I just wished the readers of my personal blog (and these people do exist) a Merry Christmas by sticking up photos of local tradesmen’s signs saying Merry Christmas.
But I saved this sign for here:
I see that Instapundit has become aware of Parkinson’s Other Law, the one about custom-built headquarters buildings. This is the law that says that any organisation which builds itself a brand new headquarters building is heading for disaster.
Instapundit links to a Wired piece about Apple’s new mega HQ, which does indeed look like a recipe for corporate disaster. This new Apple enormity looks a lot like the GCHQ building in Cheltenham, which was completed in 2003, after that organisation had participated successfully in two major wars – WW2 and Cold. But that Apple scheme has been around for a while. The latest HQ building news comes courtesy of Amazon:
Pity. I really like Amazon. I hope its death throes are prolonged enough not to derange me too much. I hope, that is to say, that in the near future, it is Amazon’s shareholders who suffer most of whatever Amazonian grief is about to erupt. However, I do fear that if, as a result of a share price collapse, Amazon then tries to be profitable, this might hurt us now-very-happy customers quite badly too.
Immediately after the Dezeen piece linked to above, about the new Amazon HQ, there came another piece, about a new Twitter HQ. But, although suspiciously well designed (hence it being noticed by Dezeen), this is to be in an already existing building that used to be a furniture store. This is the right way to contrive a new headquarters building, if you really must have such a thing at all.
Almost a decade ago now, the still much missed Findlay Dunachie did a posting here about the wicked sayings and doings of Communist academics and supporters and subverters in America, some of whom were then trying to expunge from the historical record their long catalogue of blunder and subterfuge and just plain evil. Earlier this year I encountered this posting again, and recycled its particularly eloquent opening sentences as a Samizdata quote of the day.
But this posting contained other things that were perhaps even more memorable than those opening sentences, namely two lists of the bad communists and communist sympathisers in question. List One: The Academics. List Two: The Spies. May they live in infamy.
I was reminded of those lists when I recently encountered another such list, this other list being a roll of honour rather than of dishonour. It appears towards the end of Deirdre McCloskey’s book Bourgeois Dignity, which was published in 2010. (The Anton Howes talk that I flagged up here recently is pretty much Anton Howes channelling this book.)
What is this book about? Well, one way to describe it would be for its author to list all the people whose ideas she approves of and is herself channelling.
So, that’s what she does, on page 400:
Interesting, both for its inclusions and for its exclusions. Particular kudos to the very select few who need only be mentioned with one surname!
The most notable exclusion that commenters here may want to notice and opine about is Ayn Rand. Rand gets no mention either in the book’s index or in the list of works cited. My guess is that McCloskey’s attitude to Rand can be summarised as the claim that Rand contributed a minus quantity to our understanding of, to quote the title of McCloskey’s earlier book, The Bourgeois Virtues.
For me it is the inclusions in this list that are the most interesting. It makes me want to learn more, in particular, about the English men of the seventeenth century at the top of the list, and about all those Germanic sounding people, throughout, several of whose names are entirely new to me.
I’d be very interested to hear if anyone reading this list can honestly claim to have even heard of everyone on it. Paul Marks has, obviously, but … anyone else?
One of the intellectual highlights of my year has been hearing Anton Howes (whom I first noticed while noticing the Liberty League) expound the idea that the British industrial revolution was, at heart, an ideological event. The industrial revolution happened when it did and where it did because certain people in that place and at that time started thinking differently. To put it in Samizdata-speak, the metacontext changed. Particular people changed it, not just with the industrial stuff that they did, but with what they said and wrote.
I first heard Howes give this talk at my last Friday of the month meeting in July of this year. Happily, Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home also heard Howes speak that night, and immediately signed him up to do a repeat performance, this time with a video camera running, for Libertarian Home at the Rose and Crown.
And the good news is that the video of this Howes talk at the Rose and Crown is now up and viewable at Libertarian Home. If spending half an hour watching a video does not suit, then you might prefer to read Simon’s extended summary of the talk. The same video is also up at YouTube.
I wrote a bit at my personal blog about that subsequent evening, and there is lots else I want to say about what Howes is saying. But one of the rules of blogging is not to let hard-to-write and consequently not-yet-actually-written pieces interrupt you putting up easier-to-write pieces that you actually can write and do write.
So: Anton Howes is a clever guy. Watch the video. And watch out for him and his work in the future.
Thanks to a recent Instapundit link, I found my way to an essay by Benjamin H. Barton, entitled Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, which deserves to be linked to for its title alone. It is about the decidedly libertarian and not very sub anti-government-bureaucracy sub-text that Barton finds in the Harry Potter books generally, and in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in particular.
Barton’s argument is that Rowling presents the Ministry of Magic as a classic Public Choice Theory bureaucracy, staffed by selfish power-seekers rather than by selfless servants of the public good. Barton further suggests that Rowling’s own experiences as a welfare-recipient might have radically lowered her opinion of state welfare as an actual purveyor of welfare.
