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]

Do people really think about these issues when asking someone out for a date?

I came across this “Trigger Warning” blog and the whole article is a jaw-dropper in terms of how it describes a world utterly alien to me:

“When someone asks you out on a date, they are basically saying that they think your standards are low enough to voluntarily go out with them. If the asker clearly has high dating market value himself, his advances don’t indicate that he thinks you have a low dating market value. But if you get asked out on a date by someone with a low social status, and other people find out, then others might reasonably downgrade their estimate of your dating market value, especially if the person doing the asking is a shy, cautious nerd.”

FFS. When I asked out my now-wife 12 years ago after our initial encounter in the heart of London, I don’t recall thinking about this sort of stuff or worrying about “low dating market value” or somesuch.

But perhaps I am the one at fault here. After all, Jane Austen wrote about “dating market value” in her own way through her early 19th Century novels, if you think about it.

(Yes, dear readers – I haven’t posted a lot lately due to pressures of work, etc. But I intend to fix that soon with an item on the offshore world and how it is changing. Watch this space. It stems from a talk I recently gave at one of Brian Micklethwait’s end-of-month events.)

Samizdata quote of the day

“With regard to the idea of whether or not you have a right to healthcare, you have to realize what that implies….I’m a physician, that means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me, it means you believe in slavery. It means you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the assistants, the nurses…There’s an implied threat of force, do you have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away, and force me to take care of you? That’s is ultimately what the right to free healthcare would be.”

Rand Paul.

I came across this quotation via Facebook, which in turn had been posted up by someone on a sort of “celebrity” website. The person who put up the posting in the first place is clearly traumatised at the statement of principle by Rand Paul about the bogus “right” to healthcare. RP is to be congratulated for spelling out in the clearest fashion what is wrong with notions of claim rights where what is involved is not the classical (correct) notion of a right to be left alone, but the contrary attitude about a “right” to demand that others give you something even if those others haven’t taken it away in the first place.

This sort of confusion, famously skewered many years ago by Isiah Berlin in his essay about two concepts of liberty, still persists. I often find Rand Paul’s sort of argument particularly powerful when putting the problem with such “rights” in human terms.

Samizdata quote of the day

If we wanted to be “together” in the ways Obama envisions, then no force would be necessary. If public schools were any good, people would not flock to private education the minute they could afford it (and sometimes even when they can’t.) The same with other government-mandated activities or programs. People would voluntarily, en masse, “invest” and “come together” and do all the other things that Obama, and other progressive statists like him, believe we should do.

Michael Hurd

It seems that in the final year or so of his dreadful presidency, Obama is becoming ever blunter in his public pronouncements, disparaging business and America’s individualism. It reminds me a bit of that scene in the Fountainhead where Elsworth Toohey, the arch-villain, confesses to his powerlust.

Remember: the world’s most powerful country voted for this shit – twice, and by handy margins.

Another fragment from today’s UK election result

On the glorious denouement of Russell Brand and “celeb” politics:

Hilariously, the very same people who accuse the Murdoch papers of brainwashing their readers into voting for the Tories – such undiluted snobbery – believed that a celeb with a webcam and a lively Twitter presence could simply click his fingers and get the hordes voting Labour. But he couldn’t. And it isn’t hard to see why. It’s because people aren’t idiots. They want substance, seriousness, not finger-wagging gags about EVIL TORIES and instructions to ‘save Britain’ by giving the nod to Ed.

Brendan O’Neill.

A contrarian take on the “UK housing crisis” that says there isn’t a crisis at all

We need to continue to build more houses.  And it is likely that, with accelerating population growth, the rate of new house-building in the future in the UK will need to be more rapid than it was in the recent past.  But we do not have a housing shortage in England as a whole or in any region of England.  High house prices are not because we have run out of houses.  It’s perfectly understandable, given the data at the time, that people believed that in 2000.  It’s simply refusing to look at the data if people continue to believe that now.

