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]

Class and all that

Obviously life is far harder than it used to be for young graduate professionals, and an increased reliance on the state (which the Labour vote represents) would be a completely natural, self-interested response. Today’s Labour middle classes, though, do often sound a little bit like they themselves don’t quite recognise that this is the dynamic here. ‘It is vital that we keep having free healthcare and education so that you do, too!’ they’ll say, effectively, to the far poorer. Or better still, ‘My mediocre philosophy degree contributes to the intellectual health of the nation at large!’ And at what point, I’m wondering, do the people who aren’t ever going to have a mediocre philosophy degree call bullshit on that? At what point do they look at the resources doled out to people far richer than them and ask bluntly whether this alliance is really working in their favour?

Hugo Rifkind, pondering on the love by some affluent people for Jeremy Corbyn’s brand of hard-Left politics

There are of course several factors in play: forgetfulness about how awful 1970s Britain was in an era of strikes, hyper-inflation, price controls, etc; a period of (relative) affluence that dulls the senses (at least for some of those, such as those without student debts); a Tory Party led by a “blue-rinse socialist” who seems almost as keen on regulation and state interference as some on the Labour side, thereby blunting the appeal of Tories to genuine limited-govt. conservatives; an education system that has turned out a group of “educated” people blind to the dangers of state power and reflexively hostile to the open market economy, and a legitimate sense of grievance over inflated house prices (planning laws, QE), heavy student debt/worthless degrees. As a set of background conditions, these are all ideal soil for a leftist politician, never mind a devious one as extreme as Corbyn, to grow in.

Rifkind is right to ask the question as to at what point does the middle-classness of Labour come into conflict with its purported “soak-the-rich” agenda particularly when said middle classes realise they are “rich” for the purposes of said agenda? For the time being, though, a large chunk of the “middle class” (well, the bit that works in the public sector and hence from the taxpayer) think the bearded one and his colleagues are just great.

All this stuff about class got me thinking. Recently, there was much muttering about how utterly middle class these days the Glastonbury music festival is, what with the fact also that the price of an admission is just shy of £250, which even today is a lot of money. Last weekend I went with friends to the utterly non-Corbyn spectacle, the Royal International Air Tattoo. It was noisy; the air was full of thunderous aircraft roaring about and doing their stuff. And as I looked about at the crowd, I saw lots of middle-aged blokes such as me in shorts and T-shirts with pictures of planes on them; wives and girlfriends who were just as keen; some ex-military types (you can tell by the haircuts and the physiques) and young kids all excited about these planes. There were a lot of people who, from what I can tell, were quite affluent but not showy apart from from camera lenses the length of RPGs; there were no loud Sloanes (maybe the aircraft noise drowned them out) or Islington scruffs. In some respects RIAT is an aviation version of Le Mans, the 24-hour motor racing odyssey I like to attend every year.

Frankly, the air show is a mental health break from the current news agenda.

Thoughts on Mr Corbyn

In assessing Corbyn’s achievement one must remember what sort of man he is. Having done very poorly at school and failed to complete any higher education, he seems to have imbibed at an early age the full agenda of the Guardian-reading London lefty: sympathy for a wide gamut of Third World causes, instinctive solidarity with all the enemies of bourgeois Britain (the IRA, Hamas, radical Islamists, etc), and a passionate opposition to Toryism. He has spent his life banging on about such causes to small audiences as a Labour activist and perennial rebel. With his beard, his vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol, his failed marriages, his love of cycling and almost Dickensian passion for faraway causes of little relevance to the lives of those he represents, he is a type of idiosyncratic Englishman that Orwell liked to dwell upon, along with the figure of the middle-aged Catholic spinster cycling earnestly to church.

If one thinks about the sort of life that Corbyn lived for many years — ignored, even despised as a hopelessly eccentric and too-left backbencher, talking all the time of mass popular struggles elsewhere but doing so to tiny audiences in draughty halls, occasionally donning a scruffy duffle-coat to march with other CNDers on stirring but hopeless demonstrations — one realises that it has been a somewhat odd existence, led almost entirely among a small band of kindred spirits who keep up one another’s spirits by constant reaffirmations of how much they are against this, that or the other. For it is in the nature of such folk to be mainly against things and to be somewhat vague and wishful about what they are actually for.

R W Johnson.

