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]

Samizdata quote of the day

In a land where Mormons, Muslims, and masochists walk side by side, and none is specially positioned to certify the correct concept of value, the role of government is not to pick a philosophy and shove it down our throats. It is to provide a reasonably neutral framework that allows each of us to pursue our ends peacefully in the light of our own convictions about the good. There’s a reason liberal democracies get top marks in happiness

- The always highly readable Will Wilkinson, of the CATO thinktank and blogger, dissecting UK economist Richard Layard’s argument in favour of more state intervention and higher taxes to make us all happier (yes, really).

40 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • Verity

    Oh, you mean like Scaninavia, with the highest suicide rate in the world? They’re liberal. They’re democratic. They have vodka. What is their problem?

  • Maybe happier people are more productive, therefore richer and more enviable. Perhaps happiness comes from within and cannot be conferred by a government or a religion or an ideology.

  • Sandy P.

    If paying more taxes makes Mr. Layard happy, what’s stopping him from opening his checkbook?

  • JonB

    Verity, check your facts before you repeat that old myth: http://www.who.int/mental_health/prevention/suicide/suiciderates/en/

    There are plenty of countries with higher suicide rates than Norway/Denmark/Sweden/Finland. These countries also have extreme seasonal conditions that affect a lot of people negatively, so attributing suicide rates/mental problems purely to governmental actions or social problems is a tad too simple.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Scaninavia? Seriously Verity, dismissing Wilkinson’s argument by citing some cliche about Sweden is a bit off-beam since there are plenty of liberal democracies with far less government than Sweden! Anyway, Sweden has moved a bit away from the extremes of nannyish socialism in recent years. It’s health care sector has more private provision that in Britain, for instance.

  • Julian Taylor

    And what, exactly, is surprising about Layard’s arguments? Look at his title, ‘Lord of Highgate’ or ‘director of the Center for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics’ and you instantly get the ‘another Blairite twat’ gut reaction. This man’s arguments seem based not at all upon sensible rationale but upon an imbecilic blend of Hampstead and Highgate new age transcendentalism and Highbury and Islington new age Labourism. Take one of this sad creature’s views,

    Layard himself touts the benefits of Buddhist meditation and cognitive therapy, recommends that we learn to “control our tendency to compare ourselves to others,” and argues that “education of the spirit is a public good.”

    And this from a director of the LSE? My goodness, perhaps next we should expect to see a dean of Peterhouse’s treatise on whirling dervish meditation techniques, combined with a policy for the restoration of capitalism in the UK following the not-too-distant collapse of NuLabour.

    In response to the fact that family is of overwhelming importance for happiness, Layard blithely prescribes mandatory state-funded parenting classes. He never pauses to consider that the curriculum of a compulsory parenting class would be a battleground of clashing ideologies, or that its message might be drawn more from James Dobson than from the learned pages of the Journal of Marriage and Family.

    I am still at a loss to comprehend what it is about families that nuLabour hates so much. Is it because a ‘family unit’ (God, I loathe that expression) is something that possibly they have no direct control over, or maybe something that they personally dislike, presumably from their 1980′s social worker experiences of forcibly removing children from their homes (Cleveland abuse scandal)? Thankfully Blair placed Layard in one of the few places where he can prattle on without us fearing the consequence of his actions – the House of Lords.

  • Julian,

    I suspect that the hatred of the family has a lot to do with the fact that functioning families are the very embodiment of personal responsibility and thus resist the interference of the state.

    It is the resistance to outside control – and that parents assume that they are better placed to discern what is best for their children than agents of the state who do not know them – that is a threat.

  • rosignol

    Far more troubling than Layard’s specific bad arguments for astronomical tax rates is the very idea of his book: that the job of the state is to discover what will make us happy and then make sure we do it.

    Ye gods.

    Please tell me no one takes this idiot seriously.

  • Verity

    NuLab’s hatred of the family is one of its prime tenets. It may be because families are strong. Their members support one another financially and emotionally – thus leaving the collectivist state without a role. They have certainly done their spiteful best to destroy the family in Britain.

