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]

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

Today’s incident in Parson’s Green, London

Some of you know that I work in the Parson’s Green area of Fulham, west London, which is mainly an affluent area from where people commute into the City and other parts of London. It has a significant population of people from places such as France, and many of the cafes around here might as well be in Paris or Lyons.

Well, any such activity will not be happening today; there has been an attempted bomb explosion, so it appears, on a Tube train in the station. It looks as if the device did not fully detonate – but even so, people were burned, and several injured in the scramble to get out of the train. A suspect is, according to reports, on the run and a manhunt is under way.

I am safe, and my colleagues are safe. But I cannot help thinking that in the first six months of 2017, 34 people have been killed in terrorist incidents. We are in danger of treating these horrors as some sort of normal, like rainy weather in August in the UK, yobbish footballers or naff UK television sitcoms. And that is the appalling thing.

In 2005, I was on a Tube train on my way to the Guildhall in London, and I got off the train about 10 minutes before dozens were murdered by Islamic fanatics. Whether we are in the middle of a financial district, a suburb, beach resort, shopping mall, tourist site or concert venue, there is no escape from these nihilists, nor any quick solution.

Oh well, let’s at least hope that the good folk of Fulham will be spared another fucking  “candle-lit vigil”.

It is almost certain that this was the act of some sort of Islamist terrorist, and the savage irony is that this attack occurred in a station that is a few yards away from a small mosque; on Fridays, as today, I often see Muslims off to, or depart from, their prayers, and I occasionally stop and chat to a few of them and this area has always seemed a friendly one. The maggots who carry out attacks are as dismissive of the lives of Muslims as they are of anyone else, let it not be forgotten.

Samizdata quote of the day

“We joke about Victorian prudery, but in fact we are quite as prudish in different directions, and no less given to euphemisms or circumlocutions. There is even a distinct parallel in our reasons for adopting them. The Victorians saw themselves as having overcome animal instincts and were therefore prudish about sex: on the other hand they had yet to invent orthopaedic surgery, so someone who had lost a couple of limbs in an industrial accident was called a cripple. Our society recognises it has not overcome animal instincts and therefore has few inhibitions about sex, but has endless faith in its surgeons, so that words like `cripple’ are embargoed in favour of euphemisms like `differently abled’ which are quite as absurd as anything applied to sex in Victorian times. We are not expressionally crippled they were were: we are just differently hibited.”

– Samuel Smiles and the Construction of Victorian Values, page 144-5, by Adrian Jarvis.

(The whole book, despite a few touches of lefty determination to imply that Smiles would have disliked rail privatisation, is a fine study of Samuel Smiles, author of such tomes as Self Help and Lives of the Engineers. Smiles was a remarkable man: one of prodigious output, living to the ripe age of 92, which was some feat in his time.)

Monuments

But telling the truth about our ancestors should not mean discounting everything they ever did, for if we do that for any person, including ourselves, we all have nothing to do but go home and weep. If we discount achievements because those who perform them are imperfect, there will be no achievements, only darkness. That creates a world of always tearing down and never building up, and the end of it is annihilation. In life is both great joy and great sorrow, and both deserve their due. That is what monuments are for.

Joy Pullmann.

As the author of the article states, while it is legitimate (if not always smart) for a legislature to remove a statue/monument for some reason (preferably to go in a museum so as to protect historical information), it certainly isn’t okay for criminals in the dead of night to smash them up for no other reason than they are, or claim to be (?) offended. Even in the case of say, the former Soviet Union, a decision to take down a statue of a mass-murderer such as Stalin, a totalitarian such as Lenin, etc should be done by the duly elected government of the day, if only to reinforce the fact that an emblem of totalitarian horror was being replaced by an elected, democratic authority. The symbolism of due process actually is as important as the monument being removed or installed. The process, in other words, is as important in some cases as the actual deed.

