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]

It’s a cold day in June

Incoming from the Adam Smith Institute:

Tax Freedom Day is four days later this year than last year, and the latest it has been for fifteen years.

For more of the grizzly details, go here.

We Brits now face choosing between a government that is raising taxes really quite fast, and an alternative government that would raise them a hell of a lot faster. Stagnation, or ruination. More about Tax Freedom Day here, and here.

The weather today, here in London where I sit, is really cold and grim and gloomy. Would that Tax Freedom Day, which is today, was now moving backwards towards some time like February, instead of us having to wait until June 3rd, which only feels like February.

Islam versus cat photos

I know, I’m busy today, but I absolutely love this Daily Mail headline:

Senior Saudi cleric bans taking photographs of cats in a bid to stop people trying ‘to be like Westerners’

Thank you Instapundit.

In the great conflict between Islam and human decency, it is easy to forget that often the bad guys feel overwhelmed and overrun by the opposition too.

The West is, as I write, being flooded with potential terrorists. All it takes is for a tiny few of these Muslims and/or their progeny to take seriously what their horrible holy writings say and we face a potential fight to the death. Calling Islam a “religion of peace” is, for the time being anyway, not working very well. It only seems to embolden the terrorists. But would the rulers of the West describing Islam more accurately be any sort of improvement? Maybe. But, that would be to tell terrorists that they are right about Islam. (Which they are.) That would be to tell Muslims that they are obliged by their religion to be as nasty to the rest of us as they can contrive to be. (Which they are.) That would be to tell Muslims that if they don’t want to behave like that or think like that, they should stop being Muslims. (Which they should.) Problems, problems.

But meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, the great abomination that is cat photos is overwhelming everything that Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh considers to be right and proper. It must be stopped! People pointing out what a bucket of evil nonsense the Koran is, that he can handle. That he is used to. But cats! People taking pictures of cats! The horror!

Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh is never going to win this one.

LATER: Actually, I don’t think anything was said about cat photos on the internet. Simply taking photos of cats (and various other animals) was itself forbidden. I have taken the liberty of correcting this posting, originally entitled “Islam versus cat photos on the internet” accordingly. Apologies for the mistake. Apologies in particular to commenter “the other rob”, whose comment about the internet is made a bit of a nonsense of.

Just taking photos of cats will be even harder to stamp out.

Dominic Frisby takes on the Edinburgh Fringe

Today, I am in my usual last Friday of the month tizz, because this evening I have an event in my home, and I am, as usual, behind in my preparations. This particular event is more than usually tizzual, on account of it being not a sit-down talk but a stand-up performance, by Dominic Frisby. Frisby is honouring my home with an early dry run of his forthcoming Edinburgh Festival show, Let’s Talk About Tax, which he will be performing in Edinburgh from Aug 3rd until August 28th.

DFrisbyEdinburghShow

I am not doing this blog posting because I need more people to come to my home this evening. I can fit in a few more, but I already have a decent number of acceptances. Nor am I doing this blog posting to tell you what a brilliant show this is. It is being done by the always entertaining and always thought-provoking Dominic Frisby, so I expect it to be entertaining and thought-provoking. But meanwhile, I haven’t yet seen it.

No, what I want to do here is simply to praise Frisby for the fact of this show. Even if – worst case – it flops in Edinburgh, which I don’t think it will, but even if it does, … well played sir! The fact that Frisby is sallying forth to the Edinburgh Fringe, one of the key facts of British showbiz life where would-be upwardly-mobile entertainers all vie with one another to make their mark as writers and performers, and that he will there proclaim the sort of pro-free-market notions and crack the sort of pro-free-market jokes that seldom get spread or cracked in this arena or similar arenas, is cause for praise in itself. The way to get anything started is to start, and this is a start. In the illustration above, Frisby is wearing a hat. Were I now wearing a hat, I would take it off to him.

