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]

Our god requires sacrifices

Tim Worstall says that Hayek’s much-derided argument that government health care would make us serfs of the state is supported by an astonishing piece by Nick Cohen which appears to argue that so it would, and so it must. Part of me hopes that Cohen, who has often been one of the more principled voices on the British Left, is writing tongue in cheek or trying to provoke a reaction. But the commenters nearly all seem to take it quite seriously and only berate him for not going far enough.

Here’s the piece from Cohen: “Saving the NHS means forcing us to change the way we lead our lives”.

If you imagine a healthy future for Britain, or any other country that has put the hunger of millennia behind it, you see a kind of dictatorship. Not a tyranny, but a society that ruthlessly restricts free choice. It is a future that views the mass of people as base creatures jerked around by desires they cannot control. Expert authority must engineer their lives from above for their own good and the common good.

Speaking as a base creature myself, I do not believe it would be a healthy future at all to be ruled by people with such contempt for me.

Here’s my partial sketch of how Britain would have to change to limit the costs to the NHS that stunted lives and avoidable pain will bring. Pedestrians and cyclists would have priority on the roads. If the roads are too narrow to take cars, cycle lanes and a pavement wide enough to allow pedestrians to walk or run in comfort, then cars will have to go. School runs will become history as heads refuse to admit any able-bodied child who arrives at school in a car.

It will not necessarily be illegal to drive in towns and cities, just pointless. Motorists would inch along because cycle and bus lanes would take up road space and pelican crossings would be reset so pedestrians never had to wait more than a minute to cross a road. Even when they reached their destinations, drivers would search forever for a space because car parks would have been demolished and replaced with public parks.

No fast-food outlet would be allowed within a one-mile radius of a school. Agricultural subsidies for fat and sugar would be abolished. Rapeseed oil and sugar beet cultivation would stop as new subsidies for public transport began. Meanwhile, the manufacturers of processed food high in sugar, salt and fat would face advertising bans and punitive taxes. (If food manufacturers want to dump prematurely sick patients on the NHS, we will say, they can damn well pay for the privilege.)

A commenter called “erikus” put their finger on what all this was reminding me of:

Stardate 21327.5. Captain Picard & the crew of the Enterprise arrive at a world where the local inhabitants are suffering the apocalyptic consequences that fell upon them after they tried to re-engineer themselves in order to meet the expectations they believe are placed upon them by the institutions that were created by their ancestors and which they’ve come to regard as sacred & inviolate.

Picard’s final speech: ‘They killed themselves for this. They died because they believed that they had to sacrifice themselves in order to preserve in perfect form the institutions left to them by their ancestors: Institutions that were themselves originally created with one simple purpose: To preserve their lives:

We must remember that the institutions that we create exist for our well-being & that once we begin to worship them & think their well-being transcends that of our own, they lose their reason for existence.’

“If Britain leaves Europe, we will become a renegade without economic power”

I just wanted to share this chance-found five year old Observer editorial because it is so gloriously apocalyptic: “If Britain leaves Europe, we will become a renegade without economic power”

Conservative Eurosceptics will be delighted. For them, membership of the EU has contributed to Britain’s protracted depression. Echoing the defeated Tea Party in the United States, they offer Britain a prospectus of becoming like Hong Kong. Minimal protections in the workplace; the chance to develop ourselves as a tax haven;

Sounds great! Alas, not all my countrymen share this inspiring vision of our post-Brexit future, but at least we’re out.

to become Europe’s economic and political renegade, imagining that the EU will be perfectly happy to accept unfair and unregulated competition. To believe this as the route to economic salvation is fanciful indeed.

Instead, it will be a disaster at every level. Britain’s mass car industry will head to low-cost countries that have remained in the EU. Much other manufacturing will follow; Airbus production will migrate to Germany and France. Already, there is massive damage. It was partly because Germany now anticipates Britain leaving the EU that Berlin vetoed BAe’s deal with the defence giant EADS. It did not want Europe’s defence industry to be concentrated in a non-EU member. The financial services industry will be regulated on terms set in Brussels and be powerless to resist. British farmers, who have prospered under the Common Agricultural Policy, will find they become dependent on whatever mean-spirited British system of farm support that replaces it. Farms will survive by industrial farming, devastating the beloved English countryside.

