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]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The other side of immigration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Samizdata quote of the day

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

Tom Harris

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

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

Samizdata quote of the day

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

Allister Heath

An encounter with a Bernie Sanders supporter

Someone I know on Facebook, who turns out to be a fan of Bernie Sanders, the socialist running for the Democrat nomination in the US, defended this man’s idea of jacking up capital gains taxes (on all those evil capitalist exploiters). I contested the wisdom of this, and got this response. I haven’t edited for typos:

Top-down economics don’t work at all. Give a rich person $1,000 they don’t need to spend it. Give $1,000 to a middle class or a poor person and they will spend it because they have to.

So, the argument is that the State is entitled to use the violence-backed power it has to seize the wealth of supposedly less “needy” people and give it to persons presumed more likely to spend it. The presumption that the State is entitled to loot the wealth of persons who don’t “need” it is taken as self-evident, so deep have collectivist assumptions soaked in. An appallingly large number of people subscribe to this assumption and often don’t encounter a contrary view.

This nonsense also inverts the insight that to consume a service/product first entails producing it, which requires saving for that purpose by forgoing immediate consumption (resources have time value, which is why interest rates exist). The richer person’s wealth doesn’t simply vanish if he/she does not immediately spend it – that money is invested, and added to other factors of production (labour, mainly), which increases living standards in the longer term.

On a final note, it is worth pointing out that under the current tax system in countries such as the US (in my view, far too complicated), the rich pay a disproportionately high share of the total, which rather buggers the point made by people like Sanders.

Resentment isn’t an argument

It is sometimes all too easy to fall into the ad hominem fallacy when you see a juicy target. The problem, however, is that if you are trying to change minds, appealing to prejudice and resentments either doesn’t work, or provokes revulsion. For example, in the Daily Mail there is an article by someone called Chris Deerin, entitled: “Pass the quinoa, comrade! Hypocrisy of the middle-class revolutionaries”.

Here is a taster:

Radical politics is a pursuit for the moneyed conscience, an indulgence for those who can afford to fight the good fight, who are feather-bedded enough to give their lives over to peripheral causes, doomed campaigns and utopian schemes. When you’re skint, funding the next meal or paying the leccy bill or covering the rent tends to be more of a priority than shouting slogans at students through a megaphone in Freedom Square.

Well it may well be the case that much radical politics today is the occupation of the middle class. But the error that Deerin is making here is that while some middle class supporters of socialism, environmentalism and the rest of it may well be hypocritical wankers who should be boiled in oil (or whatever else Daily Mail readers presumably favour as a punishment) that doesn’t mean that socialism, environmentalism, etc, are therefore wrong. To show that, you have to make the case: you need to debunk the disasters socialism creates (including massive environmental problems, as shown in Soviet Russia), and take on the assumptions of environmentalism (such as how a lot of Greens ignore economic substitution and embrace Malthusian myths, as well as endorse forms of naturalistic fallacies and a false view of nature, etc). Saying that “Greens are posh arseholes” backfires if it turns out that some of what Greens might say is true. And does this also mean that a working class person is also a hypocrite if he or she later espouses capitalism and is a class traitor?  The trouble with the ad hominem tactic is that works in both directions.

In the current political scene, I have, for example, seen a lot of this resentment-as-argument tactic being used, such as among some of the pro-Trump folk in the US (taking shots at “the Establishment, ignoring that Trump is part of it, in a way), and among the pro-Sanders people attacking Wall Street (in a blanket attack on anyone in finance). We get it in the UK (resentment at the Cameroonians for being posh, rather than for their actual views.)

Just when you think he cannot get any crazier

Hussein didn’t “make a living off killing terrorists.” He was a terrorist — an evil mastermind who worked every day to try to kill Americans, kill Israelis, and destabilize the Middle East. He was one of the prime financial supporters of a suicide-bombing campaign that caused greater relative casualties in Israel than 9/11 did in the United States. He funded Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. He plotted to kill a former president of the United States. He gave one of the world’s most wanted terrorists, Abu Nidal, access to a government office. He sheltered Abu Abbas, responsible for the hijacking of the Achille Lauro, and Abdul Yasin, a co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.

David French, examining Donald Trump’s latest.

It is worth reading the whole thing. I know that a lot of libertarians, probably most who describe themselves thus, are on board with the “Iraq war was disaster and we should have left Saddam in charge” school. But the scale of the crimes SD committed, his sheltering of Islamist killers, encouragement of Islamist killers, acquisition and use of WMDs, breaking of UN resolutions/treaties, invasion of neighbours, etc, together constitute such a crushing case against his regime that I don’t regret, at all, his overthrow by external military force. It is also worth pondering the point that even if his regime had collapsed without the Coalition giving it a shove, we might still have many of the issues that grip Iraq now, although arguing over counterfactuals is always a bit of a mug’s game.

That Trump thinks that Hussein was good at dealing with terrorists is, in some ways, his must delusional statement yet and a scary insight into his view about the sort of regime he likes. For those in the US who plan to vote for this charlatan, the buyer’s remorse is going to be epic and on a scale that will make the anger about Obama look like child’s play.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

“It turns out Lenin was wrong. Debauching the currency is actually the best way to destroy the socialist, not the capitalist, system.”

Matt O’Brien, from the Washington Post. (The fact that such a comment can be made in a liberal-leaning publication such as the Post is interesting in itself.) Via Business Insider. He is talking about the disaster that is Venezuela.

Don’t blame us, we were only in charge at the time

“Yes, you hear constant denunciations of institutions, parties, leaders, donors, lobbyists, influence peddlers. But the starting point of the bipartisan critique is the social, economic and geopolitical wreckage all around us. Bernie Sanders is careful never to blame Obama directly, but his description of the America Obama leaves behind is devastating — a wasteland of stagnant wages, rising inequality, a sinking middle class, young people crushed by debt, the American Dream dying. Take away the Brooklyn accent and the Larry David mannerisms and you would have thought you were listening to a Republican candidate. After all, who’s been in charge for the last seven years?”

Charles Krauthammer.

Of course, for a certain type, criticising Barack Obama for presiding over the messes of the past few years is unthinkable. He was going to make the sea-level drop, remember.  And anyway, what happened was all the fault of Dubya, or “bankers”, or the Chinese.

All this leads me to link to an excellent essay by Gene Healy of the CATO Institute, penned a few years’ ago, called The Cult of the Presidency. The office of President matters far too much than it should for the sanity of Americans, or indeed other parts of the world. It could and should matter a lot less. The very term “in charge” ought to be questioned: we should not treat a country as big and complex as the US, full of people with different aims and ends, as a single corporation under a CEO who is, allegedly, “in charge”.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Over the past two or three years people have finally started waking up to the fact that conspicuous consumption is now about useless degrees, not SUVs.”

Adam Smith Institute. The comment comes from a new monograph by the ASI, entitled The New Aristocrats: A cultural and economic analysis of the new virtue signalling. 

Well, I am really old school, then. I drive a Jag.