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]

Views on homeschooling

I liked this posting from American economist Bryan Caplan:

Questions non-economists ask when I tell them I’m homeschooling my sons:

1. What makes you think you’re qualified to teach them?
2. Who are you to decide what your kids should study?
3. What about socialization?
4. How come you’re not teaching [insert pet subject here]?
5. Won’t this hurt your kids later in life?
6. Aren’t you hurting your kids’ development right now?
7. When will they interact with girls?
8. Isn’t there more to life than academics?
9. Aren’t you undermining social cohesion?
10. Why are you turning your kids into brainwashed freaks?

Questions economists ask when I tell them I’m homeschooling my sons:

1. Doesn’t it take a lot of time?

I suspect, though, that even economists might ask a few of the questions in the first list, if only because they will hold the same sort of statist ideology when it comes to schooling that the vast majority of other people, in my experience, seem to have. Even so, Caplan’s posting is food for thought and here is an earlier article by him about the homeschooling topic, with shedloads of links.

Posing a question about migration

I wonder if it ever crosses the mind of any refugee that the countries of western Europe are free and prosperous not as a temporary co-incidence and a convenient solution to their woes, but because the inhabitants of those countries fought over many centuries at an incalculable cost to life for the freedom they enjoy today? It is a matter of not inconsiderable astonishment to me that of the many millions of us who care for justice and an end to human misery, few if any are calling attention to the conditions that prevail in theocratic tyrannies, or demanding, in the first place, absolute rejection by western governments of theocratic tyranny, wherever it may prevail (even in nominally “friendly” nations), and, concomitantly, resistance and rejection by citizens of theocratic (and secular) countries to the tyrannies that exist either in their name or the absence of their implacable resistance. No commentator that I have yet heard has ever held the citizens of theocracies accountable for the “governments” they live under, There has been much hand wringing at the absence of effective action now available to the Western powers to bring peace to Middle Eastern tyrannies, but no suggestion that citizens are complicit in the establishment of fascist regimes that always and inevitably morph into tyranny.

I am aware that by their endless chicanery, opportunism and hypocrisy, western powers have signally contributed towards the destabilisation of many countries of the world, certainly including many in the Middle East, and they therefore have a lot to answer for, but even so, this does not in itself exculpate the residents, the sometime voters, the fellow travellers, and – sorry it must be said – the co-religionists of tyranny, who looked the other way when bad things were done in their name, or who indeed conspired in the doing of such bad things.

It will be argued by the professional philanthropic classes of the West that the conditions prevailing in the many tyrannies of the Middle East or Africa or Asia are altogether too hostile, cruel and implacable to admit of resistance. They conveniently forget the iron grip that monarchism and the Roman Catholic Church had on Europe, but which was successfully prised open by freedom loving people, to say nothing of the unendurable socio-economic conditions that ordinary people had to fight so hard and so long against to overcome. It is the heroism and the courage of such ordinary people that we all have to thank for the blessed conditions of freedom that prevail in Western Europe, it is not a consequence of good luck or privilege.

Colin Bower

It is difficult to know to what extent people who live in theocracies can have or should have responsibility for the waking nightmare of the society in which they live or be blamed for not doing more to change it. For example, to what extent should I, or any other Samizdata commentator, take responsibility for some of the cretinous, statist, zero-sum economic views that are embedded in the governance of the countries in which we live? We can do what we can to change the climate of opinion, but this is hard and the beneficial effects of any struggles take decades or more to bear fruit.

Uber and how it makes the case for laissez faire capitalism

Uber has been hit with complaints that it’s running “an Objectivist LARP,” a live-action role playing of a capitalist utopia from an Ayn Rand novel. That’s pretty much what it is doing, and the results are awesome. And the benefits don’t stop with more drivers and lower rates. Uber is ploughing a fair portion of its profits into another wave of technological innovation — self-driving cars — that promises to offer even greater improvements in the future.

All of this should counter some of the despair about how to promote free markets, especially among urban elites who have been programmed by their college educations to embrace the rhetoric of the Left. Give them half a chance, and they will flock to capitalist innovations run according to the laws of the market.

The problem is that they don’t want to admit it. That’s where the euphemism “ride-sharing” comes in. To cover up the capitalistic nature of the activity, they tell themselves they’re “sharing” something that they are quite obviously paying for, and paying at market rates. Imagine what could be accomplished if they were just willing to drop the euphemisms and embrace the free market.

