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]

Russia has been horrible for a long time

Amidst some of the commentary about the recent murders – attributed by the UK government to Russian operatives – in the UK, much has been written and said about the less-than-stellar response, in the eyes of many (including those on the political left) of Jeremy Corbyn. Now, my take on Corbyn is rather like that of George Orwell on leftist intellectuals (he was one of them, mind), which is that they’d sooner be caught stealing from a church charity plate than admitting they loved their country.

Even so, it is worth asking the question of quite why certain folk on the left are so beguiled by Russia. After all, in certain respects Putin is not their kind of hero. For a start, he is quite a “man’s man”, strutting about bare-chested, holding guns and riding horses; his regime isn’t nice to homosexuals, seems to extract a lot of CO2-producing gasses, and so on. There are no “safe spaces” in Russian schools and universities, I would guess.

However, it is worth noting that there was never really a time when the situation, particularly post-1917 and up to the fall of the Berlin Wall, was better. And this Daily Mirror writer comes up with a comment so flawed that for a second I thought it was some sort of parody. For the writer (adopting a sort of pen-name) suggests that poor old Corbyn is besotted with the shining image of a glorious Soviet Union that once – in the writer’s opinion – existed in its early years before certain things, inexplicably, went wrong. It had “free” healthcare, employment “rights” and a nifty big public sector. And it was egalitarian! The writer appears to buy this rosy view of Soviet Russia (the fact that opponents of Communism were murdered from day one appears not to register). The writer does not note the most important divide of all: the split between those who have power, and those who don’t, over others. The inequality in wealth of early 21st Century America or Europe is nothing compared to the inequality between the party bosses in, say, 1950 and that which exists in wealth terms in a Western liberal democracy. Wealth and coercive power are entirely different things.

The things that went wrong in the Soviet Empire were integral the very nature of collectivism itself; failure to understand that wealth inequality is entirely different from differences in coercive power is at the root of why leftists, and collectivists of all hues, get things like the Soviet Union wrong. The project was doomed because its underlying rationale was built on sand. (Here is a new and acclaimed biography of Lenin, making the point that what was set up in Russia was evil and mad from the start.)

So far from being an incisive takedown of Corbyn, the Daily Mirror article sort of affirms his infatuation with communism and says the main problem now is that Russia is run by thugs, as if what happened from 1917 onwards was ever going to be any different. When power is centralised, what does this writer expect will happen? And perhaps it is fitting to conclude that anyone who wonders “where did the dream of Soviet Russia go wrong?” should sit down with this 1944 masterpiece by a certain FA Hayek.

On the enduring stupidity of tariffs

Virginia Postrel:

Aluminum foil wraps burritos, physics equipment and the highlighted tresses of hair-salon customers. It forms flexible ducts and lasagna pans, lines cigarette packs and fast-food sandwich wrappers. It hides between layers of film in flexible packaging. It protects aspirin bottles from tampering, petri dishes from light and tractor engines from overheating. It tops yogurt cups and peanut cans. It backs blister packs of antihistamines, antacids and birth-control pills. It goes into automotive parts and air-conditioning systems.

U.S. manufacturers rely on aluminum foil. So do nail salons, building contractors and bakeries.To the Trump administration, however, none of these businesses—or their employees—matter as much as a couple of domestic aluminum makers. Disregarding the ripple effects, the Commerce Department has said it will impose preliminary duties of 97 percent to 162 percent on the Chinese imports that supply much of the U.S. market with thin aluminum foil. That’s likely to have much more far-reaching effects on U.S. companies than the minor deals President Donald Trump announced on his trip to China.

As the Wall Street Journal (paywall) editors said:

Mr. Trump seems not to understand that steel-using industries in the U.S. employ some 6.5 million Americans, while steel makers employ about 140,000. Transportation industries, including aircraft and autos, account for about 40% of domestic steel consumption, followed by packaging with 20% and building construction with 15%. All will have to pay higher prices, making them less competitive globally and in the U.S.

And the national security argument trotted out to support such tariffs is given suitably short shrift by the WSJ:

The national security threat from foreign steel is preposterous because China supplies only 2.2% of U.S. imports and Russia 8.7%. But the tariffs will whack that menace to world peace known as Canada, which supplies 16%. South Korea, which Mr. Trump needs for his strategy against North Korea, supplies 10%, Brazil 13% and Mexico 9%.

