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]

Presidential candidate Carly Fiorina on the real relationship between big government and big business

I would have had this as today’s Samizdata quote of the day if I hadn’t already done one earlier:

It is fashionable for the left to say we need big government to deal with big business. The opposite is true. Only big business can survive big government.

I plan on using that.

It is from an interview with Carly Fiorina by Jennifer Rubin, for the Washington Post. The rest of it is well worth a read also.

I have no idea what chance Carly Fiorina has of being the next President of the USA, but the nearer she gets to it, the happier I will be. Vice President maybe? Or would that be to underestimate her?

Samizdata quote of the day

If Antarctic ice continues to grow, the trickle of refugees may become a stampede, as Antarctic climate scientists, some of whom have been there for years, are forced to leave their traditional habitats.

– Breitbart’s Eric Worrall laments the impact of climate change.

How regulation created a banking mono-culture

I agree with Mr Quotulatiousness that this, from a posting at the Coyote Blog from July 7th of last year, deserves to be made much of:

One of the factors in the financial crisis of 2007-2009 that is mentioned too infrequently is the role of banking capital sufficiency standards and exactly how they were written. Folks have said that capital requirements were somehow deregulated or reduced. But in fact the intention had been to tighten them with the Basle II standards and US equivalents. The problem was not some notional deregulation, but in exactly how the regulation was written.

In effect, capital sufficiency standards declared that mortgage-backed securities and government bonds were “risk-free” in the sense that they were counted 100% of their book value in assessing capital sufficiency. Most other sorts of financial instruments and assets had to be discounted in making these calculations. This created a land rush by banks for mortgage-backed securities, since they tended to have better returns than government bonds and still counted as 100% safe.

Without the regulation, one might imagine banks to have a risk-reward tradeoff in a portfolio of more and less risky assets. But the capital standards created a new decision rule: find the highest returning assets that could still count for 100%. They also helped create what in biology we might call a mono-culture. One might expect banks to have varied investment choices and favorites, such that a problem in one class of asset would affect some but not all banks. Regulations helped create a mono-culture where all banks had essentially the same portfolio stuffed with the same one or two types of assets. When just one class of asset sank, the whole industry went into the tank.

Well, we found out that mortgage-backed securities were not in fact risk-free, and many banks and other financial institutions found they had a huge hole blown in their capital.

I remember having all this explained to me at the time, although I do not now recall who by. I do recall the word “Basel” coming up a lot.

My title above is in the past tense, but I presume problems like this have since got worse rather than better. What will be the dates of the next financial crisis, I wonder?

Samizdata quote of the day

Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast and give to the poor. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. So he went on Twitter instead and called Michael Gove a ‘vile reptilian evil tory scumbag’, and linked to a cartoon of Iain Duncan Smith stealing a paralysed woman’s wheelchair. And lo, he felt better and went for a £3.50 caramel macchiato with some mates from the BBC.

– Libby Purves, who lives behind the Time paywall, has some fun with Matthew chapter 19. Mick Hartley quotes from the Purves piece at his blog, in a piece entitled Virtue signalling. You can’t Read The Whole Thing at Mick Hartley’s, but you can read a bit more of it.

In defence of the politics of fear

It is being claimed by the losers in this election that the winners campaigned on fear. Which they did. But what is wrong with fear? What is wrong with being scared? It is a very rational thing to feel, in the face of something scary.

The experience of the British electorate is that when the Labour Party promises to do stupid things, it is very stupid and you shouldn’t vote for it. So far so adequate. But when Labour promises to do only sensible things, that is when it is truly dangerous, because then it is liable to win, and to wreck the finances of the country. It does this every time it gets into power. Who wouldn’t be scared of that? Who, when campaigning against this wrecking ball of a political party, wouldn’t appeal to the fear that so many entirely sensible voters feel about such a scary thing?

Which is why, by the way, Ed Miliband is not the basic reason why Labour lost, this time around. The main reason was the recent bad experiences of the electorate. “New Labour” turned out even worse than Silly Old Labour, because New Labour actually did some serious damage. The more cunningly it (by which I mean Prime Minister Tony Blair) misled us about the damage it would do, and then flat out lied about the damage it was doing, the worse that damage became. So, what could Ed Miliband do? He floundered waffled, not because he is by nature a flounderer and a waffler. Others, unable to separate what he was saying from how he said it, will disagree with me, but I think that had Ed Miliband had a persuasive case to put, he could and would have put it very well.

Tony Blair recently said that Miliband had turned left, i.e. opted for Silly Old Labour, and that Miliband would consequently lose. But had Miliband presented himself as New Labour 2, he would have done little better, given the electorate’s recent experience of New Labour 1.

