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]

Thanks Sarko, but no thanks

Well, that appears to be the reaction so far of wealthy French ex-pats who have turned away from the land of Moliere and fine wine for other climes in order to flee the French taxman. New president Nicolas Sarkozy has promised to cut, or at least change, some of the more crushing taxes on wealthy people to lure them back to France. If he wants to revive the French economy, this has to make sense. An even more obvious policy would be a dramatic tax cut across the board, in a flat tax fashion, with the overall burden sharply reduced. (Waiting for hell to freeze over? Ed).

The effects of French hostility to the rich, or least les nouveaux riches, is pretty obvious here in Britain. The areas around Chelsea, South Kensington and Knightsbridge are full of young French people who work in the capital, such as in the Canary Wharf financial district. A number of big banks, with their fancy derivatives trading platforms, operate out of London and French education still churns out the sort of highly qualified maths graduates who work in sectors like hedge funds and futures markets. I don’t know the exact figures – who does? – but I have read that upwards of around 350,000 French people live in London today.

I remember a while back that the French model and occasional actress, Laetitia Casta, left France after shortly having been chosen as the model for the French revolutionary heroine, Marianne. She apparently quit the nation for tax reasons, although she also denied that as her reason, according to the Wikipedia entry linked to here.

Of course, there is no excuse whatever for Brits to guffaw about this. Lots of Britons quit these shores every year for nations like Canada and New Zealand, where the taxes are are sometimes lower and the opportunities for raising a family etc appear more easy. As one senior lawyer told me this morning, the best advice to any rich person these days is to try and head for Switzerland. Britain may be, temporarily, a haven for some City pros like the private equity bosses, but for how long?

I think you must have some other Britain in mind

Now I am always quick to say nasty things about the British state and the state’s educational system in particular, but this article is really strange (as in ‘has little relation to reality’ type strange).

So waiting for the Dolphin swim at Discovery Cove in Orlando, my daughter Nikki and I were seated with a Brit family – mom, daughter and son. After small talk about the great value of the pound vs the dollar etc, I mentioned that Churchill was one of my heroes. The son, no more than 16 countered that he really liked Hitler, and his sister Gandhi. I was stunned and sickened. […] In speaking privately with his mother after my discussion, she stated that this is the new curriculum in the British schools to combat “prejudice” against Germans. They teach the children not to “judge” Hitler.

Sorry but much as I might slag off the state and all it’s works, this is preposterous. In fact of all the screwed up things I have heard about the goings on in British schools, I have never heard of anything even close to this. I suppose it shows the dangers of deriving your views of the situation in some other country on a casual conversation with a single group of strangers.

Could this be the ‘golden issue’ that changes a generation?

The plans by the state to extend the period of educational conscription in Britain could well be the issue that helps radicalise future generations in a most useful way, at least if you see the world the way I do.

“Here is a Government that has toyed with the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 in order to promote a greater sense of citizenship amongst our young people. Yet it proposes to extend compulsory education or training to 18, to compel the already disaffected to, in their perception, prolong the agony.”

She said that making teenagers “conscripts” was likely to “reinforce failure, leading to even greater disaffection. Enforcement could lead to mass truancy, further disruption to other learners and staff, maybe even needless criminalisation if ‘enforcement measures’ are imposed,

I am also delighted to see someone in the mainstream media making the self-evident point that state education is indeed conscription. The absurdity of trying to teach children who are determined to not be taught is evident at sinkhole schools across the country so why the state thinks digging the same hole deeper is going to solve anything is not obvious to me. Still, never interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake as there is a clear upside to all this. What the government intends to do will engender disaffection and hostility to the impositions of the state at an early age, and without doubt mischievous political activists will fan the flames by pointing out to the internet savvy blog reading schoolyard conscripts of the future that they are not wrong to feel angry and they are not wrong to refuse to cooperate. Excellent.

Bill Moyers embraces libertarianism

He wrapped up his Friday broadcast with carefully bracketed video of young Republicans in Washington. His softly presented outrage leads to the inevitable conclusion that he is embracing the libertarian principle of individual, personal action. The only other possible interpretation being that he is a sanctimonious hypocrite.

