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]

What could President Barack Obama do that ‘The Economist’ would consider “irresponsible”?

In an article in its present edition “In Knots Over Nationalization” (page 14) the Economist magazine writes the following about the many trillions of Dollars that President Barack Obama has pledged to spend over and above the wild spending of the hopeless incompetant President George Walker Bush.

…an honest attempt to put the recent stimulus in the context of a plausibly responsible medium term fiscal path

Of course the antics of President Obama are not “responsible” at all. If this increase in government spending, not just over this year but over the following years, is “responsible” what would the Economist consider “irresponsible”?

Of course there are other articles in the Economist in which the details of President Obama’s tax and spend policies come in for criticism – but the position of general support for his Administration, in line with the endorsement of then candidate Obama last year, would seem to be incomprehensbile for a publication that claims to be a supporter of free market “capitalism”.

However, the position of the Economist is not incomprehensible at all – but to understand their articles one must understand some other things first…

If I thought that it was a good idea for more money to be lent out than existed in real savings, i.e. all the complex things that are very loosely called “fractional reserve banking”, how would I defend the practice?

Actually I do not it is a good idea, I think that all borrowing should be one hundred per cent from income that people have chosen not to consume (real savings), but let us say I did. I would defend the expansion of credit in something like the following way… → Continue reading: What could President Barack Obama do that ‘The Economist’ would consider “irresponsible”?

Attention Deficit Disorder

The inability of the media or the political class to discuss and analyse our wonderful house of debt

Kindly remove the packaging

This is great.

Lessons from the Golden State

Fraser Nelson at the Spectator has an interesting column at the moment about how Britain’s Tories have been influenced by the culture of California, specifically, the northern part of that great state. I think his analysis is fine but I would add some caution, given that the state is, or is about to go, bankrupt. Here is what I wrote in a comment over at the Coffee House blog:

For a while, the political culture of California, both the northern, Silicon Valley/Napa/San Francisco and the southern, Hollywood bit, had been libertarian: or to put it in US politicsspeak: conservative on economics, liberal on social issues.

More recently, as the near-bankruptcy of the state shows, the culture of the state has become socialist. Spending is out of control; the Green movement has stymied developments such as new electrric power plants. Many of its best entrepreneurs are fleeing to nearby Nevada, or further afield. California has an economy the size of France and is exhibiting France-like dirigisme.

I would urge the Tories to draw the right conclusions from this state, not to get too dazzled by the admittedly superb economic success of Google and the tecchies.

One of the things that I liked about northern California when I used to visit a good friend of mine in Steve Jobs’ back yard of Cupertino was that you might be sitting in a bar, drinking a coffee next to some pony-tailed dude in a Grateful Dead T-Shirt, and that the latter would be tapping away on his laptop about his latest round of venture capital funding before heading off down the gun range to fire in his new Glock.

A good historian of California is Kevin Starr. Check this out.

Another extreme meme that needs to get out there – default!

How to stop this bail-out madness? I think I have an idea that might help.

One of the most valuable things that the internet can do is state ideas of the sort that you definitely do want said, but which it would probably not be wise for heads of state or front bench politicians to be saying for definite, for fear of it all getting out of hand.

One of the most important memes that the internet has circulated during the last decade has been the extermination option, when it comes to Islam. Extermination of all muslims. Not now, you understand. Just if there continue to be serious muslim-perpetrated terrorist incidents (and especially if there are some much more serious muslim-perpetrated terrorist incidents), and if muslims continue to equivocate about whether they support them, and seriously try to conquer the world with a kind of good-muslim-bad-muslim routine. Which in a lesser way is what they are doing anyway, just not on a scale and with a degree of nastiness that elbows all other problems to one side. But, if you guys crank up the nastiness the way you say you want to and that we deserve, said certain voices on the internet, including certain voices commenting here on postings soon after 9/11 (including my voice), and you’ll get the exact war of Us against You that you are spoiling for, and guess what, we’ll fucking wipe you off the face of the earth. See: Dresden. Don’t make us angry. You really wouldn’t like that.

This is not the kind of thing you want Presidents and Prime Ministers to be saying, until such time as things like that actually have to be done. But I sincerely believe that having some people saying things like this, as and when the need arises (therefore including me), is a force for peace and harmony in the world. Seriously. I think the fact that the internet said this stuff to muslims – did a good-infidel-bad-infidel act right back at them – meant that since 9/11 most of the terrorist crap has been strictly amateur. The heavy hitting muslims have confined themselves to propaganda. Good. We can win that one. Certainly we can argue and low-level-fight them to a stand-still. Not everyone on our side believes that, I know, but I do.

One of the biggest reasons why major conflicts (and major catastrophes generally) happen is because the participants don’t realise, until it is too late, what they are letting themselves in for.

