“Mandela was a great man. The obvious reason was his courage and persistence in fighting against Apartheid. The somewhat less-obvious reason was his willingness to forgive. I’m assuming, of course, that the movie Invictus was relatively accurate in that respect. I remember sitting through the movie and being on the edge of tears for almost the whole movie, so moved was I by his willingness to forgive. A little bonus: His favorite poem, “Invictus,” has been my favorite poem since middle school. In some ways just as impressive, if not more so, was his willingness to learn at a relatively old age. He was a long-time socialist but, by the time he got out of prison, much of the world had learned that socialism didn’t work. He became persuaded of that and, although, as president of South Africa, he expanded the welfare state, he did not make a large move in the direction of socialism. His willingness to reject his wife Winnie’s violent ways was also impressive.”
- David Henderson.
I am sure there will be lots of appraisals of his life in the days and years to come; I have seen a few, mostly respectful (and one or two that are less so). As far as I can tell, Henderson’s is about the most accurate I have seen so far, for it focuses on essentials. A great man indeed. May he rest in peace.
“The “rise of the four-car family”, as some media outlets are referring to it, exposes the hollowness of young adults’ claims that they can’t afford to move out. For here we have adults who clearly have pretty decent levels of disposable income – cars, after all, are quite expensive to buy and maintain – yet who insist on staying in the rooms they grew up in. So I don’t buy the newspaper claims that the rise of the four-car family is yet more evidence that Britain’s “cash-strapped youngsters cant’ afford to fly the nest”; it isn’t hardship that keeps loads of young adults at home, but cowardice, an unwillingness to do what just about every generation before them did: take a risk, leave home, suffer deprivations, live off Pot Noodles, and in the process gain something that money could never buy – a feeling of genuine moral autonomy.”
- Brendan O’ Neill
He’s got a strong point here (says yours truly who left home to live in student digs at the age of 18 and has never lived with his folks since apart from a period of one month during some professional training course I was on. In fact, when I stay with Dad for more than a few days I get cabin fever, love my father though I do).
I could not wait to leave home not because of any dislike of my parents, but because I just wanted my freedom even if that meant having to go without a few things. For some time I rented, and lived sometimes in shared accommodation with others that wasn’t always ideal, but it did mean that when it came to choosing to buy a house, my now-wife and I had a decent lump of capital saved up. I could have done this sooner in a less affluent part of London had I really wanted to do so, but the property market wasn’t right and renting made more sense. Getting a mortgage wasn’t the big deal for me that it seemed to be for a lot of my peers.
This may be a part of a process whereby people are putting off becoming “grown up” until later in their 20 and even 30s than used to be case. There are many drivers of this; official policy, after all, wants at least 50 per cent of school-leavers to go into higher education, when, arguably, that is too high and more should be getting into vocational training and work a bit sooner, and avoiding the drag of student debt. But O’Neill ought to also realise that affordable rental properties in places such as London, where much of the work is, is scarce, and much of the reason for that are our planning laws. It is a lot easier to boot out these adults from the nest when there is a realistic place for them to go.
In general, though, I think O’Neill is on the money and right to be scornful, although generalisations can be unfair on people who stay with their folks for entirely rational reasons (including looking after parents who might be infirm, etc). Quite what the longer-term impact on our society, even our politics, will be from a generation that did not fly the coop until its 30s is anyone’s guess. In the light of what Brian Micklethwait had to say recently about the ideas of Emmanuel Todd, it might be worth exploring the idea in more detail.
Recent comments by Boris Johnson about IQ and wealth inequalities have set alight debate.
There’s a double standard that has always confused me. Society is contemptuous of people who make their money using their looks – the celebrities and glamour models and reality TV show winners and so on – but impressed by people who make money using their brains. And yet the people who make money with their brains – whether they’re CEOs or scientists – are just as much winners of the genetic lottery as is any bosomy Page 3 girl or chisel-jawed Calvin Klein model. Why do we admire one, but mock the other?
Asks Tom Chivers.
My response is that there isn’t much difference; what I think is going on here is that people think looks are superficial, but brainpower isn’t, and that it is “deeper” in some way and therefore more deserving of respect. The question is a fair one: both our genetic inheritance in terms of brains and beauty are results of a biological and social lottery with some getting a lot and some getting little at all. The way to think about this in broader terms is that just as none of us in any sense “deserve” our looks, brains or muscles, so none of us do not “deserve” them, either. Also, if a person is born with great intelligence and this enables him to create wealth, he might not “deserve” it, but neither do those lucky enough to be born in a world containing this person, so they do not deserve the fruits of that wealth, nor do they have the right to seize it on some spurious redistributionist, Rawlsian grounds. (As in John Rawls, the egalitarian thinker who used the dodgy argument that lack of desert for inherited traits gave the State the right to seize the fruits of said, without pausing to think that the rest of humanity did not deserve that which had been seized, either.)
