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Robert Lawson puts numbers to the economic freedom of the world

I believe in making a bit of a fuss about visiting pro-free-market luminaries. Our movement needs celebs, and one good way to get celebs is to make our own people into celebs. One more photo of whoever it is, on a blog, won’t turn him into a celeb on its own, but every little helps. So, below is a photo I took last week, of Robert Lawson, during the Q&A after a talk that he gave at the Adam Smith Institute office in Great Smith Street, on the subject of the Economic Freedom of the World, and more to the point, on the measuring of it:


He looks like he’s conducting an orchestra, doesn’t he? Actually, he was drawing graphs in the air in front of him. The lighting in the ASI’s upstairs premises where this talk took place prefers to light the walls rather than the speaker, so that was one of the very few semi-adequate photos of Lawson that I managed.

This other photo, on the other hand, which showed the final graphic that Lawson gave us on one of those big telly screens that used to cost a fortune but which are now ubiquitous (thank you: economic freedom), came out much better, because the screen supplied its own light:


Free The World indeed.

This work by Robert Lawson, putting numbers to which countries are doing what in the realm of economic freedom, should not be confused with that being done by a rival enterprise, the Heritage Foundation.

It’s good that there is competition in this important intellectual arena, but to me it is very confusing, and I don’t think I am the only one thus confused. The ASI email about the event included the words “Economic Freedom of the World Index”. But googling for that before the event took me to this Heritage site. On the subject of this rivalry, Lawson was very polite, and I think we all sensed some behind-the-scenes animosity there. He described the Heritage Freedom Index as somewhat more speculative and opinion-based and less based on actual data sets, supplied by others, than his own efforts. “Black box” was the phrase he used, by which he meant that it is harder to scrutinise how the decisions were arrived at in the Heritage process than it is to scrutinise the Fraser Institute process. In contrast, all the data that Lawson referred to in his talk, with his other graphic offerings on the screen above, is publicly available.

Here is a .pdf of the Economic Freedom of the World 2016 Annual Report, which tells the story as of 2014, which I believe is the latest date that Lawson has done the sums for. Scroll down to page 8 and you get the big national league table. The positions I notice are: Hong Kong in the lead, the UK at number 11, USA at 16. Hong Kong is top every time. The UK is holding about steady. The USA has been falling steadily during the last couple of decades or so.

Lawson also drew our particular attention to that remarkable ex-USSR-possession, Georgia, which is trying to do a Leicester City and is currently at 6. (Heritage doesn’t include Georgia in its top 10.)

And so on. Hours of fun to be had. The more serious point is that economic freedom the world over had been rising healthily until about 2010, but is now flatlining.

True Believer Austrianists might have winced a little at Lawson’s determination to be empirical, to gather evidence, to test theory against fact. He was quite explicit that social science, broadly defined (in the German manner) to mean systematically gathered and systematically tested knowledge about how the world works, is something that is entirely possible. He pointed out that economics is not the only science that is unable to conduct all the experiments it might like to, but instead must mostly depend on theories, and on observations to test those theories. When was the last time you saw an astronomer conducting an experiment with some planets or stars?

But, please don’t take my word for any of this. Thank goodness for those websites, because if you really want to get to grips with all this stuff, you need not depend on me to tell you about it. All I really want to say here is: interesting man, interesting talk, and well done the ASI for hosting it. Apparently Lawson was only here because he wanted to be at this sporting event, last Sunday. If so, then thank you: sport.

Have they even been selling EUrope in Europe?

Following Brexit, an interesting area of agreement has emerged between members of the two contending teams, by which I really mean between Brexiteer me and Daniel Korski, who recently penned a Politico piece entitled Why we lost the Brexit vote. We. His team lost. His discussion of why his team lost strikes me as well worth reading.

Korski was for the EU, and for Britain being in the EU. He describes it as:

— an extraordinary project of continental peacemaking and economic liberalization —

However, those dashes at the beginning and the end of that quote are because that is a parenthetically pre-emptive addition to a long passage in which Korski tells us many of things that have been wrong with the EU, especially recently. The EU …:

… has become increasingly distant from voters. It has struggled with the contradictions laid bare by the euro crisis and come up against the limits of its attraction, in Turkey and on its border with Russia. The resulting impression is of a Continent lurching from crisis to crisis. …

There is much more in a similar vein. Read it all, if you are the sort that relishes unflattering descriptions of the EU. The …:

… the impression of the EU across the Continent was of an enterprise no longer delivering for Europeans. …

The word “impression” occurs twice during this peroration, and again in one of the subheadings that Korski, or someone, has added. But it all reads like a lot worse than just an impression.

