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]

Macroeconomics Today

The Bank of England just cut interest rates to 0.25%, announced it will buy 60bn government bonds and 10bn corporate bonds, and reduced its growth predictions (for what they are worth) from 2.3% to 0.8%. There is talk of reducing the rate of VAT. There is talk of reducing corporation tax, which incidentally worries Northern Ireland pundits because a plan to do the same thing there might lose some of its advantage.

I am not sure whether to be happy or sad. I will stick to happy for now, because I am an unrelenting optimist. Could Brexit panic the establishment into turning Britain into Chris Patten’s Hong Kong to save the economy?

Edit: I should have said John Copperthwaite, not Chris Patten.

Boring Jobs vs. Automation

The BBC have been soliciting stories about boring jobs. An example:

I put pepperoni on 14,000 pizzas per day at a factory in Nottingham. If the conveyor belt broke down, we made smiley faces on the pizzas with the pepperoni. So if you ever see a smiley pizza, that’s why.

It is mostly a list of things that can be automated away, because boring implies repetitive. In software development we try to never do the same thing more than a few times. Software is easy to automate compared to physical things like putting toppings on pizza, but any boring job looks to me like an opportunity for an inventor.

Food production seems to be the source of a lot of these jobs. Perhaps robotics lecturer Steve Davis can offer some insight:

More recently, the availability of highly effective pick-and-place robots allowed automation to move upstream and undertake operations with actual food products on production lines. However, these systems are currently only generally installed on the high-volume, long-life, single-product lines. Smaller companies, which constitute over 90 percent of European food manufacturers, have been much slower to incorporate automation. The reasons for this include limited low-cost labor and expertise, market volatility, a belief that automation is unsuitable for the assembly of soft, variable, fragile, slippery/sticky natural products and the predominance of short-term orders, which discouraged capital investments in automation.

The cost of the machinery might be reduced by making more general purpose machines that can be sold off the shelf in larger quantities. And the skill level required to configure the machines can probably be reduced, to a point, with clever user interface design.

Pick and place robots are fun to watch, too.

4,367 Miles to Wall Drug

Free Ice Water. It brought us Husteads a long way and it taught me my greatest lesson, and that’s that there’s absolutely no place on God’s earth that’s Godforsaken. No matter where you live, you can succeed, because wherever you are, you can reach out to other people with something that they need!

So said Ted Hustead, founder of the Wall Drug store. He bought the store in 1931 in the “godforsaken” town of Wall, North Dakota. He and his wife decided to give it five years to make something of. There were not enough customers. In the final year his wife noticed the increasingly heavy traffic on the nearby highway and hit upon the idea of putting up signs enticing travellers with ice water. They started putting signs further and further along the highway. Now there are signs everywhere.

I imagine this story is well known to Americans. I first heard of Wall Drug from chapter 30 of the serialised web novel Unsong, a review of which I promise when it is finished.

After the sky cracked, the Wall Drug coordinate system started to impose itself more and more upon the ordinary coordinate system of longitude and latitude. Worse, the two didn’t exactly correspond. You could be driving from New York to New Jersey, and find a billboard promising Wall Drug in only thirty miles. Drive another ten, and sure enough, WALL DRUG, TWENTY MILES. Drive ten more, and you’d be promised a South Dakotan shopping center, only ten miles away. Drive another ten, and…who knows? No one has returned from Wall Drug in a generation. It’s become not only an omphalos, but a black hole in the center of the United States, a one-way attraction and attractor fed by an interstate highway system which never gives up its prey.

It is by Scott Alexander of the fascinating blog Slate Star Codex.

Billions

What have I done wrong, really, except make money; succeed? All these rules and regulations: arbitrary. Chalked up by politicians for their own ends. And these fines you’re always going after: where do they go? The poor? No. The treasury; the government. It’s taxation by other means. […] I make the system run. I have contributed hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and philanthropy. I employ hundreds of people directly. Thousands indirectly. What do you do? Nothing besides suck from the municipality; feed off of it. And in exchange what? Keep order? You’re a traffic cop hiding in Federal robes.

So says hedge fund manager Bobby Axelrod to U.S attorney Chuck Rhodes in the finale of the TV series Billions. It is worth a look. The government officials end up looking more like the bad guys than the business people.

Rhodes’ response: “You’re sure to become president of the libertarian club of Danbury Federal prison, ’cause no matter what you say, that’s where you’re ending up.”

Paolo Barnard

Italian journalist Paolo Barnard thinks Brexit is just great for Britain and hopes it spreads.

I’d be interested to know how widespread this view is and how respected Mr Barnard is in Italy.

Word-thinkers

Scott Adams has described three categories of people: Rational people, word-thinkers and persuaders.

Word-Thinkers: Use labels, word definitions, and analogies to create the illusion of rational thinking. This group is 99% of the world.

