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The sweet tears of defeated foes

I am not rowing back on my dislike and distrust of Trump for a host or reasons. (To give just one, when he spoke about his desire to spend big on infrastructure in his acceptance speech, I fear the worst about the direction of public spending. Let’s hope he is bluffing and will have to face some hard financial realities.) However, even a small-government conservative/libertarian such as I, who thinks most government actions can be performed from the back of a truck or from an insurance office, enjoys the discomfiture of the Left at his victory, and the defeat of Clinton. The worries about what a Trump administration can do can wait a few days. Let’s wait until Monday.

Here is Rod Liddle in the Spectator:

The deplorables are rather wonderful people, aren’t they? Both here and in the United States. The people’s revolution continues apace, defying the odds each time, defying the pollsters, defying the elite. I cannot tell you how pleasurable it was to scamper downstairs on Wednesday morning to check out the reaction on the Guardian’s website. It kept me cackling for hours. The previous morning the paper had concluded its fatuous leader column with the words: ‘Americans should summon a special level of seriousness and display a profound responsibility when they go to the polls.’ That alone had made me yearn for a Trump victory — the arrogant, chastising tone which liberals, especially European liberals, always adopt when dealing with commoners and plebs, the people who do not buy into their palpably failing and idiotic worldview.

So yes, let’s bask in this. But like I said, enjoyment will be limited, not least because I worry that people such as Liddle are so keen on Trump. Consider, Liddle holds socialist or “Blue Labour” views on economics. He likes big public spending, taxing rich people, economic protectionism, and stopping immigrants from taking “our jobs”, as he has written in the past (he subscribes to the lump of labour fallacy, as far as I can tell). Mixing Big government, a form of socialism and nationalism is not a brew I want to drink at any time of the day. He is only libertarian in the sense, as far as I can see, that he thinks it means being naughty and offensive and forgets the economics bit – all Saturday Night Live and no Milton Friedman.

Of course, I know quite a few small-govt. types who are hoping that the GOP-controlled Congress will, despite owing Trump a favour for his victory, will resist some of the more outlandish attempts to hike spending, bash cheap imports, etc. Once again we will read from the “liberal” (in the American perversion of that word) commentariat about the need for checks and balances on the Presidency (funny, that); such calls went quiet during the Obama years when the Lightbringer was firing off his executive orders and zapping people in drone strikes. Maybe Trump will pleasantly surprise us – let’s hope so. In fact, expectations perhaps have been so low that his ability to surprise on the upside could be quite big. He is known to be able to turn on the charm and let’s face it, his ability to keep going during this campaign, despite some setbacks (partly self-inflicted) shows a certain bullish grit.

Richard Epstein’s essay at the Hoover Institute on the election is a must-read.

Gene Healy’s exploration of the “imperial” presidency, published by CATO a few years ago, is also good.

If MPs don’t do their jobs, it’s not surprising judges fill the gap

Tory MP John Redwood on the decision last week of the High Court to rule that MPs must be allowed to debate the case for triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty before the UK can start to quit the European Union:

As the judges wished to trespass into this territory they should have acquainted themselves better with Parliamentary procedure and the recent Parliamentary timetable. They would have discovered that Parliament has had plenty of allotted time for debate and questions on Article 50 and general Brexit in both government and Opposition time. They would have realised that if the Commons wanted a vote on Article 50 the Opposition could at any time table a motion to require one in Opposition time. It could formally ask the government to table one, though the government might reply they should table one themselves. The fact it has not done so implies that the Commons accepts an Article 50 letter will be sent. Indeed, many Labour MPs have confirmed they agree with sending a letter, as does the government side.

Whatever else one might conclude about the issue of the judges’ involvement in the process – I am told that their judgement statement is well worth reading – I think Redwood has it exactly right here. MPs should not expect judges to do their work for them – if they had wanted to force the issue, they had in their power to do so. That they haven’t is, I suspect, based either on laziness and cowardice, or a fear on the part of the Labour MPs that a no-confidence vote and possible early election will wipe Labour out (oh happy day); the most enthusiastic Remainer Tories, such as Ken Clarke, may fear losing their seats, at least if they are in marginal ones. I also think that our membership of the EU, and the gradual erosion of Parliament and the quality of people entering it, means that MPs lack the kind of backbone that legislators of earlier ages might have had. Indeed, one of the reasons I voted for Brexit (even though I am very different in my views from the more nationalist inclined Brexiteers) is my hope that MPs no longer can hide behind the skirts of courts, either in Brussels or here, and have to start taking direct responsibility for the laws that affect this country. With ownership comes responsibility, and hopefully, an improvement in the product.

