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]

A very good point about Trans-Pacific Trade

Eric Raymond, over at his Armed and Dangerous blog, makes this excellent point about the mixed bag that is the Trans-Pacific Trade deal:

The thing about creating political machinery to fuck with free markets is this: you never get to be the last person to control it. No matter how worthy you think your cause is, part of the cost of your behavior is what will be done with it by the next pressure group. And the one after that. And after that.

Samizdata quote of the day

The left has never properly come to terms with its past, and has never fully accounted for its history of anti-Semitism (which today goes under the guise of ‘anti-Zionism’). As the critic and filmmaker Jamie Palmer has written: ‘Soviet anti-Semitism was diligently and uncritically reproduced in the communist press and thus made its way into the ideological bloodstream of the left’. Unlike the very public repudiation of racism on the mainstream right, no similar detoxification has taken place in the ‘bloodstream’ of the left. Properly rooting out anti-Semitism begins by challenging fanatical anti-Zionism. It is perfectly possible to oppose the human rights abuses of the Israeli government without completely dismissing the Zionist project, which in its most basic interpretation means simply the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state. If the anti-Zionists wish to be consistent, they should be equally scathing about other movements for ethnic and cultural self-determination – such as that of the Kurds or the Palestinians themselves. The fact they rarely are should worry anyone calling themselves a progressive.

James Bloodworth, International Business Times. I probably share very different political and economic views from the author, but he is right to call out the vileness of those who defame Jews.

Ken Livingstone really is a scumbag.

Being a libertarian, I defend the right of people to say what they want, however offensive or daft, but it is worth pointing out that much of the Left and certainly people such as Livingstone have made part of their careers out of criminalising “hate speech”, so it would be deliciously ironic if such lowlifes were criminally prosecuted for some of this nonsense. In so many ways, the Left resembles a circular firing squad.

A strategic steel reserve?

The recent controversy about the potential closure, by India-headquartered Tata, of the steelworks in Wales (formerly owned by Corus) has revived old memories of when the UK government (ie, the taxpayer) owned steelworks. It was an unhappy episode. The picture of middle-aged men, in “tight-knit communities” (the cliches write themselves) losing their jobs with not much immediate prospect of getting another job (such men are, apparently, incapable of doing this), is politically toxic. (Interestingly, the role that anti-carbon policies, enacted to prevent global warming, have played in hurting such industries isn’t getting all that much attention as far as I can see. Does. Not. Compute.) Never mind that tens of thousands of bank staff (not all “fat cats”) have been given their P45s in recent years – when steelworkers are given the bullet, it has a visceral effect on the public imagination of a kind that is very different. People can easily visualise the value of making steel, used as it is in many modern industrial products; they cannot so easily figure out the worth of people processing interest rate swaps transactions, for example. Also, the bank bailouts of 2008-09 mean that for a new generation of voters, the idea of bailing out a failed set of institutions, while unpleasant, isn’t off-limits. If we must bail out banks, so the argument goes, let’s bail out steel. (Just as, in the US, the same kind of logic was used to justify bailing out GM, shafting GM creditors in the process.)

Momentum is building for the current government to nationalise the steel factories, a prospect that no doubt would have appalled the late Margaret Thatcher. The present Business Secretary, sometimes billed as a future Conservative Party leader, has said that part-nationalisation is an option. One of the arguments used to make the prospect more palatable to people otherwise wary of the whole notion is that Britain needs a core capacity to make steel, because we need to be able to build weapons in times of war, for example. (A similar argument is sometimes used to defend protection for forms of agriculture; the UK imports many foodstuffs but has been vulnerable to blockades and attacks on shipping in previous world wars.)

