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 lunatic quote of the day

I came across this quote on Facebook by a person whom I won’t name – since it was on a closed group – and it was written in response to an item about tax as a cost. The idea that tax is a cost struck this person (who I don’t think was trolling, but just holding collectivist views) as bizarre:

“Taxes are redistributed throughout the economy. Taxes provide public services and government spending that consumes goods/services and pay public sector wages that fuel business success which in turn, creates further tax revenue. You’re mistaken – Tax is not a cost – It drives nigh on 50% of our entire economy! Right wingers continually fail to notice this incontrovertible economic fact.”

The idea that taxes cut into existing productive activity, and that as a cost, will be passed on to consumers (such as the financial transaction tax passing on costs to bank clients, shareholders, etc) doesn’t occur. No, taxes are part of that wonderful magic money tree. Why stop at a pathetic 50 per cent? Why not tax the lot? Give it all to the State, so those clever people can spray it around and make us richer, except of course the money has that odd way of disappearing from our paychecks……..Sorry, excuse me, time for my pills.

You do have to wonder what a century or more of compulsory education has wrought.



The fate of Palmyra

Yesterday evening I attended a dinner, hosted by a bank, at the outstanding Enlightenment Gallery of the British Museum. The collection of artifacts in that place is astonishing and I could have spent many happy hours there. Later, talking to one of the folk attending the dinner, we got on to the subject of how the BM has, notoriously, become a home to items of classical antiquity, and how, by a savage twist of fate, the museum’s experts are assisting people in countries such as Iraq and Syria to restore and recover the treasures being destroyed, defaced, or stolen by ISIS and other Islamo-nihilists. The conversation reminds me of this article by Daniel Johnson. Here is an extract:

The full significance of the demolition of Palmyra thus only emerges when we consider what it implies about the perpetrators’ attitude to Western civilisation. Ruins that had stood for nearly 1,800 years mean less than nothing to the genocidal ghouls of the new Caliphate, whose aim is to throw history into reverse and annihilate even the memory of all non-Islamic cultures. By harnessing the resources of Western culture — not only military technology but above all using the internet as a propaganda tool — the marauders of Isis have forced themselves into the forefront of our consciousness. Islamism is the face of nihilism in our time. The paralysis of the Western democracies when confronted with such radical evil is not unprecedented — we did not stop the Holocaust or the Cultural Revolution either — but what is new seems to be the brazen self-aggrandisement of the perpetrators. The great crimes of the 20th century were largely hidden from the world while they took place. This time, Isis has forced us to watch the agony of a civilisation. Whose civilisation is it? Ours — for the ruins of Palmyra belong to our cultural heritage no less than their architectural progeny, the English country house or the Capitol. The casual murder of Khaled al-Asaad in front of the antiquities that had been his life’s work recalls the death of Archimedes, who according to Plutarch was slain in Syracuse by a Roman soldier because he would not look up from his geometrical diagrams in the dust. Yet the Roman general, Marcus Claudius Marcellus, was apparently furious, having given orders that Archimedes was not to be harmed.

On the use and misuse of the term “authentic”

“An anti-brand is still a brand, as the proto-Corbynite “No logo” movement of the late 1990s discovered. The new politics doesn’t imply the death of spin: it is merely its next, logical step. Voters want a different, more distinct product to which they can better relate. It’s like the appeal of micro-breweries: the successful ones are smart, professional, well-managed businesses. People would never buy foul-tasting, dirty products from a disorganised, useless firm. Being authentic in the beer business is no guarantee of success, and neither is it in politics. The despicable BNP was authentic – but thankfully it has all but vanished.”

Allister Heath, writing about the supposedly “authentic” appeal of the new Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

It is an interesting read. When I see people claim they want politicians to be honest, “real” and “authentic”, I sometimes doubt it. An “authentic” Marxist, Fascist, Islamist fanatic or general thug is no better for the “authentic” bit. And in fact one detects that this word has become present-day cant expression, in much the same way that one sees the use of the word “natural” as a term of approbation or “artificial” as somehow bad. Or think how terms such as “organic farming”, “natural remedy” can disarm criticism and analysis. Much of human civilisation is about artifice – the paraodox being that it is human nature to create artificial things (property rights contracts, keyhole surgery and the complete works of Ludwig von Mises, etc).

