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]

On the jailed county clerk

For those who are not aware, an elected county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for contempt of court for failing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because she claims that aiding same sex marriage violates her religious beliefs. She had been given a court order to do so and refused to either comply with the order or to resign her position.

An acquaintance asked this on his FB wall:

He asked: “Do any of my libertarian (or anarchist or otherwise anti-‘state’) friends agree that Kim Davis should be jailed for not issuing marriage licenses to gay couples?”

I thought I’d reproduce my answer here.

So, there are two levels to this. On the one hand, as an anarchist, I would say the state shouldn’t exist at all, and a minarchist would agree with me that marriage licenses should not exist. No one should need to seek state permission to enter in to a private interpersonal relationship.

However, lets presume a world where the state does exist, and marriage licenses do exist. Under those circumstances, a government official whose job is to give out such licenses ought not have any discretion about withholding them from people who meet the general legal qualifications.

If you would like translated version of that, imagine that you have an official whose job is to give out building permits, and they refuse to give out a building permit for a headquarters for an organization that they feel offends their religion. As an example, imagine such an official refusing to grant permission for a church which is a heterodox schismatic sect of the religion they follow because they consider such people heretics. Now, clearly, there shouldn’t be building permits, and no state official should have such power to grant them in the first place, but given that state officials are out granting building permits, they shouldn’t be able to stop people from building things that offend them, even if their religion says that the people building the building are heretics.

In this particular instance, generally, I’d say that she should have been fired for failing to do her job, not jailed, but given that she is an elected official, the current legal regime provides very little in the way of other options to the judge.

Note that if libertarianism is about anything, it is about curtailing the power of state officials to deny people the right to do things, even if those things deeply offend them, if those things are purely consensual for all involved parties and do no violence to others. To the minarchist the state ought to be minimized, to the anarchist it should not exist at all, but neither would grant a state official the right to make the decision to interfere in such behavior.

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Paper money? I dinar about that! say ISIL.

My mathematics teachers were far keener on us pupils showing our working than the final result of a calculation, to see if any error had intruded into our processes, and presumably because it was harder to cheat the working than a whispered or glanced answer. We now have, it seems, a rejection of paper money by ISIL or whatever it calls itself, the adoption of a gold dinar and silver, and a whole hour-long video explaining in English with arabic subtitles the thinking behind it, which is where the working starts to fall down, although I haven’t gone through the whole of it.

The problem of paper money is, of course, cited (wrongly) as the fault of capitalism and the Jews, but they do take a dig at the Federal Reserve, and what they term ‘America’s capitalist system of enslavement‘.

What a terrible prospect would be a fatwa on Keynes and his followers.

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For pity’s sake, separate giving succour from accepting migrants

The drowned body of little Aylan Kurdi is on front pages all over the world. His surname and the name of his home town, Kobani, tell the story of why his family were so desperate to leave their homeland.

What can be done to stop this happening, as the Middle East burns? What should be done? In the long term – God only knows.

But we don’t have to know. In the short term there is something we can do which has a proven record of saving lives in a similar situation.

Could Australia’s ‘stop the boats’ policy solve Europe’s migrant crisis?

When the bodies of asylum seekers en route to Australia washed up on the shores of Christmas Island in 2010 everyone was in agreement that something needed to be done.

Five years later Australia has implemented one of the harshest border policies in the world. It is characterised by three core points: turning or towing back boats of asylum seekers at sea; forcing asylum seekers to live in detention centres across the Pacific in Nauru and Papua New Guinea; and guaranteeing they will never be resettled in Australia.

Dozens of would-be migrants are reported to have drowned between Libya and Sicily, the latest tragedy in the Mediterranean this spring. The increasing numbers making the perilous journey on overloaded boats has brought the issue of migration into Europe to a head. But what can be done about it?

Prime minister Tony Abbott is now making a clarion call to Europe, where crisis meetings have taken place following the deaths of over 800 migrants in the Mediterranean this week. The only way to stop deaths at sea, he told reporters this week, “is in fact, to stop the boats”.

They were stopped.

Building a camp – a decent camp – and putting all those attempting illegal entry in it does not satisfy either side of the immigration debate. But at least it could be tolerated by both sides and might stop the bodies floating in on every tide. To use an unhappy metaphor, it would keep the floodgates closed by showing that taking ship with a people smuggler is not a successful strategy to get to the West. To work this policy would require both sides to acknowledge very clearly that doing this for now implies absolutely nothing about what the permanent policy on refugees and/or migrants should be.