On just about all conceivable grounds, the tariffs are stupid.

Last year, reflecting on a few of Trump’s acts, such as deregulation moves, the tax cuts, Supreme Court picks, crushing of the Paris AGW accord and the Jerusalem embassy decision, I felt that, while Trump had said a lot of foolish things, maybe he was turning out to be a pretty good POTUS after all. The protectionism, however, remains a major blot on his record.

Ross Clark at the UK’s Spectator, meanwhile, makes an interesting observation of how all this plays to the case for Brexit.

South Africa decides Zimbabwe is an instruction manual, not a warning

Grim news from South Africa. Just in case anyone thought that the departure of President Zuma, a corrupt man who has stripped his country (South Africa faces severe water shortages brought on by neglect of infrastructure) might lead to better things will be disappointed. The new regime has signed off on a land-grab policy of confiscating white-owned land without compensation. (About 70 per cent of South African farmland is owned by whites.) The claim made is that any white person who owns land in the country must, by definition, have stolen it. (The idea that such ownership might have come into being without theft just does not cross certain persons’ minds. That fact is simply undiscussible.)

As we have found in the seizure/collectivisation of farms in the former Soviet Union, in China, and in Zimbabwe more recently, such moves herald mass poverty and violence. South Africa has ironically seen an influx of poor Zimbabweans since the vile Mugabe regime started to attack white farmers and seize land; the country has suffered a catastrophic decline in its farmland output, which may never recover. South Africa seems keen to follow suit; it has a range of largely self-inflicted woes: the current government is deeply corrupt. The country needs inward investment – seizing white-owned property hardly encourages any investor, of any racial background. As a matter of simple common sense, taking land by brute force, without compensation, from owners and giving it to those who are political cronies and hangers-on will inevitably reduce output and wealth, not the other way round.

The unfolding of South Africa’s history is a tragedy, and it is easy to see why there is an element of “score-settling” at work here. Apartheid, let it not be forgotten, was introduced in the late 1940s at the behest to some degree of the white trade union movement, keen to bolster its bargaining power. Even if you were a private entrepreneur who wanted to hire non-whites for certain jobs, for example, you couldn’t. (Minimum wage laws operated in ways that hurt, not helped, non-whites.) The system was as absurd and vile as the Jim Crow laws of the US, or other examples of serfdom and oppression down the ages. It had to go; for anyone who supports a free market economy, apartheid and its cousins are absurd as well as wrong.

But the solution of seizing white-owned land, regardless of the honesty or provenance of it, and giving it to people via a political carve-up, turns the injustices inherited from the old regime on their head, creating a new form of racism. Two wrongs do not make a right. And further, one suspects that the land seizures are an attempt to deflect attention from the failings of the existing regime. Compare and contrast how, for example, the “Asian tigers” threw off their old colonial masters and focused on getting seriously rich, not least by respecting property rights. And wherever one looks, there does seem a pretty tight correlation between respect for property rights – indeed their very existence – with prosperity and happiness more broadly. Hernando de Soto has made something of a career pushing the point that the world needs more property rights, spread among more people. (Check out this recent lecture by Niall Ferguson on the same sort of issue.) As an aside, it also seems to be a pretty solid marker of respect for property rights to have a large and growing middle class. I suspect that one of the underlying problems in South Africa is that among the non-white population, persons who can be so described aren’t a big portion of the total.

Lest anyone pounces on the notion that what has happened proves that certain racial groups are incapable of building a civilized political order, bear in mind that here in the UK, the oh-so-white Caucasian leadership of Her Majesty’s Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, and his colleagues, want to do to the owners of privately-owned industries such as electricity, gas, and the rest what the new leadership in South Africa wants to do to white farmers. The defence of settled property rights remains a vital cause for anyone interested not just in prosperity, but liberty. As of this week, that cause took a turn for the worse in South Africa.

The strange lack of any media or political noise about the Las Vegas shooting

Like Matt Walsh, I remain baffled at why the slaughter of concert-goers in Las Vegas a few months ago, and the almost total lack of evidence or data on the killer’s motives and actions, haven’t caused much in the way of a media/political firestorm, contrasting with events of recent days:

If you recall, dozens upon dozens of people were gunned down in Las Vegas on October 1. There were 58 fatalities in total. Another 422 injuries. That’s 480 casualties — 480 casualties — and I’m not even counting the hundreds more injured by trampling or shrapnel. It was the worst mass shooting in modern American history by a mile. It had more casualties than Orlando, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Parkland combined — times two. And it was carried out in the middle of a major American city.

