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]

Making the shift from public to private

As I have seen before, a lot of political news coverage in the UK (and in the US, for that matter) rather resembles sports coverage, if without the tone of hysteria covering the media’s reporting on England’s World Cup horror show. For instance, over at the Spectator’s Coffee House blog on the issue of public spending cuts, it goes into a lot of the arguments about who said X or Y about cutting A or B. In fairness, the Coffee House crew are pretty good at teasing out the statistics – Spectator editor Fraser Nelson has been excellent in hammering the former government over its debt – but there is something a bit missing from its analysis. And that is this: the scale of the shift that we might see from public sector jobs to private sector. If is true that hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs are to go, and the private sector is going to be encouraged to pick up the slack by new job creation, that is surely good news.

We are not admirers of Cameron’s style of Conservatism here at Samizdata (that’s putting it mildly, Ed), but I’ll give him and his finance minister credit if, at the end of the current parliament, there has been a significant shift away from the state and towards the private sector. We libertarian ideologues are hard to please, but such a shift will be pretty tough to pull off. If it means we have to put up with a certain amount of political BS along the route, I don’t especially mind. It is the general direction that counts.

Update: Guido Fawkes points out that certain leftist publications, reliant on public sector job ads, such as with the Guardian, have an obvious reason to fear the axe. It’s not a bug, it’s a feature!

“The Grenadians realized what was happening and attempted to score an own goal as well …”

Michael Jennings just emailed me the link to this, “You may have seen this” being the title of his email. No, I hadn’t. “This” starts thus:

There was an unusual match between Barbados and Grenada.

I’ll say. Read the whole thing. Really, read the whole thing. It’s a classic of perverse incentives, showing how the wrong kind of rules can cause everyone to want to do badly. It’s about much more than football, in other words.

A collection of good reasons to visit Berlin

I have visited Germany several times – I lived there for about a month while a student (in the Moselle area) and briefly attended a Gymnasium school in the town of Ahrweiler, but have not yet been to Berlin, the capital. I have always had a good time in the country – the Rhineland is as impressive as the photos suggest – and this article by Tyler Cowen at his Marginal Revolution blog definitely makes me want to get on an aircraft and go there. I’d probably avoid it in the height of summer, though, not to mention the harsh Prussian winter.

Talking of Berlin, here is one of my favourite Michael Caine films. And of course David Bowie did a lot of his best work while living in the city.

Inevitably, when the name of Berlin comes up , it raises the issue of that palaver of 1939-45. Anthony Beevor’s book about the attack on Berlin in 1945 is a must-read. I remember there was an old guy who used to live in my parent’s village who was on pathfinders (Mosquitos) during WW2, and he played a part in the near-flattening of that city.

And of course, like many people of my generation, I vividly remember those scenes as beamed around the world of the Berlin Wall coming down, and imagining the joy of people in the East who were no longer treated like cattle in their own nation. I sometimes wish, naively, that there was more sense of shame among the hard left about its support for such a state of affairs. Let’s not forget that that overrated smart alec, JK Galbraith, made light of the wall and what it represented.

Toast or not toast, that is the question

Tim Worstall writes, “You know the Bolivarian Revolution is toast when…”. His criteria for Bolivarian toastiness is “when even the Guardian is running reports on how socialism makes the food supply go tits up.” He links to a Guardian article about the “economic war” launched by Chavez in Venezuela which does indeed make it sound as if Chavez has defied reality once too often.

Trouble is, as The Remittance Man says in the comments, we saw the same and worse from Mugabe – and he is still in power, sort of. Indeed we saw the same and much worse in the Soviet Union and that lasted seventy years.

How do these regimes hold on for so long? Shopkeepers in Venezuela are being ordered on pain of imprisonment to sell at a loss. One would think they would just walk away. Why does it take so long for Atlas to shrug? Perhaps most of his economic war is just bluster and shopkeepers know this. Perhaps there is some mechanism of benign corruption operating that means that the shopkeepers do continue to make money regardless. Perhaps Chavez is right and they do have a lot of money stashed away and can afford to run at a loss for a time, and also have some reason to believe that this episode will be sufficiently brief that it is worth their while to do so.

Or perhaps the toast is about to burn.

The Second Amendment

Proof that the US remains a very different nation to the UK at the moment. I just caught this Supreme Court decision via Bloomberg.

A is A, it really is

Basic logic is something that Mr Richard Murphy, wonderfully flayed by the indefatigable Tim Worstall, is blissfully unaware of. As Tim points out, Murphy reckons we can use inflation to somehow “wash” out massive debt (by shafting savers and others on a fixed income) while he also vents about the terrible plight of pensioners and the need to protect them.

It might be easier to deal with Richard Murphy in the same way that you might an old, very ill dog. Don’t worry, Richard, there would be no pain.

