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]

Voting decline and the two welfare states

A few days ago I sat down to write an article about this election that is coming up, to try to explain why neither I, nor the other Samizdatistas, nor, apparently, very many of the British electorate, were getting very excited about it. Last time around, the voter turn-out was way down, and they are predicting the same thing again only more so.

However, I think it is important to distinguish between boringness and the decline of the overall vote, because an election can still be extremely exciting for those who remain excited by it, yet turn off lots of others by the million. Witness recent Presidential elections in the USA.

So, in this posting I will concentrate on the decline in the British voter turn-out in successive general elections, and speculate about why this has happened.

In order to try to understand this, I googled my way to this short piece, which I found very informative.

It shows several things. First, it shows that the vote has indeed declined. See the first graph of voter turn-out for each general election since the war.

Second, it explains where. Basically, the voter decline has been most severe in the Labour inner-city strongholds. The voting decline is largely a working class – or perhaps one should say ex-working class – phenomenon.

What gives? Why are these people not voting as much as they used to?

Let me rephrase the question by turning it upside down. Why did they ever bother to vote in such huge numbers in the first place?

I think the answer is that they voted because people who cared about them, and were of use to them, asked them to and told them to. A sociologist would say that they were all members of a voting tribe, for whom voting was a norm. An economist would say that they voted in exchange for favours that fellow tribesmen gave to them. In practice, such things are but different facets of the same thing, reinforcing one another to the point where separating the two notions becomes impossible.

Not that Britain’s working class voted Labour in the nineteenth century. There was no Labour. But they did vote. Individual interest and collective values, tribal and national, both pushed them towards voting, in huge percentages. With the rise of Labour, working class votes flowed towards Labour, but never completely. There were always millions of working class Conservative voters. But this posting is about the total number of votes cast, not who they were cast for. → Continue reading: Voting decline and the two welfare states


How little coverage there is of this scandal, no?

When was the last time a felony fraud investigation into the campaign of a sitting Senator and presumptive Presidential nominee was almost totally ignored by the press?

This looks pretty open and shut to me, at least as far the fraud part goes. The only real question is whether the candidate knew, and that puts the candidate in the position they so frequently find themselves in – they either knew what was going on in their campaign, in which case they are guilty and unfit for office, or they didn’t know what was going on in their campaign, in which case they are incompetent and unfit for office.

State Bill to Limit RFID

Wired reports that a California bill is moving swiftly through the state legislature that would make it illegal for state agencies and other bodies to use the technology in state identification documents.

The bill, which California lawmakers believe is the first of its kind in the nation, would prohibit the use of radio-frequency identification, or RFID, chips in state identity documents such as student badges, driver’s licenses, medical cards and state employee cards. The bill allows for some exceptions.

The bill allows for a number of exceptions for the use of RFID, such as devices used for paying bridge and road tolls, ID badges used for inmates housed in prisons or mental health facilities, or ID bracelets and badges used for children under the age of four who are in the care of a government-operated medical facility.

The bill allows agencies to obtain additional exceptions to the ban if they can prove to the legislature that there is a compelling state interest to use it in certain situations and can prove that other, less invasive technologies would be unsuitable. The bill allows state agencies that already have RFID devices in place – such as the Senate and Assembly office buildings – to phase them out by 2011.

It would also outlaw skimming – which occurs when an unauthorized person with an electronic reading device surreptitiously reads the electronic information on an RFID chip without the knowledge of the person carrying or wearing the chip.

Samizdata quote of the day

Weapons of mass destruction are a great force for human fellowship.

- Brian Micklethwait

Academics who do not learn

The AUT boycott of the Haifa University and the Bar-Ilan University has been joined by many British Universities.

From Harry’s Place, who is calling on the dissenting members of AUT not to tear their membership cards but act to reverse the decision:

Haifa University is to be boycotted because Ilan Pappe, who is an anti-Zionist academic there, says that he has come under attack from the university which has thereby infringed his academic freedom. The story is long, involved and complex. But Pappe remains in his job, in spite of the fact that his views are extremely unpopular in Israeli society. Let us hope that the university continues to respect his tenure, as it is now doing.

Bar-Ilan University is to be boycotted because it gives legitimacy to the ‘College of Judea and Samaria’, which is a settler college in the West Bank.

The Hebrew University is under threat of boycott because it has built a new dorm block on a disputed piece of land.

It is clear that these stories relating to these three universities are excuses for the boycott rather than reasons – the pro-boycotters actually want to boycott all of Israeli academia and are not actually concerned with these particular incidents.

The AUT decision has aroused tremendous opposition, both in Israel and in England. Members of AUT said opponents of the boycott were not permitted to speak at the discussion, and the decision was taken without requesting the universities’ response. In addition, doubts were raised about the legality of the decision.

Clive Davis has forwarded me one such sign of the opposition by Dr Emanuele Ottolenghi of St Anthony’s College, Oxford, who wrote an open letter to Sally Hunt, the Secretary General of the AUT and bcc’ed to the Guardian, the FT, the NYT and the Jewish Chronicle. → Continue reading: Academics who do not learn

Feeling a little flat

On first viewing, my instinctive reaction would be to punch the air with triumphal joy:

Flat taxes, once a fantasy of free-market ideologues, are sweeping across the European Union and could be introduced in more than 10 of the bloc’s 25 member states.

