From 130 reviews on Yahoo! Movies, ‘Atlas Shrugged: Either-Or’ scores an average of four out of five.
It hasn’t been shown in Britain, but I am thinking of organising a screening in central London. Would you come? Let me know if you’re interested.
Yesterday, as earlier reported, I attended an event about road pricing. It was typical IEA. Men in suits and ties with irreconcilable beliefs took it in turns to be irreconcilably polite about everything, while other men in suits and ties listened with equal politeness:
There are some of the men in suits and ties waiting their turn to be polite. And look, one man in a suit and a tie is even straightening his tie, James Bond style, although there the resemblance ends. That’s Oliver Knipping, co-author, together with Richard Wellings (the man in a suit and a tie on the right whose face is blocked out by the video camera) of a recent IEA publication entitled Which Road Ahead – Government or Market? Do you see what they did there? Which road, as in policy, metaphorically speaking, for dealing with roads, as in roads, literally.
I am being much too rude. It was actually pretty interesting if you like that sort of thing, which I only somewhat do, hence my rudeness. I went because I knew that although I would be rather bored during the event, I would afterwards be glad that I had attended, and so it has proved. I got a copy of Which Road Ahead for only a fiver, and better yet, I met a man with a blog, called Road Pricing.
I like road pricing, for the same reasons I think that governments shouldn’t give away train tickets to everyone just because the train system is government owned and/or government controlled and people have already paid for it that way. What if some people don’t like trains and never use them? It’s not fair. Without journey pricing, the trains will get even more impossibly crowded. Privacy? That argument was won and lost when they introduced number plates, I reckon. A man called Gabriel Roth was quoted as saying that the road systems of the world are the last bastions of Soviet style central planning. Which isn’t true. What about central banking? But I like the sentiment. This is a product for which people queue for the product on top of the product thereby destroying the product. That can’t be the right road ahead, now can it?
Scott Wilson, the Road Pricing blogger, agrees. But you won’t read many arguments at his blog about why road pricing is good. What you will read is reports about how road pricing is being done in various parts of the world, well or badly, and criticisms of places where it is being done badly, like, surprise surprise, the UK. In that posting there is a picture of people being charged to get across the Thames which makes you think, not road pricing, but: crossing a national frontier, of the sort that is taken seriously.
I ought to have known about this blog two years ago, when it started. But no matter, now I do. This is the kind of thing that you learn if you go to rather boring meetings instead of just staying home glued to a computer, the way I am now. Besides which, a blog is merely a blog. If you actually meet the man who runs it, see his suit and his tie, and hear him talking, quite intelligently, that makes you actually want to pay attention to his blog.
One thought that occurred to me when thinking about reaction to the Leveson Report - which calls for statutory regulation of the UK press – is that those journalists frightened of such regulation, and concerned – rightly – about the dangerous consequences have had a very sharp lesson in the problems of regulation. (Here is the official Leveson website for those who have the stamina).
Consider the following: After the recent financial crisis of 2008, almost the entire media, political world and associated industry put up a chorus that what the world needed or still needs is “more regulation”. The fact that the banking industry already is subject to the laws against fraud and force, that it operates under rules about capital (the Basel system), has to lend to certain groups (US legislation to help minorities), or that central banks set interest rates like Soviet planners, seemed not to matter one jot to those arguing that we need even more rules. And rules enforced by such paragons of wisdom and omniscience as the Financial Services Authority or Bank of England.
Yet this time, when the media itself is in the cross-hairs, we see journalists from across the spectrum arguing about the dangers of quangos, of unelected boards of governors running the show, of the dangers of moral hazard, of the problems of losing freedom of action. It is as if George Monbiot had morphed into FA Hayek.
As I say in the title, maybe this is a teachable moment for the British media. Of course, the state-supported BBC and, for that matter, the partly state-subsidised Guardian (all those public sector ads) might be more amenable to state controls, although in the case of the Guardian, even those guys might understand the dangers. (Would, for example, the Guardian be able to use the likes of Wikileaks in future under a statutory regime?).