Tax avoidance and evasion will reach crippling levels as our economy becomes increasingly wholly owned by foreign multinationals that make tax avoidance in Britain central to their business strategy. No Eurosceptic ever complains about the selling of Britain to foreigners, a much greater constraint on our sovereignty than Brussels. Our fiscal and monetary policy will shadow that of the European authorities for fear of an attack on sterling if we do not.

We will be become subcontractor to the world with zero economic sovereignty, a bits-and-pieces economy offering low-paid, transient work to a public unprotected by any kind of social contract because of the disappearance of our tax base.

The best in Britain know this – most in the leadership teams of our main political parties including the Tory party, directors in our top companies, our cultural leaders, our trade union leaders, our universities and some of our public intellectuals. Yet collectively they are silent, bullied and cowed by the overwhelming media might of the Eurosceptics and losing heart because of the single currency crisis. Yet the EU is putting in place mechanisms for the euro’s survival and even its prospering – a rescue and bail-out mechanism, a banking union, closer fiscal co-ordination and more political collaboration. The EU, the euro and the single currency will be here in a decade’s time – our continent’s instruments for managing globalisation and the challenges of the 21st century. We can be the renegade at the margins or playing our part in one of the great projects of our time. Those who believe in Europe need to start speaking out – and urgently.

The pitchforks are out for Count Dankula

“M8 Yer Dugs A Nazi.” That link takes you to a video in which a man who wished to annoy his girlfriend trained her cute pug to lift its paw in a “Nazi salute” in response to Nazi slogans. Well, it used to. At present for me it takes me to a video of a black screen saying “This video is not available in your country”. Mark Meechan, the man who made the video, is from Scotland and I am in England, but I do not think that explains it.

From the Telegraph‘s account and even more from a swing round Mr Meechan’s “Count Dankula” YouTube channel, it does sound as if his humour tends towards the crass and tasteless. But do these words from the beginning of the video sound to you like the voice of a man committed to the triumph of Nazism?

The court heard that at the start of the clip, he said: “My girlfriend is always ranting and raving about how cute and adorable her wee dog is so I thought I would turn him into the least cute thing I could think of, which is a Nazi.”

In the video, the dog is seen perking up when it hears the statements and appears to lift its paw to the “Sieg Heil” command in the video, which has now been viewed more than million times.

Mr Meechan is currently on trial at Airdrie Sheriff Court for committing a hate crime. If convicted he faces up to a year in prison. The verdict was due two days ago but has been delayed for reasons unknown.

One of the more detailed reports on the case came from the Washington Post:

The dog is also seen watching a Hitler rally during the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. The dog appears to raise its paw when Hitler proclaims “Sieg Heil.”

“Who’s a good wee Nazi?” Meechan praised the dog.

The video ricocheted around the Internet and has now been viewed more than 3 million times. Some found it amusing; others feel it was crude and anti-Semitic, including a woman who Meechan says confronted him, then spread dog feces on his front door.

Prosecutors say it’s a hate crime.

That April, soon after the video was posted, police knocked on Meechan’s door in Coatbridge, a town in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, he told Alex Jones. The officers told him that he was being charged with a hate crime and that the video could be seen as promoting violence against Jews. They told him to change his clothes, took pictures of his apartment and hauled him off to jail.

He spent a night there and is now on trial for violating the Communications Act of 2003, which prohibits using public telecommunications to send discriminatory religious messages.

Who Dares Wins (Arts Council Edition)

When it came out a couple of weeks ago, I managed to miss this gem from the Guardian’s “Associate Editor, Culture”, Claire Armitstead.

Literary fiction is in crisis. A new chapter of funding authors must begin

Unlike the performing arts, publishing has always been a largely commercial sector that has had to square its own circles. This is reflected in the fact that it gets only 7% of the funding cake handed out by the Arts Council, compared with 23% to theatre and 11% to dance.

