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

In addition, it’s getting much harder for pollsters to get people to respond to interviews. The Pew Research Center reports that it’s getting only 9 percent of the people it contacts to respond to its questions. That’s compared with 36 percent in 1997.

Interestingly, response rates are much higher in new democracies. Americans, particularly in target states, may be getting poll fatigue. When a phone rings in New Hampshire, it might well be a pollster calling.

Are those 9 percent representative of the larger population? As that percentage declines, it seems increasingly possible that the sample is unrepresentative of the much larger voting public. One thing a poll can’t tell us is the opinion of people who refuse to be polled.

- Michael Barone

I increasingly resent being rung up by someone hoping to learn my opinions about this or that, and am not a bit surprised to learn that the feeling is becoming a lot more widespread. What’s in it for me? Nothing. Just a great gob of time down the drain.

If you want to know my opinions, read Samizdata.

In the particular matter of American pollsters claiming to discover how the presidential election will go, there is also the widespread belief that these people are not so much seeking to serve the voters by telling them what will be what, as to manipulate voters into voting Democrat. In which case, should you happen not to be a Democrat supporter, why would you be inclined to give them anything other than a brief suggestion that they go forth and multiply or words to that effect?

When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing

Rejoice! Ed Milliband will announce at the Labour party conference today that

Labour would impose a legal duty on any financial services firm that manages savings to maximise the saver’s returns.

At last Labour are to drop all that guff about “stakeholders” and “corporate responsibility”, although to make it compulsory to pursue profits at the cost of all else is rather repressive.

But what a turnaround, eh? Can it really be happening?

No. It’s all a mistake. They just haven’t noticed yet. Tim Worstall has cruel fun pointing out that Mr Miliband does not appear to have worked out that his proposal would make ethical investment illegal.

Worstall concludes

If those proposing the reform of the financial markets know so little about the financial markets that they can make this sort of mistake: well, what value their plans for reform of the financial markets?

Choice blindness

Participants completed a survey asking them to agree or disagree with statements such as “large scale governmental surveillance of e-mail and Internet traffic ought to be forbidden as a means to combat international crime and terrorism”. When they reviewed their copy of the survey their responses had been covertly changed, but 69% failed to notice at least one of two changes, and when asked to explain their answers 53% argued in favor of what they falsely believed was their original choice

Whoah. This is from a post on Less Wrong, wherein some more details and links to the study and video, along with discussion.

Hans Sennholz talking (in 1988) about the Great Depression (and about the danger of another Great Depression)

I’m now watching a video of Hans Sennholz, produced by the Foundation for Economic Education.

Sennholz is talking about the Great Depression, arguing that freedom didn’t fail, politics failed, and that “if we repeat these government polices there is going to be another Great Depression”. I’m typing while he talks, but that is the gist of it.

Until now, Sennholz was just a name to me. Now he is a name, a face, a voice, an attitude. And a prophet.

This video was made (or should I say this film was shot?) on February 29th (!) 1988. I was steered towards it by Richard Carey (whom I SQotDed earlier this week) of Libertarian Home, to whom thanks.

The First World War use to be called The Great War. Soon, The Great Depression is likely also to become known by a different title, which also includes the word “First”.

Consumer protection without government regulation

Anand, I’d like to thank you on behalf of pretty much every single person on the planet. You’re doing an amazing job with making companies actually care about their customers and do what is right.

Thank you so much, and keep up the amazing work.

This comment was left on the Anandtech review of a solid state data storage device. Anandtech is something of a force in the tech world. It reviews computer components, developing ways of testing and comparing them. It describes in detail how they work and how this affects what they can and can not do, and how relatively well they do this or that thing. Because so much detail is provided, and because Anandtech listens to its commenters and makes corrections when errors are noticed, I find it is usually sufficient for my needs to skip to the end of a 10,000 word review, knowing that I can trust the summary.

The quote above is in response to the description of an email conversation between the site’s founder, Anand Shimpi, and top executives at the company producing the solid state drives. The essence of the discussion is that Anand has found that use of internal components from different manufacturers affects the performance of the drive. Customers can not tell what they are getting just by looking at the outside of the product, so he would like the company to label their products accordingly so that customers can decide which ones to buy.

Anandtech is such a force in the tech world that the company immediately agreed.

Imagine that. Improved product labelling without any government regulation required.

Update: title changed as suggested by Brian in the comments.