    While we’re at it, I have always thought there was something eerie about Blair’s family. There’s something not quite right there, although, of course, I don’t know what it is.

  • David

    They also dislike the family because the parents can instill their own values, convictions and indeed prejudices in their children. Of course like any totalitarian movement NuLabour wants to sieze that role themselves so they can safely indoctrinate the coming generation without interference from something as inconvenient as parents.

    If the traditional family no longer exists, is neutered or is reduced to such a small number as to be insignificant, the leftists through their control of the education system can create a vast pool of supplicants who instinctively accept their idealology without independent thought. Its the easiest way for them to secure long term control through the ballot box (or indeed otherwise).

    Historically Totalitarian movements have always sought such control through “education” look at the Nazis, the Soviets, the modern day Islamic Madrassas and indeed the IRA’s desire to control the Education Ministry in the Northern Ireland devolved administration.

    Whilst NuLabour is in control the traditional family will constantly be under threat.

  • James

    Oh, you mean like Scaninavia, with the highest suicide rate in the world? They’re liberal. They’re democratic. They have vodka. What is their problem?

    To hell with the studies; seriously, Verity, have you seen Swedish women?

  • James

    Maybe happier people are more productive, therefore richer and more enviable. Perhaps happiness comes from within and cannot be conferred by a government or a religion or an ideology.

    That’s truer than many realize. The big question is, who do these people usually give credit to for their happiness? Quite often a Government or religion. Which means sometimes they pile on more of either, at which point it can all go pear shaped.

  • Verity

    Doesn’t anyone else get a creepy feeling about Tony Blair’s family?

  • David

    I get a creepy feeling about pretty much everything to do with Tony Blair.
    Now as for Cherie – the feeling goes way beyond creepy there.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Verity, I honestly don’t give a rat’s arse about Blair’s family. I find your obsession with it a bit strange, actually. I mean, Cherie is a piece of work in some ways, but beyond that, so what?

  • Nick M

    Where the hell is “Scaninavia”?

    A creepy feeling about our beloved leader’s family? Surely not. What the Sam Hill does that have anything to do with anything worth a toss, Verity? The spawn of the Islington NewElite has bugger all relevance to me.

    (Though, my girlfirend’s sister once threw Euan Blair out of Bristol University student union for obnoxiousness and… best check with the lawyer before going further).
    .
    In what specific way has the government undermined “the family”? I can’t think of one. Best post your “back to basics” shtick on a US Republican blog, not a libertarian one, Verity.

  • Verity

    Nick M – I hadn’t realised you are one of the owners of this blog and were entitled to tell people not to post on it! I think you exceed your position as a guest!

    Jonathan – it’s just that I think there’s a connection with this government’s destructive behaviour towards the traditional family and Tony and Cherie’s weird family. That’s why I asked for the opinions of other people. Yes, Cherie is a piece of work, and a very powerful and toxic piece of work in the background.

    I just wonder whether any of the other British women who occasionally post here agree with me. Millie, for example, is an astute observer.

  • Nick M

    Verity,
    I can set my watch by your repudiations.

    Two questions:
    1. What is so odd about the Blairs – and please leave Cherie out of this because she’s obviously a nutter – but, other than that, what is so creepy about them? More to the point, why does it bother you? I would’ve thought you’d be in favour of a functional, Christian nuclear family.
    2. I repeat. What has HM’s gov done to undermine the “family”?

    I do not even pretend to do a disservice to Perry et al by claiming to own this blog. I was merely trying to offer helpful advice.

  • Pete_London

    Verity

    I can’t say I’ve looked too closely at the horrors that the little Blairs may well be. Blair and the Wicked Witch are bad enough individually, I’d hate to know what they’re capable of producing together.

    Nick M

    The headline on this Guardian piece by Hattersley tells you all you need to know about the Left’s view of private, family life.

  • Verity

    Pete_London – Thanks. There’s just something there that’s not quite right and I think it’s key.

  • Julian Taylor

    NickM wrote:

    1. What is so odd about the Blairs – and please leave Cherie out of this because she’s obviously a nutter

    With all due respect old chap, I think you answered your own question there.

