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]

Reading books

I occasionally will read a big novel, such as a “classic”, because I think that it is a mark of a reasonably intelligent person to be on nodding terms with some of the high points of our literature, although I often wimp out and pick up an old R. A. Heinlein or the latest John Varley science fiction novel instead. But I certainly do accept that there is nothing more tedious than plodding through acres of text as if it were somehow proof of moral virtue or literary stamina. Tolstoy’s War and Peace is a bit like climbing the North face of the Eiger – more of an effort than I think it worthwhile making right now. And James Delingpole thinks the same. His article on the late John Updike is caustic, if not disrespectful.

A nice expression

Via Will Wilkinson’s blog, a term I think is ideal for the crazed Keynesian policies now being applied: disaster dirigisme.

Samizdata quote of the day

“There is as much or more reason to be afraid of bigotry, narrow-mindedness and capricious censure in a village than in a large and complex society. It is worth noting that those who complained of a present or impending “age of cant” never thought that their minds would become less independent – it was always directed at opponents and, principally, down the social scale.”

- Ben Wilson, Decency & Disorder, 1789-1837, page 444. One of the most arresting and entertaining works of social and cultural history I have read for some time. This quote is particularly relevant in our own time when one occasionally hears people bemoaning the loss of “small, tight-knit communities” and the supposed soullessness of urban life. In fact the ability to choose one’s networks of friends rather than get lumbered with whatever is on offer in a small community is one of the unacknowedged joys of modern life.

More gibberish from Dave Cameron

Dave Cameron, the head of the non-conservative Tory Party, has addressed the great and ‘good’ at Davos, and as usual he says things that actually mean the opposite of the words looked at in isolation:

He will say: “We must stand up for business because it’s businesses, not governments or politicians, that create jobs, wealth and opportunity, it’s businesses that drive innovation, and choice, and help families achieve a higher standard of living for a lower cost. But we must also stand up to business when the things that people value are at risk. So it’s time to place the market within a moral framework – even if that means standing up to companies who make life harder for parents and families.

Translation: moral framework in fact means political control… whoever best has the ability to manipulate the political system can simply distort the market so suit their narrow needs. So when Dave Cameron says ‘moral capitalism’, he actually means ‘regulatory statism’ and ‘political manipulation’… in other words he does not actually want to change a damn thing.

And political manipulation is exactly how we ended up where we are now with banks and car companies being handed vast quantities of other people’s money: Neither moral nor capitalism, which sums up Dave Cameron’s ‘philosophy’ perfectly.

Several valuable lessons learned

Vladimir Putin slapped down Michael Dell at the World Economic Forum in Davos and hopefully some wisdom will come from this.

Then it was time for questions. First up: Dell. He praised Russia’s technical and scientific prowess, and then asked: “How can we help” you to expand IT in Russia.

Big mistake. Russia has been allergic to offers of aid from the West ever since hundreds of overpaid consultants arrived in Moscow after the collapse of Communism, in 1991, and proceeded to hand out an array of advice that proved, at times, useless or dangerous.

Putin’s withering reply to Dell: “We don’t need help. We are not invalids. We don’t have limited mental capacity.”

Which demonstrates several things:

1. when a multinational company in effect offers to invest more in Russia (i.e “here are some assets, please confiscate them at your leisure like you did with those idiot western oil companies”), the kleptocrat-in-chief would rather pretend that his country is “not an invalid” in spite of copious evidence that Russia is an economic basket case. So yes, Vladimir Putin does indeed appear to have limited mental capacity even in his role as kleptocrat.

2. investors in Dell need to make sure that Michael Dell never ever has any say whatsoever is which places Dell invests the company’s money. Russia? Michael, are you out of your fucking mind?

A friend of mine suggested the theory that Putin was angry that Dell purchased Alienware. smiley_grinning_green.gif

Unmasking the crisis of regulatory statism

Mike Oliver has spent a great deal of time on the coalface of capitalism and has some interesting things to say about the current economic crisis.

In years gone by I was a radical libertarian/objectivist fomenter in the U.S. In fact in the mid-1970′s when the late Chris Tame of the Libertarian Alliance spent a month or few crossing this once great land, he spent a few nights under my roof. He was a great guy and I miss him.

In any case in the years since my crusading lapsed (I used to be editor of The New Banner, perhaps the first widely read national objectivist/anarcho-capitalist periodical in the U.S.) I since went to ground. I became a futures market specialist and then a market analyst (for hire to major asset management entities such as multi-billion dollar mutual funds). I did my work and looked at the world from a market perspective.

In the summer of 2007 as a small hedge fund manager/analyst-for-hire I realized that the interventions of the U.S Fed under Bernanke were engineered to hold up/support the S&P500. I realized that if that persisted that the downside move that I had expected in the market ‘correction’ would turn into something other than a mere correction… as indeed it did.

The lovers of statism (and of we the people) decided to pull out all the plugs and defend the market at each and every low – to try to fake reality. Instead they super-charged the downside. What would have been a normal correction in the market ballooned into a disaster. Why?

Benanke allowed in summer of 2007 for an asset class never previously allowed to be used as collateral in fed borrowings by financial institutions, and even expanded what institutions could come to the Fed. In effect the Fed was “pricing” this debt (sub prime mortgages, etc.) at a level such that it would not have to hit the market and be priced openly and fairly.. The Fed was apparently afraid of the real consequences of seeing it priced openly. So they in effect took it off the market and froze it at the Fed window as “acceptable collateral” but as an unpriced asset. Hence from that point forward these sorts of assets on bank books were not “priced” in an open and market manner. Hence those who wanted to invest in the bank were uncertain as to the value of these assets. Hence uncertainty arose as to any and all bank valuations.

