“Journalists have to get more creative and entrepreneurial. And I think that’s the problem. There’s not a less risk-taking crowd than a bunch of journalists who like to tell everyone how to run their businesses and then, like, couldn’t run a business to save their life.”
- Kara Swisher
She was quoted on this Linkedin page here – so readers might have to log in first if they are members.
In fact, quite a lot of the journalists I know and have worked with in the smaller, more startup-style organisations are pretty entrepreneurial. They have to be. Even the process of cultivating new sources, raising awareness of who you are and what you cover, represents a sort of adventurous frame of mind that gels with business to some extent. Of course, there are journalists who despise business, want to just bank a paycheck, do a 9-5 fixed day and no more. And they tend to have a romantic view of “old Fleet Street” and its foreign equivalents, dreaming of the great days of 4-hour lunch breaks, expense accounts and all the rest of it. But in some respects that mindset is not as prevalent as it used to be, at least not based on my own personal experience.
Of course, such journalist/entrepreneurs are also, by and large, more resistant, one hopes, to the desire of the State to regulate the media in the manner suggested by the recent Leveson Report in the UK, which seems, I hope, to have lost some of its momentum (I live in hope).
At Bloomberg, it appears that some of the staff there have been a tad too entrepreneurial, if allegations are to be believed.
Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Still, everyone should try—if only once—to start a business. After all, it is small and medium enterprises that are the key to job creation. There is also something uniquely educational about sitting at the desk where the buck stops, in a dreary office you’ve just rented, working day and night with a handful of employees just to break even. As an academic, I’m just an amateur capitalist. Still, over the past 15 years I’ve started small ventures in both the U.S. and the U.K. In the process I’ve learned something surprising: It’s much easier to do in the U.K. There seemed to be much more regulation in the U.S., not least the headache of sorting out health insurance for my few employees. And there were certainly more billable hours from lawyers.
- Niall Ferguson.
I am not quite sure about his assertion about the UK being so much freer, but I get the general point. By the way, I have just returned from a week in Singapore, and the pro-capitalist vibe there is so strong you could almost put in a bottle. (Actually they do: you go to the bar at Raffles Hotel, natch.)
One of the most shocking things about the brutal attack in Woolwich yesterday was the arrogance with which one of the bloodied knifemen claimed to be acting on behalf of all Muslims. In what sounded like a South London accent, this British-seeming, casually dressed young man bizarrely spoke as if he were a representative of the ummah. He talked about “our lands and what “our people” have to go through every day. He presumably meant Iraqis and Afghanis, or perhaps the broader global “Muslim family”.
How can a couple of men so thoroughly convince themselves that they speak for all Muslims, to the extent that they seriously believe their savage and psychotic attack on a man in the street is some kind of glorious act of Islamic resistance? Perhaps because they live in a country in which claiming to speak “on behalf of” a community, even if you’ve never been elected by or even seriously talked to that community, is taken seriously. A country where one’s identity, one’s racial or religious or cultural make-up, now counts for everything, certainly for more than what one does or what one believes. A country in which the politics of identity, the narrow and deeply divisive communal politics of shared cultural traits, has been privileged over all other kinds of politics.
- Brendan O’Neill
He was writing in the aftermath of the murder of a young soldier in London this week.
There are many reasons how this state of affairs came about, and I am sure commenters have their views on this. I would point to what has happened in our own education system and the climate of ideas in the West for the past few decades. While Western society is, by some measures, more “individualistic” than it used to be – and that is a good thing – in some ways tribal mentalities remain strong. Maybe part of that has to do with post-modernism and the whole challenge to the idea that there is such a thing as objective truth, and that there are universal, shared qualities that all humans have, most importantly, the capacity for long-term, rational action, coupled with notions of taking responsibility for one’s actions, linked as that is to the idea that humans have free will.
As those notions have been challenged, or even mocked – consider how it is fashionable these days to say we are all driven by “unseen” motives and urges that come from Darwinian evolution – then people are more susceptible to collectivism, to group-think, with its consequent view of people as either “belonging” to this or that group. Throw in the features of Islam as it is today as described by the likes of Bernard Lewis, and this fusion of religious fundamentalism, craven Western self-abasement, victimology, and post-modernist moral relativism, then it is not hard to see why these thugs can claim to speak for a whole chunk of humanity.
Nile Gardiner has this to say about the Obama administration:
This week, thanks to unprecedented levels of Congressional and mainstream media scrutiny of the actions of the Obama administration, the American people have been given a powerful insight into the way in which this presidency has operated. For far too long, the Obama administration has acted like an imperial court rather than a government that is accountable to the nation. The White House’s culture of arrogance and impunity, coupled with a deeply unpleasant vindictiveness, is increasingly there for all to see. Suppression of political dissent, a callous disregard for the loss of American life in Benghazi, and the relentless rise of big government – these will be three of the most of enduring images of Barack Obama’s imperial presidency.