Because of all those opinion pollsters, I was becoming very scared that Labour might win. Which was why, with all his and their faults, regularly explained here, I wanted Cameron and his Conservatives to win, and with as little help as possible from inevitably even more statist small party collaborators. Was I wrong to be scared? I don’t think so.

Luckily, it seems that a decisive slice of my fellow-countrymen shared my fears. Maybe all those polls were right and this slice of Conservative support only made up its mind at the last possible moment, after all the pollsters had ceased their polling. No doubt quite a few baffled pollsters now think that, or at least want to. Or maybe David Cameron, in some nefarious Prime Ministerial way, arranged for the pollsters all to say that it was going to be a dead heat, to scare his more indolent and unwilling voters off their bums or away from UKIP. Whatever. My point is, all those frightened people were quite right to be frightened of the prospect of Labour government (especially one in league with the Scottish Nationalists), and the Conservatives were quite right to speak to those fears. It was their best argument. For many voters, it was their only argument. It was also a very good and persuasive argument.

As for the supposed superiority of the politics of hope, well, if this means hoping that tax-and-spend-like-there’s-no-tomorrow statism will turn out better next time, then the less hope anyone can be persuaded to feel about all that, the better.

Apathy sends a message

I agree with commenters on the piece I did early this morning, who said that the result of this election is a least worst outcome. All the political people whose opinions I most dislike are weeping and wailing and gnashing whatever remains of their teeth (what with the world-famed past deficiencies of British nationalised dental care). And that’s very good. But, like Rob Fisher, and despite having strong preferences concerning the national outcome, I personally ended up voting for nobody. Nobody will do much of what I want, and nobody will refrain from doing big things that I do not want, so nobody was who I voted for. I considered both the Conservative and the UKIPper, but, as the deadline got nearer and nearer, I could not bring myself to vote for either of them. I presume that the Conservative was and will remain ‘my’ MP. Yes.

But the good news is that, having spent last night and the early hours of the morning watching the story of the election unfold on the telly, I can report that voting for nobody most definitely does send a message. Turnout matters. Does low turnout signify apathy? Maybe so, but apathy is still a message, and not a message that these fanatically political people like to be told. If not voting accomplished nothing, then why all the nagging, which happens before every election, from the sort of people whose political opinions I most dislike that I should be voting? Yes, refusal to select your least unappealing lizard does definitely irk the lizards.

Most of the politicians I heard on the telly overnight just took it in turns to say that since we don’t yet know the result I won’t answer the question, and let’s just wait and see. But the now rather elderly Peter Hain bucked this conversational trend. Hain used to be an MP but is not one anymore. He wasn’t bothered about saying something interesting but off-message, and he actually did say some interesting things. This election result, Hain said, is an anti-Westminster result. In Scotland this expressed itself in the huge breakthrough success of the SNP. In England, it took the form of the impressive pile of votes amassed by UKIP, and everywhere in the relentlessly diminishing votes gained over the longer term by both Labour and the Conservatives, and by the way that the Lib Dem vote fell off a cliff at this election, following their actual participation in government. And, said Hain, this anti-Westminster animus took the form of lots of people just not voting at all, as it has done for quite a while now. We hate you bastards! That was the message, said Hain. In other words, apathy does send a message, and there it was being received loud and clear, on the telly, by a Talking Head. (Hain’s cure for all this protest and apathy is quite different from mine, but that’s a different argument.)

→ Continue reading: Apathy sends a message

Samizdata quote of the day

How can the Tories have won? We did so many tweets and photoshops. I just don’t get it. #GE2015

– Favourite-blogger-of-mine 6k spots a particularly choice tweet, by David Schneider.

Scottish questions

It is, as I type this, only a few hours since the polls closed, and this graphic is not the result of Britain’s General Election. It is merely a guess, based on asking people just after they had voted who they voted for. But, for what it’s worth, here it is:

Conservatives316

I found it at the Guido Fawkes blog, which has been the pair of spectacles, as it were, through which I have mostly been viewing this now-concluded election campaign.

I have learned the hard way that what I hope for and what will happen in elections are not the same thing, not least because I tend to choose my electoral spectacles on the basis of pleasure rather than mere enlightenment. But the story told in the above graphic is very close to what I was and am hoping for, given the plausible possibilities or likelihoods that it made sense to be choosing between.

(What I would have liked, in a perfect, parallel-universe and wholly implausible world, would have been an election in which candidates were falling over themselves to offer swingeing tax cuts and competing about who could close down the most government departments and slash and burn the most in the way of government spending. All this, while the voters all stood around jeering, and saying: “Yeah, they say they’re going to slash and burn the public sector, but do they really mean it? They would say that, wouldn’t they?” Dream on, Micklethwait.)