I did an earlier posting here, praising Frisby’s excellent book Life After The State. Today is, see above, a busy day for me, so to save me the bother of making the same point in different words, please allow me to quote myself and make a point I made in that earlier posting, in the same words:

If we think that showbiz people typically proclaim bad political ideas, then our task is to persuade such people to think better and to proclaim better ideas, rather than us merely moaning that such people somehow have no right to be heard opining at all, about anything except showbiz. Maybe it is in some ways true that celebrity opinion-mongers shouldn’t be paid attention to, as much as they are. But they are, if only because being paid attention to by lots of people is the exact thing that these people specialise in being very good at. Maybe people are foolish to get their foolish political ideas from politically foolish showbiz people. But many do. Whether we like it or hate it, recruiting at least a decent trickle of showbiz people is a precondition for us achieving any widespread public acceptance of our ideas.

I rather think that this show marks a new moment in Frisby’s career. At his website, he describes himself as a Financial writer, comedian, actor of unrecognized genius and voice of many things. The “voice of many things” bit concerns his voice-over work, often to be heard on British TV. But note the “financial writer, comedian” bit. Hitherto, Frisby has tended to keep these two activities distinct from one another. As a speaker and writer on libertarian friendly matters he is always witty and entertaining, but he hasn’t, when doing that stuff, gone straight for laughs. He has basically been arguing and informing. Yes, with a smile on his face and plenty of reader and audience amusement as well as thought-provocation. But basically, he has done comedy for laughs and when being serious he has been serious. This Edinburgh show, on the other hand, looks like it may mark the moment in Frisby’s career when he seeks to combine his financial thinking and talking and writing with comedy.

I wish Dominic Frisby all possible success in this enterprise, and hope that others follow where he is leading.

Brexit – the argument from confusion

A common complaint made by Remainers is that Brexiteers constantly say wrong things about what the EU actually does and actually demands. I recall an entire round of the TV quiz show QI, presided over by the lordly Stephen Fry, devoted to exposing such fabrications. Bendy bananas, rules about rubbish disposal, that kind of thing. I can’t recall what all the alleged EU meddlings – there were about half a dozen of them – were. But I do clearly recall the QI verdict that came at the end of the round. Which of these claims is true, and which false?, asked Fry, with a tremendous air of impartiality. All, he subsequently announced, were false. The Brexiteers just do not get their facts right. They are wrong about bendy bananas, etc. etc. Therefore, the clear implication followed, the Brexiteers are wrong about everything, and Britain should Remain, in the EU.

I don’t trust QI about things like this. At the very least, I suspect that several of these situations were more complicated than Fry said, but that is not my central point here. Even supposing that QI had got all its facts right, I assert that this sort of confusion, rampant on both sides of this argument rather than just on the one side, is a major fault of the EU itself, at least as much as it is a fault of those who criticise, or for that matter who praise, the EU. Such confusion is built into the very way that the EU operates.

Someone proposes some new EU rule or regulation. If it is vehemently objected to, the proposers pull back, often claiming as they retreat that they “never intended” what they intended and will have another go at doing later when the fuss has died down. If, on the other hand – as is much more usual – nobody objects, the rule or regulation goes through, with no discussion. No wonder nobody knows what the hell all these rules consist of. They consist of mostly of those rules that have never been objected to by anyone, and hence never even talked about by anyone, except those who proposed the rules and who will profit from them in some way.

The Remainers say that us Brexiteers should become better acquainted with all these rules, that have never been discussed.

I say that all this confusion, inherent in the nature of the EU and ineradicable, is yet another reason for Britain to (Br)exit.

Discuss. And while discussing, note that any disagreements concerning the facts of what the EU does will only serve to confirm how right I am.

Samizdata quote of the day

The academics see the rise of anti-politics as a problem. The inherent premise being that more politics will be good for us. Therefore the low popular opinion of politicians makes political action more difficult. Guido thinks this is a good thing, that the low esteem in which politicians are held is reasonable, people have made a more realistic appraisal of the nature of those who seek to rule over us. Politicians complain that they feel beset by the media and hostile voters because 72% of people see them as self-serving. Good. People should not be afraid of politicians, politicians should be afraid of the people.

Guido Fawkes

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.