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]

Getting out of the EU

Surely now, no-one can doubt that the EU is so much more than a set of laws regulating trade and commerce?  Why did so many UK politicians try and pretend this was just a business or commercial arrangement? As this declaration reminds us in a timely way, at the heart of the EU is the strong desire to create a single country. It will have common borders, one currency, one foreign policy and one social policy. It will have its own energy policy, its own transport policy. Indeed, it has much of that already. It is only those who refuse to read EU documents who can think otherwise.

John Redwood MP, referring to “The Rome Declaration” of EU states drawn up a week ago, which he says shows a clear intent to create a single European state, from which the UK has today, via the Article 50 process, begun to extricate itself.

Samizdata quote of the day

A lot of strange stuff has been written about the referendum and its aftermath, so a writer really has to go some to stand out from the crowd. As was highlighted today by Walter Ellis (brilliant Reaction Remainer, who shows we are a broad church while generally being for enthusiastically getting on with Brexit), the case of Christopher Booker is most strange. Booker was, along with his associates, a robust voice for leaving the EU for many years. Now he writes it will be a disaster because we are leaving the customs union and because NO-ONE WILL LISTEN TO HIM AND HIS FRIENDS, or something. Let’s face it. There is a strand in the Eurosceptic movement that liked being a minority interest. There is a similarity there with music fans who like showing their alleged superiority by being into an obscure act. What they hate most is when other people start buying the records of their hitherto little-known favourites.

Iain Martin

Samizdata quote of the day

The problem is that a lot of data suggests that countries with more robust welfare states tend to have stronger far-right movements. Providing white voters with higher levels of economic security does not tamp down their anxieties about race and immigration — or, more precisely, it doesn’t do it powerfully enough. For some, it frees them to worry less about what it’s in their wallet and more about who may be moving into their neighbourhoods or competing with them for jobs.

Zack Beauchamp, Vox.

(Yes, I am putting up a SQOTD from a lefty news service. If readers’ blood pressure rises, sorry. The article contains a few errors and arguments I don’t agree with, but I like to find signs, or glimmerings, of intelligence wherever I can. Maybe, just maybe it is dawning on some of the smarter souls in the Left that the identity politics game has been a catastrophe, and that some of the so-called solutions for our ills as advocated by socialists/Welfare Statists have been an abject failure. Politics/ideas are in ferment right now, and this article is a sort of suggestion of what the ferment is causing. I also commend the author for the amount of data here.)

I added this to the pushback in the comments:

Let’s consider: the article goes into considerable detail to point the fact that in those countries with high levels of Welfare State spending and the rest, support for the far right has increased often more than among those places with less of this, and the author concludes that one reason might be that citizens in those places feel their welfare frees them up to worry about non-economic issues, such as the allegedly malign impact of foreigners entering a country. That seems to be just as plausible a reading of the facts – and in some ways an original and perceptive one – as the standard line that high welfare has sucked in lots of foreign scroungers who have provoked a backlash. For a start, there is no clear evidence that immigrants in net terms consume more welfare than the indigenous population. Secondly, there is the point that the sort of people who want high welfare spending (paid for, they naively think, by other, richer people) tend to have a zero-sum, economically illiterate view of the world (hence their support for a Welfare State), and people who hold wrong-headed views about the State tend also to hold fearful views about immigrants “taking their jobs” or whatever. And the kind of folk who are turned on by the politics of identity tend, given their collectivist assumptions about life (bosses, workers, them, us, etc) to be the sort who like Big Government.

This article shows why it is no accident that Labour Party voters, who by and large aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, have switched to UKIP, or even further to the right, and why socialism often blends very easily with nationalism.

Like I said, what I hope (naively!) this article suggests is that there are people on the Left who are seeing this, and who realise there is a problem. At the very least, rather than simply criticise and pick holes, it is a good idea in my view to engage with these folk, to show where they are correct and draw them out. This is how intellectual shifts occur; smart advocates of liberal free markets and limited government should embrace anyone who seems honestly to be wrestling with what is going on.

 

Putin and Trump

President Donald Trump, like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton before him, hoped to “reset” Washington’s dismal relationship with Moscow, but that was always the longest of long shots. Vladimir Putin’s ideology and perceived national interests require the West as an enemy, and no matter how many times Trump tweets that he respects Putin’s “strength” and says it would be “a good thing” if we could get along with Russia and unite against ISIS, neither the Kremlin nor permanent Washington will allow it.

Michael Totten.