As for honesty, one of the most honest politicians of recent times was the late Sir Keith Joseph, who, in the early 1970s, said out loud that he thought his previously-held mixed-economy, paternal Tory views were mistaken, and played a central part in advising Mrs Thatcher on moving in a different direction. He once, for example, said that Britain needed more millionaires. When he made comments that used the expression “national stock” he was lambasted and, given his strong character, said openly that he did not feel suited to lead the Tories, and stood aside. Such candour and general moral decency are unusual. For his efforts he was dubbed the “Mad Monk”.

Samizdata quote of the day

You may have recently seen that after Trump said the Bible is his favorite book, he couldn’t name a single Bible verse or passage that meant something to him. And we all know why, because it’s all just a show, and he hasn’t ever read the Bible. But you know why he hasn’t read the Bible? Because he’s not in it.

Bobby Jindal, as quoted by Jay Nordlinger.

Venezuela – a role model for the man probably going to be the next leader of Her Majesty’s Official Opposition

“When we celebrate, and it is a cause for celebration, the achievements of Venezuela, in jobs, in housing , in health, in education, but above all its role in the whole world as a completely different place, then we do that because we recognise what they have achieved.”

Jeremy Corbyn

(For those who haven’t been on Samizdata before, this posting is designed to highlight the vileness of this man, not to imply approval.)

A change of direction

“Michelangelo carved his “David” out of a rock. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art just offers us a rock, — a rock — all 340 tons of it.”

Robert Florczak, Prager University (H/T, Timothy Sandefur.)

The blockchain and what it might do to banking and finance (and other things besides)

In a matter of months, this word, blockchain, has gone viral on trading floors and in the executive suites of banks and brokerages on both sides of the Atlantic. You can’t attend a finance conference these days without hearing it mentioned on a panel or at a reception or even in the loo. At a recent blockchain confab in London’s hip East End, the host asked if there were any bankers in the room. More than half the audience members, all dressed in suits, raised their hands.

Bloomberg Magazine.

Okay, what the F**k is a blockchain (one word or two?), I hear you cry?

A block chain is a transaction database shared by all nodes participating in a system based on the Bitcoin protocol. A full copy of a currency’s block chain contains every transaction ever executed in the currency. With this information, one can find out how much value belonged to each address at any point in history.  (Wikipedia.)

Here is a book by Dominic Frisby, whom I have met and is known to Samizdata contributors such as Brian Micklethwait, about Bitcoin, and the blockchain system. There is now quite a literature about Bitcoin, some of it with a strong “hell with fiat money” sort of bent, others with a more agnostic approach. Here is one such example by Paul Vigna. Going onto Amazon or other search engines for such books brings up a lot of hits.

More broadly, the point of the article to which I linked at the top here is that very serious financial industry figures are now piling in; sure, some of them will have problems, and the history of how some people get carried away is instructive. But just as instructive is that, even after a period of difficulty, such as when the dotcom boom went sour, we were left not just with a lot of garish stories of excess, but some valuable business models that worked. And that, I suspect, will be the story around Bitcoin – not that this will be the one to succeed, but that the technology surrounding it will have a major change on how finance and other activity happens.

How protecting students from “offensive” ideas is building a monster

Rather suitably, following the link to a speech by Brendan O’Neill earlier on Samizdata, is this long, very troubling and hopefully widely-read item on the Atlantic Monthly. Excerpt:

The press has typically described these developments as a resurgence of political correctness. That’s partly right, although there are important differences between what’s happening now and what happened in the 1980s and ’90s. That movement sought to restrict speech (specifically hate speech aimed at marginalized groups), but it also challenged the literary, philosophical, and historical canon, seeking to widen it by including more-diverse perspectives. The current movement is largely about emotional well-being. More than the last, it presumes an extraordinary fragility of the collegiate psyche, and therefore elevates the goal of protecting students from psychological harm. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable. And more than the last, this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim, even accidentally. You might call this impulse vindictive protectiveness. It is creating a culture in which everyone must think twice before speaking up, lest they face charges of insensitivity, aggression, or worse.


There’s a saying common in education circles: Don’t teach students what to think; teach them how to think. The idea goes back at least as far as Socrates. Today, what we call the Socratic method is a way of teaching that fosters critical thinking, in part by encouraging students to question their own unexamined beliefs, as well as the received wisdom of those around them. Such questioning sometimes leads to discomfort, and even to anger, on the way to understanding.