    Regarding what they have actually done to undermine the family, well not very much. What Tony Blair actually has planned for undermining the family is pretty much ultra-Orwellian in its stated form at his Respec’ conference in January – the state will assume the credit for the positive aspects of a child’s upbringing while punishing the parent with threats, ASBO’s and even jail time for any of the child’s failings. As much as I’m aware of how badly the article is written Fergus Shanahan wrote in The Sun last January of how badly Blair hates the family, reproduced here in Reform. There are a myriad of other articles online about Blair’s plans, from the (already being implemented) increase in powers for Community Police/City Wardens through to his notion of a state-funded ‘National Parenting Academy’.

    Not the best time to be planning on parenthood I should think.

  • roughshod

    Well, in the spirit of liberty and keeping our favourite pubs in business, I’d like to direct all those interested in fighting the Government’s draconian smoking ban to this site:
    http://www.thebigdebate.org/

    where a petition is available to download and take to your local. Please take the time to print one off and circulate amongst friends, colleagues and of course, your local pub/social club/cafe.

  • Matt O'Halloran

    Because of different cultures of blame and shame, different attitudes to inquest verdicts and other such complexities, international comparative stats of suicide are as dodgy as crime figures.

    In any case, you may be happy to top yourself if that’s what you think you should do. Seppuku with a smile on your face instead of enslavement– a lot of Japanese felt that way in ’45. Typical of degraded secular western liberals to equate felicity with physical survival.

    Happiness probably varies little from one country or culture to another, or from one epoch to another. It’s incidental and accidental, nothing to do with politics except in the most extreme cases. Anyway many old folk will tell you that WW2 was the most enjoyable spell of their humdrum lives!

    The idea that ‘liberal democracies’ possess the secret of happiness for individuals is as naive as the idea that they never fight each other. Notice how the starry-eyed Yank slips from ‘our ends’ to ‘happiness’ as if they were synonymous. Our ends are the furtherance of our collective genetic interests, for which we are mere vehicles and which we cannot control; personal feelings are only the bait on the hook. That’s what the Bard dimly apprehended when he wrote ‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends/Rough-hew them how we will.’

  • Nick M

    Pete_London,
    Saw the headline. Well, children do not belong to their parents. Do you feel that you belong to your parents? Does anyone? I do not see your point. In any case, regardless of anything the left tries to do to undermine the “family” (or whatever other sacred cows) the greatest crime is a waste of resources because it ain’t gonna happen. An institution thousands of years old is not going to be scuppered by the artless meddling of Tony.

    Second point. I ask again, what is the problem with the Blairs? the WW might be a cat-A loony toon but it doesn’t keep me awake at night. I’ll reiterate, why does it matter?

  • Verity

    Matt O’Hallaran – You write: That’s what the Bard dimly apprehended when he wrote ‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends/Rough-hew them how we will.’

    What do you mean “dimly apprehended”? Dimly? He wrote more brilliantly perceived truths than any one human before or since.

    There are more things in heaven and earth, O’Halloran, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.

  • Nick M

    And many more than are dreamed in yours, Verity.

  • Bombadil

    Happiness probably varies little from one country or culture to another, or from one epoch to another. It’s incidental and accidental, nothing to do with politics except in the most extreme cases.

    I don’t believe this, and I would be interested to see what support you can produce for this idea. The fact that people endure such immense hardships to emigrate to the United States suggests that they have at least some expectation that their happiness will be greater here than it is wherever they are coming from – and the fact that they continue to do so year after year suggests that they are not wrong to think so.

    The idea that ‘liberal democracies’ possess the secret of happiness for individuals is as naive as the idea that they never fight each other.

    Fair enough with regard to possessing the ‘secret of happiness’ (whatever that means – I am not sure there is a ‘secret to happiness’ in an objective sense any more than there is an objective ‘secret to good music’ or ‘secret to great literature’). But color me naive – which liberal democracies have gone to war with each other? I really can’t think of any.

    Notice how the starry-eyed Yank slips from ‘our ends’ to ‘happiness’ as if they were synonymous.

