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]

Thoughts on the altered economic and ideological incentives faced by the rich and famous

Almost a month ago now, I attended an event, organised by Christian Michel, at which another friend, Professor Tim Evans, spoke about the public and private supply of public goods. You attend such events in the hope that they will make you think things that might not otherwise have occurred to you, and Tim’s talk had this effect on me. What follows is based on what I mostly wrote the day after that talk. I had intended to finish writing this and then post it here before going on a recent expedition to stay with friends in the South of France, but travel preparations got in the way of this. However, nothing in what I wrote then had to be said then or never, if you get my meaning, so here is what I put, suitably polished and amended, now.

Tim Evans’s theme was how, over the centuries, institutions for the supply of such things as healthcare, roads, lighthouses (mention was made in that connection of Ronald Coase), education, and suchlike seem to have oscillated, rather slowly and in timespans often long enough for most of those involved not to be aware of them, between private or charitable supply on the one hand, and government control and government provision on the other.

Tim’s other big point (assuming my recollection is about right – I took no notes) is that the perpetual game of political ping-pong that now rages with statists on one side and anti-statists like me (and like Tim) on the other sometimes does scant justice to the complexity of the institutional arrangements involved. So, for instance, arguments about healthcare are routinely presented, on both sides, as an argument between a total free market and total state control, when in reality medicine has long been a very mixed sort of economy. In the USA, typically held up by anti-free-marketeers as an example of what happens when there is no government control at all, the government is heavily involved with (the phrase “in bed with” also springs to mind) those quasi-political entities which determine what a qualified doctor is and who may or may not practise as one.

I like to think that I may have planted the seed of that last notion about governments and medical monopolies in Tim’s head, with a Libertarian Alliance effort of mine from a quarter of a century ago now, entitled How And How Not To Demonopolise Medicine, about which Tim has often said admiring things to me. I just re-read this, and many of the themes in Tim’s talk were alluded to in that also. At around the same time I wrote that piece, I recall expressing, in another Libertarian Alliance piece, a rather jaundiced view about charity, something Tim also mentioned quite a bit but rather more admiringly, particularly in the matter of healthcare.

Which got me thinking about the incentives faced by very rich people, and how these incentives are not the same as they are for regular people. For the super-rich, a charitable donation which is huge by anyone else’s reckoning is liable to be small change, for a start. But just as significantly, I surmise that the super-rich actually think differently from the rest of us, not just because thinking differently is probably what made them super-rich but because being super-rich then induces them some more to think differently.

→ Continue reading: Thoughts on the altered economic and ideological incentives faced by the rich and famous

Samizdata quote of the day

So, the EU is primarily a political project. Just think about it. The mantra of the Remain camp is “to trade with Europe you have to be part of it”. But this is bizarre. Nobody says “to trade with China you have to be part of it”. That would be very scary. They don’t even say “to trade with the USA, you have to be part of it”. Nobody suggests accepting the US constitution or the dollar as part of the price to trade with America.

Alan Sked

Benevolent Laissez Faire conference on May 14th

I am being nudged by Simon Gibbs, who is organising it, to say something here, now, about this Libertarian Home event, about and against taxation.

This event will happen on the afternoon of Saturday May 14th, in Holborn, London. The speakers (see the list here) will include: Yaron Brook; Anton Howes; and a couple of new names to me, “Janina Lowisz, BitNation and Julio Alejandro, Humanitarian Blockchain”. Sounds intriguing, in a twenty first century and good way. I’m guessing that the gist of what they may say will be that the internet makes it possible for things to be crowd-funded and micro-financed and generally supported in ways that not long ago were impossible, and that modern life thus offers even greater opportunities to chip away at and to improve upon the tax-and-spend state, both ideologically and in practice. You could sum those speakers up by saying that there is no need for high taxes in the future (Lowisz, Alejandro), there was no need for high taxes in the past (Howes), and there is no excuse for high taxes ever (Brook).

That nudging I mentioned at the start of this posting is worth emphasising. Based on how a similar event in October 2014 went, which Simon Gibbs also organised, Simon will do whatever he needs to do, having already lined up some good speakers for May 14th, to get also a good throng of people to listen to them and to mingle with and to network with one another. The cost of a ticket is, if you book now, £12, and there is a basic sense in which attenders will be paying their £12 for all that nudging that Simon is now doing, to ensure that this event is a success. The most helpful way that you can support Simon and his nudging would be, if you now know that you want to attend, to book your own ticket, now. To tell Simon, now, that you will be attending, go here, and click on the bigger and lower of the two red rectangles saying: “Join us!”

