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]

How the Corn Laws and all that may not be all that

The story that I and most people here are familiar with is that in the 1840s Britain abolished the Corn Laws, became the pioneer in free trade and that this was a good thing.

John Nye begs to differ. In this Econtalk podcast (from, ahem, 10 years ago) he makes two points. Firstly, British tariffs were falling throughout the 19th Century and that the abolition of the Corn Laws was not particularly significant in that process. Secondly, French tariffs were by-and-large lower than those in Britain.

But surely Britain was much richer than France at this time? Yes it was, and according to Nye that was mainly due to it having fewer taxes and regulations. France even had internal tariffs as Samizdata’s own Antoine Clarke once pointed out.

So much as I don’t think Trump’s trade war is a good idea it is possible that it may not be as bad as all that.

Sage advice…

I have discovered a source of wisdom on the internet (no, really 😉 ) and I am reliably informed that the blessed Theresa herself has been known to solicit advice from the famed Agatha Antigone.

Samizdata quote of the day

Earth Day is a classic religious holiday: The interpretation of destructive weather as the gods’ punishment of men for the sins of Man is ancient.

Benjamin Zycher

Discussion point…

Conventional theory has it that capitalism arose in England in the 16th century but I long ago found it thriving in the 13th century. Rowland Parker’s ‘Men of Dunwich’, a treasure of my bookshelves for many decades, uses ancient pipe rolls and mediaeval manuscripts in our historic archives as the author turns detective. Why did Ada Ringulf, with a cottage by St Peter’s, pay only ¼d rent a year when neighbours paid 1½d?* Parker thinks he knows. Anyway, Dunwich merchants, shipowners with vessels we know as ‘cogs’, would speculatively take cargoes of wool, barley, cloth to Europe and the Baltic and return with iron, wine, silk and spices. Profits could be handsome – but the loss of a cog to a hostile port, pirates, minor warlords or official blackmail could ruin a man and his family overnight. So merchants offset their risk by investing in eachother’s cogs and cargoes, risking only a fifth or a sixth on each voyage. Parker has the evidence. That’s capitalism. And it was happening three hundred years earlier than thought. Capitalism means risk, even if it’s managed risk. What the global corporates do is risk free; monopolistic, monopsonistic or oligopolistic, they have a licence to make money with virtually no risk, by virtue of their size and power.

Raedwald

Agree, disagree? Not convinced by the entirety of the thesis at all but there are some interesting points being made. Read the whole thing.

Sometimes all you can do is paste the story

…and say, “This is where we are”. The BBC reports:

Woman guilty of ‘racist’ Snap Dogg rap lyric Instagram post

A teenager who posted rap lyrics which included racist language on Instagram has been found guilty of sending a grossly offensive message.

Chelsea Russell, 19, from Liverpool posted the lyric from Snap Dogg’s I’m Trippin’ to pay tribute to a boy who died in a road crash, a court heard.

Russell argued it was not offensive, but was handed a community order.

Prosecutors said her sentence was increased from a fine to a community order “as it was a hate crime”.

She was charged after Merseyside Police were anonymously sent a screenshot of her update.

Liverpool Justice Centre, sitting at Sefton Magistrates’ Court, heard Russell posted the lyrics to her account after the death of a 13-year-old in a road accident in 2017, the Crown Prosecution Service said.

The words Russell used on her account contained a racial label which some people find extremely offensive.

The screenshot was passed to hate crime unit PC Dominique Walker, who told the court the term was “grossly offensive” to her as a black woman and to the general community.

As in the Count Dankula case, all it takes is one member of the approved victim class to turn up in court and say they were offended. The fact that in this case the approved victim is also an approved witchfinder makes everything more convenient.

The Liverpool Echo reported that Russell’s defence had argued the usage of the word had changed over time and it had been used by superstar rapper Jay-Z “in front of thousands of people at the Glastonbury Festival”.

Prosecutor Angela Conlan said Russell’s defence also argued her profile “wasn’t public”, but it had been proved in court that anyone could access it and “see the offensive language”.

She said prosecutors also “sourced case law that showed that posting the profile on her account constituted sending it and making it public”.

Russell was found guilty of sending a grossly offensive message by a public communication.

She was given an eight-week community order, placed on an eight-week curfew and told to pay costs of £500 and an £85 victim surcharge.

One giant leap for womynkind

“How does it feel,” asks Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett, while arguing that the first human on Mars should be a woman, “to watch a person of your gender set foot on a faraway celestial body for the first time? Could you write to me, men, and let me know?”

I was only a child on the one and only occasion that a man has set foot on another celestial body for the first time, but I can answer her question. It felt amazing. Though I didn’t watch the moon landing live (my parents were not the sort to let their young children stay up until three in the morning even to watch history being made), along with much of humanity I watched the footage avidly the next day. I looked up at the moon and thought, there are people there. It sparked a lifelong interest in space. For years I had a perfectly serious ambition to be an astronaut. Who knows, in this era of renewed progress in spaceflight technology, maybe I’ll live long enough to do it simply by buying a ticket. And if I do, it will be the fulfilment of a dream that started with that one small step for a man.