Andrew Lilico.

He is going to annoy a lot of people with this article because it cuts so much against the narrative. And he’s going to make people go nuts because of the battery of data he provides to prove his point. There isn’t enough of this sort of analysis today: methodical, comprehensive, non-hysterical. I was recently watching one of those Sunday lunchtime TV programmes about politics, pitting some leftist lady complaining about a lack of “affordable housing” and all those evil rich foreigners buying the good stuff, and a Conservative London senior councillor – who was actually pretty good compared with many of them – pointing out that foreigners only own about 7 per cent of all London’s housing stock and that they were hardly to blame for any problem. (He is correct). But the overall thrust of the programme was depressing: a total failure to even consider that the planning system in the UK restricts supply, and hence lifts prices, and that a decade or more of central bank money creation has encouraged people to think of their homes as investments rather than the most important consumption item they are ever likely to spend money on. And it is also a sign of how tawdry this election is that we see anti-foreigner sentiment on both ends of the spectrum, with socialists resorting to bashing wealthy foreigners who “dodge taxes” and the Ukippers making our flesh creep about hordes of Romanians.

The strange durability of really, really crap ideas

The story of rent controls has been the same everywhere they have been tried. Until they were abandoned, rent controls in Seventies Britain led to a catastrophic fall in the number of rented properties available, and they did nothing to stop unscrupulous Rachmanite landlords. Rent controls accelerated the woeful degradation of much of New York’s housing stock, and in so far as there has been a boom in New York property, it has taken place in housing not subject to rent controls.The Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck has said that rent control is “the most effective technique presently known to destroy a city – except for bombing”; and the reason he has come to that conclusion is that experience has shown that it is an idiotic way to tackle the problem of high rents.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, and newspaper columnist.

I should add that one of the things I notice about Ed Miliband, the Labour leader – and many others who share Miliband’s views – is not so much ignorance of economics, as hostility to the idea that humans act as they do. The assumption seems to be that to bring about desirable objective X, one should pass a law to ensure X happens, and if it doesn’t, then evil intent has caused it. So, if you want to raise pay, you pass a minimum wage law decreeing that employers must pay staff so much money; if you want to hold down the cost of rentals, you pass a law banning landlords from pushing up rents above that level, and so on. And the fact that landlords and employees might alter their behaviour as a result or that unemployment and crap rental housing might ensue is the fault of evil people, not the forseeable result of interfering in the market. And on housing prices, as Boris mentions, the main problem is that supply in the UK is artificially suppressed by planning laws. (It should be noted that people of all political persuasions favour these, either for aesthetic or more narrowly self interested reasons.) But to admit that is, for the Miliband mindset, unthinkable: the State cannot have caused a shortage of something, surely! It must be because bad, uncaring people have somehow failed to provide enough housing!

To put it even more simply, with the Milibands of this world, we are dealing with the mentality of a child. Now, I don’t care whether Miliband looks or sounds odd, or is a tosser who knifed his brother in the back, so to speak, although I suppose these things do matter. What, at root, terrifies me about the idea of this fuckwit taking power is that he is a fuckwit, and alas, insufficiently self aware of his fuckwittery and inability to deal with reality. Or perhaps another way of seeing this is that he is an example of a mindset that goes back to JJ Rousseau and further back: the idea that what matters is that one is sincere, one cares, rather than reflect on the actual results of what one does.

California’s malaise

“California has met the future, and it really doesn’t work. As the mounting panic surrounding the drought suggests, the Golden State, once renowned for meeting human and geographic challenges, is losing its ability to cope with crises. As a result, the great American land of opportunity is devolving into something that resembles feudalism, a society dominated by rich and poor, with little opportunity for upward mobility for the state’s middle- and working classes.”

Joel Kotkin (hat-tip, Café Hayek).