I read the first Harry Potter book a long time ago but have read none of the subsequent Potter books, so I have no independent opinion about how right or wrong Barton is about these books, and in particular about The Half-Blood Prince, which I have in particular not read. Comments from libertarians who have read all the Harry Potter books would be especially welcome.
One of the big reasons why I have not read more than one of the Harry Potter books, aside from the fact of me now being a childless old man, is that there are so many other books that I want to read. However, I have long suspected that JK Rowling, while not exactly an overt libertarian, might well be some kind of quasi-libertarian useful not-idiot, so to speak. One of the many items on my current to-read list is Rowling’s own (non-children’s) novel, entitled The Casual Vacancy, which I already possess and which I did make a start on earlier this year, before other reading intervened. This seems to be a story about the interaction of politics with the welfare system, about the people who do the politics and who have the welfare done to them and about how these two groups interact.
If I had to guess, I’d guess that Rowling is one of those people whose understanding of state socialism is that it tends not to supply “socialism” of the sort she would like, rather than as any kind of root-and-branch opponent of state socialism as such. Which is a good start. Socialism is, among other things, a huge and hugely false promise. Realising that it comprehensively fails to achieve even its own declared objectives – never mind any other worthwhile objectives – is a huge step in the right direction.
But that is an ignorant guess, and I now definitely intend to finish reading The Casual Vacancy, and then maybe also Rowling’s new detective novel. She wrote this detective novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under an assumed name, but was then outed, surprise surprise. The name that Rowling the detective novelist has assumed is: “Robert Galbraith”. This name was, as I have just learned by following the above link, “partly inspired” by the name of Robert F. Kennedy. This would suggest to me – summarising ruthlessly, as befits my ignorance of the matter – a lady who mostly wants government to do better rather than one who mostly wants government to do less.
Recently I’ve been getting emails from the Cato Institute plugging their new website, HumanProgress.org.
Personally, I find the way that this website works to be annoying and confusing and just generally off-putting in a way I can’t quite pin down. I can find stuff, but every time I try to make progress through it, I am assaulted by what feels to me like mild-to-severe waves of user hostility. The screen, for instance, frequently covers itself in grey, in a manner which feels to me like it’s not working properly. But it could easily be that it is just me that is now semi-permanently annoyed, confused and hostile. I’d be slightly interested in whether anyone else shares my annoyed, confused and hostile reaction to the way this website works.
But I am really far more interested in the message that the website is trying to put across. It could be that there is just so much good news about human progress to be navigated through, such an abundance of data choice when it comes to learning about how well the human species is doing just now, that any website devoted to such matters is bound to overwhelm and confuse someone like me, whose brain is rooted in the twentieth century, when news like this was so much harder to come by and when websites were only being dreamed of. (The multiplication of genuinely useful websites seems to be a story that HumanProgress.org doesn’t seem to provide data about, but maybe they do and I just haven’t spotted it yet.)
This message, of relentless human betterment, will surely remind many readers of Steven Pinker’s recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I wrote about here (where there are links to other and earlier postings on the same subject).
There something about politics that makes people mad.
- Doris Lessing looks back on her foolish Communist youth, while talking with Alan Yentob, during Yentob’s TV show about Lessing in his “Imagine…” arts series for BBC One.
She wrote science fiction. I did not know this.
I always was an ageist and, despite now being quite aged myself, I remain one. In my case this now means that, when wearing my libertarian hat, I attach more importance to recruiting the next generation to the libertarian cause than I do to recruiting my own generation to it. It’s not that I am especially good at turning young people into libertarians, or for that matter at making young libertarians into better young libertarians. But, I try, and I especially admire those libertarians who do this better than I do. Luckily there are quite a few. I suppose the main thing I do to make libertarians and to make libertarians into better libertarians is to fly the flag for the thing itself, libertarianism, which by its nature appeals more to the young than do less excitable and exciting versions of free-market-inclined wisdom.
Oldies often moan about ageism, particularly when they are not that old and are still trying to get new jobs, to replace the jobs that ageist fiends have so cruelly snatched away from them. Oldies engaged in job hunting often find themselves competing with younger rivals, and finding that they are, to put it bluntly, past it.
All hiring decisions are a risk. A promising young recruit, if he (for “he” please read he-or-she from now on) works out okay, might then offer several decades of useful productivity, and even if he soon moves on to another enterprise or activity, you and your colleagues might still gain from having him in your network, for many years hence. An oldie, by contrast, will either be an immediate asset to your enterprise, or he won’t be an asset at all. This may be cruel, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. That much touted oldie quality, experience, can be very valuable, but only if it enables the oldie in question to contribute things of great and immediate value. In a crisis, a wise oldie may be just what you want, to fight, now, the fire that is raging, now. But if you are building for the future, as most hirers are most of the time, at least partly, youth and a potentially long future will often trump age and experience. Experience, the young will get. And in addition to not being so set in their ways and better tuned in to new technology, young people have something especially important that old people do not. They have quite long futures ahead of them. Unless there are major breakthroughs in the life-extension trade, a long future is not something that an oldie can ever have or ever acquire.