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Gaza will be “not be liveable by 2020″

predicts the UN. Terrible thing, all this climate change.

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Protectionism in a nutshell

Seen today on Facebook:

In olden times, armies would lay siege to cities to cut them off from outside trade. The strategy forced the city to “buy local” until it was so prosperous that everyone was too rich and lazy to fight.

— Rocco Stanzione

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Eric Raymond needs you

Eric Raymond is the reason I’m here. He’s the guy I found while learning about Linux who gave a name to my vague sense of injustice at having to pay tax and taught me that a libertarian is a thing. Googling “libertarian UK” after reading his web site is how I found Samizdata, and found out that there were libertarians on my doorstep. He taught me that anarcho-capitalism is a thing. And that it’s okay to like guns. And that it does not make me some sort of lefty for enjoying messing about with Free Software. He explained the economics of it and gave it a better name: Open Source. And he’s out there propagandising, and making some of the software that keeps civilization ticking and not being hacked. And his code is all over the place and you probably use quite a lot of it every day.

But he has a problem.

First, Obamacare killed my wife’s full-time job and the health insurance that came with it. Then Obamacare drove personal health insurance costs into the stratosphere, so I now pay more per month on it than I do for my mortgage. $973 a month is what it costs us to go to a doctor, which is ridiculous and every politician who voted for this disaster should be hung from a lamppost. Until it’s repealed or collapses, though, the money has to come from somewhere.

You get more of the things you encourage. I think ESR needs to be encouraged. And luckily, you can, via his Patreon page.

Also, on his blog post about Patreon, there is some interesting discussion about Obamacare:

Petro says:

People are shocked when I tell them what the “bronze” plan costs a family of 4 for insurance that has insane deductibles (it looks like they went up to 5k/person 10k/family) they are shocked.

PapayaSF adds:

It’s darkly ironic that one of the original arguments for Obamacare’s outlawing of inexpensive “junk insurance policies” was that many had deductibles that were “too high.” So now we’ve got expensive policies with high deductibles that are too high…

ESR explains his wife’s job loss:

The short version is that Obamacare mandates have added so much to an employer’s overhead for anyone full-time that the full-time job is being effectively abolished. Even professionals like lawyers are being fired to be replaced with contractors who have to buy their health insurance a la carte.

It’s a double whammy – first Obamacare destroys secure employment, then it saddles people living hand-to-mouth with ruinously high costs. Our health-insurance premiums are higher than our mortgage.

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The Unbearable reality of arctic Russia

Terrible news from the far north of Russia as the autumnal equinox nears. Russian scientists in a weather station are unable to take daily readings of sea temperatures, as they are besieged by polar bears. Unfortunately, it seems, bears are not scared of flares, the scientists’ only means of defence, and the scientists have no weapons to ‘deter’ the bears. Perhaps Bjørn and Benny, as I shall call the bears, think of the scientists as a pleasant change from seal.

The BBC blames warming of course. What a dreadful irony, polar bears preventing the gathering of data on global warming. Now if hippos were to turn up, these concerns might be taken more seriously. In the meantime, some warmists might become vocal advocates for gun rights…

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The blockchain and what it might do to banking and finance (and other things besides)

In a matter of months, this word, blockchain, has gone viral on trading floors and in the executive suites of banks and brokerages on both sides of the Atlantic. You can’t attend a finance conference these days without hearing it mentioned on a panel or at a reception or even in the loo. At a recent blockchain confab in London’s hip East End, the host asked if there were any bankers in the room. More than half the audience members, all dressed in suits, raised their hands.

Bloomberg Magazine.

Okay, what the F**k is a blockchain (one word or two?), I hear you cry?

A block chain is a transaction database shared by all nodes participating in a system based on the Bitcoin protocol. A full copy of a currency’s block chain contains every transaction ever executed in the currency. With this information, one can find out how much value belonged to each address at any point in history.  (Wikipedia.)

Here is a book by Dominic Frisby, whom I have met and is known to Samizdata contributors such as Brian Micklethwait, about Bitcoin, and the blockchain system. There is now quite a literature about Bitcoin, some of it with a strong “hell with fiat money” sort of bent, others with a more agnostic approach. Here is one such example by Paul Vigna. Going onto Amazon or other search engines for such books brings up a lot of hits.