Most of that money has gone to support publishers who produce poetry and literature in translation, which have never been able to pay their way. So there will be blood on the carpet if existing resources are shifted to support literary novelists.

There will be those who argue that this just shows that literary fiction is a hangover from the past, and the poor dears should knuckle down and resign themselves to writing what people actually want to read. But few would dare to make the same argument about experimental theatre or dance.

A number of the comments may have helped Ms Armitstead revise upwards her estimate of the audacity of readers outside the literary elite. A sentence or two later she makes one of the most pathetic cases for subsidy I have ever seen:

Moreover, research from the New School for Social Research in New York last year suggested that literary fiction has a measurable social value, increasing empathy levels in readers where more popular forms of genre fiction do not.

It seems unkind to the readers of literary fiction to say that they in particular are in such dire need of an injection of empathy as to justify a targeted intervention. But her profession has obliged Ms Armitstead to live at close quarters with this reclusive and marginal tribe for many years and no doubt she knows their character better than I do.

More recently, the author and occasional Guardian columnist Tim Lott shot back, which is how I came to see the earlier piece. He writes,

Why should we subsidise writers who have lost the plot?

This would not be uncommon. Worrying about plot and story has long been unfashionable on the literary scene. Style and voice are what gathers plaudits. Martin Amis wrote: “If the prose isn’t there, then you’re reduced to what are merely secondary interests, like story [and] plot.” Edna O’Brien suggested plot was for “silly boys”, which might explain why men in particular are reluctant to buy literary novels.

It might also explain why, when I went to teach postgraduate students at the University of East Anglia – the foremost writing course in the country – about the fundamentals of plot, I was astonished to discover that these superbly talented young writers knew nothing whatsoever about it after years of studying the form.

Mr Lott is within the subsidy-bubble himself, hence his surprise that those studying creative writing at university were unaware of such vulgar skills as making a plot. But at least he’s in the bubble looking out.

All together now: if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

Sorry for the unoriginal choice of title. This is about the fourth Samizdata post with a title related to that slogan, and the umpteenth to mention it. Don’t blame us. If the authorities would stop repeatedly proving that slogan to be a cruel travesty, we would be happy to stop going on about it.

Until that day arrives, the Guardian has a good report on the latest example of what innocent people have to fear:

Police made ‘appalling’ errors in using internet data to target suspects

Police have made serious errors getting search warrants for suspected sex offenders, leading to the targeting of innocent people and children being wrongly separated from their parents, an official report has revealed.

The errors – highlighted by the interception of communications commissioner, Sir Stanley Burnton, in his annual report to the prime minister – had “appalling” consequences and related to some of the most intrusive powers the state can use against its citizens.

In one example, two children were separated from their parents for a weekend while the parents were questioned as suspects in a child sexual exploitation case. It later emerged that police had raided the wrong address due to an error on the documentation and the parents were innocent.

Digital devices belonging to innocent people were also forensically examined by police, Burnton said.

The errors identified were mainly because details were wrongly entered into software that helps police work out the location where a specific IP (internet protocol) address has been used.

But IP addresses are routinely reassigned by internet providers. Burnton warned investigators not to rely on them when trying to work out who is hiding behind the anonymity of the internet to commit crimes.

He wrote: “These [errors] are far more common than is acceptable, especially in cases relating to child sex exploitation. The impact on some victims of these errors has been appalling.”

Sometimes you just gotta liver little

Today’s weird Guardian story is not directly political:

Surgeon admits marking his initials on the livers of two patients

A surgeon has pleaded guilty to marking his initials on the livers of two patients while performing transplant surgery.

In a hearing at Birmingham crown court on Wednesday, Simon Bramhall admitted two counts of assault by beating relating to incidents on 9 February and 21 August 2013. He pleaded not guilty to the more serious charges of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The renowned liver, spleen and pancreas surgeon used the gas argon, used to stop livers bleeding during operations and to highlight an area due to be worked on, to sign his initials into the patients’ organs. The marks left by argon are not thought to impair the organ’s function and usually disappear by themselves.

