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

“Liberalism was always counterintuitive. The less society is ordered, the more order emerges from the ground up. The freer people are permitted to be, the happier the people become and the more meaning they find in the course of life itself. The less power that is given to the ruling class, the more wealth is created and dispersed among everyone. The less a nation is directed by conscious design, the more it can provide a model of genuine greatness. Such teachings emerged from the liberal revolution of the previous two centuries. But some people (mostly academics and would-be rulers) weren’t having it. On the one hand, the socialists would not tolerate what they perceived to be the seeming inequality of the emergent commercial society. On the other hand, the advocates of old-fashioned ruling-class control, such as Carlyle and his proto-fascist contemporaries, longed for a restoration of pre-modern despotism, and devoted their writings to extolling a time before the ideal of universal freedom appeared in the world.”

Jeffrey Tucker.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Lootings are becoming a common occurrence in Venezuela, as the country’s food shortage resulted in yet another reported incident of violence in a supermarket—this time in the Luvebras Automarket located in the La Florida Province of Caracas. Videos posted to social media showed desperate people falling over each other trying to get bags of rice. One user claimed the looting occurred because it is difficult to get cereal, and so people ‘broke down the doors and damaged infrastructure.”

Robert Tracinski

Samizdata quote of the day

Indeed, one of the advantages of tax havens is that they help hold governments to account. They make it possible for businesses to avoid the worst excesses of government largesse and crazy tax systems – including the 39 per cent US corporation tax rate. They have other functions too: it is simply wrong to say that they have no useful purpose. It is also wrong to argue that, if only corrupt governments had more tax revenue, their people would be better served.

Philip Booth

Samizdata quote of the day

There are many, many reasons why the UK economy remains skittish and the global recovery extremely patchy – and almost all of them predate not only this referendum campaign but even the announcement the UK electorate was to be given its first say on our relationship with Europe since the mid-1970s. Yet, while real investors fret about the prospect of another sub-prime style meltdown, a lack of genuine banking reform, the implosion of the eurozone, the lunacy that is negative nominal interest rates and now, we’re told, “helicopter money” – a kind of quantitative easing on steroids – it suits a wide variety of political and financial interests to blame every blip in the British and broader European economy on “the prospect of Brexit”.

Liam Halligan

Trade is a good thing

A nice riposte to the “we don’t make anything anymore and those evil Chinese sell us stuff and take our jobs” line that comes from both Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and quite a few politicians in other parts of the world:

On the trade front, American manufacturing continues to expand and thrive — an absolute economic fact that is, perversely, unknown to the great majority of Americans, who believe precisely the opposite to be the case. Americans have false beliefs about manufacturing for a few reasons: One is that while our factories produce much more than in the past, they employ fewer people; another is that we tend to produce capital goods and import consumer goods — you won’t see much labeled “Made in the USA” at Walmart, but you’ll see it on everything from the aircraft flown by foreign airlines to the robotics in automobile factories overseas. Another factor, particularly relevant to the question of manufacturing and trade, is that a large (but declining) share of those imported consumer goods comes from China, a country with which we have a large trade deficit. That isn’t because the Chinese are clever, but because they are poor: With an average annual income of less than $9,000, the typical Chinese household is not well positioned to buy American-made goods, which are generally expensive. (China is a large consumer of U.S. agricultural products, especially soybeans.) Add to that poorly informed and sentimental ideas about what those old Rust Belt factory jobs actually paid — you can have a 1957 standard of living, if you really want it, quite cheap — and you get a holistic critique of U.S. economic policy that is wholly bunk.

Kevin D. Williamson

Dealing with those awkward social moments when someone mentions Labour and anti-semitism

Most of the time I have fairly tight choice over the sort of people I talk to and associate with, which means that I usually have a reasonable chance of not breaking bread, so to speak, with sympathisers with Islamic terror, haters of Jews, haters of capitalism, America, the West, fun, etc. Okay, there are one or two people who are in social circles I mix in who have what I consider to be “out there” views (I know one lady who seems, in her dottily amusing way, to be a full-on Jeremy Corbyn fan), but they are few and I can ignore them without giving offence. A more challenging problem are those family gatherings (I have just been involved in one) where a person I know who is quite close to my family  stating why it wasn’t odd or bad that the inhabitants of Israel should be “transported” to the US (as has been suggested by a Labour MP and councilllor), or some other large continent, far away from the Middle East, and that Ken Livingstone should not be pilloried for saying Hitler was a sort of Zionist, and that Jewish people are over-sensitive, and anyway they control the media, and that this person never buys anything which might have come from Israel…

In that situation, what do I do? (I was sitting at a table, having a family dinner). Do I:

Get up slowly, announce that I am not sharing the same room with this person again?

Try and think of a smart rejoinder that will shut the person up (if so, anyone got a suggestion)?

Send a copy of George Gilder’s The Israel Test?

Put laxative in the coffee?

Also, how do commenters here deal with the “maniac in the room” problem, such as the Uncle who brings up violent opinions or views so batshit ugly that no-one knows where to look? The responses may be different on which side of the Atlantic one is on. In the UK, it has been for a long time considered bad form to have arguments about politics and religion at all, particularly in family settings where there are children around, etc. In the US, it may be different.

I’d be very interested to know what people think.

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.