Ending his July 27 broadcast of Bill Moyers Journal, he makes his opinion very clear that unless someone has committed to personally experience the greatest possible cost of what they are advocating, their opinion is without standing and worthy only of ridicule and moral reprobation. His quiet anger is directed at people who advocate actions for which others will bear the burden. I for one consider this to be a marked improvement in Moyer’s politics. Prior to this he has always identified strongly with activists who want to force the rest of society to bear the burden for their projects. I look forward eagerly to seeing him apply his new standard to every guest that he invites onto his program. It will be refreshing to only hear opinions from people who have first made a total personal sacrifice to a cause, before they may express belief in the justice of that cause. Because, Bill’s right. If you have not given yourself totally to some great endeavor first, ‘volunteering’ others is the very essence of hypocrisy.

transcript excerpt: → Continue reading: Bill Moyers embraces libertarianism

Samizdata quote of the day

“One finds that time just disappears from the Wheeler-DeWitt equation,” says Carlo Rovelli, a physicist at the University of the Mediterranean in Marseille, France. “It is an issue that many theorists have puzzled about. It may be that the best way to think about quantum reality is to give up the notion of time – that the fundamental description of the universe must be timeless.”

Carlo Rovelli. Remember this next time you turn up late for an appointment.

Betting against safety

The ever-reliable Jamie Whyte has a superb piece in The Times in which he identifies quite precisely what’s wrong with ‘the precautionary principle':

Suppose that, in return for an annual premium of £1, someone promises to pay you £1 million if you are abducted by aliens (such insurance exists). … You lack the information required to know if the insurance is a good deal. It is in such situations of uncertainty that the precautionary principle is supposed to apply. … [T]his principle tells you to buy the ticket. You should incur the £1 cost of the premium if there is any chance that it will save you from the greater cost of experiencing an uncompensated alien abduction. Whenever the prize is greater than the bet, and you do not know the odds, the principle says you should gamble. Bookmakers must dream of the day when punters bring such wisdom to the racetrack.

That’s a very illuminating parallel. What those who preach precaution are doing is secretly evaluating the likelihood of the Very Bad Thing we are supposed to be scared of as certainty, and their avoidance policy as perfect.

I would add, now Whyte has given me the right analytical start, that the way that the problem is usually posed should give this away directly. The precaution preacher says that: the Very Bad Thing (B) may be unlikely, but it is so very very bad, that however unlikely it is, it is too horrible to contemplate not doing onerous things P prevent it. It might as well be certain, but for P. That is implicitly a claim that both B is infinite in horribleness and that P is guaranteed to reduce its (unknown) likelihood.

Not only is it a bad bet, but the claim to the efficacy of P should be treated with skepticism. As well to remember that when dealing with Greens, securocrats and panic-mongers of all kinds.

Samizdata quote of the day

Moreover, American Idol is a rebuke to those silly “crunchy conservatives” who insist that modern technology and mass production denigrates community, and so forth – in T.S. Eliot’s idiotic words, “The remarkable thing about television is that it permits several million people to laugh at the same joke and still feel lonely.” But that’s not true! The community has all joined in on this wholesome, fun, harmless moment to celebrate opportunity, singing, and lightheartedness. What could be more American than that? Lightheartedness is, I think, a profound and incredibly rare value, and one which our country has figured out how to mass produce. That may be among its greatest accomplishments ever.

Timothy Sandefur, US blogger.

Stopping immigration will not curb flooding

Rod Liddle in this week’s Spectator has a fiery article about the English floods (the Scots have not been flooded, but their turn may come). It starts off in poetic fashion. When Rod is good, he’s very good:

England’s habitually well-mannered and inoffensive chalk streams have been uncharacteristically full of themselves this last week or so — as you may have gathered from your television evening news programmes or, if you’re unlucky, your kitchen.

The Pang in West Berkshire, for example, rarely bothers anybody. Scarcely 15 miles in length, its job is simply to adorn the Thames in agreeable manner, as if purchased from a sort of riparian Accessorize. Not this week, though. It has puffed its chest out and pretended to be one of those hectic, rough, uncouth northern rivers — the Tees, say — all swirling brown water and ill-concealed anger. It is possibly in your front room right now, making itself at home. The same is true of those other gently bourgeois downland streams; the Windrush, bored of the Cotswolds, engulfing the village of Standlake. The Ock pelting down from the White Horse hills, spilling its load hither and thither, the Lambourn doing its best to drown all those expensive horses. What has got into them all of a sudden? Not just rain, surely?