In some ways, however, one could argue that the thuggery, deviousness and unpleasantness of this administration – and let’s not forget the Fast and Furious scandal, which is arguably the worst of all of them – in some ways shows that Barack Obama and his colleagues are not particularly crafty men (and women). If they were really as smart as some think, they would not have allowed some of these disasters to have seen the light of day. Perhaps what the stories suggest is that – as Brian Micklethwait suggested in a comment thread note the other day – that years of enjoying a placid, supine MSM meant that Obama and his colleagues got cocky. They probably thought that no matter how bad behaviour was, whether it was the ACORN episode, the blame-the-other-side nonsense over the budget impasse, Fast and Furious, Libya, insults to old friends (the UK, Poland), failure to shut down Gitmo (as promised), the IRS harassments, the AP phone record stories, etc, etc, that nothing would happen. Jon Stewart would continue to mock mostly Republicans. The MSM would, at most, treat these and other episodes as distractions. (At Reason magazine, here is an example, nicely dissected.) But I think what the administration failed to see is that even in a situation like this, cockiness will lead to a series of disasters and scandals so bad that even usual allies wake up. There is a certain inevitability. The passing of time means memories of how glamorous and appealing Obama seemed have faded.
Another point is that when Obama was elected, the expectation was enormous, although commentators at the time, such as Glenn Reynolds in the US and James Delingpole in Britain pointed out the gulf between the rhetoric, the image, and the reality. That gap has become so vast, and so difficult to ignore, that the media coverage of Obama is getting worse and worse. And all the while voters in the US are understanding that the sort of people who run the IRS will be running healthcare. Marvellous.
Eventually, even Andrew Sullivan will slag him off. Then it’s all over.
“Why would you trust the bureaucracy with your health if you can’t trust the bureaucracy with your politics?”
Newt Gringrich, as reported at The Fiscal Times. Never mind what one thinks of the source of the quote – I don’t care for Gringrich one iota – that’s a good quotation.
Here is a reminder of my argument, a few days back, that this whole affair requires developments such as a flat tax, and the abolition of this wretched institution.
Timothy Carney says something similar:
The story is instead one of government power so great that, even in the hands of nonpolitical career civil servants, politically motivated abuse is inevitable. And the ultimate problem is that our tax code and campaign finance laws put the IRS in the business of policing political speech. Politics inevitably comes into play.
Many dedicated and professional civil servants serve the IRS. But the recent revelations still aren’t surprising. If you give people the terrifying power to tax and the right to police political speech, some partisans will abuse that power.
The list of scandals that this administration is building up is really quite impressive.
There is at the moment a serious controversy in the US about the way in which certain Internal Revenue Service persons harassed – that is not putting it too strongly – certain groups, such as Tea Party activists seeking tax-exempt status. And it appears other groups, according to this article in National Review, have been targeted.
This is all very bad, and I am sure that those who are calling for heads to be put on spikes, so to speak, are justified. Tar and feathers, etc. However, it occurs to me that political conservatives/libertarians who complain – with plenty of justification – about the bully-boy tactics of the current Obama regime are in danger of missing the chance to frame the argument in a broader way. Surely the problem is that if any group, of any political colour or leaning, applies for tax-exempt status, then that is playing to the fundamental problem with the tax regime in the US (and for that matter, in other countries where similar tax regimes operate). The problem is that taxes are relatively high, so that getting a tax-exemption is worth a lot of effort and lobbying (and the potential for corruption is obvious). And the bureaucrats therefore get a lot of power in deciding what is, or what isn’t, a tax-exempt organisation.
Surely a way to cut out the need for all this activity is to sweep away the whole system of loopholes, exemptions and special status for for this or that organisation, and institute a flat-, low-tax regime. No exemptions, nada, zip, nothing. Just a simple system that requires far fewer people – such as leftist IRS officials – to operate. Besides removing the potential for mischief-making by such officials, it means we can sack a lot of bureaucrats, saving the public a great deal of money and removing the deadweight cost of a hideously complex tax code.
The IRS scandal over the targeting of the Tea Partiers and others certainly suggests that recently enacted – and complex legislation – such as the US FATCA Act (which targets expat Americans working abroad) could be misused to go after anyone who, for whatever reason, gets on the shit-list of the government of the day. Not an encouraging thought.
