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]

It is easy to be generous with other people’s money

The Labour Party continues its retreat from being ‘New’ Labour by offering to force companies to give new mothers more maternity pay. Quite apart from the folly of making British business ever less competitive since they took office (making Blair a true ‘European’ it must be said), it is morally revolting the way the state interposes itself into contractual relationships and forces one group of people to give money to another in the hope of getting a net increase in votes for itself (not that the Tories are much better, it must be said).

Speaking as a British businessman myself, it is exactly things like this that make me never even consider employing people directly in Britain. It is also one of the reasons why the company in which I am a partner outsources our web production overseas as it simply madness to employ people in this country if you are a small business. But of course Mr. Blair could not really care less about that as all he cares about is short term political advantage because by the time true costs of his policies are felt, he will be long out of office.

Samizdatista Evening News sighting!

I will leave our own Alex Singleton to write about it… but I just spotted him (representing the Adam Smith Institute) in a discussion with the Channel 4 News anchor and a representative of the ‘Fair’ Trade organization.

I must admit I have no problem with voluntary ‘fair’ trade. I firmly believe in the PT Barnum principle that no fool should remain unparted from their money. If someone is willing to pay more for a product because it has a certain certification to it, so be it… so long as I am free to buy otherwise if I so choose.

So much for the obesity claims

The Centers for Disease Control released new life expectancy figures for the USA today. Average life expectancy is up to 77.6 years, up three tenths in a mere two years. Also remarkable is the rapidly closing gap between the life expectancies of men and women. It was a 7.8 year gap in 1978 and is now down to 5.3 years.

When I was in my twenties I told friends my life’s goal was to go downhill skiing on Ganymede at age 120. If the technological exponential keeps going as I expect — and I am ‘lucky’ enough not to draw the Ace of Spades — I might just do it.

See you on the slopes!

For more information, see Space.com’s Live Science article.

The not-so-hidden costs of Green enthusiasms

A few decades ago, the curse of malaria, which for centuries had made large parts of the world uninhabitable and killed millions, had been largely eradicated because of the pesticide DDT. However, as many will know, this chemical was banned after a long campaign by environmentalists, concerned that the substance worked its way through the entire food chain, possibly causing cancers and other ailments. The writer Rachel Carson, in her famous, or perhaps infamous, book Silent Spring, helped focus Greens’ righteous anger on DDT.

The outcome may have been splendid for the mozzies, and possbily may also have had beneficial consequences for various species of flora and fauna. However, its impact on those awkward beings known as humans has been drastic. Millions are now dying at a high rate as malaria stages a virulent comeback.

I like to be a charitable chap and imagine that a lot of environmentalists feel worried about this, but I suspect that a good deal of do-gooders who had argued for the abolition of DDT feel not a nano-second’s qualm about the impact of what has happened.

Malaria is not a subject that may get pop singers like U2′s Bono all excited, as is the case with AIDS, but the death toll is huge, and it is growing.

Network nation

Michael Barone is truly the dean of American political analysis. Throughout last year’s election, his analysis was spot-on, and his recent post mortem continues in the same vein.

I have long thought that the way to win elections in the US was not to chase the apathetic and uninformed “undecided” voters, but rather to “motivate your base”, that is, to give people who care about goverance and who lean your way philosophically a reason to vote for you. I was particularly gratified to have a strategy that is generally dismissed by the American commentariat ratified by Michael Barone:

But polling in late 2003 and for most of 2004 indicated a very close presidential race. Bush strategist Karl Rove keeps a card in his pocket showing that the percentage of voters who were behaviorally “independent” declined from 15 percent in 1988 to 7 percent in 2002. The strategy that Rove designed and that Bush-Cheney ’04 campaign manager Ken Mehlman executed was geared not to persuading the undecided and weakly committed voters, but to turning out the maximum number of Republicans. The Kerry campaign and other Democrats likewise saw their main task as turning out the party faithful.

Rove won the turnout war (although not for lack of, erm, “creative” attempts by the Democrats to get the Deceased-American and Fictional-American communities to the polls in critical precincts), and the rest is history.

The Dems achieved impressive turnout gains, Barone notes, using their old, command-and-control, industrial-era model. They were, however, buried by Republicans using a new networked model for campaign organization. As a result, the Republicans under George W. Bush may well have turned the Democrat’s flank , inaugurating an era of Republican dominance.

The 2004 election has also reshaped the American electorate, in part through the invention of new political techniques. It is too early to say that it produced a natural majority for the winning party. But it has laid the groundwork.

In this article, Barone shows how it is done, using historical perspective and current data to put forth a predictive and testable thesis. If you get all wonky over American politics, read the whole thing. Peddling its insights at cocktail parties will make you seem smarter than you are, and isn’t that the ultimate payoff for all the blogs you read?

Ahh, so there’s the catch

So, on the one hand, you have cheap microwave ovens from Szechuan province. Wonderful.

But, on the other hand, you get this:

The world’s first global health treaty – the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control – comes into force on Sunday.

The anti-smoking pact has been signed by 168 countries, and ratified by 57 of them, which will now have to tighten their anti-tobacco laws.

Not so wonderful. Welcome to the globalized world.

What you mean we?

I have just read Glenn Reynold’s article on the Gorman affair. What interests me is not this story in and of itself. It is the bigger picture of which it is a part that fascinates me.

There was a time, not so long ago, when someone such as Mr. Gorman could speak with the power of an organization behind him. He could say “WE” instead of “I” on a subject and like it or not, the entirety of his organization’s membership was subsumed into public agreement. A statement was not that of Mr. Gorman, but of “librarians” as a class. If you happened to be a librarian who disagreed, you were out of luck. If you believed, for example, it was good to support dissidents against Castro… you would be pictured as someone who was not in step with their fellow librarians. The same was true of any membership organization. The leadership was your voice.