I could expand, on the wrongs of taxation, on the particular excellence of Anton Howes as a speaker and as an up-and-coming libertarian historian and intellectual, on how interesting and how well organised and welcoming that October 2014 event was (at which Yaron Brook also spoke), and how many attended it, and so on and so forth, but Simon wants the word on this latest event on May 14th to spread now, and he wants this posting to go up now. So, up it goes, now.

Taxation is of course a very topical subject just now. If you want more tax talk here, try this.

How the fettering of capitalism caused and then prolonged the Great Depression

It cannot be said too often and it is especially pertinent right now, given the state of the world’s economy now, and in particular given how America’s Presidential candidates are talking now: The Great Depression was both caused by and then horribly prolonged by bad governmental and political decisions. The Great Depression was not caused by unfettered capitalism. Throughout this unfolding disaster, capitalism was very fettered indeed, and it was these ever-tightening fetters which proved to be so disastrous:

The genesis of the Great Depression lay in the inflationary monetary policies of the U.S. government in the 1920s. It was prolonged and exacerbated by a litany of political missteps: trade-crushing tariffs, incentive-sapping taxes, mind-numbing controls on production and competition, senseless destruction of crops and cattle, and coercive labor laws, to recount just a few. It was not the free market that produced twelve years of agony; rather, it was political bungling on a scale as grand as there ever was.

That is the final paragraph of Lawrence W. Reed’s demolition of Cliché of Progressivism #33 (that it was all the fault of “Unfettered Capitalism”) for FEE (the Foundation for Economic Education). I was steered towards this piece because of its Quotulatiousness. That blog quotulates a few of the early paragraphs of Reed’s piece. I say: read the whole thing.

Almost as important as how the Great Depression began and was prolonged is how it ended, just after World War 2, as Reed also explains very well.

If you want a bit more detail about that recovery, and in particular of its politics, try reading the chapter on mid-twentieth century America in JP Floru’s book Heavens on Earth (SQotD-ed here), which is about eight such happy episodes around the world in recent times. The world now knows, in the words of Floru’s final chapter heading (also the sub-title of his book), “How To Create Mass Prosperity”. Or rather, the sensible parts of it do. The only uncertainly about the free-market, non-interventionist policies that Reed and Floru recommend is in whether such policies will be applied in the first place, and whether they will then be persisted with.

See also this earlier posting here, which reports on, among other things, a ding-dong I had with Lord Skidelsky concerning this exact same point.

Libertarian Home video talks summarised

Libertarian Home holds speaker meetings on the first Thursday of every month. The most recent of these meetings featured a talk by Tim Evans. You can watch and listen to the whole of this talk, which lasts 33 minutes, here. At the other end of that link you can also read a summary, by Libertarian Home’s Simon Gibbs, of the first big chunk of the talk, which consisted of Tim’s take on Jeremy Corbyn. Since that posting went up, Simon Gibbs has done another summary, of what Tim Evans said in the same talk in connection with tomorrow’s Budget.

Videos play to the strengths of human beings as communicators. We have evolved with the innate ability to talk, provided only that we start out hearing others talk, and most of us are pretty good at talking. But we have to learn reading and writing, especially writing, and even the most fluent and practised writers struggle to write down every worthwhile thought that they have ever had.

An extreme case of this is the libertarian historian and IEA apparatchik Stephen Davies, whose movement-building activities cruelly cut into his history-writing time. But: good news, there is a video of an excellent talk given by Davies to Libertarian Home in June 2013 about The History of Individualism, in which he says many of the things that he has not had the time to write about. Better yet, follow that link and you will also encounter a summary by Simon Gibbs of what Davies said. There are many other videos of Steve Davies talking and I recommend all of them. But if you want to learn quickly about a particularly good talk by Davies, follow that link.

Quite aside from their excellence at getting things said that otherwise might not be said, it’s good to see and to hear people whom you are interested in, rather than merely to read what they have written. You get to see what they are like, and something of how they feel about the world as well as how they merely think about it. When speaking, people are often able to say things, of an elusive yet true nature, with a sense of just how sure they are or are not about it all, and in a way that sometimes even surprises them a little. (I sure I am not the only one who sometimes feels that I don’t know what I think until I hear what I say.) You don’t usually receive as much information by watching and listening to someone on video as you would if you had actually been been there, although you sometimes see and hear more, rather as watching sport on television can often be more informative, in some ways, than actually being there. But the point is that video is good in the same kind of way that face-to-face contact can be.

All of which is part of why videos now abound on the internet. They communicate a lot. (The above also explains the popularity of programmes like Skype.)

The trouble is, a lot of videos can take their time, especially videos like the ones I have just been linking to which are simply videos of talks. Take their time? What I mean is: they take your time, often in large gobs.