Yet that terrible massacre seemed to fade from the headlines rapidly and inexplicably. The country had almost entirely moved on by the beginning of the following week. It seemed to me that we had forgotten about it within three or four days, but I’ll say a week just to be safe. The media is so obsessed with Parkland that several of its survivors are now practically household names. Does anyone remember the names of a single one of the Las Vegas survivors? Did any of them do media tours? Did CNN hold a “town hall” about Las Vegas? Was there an extensive conversation about potential law enforcement failures in Las Vegas, as there has been about their failures in Florida? We’ve all had quite a bit to say about the police officer who waited outside while kids were gunned down, but what about the police officers and armed security who made it to the shooter’s hotel room while he was still raining shots down on the crowd, but stood outside the door for an hour before entering?

From my vantage point, it seems that fairly early on, the media seemed to give up a hunt for explanations and for holding various people to account. Consider this point: Vegas hotels are famously packed with CCTV to foil thieves and crooks of various descriptions. And yet a man was able to get a large cache of weapons into a room and do what he did.

The trouble with even writing about this topic now is that I feel that I sound like a conspiracy nut, which I am emphatically not.

All very odd.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Moreover, an assault-weapon ban (along with a ban on high-capacity magazines) would gut the concept of an armed citizenry as a final, emergency bulwark against tyranny. No credible person doubts that the combination of a reliable semiautomatic rifle and a large-capacity magazine is far more potent than a revolver, bolt-action rifle, or pump-action shotgun. A free citizen armed with an assault rifle is more formidable than a free citizen armed only with a pistol. A population armed with assault rifles is more formidable than a population armed with less lethal weapons. The argument is not that a collection of random citizens should be able to go head-to-head with the Third Cavalry Regiment. That’s absurd. Nor is the argument that citizens should possess weapons “in common use” in the military. Rather, for the Second Amendment to remain a meaningful check on state power, citizens must be able to possess the kinds and categories of weapons that can at least deter state overreach, that would make true authoritarianism too costly to attempt.”

David French, at National Review.

Samizdata quote of the day

I asked my friends how they’d voted last year. Sanjit’s a Tory, but hard-working Annie and Marion, highly trained and usefully employed, said “Labour” without a pause for reflection. I wasn’t surprised, but I am fearful. Think what they’ll do when their generation puts a Marxist like Corbyn into power, eyeing up those assets we prize, those homes we once took for granted. What would be your instinct, if you’d never been able to buy a house, while the generation above you were getting richer by £35 a day, just by sitting in the home they refuse to let you afford?

Graham Archer.

The issue of the housing supply/demand problem has been noted several times before here at Samizdata, such as here, here and here.

Time for a spot of toxic masculinity

As we have seen recently, Formula 1 has decided to ban the practice of young ladies parading in the grid at the start of a motor race, on the grounds that such behaviour no longer has a place in the sport. Come to that, why not just ban very attractive people from sports events and moments such as parading in front completely, just so to protect the feelings of those less fortunately endowed by Mother Nature? The US tradition of cheerleaders clearly has to go. And if a bunch of people want to lead out footballers at a cup final, make surethey are either very young, old, and preferably covered up completely.) A number of women have been angered by the move.

Well, since modern race cars use engines that make less of a noise, presumably as all part of the kinder, gentler age we are supposed to enjoy, this all makes sense. I personally think that this doesn’t go far enough: how about curbing speeds in F1 to, say, 30 mph, so as to encourage more responsible use of scarce resources? And should all motor racing fans be forced to attend some sort of self-awareness course about the need to not objectify people as sex objects, or even get a mild arousal from seeing attractive members of the opposite sex? (OK, sarcasm alert.)

In the meantime, for those like me who will be visiting Le Mans in France this June, here is reminder of what this raucous motor racing is all about. Check out this video of a Ferrari 312 PB works car, dating from the early 1970s. The sound it makes is simply fabulous.

