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]

A little something for Halloween

First turn up volume as soundtrack is quite soft…

Someone in the British military has a VERY good sense of humour!

I was watching the Channel 4 news coverage of the state visit of the King of Saudi Arabia to Britain, when something I saw nearly made me fall off my chair laughing.

So what does the British Army band for the guard of honour strike up as The Man himself steps out of his limo to high-five Her Majesty?

The Darth Vader March from Star Wars (click on ‘watch the report’ to see for yourself). I kid you not.

Someone somewhere deserves a medal.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’ve yet find an area that I’ve studied extensively where the arguments justifying the state stand up to historical evidence. I think the state’s takeover of these aspects of human life occur for different reasons than the reasons currently given for the state in those areas, and that what we see is a lot of ex post rationalisation to justify the state. I haven’t looked at every area, and certainly may find some where I wouldn’t make that argument. But I have yet to find one.

- Bruce L. Benson (one of the speakers at the LA/LI Conference last weekend) talks about his work to Patrick Crozier – the whole thing lasts a little over 15 minutes

Is there intelligent life on Planet Earth?

At the recent Libertarian Alliance conference in London, one of my favourite speakers, Leon Louw, mocked the idea that water on earth is scarce. Two-thirds of the Earth’s surface is covered with the wet stuff, in fact. What people mean when they say that water is scarce is not that there is a lack of H20, rather, there is a lack of drinkable, clean water. But the idea that water is scarce is, in and of itself, bonkers. As Leon said, if an alien from outer space talked to some ecological doomsters and heard their moans about water shortages, he would probably fly off in search of more intelligent life elsewhere.

Heaven knows what an intelligent alien would make of George Monbiot.

Reductio ad absurdum

The British government has just “admitted” that its figures for foreign workers employed in the UK are wrong by more than 30%, or 300,000 people. Of course we don’t know that the new figures are right, either. But it has very satisfactorily illustrated they don’t matter in the slightest.

The Liberal Democrat spokesman is telling the truth when he says: “Getting these figures so wrong further undermines the credibility of the government’s claims to be able to deliver a well-managed system for foreign workers.” But the intent behind his statement is dead wrong. It is none of the government’s business to manage any kind of system for foreign workers, and getting these figures so wrong undermines the credibility of doing so at all.

This sort of thinking is just a version of the lump of labour fallacy. More workers doing more things for other people and supporting themselves means everyone is better off, not that others are deprived of something.

Nor – as the error shows – does government need to know who people are and what they are doing in order to carry on with its other activities untroubled. It just needs to respond to provide services as they are required (and self-supporting individuals don’t really require much). The conceit of planning and censuses is undermined here, too. Demand manages itself.

Meanwhile, in the unreal world, all politicians are piling onto the current bandwagon of jealousy of foreigners. David Cameron has signed on to the idiocy with gusto. The politics of virtual threat will actually be reinforced by the concrete evidence that there is nothing to fear.

“It so much worse than we thought, that absolutely nobody noticed,” they cry. Something must be done! Starting with more counting, more monitoring and more control so that we never fail to notice nothing untoward happening ever again.

Keeping the bloodline pure

One of the more attractive elements of the Libertarian Alliance conferences is the enjoyable lunches, often served by attractive totty from Eastern Europe. After second-guessing the blackmailed royal, our conversation veered towards the compulsory testing of genetic material on the part of individuals.

After all, they are the Royal Family and if we are to be subjects, I do want to be sure that they are descended from the Queen. Without indulging in tittle-tattle on the unorthodox descent of facial features in the Windsor opera, we do have a right to ensure that the line remains pure. My own take was that this would involve a minor amendment to the Act of Settlement, alongside the abolition of the papist prohibition.

This does beg the question of how far back we should go if the present line proves to be a collection of interlopers and carpetbaggers descended from a priapic Keeper of the Privy Purse. My personal preference is for Alfred and a clear line of descent from Wessex and the Heptarchy. I would go back to Cunobelin if I could. Others prefer the continental certainties of the Normans.