I might be optimistic here, but when people find their own livelihoods and freedoms come under attack, it can make them understand the value of liberty and rule of law more generally. Let’s hope that the next time a journalist writes an article which calls for more regulation of X or Y, that they see the irony, and think again.
Well, things seem a bit quiet around here today, so here is something I photoed earlier:
I encountered the tie at an IEA event about road pricing. The tie proclaims the fact of and the principles espoused by the Mont Pelerin Society. It was being worn by Dr Eamonn Butler, Director and co-founder of the Adam Smith Institute, and, among many other distinguished things, the author of many fine books explicating and popularising the ideas of freedom and of the free market.
One thing puzzles me, though, and my limited googling abilities were unable to solve the puzzle for me. What was so special about the year 1824? That’s an Italian flag, right? So what happened in Italy that the Mont Pelerin Society regards as so worthy of commendation?
I would have asked Eamonn Butler, but my camera has better eyesight than me, and I only saw the 1824 references when I got home.
The Spectator have made it clear that regardless of what state regulation parliament imposes upon the press…
To say this is ‘admirable’ would be to damn it with faint praise. It is magnificent.
A recurring theme in Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature (see some earlier postings here about this book, here and here) concerns how a modern and humane principle, cruelly ignored in the past, then gets over-emphasised. Such a price is worth paying for the triumph of the principle, says Pinker, but the price is indeed a price, not an improvement.
An example being the extreme lengths now gone to in order entirely to eliminate child abductions by strangers (p. 538):
We here nod sagely. This book is full of cherries like that, pickable by people who think along Samizdata lines. But it also includes fruits to please those deviating from correct opinions in quite other directions.
With regard to the matter of children’s rights, libertarians like me are fond of urging property rights solutions for problems not now considered properly soluble by such means, such as preserving endangered species or sorting out such things as the right to transmit radio waves. But it is worth remembering that we applaud the fading of the idea that parents own their children, to the point where they may destroy them with impunity, as if binning unwanted household junk. And yes, such a right to kill faded because it could. The world can now afford to keep all newborns alive. That doesn’t make this any less of an improvement. Well done us. We can understand why so many people were child killers in the past, and still rejoice that times have changed.
The pages where Pinker describes the murderous cruelties inflicted upon many newborns are very vivid. I will never think of the ceremony of christening in quite the same way. He reminds us that what is being said with it is: this one’s a keeper.
A bit of crime-control theater is surely a small price to pay for the pleasure of living in less cruel times.
Conservative MP Dominic Raab has some good sense on the case against regulating the press here. (Again, non-UK readers should be aware that they might not be able to read this in full). Excerpt:
Sometimes I overcome my squeamishness and read the comment sections on pieces like this. Here, below the article above, is an example from a guy called Keith Meldrum of why I sometimes wonder whether I should regard some of my fellow Brits with pity or contempt:
Well no doubt Mr Meldrum can assume what he likes, but I notice no horror here from him as to the fact that such a high percentage of the UK public are fine and dandy with taking this country back 300+ years in terms of freedom of the press. I guess he regards such ideas as “hopelessly out of date”, rather as how former UK prime minister Tony Blair, in a disgusting speech a few years ago, referred to a concern for such “19th Century values” as the presumption of innocence in criminal cases, habeas corpus, respect for privacy, and so on.
And then there is this creature, by the name of “Celtictaff”:
In other words, because the MSM have behaved like berks at times – and they have – we won’t be missing much if the media are regulated like doctors or whatever. Great. This is classic dog-in-the-manger thinking: Other people don’t have liberty, so why should you? This is dangerously short-sighted and foolish. The proper response, of course, is to demand equality before the law and repeal the current restrictions of freedom of speech that now exist, by copying the US First Amendment and enforcing it.
Instead, like bitter, sad people in despair, we lash out at a decent argument for free speech because of the imperfections of this world. It is a classic case of the best being the enemy of the good. We are not going to achieve a perfectly free society soon, but let’s surely fight to protect what liberties are left.