    Plenty of starry-eyed economists seem to think that increasing happiness is an effective summation of ‘our ends’ as well. Stupid Yanks.

    Our ends are the furtherance of our collective genetic interests, for which we are mere vehicles and which we cannot control; personal feelings are only the bait on the hook.

    That might be your end; why do you assume it’s mine as well? Maybe my end is to get ‘One Day At A Time’ back on the air in all its 70′s era glory.

    That’s what the Bard dimly apprehended when he wrote ‘There’s a divinity that shapes our ends/Rough-hew them how we will.’

    Ancient Yank proverb: ‘Man who call Shakespeare dim full of something: could be confidence … ‘

  • Johnathan Pearce

    The idea that ‘liberal democracies’ possess the secret of happiness for individuals is as naive as the idea that they never fight each other. Notice how the starry-eyed Yank slips from ‘our ends’ to ‘happiness’ as if they were synonymous. Our ends are the furtherance of our collective genetic interests, for which we are mere vehicles and which we cannot control; personal feelings are only the bait on the hook.

    Tripe. What on earth are “our collective genetic interests”? God, just as this blog sweeps out a bunch of race realists, another one pops up. They keep coming back, like cockroaches.

    There is nothing specifically American about the idea of happiness as the end of life, Matt. Try reading some Aristotle.

  • Pete_London

    Nick M

    Are you for real? Of course children belong to their parents! Who do YOU think they belong to? And no, I don’t belong to my parents because I’m not a child. Do you have children? If so, who do they belong to if not you? Me? The bloke down the astreet? The state?

    As for:

    An institution thousands of years old is not going to be scuppered by the artless meddling of Tony.

    I was referring to the Left, which has been waging it’s war on the family since it abandoned the class struggle 40 years ago. Back then it was shameful for a woman to have children out of wedlock, now 40% of children are. If you think that’s not the road to ruin you’re a fool.

  • Millie Woods

    Layard falls into the usual lefty trap of dividing the world into winners and losers confusing competitions where there are winners and losers with transactions where there are mutual agreements between parties leading to satisfaction all round.
    Verity asks for my take on Cherie Blair. Well in Canadian French there is an expression – sentir bien dans la peau – which means to be at ease with oneself. People who are not at ease with themselves somehow manage to project their unease or to put it in mod speak they give off bad vibes. My take on Cherie is that she’s a poster girl for not being at ease with herself.

  • Julian Taylor

    Millie Woods wrote:

    Layard falls into the usual lefty trap of dividing the world into winners and losers …

    But of course he does, he’s a “pragma-socialist” where the state must shore up the loser, thus ensuring he will never be able to win and is totally dependent upon the state while the winner is allocated to a re-education camp … oops “National Competitor Academy” … for counselling on how not to hurt the loser’s sensibilities by victimisation of their inability to win.

  • Matt O'Halloran

    Johnathan: As Richard Dawkins would tell you, genetic interests do not necessarily have to do with race. We humans all have genes, as do animals, birds, and fishes. You are too quick on the draw, and moreover your pet prejudices and aversions are suspiciously similar to those of politically correct leftwingers, although comparing those who disagree with you with ‘cockroaches’ is more of a Nazi habit.

    Has it never occurred to you that this site is ‘infested’ with people with views like mine because the findings of modern science cannot be waved away for ever? This is the age of DNA, not Ayn Rand. You are supposed to be scientifically curious here, but the biggest breakthroughs in contemporary science– the study of Man’s biology and psychology– barely rate a mention amid all the adventure story stuff about space travel. You seem as terrified of genetics as any old Marxist who dreams of reprogramming humanity to suit *his* utopia.

    I realise that libertarianism is going nowhere and you are all depressed nowadays, but your standards of manners are far from exemplary. It only makes you seem more adolescent and petulant in defeat.

    Bombadil: All our destinies are largely determined before birth by our genes, and there is nothing you can do about it, no matter how tenderly you nurse your delusions of absolute free will. You would do better to study the limited scope you do have for determining your own destiny within the severe constrictions of your phenotype. But don’t plan for happiness– nobody can do that.