I don’t know if Le Mans has attractive women parading near the cars this year (it has in years gone by), but this is France, and for all its faults, some old traditions linger on. But for how long? I cannot help but wonder whether, in the case of F1 (the endurance race series of which Le Mans is a part is not in the same category) cultural considerations have played a part. F1 has been held in places such as Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, and the Muslim populations, with oil-wealth in their hands, may have argued for a ban at least in their jurisdictions. UBS, the Swiss bank, is at the moment global sponsor of the sport, but I have no idea whether the Zurich-listed lender put pressure on F1, although it may have done, in keeping with its staid Swiss image.

We live in Puritan times, and part of why I think F1 is harming itself is that motor sport is meant to be a bit naughty; driving a car at 200+mph around a track, making lots of noise, and with all that danger and sense of life, is totally against the current do-gooder mood. As the US journalist H L Mencken has said, a puritan is someone who worries that someone, somewhere, is happy.

Samizdata quote of the day

“It is conceivable that Mrs May could, with Labour support, push such a half-baked Brexit though Parliament. But her party would be finished. For most of its advocates on the Government benches, Brexit is about global free trade or it is nothing. Leaving the single market is not enough; Britain must also regain the power to trade freely with the rest of the world. Anything less would not just be a monumental betrayal but would tear the Conservatives apart. The party split in 1846 after the Corn Laws were repealed; it would surely do so again if Mrs May sells out her Brexiteers.”

Allister Heath

Big regulation

War and Peace is 1,200 pages long. Bleak House spreads to 1,000. Dodd-Frank, the US’s sprawling overhaul of financial regulations after 2008, runs to 848 pages – earning itself the nickname `Dodd-Frankenstein’. And the EU’s bumper trade deal with Canada reaches a hearty 1,600 pages. Last week, surmounting all of these achievements, the EU introduced a truly spectacular piece of regulation. `Mifid 2′ is its name and it weighs in at a princely 7,000 pages. That’s 1.4 million paragraphs, or six Bible-lengths. It must surely be a contender for the longest piece of red tape ever.

Juliet Samuel (Daily Telegraph, registration required). Needless to say, people continue to drone on about “neo-liberalism” and “unfettered markets”. If only.

I can predict a standard retort: that if the UK wanted to be an enthusiastic EU member (no laughing at the back, kids) then it could influence the EU machine and reduce this regulation. But how has that worked out, really? True, I know of some politicians who have tried to slow this process down, but it continues regardless.

Sure, when the UK leaves, then UK-based firms that wish to do business with the EU will need to comply with EU regulations just as they must do so with the laws of the US, or Canada, Australia, or Planet Zog. But the process cuts two ways. If the UK parliament has any sense (big if, course) and keeps rules within bounds rather than “gold-plates” whatever is in force in other countries, then the UK will gain. Further, the very existence of countries with independent rule-making makes it harder for policymakers in transnational groupings such as the EU to create tax/regulatory cartels. (This is why countries such as Switzerland drive Brussels nuts.)

In time, the regulatory costs of doing business in the EU will cripple its financial markets, and that makes it rather harder to persuade yours truly that being outside this regulatory behemoth is so bad for business. Being outside a relatively free and flexible customs union, which is what the Single Market is, can sound risky, even daunting. Being outside an expensive, inflexible, bureaucratic nightmare is far less so. In fact, getting as far away as possible from such a structure is not just a smart gamble, but essential.

The police hit-job on Damian Green

Matthew Parris recently, in the Times (registration required):

The media and political world is in a lather about whether the (now) de facto deputy prime minister once accessed pornography in his office. Here I am, fretting — some will say nitpicking — about whether it was appropriate for a now-retired Metropolitan Police officer (1) to have gathered and kept what he claims to be the evidence for these allegations, though there is no suggestion the law was broken; (2) to have disobeyed orders by keeping the evidence; and (3) nine years later to have put the allegations into the public domain.

My acquaintance with Damian Green is slight. He strikes me as one of those necessary second-rank men (in a world of third and fourth-rank men) who combine a useful level-headedness with a dispiriting blandness: podgy and unflappable, with the advantage at least — a quality in a Tory MP to be fallen on with relief — of not being mad. So my strong sense of injustice in this case has little to do with the merits of Mr Green and everything to do with what looks like a co-ordinated police vendetta against a politician they’ve clashed with.

He concludes:

When it comes to issues of rumour and reputation I’m no dry rationalist. Every journalist knows that the appearance of things does matter, and that stern logic cannot always rescue a wounded public figure. We know too that “process” stories often fail to hold public attention, and this column’s complaint about the abuse of police powers is essentially a process story.

