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]

Death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia

The governor of Texas says:

Justice Antonin Scalia was a man of God, a patriot, and an unwavering defender of the written Constitution and the Rule of Law.

Vox News says:

Replacing Scalia with a liberal justice would tilt the balance of power on the Supreme Court in a significant way, giving liberals a majority for the first time in decades.

Reasons to watch Top Gear

The Guardian is not where I would expect to find a rave review of Top Gear.

Top Gear fetishises the totally unnecessary consumption of fossil fuels in the name of sport, entertainment and feeling better about your premature ejaculation disorder; it normalises dangerously fast driving; it contributes to the hunger for more and more cars that we neither need nor can sustain; it treats the sheer act of moving a machine as if it’s a display of heroic bravery and skill; and it paid Jeremy Clarkson’s salary for over 25 years.

Sounds great! Of course, with Clarkson and co. off to Amazon Prime, everyone is a bit worried whether the new line-up will be any good.

…the problem with Top Gear isn’t simply the lack of diversity of its presenting line-up, or its wrinkle-kneed wardrobe. It’s not its heritage brand of lazy bigotry and short-term greed, its predilection for petrol-powered laziness dressed up as machismo, its weaker-than-Liptons long-running in-jokes, its “I Am the Stig” USB memory sticks or its endless, jaw-slackening rota of reruns. It’s all of it. It’s the cars, motor industry and mentality on which it’s built. It’s the whole petrol-guzzling, self-interested, short-term, pleasure-seeking, morally indifferent, climate-changing, nature-breaking package. And it’ll take more than a new line-up to change that.

Well that’s a relief, then.

Oilfield Expat

I have been meaning to link to the excellent blog Oilfield Expat ever since I found it mentioned in a comment here a few weeks ago. There is so much goodness. You can start with its author’s comment on low oil prices below.

I particularly enjoyed this piece of prose, which I find a useful retort to doom-mongers. It is important because people need to realise that we have it good in order to understand why we have it good, lest they throw it all away, the risks of which the article it is taken from is partly about.

I have long subscribed to the view that, in the developed Western nations, we solved the major issues facing mankind several decades ago: infant mortality, hunger, disease, poverty (the genuine kind, not the SJW “relative poverty”), and deadly violence. Nobody of my generation died of malnutrition, treatable disease, or sectarian violence outside of a (statistically) few extreme cases. By historical standards, those who were born in the West after about 1960-70 were the wealthiest, safest, and most fortunate people ever to have lived. Several factors contributed to this situation. The guns falling silent after WWII followed by a Cold War which thankfully never got hot was probably the most important. The Western nations becoming wealthy was probably the second most important.


three successive generations of Westerners who have found themselves fully fed, clothed, housed, healthy, educated, and blessed with luxuries unseen by anyone else in history (one word to those who doubt this: dentistry). Spoiled rotten, in other words.


Having never seen wholesale malnutrition, destitution, and death, the populations of Western nations believe their standard of living is inevitable, as irrevocable as being born. Fewer and fewer grasp the mechanism by which their standard of living is a result of a section of the population spending their time, efforts, and capital to produce something of value, something that people want to buy with their own money.


They lead lives of such wealth and luxury that pontificating over a potential rise in global average temperatures is considered a more worthy and valuable activity than generating the electricity that powers their entire way of life, and without which most would almost certainly die within weeks.

The blog is robust and straightforward. On concerns about population: “it isn’t condoms that the poor need to start having smaller families, it is 1) increased wealth and 2) reliable, cheap electricity”.

On “those jumped-up tossers in places like Aberdeen”: “A cruise past the offices of the oil and gas companies, the engineering companies, and service providers would show the car parks full of Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, Jags, and Bentleys, enabled by soaring wages and full employment of those who work in the oil industry. And now they need a bailout? Fuck them.”

