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]

How do you compensate victims of a monster fraud?

There is a bit of a debate going on over at The Corner, the National Review’s group blog, on whether the 150-year sentence meted out to Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernard Madoff is excessive. Well, given that the man is 71 years old, it is academic anyway since he will die in the slammer. But clearly, the length of the punishment is symbolic, though the judge could be accused of grandstanding – it might have been easier simply to sentence Mr Madoff to life imprisonment and have done with it.

From a philosophical point of view, I am not sure whether such a sentence has much of an effect in deterring future fraudsters; the trouble with the notion of restituting victims of crimes, however, is that what on earth can a convict like Madoff do to pay back his victims tens of billions of dollars? If he did some kind of work until he dropped dead, it would be unlikely that he could generate a fraction of the wealth that has been taken from people. In some cases, folks lost their entire life savings. Now the snarkier folk out there might say, well, his victims were all incredibly rich so they will not suffer, but that is nonsense. Theft is theft; if you have honestly built a fortune and some shyster takes the lot, that’s a crime, period.

But there is a problem with the idea of compensating victims when the size of a fraud is this huge. I’d be interested in what commenters think might be some practical solutions.

An important UK think tank top job is up for grabs

Some speculation is already generating about who might get the top job at the Institute of Economic Affairs, the think tank in the UK that is, in some ways, the grand-daddy of free market think tanks in the UK. John Blundell is going, having been in the post for some time. Guido has some rather barbed comments about Blundell. Guido mentions an old journalist friend of mine, Allister Heath, as a candidate. Allister would be great – but he is anyway going great guns at the financial paper, City AM, and may also have his eye on other journalistic positions in the future. But he would be a very strong choice for the role, although selfishly, I’d prefer it if those few of us who are libertarian journalists stayed in the profession.

In some ways – these things are not easy to measure – I get the impression that more focused groups such as the Taxpayers’ Alliance have been making far more of the running in recent years than the IEA, while the Adam Smith Institute has been doing a lot of outreach work with universities and colleges, which is vital. But the IEA has a tremendous pedigree and it ought to be a coveted position to go for. The only reservation is whether it can command enough of a budget to get in someone at the right level.

A film-maker gets taken down a peg or two

I rather like the recently-launched magazine of UK current affairs, Standpoint. This item on Ken Loach, the film-maker, is particularly good.

I wish the magazine success and it should give publications such as The Spectator, Prospect and The New Statesman a run for their money.

Brown and lying

“Brown’s claim that he’d increase public service spending year after year is not an exaggeration, it is a lie. I cannot think of any modern Prime Minister who has based his strategy on a demonstrable lie – but Brown thinks no one can add up enough to expose him. After all, he got away with it as Chancellor. Why not now? As I have said before I believe the internet will hound him. We have infinite space to print the tables, the data, the proof. The table above spells it out, and we will keep reprinting it every time Brown repeats his lie. He is going for broke – in every way.”

Fraser Nelson, continuing his relentless and admirable campaign to track the sheer, barefaced dishonesty of Gordon Brown.

Of course, politicians have always, with varying degrees, told lies or only partial truths, and Brown is hardly an original in this regard. Arguably the greatest lie, or set of lies, told to the UK electorate were told in the period leading up to the UK’s entry into the-then EEC, later European Union: namely, that our entry into the Community was in no way a loss of national sovereignty. In fact I am sure that I recall reading – sorry, cannot find the source – such pro-EEC journalists as Hugo Young saying that it was admirable and necessary for the likes of the late Edward Heath (curses be upon him) to bullshit the public.

Even so, Brown’s denial of his own budget arithmetic, when it can be so easily checked, is a jaw-dropper. But what is encouraging is that parts of the media, even the fairly lefty bits, are not buying the line that there will be no cuts in spending over the next few years.

Of course, if Brown is refusing to make spending cuts, then I guess that fits with the whole “scortched earth” idea that he has: he knows Labour will lose the next election, probably quite badly, but out of a mixture of low cunning and sheer evil, he wants to bequeath a terrible inheritance upon the next government.

Yes, I said evil. Mr Brown is an evil man. In fact his invocation of his puritanical Scottish religion is part proof of that.

Samizdata quote of the day

I feel sure that early man would not have embarked on the road to civilisation if he had thought that, one day, humankind would arrive at a point where one man has the right to determine how much beer another man may take into a field in the middle of the night.

- Jeremy Clarkson, on the over-policing of midsummer at Stonehenge.

It is my right to whine for your money

Is there no U-turn that this shameless government will not indulge, helped by their handmaiden, the Daily Telegraph? At least, Brogan fences the slurry in, although it oozes and drips through the cracks in the fence. Now, casting my mind back, I seem to recall that targets, micro-management and huge public expenditure without gain are all hallmarks of one G. Brown Esq. So how can this ‘target culture’ be derided as Blairite?

In an interview, Mr Byrne said: “We need a power shift from Whitehall ministers and civil servants that currently have the power and move it to citizens.

“We know the argument for public services has got to change so we have been developing a strategy that takes public services away from a target culture to giving people rights and entitlement to core public services.”

What will this shift entail? Liam Byrne describes this latest stage of reform, and when did we never have a period of reform, as giving individuals a set of rights and, if they are not met, you get to complain.

Well, as a member of the public, I would like to demonstrate near Parliament, wear a “Bollix to Brown” T shirt and ensure that nephews could read. And I can complain to the people who buggered up in the first place. And what do people want when they complain? They want redress. If they can’t get the rights, they get the compensation.

