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]

STFU with your “vote or STFU”

I find myself being exhorted, by various Facebook friends who think they are being clever, to “vote or STFU“. Apparently, the right to vote is rare and precious, should not be wasted, and if I do not vote I lose the right to complain about the government.

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This is all nonsense.

Firstly, nobody loses the right to complain about violence being initiated against them by anyone for any reason. Voting has nothing to do with it.

It is possible to dislike the policies of all candidates. In that case I am told I should vote for the least worst candidate. But this is not necessarily a good strategy. The least worst candidate might be evil, and win, and everyone will think they have a democratic mandate to do evil things. Low voter turnout could be a good thing, making governments nervous and full of self doubt.

My only alternative to voting, I am told, if I am so clever and don’t like any of the policies on offer, is to stand for election myself and find out how popular my own unique set of policies is. There are various problems with this. I am not a talented politician. Even if my policies were very popular, I would lose because of this. I have limited resources and wasting them on something I know I will fail at is pointless. I should spend my energies elsewhere doing something productive. And my policies are not popular. They are the correct policies, but the electorate still thinks that voting for other people’s money is in their best interests. Perhaps one day they will learn, and I hope to help them: there are more ways to be politically active than voting or standing in an election, such as spreading ideas or developing political strategy.

Finally, my vote is in any case statistically insignificant. Even if I didn’t live in a “safe seat”, the margin is unlikely to be 1. Even this blog post is more influential than my vote.

Sense on the BBC

After a televised pre-election debate between UK opposition party leaders, I watched a political magazine programme called This Week on BBC One. I was pleased to hear former Conservative minister Michael Portillo repeat and reinforce to BBC viewers what might have been the only sense to come from the debate:

The other thing that struck me about the debate was the unreality of it all. The first question was from a young person who said, “you’re passing this enormous burden of debt to the next generation”, and Nigel Farage, in his own way, addressed that question. The others just kind of ignored it and started promising how much more money they were going to spend.

And this idea that we’re living under austerity — it was Nigel Farage, actually, who made the point — that the national debt has doubled during this government. Each year the government spends on us £90 billion more than it raises from us and the rest is passed to the next generations to pay back.

And I think the reason Nigel Farage reacted in the way that he did to the audience, whether he was wise to do so or not, was that every time somebody talked about spending more money there were great cheers, and every time someone tried to talk about reality there was stony silence.

Yes, people seem very keen to vote themselves other people’s money.

The Executive Order

Libertarians on Reddit are calling out an executive order from Obama that appears to allow the federal government to seize property from anyone who donates money to anyone that the federal government does not like. The New York Times makes it sound far more reasonable and mundane.

How bad is it?

The NHS and the single thank-you

I was ill recently. In the end it was “just a virus” but I had symptoms enough one Saturday that I braved the local NHS walk-in centre. This is where you end up if you have the bad manners to get ill on a weekend.

It was functional, in its way. I was told there would be an hour-and-a-half wait and that is what it was. There are no doctors, only nurses, but they are skilled enough to determine whether you are likely to survive until Monday, or so I imagine. But the economics of this kind of place are such that every body through the door is nothing but a drain on resources, and no-one is making any effort to conceal this fact.

Truly it is a miserable place to be. I do not expect a medical waiting room to be jolly, but I saw not the merest hint of a smile from any staff, and the receptionist was very grumpy about my address being out of date on her computer. There is no welcome; no sympathy; no bedside manner.

If you want to find a deep root cause of problems with the NHS, I submit the inevitable hatred of the staff for the burdensome customers.

Here is another piece of evidence: when I said “thank-you” to the nurse, she replied, “you’re welcome.”

Samizdata wat of the day

From the end of a BBC news article:

More than 500 Britons are believed to have travelled to join IS.

BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner said the UK government’s position was “probably going to lead to accusations of double standards”.

He said if Britons went to Syria and were suspected of trying to join IS they would get their “collar felt at Heathrow” – but there “seems to be a silence about people going to fight on the other side”.

Wat.

Mumbai slums better than expected

In episode two of Our Guy In India, truck mechanic and Isle of Man TT racer Guy Martin visits the biggest slum in Mumbai, Dharavi. He is surprised to find how nice it is.

Most of what we see of Dharavi in the programme appears well looked-after: clean and tidy and with lots of decoration. There is also a lot of commerce. The people are well dressed; the children well fed. There are refrigerators and large televisions. The walls and floors are decorated with “right fancy tiling”. Some residents are more middle-class than might be expected: Guy meets a man who works as a backing dancer, choreographer and dance teacher.

The narrator explains that Dharavi generates £300 million in trade per year, though I am not sure how this is measured. He goes on to say that 85% of residents have a job; that anyone can set up a business; only 3% of Indians pay income tax; and many slum businesses are (unsurprisingly) unregistered.

We see one business that grinds spices, another making tread plates for stairs, another selling phone calls (though mobile phones are more common). Guy visits the Children’s Education Society’s Banyan Tree English School, which the sign says is a computer education center authorised to teach a course called MS-CIT. Also available here are free medical checks and treatment for children under 12.

It’s not all good. Some areas are so densely built-up that it is dark at street level in the daytime, though we see inside a house here and it is not unpleasant. And there is no running water or sanitation, though people are managing somehow. I also suspect the programme does not show the worst of it. What I do see is life getting better for poor people in India.

The programme is currently viewable online, at least in the UK, though I do not know for how much longer.

An angry voice for UKIP

Another Angry Voice seems to be a bog-standard lefty-green blog bashing out mostly boring and predictable articles about how all the political parties are too right wing and if only proper lefties could get in power we could have an even bigger state and poor people would stop being wage slaves and… yawn. What bores me most is the obsession with rich vs. poor, when the real battle is state vs. individual, so it all misses the point and does not seem worth engaging with.

