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 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.

What are the risks that Hillary Clinton goes to jail before she could reach the White House?

This story has been around for such a long time that the cynics in the media and political world are inclined, perhaps, to roll their eyes at yet another article going on about how Hillary Clinton (who beat Bernie Sanders by a whisker in Iowa last night) allegedly put classified material through a private email account, including material considered so sensitive that the lives of CIA and other US operatives are potentially at risk. A full account can be seen at the Observer blog (not to be confused with the British newspaper.) From a reading of this tale, it seems to me that Clinton has misbehaved on a scale equivalent to say, a Bradley Manning or, maybe in some ways, an Edward Snowden (contrary to some people, I don’t regard Snowden as a libertarian hero, at least not consistently). And one effect may be that supposed allies of the US, such as the UK, may be asking very urgent questions indeed, right now, about all this. What UK intelligence material has been compromised? Have Brit agents’ lives been put at risk? And so on. And given that there is no love lost between the Obama and Clinton camps, it may be that Obama, with his Chicago-educated ruthlessness and malice, may absolutely love to torpedo the candidacy of this woman and try and get a hardline socialist into the White House (although that might be wishful thinking.)

There has been so much focus on Donald Trump’s extraordinary rise to political prominence that some of the media attention that could have been focused on the Clinton email affair has been diverted. Even allowing for media bias to the Clintons, there are enough liberal/left journalists, as well as more obviously conservative and libertarian ones, who loathe the Clinton dynasty, who are appalled by its corruption, to make a serious assault. I expect the next few weeks and months to be fascinating.

So a question for commentators on this blog is: how serious a risk does Clinton face of going down for this and are there precedents of a front-runner for a candidacy being brought down by criminal charges/investigation?

 

Samizdata quote of the day

America is truly the land of opportunity, even multimillionaire actors can be victims deserving special treatment.

A commenter called Joshinca, commenting on this post about the Oscars, by Roger Simon.

I know this might seem a bit contrarian-for-the-hell-of-it, and I might miss out, but these days a good rule of thumb for me is that if a film has won an Oscar, then there is a more than trivial possibility that it sucks in some way. They resemble Nobel Peace prizes, almost.

I can’t get a bus!

Normally I would not bother to unpick the economic nonsense of Corbynista Owen Jones, but he has the sort of article up on the Guardian that passes for conventional thinking among a sizeable chunk of the population, so I am going to quickly have a pop at it:

Travel outside London….Britain’s deregulated bus system reveals itself as the source of widespread, justified disgruntlement – an overpriced, inefficient, poor-quality mess. According to a report to be published this week, since deregulation in 1986 – unleashed with the promise that “more people would travel” – bus trips in big cities outside London have collapsed from 2bn to 1bn a year. In London, on the other hand, where everything from how much we pay to which routes exist is decided by the mayor and Transport for London, bus use since the 1980s has gone in the opposite direction: from around 1bn to more than 2bn trips a year. Britain’s bus privatisation disaster is a story of profit before need, and a discomfiting tale for those who believe the private sector automatically trumps the public realm.

Jones doesn’t use the term, but he presumably thinks that the fact of there being far fewer bus services in the UK than a certain period in the past is a case of what economists call “market failure” – where there is a lot of supposed demand for X, but and under-supply of it, which needs to be fixed by, you guessed, the State (supported by the taxpayer, the very same people who are supposedly unable to pay for the under-supplied service). There are several issues here. First of all, services run by a municipality (ie, a monopoly with no competition) typically don’t lend themselves to good consumer service. Second, in a large metropolis such as London, where an organisation such as Transport for London runs things, there is still quite a lot of competition (cycling, walking, cars, etc) the abuse that any monopoly power has is constrained, although the situation is far from ideal. Funnily enough, the other day TFL, which had been lobbied by taxi drivers to go after Uber, seems to have decided against it, which is good news.