At this point the alert reader might object that as I am female and Neil Armstrong was male I have never watched a person of my gender setting foot on a celestial body for the first time. But that does not stop me answering the question. You see, the splendour of that moment had nothing whatsoever to do with Armstrong being male and everything to do with him being human.

Today’s gloriously Guardian Guardian article

Well, yesterday’s actually. Or the last century’s, or maybe the century before that. Meh, who cares; with these guys everything old is new again but not in a good way. Here is your helping of reheated Grauniad porridge from someone called Rhik Samadder:

Landlords are social parasites. They’re the last people we should be honouring

Samizdata quote of the day

First, as much as the authors insist that previous examples of socialism were not “really” socialist, none of them can tell us what exactly they would do differently. Rather than providing at least a rough outline of how “their” version of socialism would work in practice, the authors escape into abstraction, and talk about lofty aspirations rather than tangible institutional characteristics.

“Charting new destinations for humanity” and “democratizing the economy” are nice buzzphrases, but what does this mean, in practice? How would “the people” manage “their” economy jointly? Would we all gather in Hyde Park, and debate how many toothbrushes and how many screwdrivers we should produce? How would we decide who gets what? How would we decide who does what? What if it turns out that we don’t actually agree on very much?

These are not some trivial technical details that we can just leave until after the revolution. These are the most basic, fundamental questions that a proponent of any economic system has to be able to answer. Almost three decades have passed since the fall of the Berlin Wall—enough time, one should think, for “modern” socialists to come up with some ideas for a different kind of socialism. Yet here we are. After all those years, they have still not moved beyond the buzzword stage.

Kristian Niemietz

Samizdata quote of the day

In 1976, the Nobel-prize winning economist, F.A. Hayek, published The Mirage of Social Justice, the second volume of his magnum opus Law, Legislation and Liberty. Despite being widely regarded as the definitive critique of social justice, today one would be lucky to find advocates of social justice in the academy who are familiar with the name ‘Hayek’, let alone those who have read him. Among classical liberals, libertarians, and conservatives alike, Hayek is one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century whose The Road to Serfdom represents one of the most powerful arguments against socialism ever written. But those in the academy who have perpetuated socialist ideas since the 1980s have practically ignored it. In this article, I will argue that this unwillingness to engage with the ‘other side’ is not only endemic in the radical intellectual schools that have overtaken literary studies, but also that it is symptomatic of their entire way of thinking which, being hermetically sealed and basically circular in its argumentation, has no language to deal with critics beyond reactive moral condemnation.

Neema Parvini

Samizdata quote of the day

“Often people who do not wish to bear risks feel entitled to rewards from those who do and win; yet these same people do not feel obligated to help out by sharing the losses of those who bear risks and lose. For example, croupiers at gambling casinos expect to be well-tipped by big winners, but they do not expect to be asked to help bear some of the losses of the losers. The case for such asymmetrical sharing is even weaker for businesses where success not a random matter. Why do some feel they may stand back to see whose ventures turn out well (by hindsight determine who has survived the risks and run profitably) and then claim a share of the success; though they do not feel they must bear the losses if things turn out poorly, or feel that if they wish to share in the profits or the control of the enterprise, they should invest and run the risks also?”

Robert Nozick: Anarchy, State, and Utopia, page 256. I suppose one answer to the question the late Prof. Nozick poses is that some people are parasites, and desire the unearned, and that socialist doctrines give their parasitism a gloss of intellectual credibility.

I have been re-reading this early 1970s book, seen at the time as a classic and which still holds up well.

The view from Brazil is that peace is also the health of the state

The most recent of my Last Friday of the Month meetings was actually not on the last Friday of March because that was Good Friday, and my speaker Bruno Nardi and I decided to hold it a week earlier, on the 23rd. Bruno Nardi is a Brazilian libertarian and he spoke, unsurprisingly, about Brazilian libertarianism. The Brazilian state having become more than usually obtrusive and kleptocratic in recent years, libertarianism in Brazil is doing rather well just now. (I very much fear that libertarianism in Britain may soon be about to do rather well also, but that is another story.)

Before telling us about the contemporary libertarian scene in Brazil, Bruno prefaced that story with some Brazilian history, which I am rather ashamed to admit was almost entirely new to me. On the other hand, his basic point was that Brazilian history is rather undramatic, so maybe I needn’t be so ashamed after all.