On architects: “Fordham is your run-of-the-mill statist, authoritarian rent-seeker who has amassed a veritable fortune of taxpayers’ cash by preaching to governments from the environmental pulpit (naturally, his grubby mitts can be found all over the London Olympic 2012 facilities). The world would have been better off if he’d stayed in his spare bedroom the past 50 years.”

On the Hubbert curve: “In other words, the curve is subject to change at any point due to unlimited external factors and therefore utterly useless save for an object over which academics can while away the hours pontificating.”

There is technical insight into how to invest in oil in the face of low prices. There is discussion of how well-run Netflix seems to be. There is good, old fashioned Fisking.

I am not even having to drill deep for this quality. It is lying about on the surface in plain sight.

Ted Cruz wins in Iowa

Ted Cruz has won in Iowa. How happy should I be? How significant is it? Will he really abolish the IRS and “do away with the departments of energy, commerce, education, and housing and urban development.” For all those things I could forgive him an awful lot of anything else I might disagree with him about, and many other issues become non-issues anyway, given a strong enough economy.

Does climate cause migration?

Watts Up With That commenter Janice Moore has it right:

AS IF human CO2 is why Africans flee Africa. As if.

This is in response to a response to an article about an article about the suggestion that climate change will cause people to migrate out of Africa. The former response blamed it on over-population instead. I am a bit disappointed that someone could reject Al Gore but still believe Paul Erlich, but it takes all sorts, I suppose.

Another Janice Moore comment is worth quoting at length (and copying and pasting everywhere):


“If you want enough food,”

then end:

1. the socialist governments’ forcing farmers off their land;

2. the corruption and foolish socialist regulations of the “dictatorship of the elite” (a.k.a. “socialism” – Friedrich Hayek) which prevent the free market from making farm equipment, electricity, and water readily available; and

3. wacko-science anti-GMO food rules which prevent Africans from selling their produce abroad, thus, making African farming unprofitable.

The problem isn’t procreation.

The problem is SOCIALISM and JUNK SCIENCE.

Elsewhere in the discussion, I saw the suggestion that the Sahara might become greener in response to warmer temperatures, which is interesting if true.

Open borders; open carry


The top 62 richest people

Oxfam are at it again: The 62 richest people own more than the bottom half of all people. The last time this was measured it was 80, and before that 388. All this means the world is getting worse. Something Must Be Done. And so on.

Some thoughts in response, and I am glad to see that many Guardian commenters have had similar thoughts:

This is a really bad way to measure things. To be in the top 1% you just have to own a normal house in London. What do the top 62 have that the others do not? A bigger house in London and a functionally equivalent but shinier car. They are certainly not eating all the food and making everyone else hungry.

There is not a fixed quantity of wealth. The rich people being rich takes nothing away from the poor people. They control resources, in the sense that they get to have a bigger influence over what gets made, but for the most part they got rich by making useful things, so they are probably the right people to be making such decisions. Their idiot children who inherit the money will soon fritter it away on fancy cars and restaurant food, so it will get redistributed to factory workers and waiters in the end anyway.

By any real measure, such as infant mortality, nutrition, life-expectancy, number of people subsistence farming, access to clean water: things are getting better. There is a web site showing all this but I can not find it.

And what would Oxfam do about it, anyway? Force the rich people to give it to governments, probably. See my previous comment about who has proven themselves able to make useful things.

Is rhetoric necessary to win at politics?

I have been spending a bit of time in Foyles, recently. It is my favourite bookshop in London for the vastness of its selection, though if any readers know better I am all ears. It does contain, however, the bookshelf from Room 101:


Can you imagine what kind of dinner party guests these authors would make? Just look at the blurb on the back of the Fischer book:

In recent years a set of radical new approaches to public policy, drawing on discursive analysis and participatory deliberative practices, have come to challenge the dominant technocratic, empiricist models in policy analysis. In his major new book Frank Fischer brings together these various new approaches for the first time and critically examines them. The book will be required reading for anyone studying, researching, or formulating public policy.