This was one of the major causes of World War 1. They just didn’t realise what horrors they would soon find themselves doing to one another, or (in that case) for how long the horrors would last. Maybe if they’d had the internet in those days, the few people who did realise might have been heard, and that might have caused the contestants to hold back.

These apocalyptic recollections have been prompted by the realisation that there is now another extreme meme which the internet now needs to circulate. I refer to the government default option.

It needs to be said that under certain circumstances easily now imaginable, many Western citizens would argue, strongly and vocally, that those idiot foreigners who are now lending money to Western governments should in due course be told: sorry sunshine, you ain’t ever going to get it back. Our governments are bankrupt. Why the hell should we and our descendants in perpetuity be paying tribute to you? You knew that the money to pay you back would have to be stolen from us. You assumed we’d just cough up indefinitely. Well, we damn well won’t. You are now a definite part of our problem, and telling you to take a hike is going to be part of our solution. Our thieving class is now “borrowing” money from your thieving class like there is no tomorrow, and we are not responsible for the actions of either gang. A plague on both your houses.

We want you foreign thieves to stop lending to our thieves, now. And the best way for us to convince you that you should indeed stop lending, is to tell you that you are extremely liable never to see most of your money back.

Which has the added virtue of probably, approximately, being true, already.

The usual way such threats are phrased is to talk only, and very vaguely, about how “nobody wants” and “nobody is recommending” the extreme scenario in question. It’s all just too too frightful to think about with any clarity or seriousness. Well, I think that the internet should now aggregate all the voices of those who, like me, think that under certain thoroughly imaginable circumstances the default option would not only be highly likely to go into effect, but also highly desirable. We would support default, argue for default, now.

Just circulating this meme in an angry whisper (i.e. in postings in and comments on blogs) will raise the interest rate, a bit, for our thieves, as they frantically mortgage the future tax revenues that they still think they are going to get from us. And that’s good, because it will bring the current craziness to an end that little bit sooner.

Samizdata quote of the day

“It is noteworthy that in all the glaring headlines and TV news media’s Pecksniffian commentary about Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion scam and now R. Allen Stanford’s multi-billion dollar gold brick, not one word has been heard about the federal government’s own ongoing confidence scheme. The recent “bailouts” of banks, mortgage companies and automakers, together with the $787 billion “stimulus” legislation and the $75 billion home mortgage “rescue” plan signed by President Barack Obama last week, share the same attributes and methodology as Madoff’s and Stanford’s, and differ from them only in scale. Compared to Congress, the U.S. Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the myriad perpetuated entitlements such as Medicare, Social Security, the Federal Employees Retirement System, confidence men Madoff and Stanford are mere small-time grifters.”

- Edward Cline.

He’s right. Ponzi schemes and much public sector pension/benefits systems are more or less identical. I guess the caveat is that with Mr Madoff and others, they were allegedly claiming, falsely, to be running funded schemes with actual investments in real assets. But the broad point is valid.

Signs of the times

I guess this is an issue that will not register much outside of this little damp island of the UK, but there has been a small media flurry of interest over the amazing quiz-answering skills of a young woman, Gail Trimble, on the BBC show University Challenge. She has had the outrageous nerve of being very good at answering the questions, and worse, she smiles a bit on camera when she gets the answer correct – which is most of the time. For this, she has been variously attacked for being “smug” etc. It makes me wonder why those who are offended by signs of intelligence bother to watch the programme in the first place. Surely fare such as Celebrity Big Brother might be more their style. They are welcome to it.

As humans, we surely have evolved as creatures to feel pride and happiness in accomplishment. The first human probably grinned when he figured out how to shape the perfect flint arrowhead. Pride, and showing happiness at cracking a problem, overcoming an obstacle or winning a prize is not just right, it is natural to any person of healthy self respect. Pride is the reward one gets for achieving something of value. Smugness or arrogance are unfair charges to make in this sense. Of course, there is a lot more to life than being able to store lots of facts and figures in one’s head and answer correctly to a bumptious quizmaster such as Jeremy Paxman, but I find the attacks on this pleasant young lady to suggest a lack of comfort with intellectual accomplishment that is rampant in parts of our culture. In fact, those who wished that the lady could look stony-faced or even miserable are showing a level of aggression, even hatred, for accomplishment. And that I think speaks to a neurotic condition that the abusers of this woman might like to reflect on.

And then again, I will openly confess to having a weakness for brunettes with brains and a cultivated voice. I see the young lady has a few male admirers on the web. Good for her.

T-shirt politics of the most tasteful order

Inspired by a rather popular children’s book and the truth, my colleague Minxuan came to work today sporting a t-shirt which I can only grant my heartiest approval:

Party politics on a t-shirt

Aside: It is great to work in an office where one can appear in excrement-themed clothing without any fuss. (You can get the t-shirt from Threadless.)