On the silliness of the wealth tax idea

I tend not to bother much these days with the dead-tree press but occasionally I’ll pick up a paper on my journeys on London’s Underground to one meeting or whatever. Yesterday, Anthony Hilton, writing in his regular column in the Evening Standard, absolutely crushed the argument, as floated by the mis-named Liberal Democrats and its leader, Nick Clegg, that what Britain needs is a “wealth tax”, given the existence of current state grabs of our wealth upon death:

“What no one seems to have grasped, however, is that if a further wealth tax were imposed to be paid by people when they were still living, it would reduce the yield on inheritance tax. A wealth tax on the living would not raise additional revenue so much as bring part of the payment forward which would ultimately have come out of the person’s estate anyway on their death. This is most obvious in considering some of the schemes mooted to pay a mansion tax. It is understood that the nearest most people come to wealth is to own a house that has gone up in value over the years. Many of the people living in expensive homes are old and not particularly well-off in terms of income. The house is probably the only thing of real value they have. It means they do not have the ready cash to pay the tax.”

Absolutely. Hilton continues:

“This cash-flow problem could be overcome, it is suggested by wealth-tax supporters, by telling them to borrow against the value of their property through an equity release scheme. They would of course have to pay interest on the money thus borrowed, or have it added to their debt. Alternatively, it may be permissible for them to defer payment and allow the outstanding tax to roll up into a lump sum. This would then be collected on death when the house could be sold. Obviously, both solutions are possible. But both would directly reduce the value of the deceased’s estate, and would therefore result in a pro rata reduction in the amount of estate duty.”

And he plunges a stake into the heart:

“So we have a proposal that would deliver no increase in the overall tax take but would create even more impoverished pensioners, who would be most likely to get their revenge at the ballot box. It might not go down that well with younger voters either once they saw a wealth tax — or the fear of a wealth tax — take away any chance that their parents might help them with a deposit for a house.”

Of course, it is entirely possible that Clegg and his allies are only giving the impression of wanting to enact such a tax in exchange for agreeing to more, supposed spending cuts, and in reality, they realise how pointless and self-destructive such taxes could be. But it is also a sign of how far away we are from any coherent notions of tax in the first place. Consider: the current government recently sought to attract foreign investors to the UK by offering accelerated visas for those investing serious amounts in the UK; it has, it says, sought to clarify rules about domicile and residence. Last year, finance minister George Osborne vowed to cut the top rate of income tax to a still-high 45 per cent. Imposing a wealth tax would blow such limited moves towards commonsense out of the water.

Freedom of speech is not just a “Western” thing

“Yes, in fact the freedom to examine and criticize people and beliefs is a positive good, and how else will we ever be able to separate good ideas from bad ones? There is no other way other than freedom of discussion. And one can’t specify in advance which ideas or criticisms are and aren’t permitted — that would assume we already knew and agreed on Truth.”

Charles Steele, a US blogger writing about some wretch by the name of Eric Posner, a tenured law professor who believes the US 1st Amendment is so just 18th Century, daaaahling.

Samizdata quote of the day

What we are dealing with is a documentary formula, into which Hayek’s life and work has been stuffed. The particular formula is the one they use for pioneering scientists who discover bacteria or something like that, and the need is to stress just how isolated and way-out the fellow was considered by everybody else. That might be fine for doing the mathematician who cracked Fermat’s Last Theorem, and may lend itself to atmospheric long-shots of the presenter walking through empty courtyards and along echoing corridors, but Friedrich Hayek was not a man working alone, and his ideas built on the ideas of other earlier and contemporary economists. I kept waiting for the name Ludwig von Mises to crop up, and it never did. It’s kind of hard to discuss Hayek’s early years in Vienna without once mentioning Mises. The final straw came when the presenter described his work at the Institute of Business Cycle Research which was founded with Mises at the Chamber of Commerce where Mises worked, and where he held his legendary seminars, which Hayek attended, and even then she could not bear to utter Mises’ name. The following is far from a perfect analogy, but it’s like watching a documentary about Mark Antony with no mention of Caesar.

- Richard Carey is unimpressed by part two of the BBC series ‘Masters of Money’, featuring the work of F. A. Hayek. Part one was about Keynes. Part three will be about Marx. I know. What the hell kind of “master of money” was Karl Marx? Carey’s sentiments exactly.