More broadly, the point of the article to which I linked at the top here is that very serious financial industry figures are now piling in; sure, some of them will have problems, and the history of how some people get carried away is instructive. But just as instructive is that, even after a period of difficulty, such as when the dotcom boom went sour, we were left not just with a lot of garish stories of excess, but some valuable business models that worked. And that, I suspect, will be the story around Bitcoin – not that this will be the one to succeed, but that the technology surrounding it will have a major change on how finance and other activity happens.

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Cameron folds on demanding opt out from EU labour regulations

Seriously was anyone so credulous that they did not see this coming? To expect Cameron to stand his ground demanding the return of the opt out abandoned by Tony Blair, is like expecting a jellyfish to lift weights.

But at least the tech sector must be happy with Cameron, as he has promised to increase incentives for UK businesses to invest in more labour saving technologies, thereby increasing productivity and reducing total hours of employment needed, or to just automating certain jobs away entirely.

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Samizdata quote of the day

In fact, the only real value of Fischer’s pretentious bloviation was that it was a reminder that the financial system of the world is in thrall to a tiny, insuperably arrogant posse of Keynesian academics who have invented from whole cloth a monetary theory of plenary control. They have effectively ended free market capitalism in the financial system and beyond and made democratic fiscal governance essentially irrelevant.

David Stockman

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There is a tide in the affairs of men. There is also freak flash flooding.

The BBC, commendably, has taken to occasionally giving over a spare channel to its election coverage from days gone by, without modern commentary. The programme about the general election of 1955 can be seen here or here.

At 2 hours 25 minutes there is an interview with former Liberal Chief Whip Frank Byers. At 2:29 he says,

I should say that the major issue which has arisen as a result of the election, now that we know it, is the future of the Labour Party. Because quite frankly I think that if that party is gong to remain as the official opposition – and I don’t see it doing so, but if it is – it’s got to do a great deal of fresh thinking. It’s got to have, I think, a policy that does not include all this nationalisation and control, and I think they’ve got to bring a good deal of business experience into their academic economics; and until they do that I don’t see them getting back into power. In fact I hope they don’t, until they’ve got a proper policy. It may well be that this is the beginning of the Liberal Party transplanting the socialist party as the official opposition.

Byers was wrong. Nothing remotely like that came to pass in the years following 1955. But I predict that his prediction might be dusted off and sold as “mint condition vintage” in 2020.

This whole Jeremy Corbyn thing is a cosmic rebuke to the idea that chance plays no role in history. For those who do not follow British politics, what happened is this. The declining Labour party, desperate to attract more recruits, made it easy and cheap to register as a supporter. After Ed Miliband’s resignation at first all the candidates for the next leader were fairly centrist. There was a consensus among Labour MPs that they should take on board what the British electorate had told them in unexpectedly giving the Conservatives a majority in the 2015 election. Then a few MPs decided to give the perennial left wing rebel Jeremy Corbyn a chance to play too, basically out of pity. Thanks to their intervention he reached the threshold number of nominations from MPs needed in order to go on the ballot two minutes before the deadline. Big mistake. First some mischievous Tories decided to register as Labour in order to screw the Labour party around by voting for Corbyn the electoral no-hoper. Then the far-left entryists awoke from their thirty-year slumber and saw that this was a chance for them, too. Social media spread the idea among left wing students and beaten-down old socialists suddenly aflame with new hope. The role of social media, perhaps, could have been predicted – but nobody did predict it. Thousands then hundreds of thousands paid their £3 and registered to vote. It now looks almost certain that Corbachov will be the next Labour leader. Next prime minister, not so likely.

Though now it is established that in the ever-branching tree of alternate worlds we live in a stunted little twig poking out at an odd angle, I dare not predict anything with confidence any more. Johnny English did become head of MI7, after all.

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How protecting students from “offensive” ideas is building a monster

Rather suitably, following the link to a speech by Brendan O’Neill earlier on Samizdata, is this long, very troubling and hopefully widely-read item on the Atlantic Monthly. Excerpt:

The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.

Another:

There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

Remember: the students who are moulded by this process will, in a few years’ time and in some cases, become politicians, business leaders, civil servants and others of influence. The question I ask is whether there will be enough persons not infected by this nonsense to still have enough clout in the public life of the West to resist this. Because a generation that is terrified of giving offence is not going to be all that effective at, say, facing up to existential threats to the Western way or life, or even less intimidating concerns.

Final thought: the authors note that part of the problem begins when children are young and protected, arguably to a dangerous degree, by parents and not allowed to play outdoors and be unsupervised and learn, early on, about the risks and bugs of real life. I think this might be at the core of the broader problem. And the lessons here don’t just apply to the US.

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