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]

What Trevor Dupuy says about the German military

Trevor Dupuy was a US soldier and a military historian who took a statistical approach to evaluating combat performance. He paid particular attention to casualty statistics. Casualties – in case you did not know – include deaths but also include wounded, missing and captured. They answer the general’s question: how many men do I have who are able to fight?

Of course, statistics aren’t everything. For instance, the North Vietnamese took vastly more casualties in the Vietnam War than the Americans but they still won. But all things being equal, being able to kill more of your enemy than he can kill of you is a good thing to be able to do.

In A Genius for War Dupuy enquired into the nature of the German army. He found that the statistics told a remarkable story: the German army was very good and had been for a long time. From the Franco-Prussian War to the Second World War the Germans were consistently better at killing the enemy than the enemy were at killing them.

Now you may be thinking that such comparisons might be skewed due to the Russians and Dupuy found that that the Russians were indeed every bit as bad as you might think. But even when he removed the Russian numbers Dupuy found that the Germans still held a clear and consistent superiority over the French, British and Americans. This superiority existed regardless of whether the engagement was offensive or defensive.

Chauvinists might be surprised to learn that there seems to have been no great difference between the western allies. French and British performance was more or less equal in the First World War. British and American performance was more or less equal in the second. The Americans in the First World War and the French in the Second are special cases.

Having satisfied himself that the German army was indeed superior, Dupuy asked why this was. His key finding was that there seemed to be nothing inherent in being German. Dupuy found a number of historical examples where the Germans proved to be anything but good fighters. These included largely-German units in the American War of Independence and various battles between German mercenaries and the Swiss.

So, if being German didn’t make you a good soldier what did? Dupuy’s theory was that it was all due to the German General staff. So what was so good about the General Staff? Dupuy listed several criteria. These included selection by examination, historical study and objective analysis. In other words it was an institution that thought seriously about war.

The doctrine that all this thinking led to might be summed up as bold plans tempered with flexibility. Perhaps the best-known example of bold planning was the invasion of France in 1940. No one on the allied side thought a tank-led thrust through the Ardennes was possible. But it was and France collapsed soon afterwards.

As many of you will know far from being an official General Staff masterplan the invasion of France was in fact dreamt up by Erich von Manstein in opposition to his superiors. But Manstein was still every inch the General Staffer.

Flexibility was also important. Contrary to the stereotype the German army did not want blind obedience. Not only did it allow subordinate commanders to figure out how to achieve their objectives but if opportunities arose which were unforeseen they were not only allowed to take advantage of them but expected to do so. “His majesty made you a major because he believed that you would know when not to obey his orders.” as Prince Frederick Charles put it.

I would like to thank Perry de Havilland for pointing me in the direction of Dupuy and his works.

What swots can do

What swots can do

People are ignorant about economics

Russ Roberts’s EconTalk is a wonderful thing, I have been listening to it on and off for a few years now. One of the great things about it is that despite being a libertarian, Roberts is always happy to expose himself to new ideas and challenge his assumptions.

I have recently taken to listening to some of the earlier episodes and found myself listening to what happens when you have price gouging laws – or “anti-supply” laws as I prefer to call them.

His interviewee, Mike Munger, explained how there was a hurricane in Raleigh, North Carolina. The roads were blocked, there was no electricity and there was a shortage of ice.

Ice may not sound that important but it is. Not only does it help to preserve food but it also helps to preserve some medicines like, for instance, the insulin needed by diabetics.

Some “yahoos” – Munger’s term – saw an opportunity to make money. They got themselves a truck, loaded it with ice and some chainsaws and proceeded to drive towards the centre of Raleigh. If they found the road in front of them blocked they chopped up the fallen trees and carried on.

When they got to the centre of town they started selling the ice. Usually, ice sold for $2 a bag. They were selling it for $12. Very soon a queue appeared. Then the police arrived. Citing price-gouging laws they arrested the men and impounded the truck.

And here’s the kicker: as the truck was towed away the people in the queue applauded the police.

So, here we have an example where the gap between cause – the price gouging laws – and effect – the lack of supply – is instantaneous. And yet people still support the law.

Words fail me.