Required, good and hard, as punishment for being involved in such a dismal endeavor, perhaps. Opaque writing like this always makes me wonder if there is real content to be dug up. I had a quick look inside. Irritatingly, from the point of view of trying to poke fun, I found (on page 170) what might be some insight.

It is common in politics to portray our opponents as engaging only in ‘rhetoric’: that is, concealing the real story, they offer us a version of events constructed to promote their own interests and concerns. Missing from this view, however, is the recognition that all politics operates this way. Symbolic representation, in short, is basic to political argumentation. […] An important feature of symbols is their potential ambiguity. Symbols often typically mean two (or more) things at the same time: ‘equal opportunity in education can either giving everybody tuition vouchers for the same dollar amount’, or it can mean ‘providing extra resources for those with special needs’


For the empiricist conception of science, of course, this is problematic. The interpretation of events, social as well as physical, has to remain clear and constant for the work of the empiricist.

I have written before about the problem of language being used deliberately to muddy thinking. It seems likely that, since libertarianism is correct, looking at the world empirically leads inevitably to it. Therefore libertarians are likely to be empiricists. And bad at rhetoric, and therefore bad at winning at politics. (And often more interested in more empirical pursuits, like building rockets.)

Can we possibly beat them at their own game? I used to think that just sticking to the facts of the matter in debate would be good enough. That on-the-fence observers would detect who was making the most sense and pick the right side. I am starting to think that rhetoric has its place: if you really want to convince people, and, empirically, people are convinced by rhetoric, perhaps it is unavoidable.

Vox Day, in what amounts to a manual for beating Them at Their own game, wrote a whole chapter on it. He quoted Aristotle: “Before some audiences not even the possession of the exactest knowledge will make it easy for what we say to produce conviction. For argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are some people whom one cannot instruct.” Mr Day goes on to explain:

I strongly prefer communicating in dialectic myself, but that is a language reserved for those who are intellectually honest and capable of changing their minds on the basis of information. So I speak dialectic to those capable of communicating on that level, and I speak rhetoric to those who are not.

Before I even opened the Fischer book I found myself writing, in a Facebook discussion about heavily drinking relatives who had nonetheless lived to a grand old age, in response to others who complained that this was mere anecdote: “Anecdote is not evidence but it *is* rhetoric, and you need to develop good rhetoric to win at politics.” I am beginning to see how I might start to use rhetoric without feeling dirty, as a means to a well-intended end. I am not sure whether I would be any good at it, though. Worse, I sense that it is the road to hell.

Supply, demand, regulators, middlemen

If there is one thing the BBC and Samizdata have in common, it is our coverage of all the important issues.

Simon Watson, 41, has been an unlicensed sperm donor for 16 years, donating once a week. “Usually one [baby] a week pops out. I reckon I’ve got about 800 so far, so within four years I’d like to crack 1,000.”

This is a whole new world of discovery for me.

The number of women using donated sperm to get pregnant is rising, but many find the cost of treatment at private clinics prohibitive. This has led some women to use unlicensed donors. […] Very few women are eligible for artificial insemination on the NHS as the criteria are very strict. Private licensed clinics cost between £500 and £1,000 for each cycle of treatment. Mr Watson charges £50 for his services […] “If you go to a fertility clinic people have to go through lots of hurdles – counselling sessions, huge amounts of tests and then charge absolute fortunes for the service – but realistically if you’ve got a private donor you can just go and see them, meet them somewhere, get what you want and just go,” he explains.

Regulatory hurdles push up prices for the end user, so the demand for cheap and cheerful is met elsewhere. But what about the supply side? Another BBC article, bemoaning the lack of donors, completes the picture.

Just nine men are registered as donors a year after the opening of Britain’s national sperm bank in Birmingham. […] Donors are paid £35 per clinic visit, but Ms Witjens said financial reward was not a good way to boost recruitment. “We might get more donors if we paid £50 or £100 per donation, but money corrupts. “If you feel you can make £200 a week for four months, you might hide things about your health.”