  • Bombadil

    Bombadil: All our destinies are largely determined before birth by our genes, and there is nothing you can do about it, no matter how tenderly you nurse your delusions of absolute free will. You would do better to study the limited scope you do have for determining your own destiny within the severe constrictions of your phenotype. But don’t plan for happiness– nobody can do that.

    I haven’t lived for a tremendously long time, but in my life I have made decisions about:

    Whether to go to school or pursue a career through an entry-level job;
    What my major should be (History? Computer Science? English?);
    Whether to socialize more or study more;
    Whether to live at home or in a dorm;
    Whether to get a job closer to home or move across the country;
    Whether to get married or stay single;
    Whether to spend more money now to improve my lifestyle or invest that money so that I will be wealthier later in my life;
    (Recently) Whether to continue working in my home country or take a job overseas;

    Are you actually making the claim that those decisions all had little or no impact on my current level of happiness? Or are you saying that the choices I made were genetically pre-determined? Either way, it seems a bit of a stretch.

    I tend to think that we as individuals have an enormous impact on the flow of our own lives, and thus on our resulting happiness. We can choose to drink too much, we can choose to take risks in the stock market, we can choose to take a deep breath and ask the pretty girl at the bar if she would like to dance, etc.

    I suppose you can also choose to feel helpless in the face of your own destiny – but that is still a choice.

    The greatness of the west is that these major life choices are left to the individual, rather than the local imam or the overbearing state. Libertarians tend to believe that individuals can better determine what will make them happy than a central committee or religious head – thus more personal choice, more individual freedom, leads to greater overall happiness.

    That is why the west is objectively a better place to be – you can drive your own live rather than just being along for the ride.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    You are too quick on the draw, and moreover your pet prejudices and aversions are suspiciously similar to those of politically correct leftwingers, although comparing those who disagree with you with ‘cockroaches’ is more of a Nazi habit.

    God, I am a Nazi one minute, a lefty the next!

    Has it never occurred to you that this site is ‘infested’ with people with views like mine because the findings of modern science cannot be waved away for ever?

    And what, pray, are those findings? I actually recently read Steven Pinker’s excellent and well-argued book, The Blank Slate. But even while he urges us to be realistic about human nature, he does not deny, for example, that humans seek happiness in the “Yank” way you deride, or lack volition and the ability to reflect on their own condition (ie, have free will).


    This is the age of DNA, not Ayn Rand.

    What is that supposed to mean – that reason, liberty count for less than who my grandparents were?


    You are supposed to be scientifically curious here, but the biggest breakthroughs in contemporary science– the study of Man’s biology and psychology– barely rate a mention amid all the adventure story stuff about space travel. You seem as terrified of genetics as any old Marxist who dreams of reprogramming humanity to suit *his* utopia.

    I am not terrified of genetics, which is indeed a fascinating area, though not quite the supreme breathrough you claim. Where have any Samizdata contributors rejected the facts of genetics? Care to cite any examples?

    My problem with people who make arguments about “our collective genetic interests”, as you did, is that it begs a lot of questions. Do such “collective interests” justify eugenics, for instance? And I have a suspicion of using genetics in areas where it does not apply, such as political economy, for example.

    If my tone with you has been harsh, then frankly it is because we have had a bellyfull of people who go on about genetics as the driving force of political life and sooner or later, turn out to be collectivists and racist bigots who want to use state power to press a particular genetic group in some way. If your interest in genetics is more benign then that, then marvellous, but your tone so far suggests otherwise.

  • Julian Taylor

    I realise that libertarianism is going nowhere and you are all depressed nowadays, but your standards of manners are far from exemplary. It only makes you seem more adolescent and petulant in defeat.

    In defeat of what, pray? The deafeat of libertarianism by the noble forces of neo-socialism?

  • Are you for real? Of course children belong to their parents! Who do YOU think they belong to? And no, I don’t belong to my parents because I’m not a child. Do you have children? If so, who do they belong to if not you? Me? The bloke down the astreet? The state?

    As individuals with rights, I would say children are truly owned by no one but themselves. At the most, parents are the temporary custodians of humans who have not yet really begun to grasp reality. Since the moment when children become effectively and regularly rational varies from person to person, you can’t set some age where people are allowed to be free of their parents.