→ Continue reading: Libertarian Home video talks summarised

Samizdata quote of the day

Whatever one thinks about Trump, and I certainly don’t always agree with him, he is the first major American politician (something he clearly is now) to name directly the entity that seeks to destroy Western civilization. He didn’t even cloak it in “radical Islam.”

The assumption of the “good people” is this will only make things worse, alarm the Muslim world and stir it up (as if it could be any more stirred up). Perhaps, however, it’s the contrary. Perhaps people are sitting in the Islamic world and privately sighing in relief. At last America has a leader (a “strong horse” in their parlance) who isn’t a fool, who is willing to stand up and say what so many already think.

Roger L. Simon

Samizdata quote of the day

The problem of poverty is not a shortage of experts; it’s a shortage of rights.

– On December 6th 2015, William Easterly gave the most recent Hayek Memorial Lecture, on the subject of “The Tyranny of Experts: Foreign Aid versus Freedom for the World’s Poor”.

Just after 13 minutes and 40 seconds into his lecture, Easterly said the above words, twice.

“White privileged hegemony has not been disrupted here …”

I liked one of the comments on this piece, which reports on a piece of feminist glaciology.

Take it away, commenter “Schacar Mevsky”.

Employing whiteness theory, I hypothesize that the authors are attracted to the glacier because it is white, especially at the “peaks” of the mountains, while the brown run off is down “low.” White privileged hegemony has not been disrupted here but infects the study from start to finish. The authors try to mask this by cultural appropriation of terms like “postcolonial analysis” and “feminist glaciology,” but they manifestly privilege phallocentric Western techno thinking. They construct binary, deontological “evidence,” having failed to consider that the glacier they are raping with their instruments is sacred to the Peruvian indigenous peoples, who have sacrificed 16-year old girls to it for millennia because its water “contains its sacred powers” (p. 95). Where, finally, in this allegedly subversive study are the Discourses of the Diasporic Imaginary of the marginalized? The authors privilege the glacier as an “icon.” But what about the Discourses of the iceberg? Of the lowly snowball? Of the ever-maligned piss hole in the snow?

This notion might attract non-comedic attention from academia. Maybe it already has.

The above mockery makes a bit too much sense to be five star academic bullshit, but the guy should stick at it. What he gets so right is the way that these idiots quite quickly reach the stage of trying to out-idiot each other. And by the way, in case you are wondering, “Diasporic Imaginary” is not a misspelling of “Diasporic Imagery”, or some such slightly less confusing thing. This is a reference to actual academic discourse.

Those piss holes in the snow take me back a few decades. I do love a bit of Michael Caine discourse.

Just how bad and how widespread is the kind of nonsense that is lampooned in the above comment? Are all academies in the Anglo-Saxon world as intellectually deranged as some parts of some of them clearly are? Or is it merely that Anglo-Saxony is huge and contains lots of academies, and so if you look for any particular sort of academic insanity you will find it?

Samizdata quote of the day

These four separate craters were man made, or to be honest, created by a bunch of government union drones, not refilled with blacktop or marked with an orange cone. The question is whether this is utter incompetence, blatant indifference, spite or a business transaction between government drones and local tire dealers. Luckily, government traffic engineers have been too swamped to properly time the lights on Chestnut Street for the last 20 years, so no one can travel faster than 15 mph anyway. Government lessens the pain of their ineptitude through their ineptitude in another area.

Jim Quinn

Linked to by the amazingly industrious and non-drone-like Instapundit, in this case in the person of non-drone Ed Driscoll.

Tetrahedron Super Yacht

Aka Stealth Bomber Yacht?:


I came across this very superior yacht because it was written up and pictured up in the Daily Mail, among many other www places.

It is the work of this guy:

Long distances are achievable with reduced out-of-water drag and stormy ocean conditions would incur virtually no slamming. Improved efficiency is driven by elevated hydrofoil propulsion and would be an inherent performance benefit of this type of design.

Long distance, smooth travel through rough water at high speed: the key performance attributes of this new motor yacht design.

Yes, sadly this is only, as yet, a yacht “design”. This is a “concept yacht”.

Notions like this are why the world needs rich people. Their job is to check whether stuff like this actually works, at their own risk and at their own expense. The rest of us can then pile in and share the fun.

This thing should star in the next Bond movie, “smooth travel through rough water at high speed” being the very definition of James Bond’s world.

Immortal instead of selfish?

I did not know this:

Dawkins began writing the book in 1973, and resumed it in 1975 while on sabbatical. At the suggestion of Desmond Morris, the zoologist and author of The Naked Ape (Jonathan Cape, 1967), Dawkins showed some draft chapters to Tom Maschler of Jonathan Cape, who strongly urged that the title be changed to ‘The Immortal Gene’. Today, Dawkins regrets not taking the advice. It might have short-circuited the endless arguments, so beloved of his critics and so redolent of the intentional stance (in which we tend to impute mental abilities to unconscious things, from thunderstorms to plants), about whether selfishness need be conscious. …

That is Matt Ridley writing In retrospect about Dawkins and The Selfish Gene.