The TV broadcasters have now been saying, for several hours now, that the Conservatives are doing significantly better than had been expected but not well enough to be truly happy because destined to occupy more Parliamentary seats than everyone else put together, that the Scottish Nationalists are engaged in sweeping Scotland and annihilating the Scottish Labour Party thus causing Labour, who are not doing well in England anyway, to do very badly indeed in the UK as a whole, that the Lib Dems are taking a hammering everywhere, and that the UK Independence Party is going to get a small mountain of votes, including a great many from Labour, but only a tiny molehill of seats.

The biggest story, as I watch my telly in the small but getting bigger hours of Friday morning, is the electoral earthquake (choose your preferred geological or climatological metaphor) that is erupting, exploding, sweeping across, engulfing, swamping, blah blah blah, … Scotland.

→ Continue reading: Scottish questions

On the history of death and taxes

I have recently been suffering from one of those annoying state-of-the-art flu bugs that made me properly ill for only a few days, but which then hasn’t allowed me to get truly better for another month. I still await full functionality.

When in such a state, I find serious writing difficult. (I can still manage unserious writing.) But what I really like to do when thus semi-incapacitated, is to read. And there is nothing, I find, like reading well-written history about long-ago times to make me count my modern blessings and cheer me up.

I recently began what looks like being a very good book about King Edward I. (A short excerpt from this book, on the subject of medieval historical evidence, can be read here.) Edward I was the English monarch who won the Battle of Crécy, and who soon after that presided – if that’s the right word – over the Black Death. You want a bug? That was a bug.

But I haven’t got to the Black Death bits yet. …

(LATER: And I won’t ever. I’m muddling Edward I up with Edward III, see commenter number one below, to whom thanks, and with apologies to everyone else. Edward III was the victor of Crécy, and I will wait in vain for anything about the Black Death in this book. I will be learning about such persons as Simon de Montfort. But the Black Death was, as I have read elsewhere, very nasty.)

… In the bits I have read so far, Edward is still a teenager, and his dad, Henry III, is fretting about how to crush a rebellion in his French possessions, and in particular (p. 16), how to persuade his English subjects to foot the bill for that enterprise:

The obvious solution was to impose a general levy on everyone – a tax – and Henry’s immediate predecessors had on occasion done just that. King Richard and King John had found that they could raise huge sums in this way – England, it bears repeating, was a rich and prosperous country – but such taxes proved highly unpopular, …

It is always worth keeping an eye out for a use of the word “but” when it would make more sense to have encountered the word “and”, or “therefore”. The unpopularity of taxes in England on the one hand, and on the other, the fact that England was a rich and prosperous country sound to me a lot like a cause and an effect. But the way that modern-day author Marc Morris phrases it, if your country is rich, it can accordingly afford to pay higher taxes without its richness being in any way disturbed.

It was this next bit that made me laugh out loud:

… but such taxes proved highly unpopular, and were regarded as tantamount to robbery.

Ah those medieval fools, so lacking in our modern grasp of the obvious and fundamental differences between taxes and robbery!

Here is a way in which things – things that in general are so much better now than then – have actually got worse.

I do not want to single out Marc Morris for criticism here. He is only describing matters in a way that most of his readers will immediately understand. Taxation? Of course. What he personally thinks about the idea of there now being higher taxes, to pay for such things as foreign wars, now, I do not know. As for me, although I will not live to see it, I look forward to a time when both taxation and death (at the sort of age that I will in due course be encountering it) are thought of in the same kind of way that we now think only of such things as the Black Death.

How on earth could those blundering and miserable twenty-first centurions not understand such obvious ideas?

Samizdata quote of the day

The fundamental problem is that the majority of otherwise peaceful and law-abiding Muslims are unwilling to acknowledge, much less to repudiate, the theological warrant for intolerance and violence embedded in their own religious texts.

– An excerpt from Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book, quoted here.

Thank you Mick Hartley.

Heroes and villains

Near to the end (on p. 189) of Peter Thiel’s Zero to One there is this very quotable quote, which I think captures a lot about both the success and the failure of Ayn Rand as a story teller:

That we need individual founders in all their peculiarity does not mean that we are called to worship Ayn Randian “prime movers” who claim to be independent of everybody around them. In this respect Rand was a merely half-great writer: her villains were real, but her heroes were fake.

I agree with both parts of that last pronouncement, but I am guessing that not everyone who regularly comes here would.

