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]

Savings

There is an interesting discussion at the Cafe Hayek blog about how much it matters that Americans don’t currently save very much. Well, given that real interest rates (taking into account inflation) are negative, and that holding cash means real wealth declines, it is not surprising that real savings have been steadily eroded. The blog’s author is certainly right about this point, however:

“If saving is good for Americans, the nationality or place of residence of the savers whose saved resources are invested in the American economy is irrelevant. If saving is good for Americans, then given Americans’ saving rate, savings invested in the American economy by non-Americans are a blessing – a blessing that is bigger the greater is the amount of this foreign savings and investment in the American economy.”

“Yes, we Americans would be even wealthier materially if we Americans saved even more – wealthier materially both as a product of many or all of us having larger financial portfolios, and as a product of the economy of which we are a part having an even greater volume of total output. But for this very reason we Americans are made wealthier also when foreigners save more and invest their savings here, regardless of how much or how little Americans save and invest.”

Of course if I can nit-pick, I would make the point that when, say, Chinese investors bought oodles of US government bonds in the years leading up to the credit crunch of 2008, it helped drive US long-term interest rates even lower, hence encouraging even more US domestic consumer spending and borrowing, a process we know went horribly wrong. (The main culprit in all this was the Federal Reserve, not China, I should point out). Of course, if non-domestic savers are channeling those savings into investments that yield a positive future return, such as investments in technological innovations, new products and services, then that’s all to the good.

If we were to move away from fiat money to a commodity-based monetary system and 100 per cent reserve banking for demand deposits, then a savings culture would be encouraged considerably. At present, persuading people to save is understandably hard because people, even if they are not hard-money zealots like me, smell that there is something rotten with our money.

In some ways, I see parallels between the loss of faith in paper money and the declining credibility of the AGW crowd. I think it was Brian Micklethwait of this blog who said something along the lines that we have had junk science, and now junk money. There is only so much junk that human civilization can stand.

Alameda County Cowards

When people burned to death in the UK because first responders failed to do their job, I considered it the UK Socialist disease which we all know has progressed to a stage that is nearly terminal. I did not believe such a thing could happen in the US. I did not think we produced cowards of such grandious scale.

But we do.

First responders, both Police and Fireeman let a suicidal man drown because the water was too cold and they might have got a chill.

Awww. Those poor little children. The got their pretend fire and police helmets for Christmas some years back and never realized that real first responders have to do very dangerous things and put their lives on the line to save people. Their job is to risk death that others might live.

I hope the people of Alameda County fire all of them and hire some adults. I suspect there are quite a lot of military Vets who have the guts and determination to actually do the job.

I wish we could kick them out of the USA. They are an embarrassment.

Will Schlichter’s book be out soon enough, and when should I review it?

Even by his standards, Detlev Schlichter’s latest blog posting is quite a read. Quote:

Evil and dumb people can be dealt with. The deeply-convinced do-gooders in positions of almost unchecked power, those are the ones we should worry about, those who are full of good intentions but suffer from tunnel-vision, incurably in awe of their own theories and incapable of even beginning to grasp how what they are doing could make things worse.

Schlichter seems to me also to be rather worried about something else. What if, in the words of one of our recent commenters (on this), Lee Moore, “the roof falls in” before Schlichter’s book comes out? Given what Paper Money Collapse says, Schlichter will never be an entirely happy man until the world is back on the gold standard, but he won’t be at all a happy man until his book sees the light of day, on both sides of the Atlantic, given the current state of the world’s financial system. If all hell breaks loose before the book even goes on sale, he will merely look like he is analysing the catastrophe, but with the juicy details stripped out. But, if doomsday obliges by not happening quite yet, he will, when doomsday does come, be a prophet of doom proved right. Far better.

Given that timing with books, especially books about soon-to-be-current affairs, can be so important, I am puzzled as to why Schlichter’s book is due out on August 31 2011 here in the UK, but not until October 4th 2011 in the USA. Its American publisher confirms this date discrepancy, although they only talk about August and October (I did the comparison by using this page). Can anyone talk me through this? I know nothing of what the rules are for publishing books on both sides of the Atlantic at nearly but not exactly the same time. Maybe this kind of gap is routine. Maybe, for instance, they figure that what with Schlichter being based in London, London should get to read it first, because maybe London will be particularly friendly. Or, maybe it’s something to do with local book the markets.

