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]

Samizdata quote of the day

“Imagine is probably John Lennon’s worst lyric. Against a sparse, effective musical backdrop (influenced by McCartney’s quasi-spiritual triptych Hey Jude, Let it Be and Maybe I’m Amazed), the rich Beatle John bleated on in 1971 about imagining a world in which there are no possessions. Somewhat at odds with the anti-market proselytising of Lennon’s most famous post-Beatles song is the awkward reality that the track was recorded in the studio built at Lennon and Yoko Ono’s then very grand house, Tittenhurst Park near Ascot. The Grade II listed building is set in 70 acres of grounds and was purchased with the proceeds of Lennon’s fortune made from the record industry, one of the most thoroughly capitalist businesses on earth.”

Iain Martin

As an aside, my father, a serious classical music fan (he is also a jazz and blues nut) once said, in one of those comments that a slightly weary Dad tells you when seeing something on the TV about pop music, that in decades to come, very little of the Beatles’ music will be played or recalled, while the works of J.S. Bach are likely to endure until the heat death of the universe.

Corbyn is terrible, but so-called “heavyweights” aren’t much better either

Nick Cohen is one of those socialist writers I read because he has a core of decency – he is right on the money around Islamism – although he is uneven and his spit-the-dummy turn over the Brexit vote did not impress me one jot. He has an article out about the awfulness of Jeremy Corbyn and his circle, and of course he is right, but he has lacunae of his own:

“The last upsurge of left-wing militancy in the 1970s had Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and other formidable socialist thinkers behind it. Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and Danny Blanchflower looked like their successors. They too have produced formidable work on how to make society fairer. They agreed to help Corbyn, but walked away after discovering that Corbynism is just a sloganising personality cult: an attitude, rather than a programme to reform the country. That attitude is banal in content, conspiracist in essence, utopian in aspiration and vicious in practice.”

These four men’s reputations are greatly overblown. All of these men were or are capable of producing work and comments of quite outstanding levels of imbecility. Thompson was a prominent supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the 1970s and 1980s at a time when the Cold War was very far from being obviously won; his Marxian treatment of English history, for example, while not without its merits, infected a generation of students. Hobsbawm, whose treatment of history could be equally tendentious, to the end of his long life was an unrepentant defender of the Soviet Union; Stiglitz, while he might produce good work (I cannot think of any off the top of my head), is not renowned for his judgement, as his praise for Venezuela’s catastrophic socialist regime a few years ago attests. And finally, we have Thomas Piketty, whose immense book on inequality, while it gives a sort of spurious intellectual cover for leftists looters, contains fundamental conceptual errors and its policy prescription of massive wealth taxes would be catastrophic.

In other words, some of the people on the Left may sound as if they have more intellectual gravitas than, say, Jeremy Corbyn. This is not exactly difficult. But the fact is that in varying degrees, these men were/are deeply wrong and their ideas are dangerous nonsense.

As an aside, Dr Roger Scruton has issued an updated edition of his excellent study, Thinkers of the New Left, which goes into a lot of detail about this sort of intellectual. By the way, he has praise for some aspects of their work and tries to see merit where it exists (he is fond of EP Thompson on his understanding of the English working class, for example). Recommended.

 

Laying a few myths to rest

The middle classes in the UK and America are getting richer again. Inequality is diminishing. There are many problems, of course, but they are primarily down to the fact that the impact of the Great Recession ended up dragging on for years, with the previous misallocation of resources and capital wiping out a decade’s worth of productivity gains.

Allister Heath

So why the rise of populism? While wages are finally improving, there has been no return to boom times. Millions of younger people are despairing at exploding housing costs, fuelled by government-created low supply and rock-bottom interest rates; older workers are facing a nightmarish pensions crisis, also created by ultra‑loose monetary policy.

Voters feel culturally disconnected; they rightly voted for Brexit because they realised that democratic control was being destroyed by technocratic unaccountability. The welfare state’s inherent defects mean that people feel caught up in a Hobbesian war for resources – school places, hospital beds – of all against all, especially with high levels of immigration. But the middle classes should direct their ire towards politicians and central bankers, not free markets or technology.