Things are not always as they appear

Reports of company meetings are usually a bit dull – those from a hundred years ago even more so. So why I bothered to read this one I don’t know. It concerns Farrow’s Bank, a small bank that despite there being a war on seems to be doing just fine.

“So”, I wondered, “what happened to it?” My assumption was that it got swallowed up in one of the gazillion or so mergers that have taken place in the banking sector in the last century or so.

Well, not quite. Actually, in 1920 it went bust. Spectacularly.

It turned out that at no point in its 13 or so years in existence as a publicly-listed company had it made a profit. By the very time this company meeting was taking place losses were routinely being covered up by inflating asset values.

So, were there any tell-tale signs that all was not as it appeared? Obviously with accounts that were largely fictional it would have been difficult to tell from the numbers. But were there other clues?

It is difficult to tell from this distance but a few things stick out. The first is that, the chairman and founder, Thomas Farrow, prior to founding the bank wrote a book entitled The Moneylender Unmasked in which he criticized the methods of moneylenders. Was he, perhaps, a gamekeeper turned poacher? – someone who had worked out all the tricks of the dishonest and then applied them for his own benefit. I doubt it. More likely, I suspect, that his ideas were nonsense in the first place and the acid test of their commercial implementation simply proved it.

The second is that one of the depositors described the Chairman’s speeches as “sanctimonious” and “treacly”. Does this, perhaps, suggest a lack of attention to the business of making money?

The third, was his fullsome praise for the then Minister of Munitions, David Lloyd George. Businessmen don’t usually praise the government, far less individual government ministers. I could say a lot more about that particular minister but I’ll save that for another time.

The Times 5 August 1915 p2

The Times 5 August 1915 p2

“Gradually, but inevitably, the voluntary is yielding to the compulsory”

I have posted very little recently from a century ago. This is because my main source, The Times, has become rather dull. You would have thought with hundreds of people being killed every day on three continents it would have lots to say but it doesn’t. Part of this is due to censorship. For understandable reasons, there is very little that the military authorities are prepared to make public. Another part of it is due to self-censorship. In wartime newspapers are extremely reluctant to criticise. Criticism is close to defeatism and defeatism is close to treason. Criticism can also carry a high price. A couple of months ago The Times criticised Lord Kitchener’s handling of munition supplies with the result that copies of the paper were burnt on the floor of the Stock Exchange.

Britain has to recruit, train and equip an army and until such time as she does there is very little she can do that’s going to make much of a difference. Even after she does these things it won’t make much of a difference because the army won’t have the experience to make itself truly effective.

So, actual front line reports tend to be all very similar. It’s all talk of our brave men, victories and heavy losses inflicted upon the enemy. Sure, the men are brave but it is difficult to cover up the fact that the frontline is hardly moving.

I was on the verge of giving up. My plan was to find a particularly egregious example of this sort of vapid war report and hang up my typing fingers until next year when things will get a bit more interesting. But occasionally you get an article that pricks your interest. In this case it’s a sentence: “Gradually, but inevitably, the voluntary is yielding to the compulsory”. It appears in a leader prompted by a bunch of City types asking the government – I kid you not – to increase taxes.

The sad thing is that it is true. Conscription will be introduced. Restrictions on the sale of alcohol are already starting to come in. Indeed, in some places it is already a criminal offence to buy a round of drinks. There will be rationing. Before long the Liberal Party will split and then wither away. Many liberals are giving up on liberalism altogether and becoming out and out socialists.

Before we condemn the war for this it is important to bear in mind that the voluntary principle was in big trouble well before its outbreak. The telephones had (effectively) been nationalised. State pensions and sick pay had been introduced. Many doctors found themselves working for the state. There were also the beginnings of unemployment benefit.

It’s all very sad – although not for The Times. The Times is all in favour of compulsion. Long before the war it was in favour of trade barriers or “imperial preference” (as it was then known) and national service. Ever since it has been campaigning for conscription and restrictions on the sale of alcohol. The paper is enjoying itself:

The truth is that all these so-called principles are nothing but expediency generalized and embodied in a formula. When the circumstances are sufficiently changed to make them no longer expedient, then they cease to be valuable and become mischievous.