Robert Tracinski


Samizdata quote of the day

Nobody who asks for “authenticity” in politicians understands how decadent this sounds. Most people in most societies for most of history would have made do with administrative competence, incorruptibility and a disinclination to plunder citizens or conscript them as war fodder. Mid-20th century Britons dreamt of low inflation and heated homes before they caressed hopes of conviction politics. A country with the leisure to take umbrage at scripted interviews and bloodless technocracy is doing fine. The modern distaste for spin, which makes heroes of plain-speakers such as Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK’s opposition Labour party, is like the campaign against obesity: warranted, but also a mark of how far we have come. There are worse problems to have and we had them not long ago.

Janan Ganesh

I made a related point about the use, or misuse, of the word “authentic” a short while ago here. Some people demurred and said a better word might be “integrity”, but I think that the way that people are praising Corbyn for being “authentic” is that they perceive him as being the opposite of slick or spun. That is all well and good, but I can see only one merit in being an authentic admirer of the IRA, of socialist Venezuela, of Hamas, of nationalisation, punitive tax and central bank money printing – and that merit is that the warning is out there, big and bold. There is no pretence.



An (almost) forgotten BBC drama about what happens under extreme collectivism in the UK

1990″, which is a drama on the BBC (made in the late 1970s), portrays a Britain where emigration by persons in certain professions is banned, extortionate taxes are imposed. In short, a Britain where the hard left is in charge. The series was not issued onto DVD (I wonder why?) but can be viewed on YouTube. It is quite striking that the BBC made this at all.

(H/T: The Conservative Woman. Read the whole article.)

Samizdata lunatic quote of the day

I came across this quote on Facebook by a person whom I won’t name – since it was on a closed group – and it was written in response to an item about tax as a cost. The idea that tax is a cost struck this person (who I don’t think was trolling, but just holding collectivist views) as bizarre:

“Taxes are redistributed throughout the economy. Taxes provide public services and government spending that consumes goods/services and pay public sector wages that fuel business success which in turn, creates further tax revenue. You’re mistaken – Tax is not a cost – It drives nigh on 50% of our entire economy! Right wingers continually fail to notice this incontrovertible economic fact.”

The idea that taxes cut into existing productive activity, and that as a cost, will be passed on to consumers (such as the financial transaction tax passing on costs to bank clients, shareholders, etc) doesn’t occur. No, taxes are part of that wonderful magic money tree. Why stop at a pathetic 50 per cent? Why not tax the lot? Give it all to the State, so those clever people can spray it around and make us richer, except of course the money has that odd way of disappearing from our paychecks……..Sorry, excuse me, time for my pills.

You do have to wonder what a century or more of compulsory education has wrought.



The fate of Palmyra

Yesterday evening I attended a dinner, hosted by a bank, at the outstanding Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum. The collection of artifacts in that place is astonishing and I could have spent many happy hours there. Later, talking to one of the folk attending the dinner, we got on to the subject of how the BM has, notoriously, become a home to items of classical antiquity, and how, by a savage twist of fate, the museum’s experts are assisting people in countries such as Iraq and Syria to restore and recover the treasures being destroyed, defaced, or stolen by ISIS and other Islamo-nihilists. The conversation reminds me of this article by Daniel Johnson. Here is an extract:

The full significance of the demolition of Palmyra thus only emerges when we consider what it implies about the perpetrators’ attitude to Western civilisation. Ruins that had stood for nearly 1,800 years mean less than nothing to the genocidal ghouls of the new Caliphate, whose aim is to throw history into reverse and annihilate even the memory of all non-Islamic cultures. By harnessing the resources of Western culture — not only military technology but above all using the internet as a propaganda tool — the marauders of Isis have forced themselves into the forefront of our consciousness. Islamism is the face of nihilism in our time. The paralysis of the Western democracies when confronted with such radical evil is not unprecedented — we did not stop the Holocaust or the Cultural Revolution either — but what is new seems to be the brazen self-aggrandisement of the perpetrators. The great crimes of the 20th century were largely hidden from the world while they took place. This time, Isis has forced us to watch the agony of a civilisation. Whose civilisation is it? Ours — for the ruins of Palmyra belong to our cultural heritage no less than their architectural progeny, the English country house or the Capitol. The casual murder of Khaled al-Asaad in front of the antiquities that had been his life’s work recalls the death of Archimedes, who according to Plutarch was slain in Syracuse by a Roman soldier because he would not look up from his geometrical diagrams in the dust. Yet the Roman general, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, was apparently furious, having given orders that Archimedes was not to be harmed.