More specifically, can any Samizdata reader advise me about what exact date it would make sense for me (given that I am already reading an advance pdf of it) to publish my review of this book? I have already emailed the publishers about this, but they were rather vague. I said “early September” and they said fine. But exactly when would make the most sense? If, now that I have gone public with this question, they want to tell me a more precise date, that would be most helpful.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’m so insulted when people say that lawmaking is like sausage making.

– Stanley A. Feder, President of Simply Sausage, quoted by the New York Times, requoted here. And now here.

Rob Fisher on the Asus Padfone

Rob Fisher, fellow Transport Blogger and a favourite blogger of mine generally, has a posting up at his personal blog about the coming-real-soon-now Asus Padfone. Instead of each of us having a phone and a computer with a screen, this gizmo will combine the two. When you want a phone, you use the phone. When you want a computer, you shove the phone into the screen.

The central point being that phones are now big enough and serious computers are now small enough, for a phone to contain a serious computer.

It seems like the future. The amount of stuff that can be done on a smartphone-sized device is about to hit some critical level. Already desktop PCs are only needed for high end games and serious number crunching. The PC has become a laptop has become a netbook has become a phone. The only problem is the ergonomics, and a single device with multiple form factors is a good solution.

Well, I don’t know about that “only needed for high end games and serious number crunching” bit, but in principle this has to be right. Maybe not now, but any year now.

Asus has form (as in good form) for spotting when something has got small enough to be seriously different. A while back, they lead the world into genuinely portable and genuinely cheap computers, with the Asus Eee PC. I got one. At first I liked it, but eventually I got fed up with its geek-friendly but human-hostile operating system and with its just-too-small keyboard, so I sold it on to a geek child, and got a proper netbook with a proper operating system that I was able to work properly (not least because it was identical to the one on my big old home computer). Even so, despite my eventual disappointment with this Asus offering, I always liked and still like what it was trying to do.

This Asus Padfone immediately started ringing the same bells in my head. It looks like this Padfone, or something very similar, could be the natural successor to that netbook of mine, and to my regular phone, and to my ridiculously antique mobile phone, and to my Filofax, and even, in the fullness of time, to my big old home computer. Microsoft look out. Google really is taking over the world.

Asus also understands that low prices cause a lot more people to become interested in whatever it is. If this thing is as cheap as I hope it is, that will hurry things along, just like the ultra-cheap Eee PC did.

I will probably be holding off this time, waiting for others to respond with their versions of the same thing, and even then it may not really suit me. However, next time I meet Rob I will definitely be cross-examining him about this latest triumph of consumer capitalism. Despite all the financial chaos, they just keep on coming, don’t they? Why can’t schools, hospitals and, above all, banks be like this, getting more effective and cheaper and just all-round nicer with every year that goes by? Well, we know why. The rules for making these latter things should be a lot like the rules for making Padfones: make a Padfone if you want to and sell it to whoever will pay you what you ask. If you go bust, that’s your problem. The rules for schools and hospitals and, above all, banks are instead sadly different.

There are several other recent postings up at Rob’s Blog, and I recommend all readers here to have a scroll down there, if they haven’t already done this recently.

Is Britain about to shrug off David Cameron?

When I first began to read that David Cameron could soon be toppled by all this News of the World stuff, I was amazed, just as I was amazed when I first heard about the News of the World itself being shut. I still don’t know how badly Cameron is threatened, but if he is threatened, he has only himself to blame.

Cameron got the job of leading the Conservatives because enough of them thought that he would make a satisfactory Blair the Second, to replace the original. The question was, remember, during the Blair years: How shall we spend all this money? The answer was: nicely. Blair is the answer to the question: What sort of chap do you want your daughter marrying? A nice one, that’s what sort.