The voluntary principle is a case in point. People are still clinging to it when it has already half gone and must go altogether. They cannot readjust their ideas, and the more they resist the more painful it becomes. They are kicking against the pricks – the pricks of war.

Nice, although it does beg the question if principles are bosh then what exactly does The Times think we are fighting for?

However, that is not to deny that this does rather put me in a bind. I think Britain was – perhaps I should say “Britons were” – right to fight the First World War. Willhelmine Germany posed a direct threat to Britain’s peace and prosperity. But do I really think the war could have been fought without compulsion? There are two questions here. After all, the British government existed long before 1914 and a government is nothing if not a mechanism of compulsion. So, could the war have been fought without any compulsion? and it could it have been fought without any extra compulsion?

I’ll deal with the second question and leave the first to the idealists. Could the men have been recruited? Large numbers of men signed up shortly after the outbreak of war and I have heard it said that conscription which was introduced in 1916 was not particularly successful. So maybe they could.
But could they have been equipped without a massive increase in either taxes or deferred taxes in the form of borrowing? That I very much doubt.

In the days before the welfare state there were all sorts of ways that funds were raised for “good” causes: friendly societies, public subscription and flag days were among them. There were all sorts of social pressures applied to get people to cough up. Not nice but a lot nicer than outright extortion via the tax system. Even so the amounts raised by the best-known funds were not spectacular. There was a fund created after the sinking of the Titanic and it raised a lot of money but nothing on the scale needed to fight a war.

It’s all very well sticking up for your principles but if a society that follows those principles can’t defend itself those principles are worthless. And if you abandon your principles in order to win what was the point of fighting in the first place? It seems to me that wars are often – if not always – battles of ideas. Oh, those ideas might be well hidden but more often than not they are there. War is often the ultimate test of political ideas. So, it seems a bit of cheat to go into war proclaiming a set of principles that you then abandon.

The Times 23 July 1915 p9

The Times 23 July 1915 p9

If you were wondering why the Chinese stock market has gone bananas this year…

…here’s a theory:


I apologise for the non-Twitterish look of this but it seems Samizdata’s all-knowing editing software doesn’t like scripts and I don’t have the patience to select, save and edit each tweet individually.


It occurs to me there’s a bit missing from the tale. And just to prove that this really was on Twitter:


The driverless-car revolution: how far, how fast?

There was a news article a week or two back saying that driverless cars currently under test in California had been involved in four collisions. This sounded bad until you dug into the details and it turned out that in each and every case it was a human driver at fault. As Nassim Taleb points out there is no such thing as confirmatory evidence, but this in no way falsifies my theory that driverless cars are already safer than their human-directed equivalent.

This makes me think that the driverless car revolution is on the way and is going to take place far sooner than most of us think. Yes, there are legal issues to be resolved. Yes, government will drag its feet. Yes, there will be horrible accidents of the sort only computers can cause. Yes, there will be a transitional period of mixed human and computer driving. But it will happen and it will – over all – be better. But given it is going to happen I wonder what it will be like? For instance:

  • Will cars continue to be user-owned? Will we even have “our” exclusive cars or instead use cars in the same way we use taxis today?
  • Could this make micro-cars more attractive?
  • Will styling continue to be so important?
  • Is there anything to prevent a speed-limit of 120mph, or higher, on motorways? If so, what future inter-city trains?
  • Will this advantage electric cars?
  • If buses can self-drive is there any future for commuter trains?
  • If cars can drive themselves to and from our doorsteps will we still need driveways?
  • Is this good or bad news for Uber?
  • What will cabins be like without the need for a driver and a steering wheel?
  • Will there be implications for the layout of vehicles?
  • How soon will it become illegal to drive a car on the public highway?

It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Hopefully they'll look better than this.

Hopefully they’ll look better than this.

MPs: don’t pay them a penny

We seem to shy away from constitutional matters at Samizdata. I think in part this is because we have a distaste for government and would like to see an end to the whole shebang.

I can’t argue with that but it seems to me that freedom is a slow process and the state is going to hang around for a good while yet. So, how it is set up is something we probably ought to concern ourselves with.

