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]

The full monty on SpaceX and the industry

I have been intending to do a long article on SpaceX and their plans but the combination of consulting to eat and pay the bar tab and of trying to get funding for my own New Space business has been keeping me too occupied for a lengthy and well researched article. Fortunately, the National Space Society finally finished its internal deliberations and is now solidly and publicly backing the commercial space approach to exploration. (No industry insiders were harmed in the making of this film… er policy.)

With policy in place, an updated version of an excellent article on SpaceX, what they are doing, where they are going and what it all means has been published. John Strickland did an excellent job on it. Read it!

Is Germany at last turning against the EUro?

It would (will?) be interesting to hear what our own Paul Marks has to say to in answer to this, from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:

Judging by the commentary, there has been a colossal misunderstanding around the world of what has just has happened in Germany. The significance of yesterday’s vote by the Bundestag to make the EU’s €440bn rescue fund (EFSF) more flexible is not that the outcome was a “Yes”.

This assent was a foregone conclusion, given the backing of the opposition Social Democrats and Greens. In any case, the vote merely ratifies the EU deal reached more than two months ago – itself too little, too late, rendered largely worthless by very fast-moving events.

The significance is entirely the opposite. The furious debate over the erosion of German fiscal sovereignty and democracy – as well as the escalating costs of the EU rescue machinery – has made it absolutely clear that the Bundestag will not prop up the ruins of monetary union for much longer.

Clearly, Evans-Pritchard had in mind commentary like this (Paul Marks yesterday):

It is the end – not just the end of any prospect that people will really face up to their problems (rather than scream for endless bailouts), but also the end for any pretence that modern government is in any real sense “democratic”. It is not a sudden emotional whim of the people that has been ignored – it is the settled opinion (conviction) of the people, which has been held (in spite of intense propaganda against it) for a long period of time, that has been spat upon.

Evans-Pritchard, however, says this:

Something profound has changed. Germans have begun to sense that the preservation of their own democracy and rule of law is in conflict with demands from Europe. They must choose one or the other.

Yet Europe and the world are so used to German self-abnegation for the EU Project – so used to the teleological destiny of ever-closer Union – that they cannot seem to grasp the fact. It reminds me of 1989 and the establishment failure to understand the Soviet game was up.

So, have things changed, or have they not?

I agree about the USSR parallels in all this. But Evans-Pritchard’s reportage also reminds me rather of that vote of confidence that they had in the House of Commons, which Neville Chamberlain “won” in 1940, but actually lost.

I remember once speculating, here, there or somewhere, that one of the many things that could reasonably be said to have caused Word War 2 was the failure of any sort of German Parliament to meet – circa 1939, and say, in the manner of a British Parliament: No! No more of this! That time, the idea was for Germany to conquer Europe (and much else besides) with armies. Now the plan is and has long been for Germany to buy Europe, and give it to … EUrope. But the price is again proving ruinous and the object being purchased is a crock.

This time, the means are surely still in place, as they were not in 1939, for Germany to say: No! But, did they? And if not, will they? Over to you, Paul Marks.

LATER: Detlev Schlichter agrees with Paul, using the word Götterdämmerung. Germany, he says, is finished.

He also says this:

And one final word to my English friends. No gloating please about the clever decision to stay out of the euro-mess. You have the same thing coming your way without the euro. The coalition’s consolidation course is apparently so ruthless that every month the state has to borrow MORE, not less. Even official inflation is already 5% but pressure is growing on the Bank of England to print more money. See the comical Vince Cable yesterday, or Martin Wolf, the man with the bazooka, in the FT today. Since 1971 the paper money system has been global. Its endgame will be global, too.

Indeed.

Roger L Simon on Herman Cain

“He just kept on trucking. When unable to get a haircut because the barber would not cut the hair of black people, he bought himself a pair of clippers and cut his own hair. He does so to this day. (Take that, John Edwards!) This is the same man who put himself through Morehouse College majoring in math, got a masters in computer science from Purdue (while improving academically), plotted rocket guidance for the Navy, started in business at Coca-Cola, then went on to turn around the fortunes of Philadelphia’s Burger King franchise, take over the aforementioned Godfather’s Pizza chain, become the head of the National Restaurant Association, be appointed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and host a radio show into the bargain. And, of course, he defeated the Big C.”