Checks and balances

So if the choice in 2016 is between one bad candidate and another (and it is) the question is, which one will do the least harm. And, judging by the civil service’s behavior, that’s got to be Trump. If Trump tries to target his enemies with the IRS, you can bet that he’ll get a lot of pushback — and the press, instead of explaining it away, will make a huge stink. If Trump engages in influence-peddling, or abuses secrecy laws, you can bet that, even if Trump’s appointees sit atop the DOJ or FBI, the civil service will ensure that things don’t get swept under the rug. And if Trump wants to go to war, he’ll get far more scrutiny than Hillary will get — or, in cases like her disastrous Libya invasion, has gotten. So the message is clear. If you want good government, vote for Trump — he’s the only one who will make this whole checks-and-balances thing work.

Glenn Reynolds

As an aside, one thing that might change the minds of a lot of sceptics about Trump is whether he gets to choose any decent people on the US Supreme Court, which is an aspect of presidential power that a lot of those in the conventional media ignore. As for Reynolds’ point about pushing back against the bias and corruption of organisations such as the Internal Revenue Service, I am not so sure.

Tim Sandefur, a legal scholar and commentator, is unlikely to be swayed by the checks and balances argument for Trump:

An anti-establishment candidate is a good thing only if he or she knows what he or she is doing. Otherwise, the chances of going wrong are just too great. That’s why revolutions devour their young—and that’s why we built an establishment in the first place. It should not be changed without reason to believe a better alternative is possible. This Trump does not offer. His candidacy is an open assault on the mores of our political culture, such as respecting the rights and dignity of opponents, listening to what fellow citizens have to say, honoring our legal duties and treaty obligations; and it is all done in the name of hatred, envy, and fear, with nothing but the strength of his individual will to replace our hard-won institutions. No, it’s not that he is terribly dangerous himself. He’s probably too unintelligent to do much harm personally. But he will surround himself with a volatile collection of stooges and Pashas, of Rasputins and Grand Viziers, of roaches and rats hiding under his throne, who will wreak true havoc in his name—all with the future of our nation and the world at stake.

I think this is probably over-wrought, but not by a lot. Essentially, what I read from serious libertarians/conservatives/Objectivists who have said they will vote for Trump (yes, I know several Objectivists who are pro-Trump) is a version of “it’s a big gamble, he’s horrible, vulgar and corrupt but less horrible than Hillary and anyway he upsets the right sort of people and we can always impeach him”. That’s quite a big gamble to make when choosing someone with access to the nuclear codes.

I agree with Reynolds, by the way, that Gary Johnson and Bill Weld aren’t that impressive, although in my view they are still the best out of a lousy field. Weld sounds like a US-style liberal on the 2nd Amendment and Johnson did not impress me over support for use of executive orders on immigration (this is regardless of what one thinks of immigration as such). Obama’s use of executive decrees has been one of the worst, if not the worst, parts of his presidency, and surely any serious libertarian should make this point constantly.

Reasons for the UK to leave the EU keep piling up – the EU Arrest Warrant

I have been familiar with some of the details of a Romanian case, which has taken a shocking turn, and it highlights the mess of the European Union’s Arrest Warrant. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle,  writes about the case. Even the more cynical out there will be shocked at the brazenness of the Romanian government in this case. And it raises a wider issue about governments co-operating to move alleged suspects from A to B and sharing data with one another about their citizens.

Consider a new anti-tax evasion regime called the Common Reporting Standard, under which certain governments swap data to catch alleged tax dodgers. With CRS, there is a presumption that the countries involved can move information around and that this will not compromise legitimate financial privacy. All I can say is “good luck with that”. Abuses will occur. (Governments in recent times have been happy to obtain data from Swiss banks via thieves, for example.)