→ Continue reading: Have they even been selling EUrope in Europe?

Thoughts on the politics of coastlines

Samizdata is a blog about ideas and about the human institutions that result from, embody, and spread ideas. Which ideas are good, which bad, and why? Almost every day at least one of us here will be telling you, or quoting someone else telling you, about some small or not so small aspect of this huge agenda.

But reality itself also has very contrasting consequences, in the form of the different versions of reality that prevail in different places, and in the form of the sort of the contrasting ideas that these contrasting circumstances encourage and discourage.

Consider coastlines. My friend Roger Hewland, who runs the CD shop where I must have bought about half of the enormous classical CD collection I now possess, is fond of saying that it makes a huge difference to a country how much of a sea coastline it has. Being a little older than me, Roger Hewland was born just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and the difference between Britain and Germany, in terms of the lengths of their coastlines, is a favourite example he offers of this contrast. A thoughtful child living through WW2 was bound to wonder why that huge war was happening. That Germany has only a rather short coastline compared to the length of its other borders, while Britain is surrounded by the sea, became part of Hewland’s answer. I disagree with Hewland about many things, what with him being a socialist albeit a congenially entrepreneurial one, but we agree about the political importance of coastlines.

This contrast, between seafaring and land-based powers, has dominated political and military history, both ancient and modern. Conflicts like that between Athens and Sparta, and then between all of Greece and Persia, and the later conflicts between the British – before, during and since the time of the British Empire – and the succession of land-based continental powers whom we British have quarrelled with over the centuries, have shaped the entire world. Such differences in political mentality continue to matter a lot.

Throughout most of modern human history, despots could completely command the land, including all inland waterways. but they could not command the oceans nearly so completely. Wherever the resources found in the oceans or out there beyond them loomed large in the life and the economy of a country or empire, there was likely to be a certain sort of political atmosphere. In places where the land and its productivity counted for pretty much everything, and where all communications were land-based, a very different political atmosphere prevailed.

→ Continue reading: Thoughts on the politics of coastlines

Samizdata quote of the day

It’s the big fact of American life now, isn’t it? That we are patronized by our inferiors.

– Peggy Noonan, behind the Wall Street Journal paywall, but quoted by Ed Driscoll at Instapundit.

America’s political division now, in one sentence.

A television show about what happens to ex-Muslims

I just spotted, in the Radio Times, this:


I seem to recall reading not that long ago about this TV show, at Mick Hartley’s blog. Yes, in this posting. The show goes out on ITV, this coming Thursday, at 10.40pm. I love my Gogglebox (see above right) and will be watching this show, and recording it. I may even, although I promise nothing, have more to say about the show here, after I have actually seen it.

Judging by the blurb about this programme that I just read here, it deals with a quite wide range of nastinesses that ex-Muslims get subjected to by Muslims, nastinesses both legal and illegal, from merely nasty to downright evil.

Although this show will describe and criticise the merely nasty things that ex-Muslims are subjected to (being ostracised by their families, for instance), I doubt if it will go as far as saying that nastiness of that sort should be illegal, any more than I would. On the other hand, the programme will also be noting that many Muslims favour doing things which in Britain are illegal and which elsewhere ought to be illegal if they now aren’t. I refer to things like murder, incitement to murder, assault and the forcible denial of the right of ex-Muslims to express ex-Muslim opinions in public. For that I applaud this programme, and its maker, Deeyah Khan.

I focus on the illegal and thoroughly wicked things that are done by Muslims to ex-Muslims because this particular issue strikes me as one that ought particularly to be focussed on, by all who dislike either the general influence of Islam (as I do – I believe in being nasty to Islam), or by those who merely wish Muslims to stop doing uncontroversially terrible and terror-inducing things to ex-Muslims, and to infidels generally. Me, I think that the content of Islamic doctrine leads pretty directly to Muslims doing terrible things, but that is a different argument, and one that divides those who merely want “Islamic extremism” to abate.