Roger L Simon

I cannot see him in David Cameron’s inner circle, somehow. For all my worries about where it is headed, the fact that someone like Mr Cain (has to be one of the best surnames in politics) can reach such levels says a lot about what the US is in terms of how people can surmount obstacles to build a successful business despite prejudice and the rest.

Elon Musk speaking at National Press Club.

This is a rush item. Go there right now if you read this as soon as it goes up:

SpaceX CEO & CTO Elon Musk will discuss the future of human spaceflight in advance of SpaceX’s planned flight later this year to the International Space Station, the first private mission to the ISS for NASA, at a National Press Club luncheon today at 1pm EST. Reusability is key to the dramatic cost savings that will enable advancements in human exploration of space. The Dragon spacecraft is fully reusable and SpaceX is working toward the goal of delivering the world’s first fully reusable launch vehicle.

Click here to watch the discussion live

Try the animation here for a peek at SpaceX’s future plans.

This post from the National Space Society links to the animation and gives information on Elon’s talk. What he is attempting is breathtaking and awesomely difficult, a task worthy of free Americans.

Only 85 members of the German Parliament support the opinion of the people against yet more bailouts

The German people (like the British people and the American people) are overwhelmingly against the bailouts. But their opinion (like the opinion of the British and American peoples) has been ignored in the past – and vast sums of money have been spent.

Today was a vote over whether or not extra hundreds of billions are to be spent – and to be spent by an European Union executive agency with arbitrary powers. At least 70% of the German people were against this – in spite of the intense propaganda of the establishment media.

Yet only 85 members of the German Parliament voted to stop it.

It is the end – not just the end of any prospect that people will really face up to their problems (rather than scream for endless bailouts), but also the end for any pretence that modern government is in any real sense “democratic”. It is not a sudden emotional whim of the people that has been ignored – it is the settled opinion (conviction) of the people, which has been held (in spite of intense propaganda against it) for a long period of time, that has been spat upon.

“Vote them out”.

How? Both the governing CDU and the opposition SPD voted for endless bailouts and arbitrary executive power.

Unfinished business

Europe on the Brink, a Policy Brief published by the Petersen Institute for International Economics, makes for grim reading. My favourite quote from it is this subheading:

This potential break-up of the euro area is exactly what happened in the ruble zone when the Soviet Union broke apart.

“Potential”? Also, I think, for “euro area” read state-backed but not gold-backed currencies everywhere.

But the USSR comparison is spot on. When the USSR disintegrated, this was rightly hailed as a triumph for capitalism, but not rightly hailed as the triumph of capitalism. There were other walls yet to fall, other statist follies yet to be destroyed. The commanding heights of the economy used to be thought of as big companies that did physical stuff to physical stuff. 1991 was the date when the idea that governments should micro-manage such enterprises got its comeuppance, and the torrent of high quality stuff that has gushed forth ever since continues, as yet, unabated. But the real commanding heights, the loftiest and most commanding of all, the politically (mis-)managed currencies of the world, are only now collapsing.

Think of our current travails as the unfinished business of the twentieth century.

Reasons for leaving the EU, ctd

Here is a good column slating the idea of a Tobin Tax. The key issue that people need to understand is the issue of tax incidence. To put it another way, taxes are a cost (indeed, for some things, such as taxes on tobacco, policymakers stress this point). Costs get passed on. If we tax financial transactions, it will be passed on in the form of lower profits, job cuts, lower savings rates, higher borrowing costs. The tax, of course, will weigh disproportionately on London, given the far smaller turnover of rival European centres such as Paris.

As the saying goes, can we leave yet?

Samizdata quote of the day

“For as long as the culture of business has been an integral part of American life, it has also been frowned upon by important sectors of our society. Among our intellectuals especially, the business world has been the subject of many brutal caricatures, portraying corporations large and small, and the people who run them, as heartless, soulless agents of greed. These caricatures have shaped our implicit understanding of the nature of the business world, so much that they have come to pass for conventional wisdom.”

Algis Valiunas

An interesting piece, although its caricature of Ayn Rand is a duff note.

Rental properties and the London Olympics

I live in the Westminster area of central London – Pimlico to be exact – and I am planning to get out of London next year when the Olympic Games are on and spend some time with my Dad and also travel abroad to get away from the mayhem. Luckily, my job enables me to work remotely for a while.