The European commissioner for taxation, Laszlo Kovacs, described flat taxes, – one rate for all income and corporate taxation – as “absolutely legitimate” and said Western European nations may be tempted to adopt them. His comments will fuel debate that low-tax, low-cost economies of the East are undercutting Europe’s industrial heartland.

However, and in my experience, this needs a second viewing and even a third viewing.

First off, what they are sloppily referring to here is not ‘flat tax’ but actually ‘flat-rate tax’. The prospect of a flat tax (however remote) would most certainly have me breaking out the bubbly.

Secondly, let us assume that Mr. Kovacs and his posse somehow manage to persuade Western Europe’s nabobs to swallow this idea and go with the flow. I would not put it beyond them to agree to a flat-rate tax and then set the rate at 60%. The fate of politicians in Western Europe is decided almost entirely by their bloc-vote public-sector clients and they are not going to kick them in the teeth any time soon or at all.

Thirdly, there is no mention at all of what happens to the various extant reliefs and allowable deductions. A great deal of the complexity in the tax system results not from calculating the rates but negotiating the brain-fryingly difficult issues of the applicability of reliefs and the legitimacy of deductions. Hence, simply establishing a ‘flat-rate’ will not simplify the system to any material degree. Furthermore, it is only those reliefs and deductions which save many businesses and self-employed people from being bled white.

This could all turn into a lamentably hollow ‘victory’. I can easily see HMG apparently agreeing to a ‘flat-rate tax’ and even agreeing to set it at a reasonable level and, while we are all celebrating, promptly announce the abolition of all reliefs and deductions which would result in a great many people paying a lot more tax and not less.

No, I am not happy. Not yet anyway. There are far too many devils lurking in the detail.

Quote of the Day

Without any disturbance to the process of modern government, the House of Commons could easily be filled with people resembling the extras in one of Mr Romero’s zombie films.
- Dr. Sean Gabb

Save Sam Colt’s Internet

It has been said that the Internet, and specifically blogs, are to politics what Sam Colt’s Peacemaker was to the Wild West; an equalizer. That sentiment has apparently been taken to heart by the US Federal Election Commission because, like today’s gun prohibitionists, the FEC wants to take away your individual power and concentrate it in the hands of a chosen few.

A good background description of the bizarre reasons behind this power play can be found here, but basically it is an extension of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act, a.k.a. the Incumbent Protection Act. Senators McCain and Feingold, authors of the Reform Act, claim this is not true. Do not be fooled. The FEC is under a Court Order to bring the Internet under Campaign control and MUST COMPLY. It will be done by mid-summer. Failure to abide by the FEC rules will carry some stiff penalties, the mere threat of which will be enough to keep most blogs out of the political arena.

There is, however, some hope. The Internet community is aware of what is going on, and a powerful group called Downsize DC has gotten involved in the fray. They have begun a strong grassroots effort and there is a bill pending in both houses of Congress now that would exempt the Net from the BCRA laws. The Online Freedom of Speech Act is only one line long and already has bipartisan support, albeit at a low level. If you are a US citizen, you can urge your representatives to sponsor the bill by using Downsize DC’s electronic lobbying tool. It only takes a couple minutes and, best of all, it is free – the way internet speech should be.

Kenya’s lazy politicians

The Globalization Institute’s crack of dawn email of links continues to arrive, every week day, and continues to be well worth getting.

One of the recent links thus promulgated was to this editorial, from Kenya.

First few paragraphs:

With all the money they get as emoluments, one would have expected that our Members of Parliament would strive to ensure that they do an honest day’s job all year round.

But a report on their performance released yesterday shockingly says that the legislators only did 57 full working days the whole of last year. Allowing for public holidays, weekends and the days Parliament was in recess, this translates to less than two months of work.

Yet, these are people who are enjoying a salary package of Sh500,000 and other perks. They are the people who have been entrusted with articulating the needs of their people in Parliament.

Despite this, the study conducted by the Institute for Civic Affairs and Development says, there are some MPs who never brought any Bills to the House, never contributed to any and never raised a point of order.

In plain terms, this could be called incompetence.

One of the more depressing and destructive assumptions now rampaging about the world and doing damage to it is that the basic job of politicians is to pass laws. The more laws they pass, the better they must be doing.

But would Kenya really be a better governed country if all its members of parliament were to bring Bills to the House, instead of only some? Is it really the ultimate criticism of a politician that he never tries to pass any new laws. If politics means passing more laws, then maybe Kenya is lucky that it is not getting as much politics as it is paying for. There are far worse political vices than laziness.

I get the rough idea. Kenya’s parliamentarians are not the greatest, and I am sure that is true. But this is a very bad way to explain what is so wrong with them.

Zimbabwe is making the UN look bad

Kofi Annan fears that this:

The United States and other countries have protested about the re-election of Zimbabwe to the UN’s main human rights body, the Human Rights Commission.

Zimbabwe was one of 15 countries chosen by members of the UN’s Economic and Social Council in New York. All but one were chosen by consensus.

Critics say too many countries with appalling human rights records have been on the commission.

. . . may “caste a shadow on the UN’s reputation as a whole”.

Which until now was, of course, completely unblemished.

Do you really want me to answer that?


If I thought the Tories genuinely would spend £35bn less on “public services” I might even vote for them. However….

Samizdata quote of the day

The various left-wing ninnies who are running around bleating about theocracy are, in effect, hoist on their own petard. Having spent generations destroying the idea of limited government and creating an all-powerful national state, it ill becomes them to complain now that their tool is being turned to different ends.
- Robert Clayton Dean