Amongst all the other rows engulfing UKIP last week, one concerned whether they should accept so-called “Short” money. This is money handed out to opposition parties to help them with their parliamentary duties. If memory serves, the argument is that the government has an army of civil servants to help them, so the opposition needs the help to even things up a little. For us libertarians, there would be no need for Short money if we had less government but there you go.

All this can be traced back to 1910. Before then, as I understand it, MPs weren’t paid a penny: no salary, not even expenses. The problem was what to do with these newfangled Labour MPs. They tended to be less well off and were unable to support themselves by either private means or by moonlighting as barristers or journalists as figures like Carson and Churchill were able to do. The obvious solution was to allow trade unions to pay them. But this fell foul of the principle that MPs could not be bought.

Scared of the implications of denying Labour voters representation – riots were a frequent occurrence at the time – MPs started paying themselves. Pity. The great advantage of the previous system was that energetic statists had to do something useful before becoming MPs. This meant they had some idea of the difficulties of running a business. While we can’t prove that it was a bulwark against socialism it is difficult to imagine it did a great deal of harm.

By the way, on the question of UKIP and Short money I understand they decided to take no money at all. If this turns out to be true, good for them.

The gloves come off

It’s been an interesting couple of months a hundred years ago. There have been the landings at Gallipoli, the German use of gas at Ypres, the imminent departure of both the First Lord of the Admiralty and the First Sea Lord, the failure of the British attack at Aubers Ridge and the “Shell Scandal” – the claim that the Aubers failure was due to a lack of shells. Meanwhile, the Lusitania has been torpedoed, Zeppelin raids are continuing and the Bryce Report into alleged German atrocities in Belgium has concluded that most of the allegations are true. In shades of the London riots of 2011 – demonstrators have asserted their right to protest at the uncivilised behaviour of the German government and – additionally and in consequence – to steal and break the property of all those who have German names.

There are a couple of ideas going on here.

The first idea is that we – the British – are dealing with a ruthless and unprincipled enemy and that therefore we must at least be equally ruthless and possibly equally unprincipled. The second idea is that it is the state’s responsibility and privilege to lead and enforce British ruthlessness. There must be no more amateurism or muddling through. Everything must be systematic and uniform and directed from the top. Early signs of this change in approach will be the formation of a coalition government and the foundation of the Ministry of Munitions. Already there have been calls for conscription which is odd given that the New Armies raised in 1914 have yet to fight.

I suspect that, like most things that government does it didn’t work, or at least, worked no better than if they had left things to market or – given the central role of government in any war – near-market forces. However, he who wins gets to write the myths. And so the myth that government direction works got established in the UK. Probably.

The Times 19 May 1915. Talk about "The Thunderer". I particularly like the reference to the "mutilated and twice-censored" Times article.

The Times 19 May 1915. Talk about “The Thunderer”. I particularly like the reference to the “mutilated and twice-censored” Times article.

Samizdata quote of the day

When was the last time you saw a very light-skinned Nigerian criminal? All the armed robbers that are paraded by the Nigerian police are usually dark skinned. Yes the SSS paraded the light-skinned Kabiru Sokoto, but they did him the courtesy of buying him a brand new t-shirt after they caught him hiding. When they showed him to news men, his face showed no signs of being tortured. So also the light-skinned alleged mastermind of the Nyanya bombing, Aminu Ogwuche. No swollen face or beating. If they were dark skinned, they would have been shirtless and sitting on the floor with a split lip or swollen eye. That is why I always advice dark skinned people to avoid crime. Because they will be the first to be caught. And when they get caught, no one will feel bad about giving them a good beating.

Elnathan John

I invented that. Probably.

You may have seen all sorts of weird hexagon-based maps of the United Kingdom in the last week or so. Here’s one from the Telegraph but lots of other people from Sky to the Guardian have their own versions:

Election Map

The BBC had one filling up the square at Broadcasting House.

The reason for these maps is to do with the way people vote in the UK. People in rural areas vote Conservative (up until Thursay, that is) while people in urban areas vote Labour. When you take a geographically accurate map of the UK and colour it in according to who won what seat the map is almost entirely blue no matter what the overall result. If you make all constituencies the same size and carry out the same exercise hopefully you will get a much more accurate representation of what happened.