Also, some libertarians have asserted (for example in the comments on this earlier Thiel posting that I did here a while back) that there is now a distinct whiff of the villain about Peter Thiel himself. As he relates in Zero to One, he and his Paypal pals worked out how to use large amounts of computer data to spot crooks, and thereby to save Paypal a ton of money. Now he has made another fortune to add to his Paypal fortune, by selling this expertise to, among others, various branches of the US government, a notorious collector of large amounts of data in ways that most libertarians are not at all happy about.

Commenter “Rob”, to whom thanks, emailed me this link to a Thiel video performance. Rob recommends, as do I, looking at and listening to a particular bit of the Q+A at 1:06:00. Says Rob:

I don’t buy Thiel’s response.

I hope, although I promise nothing, to be offering a longer review of Zero to One, Real Soon Now. I am more than ever convinced that Peter Thiel is a very interesting man.

Would my libertarian socialising work better if I embraced the social media?

Tomorrow evening, I have another of my Last Friday of the month meetings. Pete Comley will be talking about inflation, and about the book that he has recently published on that subject. More about tomorrow’s meeting in this posting at my personal blog.

What this posting here is about is something rather different, which is that since about last Christmas or thenabouts, many of the emails that I send out each month inviting my libertarian friends and acquaintances to attend my meetings have been going astray. Not all of them. Just quite a few, most especially any that end in “gmail.com”. They have either been diverted to spam folders, or else they’ve not been arriving at all.

It would appear that the big emailing enterprises, notably Gmail, have been cracking down on spammers recently, and Gmail in particular has now decided that my emails are in that category. It only needs one recipient of one of my emails to call it spam, and all the other users of Gmail (or whatever) are immediately switched by Gmail (or whatever) central command, often to their great puzzlement, to refusing to receive any emails from me, even individual and personal ones. Such as the ones I have been sending out to individuals, including to individuals I have been in close touch with for over a decade, to try to tell them about all this email disruption. Very tiresome. Very tiresome.

My meetings are a big deal for me. But for others, if the emails suddenly stop arriving, well, that may cause a twinge of disappointment, but there are other meetings, and the mysterious disappearance off the radar of mine is not their number one problem. So, the problem is mine, and mine alone. My motto for applying modern technology to my life is: do not unleash solutions upon circumstances which are not a problem. But now, I have a definite problem.

Several remedies have been suggested for my emailing difficulties. Pete Comley himself suggested to me a few days ago that I should use something called MailChimp. That, he said, should get me around those spam filters. That sounds like it might be a good answer.

However, I am also thinking that maybe I should make a bigger change to my life, and embrace the “social media”, those inverted commas indicating Old Man fear and befuddlement rather than any lack of respect for the media in question. I’m talking Facebook and Twitter, but maybe others also, the workings of which I know even less about. For Facebook in particular has also been recommended to me a couple of other friends as the answer to my meetings problems. And Twitter might also help in spreading the word about these meetings, and my words about other things, and my words about my other words and about the admired words of others, etc. etc. So, should I now jump into all that?

Samizdata as a whole has not done much in the way of social media-ing. We don’t have a problem so why bother with a non-solution? But maybe we do have a problem? Whether Samizdata does or does not have a problem, I genuinely don’t know, but I am certain that I do have a problem, to which the social media may well be the best solution, if perhaps not the only one. So, should this particular member of the Samizdata team perhaps be doing more with this twenty-first century version of chatting over the garden fence (if that’s what it is)?

Comments on my Samizdata postings are always, to me, very welcome, but comments would be especially welcome on this posting.

First, what about those Gmail problems? Has anyone else been suffering from, or heard about others suffering from, similar problems? I have talked with several people who have so suffered – talked face-to-face, or on the “telephone”, with those old things called spoken words about these difficulties, but can find nothing about all these dramas on the internet. I am trying hard not to blame this on the fact that I have been using the same mega-enterprise to do the searching as has been causing me most of my email miseries. My guess is that Google has been having recent very big problems on the email front, from the likes of the government of China, and that I am collateral damage in a war that dominates the answers to any searching by me for “gmail problems”.

And second, what of the social media? Comments of the sort that say that Facebook and Twitter are both works of the devil and symptomatic of the decadence, narcissism, frivolity, triviality, moral emptiness, etc. etc., of the modern world may perhaps now erupt at the bottom of this. Fair enough. If that’s what you think, feel entirely free to say so. But personally, although horribly ignorant of the workings of the social media, I am inclined to be far more respectful of them. Clearly, they do answer a lot of people’s needs. So, I’d especially appreciate hearing from people who do now use Facebook and/or Twitter, with a little bit of explication about what they use them for, and why, and how they are particularly helped, so that I can get an idea of what, along these lines, I could and should myself be doing. Maybe. Thanks in anticipation.