Ensuring the demand that the heir to the throne is a lineal descendant of their father or mother seems a useful task for our new technologies.

Some nagging worries about China

You know the feeling. A market rises like a rocket; there is lots of gushing news items about how market X or Y is the hottest thing since the iPod; but there is a lot of muttering about the inevitable fall, the decline, or even the monster crackup. Well, it has sort of happened with the US credit market this year and the collapse of sub-prime mortgages (in plain English, the business of lending money to people who are often bad repayers).

I have this sort of queasy feeling now about China. Do not get me wrong: I am delighted that China is a poster child for how things improve if you ditch certain aspects of collectivism, but it is still a long, long way from what a free society could or should be. And some of the economic data that comes out of that vast country gives economists cause for concern.

Islamophobia is a stupid word

For quite some while now, I have been meaning either to write this myself or to come across someone else writing this. Since the Australian blogger Russell Blackford beat me to it and I read him saying it this afternoon, here it now is:

Unfortunately, the impression has been created by many Muslim leaders that Islam seeks to control all aspects of individuals’ lives and does not shrink from using secular power to achieve its aim. We are all well aware of extreme examples in recent history, such as Afghanistan under the benighted Taliban regime. Until that fear is laid to rest, it is quite rational for the rest of us to fear Islam’s political ambitions – which is one reason why the word “Islamophobia” is so stupid. A phobia is an irrational fear, but secular Westerners actually have perfectly rational reasons to be at least wary of Islam …

In my experience there is nothing quite like the best sort of Australian academic or intellectual for calling bullshit bullshit.

Forgive me if someone has already said this exact thing here already. What many writers and commenters here have definitely said many times is that much of the art of the propagandist lies in the inventing of and the destruction of words. The bad guys invent bad words and destroy good ones. We good guys invent good words and destroy bad ones. And “islamophobia” is a very bad word indeed.

In praise of digging

I love this mighty beast, linked to by David Thompson in his latest batch of ephemera links (which he does every Friday and which I highly recommend):

BigDigger.jpg

This rusting hulk is (was) one of the world’s biggest digging machines. It now resides in an open air museum, where the captions and propaganda messages are all about the ecological folly of big digging machines. But for me, this is a glorious monument to man’s continuing and growing ability to impress his imprint upon nature.

And thereby, incidentally, to create all manner of interesting new habitats for other forms of nature beside man, once man has finished with using them for his original purpose. Last night I happened to watch a TV show about some defunct clay-excavation-for-brick-making site, somewhere in the Midlands I think, which has now become one of Britain’s most satisfactory habitats for various particularly interesting sorts of newt. In general, I think the way that the First Industrial Revolution churned up the landscape and thereby made it more varied and interesting, is an under-talked-about topic.

The Norfolk Broads, no less, which I have fond memories of sailing on as a boy, began as peat mining:

It was only in the 1960s that Dr Joyce Lambert proved that they were artificial features, the effect of flooding on early peat excavations. The Romans first exploited the rich peat beds of the area for fuel, and in the Middle Ages the local monasteries began to excavate the “turbaries” (peat diggings) as a business, selling fuel to Norwich and Great Yarmouth. The Cathedral took 320,000 tonnes of peat a year. Then the sea levels began to rise, and the pits began to flood.

So, good for Dr Joyce Lambert, good for the Romans, good for exploitation, and good for rising sea levels. The Romans would have loved that giant digger, even as they would have been amazed and discomforted that it was made by their arch-enemies, the Germans.

In further interesting environment-related speculations Bishop Hill reckons we may be due for a cold winter, on account of the sun taking a bit of a rest just now. Interesting. We shall see.

Emulating the losers

For those who are inexplicably worried about Russia’s alleged ‘resurgence’ as a major world power now that it’s economy is about the size of Italy’s economy (albeit far less diversified), the following article should be unalloyed good news:

In the Russian Federation, a country where hundreds of companies are launched every year, the plans to create yet another one would not be particularly noteworthy. Except that Russian Technologies is to be very different from most of the rest. It will be no capitalist venture conceived by a profit-seeking entrepreneur, but a corporation established by a decree of the Russian Parliament. A giant conglomerate with the state apparatus behind it, its official mandate will be to ‘develop Russia’s heavy industry.’