Here’s another map:


From 1997. Drawn up by yours truly. I believe it was the very first. One of the oddities is that all the subsequent maps have included my design flaw. It should be squares not hexagons.

What caused the First World War? Part V: Monarchies and Republics

[This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. This is the final part. Part IV is here.]

Could the outcome provide a clue? Four monarchies: Germany, Austria, Russia and Turkey were swept away by the First World War.

When I say monarchy I am not talking about the wishy-washy monarchy we pretend to have in the UK. I am talking about real monarchies, monarchies red in tooth and claw, monarchies that can at minimum hire and fire ministers and start wars.

Now, I can almost hear the pedants shouting “But those are precisely the powers the Queen has” To which I say “Only in theory”. Should the Queen or any of her successors ever attempt to actually exercise those theoretical powers they would be out of office in a matter of nano-seconds. Britain is a republic.

When did it become one? I think we can be pretty precise with the dates: sometime between 1642 and 1694. 1642 is the date of the outbreak of the English Civil War, when Charles I tried to impose his idea of absolute monarchy. 1694 is the date William III accepted that his powers were extremely limited. Since then it has been Parliament that makes the laws and votes funding – without which making war becomes extremely difficult.

But think of what happened in that period: four civil wars, one military dictatorship and a foreign invasion.

You think that was bad? Try the French. Between 1789 and 1871 they saw four monarchies, three republics, three foreign invasions and a 20-year war with the rest of Europe.

And now look at what happened in the 20th century. Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, China, Turkey, Spain and Portugal all made the same transition from monarchy to republic. I need not dwell on the German or Russian experiences – they are well enough known but all the others follow a similar pattern. China saw a 20-year civil war followed by Mao’s communist regime; Spain, a monarchy, followed by a republic followed by a civil war followed by a dictatorship followed by a monarchy followed by a democratic republic. Even Portugal saw two revolutions, a dictatorship and a series of bloody colonial wars.

The point is that in every case the transition from monarchy to republic is bloody and protracted.

If there is an exception to the rule it is Japan. Japan is odd because in the middle of the 19th Century it had two monarchies. The one we know about – which was as powerless then as it is now – and the Tokugawa Shogunate. The downfall of the Shogun was remarkably swift and afterwards, as I understand it, Japan was pretty stable up until the 1920s. That’s about 40 years. But assuming Japan is an outlier and we have a pattern, then why the bloodshed?

My guess is that once a monarchy looks vulnerable and anachronistic thoughts turn to a future blank slate. This blank slate is an invitation for idealistic, Utopian and statist ideas to fill the vacuum. And so they do. Even England got the Puritans (and, I might add, the Levellers).

This process was in full swing well before the First World War broke out. The Revolution of 1905 had forced the Tsar to call a parliament. The largest party in the Reichstag, the German Parliament, was the Socialists.

There were two basic majoritarian ideas knocking about Europe at the time: socialism and nationalism. Monarchs can’t do much with socialism but it is just possible for them to embrace nationalism (unless they’re Austrian, that is). And so we see Europe from about 1890 on divide on nationalist lines. Russia and Germany started to become hostile. German politicians began to talk of a coming racial struggle.

This put Austria in a bind.

When he was single there was a time when Franz Ferdinand would regularly visit an eligible duchess. The assumption was that he was courting her and that the two would eventually marry. Not so. He was courting Sophie Chotek one of her ladies in waiting. Sophie was from a noble family herself but just not noble enough. The emperor was furious when he heard that the two wanted to marry.

In English we have a rarely used word, morganatic. So rarely-used is it that I have only ever heard it used in one context. This one. It means that in a marriage one of the partners and the children and not allowed to benefit from any of the privileges of the other partner. Franz Ferdinand and Sophie had a “morganatic marriage”. The children were not allowed to inherit Franz Ferdinand’s titles or status. They could not become Emperor or Empress. On state occasions Sophie could not accompany her husband. One of the reasons the couple loved England so much – their last trip was in 1913 – was that Sophie was granted the same status as her husband. One of the reasons Sophie was in Sarajevo on the fateful day was because it was one of the rare occasions on which she could accompany him. It was also their wedding anniversary.