The enforced irrationality of compelling people to ignore such considerations, by passing laws, which force people (of all ages) to be less prejudiced against old people than they are inclined to be, is bound to cause many bad decisions and to prevent many good ones. Hirers should be allowed to decide for themselves between age and experience and the immediate future on the one hand and youth and the more distant future on the other.
Madsen Pirie is a notable recruiter and improver of young libertarians, in fact, I would say, he is one of the best recruiters and improvers of young libertarians in the world. Pirie featured in my previous posting here, which quoted from a piece by him about a speech he recently gave to some students at the University of Brighton. He does performances like this a lot, for university students, and just as often for teenagers who are still at school. I have lost count of the number of times that Pirie has said to me what I am saying here, far more eloquently than I am saying it. Get ‘em young. The cumulative impact of Pirie’s now seriously impressive number of libertarian-decades doing this kind of thing (for he too became a libertarian when quite young) is beyond calculation, in terms of its benefits to our species and its future.
Last Tuesday evening, at the Adam Smith Institute Christmas party, I was able to observe some of the latest human consequences of Pirie’s labours over the decades, happily enjoying their Christmas drinks and each other’s vivaciously youthful company. It was a similar story only even more so at that Liberty League gathering I wrote about here earlier this year. A lot of the same faces were to be seen at both these events.
I have a goddaughter who is now an aspiring and decidedly glamorous classical/operatic singer. She is in London just now, auditioning to get into one or other of the two best London music colleges (fingers crossed, so far so good, blah blah). She went with me to this ASI Christmas party. She also was struck by the youth and intelligence of the majority of those present. She had a good time. She was impressed.
Madsen Pirie describes how he invited his University of Brighton audience to look at the world “through neo-liberal eyes”, rather than through the sort of eyes they are probably more used to using:
I agree with everything there, except that very first sentence, about how “others look at what is and compare it with a vision in their mind of what it might be”, the implication being that we “neo-liberals” don’t do this.
I think it is truer to say that we do indeed think in exactly the empirical yet optimistic way that Pirie describes, but that we also compare what is with what might be. The difference is not that we look to the past and our opponents look to the future, but that we look more intelligently at the past than they do, and we also look to a different and better future.
I do not welcome, for instance, a future of “equality”, the sneer quotes there being because equality of the sort that is equal enough to satisfy the sort of people who demand equality will require someone to impose it, and that someone has to be unequally powerful to be doing such imposing. If you truly believe in equality, then you – you personally – will do what you can to improve the circumstances of those at the bottom of the heap. The poor will keep their freedom, thereby ensuring that whatever improvements you offer them really will be improvements. And you will not contrive these improvements by robbing richer people, because that will require you to be – unequally – powerful enough to do that, and there goes your precious equality. It will be equality that does not apply to you.
But just because I do not dream silly dreams of imposed equality, this does not mean that I dream no other dreams, dreams of freedom, dreams of progress, and yes, dreams of greater equality, that really is that, rather than just inequality that has been rearranged a little, in favour of new equalising rulers.
And nor does it mean that Madsen Pirie himself refrains from any such dreaming. He dreams – does he not? – of a future world that is – in a good way – “as different from the present as ours is from the past”. And he compares, as I do, that dreamed future with the present, to the present’s disadvantage.
But another story provided a fun distraction from all the hard work campaigning for tax cuts: it is the thirtieth anniversary of the first NOW! That’s What I Call Music album. There’s no bigger ‘Now’ fan than our Political Director Jonathan Isaby who has a complete set of all 86 albums! He spoke to Sky News and other TV stations about his collection.
- Matt Sinclair of the TaxPayers’ Alliance provides a little light relief, in the latest TPA mass email. (Link in the quote added.)
These ten quotes by Che Guevara are getting quite a mention around the blogosphere, and deservedly so.
This is exhibit number five of the ten, picked pretty much at random, to illustrate the atmosphere of these ghastly pronouncements:
This posting is now at the top of this long list of Che Guevara postings here, but will surely sink downwards in the future, as we all continue to point out what a monster this man was.
I realise that the sums of money that get spent on “culture” are very small potatoes indeed when set beside other sorts of government extravagance.
Nevertheless, I can’t help thinking that there is a connection between this report about France’s “new wave of culture-focused building projects”:
As Instapundit likes to say, what can’t go on forever won’t.
What, I wonder, will those new culture palaces end up being used for?
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