In the countryside, it may well be true that there are a dearth of buses. It may not be profitable to run them on certain routes, but is that an argument against private provision and for state control? In very sparsely populated parts of the country, it is a serious mis-allocation of scarce resources to provide such things when there are more urgent requirements instead for the resources in question. Second, if a person goes to live in the country, part of the pro/con of living in the back of beyond is that you don’t have lots of rapid-transit transport nearby. You may have to rely on having a car, driven by either you, or by a neighbour, partner, etc. That is part of the trade-off that comes from choosing to live in the sticks, rather than in the city. Why should those who have chosen the option to live in the country, or to stay there, be subsidised in transport terms by those who do not? In some cases, the persons paying for the subsidy will be far less well off than those taking advantage of it. That is the sort of regressive transfer of wealth that I assumed a lefty such as Jones would be against. This sort of issue also explains why, other things being equal, the cost of buying a home in central London is far higher than, say, the middle of Norfolk or Yorkshire.

Jones states that because, in his view, people “need” X that it is the responsibility, in the event of some alleged market failure, for the State to step in. But leaving aside whether the need is real or a figment of Jones’ socialist imagination, consider a basic example of a human need: food. Food is, despite some interventions and distortions created by the State, such as import tariffs and subsidies for farmers, largely handled in the private sector here. Ask yourself whether we would be better off in having food supplied by something such as Transport for London, or Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s or Asda. It does not even come close, does it?

 

In the interests of balance…..

The other day I linked to an item about Donald Trump’s economic illiteracy. Today, there is an item in the Daily Telegraph by Emma Barnett (whoever she is). She piles on Trump for the endorsement he has received from Sarah Palin. Her article is about how deranged most American voters, and by extension, much of the political class, are and is. But the article itself is an example of a different kind of stupidity, mixed up with a generous loading of condescension and superciliousness. And I just loved this about the approach Brits are supposed to take to what is going on Stateside:

If the US political stage were solely split between the reasonable wings of the Democrat Party, a socialist Bernie Sanders and hawkish Hillary Clinton, we’d probably be better able to relate.

So let me get this straight: the UK would be fine with an election between an economically illiterate fool (Sanders) and a probable criminal (Clinton). OK, we currently have an official opposition led by a terrorist-supporting sub-Marxist (Corbyn) and a government led by a patrician Tory of mixed accomplishments (Cameron), although “call me Dave” is probably not as venal, or as congenital a liar, as H. Clinton (we are talking in relative terms, in case people object that DC isn’t particularly honest). So yes, there is much about American politics that a lot of Brits, marinated in mixed economy juice and decades of socialism, cannot relate to, but please, don’t let’s assume that we’d all be quite content with a race between Sanders and Clinton for ultimate power any more than most Americans would.

Oh and by the way, if H Clinton is “hawkish”, I am not sure how that assessment fits with the running sore that is the siege on the Benghazi Embassy, and her behaviour over said.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

I will admit to rather enjoying the sight of Donald Trump storming through the Republican race. It’s simply refreshing to see someone over turning the established and perhaps too measured way that politics has been approached recently. However, my enjoyment is as nothing to the perils of the economic policy which he’s just announced, which is that he’ll get Apple to start making “their damn computers” in America instead of in other countries. This is really not a sensible policy at all even though it accords with his other misunderstandings about trade. Because the net effect of such a policy would be to make America a poorer country. Something we’ve known since David Ricardo published in 1817. And, since making the country, or the people of the country, poorer is not at all the point nor purpose of having an economy, or even a public policy about the economy, this is something we really shouldn’t try to do.

Tim Worstall.

Of course, I suspect that Trump knows full well that protectionism is a lousy idea and harms those who advocate it. I am guessing that he doesn’t care.

National Review’s Kevin Williamson has a book on Trump that makes for sobering reading. If anyone thinks Trump is any kind of supporter for limited government conservatism, I have a beach resort in Leeds I’d like to sell you.