But well before Cameron became (only just) the Prime Minister, the questions had all changed, from being about niceness to being about what the hell was happening and what the hell should be done about it. Yet Cameron exudes no sense of crisis. On the contrary, he makes a point of not doing so, of suggesting that all will be well provided we don’t panic and just carry on carrying on, when in reality the situation is very troubling and getting worse and worse by the day. It’s as if Stanley Baldwin was still the Prime Minister in 1939.

I have a friend whose take on Britain’s political party leaders has been an infallible guide to their success or failure, during the last two decades or so. Blair? Nice one. Major? No. Hague? Thumbs down. The next bald Conservative chap, ditto. The next Conservative bloke – Howard was it? – ditto again. Brown? A definite thumbs down. But Cameron? I remember particularly asking her about Cameron. What do you make of him?

Shrug. → Continue reading: Is Britain about to shrug off David Cameron?

Pots, kettles

Given the prominent – and arguably, admirable – role that the Guardian newspaper has played in exposing some of the naughty, even allegedly criminal behaviours of certain Murdoch journalists in recent years, it is perhaps worth noting that the Guardian itself was not above obtaining sources of information that were obtained by breaking a few laws. Consider this article in Vanity Fair about the awkward, but also perhaps beneficial, relationship that developed between the Guardian and Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

Remember, as the Samizdata comment thread regular “Llamas” pointed out the other day, that the sort of people who are condemning Murdoch journalists, and rightly so, are the sort who thought what a great thing it was that so much confidential information had been splashed all over the media due to WikiLeaks and its media users.

There are some double standards going on around here. And let’s not forget that governments, including such supposedly law abiding ones such as Germany, are not above using taxpayers’ money to obtain stolen information about private individuals’ bank accounts; or that governments have, allegedly, used harsh interrogation techniques (ie, torture) to obtain information, or snooped on private communications without a judge’s warrant, etc, etc. Now, such governments may argue, perhaps rightly, that they are acting in the public interest, and that News of the World hacks chasing after celebrity tittle-tattle are not. But who gets to decide here?

And here’s another thing: with police officers in the UK being accused of flogging valuable information on persons to journalists, it surely reminds us how dangerous it is to have created the Database State. By aggregating vast amounts of data in the way they do, the governments of Britain and other countries create an enormous temptation for bent public officials to sell that data. It’s going to happen, human nature being what it is. This is an angle that I hope pressure groups such as No2ID take up in the months ahead. We cannot trust governments, including liberal democratic ones, with our private information. That is a meme that deserves to gain traction from the Murdoch scandal, however it eventually plays out.

The end of manned fighter jets?

This article at the Economist (Paul Marks, please switch channels now! Ed) is getting a lot of attention. It argues that the F-35 fighter of the US is likely to be the last manned fighter to be developed, even though manned fighter jets will probably remain in use for a quite a long while yet. The future is about drones, due to reasons of cost, rising sophistication and efficiency.

Here are some paragraphs:

“What horrified the senators most was not the cost of buying F-35s but the cost of operating and supporting them: $1 trillion over the plane’s lifetime. Mr McCain described that estimate as “jaw-dropping”. The Pentagon guesses that it will cost a third more to run the F-35 than the aircraft it is replacing. Ashton Carter, the defence-acquisition chief, calls this “unacceptable and unaffordable”, and vows to trim it. A sceptical Mr McCain says he wants the Pentagon to examine alternatives to the F-35, should Mr Carter not succeed.”

“How worried should Lockheed Martin be? The F-35 is the biggest biscuit in its barrel, by far. And it is not only Mr McCain who is seeking to knock a few chocolate chips out of it. The bipartisan fiscal responsibility and reform commission appointed by Mr Obama last year said that not all military aircraft need to be stealthy. It suggested cancelling the STOVL version of the F-35 and cutting the rest of its order by half, while buying cheaper F-16s and F-18s to keep numbers up. If America decided it could live with such a “high-low” mix, foreign customers might follow suit.”

“The danger for Lockheed Martin is that if orders start to tumble, the F-35 could go into a death spiral. The fewer planes governments order, the more each one will cost and the less attractive the F-35 will be. This happened to the even more sophisticated and expensive F-22. By cutting its order from 750 to 183, the Pentagon helped to drive the programme cost per aircraft of the F-22 up from $149m to $342m.”