More than just a great big opinion survey

I wrote this comment on the blog following an earlier posting by Perry de Havilland; I decided to recast it a bit for a comment I hope deserves another airing here.

With all the nonsense of the Remainers claiming that the dignity of Parliament must be preserved (a poor joke, considering how Parliament has seen its powers eroded by various forces, including the EU, in recent years), surely the point has to be made that this referendum was presented, by former Prime Minister David Cameron et al, as not merely a giant public opinion survey, but as a referendum the consequence of which would, if the vote was for leave, trigger an exit by the use of Article 50. The Cameron government had a majority of MPs in the House of Commons; they approved this referendum and its terms of reference. (If they had chosen to revolt, they plainly decided not to do so.) This was, therefore, a process that had support of the majority of parliament, and was not undermining parliament or pushing MPs aside. There can be no attempt at convenient amnesia on this point from those who are sore at being on the losing side.

The fine details of exactly how an exit will be achieved can be for the lawmakers in the Commons and Lords to decide, but the binding nature of the referendum result is not a matter of debate. By a clear majority, it was for Brexit, based on a 70 per cent turnout, the highest turnout in more than 20 years.

Had the referendum result been for Remain, you can bet that the Remainers would have said the outcome was a settled one, and that no further attempts to hold such a referendum should be held for many years. That is, after all, the position taken on the Scottish Referendum result by the victorious side. And they are right to do so.

What this whole saga shows is a high-handed disdain for voters (I have had my fill of being told how Brexit voters are all racists, fools or fantasists by people who conveniently forgot their support for the wretched euro and other hubristic projects.) The arrogance of it only serves to reinforce my belief that Brexit is not just the best course, albeit with certain risks, but desirable in that it is giving heartburn to the kind of creatures who deserve to suffer it.

And consider this – the outcome was a clear majority, of over a million people; that contrasts with how, under our first-past-the-post system, a government can wield power based on the votes of a minority percentage of the voting population. This point is one that needs to be made, given the clear imperfections of our FPTP system. After all, politicians such as Nick Clegg, the former leader of the (greatly diminished) Liberal Democrats, and an ardent supporter of proportional representation (as opposed to FPTP) might, you would suppose, see the force of using referenda to deal with cases where the current FPTP system yields unsatisfactory outcomes. But he doesn’t in this case, because majority voter opinion is against his desire for ever-closer moves towards a federal Europe.

Even so, I don’t think referenda should be used a great deal, and should be reserved for special occasions where there is an enormous, and insupportable gap, between public opinion on a matter of constitutional importance, and those of MPs. (Imagine if most MPs wanted to remove the monarchy, a view clearly at odds with that of the public.) We should hold referenda rarely. There is, after all, the practical problem of exhausting the patience of voters. Representative democracy, after all, involves a certain division of labour in the Adam Smith sense – we send people to Parliament to deal with specific issues and if we dislike their general approach over time, can remove them; we are not expected to follow the details of every policy and decide them en masse ourselves.

I agree, broadly, with the old Edmund Burke point that MPs are representatives, not just delegates and ciphers of the electorate;  The point, however, like all such arguments, has its limits, particularly when the views of most MPs are clearly at odds with the majority of the adult voting population, as they have been on the European Union. That divide between MPs and the opinion of the country has become so wide that a referendum was needed to settle the matter. It has been.

Addendum: It is argued by Andrew Lilico that because the majority of MPs before 23 June were for Remain, they plainly lack a clear mandate, and authority, to take the UK out of the EU, and that to remove obstructionist MPs and gain a fresh mandate requires a general election. Of course, given the current state of the polls, such an election should lead to a larger Tory majority, composed, one assumes, of more pro-independence MPs.