I would have thought women might want to be a bit pickier than have sperm from the kind of loser who gets out of bed for thirty-five quid.

So we have private services supplying a high cost, high quality product, but crowded and regulated out of providing better value or budget services. A state provider that manages to have nothing but shortages of supply and (I would guess) poor quality products. And a grey market filling in the gaps. This is not a new world at all: there is nothing new here. To make things better I would abolish the state providers and deregulate, creating an environment for reputable intermediaries to supply maximum value for money across the whole range of price points. If anything does change it will probably involve more rules and the criminalisation of the grey market, increasing costs and risks.

Libertarian Home on the doctors’ strike

Zach Cope at Libertarian Home has a post that puts today’s UK NHS junior doctors’ strike into perspective.

…junior doctors have little choice of employer as there is an NHS monopoly on training; the market has shown the pay and conditions are too low, with dangerously understaffed rotas, rising emigration and increasing locum rates. The government’s proposals would reduce staff pay for an equivalent rota over time, thus hoping to delay the inevitable financial collapse of the NHS on their watch…the problem of regulation and central contracting leads necessarily to collective bargaining and industrial action.

Centralised provision of anything always leads to shortages. Mr Cope has various ideas for decentralising things in his post, too.

Personally, I envisage healthcare that is cheap and good because it is private. So cheap and good that nobody has to think twice about poor people who can not afford treatment. Much as our friend the Guardian commenter narnaglan described:

Did you know that the only medical proceedure where quality is going up and price is going down is elective Lasic eye surgery? Thats the proceedure where your cornea is made thinner to adjust the focus of your eyesight. It is not available out of stolen money, so the people who provide this service, and there are many of them, all compete with each other to give the best service at the lowest price. They compete to offer you the latest, safests techniques, using the most sophisiticated equipment.

Think about it. There are three Lasic clinics, two offering the same service at the same price and the third offering it at a lower price. Only one of the three has the latest equipment. You pick him out of the three, because he will give you the best outcome. The other two must adjust their offer to attract the clients. People with a little less money might pick the third, cheaper clinic, and the middle one might be chosen because it is closest.

What this shows is that in a dynamic market, everyone is served, and all clinics and service offerers are incentivised to do their best at the lowest price. This is completely different to the NHS, where it does not matter how dirty the hospital is, or what the outcome is; since there is no choice, no one needs to care about the price of anything or the quality of service being offered.

Of course, it will be cheap but doctors will still be well paid because they will be so effective.

A little less lobbying, a little more curing, please

Join thousands of Dryathletes dropping the drink this January and raising money to help beat cancer sooner”, says Cancer Research UK. What bilge. Abstaining from alcohol for a month does nothing and is nothing. Absent real problems, anyone can just drink exactly what they want whenever they want. That anyone takes seriously the pretence that deciding not to drink for a while is an act of effort comparable to training for an athletics event only indicates how low standards of achievement have sunk. People should be expected to grow a spine and take responsibility for their decisions as a matter of course, not pandered, patronised and praised for minor acts of agency like a toddler managing to eat his vegetables before his ice cream.

The supposed benefits of a month of abstention, apart from a “sense of achievement with your newfound hero status” — good grief — include losing weight, saving money and sleeping better. But one month out of twelve will not get you anywhere. If you are spending half of your life doing X and the other half worrying that you are doing too much of X, you are doing it all wrong. Either do less of X, or decide that the benefits of X are worth the costs. Do. Or do not. There is no try.

But maybe it will help to “beat cancer sooner”, and I should stop being a big meany. Well, it would be nice if Cancer Research UK would stop taking money away from its worthwhile research to squander on activism and lobbying.