But some of his UKIP-bashing is doing the rounds on Facebook. And it is making me want to vote for UKIP even more.

According to AAV, UKIP are Thatcherite ex-tories, which just makes them sound like the proper Tories that the current lot are not, which is, if not ideal, an improvement.

In another article in which AAV is confused about the meaning of “tax avoidance” and “tax evasion”, he points out that “Farage declared that ‘straightforward’ tax avoidance isn’t ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ and that most tax-dodgers are only good-hearted people trying to rip off the rest of the taxpaying public for the good of their children!” Translation: Farage understands that of course people should not voluntarily hand over more tax than they are required to pay. I like Farage even more.

We also learn that UKIP MEP members do not bother to turn up to the European Parliament (why encourage them?), that Farage did not bother to engage with the EU on fish policies (let’s just ignore them and leave the EU), that they voted against clamping down on ivory trade (it makes more sense to legalise it) and that they have not voted in favour of taxing foreigners for some imagined benefits to the UK.

Finally, we learn that the Green Party is the only other route out of the EU, but unlike UKIP, they will not give us any “neoliberal orthodoxy of privatisation, deregulation, tax cuts”.

That seals the deal, then.

Addendum: In unrelated news, my current favourite computer game has been labelled Thatcherite by an idiot. I should read these kinds of bloggers more to discover more good things that they hate.

Libertarian Solution podcast

I am only just starting to discover podcasts, and the first libertarian one I found that I liked was The Libertarian Solution. Three guys talk about news stories that interested them over the past week and possible libertarian solutions to whatever the problem is that the news story is about.

This week’s podcast [Pocket Cast] featured:

  • An article by a former narcotics police officer on how war on drugs spending is far greater than spending on crimes with actual victims. There was discussion of how this is might be driven by the incentive of police making money from asset forfeiture, and how private police would have a feedback mechanism that public police do not thanks to sovereign immunity: you could sue them for not meeting a service level agreement.
  • An advertisment for an animated movie called Silver Circle about the Federal Reserve.
  • A news story about how undercover police in one state routinely infiltrate protests, presumably to gather information. There was discussion of whether gathering names of protestors is a valid function of the police, and also why an outed undercover cop was holding his gun like that.
  • Discussion about a survey that revealed that two thirds of people would prefer it if the full report into CIA torture was not published, and whether this means people would prefer not to know about it and why.
  • The dangers of blindly signing contracts, illustrated with South Park clips, and the benefits to a business of making sure its customers do understand and are happy with a contract.

At least some of the three are members of the Libertarian Party, and while my views were not in lock-step with theirs, I found them reasonable and thoughtful enough to be interesting, with just a little banter and rhetoric to keep it from being too dry. Not a bad listen while doing the ironing.

Stephen Hawking on AI

Stephen Hawking mentioned the singularity to a BBC reporter.

The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. […] It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate. […] Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.

The article does not elaborate. It is quite possible Hawking does not see this as a bad thing, or includes in his analysis the possibility that humans might become machines.

I am slightly more concerned by the fact that I heard about this on BBC Radio 2, and by the way it is reported to its middle-aged, middle-class, probably slightly afraid-of-change listeners. It seems only a few short steps and a moral panic from here to some really stupid legislation. I would be happier if people researching how to make AI safe got a bit further along in their work before that happens.

Killing your own cows

In Nepal people are apparently killing half a million animals for religious reasons. Celebrities are protesting. Animal rights activists want me to email the Nepalese government to “to ensure this is the last time it ever happens”.

The trouble is, “ensure this is the last time it ever happens” is just a polite way of saying “jail people for killing their own cows”. In fact, thanks to an Indian interim law banning the transportation of animals to Nepal, 114 people have been arrested and 2,500 animals stolen by the Indian government.

I do not find this event aesthetically pleasing. I do approve of reducing the suffering of animals; but not at the cost of doing violence to humans.

I have also come across the suggestion that, since the sacrificed animals will not be eaten, stopping this event may do something to help with poverty or starvation. But interfering with people’s private property only ever makes poverty and starvation worse in the long term. Update: And in any case it seems like the meat and hides do get used.

Contracts with gagging clauses

A hotel has a policy of charging guests an extra £100 if they leave a bad review of the hotel on any website. Should the state permit individuals to enter into such a contract?

When a couple was so charged, they went and talked to the press. “What happened to freedom of speech?”, they asked.

John Greenbank, north trading standards area manager, said it was a “novel” way to prevent bad reviews.

He said: “I have worked for trading standards for many years and have never seen anything like this. The hotel management clearly thinks they have come up with a novel way to prevent bad reviews, however we believe this could be deemed an unfair trading practice.”

The beautiful thing is that the state turns out to be completely redundant in this case. Things did not work out so well for the hotel, and it now serves as a terrible warning for anyone else with similar ideas. Now its reputation is trashed on Trip Advisor because of freedom of speech. And because The Internet. Though I do wonder about libel…

Samizdata quote of the day

This bill was written in a tortured way to make sure CBO did not score the mandate as taxes. If CBO [Congressional Budget Office] scored the mandate as taxes, the bill dies. Okay, so it’s written to do that. In terms of risk rated subsidies, if you had a law which said that healthy people are going to pay in – you made explicit healthy people pay in and sick people get money, it would not have passed… Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage. And basically, call it the stupidity of the American voter or whatever, but basically that was really really critical for the thing to pass….Look, I wish Mark was right that we could make it all transparent, but I’d rather have this law than not.

– Professor Jonathan Gruber, “one of the key figures in constructing the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare”, via Reason, via David Thomson.