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]

Up in the trees

In my browsing through the Web I enjoy the site of David Thompson. After getting a pointer from Brian Micklethwait on his own site, I started to check in on Mr Thompson’s site pretty regularly. On Fridays, he manages to get his hands on all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff, often with fabulous photographs.

Well, if you have thought of living in a tree house (as I did as a young boy on my parents’ farm in Suffolk), then check out this.

Samizdata quote of the day

“When one studies the history of money one cannot help wondering why people should have put up for so long with governments exercising an exclusive power over 2,000 years that was regularly used to exploit and defraud them.”

F.A. Hayek, Denationalisation of Money: The Argument Refined. Page 33. Published by the Institute of Economic Affairs and Ludwig Von Mises Institute. The book is quite challenging and complex in some of its arguments, but I find the broad thrust of it – that competition is good for currencies as it is for other aspects of economic life, to be unanswerable.

There is no such thing as intrinsic value

Tim Worstall takes a look at what sort of thoughts rattle around inside the head of the man likely to be Britain’s next finance minster, George Osborne. He does not like what he sees, and in the process, makes this vital point:

“What in buggery are “intrinsic values”? If we’re all the way back to Thomas Aquinas and “true value” then we’re about to march off a very steep cliff. For there isn’t and aren’t any such things. The value of something depends upon the value of everything else: we cannot say that 1 kg of gold is worth $12,000, or x tonnes of wheat, or y tonnes of fresh water or z numbers of smiling babies, without having some idea of the relative values of fresh water and smiling babies. Which in turn depend upon the state of knowledge (medical knowledge tells us what our forefathers did not know, that unfresh water leads to definitely not smiling and in fact dead babies) and the state of technology (how much effort do we have to put into freshening water to get smiling babies?) and indeed where we are at any one time (less effort if we’re by a clear mountain stream, more if we’re on a boat out in the ocean). Values are thus relative, always, all the time, not intrinsic.”

Or as PJ O’Rourke once put it when taking Marxist economics (surely a contradiction in terms, Ed) apart, the problem with the left, in general, is that they cannot accept that the value of anything in a market is ultimately no more or less than what a person wants to pay for it. That makes such leftists angry. Well, that’s life.

Samizdata quote of the day

The Channel Four report on the issue can be seen here on their internet TV viewer (which ought to be called the FourPlayer, but is regrettably known as Channel4OD). Their report is clearly from a green perspective, but does at least cheer us all up with a snippet from the Hide the Decline video.

Choice quote from Bob Ward “if you are less than transparent then people think you might be hiding something”. To which one is tempted to respond that if you say you are hiding something, people might also conclude that you are hiding something. Like a decline for example.

- Bishop Hill stays right on top of the ongoing Climategate story. If you have not already done so, order your copy now of the Bishop’s recently published book, The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science.

Before Christmas, the Bishop (aka Andrew Montford) talked with me over the phone. Be warned that there are some seriously annoying clicks right at the start of this, but after a couple of minutes they go away and the remaining half an hour or so is okay. That caveat aside, listen to that here.

Andrew Neil on the global warming issue

Andrew Neil, former Sunday Times editor, now TV pundit and all-round-media mogul and stirrer, has a fine column here about the latest developments surrounding the scientific credibility, or lack thereof, of the IPCC.

I notice that the Times (of London)’s front page splash is on the unfolding scandal of what sort of data has been concealed as inconvenient to the AGW alarmists. As some of us have noted in recent weeks, the MSM has been a very slow – to put it politely – to pick up on this issue. But not now. The other night, the issue even figured on the evening news on the BBC’s flagship news channel.

Of course, it is unclear how far the effect of these stories will go. The other day, chatting to an investment manager who was talking about a climate change fund he was promoting, I casually mentioned the University of East Anglia scandal, and he gave me a funny look. The problem is that a lot of money is now tied up with this AGW stuff, not to mention a lot of political credibility.

All of which proves a point that the new media forms are now breaking stories that could and should have been broken in the days of yore. The internet is having an effect. I’d even go so far as to say that one of the reasons why Barack Obama cannot count on fawning coverage any more is because, while the MSM was in adoration mode, the internet and related channels ensured that the less flattering aspects of his administration got attention. And sooner or later, people noticed.

What the state should and should not do

I see that today’s Samizdata quote of the day spot for today has already been taken. By me, but taken. Had it not been, I might instead have offered this:

The main argument now, increasingly, is between those who view the state as an enabler and those who view it as, at best, a sometimes necessary irritant. To employ a massively oversimplified analogy, statists seem to think that the state should act as captain, coach, physio, kitman, ballboy, PR department, groundsman, ticketing department, FIFA representative, the guy with the half time oranges, agent, translator, WAG, turnstile operator, matchday police, the guy selling the big flags outside the ground and the guy confiscating the big flags on the way into the ground. Libertarians just want a guy with a fucking whistle.

As I often have (or at any rate want) to remind people when I shove up an SQOTD, the fact that I think whatever it is to be a snappy bit of prose doesn’t necessarily mean that I completely agree with it, even as I usually reckon it to have its heart in the right place.

A complaint about the above quote, for instance, is that it omits to mention the most obviously foolish of all state activities, which is that states now routinely insist on striding onto the pitch and trying to play, like that embarrassing games teacher played by Brian Glover in the movie Kes, even as (like Brian Glover) they continue to be the ref.