The whole article makes a lot of sense. I particularly liked the point about how Putin might be annoyed that with Trump in office, he (Putin) no longer has a perceived monopoly on being That Unpredictable Guy. I think that is a very astute observation. Putin liked being the man who was constantly messing with our heads over Syria, or Ukraine, or wherever. But if he is up against a US president who makes unpredictability part of his central appeal, that changes. Then maybe Vlad. has to change, to be more predictable in certain ways. And this whole saga also somewhat undermines the “Russian spies put The Donald into the White House” narrative, although given the self-deception and insanity I see on part of the Democrat Party and its media allies, this is likely to continue for some time.

Another couple of paragraphs:

Before long, anti-Russian sentiment in the United States could eclipse anti-Americanism is Russia. The only reason that hasn’t happened already is because so many Americans hoped for so long against hope that Russia shorn of totalitarian communism would eventually return “home” to the West like the prodigal son.

Russia, though, hasn’t been fully European since the Mongol invasion of Rus in the year 1240. Its forcible incorporation into the Golden Horde Empire endured for more than 200 years. Sure, Russia’s capital is on the European continent, but Russians see themselves as Eurasian. (North Korea and China, don’t forget, border Russia.)

Putin crafted the Eurasian Economic Union—which includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Armenia—as an authoritarian crony state-capitalist competitor to the liberal democratic West that he detests. There isn’t a damn thing anybody in Washington can say or do to convince him to dump that project and align himself as a junior partner with the European Union and NATO, not when he’s the undisputed one-man boss of an entire continent-spanning alternative.

Totten is right, I think, that Putin had not expected Trump’s winning last autumn. He might, naively, have hoped for such a win, but I am not sure he actually expected the result. Totten is also right to point out that Putin is not some sort of chess-playing genius from From Russia With Love. He makes mistakes.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

America needs a new party, one that will — in the present emergency — bravely rise to the defense of the republic and the grand alliance of the free nations which it leads. It needs a party of economic sanity, which will not destroy the basis of our livelihood through either a combination of trade war and immigration restriction, or top-down suppression of business. It needs a party of humanity, which rejects tribalism, not only for the harm it inflicts upon its targets but for the moral and intellectual degradation it infests within the minds and hearts of its converts. It needs a party of liberty, one which will defend not only the borders of freedom, but the ideas and institutions that make freedom possible.

Robert Zubrin

Samizdata quote of the day

“So much of our popular culture depends on the loudly proclaimed pose of being “rebels,” of being outside the mainstream, of being “transgressive”—while repeating clichés that have become deadly boring through decades of repetition. It reminds me of a brilliant little bit in The Onion: “Purchase of Jeans Ushers Man into Exclusive, Ultra-Cool Subculture of Jeans-Wearing Americans.” They all want to be nonconformists just like everyone else.”

Robert Tracinski

On political ignorance

A commenter over at the Guido Fawkes blog, with the joyful name of “Rasta Pickles”, comments on the notion that the UK electorate is too thick to figure out the complexities of Brexit, and that such complex matters should be left to a political class that has done such a tremendous job down the years. He or she notes a flaw in this “argument”:

“99.9% of the UK electorate have no idea what they’re voting for every time they vote in a council election; they regard local elections as a popularity poll on what’s happening in Westminster. Your local Labour/Tory council might well be planning on a compulsory purchase order on your house and those around you in order to build a new mega-PoundLand store and you’d still have people voting for them out of sheer ignorance.”

Even so, there are libertarians/classical liberals who point out that democracy, unless hedged with checks and balances, isn’t compatible with liberty and can be harmful to it. Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of The Rational Voter is a good read, as is this recent effort by Jason Brennan. But my problem with the arguments they make is that what, realistically, can they propose other than the sort of return to oligarchy of “smart people” that, as history tends to show, descends into corruption pretty damn quick?

Sticking it to Ken Loach

Comedy might not be Loach’s forte. But there is splendid unintentional humour in this class warrior standing up at a dinner sponsored by large corporations to denounce the Government that pays him so handsomely to keep churning out his Marxist drivel.

Harry Phibbs

Taking banks from the stock market doesn’t make them more prudent

Below is an interesting riposte to the idea, entertained even by pro-market folk such as Kevin Dowd in a recent study of the 2008 banking crash, that a way to make banks more prudent in lending and savings policy would include weakening limited liability of the shareholders and even removing, in whole or in part, banks from listed markets, returning them to more like partnerships, so that we come back to some purer, saner age. It is not quite so simple. The article is from Tim Worstall:

But we can go one level deeper into this as well. It’s common enough to hear that the crash of 2008 was all about the quite despicable idea of shareholder capitalism. That the hunger for profits among the capitalists is what drove us all off the cliff. This is not so. Just as many, if not more, building societies went bust in the crash as did banks. The Derbyshire Building Society, Chesham, Cheshire, Barnsley, Scarborough….