“Immortal” would certainly have been accurate in a way that “selfish” was not. But perhaps having what was arguably a mistake in the title caused heat as well as light in the responses to The Selfish Gene, and thereby enabled this great book, in the end, to spread more light than it might have done if more precisely titled.

Ridley continues:

… It might even have avoided the common misconception that Dawkins was advocating individual selfishness.

Indeed. Actually, Dawkins has rather orthodox leftist views about such things as individual selfishness (unlike Matt Ridley). But by incurring the ignorant wrath of PC-ers, Dawkins has, I think, been driven away from unthinking leftism, towards more thinking non-leftism, of the sort that Matt Ridley espouses. He is certainly not a member of the PC tribe.

This is a common story. Oafish PC virtue signalling has caused many a good leftist to find himself on the wrong end of his own opinions, and thus to learn at least some of the errors of his ways.

Had he called The Selfish Gene instead The Immortal Gene, might Dawkins have remained, or been allowed to remain, a more orthodox leftist? And if he had, would he, for instance, have been so ready to denounce Islam as strongly as he has, alongside his denunciations of Christianity? Would he now be so ready to mock feminism, and thereby incur yet more PC wrath? (“We believe strongly in freedom of speech … However …”) Dawkins probably would have got involved in such scraps anyway, but he might have had more to lose.

Matt Ridley’s central point is that, whether correctly titled or not, The Selfish Gene combined being original science with successful scientific popularisation in a way that is very rare.

Charles Murray on how facts don’t change minds (and some related thoughts of the sort he would probably approve of)

I have been reading Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart.

I recommend this book, but I doubt that I myself will be reading every word of it, and certainly not every number. This is because I am already convinced by Murray’s basic thesis, which is that that America is becoming increasing divided along class lines. The temptations of government welfare, just as you would expect, have enticed the poor into self-destructive habits far more than the rich, because the rich, being rich, are insulated by their riches from these temptations. The rich have also resisted the temptation to smash up their families and raise their children out of wedlock, even as they mock those who still proclaim such notions in public. When it comes to family values, says Murray, the rich ought to be more ready to preach what they practice. All this strikes me as very true.

I was particularly struck by this, which is how Part III (“Why It Matters”) begins (p. 238 of my Penguin paperback edition):

The economist Maynard Keynes, accused of changing his mind about monetary policy, famously replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The honest answer to Keynes’s question is “Often, nothing.” Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded in premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.

So it has been with the evidence I have presented. A social democrat may see in parts 1 and 2 a compelling case for the redistribution of wealth. A social conservative may see a compelling case for government polices that support marriage, religion, and traditional values. I am a libertarian, and I see a compelling case for returning to the founders’ conception of limited government.

In other words, as Perry de Havilland never tires of saying: metacontext, metacontext, metacontext.

Keynes himself changed his mind a lot less than he said he did, I think.

Like Charles Murray, I am a libertarian. But like Murray, and unlike many libertarians, I also believe that old school married parenthood is the best setting in which to raise children, even if, like all other libertarians, I absolutely do not believe that old school married parenthood should be legally compulsory or that any alternatives to it should be legally forbidden. I am not myself married, but a lot of my best friends are libertarians who are married and who are now raising children. They are my friends not just because I like them, but because I admire what they are doing. I love to attend weddings, and have become good at photographing them. Partly this is because I just have, and because I especially like to photograph the many other amateur photographers also present. But I also love weddings because I strongly believe in what is promised at and accomplished by such ceremonies. So, I like Charles Murray’s general ideological attitude to life.

But, I also strongly agree with Murray about how hard it can be to change such ideological attitudes. In particular, merely spraying facts around the political landscape does not necessarily change it very much. Rather does it merely, as Murray says, confirm in the minds of all who hear these facts that they have been right all along about what needs to be done about them.

But this does not mean that minds cannot be changed. Facts, if they are overwhelming enough, can make a difference, especially to people who are young enough still to be making up their minds. But when communicating with such people it is essential not to confine yourself only to facts, however overwhelming they may seem to you. You should also engage at the ideological level. You should state the metacontextual conclusions that you want people to arrive at.

If this does nothing else, it at least enables people to realise that they are in this or that metacontextual team, and to help to make that team a little bit stronger.

It is one thing merely to be a libertarian. You will make a lot more difference to the world if you also realise that a libertarian is what you are. Being a libertarian means have a much more restricted idea of what governments should compel and forbid than tends to prevail nowadays. But it does not mean refraining from having and expressing opinions about how to live wisely.