I considered recycling Carey’s entire posting, which is not a whole lot longer than the above excerpt, to include in particular what he says about Marx, and also about the BBC. But it is no part of my intention to have anyone here ignoring Libertarian Home, where this posting appears. Do please go there, and read the whole thing. Or just go there anyway.

The politics of Gary Taubes’ book on why we get fat

So, Glenn Reynolds makes me buy this book. It hasn’t made me any thinner yet, despite my having followed the world’s most popular diet strategy: Getting Thin by Reading About It. Never mind. I shall talk about it instead.

I do not know if Gary Taubes has any particular political views, but if the case he makes is true his book has political implications. In extreme summary it says (a) the experts, the official health guidance, the posters in doctors’ surgeries, the healthy eating lesson plans – all wrong; (b) it’s not fat that makes you fat, it’s carbs; and (c) eat as much meat as you want. Eat almost nothing but meat, if you like. No need to go hungry.

(a), if true, will please the C-AGW sceptics. So much for scientific consensus. It will also please the libertarians and minarchists. So much for government advice.

(b) and (c) will distress everyone who has ever worn a mung bean. Fat and meat good. It’s so… so… American.

(c) is especially annoying to some because, if Taubes is correct, the solution is relatively easy. How vexatious to think that these self indulgent fat slobs might escape just punishment! And how troubling to think that the obesity “epidemic” might be solved without the assistance of counsellors, coordinators or facilitators.

Things do not break entirely one way. One of the other messages of the book is that it is not the case that fat people are fat because calories in exceeded calories out. Anti-Puritans though many libertarians claim to be, they rediscover their inner Cromwell when it comes to that sort of equation. When they – oh hang it, when we – hear the pathetic excuses of fatties that they are fat because of genes or metabolism we rather enjoy pricking the bubble of their delusions. It is like being a deficit hawk, but for calories. Only this man Taubes says it really might not be their fault.

Amazing new camera that focuses afterwards

And in more ways than one.

More from the Department of Capitalism-Ain’t-It-Just-Great?!?!, in the form of this incoming email from fellow Samizdatista Rob Fisher:

Have you seen this camera that does not need to be focused?

I have now.

In fact you focus afterwards by clicking on the picture: link.

An example picture: link. Click on the raindrops or click on the building.

Amazing.

A review: link.

No time to read that now, but I bet they think it’s amazing too.

It’s a bit early-adopter as apart from the gimmick the pictures aren’t
actually that great. But imagine this is in a very good camera with
lots of megapixels. Imagine lots of dynamic range so you don’t have to
worry about focus or exposure … Imagine so many pixels that you can
even zoom after the picture is taken …

And if it was combined with this equally astonishing flat lens

Something tells me that this will not be my last camera.

Samizdata quote of the day

That’s just my opinion, of course, but I happen to be right.

- Lynn Sislo speaks for us all.

Excess power

According to the New York Times:

In an attempt to erase a $210,000 penalty the utility said the company owed for [over]estimating its power use, Microsoft proceeded to simply waste millions of watts of electricity, records show. Then it threatened to continue burning power in what it acknowledged was an “unnecessarily wasteful” way until the fine was substantially cut, according to documents obtained by The New York Times.

To which my initial reaction was, “hell, yes. Go Microsoft! You kick ass!”, and my more considered reaction is, yes, that is perfectly rational. Microsoft used “giant heaters” to burn $70,000 worth of electricity in three days and avoid the penalty; an impressive feat.

[Edit for clarity]: The utility “requires large industrial customers to file load forecasts each fall for the next calendar year and face a penalty if they are off by a significant margin in either direction”. Microsoft used less electricity than it forecast and realised it could just burn some up to avoid paying the penalty.

The obvious question is, why would the penalty for overestimating use be more than the cost of the estimated use? It is a question that commenters at the Verge, where I first read this story, are speculating about. My favourite comment here is a response to complaints that all the comments are excusing Microsoft: “I don’t think it’s MS apologists in this instance. They seem more like libertarians and climatology deniers.”

It could simply be that the fees really are in line with the utility’s costs, but in that case Microsoft’s actions would be nothing for anyone to complain about. It seems more likely that some sort of market distortion is going on. The “utility” in question is Grant County Public Utility District, tagline “Community Owned and Operated”. Perhaps there are some clues there.

The Verge also reports on a New York Times crusade against the energy cost of the Internet. Sigh.