Samizdata quote of the day

There are no jack boots here, that’s too obvious, perhaps at some later point more overt force if there is too much “selfish” foot dragging by you or me, though the powers and aggression of the government’s already-existing “force” is sufficiently threatening to anyone who might resist. Make no mistake about that. The speech (2/24) by Obama was a seemingly soft yet determined Declaration of War against free exchange, against the natural and beneficial chaos of the myriad of human transactions (spiritual and economic – which cannot be rationally or logically separated by the way!). He is simply doing that which popular mainstream philosophy and pop culture point to and in effect “authorize.”

- ‘Mister Integrity

Opposing state science funding does not mean you are thick

It is tempting to imagine that a cause is so important to Mankind, so essential, that only a total idiot could object to coercing one’s fellows into paying for said cause. And when it comes to science funding, even the most seemingly rational people fall prey to the notion that only wicked, selfish people, or religious nutters, could object to this funding. Take a recent article by Steven Mirsky, who writes for Scientific American:

“You’re not supposed to kick a guy when he’s down. Of course, in reality, when he’s down is the perfect time to kick him. He’s closer to your feet, for one thing. But the particular kicking I have in mind should be thought of as tough love. These kicks at the freshly defeated McCain-Palin ticket, as I write in early November, are an attempt to knock some sense back into the group of my fellow Americans who seem determined to ignore or even denigrate valuable scientific research because it’s something outside the realm of Joe the Plumber’s daily activities.”

Ah yes, Joe the Plumber, the man who achieved prominence by asking The Community Organiser about the latter’s plans to seize wealth from productive folk and “spread it around”. What Mr Mirsky goes on to do is mock the comments of the McCain/Palin team who had mocked examples of high tax funding of various projects they think were silly or wasteful. Mr Mirsky gets very shirty about this, regarding the projects as obviously beneficial, and only an old fart like McCain and his crazy VP running mate could disagree.

The rest of the article lays out examples of how certain projects that Mr Mirsky thinks are useful were mocked by the GOP, and by extension, other know-nothings more concerned about protecting their wallets. But Mr Mirsky misses a rather large point. Which is that even if a science project is valuable, the question of value is meaningless unless one asks: of value to whom and in the eyes of whom? What Mr Mirsky want to do is to sustitute his judgement of what is right to spend money on for that of others spending their own money. No doubt he fears that without tax funding, financial support for science will dry up – a very dubious assumption, to put it mildly.

Timothy Sandefur – who is on a roll at the moment – has a collection of essays taking on the argument that science funding has to be, or should be, done at the expense of taxpayers. I urge regulars here who are interested to read all of Tim’s pieces. They are the most comprehensive demolition job on such arguments that I have read for some time.

The trouble with people who do not think much in terms of principles, but who just take a sort of techno-managerialist view of public affairs, is that they cannot see why the great unwashed should object to paying for biotech research, or space flight, etc. And as I mentioned the other day, with the world of the arts, it is the same. It is just assumed by some folk that because a painting by Titian or Andy Warhol is marvellous, that the taxpayer should consider his duty to pay for it. The danger in such cases is when the expenditures are relatively small compared to the total size of public spending: the temptation is to shrug one’s shoulders and wonder why making a fuss is necessary. Well, if we cannot take an axe to the supposedly more “benign” aspects of public spending, it will never be possible to make the broader philosophical case for reducing the state significantly.

As a side observation, the sneering, more-in-sorrow-than-anger tone of Mr Mirsky puts me in mind of Thomas Sowell’s recent superb attack on that sort of mindset, in his book, The Vision of The Anointed.

The path to power

Here is a website that is obviously produced by people very, very angry about what they see as the one-sided coverage of Mr Obama in his recent victorious campaign. You do not have to buy into conspiracy theories to be alarmed at the fawning press coverage that Mr Obama received during the campaign. As for the treatment of the McCain/Palin ticket, while I am certainly no great fan of either, the hysteria over Mrs Palin’s personal life or supposed wing-nuttery over religion seemed totally out of proportion.

In the end, we get the media we do because the underlying philosophical assumptions of the public at large are reflected by it and at the same time, those assumptions are held by the media outlets themselves. It pains me to say it but in many respects, the US is now closer to the social-democratic, corporatist model of Europe than many in the US will want to admit. There will, I hope, be a backlash, but whether that backlash is a particularly libertarian one is not something I am very confident about at this point.

Thanks to fellow contributor Paul Marks to alerting me to this website.

Gibberish

Yesterday Chris Grayling unveiled a new Tory slogan, which must be the worst offered by a British political party for a while, despite the impressive competition provided by “Forwards, not backwards,” “British jobs for British workers,” and “The real alternative.” It is:

Fewer rights, more wrongs.

OK, so I am a bit of a weirdo, and I do not always take the same view of what is right and what is wrong that most people do, but when I say something is wrong I do not want more of it. I am fairly sure the general public is against wrongs, and expects politicians – however implausibly – to advocate reducing them.