This being a broadly libertarian blog, it is also worth pointing out that if a statue/monument is in a public place, decisions about its upkeep, creation or removal are public decisions. This isn’t the case with private land, however. For example, if an eccentric millionaire landlord wanted to put up lots of statues of Lenin, say, or to take an example I’d favour, of all the US astronauts from the 50s and 60s onwards, that isn’t and shouldn’t be a public matter. If, say, a Confederate history buff who has a bunch of land near a road wanted to put up a whole rank of generals’ statues, there is no right of anyone to stop that.

When there is a public space, however, the decision is necessarily a public matter, and in a constitutional republic, it is bound to be the case that the choice of what goes up and what goes down might vary over time. The reasons can be good, or they can be silly, as is arguably the case now.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Most people understand “single market” to mean something like “free trade zone”. In fact, in the EU context, it means “single regulatory regime”. Membership of the single market doesn’t mean the right to buy and sell there (pretty much the entire world can do that); it means accepting EU jurisdiction over your domestic technical standards… Only six per cent of British companies do any business at all with the rest of the EU; yet 100 per cent of our firms must apply 100 per cent of EU regulations. Our aim should be to exempt the 94 per cent … from EU directives and regulations.”

Daniel Hannan, quoted in a new paper from the Institute of Economic Affairs, making the case for unilateral free trade. The item is by Kevin Dowd, a noted exponent, among other things, of genuine competition in banking and money, and a scathing critic of our current banking and monetary regime.

Tim Worstall had thoughts on all this some time ago. And a little history: the speech by Sir Robert Peel, one of the greatest British statesmen of all time, on the case for ending agricultural protection.

Thoughts about what happened in Virginia this weekend

“It’s becoming so clear now why the war of words between SJWs and the new white nationalists is so intense. It isn’t because they have huge ideological differences — it’s because they have so much in common. Both are obsessed with race, SJWs demanding white shame, the alt-right responding with white pride. Both view everyday life and culture through a highly racialised filter. SJWs can’t even watch a movie without counting how many lines the black actor has in comparison with the white actor so that they can rush home and tumblr about the injustice of it all. Both have a seemingly boundless capacity for self-pity. Both are convinced they’re under siege, whether by patriarchy, transphobia and the Daily Mail (SJWs) or by pinkos and blacks (white nationalists). Both have a deep censorious strain. And both crave recognition of their victimhood and flattery of their feelings. This is really what they’re fighting over — not principles or visions but who should get the coveted title of the most hard-done-by identity. They’re auditioning for social pity. “My life matters! My pain matters! I matter!” The increasing bitterness and even violence of their feud is not evidence of its substance, but the opposite: it’s the narcissism of small differences.”

Brendan O’Neill, as seen on his Facebook page. He is writing about the violence in Virginia at the weekend.

I think he is broadly right, and if we are trying to work out where the rot of identity politics comes from (the libertarian scholar Tom G Palmer actually calls it “identitarianism”) I would wager that post-modernism, and the idea that there are no objective standards of truth and value, has something to do with it. Of all the books I have read in the past decade, Prof. Stephen Hicks’ short masterpiece, Explaining Postmodernism, gets as close as I can see to putting a finger on today’s nonsense.

Speaking for myself, I had a glimpse of this retreat from reason last week when, in an online chat with a friend about the Google sacking of James Danmore, a woman jumped in to state that no matter what arguments or logic I could use to object to the firing of this man, that her “lived experience” (ie, the fact that she knows Google female employees who are upset) would outweigh it. Not logic, reason or evidence, but “lived experience”. What this person failed to realise, perhaps, was she had committed a classic stolen concept error: the very attempt to deploy “lived experience” as a sort of “I win!” itself implies that there is some sort of logic against which one can test it. If there is no logic against which one can test and evaluate one “lived experience” against another, all one has left is that the gang of those with “lived experience” A beats those with “lived experience” B. This is known as Might is Right, or the power of the mob.

And in a world where logic and reason are dethroned because of hurt feelings, the results are very unpleasant. As we are seeing now almost daily.

Update: great editorial by the Wall Street Journal. ($)