What Richard Cobden and Sir Robert Peel can teach us

The following article over at the CapX site explains why the UK should go for unilateral free trade immediately, and summons up arguments deployed a century and a half ago by the likes of Richard Cobden, and Sir Robert Peel, the Conservative prime minister of the time (who had a rather stronger grasp of political economy than, I suspect, any member of the present government):

I trust the government … will not resume the policy which they and we have found most inconvenient, namely the haggling with foreign countries about reciprocal concessions, instead of taking that independent course which we believe to be conducive to our own interests…[L]et us trust that our example, with the proof of practical benefits we derive from it, will at no remote period insure the adoption of the principles on which we have acted… Let, therefore, our commerce be as free as our institutions. Let us proclaim commerce free, and nation after nation will follow our example.

And these comments from the author of the CapX article, Louis Rouanet, who is a student in Paris, strike me as crucial:

A unilateral free trade program is very simple: the British Parliament declares the abolition of all tariffs. To avoid a race in non-tariff barriers, the Parliament can pass a law declaring that every product which conforms to the EU norms and regulations can be sold freely in the UK. This should not be a problem since the UK still is a member of the EU.

By Parliament’s act, most of the “non-tariff barrier” problem withers away without any need for regulatory harmonisation. If the EU legislator considers it necessary to regulate the curvature of vegetables, so be it! But, although EU producers will be free to sell their product in the UK, the British legislature may deem it unnecessary to regulate its producers in the same absurd way.

The advantages of this approach are many. First, the UK can have free trade now instead of waiting through years of negotiations. No need to wait for bureaucrats to agree on which laws we burden consumers and producers with.

Read the whole thing, as they say.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Say no to horror costumes any time before 31 October. Get your nuts and apples and pumpkins ready for-Halloween night, not before. It’s time to reclaim the here and now.”

Melanie McDonagh

Trafalgar, 211 years ago today

May the Great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature of the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may His blessing light upon my endeavors for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.

The prayer of Horatio Nelson, commander of the British fleet, written on the eve of the Battle of Trafalgar, the following day. For those interested in this period of naval warfare, I strongly recommend this excellent book by Sam Willis.

Roger Knight’s excellent biography of Nelson, which I read about three years’ ago after it was published, is also a brilliant study of the man. (Being an East Anglian, as Nelson also was, I am somewhat biased.)

I leave it to Samizdata readers to elaborate on the potential parallels between Nelson’s destruction of the French/Spanish fleets on that day and the recent far less violent assertion of UK independence on 23 June, 2016.

Samizdata quote of the day

“We live at a time when we’re offered a choice between the good, liberal Pajama Boy without an ounce of masculinity, and the Potemkin Alpha Male who mistakes cartoonish bluster for manliness, one of whom happens to be running for president. “The Magnificent Seven” presents a much better alternative, wrapped up in an exciting, action-packed plot and—oh, yes, I almost forgot—the greatest Western theme music ever written. So skip the multiplex this weekend and revisit this classic, instead.”

Robert Tracinski

Samizdata quote of the day

“Imagine is probably John Lennon’s worst lyric. Against a sparse, effective musical backdrop (influenced by McCartney’s quasi-spiritual triptych Hey Jude, Let it Be and Maybe I’m Amazed), the rich Beatle John bleated on in 1971 about imagining a world in which there are no possessions. Somewhat at odds with the anti-market proselytising of Lennon’s most famous post-Beatles song is the awkward reality that the track was recorded in the studio built at Lennon and Yoko Ono’s then very grand house, Tittenhurst Park near Ascot. The Grade II listed building is set in 70 acres of grounds and was purchased with the proceeds of Lennon’s fortune made from the record industry, one of the most thoroughly capitalist businesses on earth.”

Iain Martin

As an aside, my father, a serious classical music fan (he is also a jazz and blues nut) once said, in one of those comments that a slightly weary Dad tells you when seeing something on the TV about pop music, that in decades to come, very little of the Beatles’ music will be played or recalled, while the works of J.S. Bach are likely to endure until the heat death of the universe.