But vindictive protectiveness teaches students to think in a very different way. It prepares them poorly for professional life, which often demands intellectual engagement with people and ideas one might find uncongenial or wrong. The harm may be more immediate, too. A campus culture devoted to policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety. The new protectiveness may be teaching students to think pathologically.

Remember: the students who are moulded by this process will, in a few years’ time and in some cases, become politicians, business leaders, civil servants and others of influence. The question I ask is whether there will be enough persons not infected by this nonsense to still have enough clout in the public life of the West to resist this. Because a generation that is terrified of giving offence is not going to be all that effective at, say, facing up to existential threats to the Western way or life, or even less intimidating concerns.

Final thought: the authors note that part of the problem begins when children are young and protected, arguably to a dangerous degree, by parents and not allowed to play outdoors and be unsupervised and learn, early on, about the risks and bugs of real life. I think this might be at the core of the broader problem. And the lessons here don’t just apply to the US.

Samizdata quote of the day

A suicide-homicide is an act of ultimate rage. People who do these kinds of things feel like they’re the victims. Their acts of suicide and homicide are a way to make a point. Although they don’t live to see the results, they would probably like what they see: Millions of people not only being momentarily horrified, but agreeing with the murderer’s classification of him- or herself as a victim. Whatever the President and the Pope have to say about this, rest assured that the killer — if he were alive to hear — would be happily applauding.

Michael Hurd.

When people cite experts, be careful

So the idea this letter represents mainstream economics must be challenged. When Sky is reporting it without an alternative viewpoint, it can mislead the public. But this also shows something interesting about the political left. People across the political spectrum like to appeal to the authority of “experts” to improve credibility. But for the left, this is crucial. Unlike supporters of markets, left-wing interventionists believe experts can direct economic activity for us. Building up the idea that “experts” support these interventions and believe they work is therefore of critical importance to obtaining public acceptance.

Ryan Bourne, Institute of Economic Affairs.

Cafe Hayek fisks Donald Trump

Too good not to share. From the excellent Cafe Hayek blog.

Dear Mr. Trump:

You insist that we Americans are harmed whenever foreigners take actions that result in us getting more imports in exchange for our exports.  I ask that you, with your own money, prove that you really believe the economic principle that lies at the root of your insistence.

If you’re correct that people are impoverished when they pay lower prices, and are enriched when they pay higher prices, then you can easily augment your personal fortune by demanding that the suppliers from whom you purchase the steel, cement, and other materials used to construct Trump buildings raise the prices they charge you for their merchandise.  The higher they raise the prices they charge you to carry out your economic affairs, the wealthier you’ll become because you’ll be increasingly reluctant to purchase their offerings.  In the limit they can charge you prices so high that you’ll buy nothing from them!  How great would that be?!  And the possibilities don’t end there!  You can even further expand the Trump treasure by lowering the prices – even to $0 – that you charge your customers for hotel rooms and the other goods and services that you supply.

Just think of the additional wealth that will come your way by your being, as a buyer, dissuaded by high prices from purchasing goods and services from people not named ‘Donald Trump,’ and, as a seller, by the hordes of customers who will demand to consume almost limitless quantities of the wares that you make available at prices of $0.

Who knew that getting rich is so easy?!

Donald J. Boudreaux
Professor of Economics
Martha and Nelson Getchell Chair for the Study of Free Market Capitalism at the Mercatus Center
George Mason University
Fairfax, VA  22030

Samizdata quote of the day

So many economists today spend more and more time mastering higher-level mathematics and econometric techniques that they simply never master basic microeconomics.  These economists (from my reading of him, I judge Piketty to be among them) take their fluency in statistics and their skill at quantitative-data gathering for being a fluency in, and skill at doing, economics.  They are mistaken.  And while their error is too-often masked to the general public by their formal credentials as professional economists, their error is never hidden from genuinely skilled economists such as Deirdre McCloskey.

– Don Boudreaux, of Cafe Hayek. The whole item is worth a read, as is the McCloskey item at the Cato Institute to which he links.  And let’s not forget Samizdata’s own Perry Metzger’s marvellous “shoe event horizon” takedown of Piketty a few months ago.