Uncertainty breeds doubt and fear and finally the collapse we saw in October and November. The lack of clarity of valuation – created by the Fed’s motherly and smothering love of “the people” in effect created the doubt and uncertainty that cascaded into the spiral we later saw in October of 2008. Oh sure, the chain of statist actions that helped to build and blow-up these malevolent factors date from before Bernanke, but he was pivotal at his unique moment in time.

Well, for the record my small hedge fund was up nearly 10% in 2008 while the lovers of “trend following” and statism sank some 30-40%. Good riddance.

Then came the onslaught of statist bandages and programs etc. And therefore here comes the final wave of statism – fully open to “caring” for us all in the wake of the failure of “capitalism.” And all the while many in the press and public accept the notion that the “market” failed and government has and will be our saviour. But reality ultimately will betray the fakery. There are already too many in the financial markets and in the financial press who realize the sequence of events, and who will not be fooled. The Charade has reached its zenith. The seemingly perpetual ascendancy of the State is in fact a paper tiger. Yes, the State will appear to rise as The Saviour, but its salvation and credibility will not weather the storm that it has itself created.

Paying homage to Bacchus

More support comes from the medical profession that regular, moderate intakes of red wine is good for health. (Via this blog).

This makes me happy.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The folly and immorality of the “stimulus” plan passed today can be attacked on many fronts. For one thing there’s the awe-inspiring irony of a Democrat-dominated Congress and a Democrat president spending taking nearly a trillion dollars from the hardworking middle class people of this country and giving it to corporations and businesses—and precisely as a result of the apparent improprieties in which those same businesses were engaged! Honest liberals who resent corporate welfare must really have a headache at this point.”

- Timothy Sandefur.

Chilly times in Iceland

A good friend of mine, the Norwegian journalist Kristine Lowe, reflects on a recent trip to Iceland, which has seen its government collapse amid the credit crunch. Iceland has, of course, benefited from sensible low-tax policies as well as being buoyed by what now appears to be some foolish banking lending policies.

I am not sure I would want to live there, mind. The long nights and expensive beer would drive me nuts.

Wired article on seasteading and Patri Friedman

This topic will be familiar to a few readers, as will one of its main protagonists, Patri Friedman. But via the excellent Alex Massie blog at the Spectator, is this interesting fresh take on the issue, in a Wired article about the topic of seasteading and politics.

It is easy to scoff at such things – as scoffers no doubt laugh at other attempts by people to get away from governments they dislike. But it always struck me as valuable to get the meme out there that existing national borders are not sacrosanct, and that they can and should be challenged. The earth is a big place. Why should its current divisions be regarded as sacrosanct? The way things are going, it pays to think of options, such as these guys.

The continued evolution of the electric car

Via the Register, are some of the latest iterations of the electric car. This promises to be one of the fastest yet. I think it is vital that if these vehicles are going to catch on with a mass audience, they have not just to be practical, but fun to drive, to be, for want of a better word, cool. The trouble with the Toyota Prius and similar vehicles is that they are driven by the sort of folk that, as PJ O’Rourke once put it, are in favour of government regulation of bed-time and other outrages. To reach the “Jeremy Clarkson” demographic, one needs something rather more likely to appeal to the guy who eyes up advertisements for Alfa Romeo or Porsche, even if they cannot yet quite afford one.

“We’re just urinating on the ashes of the fire”

The French love English so much that they have established a prize to celebrate the encroachment of a global language, tying humanity together and promoting virtues of their revolution: liberty, fraternity and equality. Some have won this prize for demonstrating solidarity with their fellow European citizens and sacrificing the chance to speak in their most honourable and ancient tongue in order to facilitate communication:

But topping the poll for grave disservices to the mother tongue is France’s higher education minister, Valerie Pecresse.

Her crime: proclaiming to the press that she had no intention of speaking French when attending European meetings in Brussels, because, she said, it was quite obvious that English was now the easiest mode of communication.

The name of the prize is the Prix de la Carpette Anglaise, a mouthful that appears to indicate talking English is equivalent to lying back and receiving the droit de seigneur. If you are rewarded with this honour, it means that you have displayed fawning servility towards the Anglosphere. So if you politely speak English in a meeting when everyone else does, this is enslavement by an imperialistic tongue, rather than politely accepting the majority language of your colleagues.

However, as the rest of the article continues, English is a second language and stripped down to the bare essentials for aiding communication: a development that is called Globish. A rather clumsy term as I would not wish to call the speakers of this stripped down argot, Globs. There then arises the doubtful anecdote that the native speaker cannot follow anyone else, since he is used to nuances, humour, wordplay and so on. And a chap wrote a whol ebook about this, setting out grammar and rules such as avoid jokes, metaphor and anything else that may serve to confuse (or add life to the proceedings).

In a meeting with colleagues from around the world, including an Englishman, a Korean and a Brazilian, he noticed that he and the other non-native English speakers were communicating in a form of English that was completely comprehensible to them, but which left the Englishman nonplussed.

He, Jean-Paul Nerriere, could talk to the Korean and the Brazilian in this neo-language, and they could understand each other perfectly.

But the Englishman was left out because his language was too subtle, too full of meaning that could not be grasped by the others….

Globish has only 1,500 words and users must avoid humour, metaphor, abbreviation and anything else that can cause cross-cultural confusion.

They must speak slowly and in short sentences. Funnily enough, he holds up the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as an excellent exponent.

If this story is true, which I doubt, then all of the group were sitting with Tim nice but dim. But when sees the object of the book: set rules, curb growth, plant boundaries, one begins to wonder. Is this just another dastardly French plot to curb the spread of English by attempting to create a simple, unfunny version? Rather similar to the new brain that the mice would have given to Arthur Dent with useful phrases and the ability to enjoy a nice cup of tea. .