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]

Samizdata quote of the day

So I suppose the jet she flew in on from her home in Colorado worked on rubber bands.

- a commenter called ‘SouthendViking’ on the Telegraph, remarking about actress Daryl Hannah, who was arrested at a protest where she reportedly said:

Before she was arrested, Hannah told WRC-TV the protesters want to be free from the “death and destruction” that fossil fuels cause. The group is calling for clean energy instead.

Greens… they want us living as serfs in a pre-industrial society.

Be soothed. Be comforted. Good sense will prevail…

It is right to ban the English Defence League’s march, argues Lutfur Rahman, the leader of Tower Hamlets council. How sensible and moderate he is. Observe how he calms the fears expressed by the left wing feminist writer Nina Power that the power to ban the EDL today is certain to be used against other causes tomorrow. Mr Rahman writes,

So while I applaud the Metropolitan police and the home secretary in listening to the many voices from our community in banning the EDL march, I will support the right of community organisations to hold some of the events that Power fears might be banned. However, I feel sure that good sense will prevail, and that the authorities will be capable of distinguishing between community events and demonstrations designed to whip up racial and religious intolerance.

Pernickety people might argue that once the “right” to demonstrate is dependent on your organisation falling within the authorities’ definition of a “community organisation”, then it is no longer a right. Really, though, who can be bothered with such far-fetched ideas? We have the assurance of a local politician that good sense will prevail.

Samizdata quote of the day

I think MPs should have their personal tax rate depend on how often they vote for new legislation… think of it as a ‘binge legislation tax’ to encourage more responsible legislative behaviour and finance the social cost of their boundless interference in every aspect of other people’s lives

- Perry de Havilland

States and states

This piece, about how people are moving from states in the USA governed according to lefty principles, towards states governed by somewhat less lefty principles, reminded me of this piece I recently did here, about people moving from country to country in the world. As in the world as a whole, so in the USA.

Come the next round of elections, the numbers of Americans on the move, and the unmistakable direction in which they are moving, will be hard for the lefties to explain away.

In the emerging presidential campaign, it’s easy to see a version of these questions dominating the debate. Why should anyone choose to endorse liberal, Democratic policies when a single year (2009-10) saw 880,000 residents packing up their belongings to place Barack Obama’s Illinois in their rear-view mirror, while 782,000 new arrivals helped drive the robust economy in Rick Perry’s Texas?

California, so the piece says, lost two million people in the years 2009 and 2010. The promised land no more, it would seem.

I’d be interested to hear what American readers make of Governor Rick Perry. Will I like him, as and when I learn more about him? I’ve read people saying that Perry sounds too much like President Bush Junior. But I’m thinking that people are in the mood to listen to what is actually being said, next time around, rather than fussing about the mere manner in which it is said. Or is that being too optimistic?

Looters and looters

Richard North and Christopher Booker are having a go at the more unpunished sort of looting, by overpaid local council employees. Says North:

Loot a shop, and you go to jail. Loot council tax payers and, if they don’t pay up, they go to jail.

I can’t remember who said it, but what whoever it was (Kingsley Amis?) said was that the rot set in when they stopped calling the Town Clerk the Town Clerk, and started calling him the “Chief Executive”.

LATER: See also this posting, in which trooper Thompson quotes a big chunk from Right-Wing Populism by Murray Rothbard, including this:

Why then did communism implode? Because in the end the system was working so badly that even the nomenklatura  got fed up and threw in the towel. The Marxists have correctly pointed out that a social system collapses when the ruling class becomes demoralized and loses its will to power; manifest failure of the communist system brought about that demoralization. But doing nothing, or relying only on educating the elites in correct ideas, will mean that our own statist system will not end until our entire society, like that of the Soviet Union, has been reduced to rubble. Surely, we must not sit still for that. A strategy for liberty must be far more active and aggressive.

Hence the importance, for libertarians or for minimal government conservatives, of having a one-two punch in their armor: not simply of spreading correct ideas, but also of exposing the corrupt ruling elites and how they benefit from the existing system, more specifically how they are ripping us off. Ripping the mask off elites is “negative campaigning” at its finest and most fundamental.

Indeed. I’m not saying I agree with everything in this Rothbard piece, but I do agree with that. But I also believe that if I, and others of my inactive disposition, spread the correct ideas, it is automatic that the kind of people who, unlike me, refer to themselves as “Trooper” are going to want to join in on my side, but more aggressively.