But if this military-need argument really is as strong as is made out, then there is a case for saying that the most cost-efficient (from the point of view of free market economics and taxpayers’ interests) isn’t nationalisation, or the alternative of just shutting down plants, but a sort of strategic reserve. To some extent, in a free market where there are futures and options markets for commodities such as iron, etc, those much-maligned speculators will hoard steel/other during a market glut and wait for prices to rise before selling, and vice versa. If there is a more pressing military requirement that cannot be easily slotted into this market argument, then a “strategic steel reserve” might be an idea, as the investment advisor and former Comservative Party parliamentary candidate Douglas Hans-Luke says. (I don’t endorse all of his views, I should add.) It is an idea worth considering, and arguably, just as an individual should keep a first aid kit, flashlight, water purifier, set of knives, screwdrivers and fire-lighting items and other emergency tools handy, and learn how to use them, so should a country. It is, arguably, a basic requirement of even a minimal state to have that “emergency toolkit” in the cupboard, just in case. Even better, in a healthy civil society, the public should have these things, and be encouraged to learn how to use and store them. And of course that includes firearms and types of working knives, a subject about which the UK lost the plot years ago. It is, I understand, a crime to carry a Swiss Army knife in your pocket in the UK, for instance. Ironically, such things are made out of high-grade steel from places such as Sweden.

An emergency steel reserve sounds a lot easier to defend than nationalisation, not least because it is rational on its own merits. I’m ready to be convinced otherwise. How about every schoolkid gets taught how to make steel and weld during science class?

 

 

Nick Cohen takes John Le Carré away for a spot of waterboarding

After writing his three great novels — The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and The Perfect Spy — it is easy to agree with the conclusion ofPrivate Eye’s critic, who said le Carré had become “his own tribute band”. You know now how his books will go. There is a decent Englishman. He comes across skulduggery. He is persuaded to fight it by an honest spy, who teaches him tradecraft, but instead finds he must fight Western corporations and governments whose cynicism knows no limits. In the case of The Night Manager, the reason, of course, why the British government is unconcerned by illegal weapons sales is that MI6 is in the pay of the villainous arms dealer.

– Nick Cohen, reviewing the recent TV adaptation of The Night Manager.

For what it is worth, although I like the George Smiley books and also enjoyed A Small Town in Germany, a lot of Le Carré’s other material is as Cohen describes it.

Here is a nice appreciation of the George Smiley books, which in my view are still riveting reading, all these years’ later.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

At the weekend, the left-wing firebrand Polly Toynbee lamented the “extraordinary growth of inequality”. She has previously described it as “soaring”. The Observer columnist Will Hutton has said that the income gap is “ever-increasing”. It has become a factoid that the income distribution is widening year-on-year, especially after the financial crisis. And yet, these claims are just not true. To uncomfortably paraphrase Ronald Reagan and Mark Twain, the trouble with our left-wing friends is not their ignorance about inequality in the UK, but that they know so much that ain’t so.

Ryan Bourne.

The final paragraph of this article has a lovely sting in the tail.

How I generally approach the “no platforming” issue at universities, other

With all the furore about students “no platforming” those whom they dislike, for whatever reasons, it is worth recalling that a core problem for libertarians is that while making universities fully private, and thereby removing this behaviour as a public policy issue requiring political interference or comment, would be an answer to a degree, it is unlikely to happen any time soon. Also, even if universities were all private, such as the UK’s University of Buckingham, there is still a good case for the owners of said to make the case that universities aren’t, if they deserve the title of universities, meant to be “safe places”. I thought about the point when reading a recent Facebook comment and I wrote this:

Universities are funded, on the whole in countries such as the UK, by taxpayers, and via loans, the students. Now, if we had a purely free market in higher ed, then the institutions could, conceivably, set their own rules about debates and whatnot. (Vive la difference, etc.) But even if they did, the people running a university worthy of that term realise that one of the key reasons for attending a uni in the first place, however it is owned, is to broaden the mind and come into contact with debate, to learn how to debate, how to identify errors and problems, and so on. And these “no platform” people, even if they think they are liberal, have no conception of what a liberal education really means. Of course, if a private debating society wants to make it clear up front that it will not invite persons for various reasons, it can of course do what it likes, in the same way that an editor of a newspaper can choose to run letters or not, to moderate blog comments, or not. A journalist is not obliged to print letters from people that might be libellous, for instance. In the current state-run context of academies, however, taxpayers are entitled to expect that universities and other places respect free expression as a default position, subject only to the avoidance of speech deemed threatening to public order as defined under English Common Law and where specific threats are issued against people. (Hopefully those caveats are pretty tight for the purposes of argument.)