The matter of what is divisive, and for whom, is important. When engaged in an ideological war, it can help to focus particularly on issues which will unite the people on your side, while dividing your opponents. Whatever your opinions about the nastiness of Islam in general (I think it very nasty), you will surely agree with me (even as you perhaps denounce me for telling all Muslims that their religion is nasty and thereby uniting them all against all infidels) that murdering ex-Muslims merely for being ex-Muslims is wrong and should be cracked down on with the full force of the law. So, the illegally evil things that happen to ex-Muslims are an issue that should be focussed on with particular enthusiasm. Hence my particular enthusiasm about this televlsion show.

I recently heard about how a quite prominent British Muslim, of the sort who argues that Western Civilisation, and Islam in approximately its present large and very influential form (just somewhat nicer), are capable of getting along amicably, and even in a state of mutual creativity. I think something like this may one day happen also, but only after Islam has at least been put on the ideological defensive (hence my belief in criticising Islam in general), in other words not for a longish while.

So anyway, this “good Muslim” was asked whether he condemned the murdering of ex-Muslims. He equivocated. I say that people like this should be faced again and again with this question, and made to pick their team. Is he so terrified of offending the many Muslims who, although not themselves murderers, nevertheless side with those who do murder ex-Muslims, that he is instead willing to offend all of the rest of us, including those Muslims who vehemently oppose such murders? Make up your damn mind, mate. In the not inconceivable event that he reads this, he may recognise himself. Good.

And Muslims who do pick their team, by unequivocally and publicly supporting such murders, should be confronted even more severely, in ways that perhaps include them being prosecuted for incitement to murder:

The programme finds that a number of senior British Bangladeshi imams, mainstream figures in society, have called for the execution of atheist bloggers in Bangladesh, claiming they have insulted Islam, and making a number of anti-atheist statements.

Making “anti-atheist statements” is fine, from the strictly legal point of view, provided no incitement to murder or to violence is involved. Just calling atheists wicked and mistaken shouldn’t be illegal. But nor should “insulting Islam”. However, calling for the murder of ex-Muslims is utterly vile, and it is a very good idea to make such Imams either squirm and equivocate in front of television cameras, or else show their true and vile colours, whichever they choose to go with, and for the rest of us to sneer at them for the morally and intellectually vacuous individuals that they are.

More importantly, we should be supplying moral and practical support to all those ex-Muslims who speak out about their beliefs. We should all try to make this an easier path to follow than it is now. This most definitely includes making, and watching and blogging about, television shows about ex-Muslims, full of admiration for them and for their courage and their wisdom, and full of contempt and denunciation of those who want them to shut up.

Metamaterial mechanisms

Dezeen is, for me, a daily visit website. Why? Well, partly it’s for the, sometimes amazing, big modern buildings they feature, in among all the, usually boring, small modern buildings which are their daily bread. And partly it’s for postings like this one which appeared today, entitled “Metamaterials make it possible to create mechanisms from a single piece of plastic”.

How on earth can a single piece of plastic be a mechanism? Follow the link, and watch the little scrap of video which shows you such an object in action. Maybe you’ve already seen a door handle like this, but I never have.

What this video doesn’t show is the details of how on earth this was accomplished. If you want to know that as well, keep reading the Dezeen posting linked to above. And if you really want to get to grips with who they are and what they are up to, try reading this paper, entitled “Metamaterial Mechanisms”. I won’t be doing this myself, but this is why Samizdata has commenters.

Even though the names of those doing this (Frohnhofen, Lindsay, Kovacs, Lopes, Chen) seem to span the world, my impression, for whatever it may be worth, is that what we see here is Germany doing what Germany does best. Which is: taking some newly discovered form of creativity which more Anglo-inclined tinkerers have been tinkering with for the last few years, for the fun of it, and studying it systematically, so that it can then be studied properly, by many more people, and then done properly, on an industrial scale. Fun, in Germany (as this guy is fond of explaining), is what happens after the working day has ended.

There is a lot wrong with the world, now as always. But one good thing that shows no sign of stopping is the invention and development of amazing new gadgets, processes and manufacturing techniques. Long may this continue.

How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

A friend of mine reckons that Ex-Prime-Minister David Cameron’s plan was, all long, to extricate Britain from the EU. This theory reminds me of the similar things that were said about Gorbachev and the collapse of the old USSR. If Gorbachev had been a CIA agent, working to contrive the exact USSR collapse that happened, what would he have done differently? Very little. It’s the same with Cameron and Brexit. How could Cameron have done a better job of contriving Brexit than he actually did do?