Samizdata quote of the day

As I mentioned earlier, the TV networks are giving this wall-to-wall coverage. TJ Holmes on CNN is repeatedly calling it a “monster storm”, and everyone is desperately trying not to mention that it has been downgraded to a category one hurricane, the weakest category in the Saffir-Simoson hurricane scale.

The politicians are falling over themselves to be seen to be doing something. The president, Barack Obama, called it a “historic” hurricane yesterday and has returned to the White House a day early from his vacation at Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. He is desperate to avoid the mistakes of George Bush, who was slow to act over Hurricane Katrina.

Here in New York, mayor Bloomberg was slammed over his slow response to the big snow dump last year. City Hall is at the end of my street – they’ve been up all night there, co-ordinating the response to this.

Hurricane Irene is political, as well as meteorological.

- Matthew Wells

Boris Johnson is a moron

Children will be banned from watching shooting events under Boris Johnson’s Olympic ticket giveaway.

London schoolchildren are eligible for 125,000 Olympic tickets but these will not include any featuring guns, as Games organisers and City Hall fear a backlash from the anti-gun lobby.

The sheer idiocy of this speaks volumes of the rot at the heart of British society and its decadent political class. A different take on this can be found here.

When you are in a (Jackson) Hole, stop digging

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, is due to speak in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, later today and according to some of the investment notes that I receive, he is expected to commit that central bank to a third round of credit creation from thin air, otherwise known in these mealy-mouthed days as “quantitative easing.” There are doubters out there about the wisdom, or lack thereof, of this. We can of course expect the usual devotees of hard money to scoff at this, but what intrigues me is how some economists in the commercial world are hostile. Take this from Steen Jakobsen , chief economist at Denmark-based Saxo Bank:

“When talking about the impact from Quantitative Easing (QE) one has to realise that most academic studies show that the biggest “impact” from QE on markets comes from the actual announcement of it rather than the execution of it. An analysis of the two prior QE introductions point to a 50 to 100 basis point reduction on bond yields and subsequent inflation of equities via “a feel good” factor – the so-called wealth effect.”

“But realistically, what has been the net impact of QE1 and QE2? Chairman Bernanke has used 3,000 billion US Dollars to create what? Nothing! Unemployment is still above 9.0 per cent, the housing market is still in a slump, and now the only successful thing going for the Fed is the stock market’s rise from the floor at 666.00 in March 2009. But now there’s talk of an interbank funding crisis and unrealised losses. It certainly smells like 2008, doesn’t it? Or what about August 2010? – Yes! It is almost a 100 per cent analogy to last year. It’s actually like watching the movie Groundhog Day.”

I like his final paragraph:

“There is another political theory stating that the best environment to create growth in is one in which politicians have no power to pass legislation (similar to the U.S. situation for now until the U.S. elections). Think about Clinton: he had a major “programme” coming in as President, yet failed to get anything whatsoever done in his eight years in the White House which then led to the biggest growth period in U.S. history. What does this tell us? Total radio silence works as the micro-economy – investors, consumers and companies – adjust their behaviour and consumption to the new reality and then start moving forward. The last thing that we need is “political noise” and promises of better days ahead with nothing to back them up.”

I can think of a good book on the collapse of paper money that I can send this man.

UK considers a return to cats and traps

According to a Jane’s newsletter, the UK is at least studying the idea of going to sea with a carrier more in line with its naval heritage than the little ones it has been living with for some decades:

UK launches carrier conversion studies. The UK’s Aircraft Carrier Alliance (ACA) – comprising BAE Systems, Babcock, Thales and the Ministry of Defence (MoD) – has commenced an incremental 18-month Conversion Development Phase (CDP) to explore options for the adaptation of at least one of its Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers to a ‘cats and traps’ configuration to enable the operation of the F-35C Carrier Variant (CV) of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). Seed funding of about GBP5 million (USD8 million) is covering activity through to the end of October, with further contracts to be let in the near future to the ACA and the MoD-led Naval Design Partnering (NDP) team

For those unfamiliar with fleet carriers, the UK and many other nations have been building ships with decks that tilt upward so the airplane has more time to gain speed as it falls off the end of the carrier in full afterburner. This avoids the need for the complex catapult operations but has the downside that it cannot launch heavier aircraft, something which severely limits its force projection capabilities.