But conservatives and libertarians must do more than just moan about the abuses of such powers. It often bemuses me how we are told that conservatives and particularly anarchic or “atomistic” libertarians just don’t get the importance of institutions and the complexities of civil society, etc, etc. But institutions can mestasise into malignant forms, especially where the operation of coercive force, and receipt of privileged sources of income, is involved. In office, conservatives, such as Britain’s Tories or the US Republicans, often fail to deal with, or even better, abolish, those institutions which have become malignant and do them, and the countries they get to lead, a great deal of harm. Just as the Tories have allowed organisations such as the BBC to run on, with privileges unchecked, for years, so the Republicans in the past have missed a trick by not reining in the IRS.
It may be that the IRS cannot be easily abolished outright – which would be the best option – but this institution is is in dire need of drastic shrinkage and simplification. I should have thought that promising to achieve such changes would be a sure vote-winner in forthcoming elections.
I liked these thoughts from Timothy Sandefur and it is worth quoting them at length:
The problem, it seems to me, is that while there is much to be said for pursuing in work what you love in life, a lot of people seem to assume that their “passions” will just come to them like a bolt from the blue. At some point, they seem to imagine, you just wake up knowing what you love, and then you’re able to plan a career around that.
But it does not work that way. Instead, you discover only after doing things that there’s something you love to do. The point of a broad exposure to different ideas, pursuits, and cultural influences during your education is to enable you to discover what it is you love doing—which, of course, will come only after doing many things that you don’t love. You don’t just somehow know that you want to be an architect because building is your passion, or decide that researching the history of coal mining in upper Silesia or the genetic diseases of fruitflies is what you love to do. Instead, you read a book about architecture or European history or medicine, and that leads you to another book or to a lecture or to a documentary film, and then you take an intro class at your community college, and get a summer internship at the Silesia Cultural Foundation…or whatever the story. You go from one discovery to the next, exploring your way forward. You must discover your passion—it isn’t handed to you. And you only discover it by trying things and being patient and allowing that discovery to bubble up from underneath. That involves a lot of work and a lot of trial and error and a lot of dead ends, sometimes. But that is true of all things in life. Often you do not realize that you have a passion for a particular thing until after you’ve been doing it for a long while. To say you don’t know what job to pursue because you don’t know what your passion is is like saying “I know I should marry a person I love, but what if I don’t have a person I love?” or “I know I should eat food that is palatable to me, but what if I don’t know of a food that’s palatable to me?” You have to go out and find these things; work to discover what you love to work at. Yes, that’s sort of a bootstrap paradox. But it’s still the only way it can be done. The idea—pushed by inspirational posters and Hollywood—that you just know what you want from life and go out and get it, is misguided and ultimately self-defeating.
I should add that one of the reasons for my being rather crap in updating posts on Samizdata lately is that I have become so incredibly busy with my day job that time has been short. But I love what I do – most of the time anyway – so this is part of the deal that I have to arrive at. I am in Malta at the moment and recently met the guys who run a hedge fund business focused on Bitcoin. They seem a very smart lot, and I’ll pass on my thoughts a bit later.
The blogger and economist Charles Steele, whom I read regularly – glad to see him back in action after a period of illness – has this to say about a US national sentenced to 15 years’ hard labour for the sin of preaching the Christian gospel. Mr Steele is not happy at the mealy-mouthed approach of, among others, the New York Times:
Sometimes the apparent helplessness and lack of courage of the “progressives” is hard to fathom. North Korea has us “in a bind?” My first reaction at seeing how NYT is framing this was to think of the following response the U.S. could give. Barack Obama could announce, publicly, that the United States is giving Kim Jong-un 24 hours to release Mr. Bae. Otherwise, starting 24 hours from now, each day the North Koreans keep Bae in custody, the United States will sink a North Korean merchant vessel on the high seas or in North Korean waters. And if the North Koreans kill or otherwise harm him, we will sink every North Korean merchant vessel on the high seas or in North Korean waters, and if they ever get a new one we’ll sink it, too. We don’t care what Jong-un says, if he likes he can denounce Bae and the U.S. in the strongest terms and claim it is from his from magnanimity that Bae is released — but release him or else.
A question is how far can or should a state go in dealing with such cases. Very recently, two UK nationals were jailed after being convicted for drugs offences in Dubai. They could have faced the death penalty. No doubt there are plenty of other cases, such as when foreigners fall afoul of Singapore’s tough approach to petty crime, and so on.
I take the view that it would be foolish to endanger more lives – including those of our own military – to enforce a harsh penalty on a nation such as North Korea unless – a big if – it could be shown that North Korea’s actions presented a direct and credible threat to ourselves…. which is the reason given, say, for toppling Saddam. Also, it would need to be shown that such action, given the risks, would be effective in establishing a clear principle that says governments cannot treat foreigners without regard to any norms of civilised behaviour. That doesn’t mean passively shrugging shoulders at its barbarism and if means can be found to make life even more unpleasant for the cretins who rule North Korea, well good.