Liddle then goes on to argue that the floods are not really caused by global climate change – we have had lousy wet summers before – but by a different change: mass housebuilding. He argues that as more homes and roads are built, rainfall has fewer places to soak into the ground and runs off quickly, creating “flash-floods”. As more houses are built, so the argument goes, the flash-flood problem will get worse. Solution: build fewer homes, or at least build them in places where the drainage has been sorted out. This makes a degree of sense.

The problem I have with this article, however, is that Liddle misses obvious points and then goes on to ride his hobby horse, anti-immigration, in a rather trite way. Here’s one paragraph:

Three fairly calamitous floods in the last seven years, for example (2007, 2004 and 2000), the latest seriously affecting a vast swath of the population, something like five million people in all. And the cost is already estimated at more than £3 billion. Meanwhile insurance premiums are likely to rise between 15 and 20 per cent as a result, according to the Association of British Insurers.

I suspect the total insurance bill could be even higher. If insurance premiums do rise, then if housebuilding did operate in a genuine free market – it does not, unfortunately – then those higher premiums would incentivise housebuilders and would-be occupiers to build them in places at low risk of flooding. That is why I fervently hope that the government does not try to limit increases in insurance costs, but on the contrary, lets them rise sharply to remind people of the costs of living in a flood plain. If the government tries to artificially subsidise people by capping insurance costs – as I believe happened in the Mississippi Delta in the US – it creates a moral hazard problem.

However, Liddle does not make this point. Instead of using insurance premiums as a market method of constraining construction on flood plains, he wants to limit housebuilding by direct state action, and goes on to argue that Britain does not need new homes anyway, since our indigenous population is quite stable. No, it is all those smelly foreigners and welfare-sponging migrant workers:

Nobody has factored in the cost that accepting migrant labour — a workforce characterised by low skills, low aspirations and of a necessarily temporary nature — will incur. But we might hazard a pretty good guess. A higher crime rate occasioned by the entirely understandable sense of injustice experienced by a poorly paid immigrant labour force; a concomitant constant drain on our health and education and social services, resulting in higher and higher council tax. And the provision of cheap, ugly housing which, remarkably, manages to square the circle of increasing the likelihood of both flooding and chronic drought. More cars, roads, shopping malls, petrol stations, leisure centres. Whole cities of pale faux-brick starter homes, the rainwater deprived of an opportunity to sink down into the earth.

Migrant workers may not be rocket scientists, but it is surely a sweeping statement to say that they have low skills and have low aspirations. If a person gets off his behind to travel thousands of miles to get work and live elsewhere, that strikes me as pretty aspirational, actually. If the problem is that a lot of these people are low-paid, it is because the marginal price of the work they perform is quite low. Of course the solution to such a problem of supposedly pointless migrant labour – at least as Liddle sees it – is not to stop migrant labour, but to ensure that no welfare and other tax-funded benefits will be paid to such migrants for a period of say, at least 5 years. Immigration and welfare states do not mix: if you want one, you cannot have the other without creating a genuine sense of injustice among the existing taxpayer population. But to argue that housing shortages will no longer be a problem if we close immigration off is wrong. The days when people lived as one family, of several generations, under one roof, has gone: grannie has her flat, young singles do not want to live with their folks into their 30s, and divorce and other facts have increased the number of people living on their own. Even had the domestic population been static since WW2, we would have had an increase in the demand for homes, not to mention for things like second homes as incomes grow.

No, if the problem of the floods is that it is caused by building on flood plains, bad drainage and so forth, the problem is government. The government refuses planning permission in areas where the drainage might be good, such as the “green belt” land surrounding London, yet it encourages building in areas already at risk. It should let the market force of insurance premium increases do its job in encouraging building in places of low risk and deter it where risks are high. Bashing immigrants and imagining we can keep the UK population stable is not, frankly, sensible economics. It is about as intelligent as King Canute ordering the tide to flow out from the beach.

If global warming is real, it is now inevitable

I am currently in Beijing, which is up there amongst the most polluted cities in the world. Beijing’s summer days are characterised by heavy cloud cover, which traps the unsightly gaseous consequences of China’s lightning-fast growth. The sun usually becomes discernable at around 4pm, when a golden-brown orb peers timidly through the haze. Being more acquainted with the brilliant Australian sun, for a split-second I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking at when I first saw its rather diminished Chinese incarnation.