Loathe Corbyn’s politics as I do, I am going to argue that his ability to stick to certain causes, however vile, over a long period of time has lessons for those who hold rather more reality-based opinions. Corbyn and his allies demonstrate that there is a lot to be said for an ability to keep going when everyone else panics or changes course very quickly. As a Marxist, he has absorbed the lessons of how intellectual and eventually political change/victory requires decades. Interestingly enough, I remembered reading much the same about the tactical purpose of the UK’s Libertarian Alliance, founded by Chris Tame. From my recollection – I cannot find the link, sorry – I remembered the point about how change takes time; it means those who argue for it need to be bold, even to shock, because that way one can shift the frame of what is considered respectable to discuss. Consider, it has been within living memory unthinkable to imagine that state-run sectors of the economy could be returned to private hands. When the likes of Arthur Seldon and Ralph Harris were promoting their classical liberal ideas as the Institute of Economic Affairs in the 1960s and 1970s, they were treated by the purveyors of conventional, usually wrong, opinion in much the same way as Corbyn might be, except that these gentlemen did not make a habit of knowingly sharing platforms with anti-semites and terrorists. (Libertarians, in my experience, are as capable of making the error of swimming alongside dubious characters as any others, mind.)

So yes, I think this RW Johnson article is a good one, and certainly worth study. It is also, however, worthwhile for those who ponder the political future of the UK to reflect on how someone such as Corbyn, a man who has never held a proper job and had to worry about creation of wealth and who has held the views he had, come within a whisker of occupying the same office as William Pitt, Robert Peel and Winston Churchill.

Samizdata quote of the day

I was speaking with a friend the other night, and I made the point that the meta-narrative of the 2016 election is learned helplessness as a political value.  We’re no longer a country that believes in human agency, and as a formerly poor person, I find it incredibly insulting.  To hear Trump or Clinton talk about the poor, one would draw the conclusion that they have no power to affect their own lives.  Things have been done to them, from bad trade deals to Chinese labor competition, and they need help.  And without that help, they’re doomed to lives of misery they didn’t choose.  

Rod Dreher . He is quoting JD Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture In Crisis

Theresa May, your taxi is waiting for you

Like most of my fellow Samizdata contributors, I imagine, I am watching the election results in the UK and the projections from exit polls suggesting that the Tories may not even have a working majority. And about 10 days or so before the full, formal negotiation process is due to start over the UK departure from the European Union.

It is a non-trivial possibility that Brexit may either not happen or at all, or take a form on such a humiliating basis that it is not really a departure from the EU at all.

As already noted, the idea that it was smart strategy for the Tories to pursue a centrist, pre-Thatcherite, interventionist agenda, was always dumb. Not least because to make a positive case, it was necessary to stress the pro-enterprise case for leaving the EU, rather than simply promising to introduce the very kind of dirigiste policies that the UK was supposed to be freeing itself from by leaving. Mrs May, does not have it in her to make a positive case.

It has come to this: a party led by Jeremy Corbyn, Marxist, hater of Israel, cheerleader for the IRA, Hamas, and a foe of open markets and the West in general could be close to holding power in a few days’ time. I seriously hope I am wrong. But whatever happens, I think it is highly probable that May may not be in Downing Street for very long.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The EU’s finances run the way they do because no one has a sense of ownership of the funds. It is always “someone else’s money” that is being abused.”

Lee Rotherham

Samizdata quote of the day

The main political insight of Thatcher and Reagan was that parties of the center-right must be parties of economic growth. Having wavered since, those parties now risk losing their way entirely. Some centrists will argue, quirks of this campaign notwithstanding, that Mrs. May shows how to win an election. The important question for conservatives to ask is: To what end?

Joseph C. Sternberg, Wall Street Journal (behind a paywall)

Samizdata quote of the day

One reason why so many people don’t take climate change seriously is that the people who are constantly telling us it’s a crisis never actually act like it’s a crisis. They’re all-in for sacrifices by other people, but never seem to make much in the way of sacrifices themselves.

Glenn Reynolds

Samizdata quote of the day

“Taxing wealth reverses the relationship between citizen and state: rather than it being in charge of protecting our life, liberty, and property, we now work for it. There are no more proud freeholders; citizens become meek leaseholders with the government in charge. Our property becomes a temporary privilege, to be used until accumulated taxes return to the ultimate owner, the state.”

Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph, 1 June. (Behind a paywall.)

Samizdata quote of the day

Inculcating guilt as a tool of power and control. This is a time-honored tactic of manipulative mothers, of many religions, and of political ideologies, like socialism, progressivism, and environmentalism. It works because self-respect is one of our most basic psychological needs: We all need to feel that we are basically good, right, valuable, worthy of esteem. So if you can make someone ashamed of themselves and defensively wallowing in remorse, you can get them to do pretty much anything you want, because they’ll be desperate to make amends and redeem their self-esteem. And you can also cash in on their guilt-driven quest for redemption, as they surrender to you their money and control over their lives.
Call it the Guilt Racket.