Sometimes, when friends ask me about this, they ask if I am thinking of letting out my property for a couple of weeks or whatever, and earn a bit of extra cash to compensate for the cost of paying for the Games and the associated hassles. In general, I am against the idea of letting my place to strangers, and would only consider letting it to people I know and trust. (I am worried about strangers stealing my entire Robert Heinlein collection, 50th anniversary Playboy album and cufflinks. You know how it is). However, it turns out that Westminster City Council has decided to kill the idea anyway – people who let properties for short periods without permission will, it says, be fined. Other London boroughs are taking a more liberal line.

I was not aware that to let out my property for a few days or weeks was something that the council had any power to prevent. Now we know better, alas.

Suppose I decide to let my Dad house-sit my place for a few days, or let other relatives use my place and possibly reimburse me for the electricity, gas and water bills. It appears that the council officials are entitled to check who is in properties during the Games and make sure they are not being used illegally as rentals.

Of course, some people will chance it and let their places out. I must say, Britain is becoming more like East Germany. That country liked its Olympics, if I recall.

The next time anyone talks about the UK and property ownership, please try not to laugh.

Update: The commenter Laird asks if we could legally challenge this edict. I suppose it is possible.

Samizdata quote of the day

David Cameron went to his first EU summit last year and agreed to let the European Union take charge of the financial regulation of the City. As far as poor decision-making goes, Gordon Brown’s gold sale was bad enough. History will remember Cameron’s surrender of the City as worse.

Alex Singleton

Liberty Club: the next generation

For those of you with a fantastically detailed historical knowledge of Samizdata, you’ll recall the Liberty Club, which Brian Micklethwait posted several pieces about a decade ago.

This is a student society which I ran with Marian Tupy while at St Andrews. It was created because we were fed up with all the socialism promoted by Leftist students. And we didn’t want to attend Tory soirees with John Selwyn Gummer: we wanted to promote libertarian ideas. (By the way, Dr Tupy is now doing this, and I am doing this.)

Much to my amazement, the Liberty Club is going strong. And I was pleased recently to meet the new President, Daniel Pycock, who is fizzing with ideas for the club. He has a good list of speakers lined up for this term (I suspect he’s going to get a lot of abuse for inviting the brilliant climate sceptic Viscount Monkton).

Anyway, hearing about what the Liberty Club is up to made me go back to Brian’s write-ups. I noticed in the comments of one, a reader asked whether there were similar societies at other universities, and I wrote:

There’s the LSE Hayek Society. I am also in contact with someone at Leeds University who is looking into a setting up a Liberty Club.

Today, thanks to the work of the Freedom Association and the Liberty League, there are at least 16 such societies on campuses across the country. This is fantastic – and bodes well for the future of libertarianism in this country.

Brian’s articles:

St Andrews is at it again – March 8, 2002
Face to face with the St. Andrews libertarians – April 22, 2002
What life at university should be like – March 13, 2003
Liberty Club marches on – May 20, 2003

Allister Heath on the authortarian urges of the Labour Party

“…Journalism is a trade, not a profession; the idea that its practitioners should be licensed, that it should be a closed shop that only people who have passed a test can enter; and that a politically created quango can determine who is “right” and who is “wrong” and should therefore be banned is appalling and dangerous. It is a sure route to eliminating free speech and ensuring that only “approved” views can be aired. These days, there is a continuum between a lone tweeter or blogger with a dozen followers to a star broadcaster who speaks to 10m people every day. One cannot arbitrarily draw a line between journalism and non-journalism any more. All should be protected by free speech; all should be held responsible for what they write or say.”

Allister Heath, talking about the disgusting idea of a UK Labour Party shadow cabinet member to licence journalism. It is important to note – as Samizdata regular Guy Herbert has from a Facebook comment I saw, that the sins of someone like Johann Hari would not have been picked up had he ticked all the right boxes by attending a J-school.

As Brian Micklethwait notes below, it appears the Labour leadership has disowned the idea – so far. You know how it goes: an idea is floated, is immediately rejected by the senior folk, but gradually keeps getting more and more traction.

I cannot overstate my loathing for the political class in this country. Glenn Reynolds says of the US equivalent that it is the worst political class since before the US Civil War (not exactly an encouraging thought). God knows what sort of epoch we can compare this lot to in the UK.