It is not being weak, however, to point out that anyone who goes to this totalitarian state and who chooses to promote, say, Christianity, or classical liberalism, or anything else that is on the shit-list of the folk in North Korea, is taking an enormous risk. It is rather like a person choosing to climb Mount Everest without decent clothing and footwear.
North Korea is, judging by its behaviour in recent weeks, a country run by lunatics. Anyone who goes there without understanding this is acting at great danger to himself or herself. By all means turn the screws on this vile nation as hard as possible, but bear in mind that military action poses considerable risks that need to be considered. It is not being evasive or mealy mouthed I think to point that out.
Sometimes, a straight, even dryly-written news-wire report can tell you about the vastly different interpretations of certain issues out there. This Bloomberg report about the world of “offshore money” is a classic case in point. The whole article is worth reading, but this caught my eye:
“According to Tax Justice Network, a U.K.-based organization that campaigns for transparency in the financial system, wealthy individuals were hiding as much as $32 trillion offshore at the end of 2010. Fewer than 100,000 people own $9.8 trillion of offshore assets, according to research compiled by former McKinsey & Co. economist James Henry.”
That is one hell of a contrast. You have the TJN’s $32 trillion, or $9.8 trillion. Take your pick.
Suppose TJN is correct. $32 trillion is a lot of money. And I ask myself how on earth a leftist campaign group such as the Tax Justice Network comes up with that figure. According to Wikipedia’s page on the size of the global economy, the latest available figure for the value of total GDP, based on the 20 richest countries, is $18.8 trillion. So maybe there is a “long tail” of money from smaller economies, but even so, it is a bit of a stretch to arrive at $32 trillion, and then to assume that this money is all parked, or routed via, offshore centres. And even if some of this huge amount of money does pass via offshore centres (such as Bermuda, Caymans, Jersey, Delaware, Zurich, Geneva, and er, cough, London) it does not stay there, but is invested in various places. (What would be the the point of just stashing money in a nice Caribbean island rather than putting it to work?)
I have come to the conclusion that while some of the concerns about offshore wealth might be justified if we are worried about finances of criminals and the like, some of the amounts being bandied about are so vast that the credibility of the attacks is seriously compromised. And I remain convinced that much of the current furore about the offshore world is based on a desire by some policymakers to stamp out tax competition and create a sort of global fiscal cartel.
“Yesterday the Office for National Statistics (ONS) announced that they think the economy is growing again – by 0.3% in the first quarter of this year. You should take these statistics – good or bad – with a pinch of salt. But the breakdown of growth by sector does undermine lazy claims that the economy is in trouble because of cuts in government spending. Whereas the ONS data shows that manufacturing has shrunk by nearly 7% since 2008 and construction has shrunk by more than 15%, “Government” has grown by 6.9%. The real austerity has been in the more efficient private sector, not a still bloated public sector. Is it any wonder that the economy isn’t growing?”
- Matt Sinclair, chief executive, Taxpayers’ Alliance.
“If, as I believe, the distinctive distance from our organic nature, we should rejoice in the expression of changing human possibility in ever-advancing technology. After all, the organic world is one in which life is nasty, brutish and short and dominated by experiences that are inhumanly unpleasant. Human technology is less alien to us than nature (compare bitter cold with central heating; being lost without GPS and being found with it; dying of parasitic infestation versus vermicides or spraying with pesticides) and the material of that part of nature that we are: our inhuman, or at least impersonal bodies. Anyone who considers the new technologies as inhuman, or a threat to our humanity, should consider this. Better still, they should spend five uninterrupted minutes imagining the impact of a major stroke, severe Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s disease on their ability to express their humanity…..Self transformation is the essence of humanity and our humanity is defined by our ever-widening distance from the material and organic world of which we are a part and from which we are apart.”
- Raymond Tallis. In Defence of Wonder, page 200.
James Delingpole has a nice posting about a recent excellent performance by Peter Lilley, the Tory MP who seems, unlike many of them, to have retained a large measure of common sense. This is what Mr Lilley said recently about the constant run of conferences held to discuss environmental issues:
“Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad. One of the early signs of madness is an indulgence in compulsive displacement activity, which could not be a better description of the whole COP process. Tens of thousands of people are displaced across the globe to an environment where they are cut off from reality and the rest of the world, where they can indulge themselves in demonstrating their lack of realism and reality, and where the original objective of obtaining a legally binding agreement between nations to reduce worldwide emissions has itself been displaced by the alternative objective of reaching an agreement to meet again—and to agree to reach an agreement at some distant future time. That is displacement activity on a massive scale, and it involves a massive degree of hypocrisy, given the huge emissions incurred by these eco-warriors as they swan across the globe in jets and hire fleets of limousines, so emitting more CO2 than a small African country.”
It is Earth Day today, by the way.