A thought

Over the next two days, there are two linguistically Spanish versus Portuguese games in the World Cup: Chile plays Brazil this evening, and Spain itself plays Portugal itself tomorrow evening. Brazil and Spain are two of the favourites to win the tournament, Portugal is a good side, although perhaps without the depth of the first two, and Chile have played much more impressively than most people expected in this tournament, but are outsiders. So probably a hard fought but still one-sided game this evening, and a good game tomorrow night. Although one of course never knows.

However, disregarding the actual sport and thinking about bigger things, it seems pretty clear that the governments of the two Latin American countries are rather less profligate and rather less broke than those of the two Latin European countries.

How did we get here?

Could the Euro be melted down one country at a time?

This posting is going to have to be of a more than usually interrogative sort, since I am more than usually ignorant of that whereof I blog, and which I will now copy and paste:

Certainly, on my travels, I’m going to be wary of accepting euro notes with serial numbers that are prefixed with the letters Y (coming from Greece) or M (from Portugal).

I shall also strongly steer clear of notes with the serial numbers starting G (Cyprus), S (Italy), V (Spain), T (Ireland) and F (Malta).

This might sound as if I’m being ridiculously alarmist, but you cannot be too careful.

However, other euro notes should be reasonably safe.

These include those marked Z (Belgium), U (France), l (Finland) and H (Slovenia). As for those with serial numbers beginning with X (Germany), P (the Netherlands) and N (Austria), they can all be used with total confidence.

Is this common knowledge? Am I the last person in Europe to hear about this? I shouldn’t be surprised. You can tell which country printed which Euro. Well, well. Who knew? Who, even now, knows?

The above quoted text is from a Daily Mail piece by Peter Oborne (linked to by Instapundit) about the various economic disasters the world faces. One of which is the melt-down of the Euro.

My big question, aside from wondering who else does or does not know this, is: supposing lots of people do know this, or get to know it, does it not provide a mechanism by means of which mere people might hasten the collapse of the more dubious EUrozone economies, by demanding, when being paid in actual money, to be paid only in Euros printed by the undubious countries?

Perhaps the answer might go: but making such judgments would be, in EUrope, illegal. Maybe so, but that won’t stop a black market making minute comparisons between differently lettered Euros, nor will it stop tourists in other parts of the world, planning their EUropean trips, demanding, once they hear such stories, to receive only the kinds of Euros that they would like. They could, for instance, refuse to accept the wrong kind of Euros, or, if given a mixture of good Euros and bad Euros, sort out the good from the bad and swap the bad ones back for pounds, or dollars, or whatever.

The wrong kinds of Euro notes, from the dubious countries, could soon be treated exactly as if they were forgeries, could they not? The big difference being that these forgeries will be easier to spot.

So, the much prophesied melt-down of the Euro can now be accelerated in a much more discriminating way than merely by people judging that the Euro as a whole will soon be disappearing down the toilet. We will all be able to decide – many may soon be forced to decide – which Euros will descend toilet-wards first. Won’t we? Can’t we? Now? I realise that there is more to money than mere bank notes. But if stories like those sketched above were to start circulating …

Has Oborne got his facts right about this? And if he has, do my supplementary questions also make any sense? As I say, this is all completely new to me, so I could soon, after the first few responses, be wishing that I’d never even asked.

Samizdata quote of the day

It’s full time in Bloemfontein, and England have crashed out of the 2010 World Cup. Meanwhile, at Old Trafford we have a double change with Ryan Harris back into the attack.

- Cricinfo passes on the bad news.

Your logic does not resemble our Earth logic

When a person spends time at high altitude, that person’s body reacts to the lesser amount of oxygen in the air by increasing the number of red blood cells. These carry oxygen round the body, and if there are more of them, the body can process similar amounts of oxygen even though there is less of it available. If a person descends after spending days or weeks at high altitude, the higher number of red blood cells persists for a few days. In that period, the body is able to process much larger amounts of oxygen than is normal. This results in tremendous feelings of euphoria, and greater than normal athletic stamina. From personal experience, I can assure you that this feels wonderful. On one occasion, after descending several thousand metres in the Himalayas in several days, I felt like Superman. It was great. It was like being on the right drugs without actually being on drugs.

This effect can of course be duplicated at sea level. One way is to train in enclosed facilities with artificially lowered air pressure. Another, though, is medical. One can have one’s own blood removed from your body, the red blood cells filtered out, and these can be transfused back into your body in time for the athletic event. This is “blood doping”, and is much used in endurance sports, particularly cycling. It is generally considered to be cheating, but it is a very difficult form of cheating to detect. The fact that it is like being on drugs without the use of actual drugs perhaps gets to the core of the problem. Detecting the presence of drugs is relatively simple. Detecting the presence of the athlete’s own blood is simple too, but this doesn’t prove anything. As a consequence, athletes in affected sports are subjected to searches of their homes during the competition season in which inspectors look for medical equipment used in the necessary transfusions. (They also look for pharmaceutical supplies of the hormone erythropoietin, which stimulates production of red blood cells in the bone marrow).

