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]

On Trump, Jerusalem and how social media makes me aware of what people really think

It is sometimes said in a disapproving sort of way that social media is bad in that it reduces social inhibitions. “You’d never say that to a person’s face”, sort of argument. It is a bit like the argument made as to why people are rude when behind the wheel of a car because, encased as they are behind metal and glass, they feel able to shout and swear at the real or alleged berk in front. (Needless to say, being the brilliant driver I am, all those who receive my ire deserve it.)

On places such as Facebook, which I use, I occasionally see people whom I thought are quite reasonable people write or say things that make me think again. A case in point is the recent outpouring of rage over the fact that Donald Trump had decided that the US embassy should be shifted to Jerusalem. Apart from anything else, he is merely executing on a policy that had been approved of, in a bi-partisan vote, in Congress back when Clinton was in office. But, my FB room-mates shout, he should have not done this, he is stoking up the “Arab Street” (such people have, I suspect, never been to the ME), and this shows he is reckless, silly, has an orange face, yada fucking yada. And in one case, an acquaintance went into “the Jews running Congress and American politics mode”, making various references to Trump’s relations, his being a New Yorker (full of those ghastly people), and so on. I decided not to put the point to this FB fuckwit lest I cause a total meltdown, which is that if it is so terrible for Jerusalem to host a US embassy, with the implied recognition of said city as the Israeli capital, then why not just come out with it and say that the state of Israel should not exist at all?

A lesson learned, therefore, is that there are a lot of people out there who buy into the whole “Jewish conspiracy thing”. Now I know that not all anti-Israel people are Jew-haters, and that one can and should be able to discuss what that country does without falling down the rabbit hole of anti-Semitism. But there is, from my own impressions, considerable overlap between the two. And while not infallible as a guide, I take the view that people who dislike or fear Jews, and Israel, are fuckwits, and people whose judgement should be regarded with scorn.

So Donald Trump, thankyou for clarifying a few doubts I have had about certain people I know out there. I am beginning to think, what with the tax bill, the Supreme Court, agency and most cabinet picks, and now this, that the man is actually proving to be a decent POTUS, and a lot less scary than I had previously thought. All he needs to do is turn down the Twitter feed, but maybe enraging people in the way he does is precisely part of what makes him effective, even if it upsets our fastidious tastes. As Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit has remarked, he’s even got “liberals” talking about the separation of power and Constitution again.

Here is an article by John Podhoretz on the issue of the embassy.

Key quote:

The idea that Jerusalem is not Israel’s capital has been a global pretense for decades, including here in the United States. It’s a pretense because Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital from the moment the new country secured a future by winning a bloody war for independence waged against it by Arab nations after they rejected the UN partition of the old British mandate into a Jewish state and an Arab state.

 

Thoughts on why Britons and Americans have different views about guns

An interesting, and to my mind convincing, posting by Eric Raymond:

Decentralized threats are the mother of liberty because the optimum adaptive response to them is localist and individualist – the American ideal of the armed citizen delegating power upward. Centralized threats are the father of tyranny because the optimum response to them is the field army and the central command – war is the health of the state.

There is an implication for today’s conditions. Terrorism and asymmetrical warfare are decentralized threats. The brave men and women of Flight 93, who prevented September 11 2001 from being an even darker day than it was, were heroes in the best American tradition of bottom-up decentralized response. History will regret that they were not armed, and should record as a crime against their humanity that they were forbidden from it.

He links to this essay by Dave Kopel.

A book comparing and contrasting UK and US experiences with guns, by Joyce Lee Malcolm, is also worth reading. Here is her website. 

Terror at living outside the EU, ctd

Recent UK gross domestic forecast predictions, issued this week via the glum figure of UK finance minister Philip Hammond, have encouraged some of my friends who are EU Remainers to shout about how Brexit is damaging Britain, we are going to lose tens of thousands of jobs to the continent, or wherever, etc, etc. The rage is not dying, in fact. Some of the language (Brexit supporters are “retarded” being a recent one) is not becoming milder. We haven’t yet reached the acceptance phase after the initial shock and anger.

Apart from the devaluation of sterling after June last year, there hasn’t been all that much of a shift on the economics front. The underlying performance of the UK economy does not appear to have altered that much. Some American banks such as Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan talk of shifting some business to the continent to create subsidiaries in anticipation of any EU access shenanigans, as I would expect, but it hardly fits with a Biblical level of terror to justify some of the vehement language I see on forums such as Facebook.