The 53-year-old was first suspended from his post as a consultant surgeon at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth hospital in 2013 after a colleague spotted the initials “SB” on an organ during follow-up surgery on one of Bramhall’s patients.

As one might expect, this is being treated as a crime:

Elizabeth Reid, of the Crown Prosecution Service, said Bramhall’s actions were an abuse of the trust placed in him by the patients.

“It was an intentional application of unlawful force to a patient whilst anaesthetised,” she said. “His acts in marking the livers of those patients, in a wholly unnecessary way, were deliberate and conscious acts on his part.”

But not everyone agrees.

Following reports of Bramhall’s suspension, his former patient Tracy Scriven told the Birmingham Mail that the surgeon should be immediately reinstated. “Even if he did put his initials on a transplanted liver, is it really that bad? I wouldn’t have cared if he did it to me. The man saved my life,” she said.

She has a point. As was discussed here yesterday there is a push (it’s called a “consultation” but no one is in any doubt what the desired answer is) for England to follow the example of Wales and institute a system in which unless a person objects in advance to their organs being donated after death their consent will be assumed.

Why, then, should Mr Bramhall not say that he assumed that his patients were OK with him putting his graffiti tag on their livers? They didn’t sign a form objecting, did they?

Be a trendsetter not a follower

It is always nice to be reminded that history has no direction. The Times reports,

Austria will scrap ban on smoking in restaurants, Freedom Party declares

Austria is to break with a global trend in health policy by abandoning plans to ban smoking in bars and restaurants.

Full smoking prohibition was due to come in next May but will be shelved at the insistence of the far-right Freedom Party as a condition of joining a coalition with the Austrian conservatives.

The Freedom Party (FPO), which came third in elections in October, is in talks to form a government with the Austrian People’s Party (OVP).

Heinz-Christian Strache, leader of the FPO, made overturning the ban, agreed in 2015, a top campaign pledge.

“I am proud of this excellent solution in the interests of non-smokers, smokers and restaurant owners,” Mr Strache, 48, a smoker who has tried to quit, said.

“The freedom to choose lives on. The existence of restaurants, particularly small ones, has been secured. Thousands of threatened jobs have been saved,” he said.

Some of the Times commenters say that their dislike of smoke is so strong that they will not be returning to Austria as tourists unless the ban is reinstated. That is their choice, although it does seem to me that their understandable preference for a non-smoking restaurant could be satisfied at a more local level than that of an entire nation.

Labour will pave the streets of Birmingham with gold

Today the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell launched a report commissioned by the Labour Party from GFC Economics & Clearpoint Corporation Management Ltd. I have had a quick read of it, not in any detail but enough to think that you might be interested in reading it too. Here it is:

Financing Investment: Interim Report

It is called Financing Investment but it does not say much about financing investment. I suppose a report called Let’s Put The National Investment Bank And The Strategic Investment Board And A Bit Of the Bank Of England All Next Door To Each Other In Birmingham And Mention It Twenty Times is better for votes in Birmingham. They’ll be able to put out a special Birmingham edition of Monopoly with that street collecting a massive rent.

However there is more to this report than just more swanky government buildings in Birmingham. Branch offices in Glasgow and Cardiff are also promised. And this caught my eye:

There is a risk that the disproportionate number of technology companies in London and the South East will increase, exacerbating regional inequality.

You hear that, South East? Only in Labourland is an increase in the number of technology companies in one area seen as a “risk” in itself.

But that is a mere taster. On page 47 we begin to reach the meat of the proposal. Rejoice! There is to be something called a Strategic Investment Board.

The Strategic Investment Board will sit at the heart of the economy, coordinating R&D, commercialisation and information flows

We learn that

3. The Strategic Investment Board will draw on science and technology to devise comprehensive policy proposals for investment. There will be an emphasis on R&D investment. Private sector R&D will not be crowded out. It will be encouraged.