The ‘money quote’ being “with the state apparatus behind it”…presumably because it was proven that “state apparatus” was the key to how the Soviets developed technology and business methods far superior to those in the capitalist west, became fabulously wealthy and as a result won the Cold War and… oh, hang on… In other words, the clowns who run the Kremlin are going to try an approach used in the West in the 1960s and 1970′s of creating large bureaucratic ‘national champions’. And that is because that worked soooo well for us, right?

So clearly those who feel “something must be done about resurgent Russia” can now relax and just let nature take its course. Putin and his entourage of economic ignoramuses are screwing Russia and crippling its ability to ever develop a dynamic market economy. This will weaken the nation far more effectively than anything anyone else could do to them. I just happen to think it is a pathetic waste of people’s talents and potential.

How the left and right share much in their world views

Over on The First Post, Richard Ehrman has written an article called Immigration: Britain’s wake-up call that gives us a splendid example of how the left and right generally share ‘meta-context’ (the unspoken axioms that we take for granted when we discuss something):

The new population projections are shocking [...] Over the next 25 years, the Office of National Statistics expects the British population to rise to 71million, from 60m today. After that, it is on course to hit 75m by mid-century. [...] And because we are not producing enough children to replace ourselves, most of this dramatic growth will be due to immigration. [...] Population projections have proved wildly out in the past, so this latest version should be taken with a pinch of salt. But it should serve as a wake-up call, too.

If we are going to rely on immigrants to pay our pensions and do the jobs we don’t want to do, we are also going to have to build an awful lot of new houses, roads, schools and hospitals to accommodate them.

The fact the population is growing in Britain is shocking, apparently. Okay, yet for some reason I am not shocked. However why is this something we should regard as a “wake up call”? Personally I am hearing something more like a dinner bell being rung. Richard Ehrman is associated with Politeia, an allegedly market-friendly think tank, so why should ‘we’, by which I very strongly suspect he means ‘we-as-taxpayers’, be building houses, roads, schools and hospitals for anyone? In less benighted times the arrival of more people would have been referred to as a ‘growing market’ (i.e. a good thing) rather than an impending liability which needs a “wake-up call” to alert us to a problem.

Let me quote something very germane that was uttered yesterday at the Libertarian Alliance conference in London, by Shane Frith of Progressive Vision on more or less the same subject:

“The claim that immigration puts strain on ‘vital public services’ is a myth. The reality is that immigration only puts ‘pressure’ on the inefficient state sector such as state schools and NHS hospitals. Vital public services provided by the private sector welcome the additional customers. In the vital field of food supply, you don’t hear Tesco complaining that they hadn’t planned on the increased business – we face no food shortages. Neither does Vodafone struggle with the technical demands of providing mobile phones to all these immigrants. Immigration merely highlights the existing failure of the inefficient, unreformed state sector.”

Quite! If indeed much of Central Europe is decamping from their homelands and heading for this Sceptred Isle, what an excellent time to abolish the decrepit socialist legacy systems (which are rather like running 1980′s era computers in 2007 and then wondering why things do not work) that have inexplicably survived into the Twenty First century. Time to replace them with adaptive market driven approaches that are neither distorted nor crowded out by an idiotic and fantastically inefficient state run medical system, preposterous public sector housing and ever more dumbed down state schools. None of these things, not one, is logically something the state should have anything to do with. As I have argued before, perhaps the changing demographic realities may force exactly the sort of changes that should have been introduced decades ago.

And if that is true, it is yet another reason to thank the latest wave of immigrants. Guys, you might actually save us from ourselves.

Vitajte v Londyne!

Samizdata quote of the day

Just because we are sometimes foolish does not mean that the government is any wiser.

- Tim Harford commenting on Julian le Grand’s latest proposals. “[Le Grand] is not crazy. He is just wrong.”