Capitalists have a use. As shareholders, they provide the capital. And if things go kaboom then it’s they who lose their money. Plus, in the case of a banking organisation, what tends to drive it off the cliff is not the capitalist lust for profits: it’s bad banking.

In the US, meanwhile, Donald Trump has won some free market points – for now – by promising to reform, and hopefully roll back, the monstrosity that is the Dodd-Frank legislation of 2011.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

“The really big point is that far from being a tumultuous, cacophonic, unstable, firecracker of a polity, Brexit Britain is starting to feel like a relative island of calm, more at ease with itself than it has been for many years, led by a sort of 1950s Prime Minister, who is nearly 20 points ahead in the polls. The spotlight of worry has swivelled round elsewhere, to Greece, France and to the United States. If Brexit is a revolution, it is so far turning out to be a very British and incremental one, lacking in violence or upset. More tea, vicar?”

George Trefgarne

Indeed. What has struck me about some on the Remain side, for example, is that they have been coming across as a bid mad, unpleasant or utopian, not the other side. It is pretty hard to portray the likes of David Davis, for example, as fire-eating radicals when the eurozone, for example, is and remains an economic clusterfuck of Old Testament proportions.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Ministers are regularly put under pressure for not spending enough. It is very rare to hear Ministers under pressure for spending too much, for presiding over government waste, for failing to find cheaper and better ways of doing things. There is nearly always an automatic assumption that spending a lot in any specific part of the public sector is good, and spending more is even better. There is little probing behind the slogans to find out what the real numbers are, and to ask why in some cases so much is spent to so little good effect.”

– Former minister, and Conservative MP, John Redwood. He is talking about the different biases of the BBC. His point about how BBC journalists and programmes routinely take a pro-public spending line in questions to government ministers, lobbyists and the like is very true. Watch any regular news show, either national or regional, and note those times when a minister is given a hard time for spending too much, or spending on X or Y at all. They don’t happen very often.

Free movement of capital undermines the case for free trade?

An argument I have come up against recently, in this apocalyptic book by James Rickards, is that free trade, as classically defended by David Ricardo with his famous Law of Comparative Advantage, only works in theory because the freedom to move capital and factors of production around means the “playing field” of the market is never “fair”, hence tariffs/other controls are just to re-set the game. Straight off, this sounds bunk to me, not least because free movement of capital is part of what capitalism (clue is in the word) is all about. Capital, both in its physical and human form, goes to places where it can earn the highest rate of return. This is how, to summarise massively, we got from the caves to the skyscraper. If a businessman cannot use his capital where it works most effectively, it would render much investment pointless.

And if it is wrong for capital to move around because it somehow undermines some sort of “fair” trade, then this applies not just to between nations, but inside them, too. Ah, but I hear the Trumpistas cry, what about those evil currency manipulators gaming the system in their favour? The answer is that if the Chinese or others want to send us cheap stuff, made even more dastardly cheaper by currency manipulation, it means consumers don’t have to earn so much to buy imports. True, in the short-term it means that some jobs will be lost because of the cheap imports, but then again the pay packages of millions of consumers stretch a bit further. The pain of the affected industries is easy to see and makes for great TV and campaign spots for a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders (whose views on trade are identical); the costs to consumers from protectionism is not easy to visualise. Also, if China, for example, sells or “dumps” cheap steel on the world market, manufacturers in the West who use steel will see their costs fall. It is worth nothing that when in the early Noughties George W. Bush slapped tariffs on steel, it “saved” some US steelmaker jobs, but cost many jobs in sectors where steel is a factor of production.

Finally, here are more thoughts on the idea that free capital movement somehow dents the case for trade trade, via Gene Callahan over a decade ago:

An honest advocate of free trade must admit that there will often be people who are made worse off, at least in the short run, by the freedom to trade internationally. But the same is true of trade within the borders of a country: If you open a restaurant near to and better than mine, my business will suffer.

It might be pleasant to live in a world of unlimited resources, where everyone who wanted to run a restaurant could do so without having to compete for customers’ scarce dollars. But since we don’t, the fact that my situation might worsen because of your business activities is an unavoidable consequence of the freedom to buy from and sell to whomever one wishes. If we try to prevent all such unpleasant outcomes, we will eliminate the market economy and regress to a hand-to-mouth existence.