The UK has an extradition treaty with the US and this has caused controversy at times because of the alleged lack of a need for a prima facie suspicion of guilt to be proven against a person before extradition (instead, a country has to show “probable cause”, which waters the test down marvellously). What may be a crime in the US, for existence (running an internet gambling site, for example) isn’t in the UK. And so on.

The Romanian case in question here is particularly noxious to a sense of justice because of the heavy-handed behaviour of Romania. Its attempt to bully news organisations that are covering controversies, such as arms dealing, is also outrageous – such an attack on freedom of the press hardly meets the sort of test one would have supposed is necessary for a country to be a member of the EU at all. And as long as this arrest warrant remains, I see zero chance of a country such as Turkey joining the EU.

I’d like to know what the UK government’s view is of the case, and of whether any MPs have taken this matter on. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, is not exactly a poster girl for civil liberty, but even she might be shocked at what is going on here. (When she was Home Secretary, she blocked an extradition of a person to the US.)

One way for Mrs May to prove that “Brexit means Brexit” is to ensure that the UK removes itself from the EU arrest warrant process immediately. The reasons why I am so glad the UK voted to get out of the whole wretched structure continue.

Addendum: As an aside, it is also worth noting that these actions by Romania are often typical of certain regimes seeking to crush alleged corruption. Much of the media will applaud this; I even spoke to a fund manager about Romania, who applauded the steps that the country has made against corruption. But as we have seen in countries such as China, anti-corruption sometimes means little more than score-settling or persecution of political opponents or those who are deemed to be embarrassing. (And needless to say, the ultimate case of this is Putin’s Russia, and Romania is to some extent under Russian influence.)

Another fail by Obama

With the TTIP, the EU and US set out trying to construct a slightly watered down version of the single market – in which corporations would be able to use the courts to force governments to open up their public services to foreign providers. It was doomed to collapse because there is such an obvious asymmetry between the US and the EU on this. The US already has high involvement of private companies in the provision of public services. As for those where the state does still retain a monopoly – like defence – there is no way US courts are going to allow, say, French missile manufacturers to supply weapons. It will be ruled out on grounds of national security.

Europe, by contrast, has a relatively high degree of state involvement in the economy, giving plenty of juicy opportunities for US firms – and plenty of reason for left wing parties in France and Germany to oppose TTIP. Britain may now be at the back of Barack Obama’s queue – though what relevance that has given that it will soon be where we stand in Hilary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s queue that matters. But my money would be on post-Brexit Britain sewing up a trade deal with the US before the EU has managed it.

Ross Clark, having fun at the expense of Barack Obama, whose comment earlier this year that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” in trade deals with Washington if it had the temerity to quit the European Union has, along with so many others, backfired.

We are often told that President Obama was going to bring us an era of smart diplomacy, unlike that that moron Bush, etc, etc. The gap between the promise, and the reality, is wider than ever.

Samizdata quote of the day

Our international progressive elite combines arrogance and foolishness. It arrogantly presumes to know more about ISIS than ISIS knows about itself. Then these same elites foolishly seek to conform foreign and domestic policies to address the allegedly ”true” motivations of our Islamic enemies. Thus they increase our vulnerability without doing anything to deter aggression. When it comes to fighting jihadists, the same realities hold in 2016 as they did in 1016. The west’s best weapons against jihad are its warriors, not its theologians — or its politicians.

David French

Samizdata quote of the day

“The advocates of the minimum wage and its periodic boosting reply that all this is scare talk and that minimum wage rates do not and never have caused any unemployment. The proper riposte is to raise them one better; all right, if the minimum wage is such a wonderful anti-poverty measure, and can have no unemployment-raising effects, why are you such pikers? Why you are helping the working poor by such piddling amounts? Why stop at $4.55 an hour? Why not $10 an hour? $100? $1,000?”

Murray Rothbard.

House Of Lords to overturn referendum?