Assume we must take seriously the risk of life outside the joyous embrace of the EU Single Market, this is worth considering, from Tory MP and former minister, Peter Lilley:

The Single Market is talked about as if it were some inner sanctum accessible to a privileged few. In fact, every country has access to the Single Market – with or without tariffs. The Single Market programme, which I implemented, involved harmonising product rules – sensible, since businesses can now make one product range for the European market, not 28. But that benefits American and Japanese exporters as much as German or British firms. Although often invoked as particularly benefiting UK service companies, in fact UK service exports to the EU have grown less rapidly since the Single Market reforms than any member state except Greece and Italy

He also responds to the point that apparently, by being outside the EU, the UK will now submit to EU rules without being able to influence them:

People assume Britain benefits from participating in setting these rules. But rules provide a framework within which all companies operate – not an advantage to any individual country. Britain set the rules of tennis but rarely wins Wimbledon! British exports to the EU have grown less rapidly since the Single Market than they did before 1993, less than our partners’ and much less than non-EU countries’ exports! Maybe that is partly because we suffer EU regulations on 100% of our companies (costing our economy billions of £s) whereas non-EU firms need only comply with EU regulations on activities carried out within the EU.

And on the “passporting” issue that comes up:

How important is the right to passport services to the EU? Passporting lets financial institutions operate throughout the EU via branches supervised by their home country regulator without seeking authorisation from local regulators. Having introduced the Single Market measures, I decided to make a speech extolling how they had removed barriers to trade, not least through passporting. Unfortunately, my officials could not find a single company doing business it previously could not do! Banks were almost invariably operating, not through branches, but via subsidiaries which still needed local authorisation and regulation. (Emphasis mine.)

And on the terror that outside the EU, the UK will be hurt, Mr Lilley looks at EU-regulated mutual funds and alternative investment funds regulation (private equity, real estate, private equity, etc):

Since then the UCITS, MiFID and AIFM directives have extended passporting rights to other financial service providers who do take advantage of it. However, most UCITS funds choose to operate via subsidiaries in Luxembourg and Dublin without causing an exodus of jobs from London. Also the AIFM directive provides for recognition of equivalent standards of regulation by non-EU providers which is intended to be granted to Hong Kong and Singapore, so could scarcely be refused to the UK post Brexit.

In other words, you don’t have to be in the EU to manage investments sold within its borders. And yet if you take some of the Remainer arguments at face value, you would think that the UK is to be cast into a dark, lonely place.

A final thought. One of my Remainer co-jousters talks of the folly of the UK “going it alone”, as he claimed we had done after 1945. That, however, not only ignores our membership of NATO but also the UK’s web of trade with not just the continent of Europe, but also the old Commonwealth nations and places such as Argentina, and of course the US. The UK was hardly living under a rock during the period before EEC membership began in 1973, and further, that membership involved slapping tariffs on many of those countries. As Mr Lilley says, it has taken ages for the EU to hammer out free trade deals with nations such as India, China, etc, and to improve on what we have with the US. (I have even seen some of my Remainer friends dismiss this range of countries as “minor”, or “colonial outposts”). So let me get this straight: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, parts of Latin America, the Pacific-Rim, etc, are “minor”, but the European Union is a powerhouse. Great, got it.

Have a good weekend everyone.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

“Many seem to believe that the capital based in so-called tax havens is sitting there gathering dust, like many a Saudi prince’s Lamborghini. It isn’t. For the most part, capital in offshore centres is invested around the world, fetching rates of return far in excess of bond yields and the value that most government expenditure can generate. It is unfashionable to praise tax avoidance, but ask yourself the following: would you rather corporate profits be spent on the white elephant of the day, whether HS2 or a ghost airport in Spain? Or is the money better allocated on research and development by private firms? Bear in mind that nothing illegal is going on here: we are talking about entirely legal alternative uses of capital. If capital mobility were halted, individuals and firms would have a much harder time voting with their feet against confiscatory rates of taxation such as those implemented by François Hollande. People in countries with a weak rule of law would be at the mercy of satraps and triple-digit inflation. Never mind that Meg Hillier, the surely well-meaning chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee, is just calling for greater transparency. The reason we have banking secrecy is precisely so that persecuted groups, such as Europe’s Jews in the run-up to World War II, could take financial refuge from their persecutors.”

Diego Zuluaga

He is writing following the latest mass data “leak” (aka theft) of offshore account data from the law firm Appleby. The saga is being dubbed “Paradise Papers” (the data comes from the Caribbean, geddit?) Here is another item in defence of offshore centres. 

Samizdata quote of the day

Two decades after the Guggenheim fell from the sky on Bilbao, the global arts establishment clings to the faith – and it is a faith, a belief with no empirical evidence to support it – that run-down cities can be healed by something called cultural regeneration: by building museums and galleries. The number of people unemployed and dependent on welfare in Bilbao has risen during those two decades. Like prayer or relics, it seems not to work.

Jonathan Meades

Something’s very rotten in the state of Malta

Oh my beloved Malta:

An investigative journalist in Malta who exposed her island nation’s links to offshore tax havens using the leaked Panama Papers was killed in a car bombing on Monday, an attack that shocked Malta and was condemned by leaders of the European Union.

The journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, 53, died when the car she was driving exploded in Bidnija, a hamlet in north-central Malta. Her final blog post, accusing the prime minister’s chief of staff of corruption, had been published about a half-hour earlier.

Even if, like yours truly, you don’t think that there is anything necessarily wrong with offshore tax havens (haven is a place of safety, and I am quite keen on being safe from the predations of the State), it is worth getting angry about politicians who talk a good game about compliance with taxes salting – allegedly – kickbacks in far-off locations and hoping no-one will notice. We live in a world where governments the world over, through pacts such as the Common Reporting Standard, are to all intents and purposes creating a global tax “cartel” in pursuit of high net worth individuals’ wealth. Assuming, for example, that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party wins power at the next UK general election, and imposes all manner of controls (including capital controls) then UK residents may now already be thinking of where to park their money. Global anti-tax avoidance/evasion efforts make those bolt-holes harder to reach. So on certain levels I don’t have an issue with Malta being a tax haven, or its citizens being wily about it. What I do, however, have an issue with is the double-standards, and furthermore, the tolerance of bribery and corruption that is not just a by-product of an expansive state, but part of a culture that has become too embedded in certain countries.

Malta wants to become an important financial centre; it is already pretty significant in that regard. But it is in competition with rivals such as Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Mauritius, Singapore, etc. All of these places have their faults, but the murder of a campaigning journalist by the use of a car-bomb in broad daylight in Malta represents a shock even to those wearily familiar with the nastiness of current affairs.

Final point: whatever her merits or faults, the journalist known to many as “Daphne” was rightly famed for her courage in facing up to some very dodgy people. Such persons have also paid a price in countries such as Russia.

If the Maltese were astronauts, they would be saying the equivalent of “Houston, we have a problem”.

 

 

Samizdata quote of the day

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”

Thucydides

This quote appears in an article pointing out that present UK Conservative Party seems to have more or less given up on making the case for liberty.

Samizdata quote of the day

From the beginnings of recorded thought, intellectuals have told us their activity is most valuable. Plato valued the rational faculty above courage and the appetites and deemed that philosophers should rule; Aristotle held that intellectual contemplation was the highest activity. It is not surprising that surviving texts record this high evaluation of intellectual activity. The people who formulated evaluations, who wrote them down with reasons to back them up, were intellectuals, after all. They were praising themselves. Those who valued other things more than thinking things through with words, whether hunting or power or uninterrupted sensual pleasure, did not bother to leave enduring written records. Only the intellectual worked out a theory of who was best.

Robert Nozick. This essay is several years’ old and it remains in my view one of the very best explanations of why universities and other such places are full of persons so hostile to the open market economy. Given current angst over why so many young graduates, especially in fields such as the arts, are all keen on the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, its certainly worth thinking through.

Samizdata quote of the day

The best way to make people bad and poor is the illiberality of communism and fascism, and even the slow if sweet socialism of over-regulation. Women among the theocratic despots of Saudi Arabia are quartered at home, unable to flourish so much as driving an automobile. The economic nationalism of the new Alt-Right is impoverishing, and anyway closes us to ideas from the wide world. If betterment is slowing in the United States — a widely held if doubtful claim — we need the betterment coming from newly enriching countries such as China or India, not cutting ourselves off to “protect jobs” at home. Protectionist logic would have us make everything in Illinois or Chicago or our local street. Breakfast cereal. Accordions. Computers. It is childishly silly as economics, though stirring as nationalism.

Deirdre N. McCloskey

On how hard-earned skills become redundant and why that’s not a reason for intervention

As a side-issue to the recent decision by London’s TFL [Transport for London] to stiff Uber for alleged safety concerns (please try not to laugh at the back), it occurs to me that there are various reasons why people across the spectrum, including Tories, seem quite fine with the ban (it may be that Uber will do some sort of deal and get back into business in London, mind). One seems to be a sort of fogeyish dislike of Uber (it’s American, which is vulgar, and relies on newfangled tech that some people don’t understand, such as apps, and satellites, etc); another seems to be “fuck-the-consumer-why-can’t-they-use-the-night bus?” level of grumpy nastiness, and another is a sort of feigned, or maybe real, worry about the loss of a set of skills (learning the streets of London by heart). I regard the first two reasons as so fatuous as to not be worth responding to. The latter, however, does interest me.