On the use and misuse of the term “authentic”

“An anti-brand is still a brand, as the proto-Corbynite “No logo” movement of the late 1990s discovered. The new politics doesn’t imply the death of spin: it is merely its next, logical step. Voters want a different, more distinct product to which they can better relate. It’s like the appeal of micro-breweries: the successful ones are smart, professional, well-managed businesses. People would never buy foul-tasting, dirty products from a disorganised, useless firm. Being authentic in the beer business is no guarantee of success, and neither is it in politics. The despicable BNP was authentic – but thankfully it has all but vanished.”

Allister Heath, writing about the supposedly “authentic” appeal of the new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

It is an interesting read. When I see people claim they want politicians to be honest, “real” and “authentic”, I sometimes doubt it. An “authentic” Marxist, Fascist, Islamist fanatic or general thug is no better for the “authentic” bit. And in fact one detects that this word has become present-day cant expression, in much the same way that one sees the use of the word “natural” as a term of approbation or “artificial” as somehow bad. Or think how terms such as “organic farming”, “natural remedy” can disarm criticism and analysis. Much of human civilisation is about artifice – the paraodox being that it is human nature to create artificial things (property rights contracts, keyhole surgery and the complete works of Ludwig von Mises, etc).

As for honesty, one of the most honest politicians of recent times was the late Sir Keith Joseph, who, in the early 1970s, said out loud that he thought his previously-held mixed-economy, paternal Tory views were mistaken, and played a central part in advising Mrs Thatcher on moving in a different direction. He once, for example, said that Britain needed more millionaires. When he made comments that used the expression “national stock” he was lambasted and, given his strong character, said openly that he did not feel suited to lead the Tories, and stood aside. Such candour and general moral decency are unusual. For his efforts he was dubbed the “Mad Monk”.

Samizdata quote of the day

You may have recently seen that after Trump said the Bible is his favorite book, he couldn’t name a single Bible verse or passage that meant something to him. And we all know why, because it’s all just a show, and he hasn’t ever read the Bible. But you know why he hasn’t read the Bible? Because he’s not in it.

Bobby Jindal, as quoted by Jay Nordlinger.

Venezuela – a role model for the man probably going to be the next leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition

“When we celebrate, and it is a cause for celebration, the achievements of Venezuela, in jobs, in housing , in health, in education, but above all its role in the whole world as a completely different place, then we do that because we recognise what they have achieved.”

Jeremy Corbyn

(For those who haven’t been on Samizdata before, this posting is designed to highlight the vileness of this man, not to imply approval.)

A change of direction

“Michelangelo carved his “David” out of a rock. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art just offers us a rock, — a rock — all 340 tons of it.”

Robert Florczak, Prager University (H/T, Timothy Sandefur.)

The blockchain and what it might do to banking and finance (and other things besides)

In a matter of months, this word, blockchain, has gone viral on trading floors and in the executive suites of banks and brokerages on both sides of the Atlantic. You can’t attend a finance conference these days without hearing it mentioned on a panel or at a reception or even in the loo. At a recent blockchain confab in London’s hip East End, the host asked if there were any bankers in the room. More than half the audience members, all dressed in suits, raised their hands.

Bloomberg Magazine.

Okay, what the F**k is a blockchain (one word or two?), I hear you cry?

A block chain is a transaction database shared by all nodes participating in a system based on the Bitcoin protocol. A full copy of a currency’s block chain contains every transaction ever executed in the currency. With this information, one can find out how much value belonged to each address at any point in history.  (Wikipedia.)

Here is a book by Dominic Frisby, whom I have met and is known to Samizdata contributors such as Brian Micklethwait, about Bitcoin, and the blockchain system. There is now quite a literature about Bitcoin, some of it with a strong “hell with fiat money” sort of bent, others with a more agnostic approach. Here is one such example by Paul Vigna. Going onto Amazon or other search engines for such books brings up a lot of hits.

More broadly, the point of the article to which I linked at the top here is that very serious financial industry figures are now piling in; sure, some of them will have problems, and the history of how some people get carried away is instructive. But just as instructive is that, even after a period of difficulty, such as when the dotcom boom went sour, we were left not just with a lot of garish stories of excess, but some valuable business models that worked. And that, I suspect, will be the story around Bitcoin – not that this will be the one to succeed, but that the technology surrounding it will have a major change on how finance and other activity happens.