But behind process may lie principle. What Damian Green was alleged to have watched might be thought disgusting, but what two former Met officers have been up to is little short of sinister. Disgust can rule the headlines and may win the day, but former police officers are trying to destroy a senior minister with whom they have clashed. This is London, not Chicago. Parliamentarians, in retreat for a decade now, should unite to push back.

I hold no particular brief for Mr Green; I disagree with him on Brexit. It actually worries me that some Brexiters I know are almost gloating that a pro-Remain senior Tory has had to resign after giving, it is said, less-than-truthful answers about the matter of his computer, but the fact remains that, as Parris says, evidence gathered in a decade-ago investigation, and not remotely connected to it, was brought up for no other reason than I can think of to embarrass and damage an elected politician. The ex-copper in question, who appears to nurse a grudge, seems, as Parris says, to be arguing not that what Green did was illegal, but improper. So we are getting into the murky territory of police officers taking moral stands, they claim, about what a democratically elected political figure does. (See here, for a version of events in the Guardian.)

I remember in the early days of this blog that we sometimes used to refer to the UK police as the “paramilitary wing of the Guardian newspaper”, more concerned about enforcing PC doctrines, or chasing after real or alleged bogeymen of the Right, such as those saying mean things about homosexuals, Muslims, etc, than catching crooks. The recent period post the Jimmy Savile fiasco (a paedophile who preyed on people for decades) seems to have seen the police morph, perhaps out of guilt about failing to nail the old BBC presenter, into a hyperactive pursuer of alleged perverts, with due process of law taking a back seat. The recent shabby treatment of Sir Cliff Richard, the entertainer, is an example of where this sort of zeal leads.

As an aside, it appears that the Tory Party, in its enfeebled parliamentary state, is or has been unwilling to clamp down on the police, to insist on reforms and push back against the assault on Common Law principles of fairness and due process. The Met are not necessarily part of any sort of Deep State (conspiracy theory alert!) taking root but they are certainly showing a level of presumption that is dangerous in a liberal order. The police are, in some respects, out of control, and need to be reined in. Just imagine the damage that can be done if police are emboldened to chase after enemies if or when Mr Corbyn and his re-heated Marxist allies take office. Something to think about for 2018.

Signs perhaps of MPs waking up to the problem.


“Despite Brexit”

From Forbes magazine’s website:

Wells Fargo and Apple both made substantial moves within London since the Brexit vote. Wells Fargo spent $400 million to buy a new European headquarters in London’s financial district. Apple announced plans to open a new London campus in 2021 that covers nearly 500,000 square feet of space. Facebook is also in the market for 700,000 square feet to accommodate 9,000 employees.

The whole article is worth a read. And it reminded me that there are now dozens of stories, tracked by the likes of Guido Fawkes,  going on about how This or That splendid thing has taken place “despite Brexit”. The joke here, of course, is that the Remain-leaning folks who write for the likes of the Financial Times and others have a hardwired assumption that Brexit is bad, will damage the UK economy, and that anything that appears to be positive is therefore in some sort of defiance of said presumption, to be dismissed, or cast aside. (This is not all one way, of course, there can be over-inflation of optimism about what the UK departure will mean, but my impression is that the volume of “despite Brexit” stories and the bias they reveal is much greater than the other sort.)

The point is soon being reached when an entire volume of news stories could be gathered into one place and the title of the book could be called “Despite Brexit”. Maybe those folk at Guido Fawkes or the Spectator, etc might bring out one in time for next year’s Christmas. I suspect the book will run to several hundred pages. (OK, I demand copyright on the idea, now!)

Samizdata quote of the day

We are in the midst of a revolution in our understanding of sexual harassment and assault. We’re told, as we are often told in the midst of media-driven manias, that everything has really changed this time. As satisfying as this narrative might be for feminists on the warpath against “toxic masculinity” and conservatives who revile the sexual libertinism of the past half-century in America, it isn’t true. As long as men and women are thrown together in the workplace—and are placed in competition with each other—sex will, in part, be a means to achieve power, a weapon wielded by both men and women. The question is what we can do to mitigate the damage. The record so far—and by so far, I mean over the past four decades—is not encouraging.

Christine Rosen, Commentary Magazine.