Other tests for blood doping involve blood analysis, and involve such things as comparing the number of young red blood cells in a sample with the number of old blood cells, simply registering blood with an excessively high number of such cells as evidence of cheating. Plus they look for that hormone erythropoietin, for which it is apparently possible to tell the difference between the cloned and artificially produced version and the natural version produced in the athlete’s kidneys, although this distinction is sometimes controversial.

The trouble with tests of this kind is that they have difficulty distinguishing between people who are cheating (according to the rules) and people who simply have extreme and unusual physiology. To some extent, high level sport is all about identifying people with extreme and unusual physiology. The right kind of extreme and unusual physiology is known as “talent”. The aim of much performance enhancing technology is all about mimicking the extreme and unusual physiology that the finest athletes have naturally. Distinguishing between the naturally weird and the artificially weird by testing for weirdness is problematic.

And in the case of blood doping, we have a further problem. Blood can be doped naturally, simply by training at altitude. You cannot simply ban all athletes who live or train at altitude: that would be ‘discriminatory’. However, it leads to a situation where an athlete with a high red blood cell count due to altitude is a fine, well trained athlete and a role model for our children. One with a high red blood cell count due to a transfusion at sea level is a cheat and someone to be despised, even though the end result of both techniques are the same. (This makes me think of “organic” food, somehow. Food grown with nitrogen from natural fertilisers is good. Food grown with identical nitrogen from artificial fertilisers is bad).

Governments find it highly prestigious when national athletes win Olympic gold medals, and are often willing to spend money on elite athlete training programs. Two kinds of governments seem to do this. There are totalitarian regimes who wish to demonstrate that their system is superior by producing superior athletes. Classically, we are talking East Germany, the USSR, and more recently China. Such governments seem perfectly willing to break the rules if they think they can get away with it. More recently, though, we have freer, more democratic rich countries doing the same thing. As the state expands, development of the national Olympic team becomes part of its remit. Outright cheating has certainly occurred in such training programs too, but in a democracy it becomes a major scandal if you are caught. Therefore, government funded programs in democracies tend to prefer to remain within the (always very arbitrary) rules, but they will go as close to them as they can without actually breaking them.

If you are going to find a place to train at altitude, for fairly obvious reasons you want a place that is high but not too cold, so you are going to want it to be on a mountain not too close to the poles. You ideally want it to be on an isolated mountain rather than high up a mountain range, so athletes can regularly practice going from high altitude to low and vice versa. You are going to want it to be in an area where the other facilities of an advanced, high technology country are readily available – good hospitals and access to all kinds of medical professions, nice hotels, housing, and restaurants for associated officials, staff, and hangers on, etc etc etc. Basically, you want a high mountain in the desert in a rich country near a significant town.

Once you understand all this, what one finds clinging to the side of a mountain when one approaches the top of the Sierra Nevada in Andalucia in southern Spain (the southernmost high mountain in Europe) becomes perfectly logical: an athletic track and vaguely Orwellian looking training and accommodation centre for athletes.

A little googling indicates that it belongs to the vaguely Orwellian sounding Senior Sports Council of the Ministry of Education and Science of Spain. Amongst the benefits of training there, I find the euphemistically described erythropoietic stimulus, which is entirely different from blood doping. Obviously.

As I said, all perfectly logical. Perfectly.

Oh, who am I kidding? This is the oddest facility I have encountered since the time I went to Hitler’s holiday camp.

Hitler would have loved this, too.

Boeing is in the race

Boeing has no intentions of being left behind in the commercial race for space. I have been hearing for some time about their CST100 capsule. They are doing this on their own dime. I always knew the Boeing guys would eventually get on the commercial bandwagon and the contract to launch and support the Bigelow Aerospace space station seems a key turning point.

Once Elon Musk gets his divorce all worked out so that ownership is clear, I am pretty sure we will be hearing about an IPO at SpaceX.

Take the success of SpaceX, Boeing entering the commercial manned space market and the pending IPO and the expectation I have of a flood of investment money following a big run up in the value of the placement and you have the recipe for a commercial explosion into LEO.

First LEO, then the Moon, Mars… and beyond. Privately.

Samizdata quote of the day

The sort of dependence that results from exchange, i.e., from commercial transactions, is a reciprocal dependence. We cannot be dependent upon a foreigner without his being dependent on us. Now, this is what constitutes the very essence of society. To sever natural interrelations is not to make oneself independent, but to isolate oneself completely.

- Frederic Bastiat