I like this quote, expressed with usual diamond-hard clarity, by Ayn Rand, on free speech and what it does and does not involve:

While people are clamoring about “economic rights,” the concept of political rights is vanishing. It is forgotten that the right of free speech means the freedom to advocate one’s views and to bear the possible consequences, including disagreement with others, opposition, unpopularity and lack of support. The political function of “the right of free speech” is to protect dissenters and unpopular minorities from forcible suppression—not to guarantee them the support, advantages and rewards of a popularity they have not gained.

The Bill of Rights reads: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press . . . .” It does not demand that private citizens provide a microphone for the man who advocates their destruction, or a passkey for the burglar who seeks to rob them, or a knife for the murderer who wants to cut their throats.

With tax-funded universities, though, there is the case of whether such an organisation should ban, say, a free market radical like the late Miss Rand from speaking, on the grounds that she “advocates their destruction”. Or should a current UK university, funded as they are, host speakers who are, for example, preachers of hate against Jews, Americans, white males, entrepreneurs, scientists, logicians, or indeed any other of the sort of persons who are probably on the receiving end of the current “safe spaces” stuff. Should we wait for such places to be privatized while this situation persists? My brief answer is that the default setting must be let people of any kind speak on a taxpayer-funded academy unless the persons so speaking are clearly and identifiably at war with a country (such as a figure who is, or has, served in ISIS, or some other hostile force). I am not sure this is a very clear answer, though, because defining “at war” clearly varies.

Meanwhile, the madness continues, such as against the difficulty of STEM subjects.

Finally, for some light relief, as a pisstake on university life that is timeless, Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim is a great read.

 

The Big Question: Are there too many movies featuring the Death Star?

The question as posed in the title of this entry was raised at The Federalist. What say you, Samizdata commentators?

Panama – it’s not just for the canal or the hats

What most of us would like is for the Government to spend less and leave us with more of our own money. If Messrs Cameron and Osborne now get caught up in a tidal wave of popular resentment against the avariciousness of the rich they will only have themselves to blame for playing footsie with the Left’s analysis that wealth creation is to be despised, inheritance is evil and judicious tax planning is immoral. Rather than mount a robust Tory defence of the virtues of material success backed by lower or flatter taxes and affordable public spending, they have burnished their so-called One Nation credentials to avoid being portrayed as out of touch, privileged and posh. There may well be activities exposed by the Panama Papers that will warrant criminal investigation. But this story has been hijacked by anti-capitalist campaigners who think all our earnings should be handed over to the state to be redistributed by Jeremy Corbyn and his followers. They simply cannot understand the aspirational instincts that drive most people, and they never will.

Philip Johnston, one of the many who are writing about the Panama Papers affair.

As an aside, one issue that hasn’t been directly faced in the commentaries is this: if it is appalling for journalists to hack phones and steal private, confidential data in pursuit of politicians, celebs, etc, why is it noble and good to do so when this involves leaking millions of account details, many of which are about people who haven’t committed any crimes? Ok, it is in the public interest, will be the retort. But who gets to decide this?

Britain leaving the EU will be disruptive: that is (mostly) good

In recent years it has become fashionable to hail changes and technologies that are “disruptive”. The example of Uber, the business that Brian Micklethwait of this parish and others have saluted, being a classic case in point. Of course, just because something is disruptive doesn’t make it good for the consumer. Blizzards and earthquakes are disruptive, for example. (Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has pointed out that disruption can be a painful, if not always desirable part of the process of reaching a destination, not the desired destination as such.) Even so, it seems to be highly fashionable to praise technologies if they are “disruptive”; in my daily work-related reading it is hard to avoid seeing this or that business model as “disruptive” with the strong implication that this is a Good Thing.