As written by Robert Bidinotto on his Facebook page.  He links to this item about the current nonsense around “white privilege” – another of those daffy ideas which seem designed to fill the pockets of shakedown artists of various types.

Taxing robots to pay for universal basic income – what could possibly go wrong?

When we hear the phrase “tax the robots,” it doesn’t sound the same as “tax the laundry machines,” or “tax the computers.” It sounds a lot more like the phrase “tax the rich.” This suggests that we tend to think of the robots as an actual class of persons. When we talk about taxing robots, it’s as though we humans can “get back” at the robots for taking our jobs. By taxing robots, we could take back the value they’ve taken from us. But wait a second. If we think of robots this way, it’s probably a sign we’ve been watching too much “Westworld.” Robots as we know them are inanimate objects. They are machines, like cars and computers.

The Federalist.

This reminds of the broader point, made for example by James Hannam, a tax expert in the UK, that “no matter what name is on the bill, all taxes are ultimately suffered by human beings” (What Everyone Needs To Know About Tax.)

Far too many people seem to be in denial about this basic fact. Tax a robot, and the robot’s owner gets taxed. A robot in that sense is no different from an electric toaster or dishwasher; these are tools made by Man for his use. Until we reach that moment when robots become truly autonomous (and have to pay taxes and perform jury service, etc), this fact is not going to change.

Maybe Bill Gates got swayed by the idea that because robots are displacing human labour in some senses, and this creates a problem, it can be solved by taxing said robots and use the proceeds to give everyone a sort of Universal Basic Income. The idea of a UBI has been embraced even by those who think of themselves as libertarians/classical liberals, on the grounds that in some ways this might weaken resistance to some of the good things that come with disruptive change in commerce and finance. I have a number of problems, however, with UBI, not least its likely devastating impact on any sort of work ethic and a divorce between notions of cultivating a certain character and earning some form of income. At the end of September I am giving a talk on this matter at the end-of-month events that Brian Micklethwait has been putting on. I will update my thoughts on UBI a bit later. For the time being, check this out by Bryan Caplan at Econlog.

Samizdata data point of the day

I am not sure this works as a quote of the day, but it certainly does count as a data point so eye-popping that I wanted to share it:

Forty-three hundred people, including two dozen children under the age of 12, were shot in Chicago last year.

That’s right: 4,300 people shot in a major US city during a period of 12 months.

Reasons for leaving the EU and some random thoughts on Theresa May’s brand of conservatism

A report presented to the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets gave an inclination of how the EU intends to spend European taxpayers’ money in 2018 and 2019. Among the planned expenditures is a stunning €6.18 million (£5.3 million) for furniture. One can only speculate as to what sort of furniture would cost the EU so much over the course of a single year. Even this sum, however, is dwarfed by the amount the EU intends to spend on a communications campaign which they claim will “explain the purpose of the [European] Union and the [European] Parliament to the citizens’ ahead of European Parliament elections in 2019”. So that’s €33.3 million (£28.6 million) on an EU PR campaign. In total, it will be €25 million (£21.5 million) next year, and another €8.33 million (£7.1 million) in May 2019, all aimed at boosting the European project through these elections.

CapX.

Of course, countries that aren’t members of transnational (“tranzi”) organisations are just as capable of blowing millions or more of their citizens’ wealth on such foolishness, but it does seem that with tranzi organisations, there is a greater momentum for this nonsense, because the chains of accountability involved tend to be weaker. And never forget good old-fashioned empire building: the EU, as I like to remind my Remainer friends, is at root a political project and that those who consider it to be a Good Things don’t scruple that hard about what is needed to spread The Word. I have, in my capacity as a journalist down the years, been to my fair share of EU gabfests, and I have always been struck by just how many media “aides” and so on there are in attendance. I recently went to Malta for such an event, and there were enough EU officials running the thing to make up three football teams. This is where the money goes. Just because someone as florid as Nigel Farage denounces EU waste and spending doesn’t make his comments any less true. And getting away from this circus, it seems to me, is a prize worth taking.

Right now people are debating the pros and cons of what Britain is doing. Britain does, I hope, have a chance to use its departure from the EU as an opportunity not just to break free from EU cost and regulatory nonsense, but to consign plenty of homegrown foolishness to the garbage can. And it is therefore all the more depressing that an authortarian centrist such as UK Prime Minister Theresa May seems determined to march the country down into a dirigiste dead end, if only for reasons of narrow party advantage, although there is a chilling thought that this fan of Joe Chamberlain, god help us, actually means it.