royal International Air Tattoo. It was noisy; the air was full of thunderous aircraft roaring about and doing their stuff. And as I looked about at the crowd, I saw lots of middle-aged blokes such as me in shorts and T-shirts with pictures of planes on them; wives and girlfriends who were just as keen; some ex-military types (you can tell by the haircuts and the physiques) and young kids all excited about these planes. There were a lot of people who, from what I can tell, were quite affluent but not showy apart from from camera lenses the length of RPGs; there were no loud Sloanes (maybe the aircraft noise drowned them out) or Islington scruffs. In some respects RIAT is an aviation version of Le Mans, the 24-hour motor racing odyssey I like to attend every year.

Frankly, the air show is a mental health break from the current news agenda.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VKEmail this to someone