There can be no coherent notion of desert without the existence of a being who has the power to give out all these different qualities and abilities, and who has some sort of decision-making power that says A will get ravishing beauty, B will be ugly as sin but very clever, and Johnathan Pearce will be both fiendishly bright, good looking, and athletic (might as well get that out of the way). The premise, in other words, is wrong: “desert” has no meaning without such a belief. Existence, including what we got born with, just exists. (In other words, I think notions of desert in this sense are a hangover from belief in an all-powerful God or gods).
To put it another way, the whole edifice on which we choose to moan about the “unfairness” of different qualities of birth is built on sand. Far better, in fact, to focus on the notion that we all must have the freedom to rise as high as our abilities can take us, and to cultivate the moral and practical qualities to that end, and ensure governments get as far out of the way of this process as possible. And to remember that character, quite as much as how much brainpower you have, is important.
The King of Camelot was killed by a commie loser. The impossibility of processing that drove the left crazy, and they still can’t face it.
- Glenn Reynolds, who clearly enjoys annoying conspiracy theorists, as I do. Meanwhile, Janet Daley reflects on what it was like to be a Kennedy supporter back in the early 1960s.
“Almost half of the UK’s recent graduates are working in non-graduate jobs, demonstrating that pain continues to be felt in the labour market despite the start of economic recovery.”
- The Financial Times, today (behind a paywall). I’d add that this also suggests that some of the degrees that people have acquired – at some cost – are not marketable, and unlikely ever to be so. The whole idea that at least 50 per cent of the school-leaving population should go straight into higher education needs to be re-thought.
By coincidence, over at the Econlog blog, Bryan Caplan has this to say about the issue of “malemployment”. That is a term that deserves to be used more widely.
“The insurance companies simply do not offer those plans that are being cancelled. And there’s no way they can reformulate them in the 30 days available. And anyway, killing off those plans was the whole point of the design change. They wanted to destroy “insurance” as a concept in health care and to move to something much more like pre-paid health care. Thus plans that had high deductibles (ie, catastrophic plans, aka insurance instead of assurance) had to be banned. This isn’t a mistake, an error, a flaw in the plan, it was one of the very points of it all.”
- Tim Worstall, commenting on calls by former US president Bill Clinton for efforts to be made to prevent insurance firms scrapping medical cover in the US, and hence save the face of the current Obama administration. When a politician as crooked as Clinton is seen trying to come to the rescue, you are, in non-technical terms, up shit creek sans paddling device. (Actually, given how things are going, Clinton’s era was a veritable golden age, although let’s not forget that his own “Hillarycare” reforms were shot down by the-then Congress.)
“Whenever you listen to musicians of a certain age, they’ll always tell you how much better and more real everything was in the old days. This is only natural – because that’s when they were younger, with more energy and more dexterous fingers and a greater vocal range than they can manage today. And it’s also because if there’s one thing that obsesses them above all else, it’s authenticity: a quality, of course, that was abundant in the days when they were playing to two men and a dog in toilet venues, but which no longer applies when you’re filling stadiums.”
- James Delingpole.
Pretentiousness is one of the besetting sins of some music folk. I occasionally like to wind up my more earnest friends by pointing out that one of my favourite albums is Thriller, by Michael Jackson. This is particularly effective among more ostentatiously “conservative” types. Just watch those paleocon jaws hit the floor.
From the world of Star Wars.
Maybe Samizdata’s own Paul Marks could get one and send a death ray in the general direction of the Economist.
“Yes, just as homeowners with guns make home invasions less likely. Given that merchant vessels have been armed for nearly all of human history, the real surprise is that anyone finds this surprising. On the other hand, the near-elimination of piracy was a major accomplishment of the two centuries of British/American naval dominance that appears to be coming to an end. This is just one small way in which the world will pay a price.”
- Glenn Reynolds, talking about the sharp fall in piracy attacks on vessels in the Indian Ocean since merchant ships began to use armed protection.
The Obama administration has performed the unique trick of alienating the majority of our most important allies, while at the same time causing America to be viewed as a patsy by its enemies…..The situation is bound to get worse now that the administration has taken the position that most financial institutions outside the United States are conspiring to help Americans and others avoid U.S. taxes and, thus, is attempting to require all of these foreign financial institutions to report to — and, in effect, become agents of — the Internal Revenue Service. A global revolt is brewing against the United States for being an international financial bully. The consequences of this revolt are likely to be extremely damaging and long-lasting to the nation
This is by Richard W Rahn, of the Cato Institute.
The United States has been threatening to criminally indict nonresident foreign bank executives for not complying with U.S. tax law, even in cases when the banks were not operating in this country or violating their own nation’s tax laws. This is causing great resentment, as one would expect. Each country has the right to its own tax and financial-privacy laws, whether the United States agrees or not.
Europe and most other countries prohibit capital punishment. What if other nations started indicting and imprisoning our federal or state government officials, including judges when they traveled outside of the country, for carrying out the death penalty? The point is, if the United States tries to enforce its laws on non-Americans working and living outside of the U.S. for acts that are not criminal in their home countries, it will put all Americans at risk if other countries start to retaliate, which is very likely, given the increased anger over U.S. actions.