Oh well, it appears that all those young men and even women hoping to be the next Chuck Yeager will be disappointed. The era of the “fighter ace” may be drawing to an end. Somehow, telling a girl in a bar that you fly a drone remotely from a shed in Nevada does not sound quite so cool as saying that you fly Lightnings or F-16s. But then again, as our own Dale Amon might point out, if you want serious aviation action and adventure, then commercial space flight is where the fun is.

As I have referenced before, this book by PW Singer is essential reading for how technological developments in the current age are shaping military spending and warfare. From a libertarian point of view, it might be nice to hope that this would lead to a dramatic reduction in costs. The figures produced in the Economist’s report are, indeed, shocking.

Private Mars expedition… someday

I have suggested a number of times over the years that Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are aiming for Mars. While not the first article backing this up, this one is the latest:

Men to Mars from Vandenberg? (Source: Independent)
As NASA puts to rest its 30-year-old space shuttle program, a private space transportation company is accelerating space travel with a new launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. SpaceX discussed its plans to replace the existing Titan IV launcher with a new launch pad for the Falcon Heavy ­ which, upon completion, will become the world’s largest launch vehicle by a factor of two.

In the long term, SpaceX’s development of the Falcon Heavy fits into its mission “to make human life multiplanetary” by sending “large numbers of people” to Mars. Although Musk acknowledges that a mission to Mars may not be achievable for many years, he said the company is committed to “going to go as far and as fast as we can” toward achieving its ambitious goal. (7/15)

Tallyho!!!

Samizdata quote of the day

“It is worth asking in both the British and American contexts why people who regard themselves as believers in free speech and liberal democracy can be so openly eager to close off – silence, kill, extinguish – different political views from their own. This is the question that is at the heart of the matter and which will remain long after every News International executive who may possibly be incriminated in the current scandal has been purged. There is scarcely any outfit on the Right – be it political party, or media outlet – which demands the outright abolition of a Left-wing voice, as opposed to simply recommending restraint on its dominance (as I am with the BBC). That is because those of us on the Right are inclined to believe that our antagonists on the Left are simply wrong-headed – sometimes well-intentioned, sometimes malevolent but basically just mistaken. Whereas the Left believes that we are evil incarnate. Their demonic view of people who express even mildly Right-of-centre opinions (that lower taxes or less state control might be desirable, for example) would be risible if it were not so pernicious.”

Janet Daley.

Someone I know quite well said she hoped the problems at Murdoch’s media empire will lead to Fox News being shut down. Not changed in ownership, you understand, but closed. This person is, you will not be surprised to learn, very “liberal”.

Those nice people from Greenpeace

While some of its members may genuinely believe they are doing good by their fellow human beings in protecting health and potentially dangerous things, as they think genetically modified plants to be, the dangers of the Precautionary Principle are highlighted to a stark degree by the activities of Greenpeace activists in Canberra, Australia. According to a report, trials in producing GM wheat have been badly damaged.

The persons who did this will, hopefully, be caught and punished with the full weight of the law. Remember, if these guys had their way, the Agricultural Revolution that took place in the decades leading up to the Industrial Revolution might not have happened, or at least to the same degree.

Here is an article by the excellent Ronald Bailey on the GM crops issue.

A line from David Mamet’s new book

“Brecht, an East German, was allowed by the Communists to keep his wealth and live at ease in Switzerland – a show dog of Communism. His accomplishments, however, must be seen not as an indictment, but as a ratification of the power of free enterprise. As must the seemingly ineradicable vogue for the notion of Government Control. The free market in ideas keeps this folly as current as any entertainment reviled by the Left as “mindless”. But the fiction of top-down Government Control, of a Command Economy, is, at essence, like a Reality Show, which is to say, a fraud. The Good Causes of the Left may generally be compared to NASCAR; they offer the diversion of watching things go excitingly around in a circle, getting nowhere.”

David Mamet, page 3 of his book, The Secret Knowledge. I love his line about NASCAR. The whole book is stuffed with one-liners such as that.

Here is what I wrote a little while ago about Mamet.