I have often wondered about the significance of this. Why was the Emperor so furious about Franz Ferdinand marrying beneath him? I think the reason is that Austria-Hungary being a multi-national state could not embrace nationalism. The only unifying factor was the monarchy and so everything had to be done to preserve the mystique and uniqueness of the institution. As the Emperor might have seen it when royals start marrying lowly nobles pretty soon you give the impression anyone could do the job. Bye bye monarchy, bye bye empire.

Ultimately, no one is to blame for the First World War as such. The First World War is principally a chapter in the story of central Europe’s transition from monarchy to republic. As such the principal actors were subject to forces that were way beyond their ability – or indeed anyone’s ability – to control. Although, this does not entirely absolve them of blame it absolves them of a lot.


What caused the First World War? Part IV – right and wrong

[This is the text of a talk I gave on 20 March to the 6/20 Club in London. See also Part III and Part V.]

Part of the reason the origins of the First World War are so controversial is that for a long time the history itself was a matter of contemporary politics. After the inclusion of the War Guilt Clause in Article 231 of the Versailles Treaty, the German government spent a great deal of effort in attempting to vindicate its predecessor’s actions. In a similar vein the communist movement spent a great deal of effort trying to prove that it had something to do with capitalism and imperialism.

The very fact that the debate is still ongoing and still so confused makes me think that there must be something missing.

One thing that tends to be missing from the debate is morality (although as I will explain that’s not going to do us an awful lot of good.) What I mean by that is a sense of right and wrong. What is reasonable for a state to do and what is unreasonable.

This poses some pretty obvious difficulties for libertarians. Violence is wrong. States are the institutions that claim a monopoly of violence. Therefore states are wrong. But, so what? they exist. And not all states are the same. Some states do more violence than others and some states act more reasonably than others. Secondly, you are allowed to defend yourself and others. (At least, I think you are.) The problem is that if you are British in 1914 and wish to defend Belgians the only way you can do that is through the British state.

I should point out that Belgians were attacked in 1914. Whatever, you make think of the tales of German atrocities – I tend to think they were substantially true – German rule still meant all sorts of restrictions on every day life, a vast decline in living standards and the taking of hostages.

Another way of looking at it is to look at states’ liberalness. In 1914 the UK and France were the most liberal states in Europe, Germany and Austria slightly less so and Russia a long way behind (but still a long way ahead of what followed it). In 1917, America, a very liberal state, joined the allies and Russia exited the war. So, from a libertarian point of view the good guys, or at least the less bad guys won.

But were the good guys acting justly? Or less unjustly might be a better way of putting it. To the best of my knowledge, while the UK may have had the largest navy in the world it was not using it to deprive anyone of their freedom. Similarly, Belgians and Frenchmen were under attack and Britons had the right to come to their defence.

What about the French? Pretty much their only concern was Alsace-Lorraine. But from a libertarian point of view the only thing that matters is the freedom of the people of Alsace-Lorraine.

This takes us more or less immediately to the Zabern Affair. The Zabern Affair began when a German officer based in Alsace said some rude things about the locals. The locals got to hear about it and there were riots. It revealed to Germans that the army had a legally privileged position and that the Reichstag was toothless and to Frenchmen that their countrymen were, well oppressed is perhaps too strong a word – looked down upon might be better.

So what about Germany? In the Christmas truce of 1914 some British and German soldiers got talking and the conversation turned to the subject of the war. The German explained that they were fighting for “freedom”. To which the Briton replied, “I’m terribly sorry but we are the ones fighting for freedom.” You wonder how the German could think such a thing. I think it was related to the idea that to be a serious state you had to have an empire; a place in the sun. Whatever, it is it is not freedom as we know it.

As for the rest of them Russia was not going to be liberating anyone and if Germany was really worried about the Russians then first it should have made up with Britain and France and secondly, it should have waited to be attacked.

And then we’re left with Austria and Serbia. It’s difficult to pick a libertarian winner but my money’s on Austria. On the plus side it’s got waltzes, schnitzels, fancy uniforms and Ludwig von Mises. On the down side it’s just closed down the Bohemian Parliament. As for Serbia, the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913 as with the 1990s had seen their fair share of ethnic cleansing but on the plus side in July 1914 they were holding an apparently free and fair election.