The Kotkin article seems to be getting a bit of attention around parts of the blogsphere, and rightly so. I like his writings and keep an eye on them. There is no doubt that California is in danger of being past the “tipping point” where so much bad decision-making (more and more power to unions, higher taxes, regulations, etc) are pushing the state into a bad place. I occasionally hear calls for California to be broken up, but I have no idea how realistic such a move is. Thoughts?

It is of course easy to get sucked into a downward spiral of pessimism, so that every event appears to confirm the worst. Appearances can be deceptive: when I visit the West Coast it all tends to look very swish and prosperous, and it is only when you spend a bit of time there that the other, less flattering details, arise. The same arises elsewhere: I have been on a business trip to Singapore (I’m back later this year) and I could not help but wonder if there could be a similar issue over there at some point, such as when the Lee dynasty that has run that island with a market-friendly, if not particularly libertarian hand, is replaced by something else.

The UK’s “non-domicile” tax regime and Labour’s desire to end it

The Labour Party has stirred up the usually rather complacent wealth management sector in the UK by vowing to end the so-called “non-dom” system under which a foreigner who wants to spend some time in the country can avoid paying tax on all his/her worldwide income and capitals gains so long as this money is kept outside the UK. If such a non-dom has lived in the country for seven years, they must pay an annual levy and depending on the duration, that annual levy is as high as £90,000. A study by University College, London, published in 2013, concluded that the system brought in more revenue for the UK than was being lost by the absence of such a system.

At face value, the non-dom system might look like a great deal for a person who is worth tens of billions of pounds, dollars or whatever and who “only” pays several thousands per year to live in the UK. But if such a person’s wealth has been largely generated outside the country and is kept outside it, what is unfair about this position? If Mr Stinking Rich brought those billions to the UK, he would have to pay a thudding great tax bill. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, must know that, or if he doesn’t, he is being reckless. The whole idea that a person should pay tax to the country of his/her birth regardless of having not lived there for a period – as is the case with the odious worldwide US tax regime – cuts against the idea that one should pay taxes that focus on where you actually live.

Matthew Sinclair has a good piece here on the issue.

From a point of narrow party politics, I suppose Ed Miliband and his colleagues think they are being clever at playing the class war card and hope to trap opponents by having to defend the non-dom system. I notice that whenever a weapons-grade knob such as Miliband makes such a crowd-pleasing proposal, it is seen as a “trap” and that therefore the other side are told that it isn’t wise to oppose it. But this sort of cowardice-as-a-tactic approach merely favours the bully. A braver, and ultimately better, argument is to state that it is in the UK’s interest to encourage internationally-minded investors and entrepreneurs (so long as they are not criminals and jihadi nutcases) to come to the UK and enrich themselves and everyone else. To pander to the zero-sum, dog-in-the-manger mindset of Miliband and others is also foolish.

There is also a broader point to be made here: such attacks represent, at the margins, part of a rollback of globalisation, of the free movement of capital and people, a process from which London, as a global financial centre, has been a mighty beneficiary.

Far too many people in the banking and financial markets more broadly have fought shy of voicing their concerns about the demented nature of so much “banker-bashing” and attacks on inequality recently. Consider the respect granted to Thomas Piketty’s fatally flawed claims about inequality and his call for draconian taxes on capital. It is sometimes stated – I heard such a statement recently at a gathering – that “neo-liberals” (ie, classical liberals) have “won” the argument and that we now need to move on. How complacent that is. The arguments for freedom and capitalism are being lost in the UK, or at the very least, they aren’t being made very effectively.

Israel and the fallacy of the “immaculate conception” of states

Tim Stanley has excellent comments to make on the ire that Israel generates and asks why this small country, bordered by far larger ones, attracts such ire. He is writing about a conference at a UK university that seems to raise the question as to whether Israel should exist at all:

It is true that Israel was a state created where no such state had existed before. But so was Iraq, Syria, Uganda and Togo. They were all products of decolonisation, all lines drawn on a map by a bureaucrat with a pencil and ruler. Why, pray, does no one debate the legal foundations of the existence of Nigeria? It is controversial enough. It comprises various tribes and religions with terrible unease, so much so that a near genocidal war was conducted to subjugate its southeastern portion. Yet no one questions its legality.