This does not seem to be true any longer, as you will rapidly discover upon reading the responses by Mr. Gorman’s fellow librarians. The dissident view is as available and as well spoken as the leadership view.

Could we be witnessing the death throes of the non-consensual “WE”? The last nail in the coffin of the involuntary collective?

We will just have to wait and see.

The Mugabeization of Britain

Many have condemned the ghastly Robert Mugabe for the outrageous policy of seizing land from white people in Zimbabwe. Yet even in Britain it is now possible for a group of people to use the political process to take the property of others against their will.

In what it nothing less that state sanctioned robbery, people on the Scottish Western Isles will be voting to take the property of long standing owners with no more justification that than they want to benefit from it and the state says they can use the force of law to do so. This is nothing less that mob rule of the grossest sort motivated by straightforward greed, abetted by politicians who see their political power benefiting from presiding over legalised land invasions.

A local woman is quoted as saying:

Now we have the democratic process in place to allow people to take control of their own destiny

… by which she really means “take control of other people’s destiny” by taking away their property. But she is certainly correct that this is democracy in action, which is why I am so ambivalent about unconstrained democratic politics. Robbery is no more excusable just because the people who benefit from it do so using the force of the state rather than just running the legitimate owners out of town with pitchforks.

Remember this the next time you hear some hypocritical Labour or LibDem politico wringing their hands about the behaviour of Robert Mugabe as he dispossesses farmers who have worked lands for several generations. Disgraceful.

Similar words but different meanings

My February last Friday has just ended, and it was definitely one of the better ones. Patrick Crozier spoke about libertarianism and private road ownership. Excellent talk, excellent discussion. The result of Patrick’s time writing for and bossing the now only archived Transport Blog, which he has now ended. (He now writes this.)

Among those present was Alex Singleton, and he naturally talked about his newly launched Globalization Institute, which, of course, has a new blog.

It occurs to me that you might expect the word itself, ‘globalisation’ (I prefer an ‘s’ in the middle there), to be the equivalent, at the global level, of ‘nationalisation’ at the national level. Yet, while nationalisation means the national government stealing things, globalisation means something quite different and much nicer. If globalisation was the same at the global level as nationalisation is at the national level, globalisation would mean a World Government stealing things.

Does this matter? Well, maybe it does, because we surely do need a word to describe the equivalent of nationalisation, but at the global level. I have been drinking and may have forgotten the obvious, but my impression is: we do not have such a word.

Surely the existence of the word ‘nationalisation’ made it far easier to oppose the thing itself. Not having a word for this other form of ‘globalisation’, predation by the government of the globe, makes it harder to oppose, I think.

The U.S. economy – top of the heap for a while yet

For a while now, I have reading about how the mighty U.S. economy, heavily in debt, with big budget deficits and a large current account black hole, is headed for the rocks. The dollar is on the skids, inflationary pressures are rising, the Fed has been putting up interest rates, the coming Social Security crunch… you know the drill. And some of these worries are to my mind justified, which explains why, with all the plan’s faults, I broadly applaud the efforts of President Bush to overhaul the state pensions system.

Is the situation really as grim as some of the jeremiads claim, however? This suitably wonkish article in the prestigious Foreign Affairs journal argues that things are not nearly as worrying as some might make out and that if anyone has cause for worry, it is Europe with its shrinking birth rates.

The article concudes with this paragraph, and it seems to hit the mark, in my view:

Only one development could upset this optimistic prognosis: an end to the technological dynamism, openness to trade, and flexibility that have powered the U.S. economy. The biggest threat to U.S. hegemony, accordingly, stems not from the sentiments of foreign investors, but from protectionism and isolationism at home

Indeed.

The Emperor Anastasius and the city of Philadelphia

To strengthen defence, cut taxes and balance the budget is very difficult.

Ronald Reagan managed the first two tasks, but failed in the third. President Bush made no effort to control nondefence spending in his first term and is only now trying to do so – we shall see how how well he does (he does not have President Reagan’s defence of the Democrats being in control of the House of Representatives)

However, it is not impossible to achieve all three tasks. Perhaps the most important example in history is that of the Emperor Anastasius.

When Anastasius became Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire in 491 AD (the Senate allowed the choice of Emperor to rest with the Empress Ariadne) the Western Roman Empire had already collapsed. Here and there (such as in the Province of Britian) there were local leaders who continued to fight against the Germanic peoples, but the vast majority of the old empire in the west was under various Germanic kings.

The Eastern Roman Empire (which evolved into what we call the Byzantine Empire) was not in a good state. As with the Western Empire taxes were crushing, and yet the treasury was empty and the defences of the Empire were falling apart.

Anastasius fought many wars, both against invaders and against domestic rebels (mostly Chalcedonian Christians who objected to his austere Monophysite variety of Christianity – although I am not claiming that all Monophysites were austere, and it should also be remembered that Anastasius did not tend to persecute other sorts of Christians – not even Arians, the religion of the most of the barbarian rulers in the West and a religion whose doctrines were further from the “one divine nature of Christ-God” of the Monophysites, than were the “two natures of Jesus” view of the Chalcedonians from which the vast majority of modern Christians get their doctrines), and yet he greatly reduced taxes. Anastasius abolished the “chrysargyon” (a major tax on the urban population) and reduced the “capitatio” – one of the great taxes on the peasantry. → Continue reading: The Emperor Anastasius and the city of Philadelphia

And don’t tell me geeks don’t drink coffee, either.

I am very disappointed by the options given in this online slashdot poll. Where is the “Built from vast numbers of Nescafe jars” option?