You may say: Cameron might actually have argued for Brexit, in public. But if he had done that, then many of those north of England Labourites who hate Cameron might have voted Remain instead of Out, just to stick it to those out-of-touch Etonian bastards, the way they actually did feel they were sticking it to the Etonians by voting Out. And Britain might now be chained to the sinking ship that is the EU rather than liberated from it.

But, whether by design, as my friend thinks, or by accident, as most others assume, Brexit has unified the Conservative Party. With that observation, I move from the territory of undisprovable speculative diversion into the land of out-in-the-open truth. And I am not the only one who has noticed this.

For all of my adult life, the Europe issue has divided the Conservative Party. Until now.

→ Continue reading: How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party

Some sports news

Team 1: A Samar, Mudassar Muhammad, R Pillai, D Weston, Sajid Liaqat, Asad Mohammad, Khaled Khan, Kashif Hussain, ME Latif, D Kumar.

Team 2: Afzal Virk, B Zaigham, Sadat Sidiqi, Azam Khalil, Shahzeb Choudhry, Usman Arif, Muhammad Asif, Azam Mohammad, Mohammad Naveed, Sweed Ullah, W Jalali.

Team 1 is Germany. Team 2 is Sweden. These two teams have today been contesting a game of cricket, a game truncated by the weather. Keep track of all the other games in the ICC World Cricket League Europe Region Division Two Twenty20, here.

I know what you’re thinking. “D Weston” doesn’t sound like a very German sort of name.

Vít Jedlička talks Liberland to Libertarian Home

Last night I attended Libertarian Home’s first Thursday of the month meeting, at which the speaker was Vít Jedlička:


Jedlička is a libertarian politician. Maybe you think that’s a contradiction, but if we libertarians are to score any victories out there in the big wide world, we must have such people, and the very least we can do is listen to what they say, and, assuming we like the approximate sound of it, we should back them up and beat ours drums for them, even as we nitpick about details, tactics, principles, etc.

I did zero homework for this meeting, and have done extremely little since, so many of those reading this will know a lot more about this man than I do. All I can now offer is a few thoughts about how he came across to me last night, and about what he definitely is – but also probably is not – achieving.

Jedlička is trying to establish a small country, called Liberland. He has found a small chink in the armour of the state system, in the form of a small, unclaimed patch of territory between Serbia and Croatia. He and his collaborators have moved into it, and have declared it to be a state.

Jedlička is careful to call what is happening out there in Liberland a minimal rather than non-existent state. After all, if only to defend itself against the rest of the state system, most notably the state of Croatia, Liberland needs something very like a state apparatus itself. There’s a lot of ducking and weaving going on.

Jedlička struck me as a guy who, unlike some libertarians I could mention, including some who have become involved in schemes for new libertarian countries, well understands the difference between how the world ought to be, and how it actually is. When asked how he planned to stop this or that attack on Liberland, he did not descend into libertarian rant-mode about how such attacks would be wicked. Of course they’d be wicked. That wasn’t the question. Instead, he frankly acknowledged that this enterprise may not work. He presented it as very much a load-fire-take-aim, fear-the-worst-and-try-to-prepare-for-it but hope-for-the-best sort of an enterprise.

Why then, the air of breezy optimism that Jedlička exuded all evening? Why the sense that at least something was definitely being accomplished, even if Liberland itself soon or eventually gets snuffed out? One word answer: publicity.

→ Continue reading: Vít Jedlička talks Liberland to Libertarian Home

Olympics games at Dezeen

Now that Brexit has been and gone, the soon-to-be-upon-us Olympic Games are the new must-do design opportunity:


That’s going to get around. Although if you think it’s only Russians who are drug cheats I say you are being very naive. Nevertheless the above logo is all part of why I always enjoy all the they’re not ready stories which inevitably circulate around now in the Olympic cycle, before enough other people’s money is thrown at the various problems to make them go away, just in time.

This little flurry of bad Olympic news won’t last, alas. Drug doubts will get no mention from the television commentators. Bad Olympic news – i.e. proper Olympic news – will be submerged by a flood of good news, in the form of the various drugged-up competitors winning medals, and when it ends, it will all be declared a huge success. As of now, however, I can live in hope.