And remember, as the playwright Tom Stoppard said some years ago, you can tell we have a free press in this country because of the amount of crap that gets printed. Inevitably, a lot of what we read and see in the press and TV will be mediocre at best, or sensationalist rubbish, at worst. But that no more invalidates media freedom than it would justify state regulation of party clothing on a Saturday night because most Britons have the style sense of a toad. The point is that a free press, unshackled by the chilling effects of regulation, has the potential to do good and useful things.
Of course, when the UK media is so dominated in the terrestrial broadcasting sense by a state-financed broadcaster such as the BBC, any idea that we operate a full free market in media and broadcasting needs to be hedged with a bit of a qualification anyway.
An organisation that ought to be regarded with suspicion is the National Union of Journalists, which says that regulation of the media is okay. The NUJ must surely know that the next, almost inevitable step would be state licencing of journalists, something that the NUJ, no doubt keen to enforce a closed shop on journalism, would see as bolstering its power.
Finally, if the letter-writers to the DT and other places think the media needs to be regulated by the sort of people who have done such a splendid job regulating financial services, for example, then they might want to emigrate to a place more to their liking, such as North Korea. Or maybe they should choose France, which operates under a draconian privacy law as Raab points out. Given that many French people are fleeing France due to its high taxes, though, there may not be many takers for this idea, however delightful that country is in many other respects.
I am glad that Adrian Smith has won his case against his employer, Trafford Housing Trust. These links give the story:
- Christian wins case against employers over gay marriage comments (The Guardian)
- Social media, employment, religious views and freedom of speech (Law & Religion UK, a specialist blog.) This link makes that point that although Mr Smith’s Facebook page did identify him as an employee of the Trafford Housing Trust, no reasonable observer would suppose that Mr Smith’s opinions represented the Trust’s opinions.
Given that “might upset co-workers” could apply to just about any conceivable opinion, and that his actual words were almost comically mild, I am not surprised that there was a widespread sense that Trafford Housing Trust could not be allowed to set a precedent. In the end the judge went so far as to regret in public that for technical legal reasons he could not award Mr Smith any more than a token sum on top of his old job back.
All in all this was one instance where a probing attack by the Creatures from the Dungeon Dimensions was overconfident and was repulsed. I think it likely that the same will prove true of the UKIP fostering case mentioned in Johnathan’s post from Sunday.
Nonetheless, I feel obliged to note that in a free society employers would have the right to make their offer of a job conditional upon an employee shutting up utterly about his personal opinions, or vowing slavish adherence to the opinions of his employers however stupid, or wearing a pink carnation up his nose, or being black, homosexual, Muslim, Nazi or all of the above. Not that I would believe such demands would be at all common. Most people, naturally, would elect to work for a less controlling employer – and in a free society we would not be in the position that so many jobs were in the gift of the government or its proxies. The Trafford Housing Trust is one of these deniable chimeras that have spawned under every rock lately; half “charity”, half government.
There are two phrases that we rarely hear these days: “it’s a free country” and “there ought to be a law against it”. We do not hear these any more for the simple reason that we are no longer a free country, and more often than not there is a law about it.
(link is to the Daily Telegraph so some overseas readers may issues accessing it)
Look, I want you to know that if I thought there was the slightest chance that it was really going to happen my first reaction to this story would probably not have been to say “Cool”.
Even cooler: he is a former Labour defence minister.
Any statutory regulations/provisions against the press in the UK will most gleefully be lapped up here for use against the local media. The one argument we have had; that the modern liberal democracies around the world have self-regulation rather than statutory laws for the media will fall down should the UK opt to embrace statutory legislation as well to police the press. Such moves will only strengthen the hand of oppressive, regressive governments around the English-speaking world.
- Sinha Ratnatunga, Editor, Sunday Times, Sri Lanka
All content on this website (including text, photographs, audio files, and any other original works), unless otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons License.