Corbyn is terrible, but so-called “heavyweights” aren’t much better either

Nick Cohen is one of those socialist writers I read because he has a core of decency – he is right on the money around Islamism – although he is uneven and his spit-the-dummy turn over the Brexit vote did not impress me one jot. He has an article out about the awfulness of Jeremy Corbyn and his circle, and of course he is right, but he has lacunae of his own:

“The last upsurge of left-wing militancy in the 1970s had Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and other formidable socialist thinkers behind it. Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and Danny Blanchflower looked like their successors. They too have produced formidable work on how to make society fairer. They agreed to help Corbyn, but walked away after discovering that Corbynism is just a sloganising personality cult: an attitude, rather than a programme to reform the country. That attitude is banal in content, conspiracist in essence, utopian in aspiration and vicious in practice.”

These four men’s reputations are greatly overblown. All of these men were or are capable of producing work and comments of quite outstanding levels of imbecility. Thompson was a prominent supporter of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament during the 1970s and 1980s at a time when the Cold War was very far from being obviously won; his Marxian treatment of English history, for example, while not without its merits, infected a generation of students. Hobsbawm, whose treatment of history could be equally tendentious, to the end of his long life was an unrepentant defender of the Soviet Union; Stiglitz, while he might produce good work (I cannot think of any off the top of my head), is not renowned for his judgement, as his praise for Venezuela’s catastrophic socialist regime a few years ago attests. And finally, we have Thomas Piketty, whose immense book on inequality, while it gives a sort of spurious intellectual cover for leftists looters, contains fundamental conceptual errors and its policy prescription of massive wealth taxes would be catastrophic.

In other words, some of the people on the Left may sound as if they have more intellectual gravitas than, say, Jeremy Corbyn. This is not exactly difficult. But the fact is that in varying degrees, these men were/are deeply wrong and their ideas are dangerous nonsense.

As an aside, Dr Roger Scruton has issued an updated edition of his excellent study, Thinkers of the New Left, which goes into a lot of detail about this sort of intellectual. By the way, he has praise for some aspects of their work and tries to see merit where it exists (he is fond of EP Thompson on his understanding of the English working class, for example). Recommended.

 

Laying a few myths to rest

The middle classes in the UK and America are getting richer again. Inequality is diminishing. There are many problems, of course, but they are primarily down to the fact that the impact of the Great Recession ended up dragging on for years, with the previous misallocation of resources and capital wiping out a decade’s worth of productivity gains.

Allister Heath

So why the rise of populism? While wages are finally improving, there has been no return to boom times. Millions of younger people are despairing at exploding housing costs, fuelled by government-created low supply and rock-bottom interest rates; older workers are facing a nightmarish pensions crisis, also created by ultra‑loose monetary policy.

Voters feel culturally disconnected; they rightly voted for Brexit because they realised that democratic control was being destroyed by technocratic unaccountability. The welfare state’s inherent defects mean that people feel caught up in a Hobbesian war for resources – school places, hospital beds – of all against all, especially with high levels of immigration. But the middle classes should direct their ire towards politicians and central bankers, not free markets or technology.

Checks and balances

So if the choice in 2016 is between one bad candidate and another (and it is) the question is, which one will do the least harm. And, judging by the civil service’s behavior, that’s got to be Trump. If Trump tries to target his enemies with the IRS, you can bet that he’ll get a lot of pushback — and the press, instead of explaining it away, will make a huge stink. If Trump engages in influence-peddling, or abuses secrecy laws, you can bet that, even if Trump’s appointees sit atop the DOJ or FBI, the civil service will ensure that things don’t get swept under the rug. And if Trump wants to go to war, he’ll get far more scrutiny than Hillary will get — or, in cases like her disastrous Libya invasion, has gotten. So the message is clear. If you want good government, vote for Trump — he’s the only one who will make this whole checks-and-balances thing work.

Glenn Reynolds

As an aside, one thing that might change the minds of a lot of sceptics about Trump is whether he gets to choose any decent people on the US Supreme Court, which is an aspect of presidential power that a lot of those in the conventional media ignore. As for Reynolds’ point about pushing back against the bias and corruption of organisations such as the Internal Revenue Service, I am not so sure.