    Going any further makes it harder and harder to avoid arguing that parents are or ought to be slavemasters, whether benevolent or not.

  • Matt O'Halloran

    Pearce: “I am not terrified of genetics, which is indeed a fascinating area, though not quite the supreme breathrough you claim. Where have any Samizdata contributors rejected the facts of genetics? Care to cite any examples?”

    You never mention genetic discoveries except to waffle about how we’re all going to be ‘transhuman’ at some distant date. Toto, we’re not in 1950 any more, and the old infinitely-reprogrammable ‘individualistic’ model of human nature isn’t cutting it. The espousal of that tabula rasa, implicit in so much of what you write, constitutes Samizdata’s rejection of the facts of genetics.

    Practical, imminent interventions to create healthier, smarter populations are anathematised indiscriminately as ‘eugenics’. But medicalised, legal abortion is eugenic in intent. So are child benefits. So is prenatal screening. So is testing for potential defects of the offspring of cousin marriages, such as many Pakistanis in Britain are now being pressured to undergo. So is the way insurers are tailoring cover and premiums to different– pardon my French– races.

    The implications of DNA are not a ‘supreme breathrough’ (typical silly strawman stuff) but they are going to hit us like a tidal wave in a few years, raising problems of personal liberty far more momentous than ID cards or ASBOs. Reacting to every attempt to ventilate these questions with a “Get thee behind me, Nazi!” doesn’t answer.

    The Chinese, the Indians and Japanese are going full steam ahead on making fitter and cleverer people– and a lot of this activity is private sector and voluntary. Some weeks back when I mentioned this, and asked how the West should respond, you *immediately* jumped down my throat with your libertarian bell, book and candle, assuming (which I never said) that I was all for compulsory state engineering of the genome. You give the impression of trying to stifle discussion at the outset by tying on the ‘collectivists and racist bigots’ label.

    Time to decide. Libertarianism is very much on the back foot these days. Do you want to dwindle into a collection of grumbly old men stopping your ears, or will you engage with the apostles of genetic and racial realism?

    http://www.gnxp.com

  • Johnathan Pearce

    You never mention genetic discoveries except to waffle about how we’re all going to be ‘transhuman’ at some distant date

    Actually, I have not mentioned transhumanism at all. BTW, what so bugs you about transhumanism anyway?

    The espousal of that tabula rasa, implicit in so much of what you write, constitutes Samizdata’s rejection of the facts of genetics.

    I don’t support the idea of the Blank Slate. Where have I said so? Even Ayn Rand, for instance, stated that humans had a particularly type of nature, not a purely blank one.

    The Chinese, the Indians and Japanese are going full steam ahead on making fitter and cleverer people– and a lot of this activity is private sector and voluntary

    If it is voluntary then I don’t have a problem with it. In fact, it sounds a bit like, er, transhumanism. I am all in favour of augmentation, improvement of human life in various ways. I am even in favour of some of the techniques that would make for far healthier babies, etc. No argument there from me.

    Time to decide. Libertarianism is very much on the back foot these days. Do you want to dwindle into a collection of grumbly old men stopping your ears, or will you engage with the apostles of genetic and racial realism?

    Just because I don’t agree with some of the dubious arguments of race “realists” or whatever, does not mean I am stopping my ears, old chap.

    Actually, one could argue that the more one learns about human nature, the more choices it gives us to live life to the full as free individuals, so it actually magnifies the case for a liberal order, rather than the opposite. So in fact I might even argue that greater understanding of genetics etc might actually enhance liberty, rather than the other way round. I trust you would be in support of that.

  • Midwesterner

    “apostles of genetic and racial realism”

    My experience of racists is that they are race based collectivists who are so utterly without anything to redeem them (and know it), that they pick out something they didn’t have to earn (race) and claim that as their most valuable asset.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    My experience of racists is that they are race based collectivists who are so utterly without anything to redeem them (and know it), that they pick out something they didn’t have to earn (race) and claim that as their most valuable asset.

    Absolute bullseye.