I should also note that the UK invented the carrier aircraft catapult, along with many other features we consider synonymous with US super-carriers.

The age of steam powered transport

A Brief History of the Age of Steam: The Power That Drove The Industrial Revolution
Thomas Crump
Carroll & Graff, 2007, 370pp., paperback, $15.95 (but now much less – I got my copy for £3.99 in a remainder shop)

The best thing about this book from my British point of view is that it does not focus only on British events and circumstances. It surveys the entire world, as best it can in the space it allows itself. In most other stuff I can recall reading about the history of the steam engine, Newcomen, Watt and Trevithick, the British pioneers of steam engines during the eighteenth century (Trevithick being the first to build a steam engine that propelled itself along a track – in other words the maker of the first locomotive), are followed immediately by the heroic deeds of George Stephenson and IK Brunel, the mighty British railway pioneers of the Victorian age. Foreign places get mentioned because Stephenson’s son did railways in them. Steamships are mentioned because Brunel also did them. But before you know it, you are being told about streamlined steam locos breaking speed records by hurtling from London to Scotland in the nineteen twenties and thirties, which was all good stuff but hardly central to the history of steam technology. By then, steam locomotives were a mature technology and soon to be an obsolete one.

In this book, by contrast, the steam engine arrives at its early nineteenth century state, but then the scene switches from Britain to North America. Steam engines, being still very heavy, made sense as the engines of big river boats on big American rivers well before they made sense as small locomotives on railway lines less than five feet apart. The USA, unlike Britain, has an abundance of huge rivers, in exactly the parts of the USA that were then developing most rapidly. The next chapter then concerns itself with rivers and canals (the two often being rather hard to distinguish) elsewhere in the world, most notably in central Europe, in particular in the form of the Rhine and its many reconstructions and appendages.

But already, I am getting ahead of the story. The first big job performed by steam engines was pumping water out of coal mines, the market that Newcomen catered to (1712 being the date of Newcomen’s first installation), and then the one in which James Watt and his partner Matthew Boulton also got their start. Until Newcomen made his engine, many a British coal mine would have to cease operating, not because the coal had run out but because the coal that remained, often in large quantities, was under water. Any kind of mechanically powered pump, however expensive and inefficient, could make itself useful in circumstances like that, a classic niche market of just the kind that a cumbersome but clearly important new technology needs to get started.

Thomas Crump (and yes, that is a rather Victorian sounding name, isn’t it?) does not make anything of the comparison, but the similarity between the early steam engines and the computers of our own time will strike anyone who reads this book. Steam engines started big and cumbersome. Then they got smaller and more powerful, thanks to a succession of technical innovations, and thanks to a general rise in engineering savvy and all-round craftsmanship. Not that this steam engine/computer parallel won’t have occurred to Crump. It’s merely that this book is published as one of a series called “A Brief History of …”, and you often sense, sometimes because Crump comes right out and says it, that lots of interesting stuff is being left out. → Continue reading: The age of steam powered transport

Samizdata quote of the day

Does Jobs deserve kudos for his acumen? Absolutely. That doesn’t mean I have to approve of the grotesque beast that is the modern super-corporation. It is something that could only exist in the statist world, and it is a disturbing hybrid of free market principles and ultra-authoritarian government interference, fused together in a way that brings out the very worst of all worlds.

- Commenter ‘Jaded Libertarian’

Steve Jobs

I see that overnight, Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple – now the largest firm in the US by market capitalisation – has resigned. His health has been a worry for many months and this announcement should come as a surprise to few. Even so, it represents something of a moment in the industry. Of course, the usual “dog in the manger” types will say that many others must claim credit for certain things, etc, etc, and they will have a point, as they do. Even so, given that entrepreneurship represents the only real way debt-laden countries can and will pull themselves out of their problems, it sometimes surprises me how, even in libertarian forums, the real-world business leaders we have attract as much bile as they do. And I am not talking about those who obviously benefit from corporate welfare, such as beneficiaries from tariffs, subsidies, eminent domain rulings, and the like. Even the more obviously free marketeer businessmen seem to get it in the neck from us. Perhaps we ought to step back a bit and realise that if this was so easy, why haven’t we achieved such success? Perhaps that is a painful question too far.