Have they brought back the window tax?!?!

If you type “window tax” into google, and click on “images”, you get images like this one:


That being the first image that wikipedia shows you, in their entry on the Window tax.

Says wikipedia about this tax:

The window tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house. It was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in England, France, Ireland and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. To avoid the tax some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed or reglazed at a later date). In England and Wales it was introduced in 1696 and was repealed in 1851,

London, and presumably all the other cities of Britain, still contain many such bricked-up windows, that date from this time.

But yesterday, I saw a new block of flats, still in the process of being constructed, just a few dozen yards from my own front door.

The front of which looks like this:


Let me be clear. There is a vertical row of bricked-up windows there, in between the real windows. And you can clearly see that this is a brand new building, not even yet occupied.

Here is a close-up shot of an individual bricked-up window:


I have long known the bare outlines of this window tax story, as I guess most of my fellow Brits do also, especially if they live in towns or cities. Windows were taxed, so people filled the windows in, to avoid paying the tax.

So, my first – outraged and spasmodic – reaction to this new building, when I saw these non-windows was: My God, have they brought back the window tax?

But, on further reflection, I further guess that this is isn’t the first time that recent property developers have created bricked-up windows, or what look like bricked-up windows, to create, pretty cheaply, the suggestion of antiquity in an otherwise blandly modern building.

When I see other bricked-up windows, I will no longer assume that they date from the time of the window tax. Maybe they merely allude to this time.

But, am I missing something? Is there a more practical purpose to such non-windows? Is it helpful to create windows that can later be un-bricked-up (bricked-down?), at some future date? Does it help to think about maybe wanting a window that you don’t want now, beforehand, just in case?

Is this a mere part of the construction process. Will these bricked-up windows all turn into real windows very soon, before anyone even moves in?

Or are there quite different reasons for making a new bricked-up window, which I am unaware of? Perhaps so. In fact, probably so. And if so, I hope that commenters will perhaps enlighten me.

“With Brexit, the stagnant pool has been replaced by a running stream …”

Andrew Kennedy writes at Conservative Home about how the Conservative Party has seen a post-Brexit surge in membership. Commenters point out that the same thing has happened in the other British political parties. But why? None of the parties performed in recent weeks in a particularly attractive manner, so what’s happening?

I think that commenter David Webb, a recent (re)joiner of the Conservative Party, nails it:

I rejoined post-referendum because of a feeling that politics mattered again. Within the confines of the EU, nothing much was worth debating, as nothing much could be changed. Apart from the continuous drift to the bureaucratic European superstate, inertia ruled.

With Brexit, the stagnant pool has been replaced by a running stream … that’s not to say everything will be wonderful, but once again ideas count, and things can get done.

But then, I would think that David Webb nails it, because I said something very similar in my posting here at the time when the referendum result was becoming clear. I didn’t say that all the political parties would now have a membership surge, but I could have and should have, because it was the logical thing to deduce from what I was then realising. Political debate matters again, not just for me and for all those who think as I do, but for everyone with any sort of political opinion.

As David Webb says, “ideas count” means that bad ideas also now count for somewhat more than they did, unless they are the bad ideas that the EU stood for and imposed upon us, in which case they now count for slightly less.

It will be interesting – and no doubt in some ways rather scary – to see what British public opinion now consists of, given that for the last few decades much of it has been sedated by our EU membership. First out of the blocks were the racists, who perhaps imagined that Britain voting Leave meant that all the bloody foreigners now had to leave.

But what other political ideas will emerge? As I also said in that earlier posting: good times for blogs like Samizdata, where our good ideas will be celebrated anew and the bad ideas of others will be denounced. Again, speaking for myself, I find that the urge to blog is now stronger. Because it will count for a bit more than it did.

Perhaps the most important next discovery about another bit of British public opinion will concern the forthcoming Labour leadership contest. Labour has also, see above, had a post-Brexit surge in membership. But are those new members yet more Corbyn supporters, or are they anti-Corbynists, wanting a nicer and more traditional Labour Party? My guess is that the Labour leadership contest will be closer than it was last time around, with quite a few who voted for Corbyn last time voting against Corbyn this time around, but not close enough to unseat Corbyn. The Labour collapse will continue. But, what do I know? We shall see.