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

“My father used to say, ‘Eternal paranoia is the price of liberty. Vigilance is not enough’.”

Berlin Game, by Len Deighton, page 57.

Samizdata quote of the day

This, I think, is my main objection to Band Aid 30: it is all predicated on a belief that the British public are mean-spirited and uncharitable, when in actual fact nothing could be further from the truth. It’s time the likes of Geldof stopped asking us to give money, and like Adele, started donating some themselves. Charity, after all, begins at home.

Bryony Gordon

The whole article is a magnificent demolition of celebrity “charity culture” and the cant that is associated with it. Given how some people, such as that now-dead monster, Jimmy Savile, used charity as a shield to ward off questions about his behaviour, and given that at a less odious level, people with interesting personal tax affairs like to go on with charity efforts to get good PR, this sort of analysis is overdue. “Sir” Bob Geldof should perhaps tend rather more to his personal family affairs, which appear to be in a bad way, than making sneering remarks about someone who wants to get on with developing her career as a singer. How selfish of her!

Minimum wages reduce welfare bills, apparently

It impresses me in a grim sort of way how people who like to think of themselves as free market can justify some pretty big infringements of freedom of contract. Here is an argument I came across the other day (I won’t mention the author, as it was in  private conversation): Minimum wage laws where the minimum is set at a high level are economically sensible because people earn enough to live on which means they don’t have to claim welfare and hence this keeps taxes down.

Feel free to debunk.

The end of tax competition?

Now, tax evaders aren’t necessarily a commendable category of people: surely there are a lot of criminals among them (if I don’t obey the law when it prohibits killing people, am I really expected to comply with its fiscal provisions?). But I find rather convincing the idea that all those activities that run the gamut between fiscal arbitrage and outright tax evasion have had somehow the effect of lowering overall fiscal burden. The mere possibility of an ever greater erosion of their tax basis may have slightly slowed down that incredible increase in taxation which we have experienced almost everywhere in the West.

From the Econlog blog.

I have written a fair bit on this site and elsewhere (I work in the financial/media world) about this subject, and there is no doubt in my mind that the idea that tax competition is harmful is almost always held by politicians and collectivist-minded commentators who want to create a sort of global tax cartel. Cartels are, we learn in our textbooks, harmful although they tend to fracture with time. (The OPEC cartel had a problem in the 80s and 90 sustaining high oil prices, which at one stage went below $10 a barrel). However futile the attempt, do not underestimate the harm that is being done in the process of trying to shut down offshore financial centres and the like. The possibility that people can and will take their money elsewhere is one of the few constraints that exist on otherwise rapacious governments. So naturally, governments try to stop this from happening – hence all this talk about shutting down tax “competition”.

When governments claim that tax dodgers are taking food from the mouths of poor babies, treat it with scorn. The money that goes offshore doesn’t disappear down some black hole, never to appear again: that money, if it is to earn a return and outpace inflation, is invested – ie, it is put to work, often far more effectively than would otherwise be the case.

Samizdata quote of the day

Bank bail-outs have been a cultural catastrophe for those of us who support free markets, low taxes and enterprise. During the 1980s and 1990s, much of the British public came to accept and even embrace capitalism, in return for a simple deal: profits and losses would both have to be privatised. Clever entrepreneurs, savvy traders or brilliant footballers would be encouraged to make money; but companies and investors that placed the wrong bets would be allowed to fail, with no pity. Not only did this trigger an explosion in prosperity, it also helped shift the British mindset towards a much more pro-enterprise position. The rules of the game felt fair: risk and reward went hand in hand. The government would serve as an umpire, not a supporter of vested interests.But the crisis of 2007-09 put an end to this implicit bargain, at least in the eyes of vast swathes of the public.

Allister Heath.

Bailouts are a disaster for pro-capitalists. It is almost as if it was deliberate. My only slight caveat here with what is a typically incisive article is that I am not sure how deep the greater support for capitalism really ever went. It certainly never penetrated academia, and parts of the policy maker world. But I am an optimist: the continued respect that seems to be shown among ordinary people for genuine entrepreneurs (not crony capitalists) shows that something has taken root.