Over on Facebook, where I occasionally joust with Remainers who are still in shock and anger at the impertinence and evil of their fellows in voting to leave the EU, a person applauded an apparent suggestion that the result could be blocked, by the House of Lords, the upper chamber of the UK political system. I wrote this, and decided I might as well put it on Samizdata as well:

The original post applauded the fact that the House of Lords, which is not elected by anyone, but composed of inheritors and favourites of governments, is to try and block the result of a democratic referendum in which more people voted than in any election since 1992. The enormity of this should give us pause. I find it mind-boggling that it is being contemplated.

The post claimed the referendum is illegal. No grounds are given as to what supposed laws were broken by holding this referendum. None. I’d be grateful if someone could give a law that was broken to justify the claim.

One can argue that the Leave side told lies (the same applies with some of the Remain side, by the way, as they often exaggerated the effects of Leave), but disliking the conduct of those in a referendum does not invalidate the result or render it void. Some Leavers may indeed be bigots, fools, or whatever. Quite a few Remainers are hardly models of logical thought, either, from my experience. If you claim that people voted without full knowledge of the consequences, that could be used to invalidate all elections, and be an excuse for dictatorship of supposed Platonic philosopher kings.

It is quite obvious to me that, when stripped of any flimflam, that a lot of those who wanted to stay in the EU have a low view of most of their fellow citizens, and wish they should be prevented from voting on anything of significance. There are uncertainties ahead; there are also uncertainties of remaining in the EU, particularly given the weak nature of the eurozone and the continued terrible economic and financial problems of Southern Europe.

The House of Lords is an anachronism, but it is at least easier for the UK to reform such a chamber, as it should, than for 28 members of the EU to change the structures of the EU. (I think the HoL should be an elected chamber, maybe by PR, or some other approach.) I think it is good to have an upper chamber to act as a brake on the Commons; all good political systems of ordered liberty need checks and balances. (The US Founding Fathers understood this.) Blocking the results of a referendum, however, is not a step to be taken lightly.

The European Union has been a collection of nation states, but is clearly moving towards full statehood, and the eurozone cannot really work without this to make fiscal transfers, etc, acceptable (consider the rows between Greece and Germany, etc). Such an outcome is not what most Britons want, including, I imagine, some of those who voted Remain. There is no broad mandate for the UK to become part of a European state.

The UK is a parliamentary democracy, and referendums should be used sparingly, and only on matters of overwhelming constitutional importance. The fine details must remain with parliament. The fact remains, however, that the outcome of the referendum, while not overwhelming, is clear enough: Leave.

I may be informed mostly about investment and financial issues in the EU, rather than politics, (I used to be a full-teim political correspondent) but my reporting on the EU and its financial regulations gives me a good vantage point on seeing how the EU works on a daily basis – I have covered the creation of god-knows how many directives over the past 20-plus years (gulps!) and it is clear that despite some good points, it is a centralising, bureaucratic and in too many cases, unaccountable body. It is not, I believe, reformable because too many countries want to keep it as it is. Cameron tried to get concessions and he failed.

Samizdata quote of the day

It seems these days that there is this omnipresent feeling that the world is going fucking crazy. Yet, by every objective measurement, it’s arguably the sanest and safest it’s been in recorded history.

Mark Manson

Samizdata quote of the day

“People who believe in nothing, including themselves, will ultimately submit to anything.”

Bret Stephens, in the Wall Street Journal.

Samizdata quote of the day

A major power centre has been challenged and almost by definition power centres have some control over the public narrative. For decades EU apologists have wielded their immense budget and nomination powers to promote people with the “right” attitude and projects with the “right” purpose. Simultaneously a highly skewed PR narrative has been dished out so incessantly (complimentary of unaware taxpayers) that numerous voters now confuse this narrative with the truth. This is why so many EU apologists genuinely seem to perceive the EU as a force for everything worthwhile, and every EU-critic as either dumb, a xenophobic throwback or misled by the PR-narrative of the other side.

Mark Brolin

It is such a shame, though, that the term “metropolitan liberal” is used here. I like to think I am a liberal in the John Locke/Ludwig von Mises use of that fine word, and also glory in living in the greatest metropolis on earth – London. It is one of those terms that is in danger of becoming hackneyed. Stop it.