The Dryathlon is, of course, just another bit of neo-puritan nagging. It probably makes a certain amount of sense for a cancer research charity to give out information that helps people balance fun versus risk. If I was told that my lifetime chance of getting cancer was 48% with total abstinence and 50% if I get completely drunk 3 times a week, and left it at that, I would say, “thank-you very much. Mine’s a pint of Pride.” But they will not do that. They’ll just tell me that alcohol causes 4% of cancer cases and really I should just stop thinking and drink less, and are happy to have taken a little bit of the joy out of the beer. Ok, it does not work on me but the BBC can find and interview people in a pub who have been made to feel bad about doing something they enjoy.

It does not stop there. Cancer research UK wants to prohibit product placement of alcohol. And in the latest panmedia offensive, we are told that there will be 700,000 cases of obese people getting cancer over the next 20 years, with no clue as to how significant this is. Then they are they are calling for a ban on advertising sugar before 9pm, a tax on sugary drinks, a general reorganisation of society to suit the NHS and, chillingly, the government to “take children’s health more seriously”. Supposedly children are bombarded with advertisments for sugary food and drink. I am a parent and I am not seeing it. I even have trouble buying sugary drinks without artificial sweeteners without resorting to Google and specialist suppliers.

I do not want to donate money to an organisation that is happy to goad the local mafia into “taking care” of me. Just cure cancer already so I can eat and drink what I want with impunity.

You can take my plastic bag from my cold, dead hands

Today I visited the Click & Collect counter at Debenhams, a department store. This is an arrangement whereby one orders goods using a web site then visits the premises to collect them. “Sorry about the wait,” said the clerk when I reached the front of the queue. Later she asked if I wanted a bag in which to carry my purchase. “You have to pay 5p.” I did not have any change, and withdrew from my wallet a pristine £20 note. The Click & Collect counter must not be set up for cash payments, as the clerk looked slightly panicked but decided her job was to make me wait some more: “Could you join the queue over there to pay?”

At the front of that queue I declared, “I am to pay for this bag.” The look of confusion that was the reply made me wonder if, perhaps, the intention all along had been for me to shrug and walk away without paying. “You want to pay for that bag?” Yes, I did. The cashier slid the £20 back towards me and muttered something that I took to mean, “get out of here.” I thanked her and left.

The UK’s 5p “bag charge” is not a Pigou tax to cover the externality of disposing of the bag. Neither is it to raise money for charity. It is explicitly designed to change people’s behaviour. “We expect to see a significant reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags as a direct result of the charge”, says the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, while looking sternly over the top of its spectacles, one imagines.

More than that, people who insist on continuing to use plastic bags are to be made to feel awkward and deviant. Like smokers, we are to be de-normalised.

The mechanics of buying groceries are tedious. I would prefer the transaction to go gracefully with the minimum of conscious thought. I do not want to be made to consider such philosophical questions as, “do you want a bag for life? We have to charge 5p for the other ones. You don’t? Oh well, I will try to use the minimum number of bags to save you money. What’s that? You don’t care? You want me to use the number of bags appropriate for secure and efficient carrying of the volume, mass and tessellation properties of the items you have purchased? What a strange customer you are.” I feel that social disapprobation every time.

A while ago, at a supermarket, I paid by credit card for my items before realising the cashier had not bagged them. “Can I have a bag?” Then I fumbled around for change until the customer behind me in the queue insisted on paying for me. I left haunted by the idea that he thought I had arranged this situation on purpose. When it happened again at a newsagent the other day, I insisted on paying even though the cashier offered to waive the fee. Partly to assure everyone in the vicinity that I was not a skinflint and partly because, like a feeble imitation of an Ayn Rand hero, I want to force Them to confront what They have wrought. Next time, to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, and to make more miserable the lives of future shoppers, I might point out that they should be careful about waiving the charge as there are DEFRA agents in our midst, carrying out secret shopping operations. Yes, I will fight back!

I will continue to use single-use plastic bags for as long as I am able. Not just because I am too disorganised to plan my shopping jaunts in advance and ensure that I set out with the correct number of re-usable bags, but also as a service to you, dear readers, that you may from the safety of your laptops observe the abuse and ostracisation of a misfit; that you may know the nature of the state.