It is nice to be reassured that private sector R&D will not be crowded out, but the very fact that the possibility is mentioned does rather imply that public sector R&D will be crowded in. Who will be deciding who gets this “investment”, and what reason have we to suppose they would be good at it? The answer is not reassuring:

5. Scientists and researchers at the cutting edge of their fields will be appointed to senior advisory positions. The Strategic Investment Board will also seek the advice of trade unionists, businesses and leading industrialists.

Ah, “getting round the table”, I remember that. I was too young to understand all the hoo-hah about Barbara Castle’s In Place of Strife in 1969, but I can just about remember the series of increasingly ineffectual “Solemn and Binding agreements” and “Concordats” agreed between Labour governments and the unions over beer and sandwiches at No.10 as the 1970s wore on. None of them stuck.

(Edit: in the comments Sam Duncan says, “So they’re basically digging Neddie and the NEB out of the dustbin and bunging them in the microwave for a couple of minutes, then? That’s the Great Corbyn Plan?”)

On page 48 it says,

The Strategic Investment Board will scrutinise and advise the monetary and financial policy authorities as banks shift from unproductive lending to innovative companies.

That all sounds very nice, but why is a bunch of scientists, businessmen and trade unionists moonlighting from their proper jobs expected to be able to tell what lending is unproductive? While lending to “innovative companies” can turn out well, it is not a game for amateurs. God only knows that the banks have not always done a good job, but at least it was their job. And it is strange to see the socialists display such faith that the capitalist exploiter will act for the common good and not, for instance, draw an enormous salary augmented by backhanders to ensure that companies in which he has a well-disguised interest get all this luverly investment.

On page 49:

We suggest that the Strategic Investment Board has six permanent committee members plus two
representatives, one each from the National Investment Bank and the publicly-controlled RBS. This
will ensure a consistency between the polices of the National Investment Bank/RBS and the Bank of

Wha-wha-what is the Royal Bank of Scotland doing there? They’re not thinking of using money deposited by the public with RBS for this “investment”, are they? Investment specifically directed at innovative companies? That might, er, cause queues to form outside RBS branches on the morning of a Labour election victory.

I have left the biggest question, where the money is to come from – because I really don’t think RBS can cover it all – as an exercise for the reader. The Labour party answer is “From the National Investment Bank, stupid.”

Discussion point: the Brexit deal

Brexit: ‘Breakthrough’ deal paves way for future trade talks

In the spirit of 1066 And All That, is this a Good Thing or a Bad Thing?

N.B. Do not attempt to answer more than one question at a time. (An exception may be made for the Irish Question.)

This is why we can’t have nice things

To be precise this is why we can’t have politicians who try to explain concepts from economics in a relatively grown up manner. When they give the more highminded strategy a go, along comes the Daily Mirror and the “pan-disability charity” Scope – whose Wikipedia entry is graced by one of those template messages saying, “This article contains content that is written like an advertisement” – to remind them why when attempting to discuss economics with the Great British Public the wiser course is to mindlessly repeat one pre-prepared soundbite. Daring to suggest that some groups might be on average be less productive than others, even in the context of saying that their participation in the labour force is a good thing, only brings on another mass bout of indignation dysentery. All one can do then is try not to breathe in too deeply until people have got it out of their system.

Quoth the Mirror:

Philip Hammond blames Britain’s low economic productivity on working disabled people

“The consequences of high levels of unemployment, particularly youth unemployment, will be felt for many, many years to come.

“It is almost certainly the case that by increasing participation in the workforce, including far higher levels of participation by marginal groups and very high levels of engagement in the workforce, for example of disabled people – something we should be extremely proud of – may have had an impact on overall productivity measurements.”

Quoth Scope:

Anna Bird, Director of Policy and Research at disability charity Scope, said: “These comments are totally unacceptable and derogatory. They fundamentally undermine the Government’s policy to get more disabled people into work, and the ambition set out by the Prime Minister just a week ago.

“The Chancellor must urgently withdraw them and offer a full apology.”

Quoth Mirror commenter “DiAne”:

Didn’t Hitler say something similar?