Brazil started out as a Portuguese colony, but did you know that, in or around 1814, it became an independent Kingdom? Perhaps you did, but I didn’t. I did know that around that time, various armies were crashing about in Spain and Portugal, because the Duke of Wellington and his army were busy pushing Napoleon’s army back over the Pyrenees. But as to what happened in Brazil as a result of its Mother Country being invaded, well, I had never given it a thought. If Hitler had managed to invade Britain in 1940, you can well imagine Churchill and our Royals and a boat full of government functionaries hopping across to Canada, and setting up a new and “independent” kingdom of Canada. In Brazil, this is what actually happened. (Googling has made me more confused about the exact date of all this, but it definitely happened around then.)

In general, however, the history of Brazil is notable for its paucity of dramatic history dates. After 1814-ish, the next history date that Bruno focussed on was some time around 1880 or 1890, when there was this big Constitutional change, the nature of which I now forget, and which in any case, said Bruno, had little effect on regular life for most Brazilians. Then something else political happened in 1930. And then the next date to be discussed was 1964! I thought: hang about. Weren’t the times between 1930 and 1964 rather dramatic for the world? Well, yes, these were dramatic times, for the world. But for Brazil, not so much. Brazil pretty much sat out World War 2, just as it had pretty much sat out World War 1.

A little light googling has told me that Brazil has been involved in warfare, a bit, as Bruno did mention, especially during the nineteenth century against neighbouring states, notably Paraguay. There were a number of internal rebellions, all defeated. And Brazil did get involved in the world wars, fighting against Germany in both, a bit. So there definitely is such a thing as Brazilian military history. But Brazilian involvement in war was indeed nearly nothing compared to what the European nations were doing to one another and to the rest of the world during those same times, or compared to such events as the American Civil War.

War, we libertarians are fond of telling each other, is the health of the state. Peruse the most recent posting here by our own WW1 historian, Patrick Crozier, to see how we often think about such things. So, what about that increasingly obtrusive and kleptocratic Brazilian state that has been putting itself about lately, stirring up misery and libertarianism? There have been no big wars to make the Brazilian state as healthy as it now is, and especially not recently. What of that?

The story Bruno Nardi told made me think of the book that explains how peace is also the health of the state, namely Mancur Olson’s public choice theory classic, The Rise and Decline of Nations. It is years since I read this, but the story that this book tells is of the slow accumulation and coagulation of politics, at the expense of mere business, as the institutions of a hitherto thriving nation gang up together to form “distributional coalitions” (that phrase I do definitely recall). The point being that if you get involved in a war, and especially if you lose a war, the way Germany and Japan lost WW2, that tends to break up such coalitions.

The last thing on the mind of a German trade unionist or businessman, in 1946, was lobbying the government for regulatory advantages or for subsidies for his particular little slice of the German economy. Such people at that time were more concerned to obtain certificates saying that they weren’t Nazis, a task made trickier by the fact that most of them were Nazis. Olson’s way of thinking makes the post-war (West) German and then Japanese economic miracles, and the relative sluggishness of the British economy at that time, a lot more understandable. Winning a war, as Olson points out, is not nearly so disruptive of those distributional coalitions, in fact it strengthens them, as Crozier’s earlier posting illustrates.

You’ll get a bit more of the flavour of Olson’s thinking if you read this SQotD from 2012.

I met up with Bruno Nardi again last week at a Libertarian Home meeting, where I spoke to him along the lines sketched out in the previous paragraphs, mentioning the title of Olson’s book, and I ended up by asking: Does that ring any bells with you, as a way of talking about Brazil and its history? Yes, he said, that’s what it was like. Gradually the political crooks got their various acts together and made their various deals and accommodations, and it got worse and worse and the state that they negotiated between them got bigger and bigger.

In Brazil, the idea of libertarianism has usually been felt as foreign. But it’s an idea that Brazilians are now definitely getting told about.

You can read Bruno Nardi’s recent postings at Libertarian Home by going here. I particularly like the one entitled Take the hypothetical seriously. What if? What if, although Bruno didn’t ask this in that piece, Brazil was governed differently, in a more freedom-friendly way to the way it has been governed for the last few decades? And what if the same applied everywhere else?

Samizdata quote of the day

If anti-semitism was “only about Jews” it would still matter. Jews matter not because they are Jews, but because they are human. No different qualification is required. That anyone thinks a better qualification than being a human is required to enjoy particular human rights is precisely what is wrong with our society today. Every time someone speaks of “Gay Rights” or “Women’s Rights” or “Black Rights” or “Muslim Rights” or uses the phrase “hate crimes” I am immediately on my guard. Such people are more than likely to be a threat to human rights in general.

Damn it, how often does this need to be said before tribalists stop blathering? The whole point of the post-Enlightenment West is that every individual matters, regardless of who they are. Not just anti-semitism but tribalism in general is the virus that, as Rabbi Sacks says, keeps mutating. The only valid reason to regard an individual as better or worse is, as Dr King famously said (but as the Left seems to have forgotten) “the content of his character.” The only valid reason to treat an individual differently before the law is his or her conduct. Amen to that.

Tom Paine