Tim Sandefur, a legal scholar and commentator, is unlikely to be swayed by the checks and balances argument for Trump:

An anti-establishment candidate is a good thing only if he or she knows what he or she is doing. Otherwise, the chances of going wrong are just too great. That’s why revolutions devour their young—and that’s why we built an establishment in the first place. It should not be changed without reason to believe a better alternative is possible. This Trump does not offer. His candidacy is an open assault on the mores of our political culture, such as respecting the rights and dignity of opponents, listening to what fellow citizens have to say, honoring our legal duties and treaty obligations; and it is all done in the name of hatred, envy, and fear, with nothing but the strength of his individual will to replace our hard-won institutions. No, it’s not that he is terribly dangerous himself. He’s probably too unintelligent to do much harm personally. But he will surround himself with a volatile collection of stooges and Pashas, of Rasputins and Grand Viziers, of roaches and rats hiding under his throne, who will wreak true havoc in his name—all with the future of our nation and the world at stake.

I think this is probably over-wrought, but not by a lot. Essentially, what I read from serious libertarians/conservatives/Objectivists who have said they will vote for Trump (yes, I know several Objectivists who are pro-Trump) is a version of “it’s a big gamble, he’s horrible, vulgar and corrupt but less horrible than Hillary and anyway he upsets the right sort of people and we can always impeach him”. That’s quite a big gamble to make when choosing someone with access to the nuclear codes.

I agree with Reynolds, by the way, that Gary Johnson and Bill Weld aren’t that impressive, although in my view they are still the best out of a lousy field. Weld sounds like a US-style liberal on the 2nd Amendment and Johnson did not impress me over support for use of executive orders on immigration (this is regardless of what one thinks of immigration as such). Obama’s use of executive decrees has been one of the worst, if not the worst, parts of his presidency, and surely any serious libertarian should make this point constantly.

Reasons for the UK to leave the EU keep piling up – the EU Arrest Warrant

I have been familiar with some of the details of a Romanian case, which has taken a shocking turn, and it highlights the mess of the European Union’s Arrest Warrant. Stephen Pollard, editor of the Jewish Chronicle,  writes about the case. Even the more cynical out there will be shocked at the brazenness of the Romanian government in this case. And it raises a wider issue about governments co-operating to move alleged suspects from A to B and sharing data with one another about their citizens.

Consider a new anti-tax evasion regime called the Common Reporting Standard, under which certain governments swap data to catch alleged tax dodgers. With CRS, there is a presumption that the countries involved can move information around and that this will not compromise legitimate financial privacy. All I can say is “good luck with that”. Abuses will occur. (Governments in recent times have been happy to obtain data from Swiss banks via thieves, for example.)

The UK has an extradition treaty with the US and this has caused controversy at times because of the alleged lack of a need for a prima facie suspicion of guilt to be proven against a person before extradition (instead, a country has to show “probable cause”, which waters the test down marvellously). What may be a crime in the US, for existence (running an internet gambling site, for example) isn’t in the UK. And so on.

The Romanian case in question here is particularly noxious to a sense of justice because of the heavy-handed behaviour of Romania. Its attempt to bully news organisations that are covering controversies, such as arms dealing, is also outrageous – such an attack on freedom of the press hardly meets the sort of test one would have supposed is necessary for a country to be a member of the EU at all. And as long as this arrest warrant remains, I see zero chance of a country such as Turkey joining the EU.

I’d like to know what the UK government’s view is of the case, and of whether any MPs have taken this matter on. Theresa May, the Prime Minister, is not exactly a poster girl for civil liberty, but even she might be shocked at what is going on here. (When she was Home Secretary, she blocked an extradition of a person to the US.)

One way for Mrs May to prove that “Brexit means Brexit” is to ensure that the UK removes itself from the EU arrest warrant process immediately. The reasons why I am so glad the UK voted to get out of the whole wretched structure continue.

Addendum: As an aside, it is also worth noting that these actions by Romania are often typical of certain regimes seeking to crush alleged corruption. Much of the media will applaud this; I even spoke to a fund manager about Romania, who applauded the steps that the country has made against corruption. But as we have seen in countries such as China, anti-corruption sometimes means little more than score-settling or persecution of political opponents or those who are deemed to be embarrassing. (And needless to say, the ultimate case of this is Putin’s Russia, and Romania is to some extent under Russian influence.)