A bet on Ebola

Bryan Caplan, over at the EconLog blog, has issued a sort of challenge to folk in the US getting worried about Ebola:

Mainstream scientists assure us that Ebola poses very little threat to Americans; unless you’re a health worker who cares for the infected, Ebola is almost impossible to catch in a rich, modern society.  Yet many populists and borderline conspiracy theorists are convinced that the experts are seriously understating the danger.  In their contrarian opinion, we desperately need to close the border now. Fortunately, this is an easy argument to put to a bet. My tentative offer: $100 says that less than 300 people will die of Ebola within the fifty United States by January 1, 2018.  I’m willing to switch to “Unless the U.S. changes its Ebola-related policies, $100 says that less than 300 people will die of Ebola within the fifty United States by January 1, 2018,” but then we’d have to carefully define what policy changes count.

Leaving aside what you think about the specifics of the Ebola case, this idea of economists and other commentators making hard financial bets on specific claims has the merit of injecting a certain edge to proceedings. There is nothing quite so much like a bet to make people prove they are convinced of something. And as the late Julian L Simon proved when he bet against a neo-Malthusian about commodity price trends, there is nothing more satisfying than being proven right.  (Paul Ehrlich, who lost the bet to Simon, was invited to have another go and declined the offer, despite responding to Simon with singular ill grace.)

Samizdata quote of the day

Dear Sir – Am I alone in thinking that the quality of KitKats has deteriorated in recent months? My wife and I are finding an increasing number of instances of a wafer inadequately covered in chocolate. I put it down to quantitative easing.

– John Triffin, Reighton, North Yorkshire. Quoted on page 65 of this hilarious collection of unpublished letters sent to the Daily Telegraph, called “I could go on”. Edited by Iain Hollingshead

Terry Pratchett on the range

Perusing the blog of Eric Raymond the other day, and following on from the previous posting here about Brad Pitt,  I wanted to put up this account of Raymond instructing a certain Terry Pratchett in how to shoot a firearm:

This is actually a very revealing thing to do with anyone. You learn a great deal about how the person handles stress and adrenalin. You learn a lot about their ability to concentrate. If the student has fears about violence, or self-doubt, or masculinity/femininity issues, that stuff is going to tend to come out in the student’s reactions in ways that are not difficult to read.

Terry was rock-steady. He was a good shot from the first three minutes. He listened, he followed directions intelligently, he always played safe, and he developed impressive competence at anything he was shown very quickly. To this day he’s one of the three or four best shooting students I’ve ever had.

Eric concludes:

But it was teaching Terry pistol that brought home to me how natively tough-minded he really is. After that, the realism and courage with which he faced his Alzheimer’s diagnosis came as no surprise to me whatsoever.

Several years ago, I attended a four-day defensive handgun course in Nevada, and have fired pistols subsequently in the US when I had the chance. I am not stating anything here that wont’ be obvious to Samzidata regulars in noting how much concentration is required to shoot well, to position oneself, and also how careful, methodical and disciplined good shooters have to be. Forget all the crap you see on the movies (although there are film actors, such as Kiefer Sutherland and Daniel Craig, who clearly have been taught properly).

Let’s cheer up about technology

Optimistic science fiction does not create a belief in technological progress. It reflects it. Stephenson and Thiel are making a big mistake when they propose a vision of the good future that dismisses the everyday pleasures of ordinary people – that, in short, leaves out consumers. This perspective is particularly odd coming from a fiction writer and a businessman whose professional work demonstrates a keen sense of what people will buy. People are justifiably wary of grandiose plans that impose major costs on those who won’t directly reap their benefits. They’re even more wary if they believe that the changes of the past have brought only hardship and destruction. If Stephenson wants to make people more optimistic about the future and more likely to undertake difficult technological challenges, he shouldn’t waste his time writing short stories about two-kilometer-high towers.

Virginia Postrel.

“The answer to jihadism is intellectual – a conversation”

A friend of mine who is a writer asked me to put up this short dialogue concerning what is probably one of the most, if not the most, important issues of our time in terms of the flourishing and survival of a free civilisation. Given the nature of the topic the writer has asked not to be named. I don’t normally do this, but the quality of the writing is so good, and the issue so important, that I decided to put this up. I hope readers find it interesting. The article is entitled: The answer to Jihadism is intellectual: a conversation.

The knock on the door was so soft as to be barely audible.

Carl Dinuto – a fortyish, greying, lean-faced professor of philosophy – looked up, wondering if he had heard right.

“Come in!” he called out anyway.