Why, looking beyond this conference, is Israel the one country in the world whose critics so often conflate its government and its people – even seeking to punish the former by boycotting the latter? It is perfectly possible to dislike Benjamin Netanyahu and criticise the Israeli state’s actions in Gaza without assuming that Netanyahu speaks for all Israelis or that all Israelis approve of what happened in Gaza (indeed, it looks like he’s about to lose an election). No one would suggest that David Cameron’s austerity programme reflects the views of every Briton or that the British are constitutionally mean because the bedroom tax happened. And yet such obvious distinctions are often forgotten when talking about Israel. People chant that “Israel Must Be Stopped”, that “Israel Has Gone Too Far” and that “Israel is an Apartheid State” – as though its entire people had blood on their hands. When it comes to Israel, there is a unique enthusiasm to call into question its very right to exist. Strange, isn’t it?

And finally:

To challenge the right of Israel to exist is, therefore, morally obtuse. It is to forget the flames from which this Phoenix arose.

Damn right. By the way, one book that I regard as absolutely essential reading for anyone on this subject is The Case For Israel, by Alan Dershowitz. It is over a decade old, but still very good. Another is the Israel Test, by George Gilder. 

Gilder’s book is particularly good for noting that Israel, and for that matter Jews more generally, are targeted as much for their virtues – productiveness, educational excellence and so on – by rivals in the Middle East, as for any alleged shortcomings in foreign policy. Recent history suggest that any land-for-peace deals have been met with just more violence from the anti-Israel side, and most citizens of that country have grown weary of it.

Like Gilder, I take the view that broadly pro-liberty (with caveats, obviously), pro-modernity countries that are wealthy and non-crap such as this country deserve the support of anyone who takes liberty seriously, notwithstanding any specific disagreements on its policies. I have long gone past the point where I think that critics of Israel are in the main motivated by good thoughts. While some of them might be, most appear to be fools at best, and anti-semites at worst.

An enemy’s enemy is sometimes an enemy

One of the oddities (well, it may not be that odd) of our time is when people who wax lyrical about liberty or the evils of oppression of certain kinds seem to be, well, rather weak at the knees when certain “tough guy” rulers flex their muscles in ways that seem hard to justify by reference to any sort of principle other than naked territorial aggression.

And sometimes defenders of these “tough guys” (or women) are so appalled at what they see as the behaviour of the “other side” in a dispute (such as the European Union or the current leadership of much of the West) that they want to make excuses for such tough guys’ actions, often excusing behaviour that one might assume they would, in other cases, condemn or at least question. . There has been a fair amount of “we had it coming and you cannot really blame X or Y since they were were brutalised by us” sort of thinking long before 9/11. (People sometimes excused Germany’s aggressions in the 1930s by invoking Versailles in a knee-jerk fashion, and for all I know, the Ancients were indulged in similar ways.)

A recent example of this sort of behaviour comes from Peter Hitchens, a columnist who, for those who haven’t encountered him before, is almost self-parodic in his scolding right wingery. (He’s the brother of the late Christopher Hitchens). Peter Hitchens is a lapsed Marxist and I sometimes wonder just how deep any conversion away from that intellectual foolishness has ever taken place. Anyway, it appears Mr Hitchens has big man love for Vladimir Putin, so to speak:

Col. Putin, he says, is at odds with the West because he feels unloved. By us, that is. This is an injustice Peter has set out to correct, sticking out for his bit of rough. Vladimir, according to his swain Peter, is like a murderer who, according to his lawyer, only killed because his Mummy was a whore, he never knew his Daddy and the flat-screen TV set in his room was only a 19-inch.