In such circumstances, I have been thinking a lot about the “carbon footprint” of countries in the economic vanguard of the developing world – countries like China and India. Like most who contribute and comment here, l classify myself as a “global warming skeptic”, due to the evangelical, anti-science and frequently absurd rhetoric that typifies global warming activists of all stripes. I am not a complete denialist – I have not written off the theory of anthropogenic global warming entirely. I simply believe there is an awful lot we do not yet know, and it is rash to be making grand predictions about impending weather-related catastrophes, and demanding action based on such flawed predictions. If, however, I was to reconsider my position and embrace the concept of AGW, I would still not champion the Kyoto Protocol or any other effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

The fact is that if AGW is a genuine phenomenon, it is inevitable. There is absolutely no point in the rich world winding back its CO2 output, because China, India and the rest of the developing world will replace any first world CO2 reductions several times over. Despite the occasionally placatory noises about limiting CO2 emissions heard from the likes of the Chinese central government, the fact is that the Chinese, the Indians, the Russians, the Brazilians, nor anyone else from the developing world will ever stymy their nations’ opportunity to develop by hobbling their industrial output via significant CO2 emissions controls. Nor are the leaders of these countries likely to do anything to incur the wrath of their citizens by curtailing their perfectly reasonable aspirations to own motorcars, motorcycles, air conditioners and enjoy the convenience of air travel – all enormous direct or indirect sources of CO2 emissions. If significant CO2 reduction could be achieved with minimal economic and social cost, then perhaps the developing world would cooperate. However, large-scale CO2 reduction is an extremely expensive and socially disruptive exercise, and this reality will persist for several decades.

And it is too late to roll back the clock – too many people in the developing world have tasted the fruits of development, and quite legitimately demand more. Those governing the aspirational billions are far more likely to be influenced by them than An Inconvenient Truth. Global CO2 emissions are going to continue to grow for many years, there is no doubt about it. The “global warmenists”, as the mighty Tim Blair calls them, need to re-evaluate their positions, because what they propose at present is simply an exercise in developed-world wealth destruction on an epic scale. Those insisting on such a state of affairs appear little short of anti-human luddites, as detractors of the green movement have long asserted. Bjørn Lomborg is spot on – any resources allocated towards the AGW issue should be directed towards researching crisis management and developing an appropriate disaster-relief capacity under the circumstances of rapid climate change, even if only as an insurance policy. And the absolute last thing we in the developed world should be doing is hampering the wealth-creating organs of our societies in a futile effort to cut CO2 emissions. If AGW is truly the looming catastrophe that many predict, we need to be as wealthy as possible to plan and make provisions for its impending consequences, and thus deal with them when they start to unfold.

Major vulnerability in FireFox on Windows

A public service warning! You surf the internet at random using FireFox (which generally you should), you may stumble across a website, which could infest your machine with a virus. But this is nothing new, I have heard about these evil websites full of Trojans and other nasty viruses and I know better… I hear you cry. Apparently, this particular attack does not require a download. Which means that is unlikely to be trapped by your anti-virus software, certainly in the short-term.

Protecting yourself for now is fairly simple. You will need to make a trivial modification to your FireFox settings.

To do this, start FireFox, enter the URL “about:config”, scroll down, and for each of the following entries make sure it is set to “true”.

If it isn’t, right-click the line and choose “Toggle”, which will set the value to “true”

network.protocol-handler.warn-external-default
network.protocol-handler.warn-external.mailto
network.protocol-handler.warn-external.news
network.protocol-handler.warn-external.nntp
network.protocol-handler.warn-external.snews

This will at least give you a warning that Firefox is being asked to do something suspicious; you will have to judge for yourself whether it is nasty.

Thanks to Alec Muffett and Geoff Arnold for the heads up and advice.

Condolences to family and friends

Yesterday was a terrible day in the Mojave Desert, as many of you may have seen on the news by now there has been an explosion at space technology company Scaled Composites during testing of a propellant system. Three are dead and three more are in the hospital with injuries of varying severity.

This is a dangerous business we are in and we all know it. I feel somewhat relieved that none of them were people whom I knew well, but at the same time share some of the sense of loss which must be nearly overpowering to their co-workers.

If any of you at Scaled drop by here during this time of sadness, know that you are part of something greater. Your friends will be remembered.

As to the facts of the accident, I have little to add beyond what my coworker Rand Simberg has said.

Samizdata quote of the day

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

– Thomas Jefferson