The administration has the unmitigated gall to insult others by assuring foreign governments that all the sensitive financial information collected will be kept confidential. If the administration continues on this reckless and irresponsible course, the next president of the United States may well be forced to make an “apology” tour to most of the world’s countries for wrecking the world economy
I suppose it would be rather droll to watch the Light-bringer take to Air Force One to go on a tour grovelling to various nations for spying on them as well as putting the corrupt IRS in charge of the globe’s economy. But it isn’t going to happen under this administration, given the utter shamelessness of those involved in it. And yet those of us outside the US cannot afford to strike too many poses, since I have no doubt that given half a chance, countries in the EU, and the likes of Russia and China, would love to try to enforce extra-territorial legislation such as the US tax code if they could do so. America is not unique in this disastrous course; what is happening is that, given its still-large economic muscle, the US can do this. Most investment firms, for instance, will have some exposure to the US market to some degree and it is very hard to ignore the country. In some ways, though, the US drive, via legislation as described in the article, is a reflection in some ways of US weakness. The country is out of money, and is doing anything it can short of military invasion to get it (it could be argued that that country’s actions against Switzerland are bordering on force).
A small country behaving like this would be told, in so many words, to fuck off.
“Never in human history has the general health of most ordinary people been better than it is now. But paradoxically, there can scarcely ever have been a time when health care has been a more difficult political problem for the governments of advanced countries than it is now. These two apparently contradictory facts are not unconnected. It is precisely because of the stupendous advances in the treatment of disease that the role of government has become so contentious. With the scope for life-prolonging medical intervention now virtually limitless – and thus spending on it being potentially limitless as well – there are moral and practical questions about its availability and distribution which every democratic society has to address.”
- Janet Daley.
As she explains, the lessons that ought to come out of the UK’s nationalised, socialist model of healthcare ought to give pause anywhere to reformers trying to impose a similar system. Which naturally leads her to look at the disaster of the Affordable Care Act. (US economics blogger and long-distance athlete Charles Steele has smart observations on this.) And the Marginal Revolution blog has an interesting perspective on the IT disaster of the ACA.
Tangentially, a rather fine novel, called Nobel Vision, was published a few years ago in which the lurch towards socialist-style healthcare was part of the plot. (The Ayn Rand influence is pretty clear on the author, it seems.)
There is some controversy at present about the moves by the UK government (and not just the UK, the government of little Malta is at it) to let Chinese-owned (ie, state-owned) businesses invest in the UK, buy shares of local firms, and the like. Iain Martin more or less says we should only let the Chinese do so if they accord equal freedoms to UK firms. At present, any non-domestic organisation wishing to do business in Mainland China (it is different in Hong Kong) is required to set up a joint venture with a local Chinese partner. In practice, it means making nice to the local, often corrupt, representatives of the Chinese communist party. The comment thread on Martin’s article contains its usual share of foreigner-hating buffoons but there are some intelligent observations as well.
A difficulty presents itself. First, the UK is already one in which the state owns a fairly large share of the economy, not just through the overtly public sector bit, but by national controls and regulations over all kinds of sectors, such as transport and energy. True, the UK is a democratic polity, but given the imperfections of democracy, and Britain’s membership of the EU, the accountability of politicians for what happens in the UK is, to say the least, limited. And so does it really make sense for Britons to get in a rage about sinister foreigners buying bits of the UK? It is not as if we are operating in a world of unfettered capitalism. (Those who remember the late 80s when Japanese firms were buying Western assets will feel a sense of deja vu coming on when reading about another supposed menace from overseas.)
Then there are the exploits of what are called Sovereign Wealth Funds. Such funds, mostly run by energy-rich jurisdictions in the Middle East and Asia, are politically and legally opaque. We have seen how the heads of these large gobs of wealth have bought such “trophy assets” as football teams (Manchester City) and so on. State-owned EDF, the French energy conglomerate, is a big player in the UK energy market. (I note that one Samizdata commenter on a previous post about energy policy seems rather upset about this. The accursed French!.)
In fact, if we are going to ban investment into a jurisdiction such as the UK from entities deemed to be opaque, or the arms of oppressive regimes of various kinds, that is going to create quite a headache. These folks have a lot of the money. They may not, of course, have it forever. China’s property market is, shall we say, an unknown quantity. If the US fracking revolution continues, and the price of energy falls a bit, some of the prowess of the SWFs might decline. It might also be a smart idea if Western governments learned to live within their means rather than go begging for such sources of money to make up the deficit gaps, which is what is really going on here.
But then again, these issues might not be all that new. In the past, politicians of various hues have tried to reinstate protectionist controls on foreign trade by objecting to things such as “dumping”, for instance (evil foreigners selling us subsidised cheap stuff). If China wants to sell us cheap things, and we can save money by paying less for such things than we would otherwise, and invest/spend what we have saved on something else, I don’t really see the problem in that.
We should remember that China needs the West to grow to sustain the value of what it wants to buy abroad. Ironically, one of the best ways to keep pushing China down the path to real capitalism rather than the odd hybrid it has now is to expose its people to doing as much business abroad as possible. So long as Western leaders play their hands intelligently and push for more penetration of China’s markets as part of that process, that surely is in everyone’s long term interests.