Thus the object of Peter’s affection is only raping the Ukraine the way he previously raped Chechnia, Georgia and his own people because “We have been rubbing Russia up the wrong way for nearly 25 years.” Had we been rubbing Russia up the right way, Col. Putin wouldn’t be murdering everyone he dislikes, including, incidentally, dozens of Peter’s Russian colleagues. He wouldn’t have blown up blocks of flats in his own country to provoke aggression against Chechnia. He wouldn’t have turned Russia into a giant crime syndicate. And he wouldn’t have waged nuclear war in London by using polonium to murder Litvinenko.

This broadside comes from some fellow called Alexander Boot, of whom I had not heard before. Judging by some other postings, I suspect I won’t be in much agreement with Mr Boot about a lot of issues, but he’s right here.

Some weeks ago, when the issue of Russia’s activities vis a vis the Ukraine came up, one commenter sniffed that we libertarians should not be so beastly about Russia, since for all its brutality/corruption/etc, that we must focus our efforts more on Islamic fanaticism, and that Russia, because of its brutality under Col Putin, was a sort of useful, if rather unwholesome, ally. I don’t fully buy that analysis on even the most hardnosed basis, and on a more highminded view, think that genuine defenders of liberty and justice should raise the bar a bit. Part of the dislike of the Putin regime and what it represents on my part comes from a disappointment in what now holds sway in Moscow. It could and should have been far better than this. Much better.


Samizdata quote of the day

In his first six years in office, President Obama has performed well for those who wrote those checks. He brought in Wall Street insiders such as Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers to concoct his economic policy, which brought a recovery to the financial plutocracy before virtually anyone else. Wall Street was back by 2009; the rest of us have had to wait for 2015. Obama and the Democrats in Congress also handed the big banks a nice gift in the form of the Dodd-Frank Bill which helped them achieve that “too big to fail” status and has accelerated the growing consolidation of the American financial system. Indeed, since Dodd-Frank was passed smaller banks’ share of banking assets has dropped twice as quickly as before, notes a recent Harvard Kennedy School of Government study. Smaller and community banks – historically more likely to loan to small businesses – have seen a 50 percent drop in their share of lending while the the five largest banks now control over 40 percent of lending, twice their share 20 years ago.

Joel Kotkin

The US decides to take another step towards stagnation

What is all the more galling is that this “net neutrality” nonsense wasn’t stopped by a Republican-controlled Congress. This cannot be just blamed on Obama and his cohorts, argues Dr Hurd:

The federal government — and this probably includes most of the Republican Party, as well — cannot stand the idea that the Internet economy was a successful instance of (in today’s context) relatively unhampered market capitalism. It’s precisely because this model of (relatively) unhampered capitalism worked so well that government now has to regulate it. Otherwise, it could be held up as a model for the rest of the economy. “If the Internet works so well with little or even no regulation, then what does this suggest for health care, education, lending, and all the other sectors of the economy under government management or control?”

The statists who run the nation’s capital can’t have it, and they won’t have it. That’s why Obama and his Democratic majority on the FCC pushed this through. And that’s why the Republican-led Congress won’t lift a finger in protest. Most of them are just fine with it.

The people I hear defending the Orwellian-named Net Neutrality do so on the premise that it will bring this or that benefit to the consumer. Which consumer? Any action of government bringing benefit to one party (or company), by definition brings harm or loss to another. On what basis does the government take over management of the Internet itself to “benefit consumers” when the government will be the one picking winners and losers based on political — never economic — considerations?

The only proper role for government is a crucial one — to uphold contracts voluntarily entered into by consumers and businesses. Without such a role for government, there would indeed be chaos and anarchy. Advocates of “Net Neutrality” want us to believe that turning the Internet into a public utility will inaugurate this role, when the government was already playing that role all along. The real and only possible purpose for this rule is to ensure that government sets the terms of contracts into which customers and businesses would otherwise freely enter.

Here are more thoughts from the Internet Society.