Ironically enough, however, one of the most disruptive events that may occur in the next few months is if British voters elect to leave the European Union. This will, so critics of such a “Brexit” claim, create uncertainty and be clearly a very disruptive event. All kinds of assumptions of how things are will be turned upside down. My goodness, we poor little moppets might have to learn about how to negotiate trade deals, repeal, replace or cut down on legislation, or have to recalibrate our relations with other nations. There will be a lot of disruption.

And yet apart from a few isolated examples, I see few signs of the pro-Brexit camp saying that this disruption will be a positive good thing; if anything, I sense they want to play this down, although senior Telegraph journalist Allister Heath has argued that the shock effect of Brexit will be positive for the rest of the EU (such an argument is likely to be lost on the existing EU elites barely able to conceive of life outside the comforting embrace of what they have known). It would be good if the pro-Brexit campaigners could argue two things: 1, that Brexit will be disruptive and interfere with the tranquil world of certain people, and 2, that this disruption is good, healthy, necessary and likely to trigger a run of reforms and changes that otherwise are unlikely to happen.

 

 

The other side of immigration

In the charged atmosphere in US and other countries’ politics at the moment, immigration, legal and illegal, is a hot topic, to put it mildly. As regulars here know, a key point is that immigration/emigration cannot be divorced from issues such as whether the chosen destination of a migrant has a welfare state, or not. It is worth, with all that in mind, to remind ourselves that on the whole, migrants tend to be highly motivated people, not the malevolent “snakes” that Donald Trump (whose ancestors were immigrants, and we don’t know how fully documented they might have been) might put it. Here is an item from the Wall Street Journal:

A new non-partisan study on entrepreneurship gives some credence to the tech industry’s stance that American innovation benefits from robust immigration.

The study from the National Foundation for American Policy, a non-partisan think tank based in Arlington, Va., shows that immigrants started more than half of the current crop of U.S.-based startups valued at $1 billion or more.

These 44 companies, the study says, are collectively valued at $168 billion and create an average of roughly 760 jobs per company in the U.S. The study also estimates that immigrants make up over 70% of key management or product development positions at these companies.

The foundation examined 87 U.S. companies valued at $1 billion or more as of Jan. 1, as tracked by the Journal’s Billion Dollar Startup Club. The authors of the study used public data and information from the companies to create biographies of the founders.

Of course, as I anticipate some commenters might say, these immigrants are, one assumes, legals, and they haven’t overstayed their visa terms or they did not jump over any fence. But for what it is worth, these achievements would be no less notable even if they had not been entirely legit as stands under existing law.

There is a lot of fear in Western politics at the moment, and it is all too easy to forget the many positives out there. Remember, politicians who want to expand the State usually thrive when people are scared, or made more scared.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Labour does indeed have a problem with Jews. It can acknowledge that problem’s existence, confront it and deal with it. Or it can shrug, mutter something about UN Security Council resolutions and continue to court the support of those on the far Left who are the source of the problem. Jewish members of the party have scant reason for optimism about which course will be pursued.”

Tom Harris

As is said about certain behaviours, such as drug addiction, to deal with a situation it is first necessary to acknowledge that you have a problem. The Labour Party has a problem in that a number of its members hate not just Israel, but they hate Jews as well. (Without accurate data, it is difficult to know what the percentages of such bigots there are in the party as a whole.) With Jeremy Corbyn in charge, a man who seems to find it easy to hang out with guttersnipes of various stripes, a solution to this situation is not yet in hand.

I can recommend this bracingly-written book by George Gilder, the Israel Test, by the way.

Samizdata quote of the day

“One could hold pan-European elections, of course, with voters picking multi-national slates of candidates; but, then, one could also ask every person on the planet to vote for a world president. Such initiatives would ape democratic procedures, but would be a sham. They would be Orwellian takedowns of genuine democracy, not extensions of it. There would be no relationship or understanding between ruler and citizen, zero genuine popular control, nil real accountability; coalitions of big countries would impose their will on smaller nations, and elites would run riot. We would be back to imperial politics, albeit in a modernised form.”

Allister Heath