The door opened slowly and a slim young woman entered hesitantly.

“Dr Dinuto?”

“Yes.”

“Sorry to interrupt, Doctor, but can you give me a couple of minutes?”

“Perhaps. What about?”

“Um, er, well, I was auditing your lecture on contemporary ethics this morning and was really puzzled by your comments on Islam. You see, I know some Moslem people, one of my best friends at school was Muslim, and she and her family are not at all like the way you said.”

Dinuto glanced at his watch, then pointed to a chair.

“Okay. Since you’re here, you can have a few minutes.”

“Er, thank you.”

Dinuto waited while the girl sat down, watching her as she did so. She was very pretty, with shoulder-length blond hair in a ponytail and bright, greeny-brown eyes, eager and shining with a sort of innocent intelligence.

“First,” said Dinuto; “what’s your name?”

“Holly. It’s Isabel Holland actually. But everybody’s called me Holly since grade school.”

“Why not Izzie or Bella?”

“It’s one of those family things. My Grandma was British, you see, a War bride, and Dad grew up using some of her British expressions. Well, one Fall, I was wearing a dark green tracksuit and was very red-faced from running around outside in the cold. Dad said I looked like a sprig of holly. Then my older brother, who kinda fancies himself as a wit, said, ‘Not the sprog of Holland?’ We all laughed, but Holly stuck.”

“Sprog?”

“Yeah, it’s British slang for a child, from progeny, I guess.”

Dinuto laughed briefly.

“Nice story,” he said. “And what are you studying, sprog of Holland?”

Holly laughed in her turn.

“History.”

“When did you start?”

“This Fall.”

“Your faculty advisor?”

“Doctor Fowles.”

“I know him well. So, what’s your problem, Miss Holland?”

“You said Islam is a fascist political movement bent on world domination. Well, I felt that was untrue, and insulting.”

“I did not say that. I was quoting someone else who had. And I did not say ‘fascist’. I used the word ‘fascistic’ which has a different meaning. The first thing you have to learn at university, young lady, is that if you quote someone, whether in written or verbal form, you must do so accurately.”

“Say, I’m sorry…” Holly began but Dinuto raised a hand for silence.

“To be more precise, Miss Holland, what in fact happened was that a student asked me a question about the views of the Dutch politician Gert Wilders, who has recently been found not guilty of inciting religious hatred in the Netherlands. The student quoted what Wilders had said then asked what I thought of it. I said I knew little about Islam but Wilders’ description seemed accurate enough to me. What is insulting about that?”

“Well, sorry, I don’t mean to be rude, but isn’t endorsing Wilders’views same as saying ’em yourself? And you did quote him, you know, kinda approvingly. You see, my friends would say that Islam is a religion, devoted to spreading and obeying the revealed word of God. Isn’t it kinda slanderous to make out like it’s a political movement?”

→ Continue reading: “The answer to jihadism is intellectual – a conversation”

Samizdata quote of the day

“Google obviously has a monopoly in search. There are all sorts of questions about whether it is abusing that monopoly or not. But I distrust the power of the EU regulators to make things better. I think the technology industry is dynamic enough that the Google monopoly will not last for ever. In practice, anything [the EU does] to micromanage the Google product will produce a cure that’s worse than the disease.”

Peter Thiel (quote is taken from the Financial Times, which is behind a registration wall).

The dubious pleasures of US college campus life

Wildly overblown claims about an epidemic of sexual assaults on American campuses are obscuring the true danger to young women, too often distracted by cellphones or iPods in public places: the ancient sex crime of abduction and murder. Despite hysterical propaganda about our “rape culture,” the majority of campus incidents being carelessly described as sexual assault are not felonious rape (involving force or drugs) but oafish hookup melodramas, arising from mixed signals and imprudence on both sides. Colleges should stick to academics and stop their infantilizing supervision of students’ dating lives, an authoritarian intrusion that borders on violation of civil liberties. Real crimes should be reported to the police, not to haphazard and ill-trained campus grievance committees.

Camille Paglia (h/t Glenn Reynolds).

Universities these days are not just toxic because of what Reynolds has referred to as the higher education bubble (a problem to some extent mirrored here in the UK, though smaller in relative terms). This sort of issue that Paglia writes about is creating a breeding ground for paranoia and fear among the sexes. And who benefits from this?