A new way of using your money to puff up Brown’s largesse and promote dishonesty. Incentives to lie and cheat by crying that rights are infringed, to be bought off by gold, all helped out by that nice Mr Brown, who understands my needs. This is one last ditch effort to bribe the electorate at the expense of widening compensation culture and increasing something for nothing expectations.

Good thing the money has run out.

Samizdata quote joke of the day

Did you hear that Michael Jackson has gone to meet his other maker?

- Adriana Lukas, delivered deadpan during luncheon.

Michael Jackson leaves the building

A nice piece by Jesse Walker at Reason about the late Michael Jackson. I think Off the Wall was one of the first pop albums I remember listening to, and of course Thriller, with that unbelievable video, was the one that helped propel MTV as a vehicle for music. Those two records remind us not only of what a great performer Jackson was in his heyday, but also of the musical genius of Quincy Jones. Yeah baby!

I also sympathise with Jonah Goldberg, who is a bit caustic about the whole spectacle of mourning. The weirdness and the allegations of criminality that swirled around Jackson in his life are well chronicled, and should not be brushed under the carpet. And remember that people, who are unknown to all but their family, work colleagues and friends, die of heart attacks every day. The truth is, that unless we take a bet on cryonics and join the Singularity, that the Grim Reaper gets us all eventually.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Orwell was right. It was Wells who made it respectable, even before World War I, for liberals in England and America to demean their own native democratic culture in the name of an imagined antidemocratic World State. And it was Wells, with his stature as the prophet of the future, who taught upper-middle-class liberals that they were entitled to govern in the name of social evolution.”

Fred Siegel, writing on HG Wells. It is fair to say that the Fabian movement of which this man was such a key part deserves to go down in infamy, given the damage it has done in so many ways.

Booze and burqas on the public streets – defend both

In France a group of MPs has said that France ought to investigate the possibility of banning the burqa.

In Britain, ‘More than 700 “controlled drinking zones” have been set up across England, giving police sweeping powers to confiscate beer and wine from anyone enjoying a quiet outdoor tipple.’

If you want to keep your freedom to drink what you please on the public street then fight for the freedom to wear what you please on the public street.

But what about public drunkeness, then, and the fear and misery of those whose nights are blighted by drunks fighting at their windows and pissing in their gardens? And what about the cloth-entombed women, projecting an image of both slavery and Islamic aggression, who may or may not have chosen to wear the black bag?

My answer is substantially the same to both social problems: as a society we have chosen to deny ourselves the very tools of private social action (no, that is not a contradiction in terms) that could make things better.

For decades we have denied ourselves disapproval. For decades we have denied ourselves property rights. For decades we have denied ourselves the right to free association, which necessarily includes the right not to associate.

These tools are the ones we have the right to use. They are also the right tools for the job. They, unlike the tools of coercion, will not turn in our hands and cut us.

Bad form to quote oneself, I know. However it saves writing time, so tough. Last time I wrote about this sort of thing I said:

In general, I would say that strong private institutions are a bulwark against the type of creeping Islamification – or capture by other minority groups – that concern many of the commenters to this thread … Contrast that with the position of state institutions, which includes state laws. These are a much more realistic target for capture by determined minorities. If, say 3% of the population feel really strongly about some issue and 97% are apathetic it is actually quite a realistic proposition for the 3% to get laws passed to steer things their way. Much easier than out-purchasing the other 97%, certainly.

And

However that brings me back to the main point of the article: the best (perhaps only?) long term defence against unfair treatment by “the authorities” is to keep the authorities out of our daily lives.

Samizdata quote of the day

If [UK Government] spending since 1997 had risen no faster than inflation, we would be spending a third less than we do now, and could abolish income tax, VAT, and council tax entirely.

- Eamonn Butler, writing in the Daily Telegraph on what I am relieved to discover the Adam Smith Institute has renamed Cost of Government Day.

A book review and thoughts on bankruptcy

I do not intend to buy the book, but Sean Gabb’s review of Kevin Carson’s recent work is well worth reading. Carson is a sort of radical anarchist-libertarian who has interesting things to say. He is worth paying attention to; and Sean gives what looks like a very fair appraisal. And reading Sean’s review got me thinking about one supposedly arcane issue: bankruptcy law.

I thought about this because Mr Gabb, whom I would consider to be a libertarian in the Rothbardian tradition – with a Burkean twist – and Mr Carson are opponents of limited liability laws. I am not so opposed, but I can certainly concede the force of the point, and I think a similar point applies to the bankruptcy codes of some western countries. I have come across several instances recently of the “pre-pack”, in which a business goes into liquidation, the firm’s assets are sold off to supposedly the highest bidder, and the firm is re-started, Phoenix-like, under the same management, often in exactly the same business and line of work. I know of at least one business rival of my firm who has done just that and has, as a result, been more or less given, for free, hundreds of thousands of pounds in credit, while his creditors get the shaft. In a pure free market order, a rather more drastic outcome might be felt by this debtor, not least, the blackening of his or her business reputation. Indeed, if I recall from history, debtors used to go to jail.

Now, there may be good reasons for bankruptcy protection laws: they ensure that the chances of creditors getting their money back are enhanced by continuing a business as a “going concern”. But a balance needs to be struck, since if the law is too lax, it surely means that many borrowers get away scot-free with heavy debts and as a result, the average cost of credit goes up for the rest of us, good and bad risks alike. The law of unintended consequences strikes again.

Anyway, I am sure Carson’s book, which covers a wide field, will get plenty of attention.