Consider, a standard Marxist argument, and indeed one not just associated with Marx but even early classical economics (the Labour Theory of Value) It holds that the value which a provider of a service/product should receive is linked to his labour, his effort and skill (learned via effort), not simply the interplay of demand and supply. There are, of course, all manner of problems with it: you cannot simply work out whether a skilled worker is worth X or Y times more than an unskilled one – there is no formula to do this. Second, resource allocation is impossible if the amount paid for Y or X is based not on the relative differences in wants and scarcities of something, but labour, instead. The marginalist revolution in economics, which broke in the 19th Century and which seems to have passed Marxists by, points out that the subtle differences in the subjective preferences of people for this or that are what drive economic exchange. Prices are signals; a labour theory of value leaves out the vital signalling function of prices, which is why an economy driven by such a theory breaks down, with shortages of much-wanted goods over here, and a glut of not-wanted stuff over there (evidence: socialist countries throughout history).

It may be a bummer for the taxi drivers of black cabs who have spent ages learning the streets of London by heart – getting “the knowledge” – to find that satnav and apps have driven a stake into their business model and potential sources of earnings, and be forced to get all those newfangled gizmos and compete with a chap from Hounslow who is second-generation Indian and who cannot name the first-11 team sheet of your favourite soccer team. But in a free market, technology and innovation means the customer isn’t paying for the effort to acquire a skill, but the outcome of it. And that seems a tough argument to sell, but it is nevertheless correct.

On a related note, this essay by Jeff Tucker of FEE about marginal utility and human happiness is brilliant. I shared it on social media and people who might not normally give a crap about such ideas said how much they liked it. Economic wisdom can spread in mysterious ways!

 

More thoughts on the Uber ban in London

Patrick Crozier has written his own thoughts on this just now, but I have some thoughts of my own. I cannot remember being so angry about a decision out of London for some time.

Brian Micklethwait and others on this blog have written in the past about why Uber is such a big deal in how the case for capitalism and the free market can be made. And I have already seen evidence from people who are on the Left side of the spectrum that they are angry about this ban, in ways that are not always intellectually consistent, but also useful in showing how this could be a teachable moment about free enterprise. Consider that tens of thousands of Uber drivers will no longer be able to earn a living in this way; sure, some of them will work for other taxi firms as they try to fill the gap that is left, but that will take a certain amount of time. Established taxi firms such as Addison Lee are no doubt delighted. Car leasing firms will see drivers sell up, causing goodness-knows what troubles. Besides the drivers, there are also all those software and support service people who will be made redundant. Many of them are young and may not be all that political; some may even be quite leftist. What will they think of Labour now, I wonder?  All those bearded hipsters dreaming of creating clever businesses have been told, in essence, to fuck off unless you do something that doesn’t challenge anyone too much. Great.

For all that Mr Khan likes to strike poses as being more supposedly electable than Jeremy Corbyn, he shows that under all the different images, he is an advocate of rent-seeking socialism, happy to play to whatever unionised groups are around. He talks endlessly about the need for “more resources”, and has been remarkably useless as far as I can see in terms of making London safer overall. In fact, one safety casualty of banning Uber and similar entities is that it will once again be quite difficult at times for people to get a taxi, such as late at night and in bad weather, increasing the risks to people in certain situations. The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Another effect of this ban is the message it broadcasts to the wider world and those of business: make sure you pay politicians lots of money and creep up to them, otherwise we could find fault and ban you. If you disrupt unionised, regulated business models you are unwelcome, and will be punished. And the kicker is that the current mayor is a Remainer, a man who has, fatuously, claimed that our exit from the Single Market is a disaster because of the loss of trading opportunities. Well, it appears that his enthusiasm for such things is limited when practical, actual cases of competition arise.

Anyway, here is a press statement from the Institute of Economic Affairs, which neatly summarises the issues. It comes from Mark Littlewood, Director General at the IEA:

“Transport for London’s decision to not renew Uber’s license strikes a huge blow to competition and innovation within London’s transport market. If this ruling is upheld, it will ruin flexible working opportunities for the 40,000 city drivers who use the app – many for their livelihood, and many to top-up low wages.

“The ruling also inconveniences the 3.5 million Londoners who regularly use the service, and reasserts the dominance of the city’s taxi cartel, which only the wealthiest residents can afford to use with any sense of frequency.

“Apps like Uber have a large role to play in our increasingly dynamic economy, and it is a mistake to cling onto out-dated views of working arrangements. Uber is not an ’employer’ – it is simply a platform that allows drivers and customers to meet and trade under a specific set of rules.

“Banning Uber, and clamping down on the Gig Economy more generally, is a restriction upon freedom of choice, both for Uber’s drivers and passengers. In doing so, Transport for London has privileged the views of a powerful minority who wish to restrict consumer choice over the will of millions of ordinary Londoners.”

“Today’s decision is an assault on drivers and customers alike, and a victory for protectionism.”

Samizdata quote of the day

“We might practice nailing the colors to the mast rather than engaging in a permanent dress rehearsal for masochism and the lachrymose.”

Christopher Hitchens