Never mind Damian Green, do you want the cops to have this power over you?

David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union has threatened to resign if Damian Green (the First Secretary of State, effectively Deputy Prime Minister) is sacked unfairly. Why, you may ask, is Davis – a Brexiteer – willing to put Theresa May’s already shaky government at risk for the sake of a Remainer like Green?

The Guardian link above explains it better than I can:

The Brexit secretary believes his cabinet colleague is the victim of a police vendetta and made it clear to Theresa May that he would be willing to leave the government if he felt Green had been unfairly treated.

The threat emerged only hours after a former Metropolitan police detective came forward with fresh claims implying that Green himself had been viewing pornography found on his workplace computer when police raided his Commons office in November 2008.

Green was a shadow Home Office minister at the time and was under investigation because he had received a series of sensitive Home Office leaks. He denies viewing pornography on his parliamentary computer.

At the time, the Conservatives were fighting some of the Labour government’s law and order measures on libertarian grounds and Davis was a strong backer of Green’s work.

Mark Wallace of Conservative Home writes,

Whether Green did what is alleged or not, the behaviour of the police in his case is appalling

Lewis is speaking out because he disapproves of what he claims he found. But on what authority is that his job, his responsibility, or his right? He gained access to that computer as a police officer, not as a self-appointed moral arbiter. The powers granted to police officers are given on the condition that they use them for specific purposes only. He was meant to be looking for evidence of crimes, not legal things which he could tut about. Separate to whether the Cabinet Office finds his or Green’s account to be true, is this really how we want former police officers to behave? If the police were to search your home or office or person, but fail to find evidence of any crime, is it acceptable that years down the line the officers involved could publicly embarrass you by claiming they found legal pornography, or anything else legal that they personally find morally icky? That’s an awful precedent, which would harm trust in the police and worry a lot of innocent people that private information might be being held over them. In a society under the rule of law we should all have a right to expect that the police do their job, but do not exploit their professional positions for personal grandstanding or moralising at a later date.

I took a look inside the College of Policing Code of Ethics: A Code of Practice for the Principles and Standards of Professional Behaviour for the Policing Profession of England and Wales.

Under “Standard of Professional Behaviour” section 3.1.7, “Confidentiality”, it said:

I will treat information with respect, and access or disclose it only in the proper course of my duties.

According to this standard you must:
• be familiar with and abide by the data protection principles described in the Data Protection Act 1998
• access police-held information for a legitimate or authorised policing purpose only
• not disclose information, on or off duty, to unauthorised recipients
• understand that by accessing personal data without authorisation you could be
committing a criminal offence, regardless of whether you then disclose that personal data.

Do we want to set the precedent that if in the course of a search a police officer finds evidence of behaviour that is legal but frowned upon they can make it public?

Exposing your children to peril: then and now

Children in peril! Save them!

Children in poor areas exposed to five times as many fast food takeaways,

reports the Guardian, not that you needed to be told that. (Fun fact: the Guardian‘s name was originally understood to mean “Guardian of our liberties”.)

Increasing numbers of fast food take­aways are springing up close to schools in England, with pupils in the most socially deprived areas exposed to five times as many outlets as their richest peers.

Data provided to the Guardian by Cambridge University’s Centre for Diet and Activity Research (Cedar) shows more than 400 schools across England have 20 or more fast food takeaways within a 400-metre radius, while a further 1,400 have between 10 and 19 outlets within the same distance.

Public health experts have warned that heavy exposure of children to fast food outlets and increased consumption of high-fat nutrient-poor food leads to greater risk of childhood obesity, as well as heart disease and stroke in later life.

Read it in conjunction with an essay by Lenore Skenazy and Jonathan Haidt that I found via Instapundit called “The Fragile Generation: Bad policy and paranoid parenting are making kids too safe to succeed”.

Having saved the children from the perils of walking to school and active play we are surprised that they are fat. In fact I suspect that half the appeal of fast food joints to schoolchildren is not the food per se; rather it is the chance to hang out with their friends and make minor decisions about what they want to do next without adults looming over them.