I recently heard President Obama say on my television that the job of President is (I quote from memory as best I can) “making decisions and helping people”. President Obama thinks that he should be both the referee and a player, in other words. And since he cannot possibly help everyone in the USA, he ends up playing for one side (helping only some people) against the other side (at other people’s expense), and his refereeing gets bent out of shape to reflect his competitive preferences.

Presidents shouldn’t be helping. They should be maintaining and defending the circumstances within which people can help themselves.

Samizdata quote of the day

The fascinating thing about this response is that it demonstrates that Cameron, whose only claim to fame is that he is a politician, isn’t even very good at politics.

- Richard North describes Conservative Party leader David Cameron’s stonewalling response to suggestions that he might want to rethink his attitude towards the climate change debate

The new enemy is salt

The new enemy is salt. Here is an interesting example at an early stage of how calls for legislation leap from study to implementation. A survey has looked at salt.

In the paper, Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo and colleagues, from the University of California, San Francisco, USA, undertook a computer simulation showing the effects of population wide reductions of dietary salt intakes in all adults aged 35 to 85 years in the USA. Reducing dietary salt intake by 3 g per day (1200mg less sodium per day) could result in 60,000 to 120,000 fewer cases of heart disease , 32,000 to 66,000 fewer strokes and 54,000 to 100,000 fewer heart attacks.

Just one study and even then, dietary recommendations are notorious for lack of reliability. But the recommendation follows like day after night:

A reduction in dietary salt of 3g per day, the authors went on to say, would have approximately the same effect on reducing cardiac events as a 50 % reduction in tobacco use, a 5% reduction in body mass index among obese adults or the use of statins to treat people at low or intermediate risk for CHD events. Furthermore, reducing dietary salt intakes by 3g per day would save $10 billion to $ 24 billion in annual health care costs

Precise, costed benefits that bear little resemblance to reality, but a comparison with the other devils of public health is utilised to define a ‘collective benefit’. Thus the call for legislation by the European Society of Cardiology:

While individuals may use salt sparingly at home, around 75 % of the salt we eat is already in the food we buy. This, says the ESC, underlines the need for legislation to lay down guidelines. “The reality of international food production in Europe means that such public health initiatives need to be tackled on a European wide basis, rather than an individual country basis,” said [Professor Frank] Ruschitzka.

Throw in a publicity week and the NGO for good measure:

Salt will again be on the agenda with World Salt Awareness Week 2010 , which runs from February 1- 7 (3). The week is being run by World Action on Salt and Health (WASH), a global group that works with governments to highlight the need for widespread introduction of population based salt reduction strategies

Add salt!

Some things never change

We should not forget, here in the UK, that dislike of the state-financed broadcasting network of the BBC has been going on for some time. Here is Kingsley Amis, the author and lecturer, writing in 1984:

“In television, as in other departments of national life, the consumer, the customer, the purchaser, is faced wiith a semi-benign semi-conspiracy to foist on him what is thought to be good for him, what other people consider he ought to have, instead of what he naturally prefers. In short, the public is brought education when it wants entertainment.”

The point, however, is that the focus on entertainment has arguably increased since the late Mr Amis wrote those words back in the era of Mrs Thatcher. As a consequence, the paternalistic intentions of the creators of the BBC have been frustrated to a remarkable degree. When Amis commented on the BBC, he at least was part of a country in which it was assumed that the BBC’s controllers felt that they had some sort of mission to educate and inform – not that this justified coercive funding even then. But the paternalism was at least fairly blatant. Now even that sense of mission appears to be more evident in the breach rather than the observance. The contradictions posed by the BBC’s funding model are unendurable.

The quote is taken from The Amis Collection, page 257, published in 1990. I am not sure if the book is still in print.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The final irony, of course, is that this entrancing vision of prelapsarian innocence is the product of the most ruthless and sophisticated money-machine the world has ever seen. With a budget of $237 million and with takings already at £1 billion, this exquisite capitalist guilt trip represents one of the great triumphs of capitalism.”

- Boris Johnson, in fine form today, on the movie Avatar. I wonder if his mockery of Eden-worship among prosperous, middle and upper class Westerners is a veiled dig at David Cameron.

I am still trying to find a spare evening to see the new Sherlock Holmes movie. It may not be for purists, but it sounds terrific. I don’t think I will waste my cash on Mr Cameron’s (no relation to the Tory Party leader) latest flick.

BBC thoughts and feelings about President Obama

Last night I watched most of a discussion programme “chaired” (I’ll get to that) by Kirsty Wark on BBC2 television, about President Obama and how he is doing. It was something called The Review Show.

Three things struck me about this show.

First, the BBC is finally acknowledging that President Obama is in some political trouble. This is refreshing.

But second, the dominant explanations of why Obama is in trouble are delusional. There is, said Bonnie Greer, without contradiction, a racist backlash going on. Sadly, in BBC-land, if a black person accuses white people of racism, the accusation is still allowed to stand, no matter how unpersuasive it may be, and no matter how unsatisfactory it is as an explanation for whatever is being talked about.

The other dominant explanation for Obama’s fall from political grace, aside from racism, offered by a blond American lady who talked too fast, was that this backlash is “emotional”. Obama, she said, is making the mistake of concentrating entirely on being “rational” in how he responds, and we all know what wins when facts have a face-off with feelings. → Continue reading: BBC thoughts and feelings about President Obama

Paul Krugman – the gift that keeps on giving

The Nobel Prize winning economist and columnist, Paul Krugman, does his best to annoy crusty free market ideologues such as myself with his sheer, implacable wrongness. It stuns me that the craziest remark in the post I link to here is not actually made up, but something he actually wrote.

Perhaps he should do Saturday Night Live.