Word-thinkers are people who fail to make the map-territory distinction that I wrote about years ago. Persuaders are people who are good at the rhetoric that I more recently wrote about disliking the necessity of. Scott Adams is talking about the same kinds of things, but he is a better communicator than me. I like that I can now accuse people of being word-thinkers and supply a link.

Unilateral free trade in mainstream media

I have been banging on for weeks to anyone who will listen that all this talk about the importance of getting good trade deals is nonsense. All that is needed is unilateral free trade.

Just now I stumbled upon an article in the Guardian, of all places, discussing just that. Even talking about “the unilateral free trade option”.

A group called Economists for Brexit seem to have got it in the paper. Jolly good work!

Samizdatistas in Israel

In late June Michael Jennings, Patrick Crozier and I travelled to Israel with some other friends to have a look around. We met up with regular Samizdata commenter Alisa who lives there, and spent an evening and night in Tel Aviv.

Israeli equivalent of a keg on the beach in Tel Aviv

Israeli equivalent of a keg on the beach in Tel Aviv

On Friday we drove to Jerusalem and checked into our Airbnb appartments before meeting up with another friend who had promised to take us on a tour. I drove and our guide joined us in our seven seater MPV. Our first stop was the Haas Promenade where we could see the whole city. Our guide explained the different areas and we could see the barrier wall.

View from Haas Promenade

View from Haas Promenade

So after some lunch, we went to Rachel’s Tomb. We drove along the wall before turning through an open gate guarded only with an empty armoured personnel carrier. The road winds around with the wall on both sides and leads to a small car park, itself entirely enclosed by the concrete wall. I do not remember seeing any soldiers. All was quiet apart from a call to prayer emanating from the other side.

→ Continue reading: Samizdatistas in Israel

You are not allowed to play our game, nyah, nyah, nyah

The Guardian is covering German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s interview comments that he will not let Britain play with him or his EU friends if it does not do what he wants.

Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has slammed the door on Britain retaining access to the single market if it votes to the leave the European Union.

In an interview in a Brexit-themed issue of German weekly Der Spiegel, the influential veteran politician ruled out the possibility of the UK following a Swiss or Norwegian model where it could enjoy the benefits of the single market without being an EU member.

“That won’t work,” Schäuble told Der Spiegel. “It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw.

“If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

I am left wondering what he means and why we should care. On what he means, the article does not help.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that “trade deals” are somehow important. I am of the view that unilateral free trade is perfectly fine. If the German government wants to tax and bully Germans who want to buy things from people in Britain, that is very much the German people’s problem. It might mean that Germans buy fewer things from the UK, but does that really matter? Mainstream thinking seems to be that it will cost Jobs, but jobs are a cost. There is no shortage of work to do, so if British people spend less time and effort making things for Germans they will just have more time and effort left to make things for other British people, or people in other countries. Of course there will be some short term pain and turmoil as a result of changes, but that is true of all changes, so I think it is only necessary to consider the long term. And in the long term, as long as the British government allows us to buy things from Europe if we want to, everything will be fine.

George Osborne tweeted, “UK would have to accept free movement and pay in to EU to continue to access trade”, as if the EU would impose an embargo on us like the USA does Cuba.

Peter Mandelson said, “We cannot leave the club and continue to use its facilities.” What facilities specifically does he mean? There is an awful lot of vague language about. As far as I can tell we will still be able to visit France and bring back wine, even outside of the EU.

Matthew Elliot, formerly of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Big Brother Watch and now the Vote Leave Campaign Committee, said, “The eurozone economies are dependent on trade with the UK. We are the fifth largest economy in the world, while many of them are in a desperate state due to the failing single currency. There is no question about it, Britain will still have access to the single market after we vote leave. It would be perverse of the eurozone to try to create artificial barriers – and would do far more damage to them than to anyone else.” This sounds about right. But then he went on to talk about the ability to “forge trade deals” with emerging markets outside of the EU, which I still see as unnecessary.

People trade with people. Governments just decide whether to get in the way or not. At least for now, UK government people on both sides of the EU debate are talking about the importance of not getting in the way. So that is one good thing.

Brexit and the Pound

The value of the Pound is reacting to every last little bit of news about the EU referendum. The mainstream media would like us to worry that its value could drop if we vote to leave. Everyone is talking about it. Even City AM, though the two comments point out that it depends what time spans you look at. In any case, past Guardian articles bemoan a high value Pound, so Guardian readers must now vote to leave.

The value of the Pound also reacts to traders with fat fingers. I conclude that there is nothing to see here.

Anyway it is quite obvious what will happen to the economy in the event of Brexit: some short term turmoil while things reconfigure themselves to the new arrangements, followed by a bit more growth than there would have been otherwise thanks to slightly less friction from interfering politicians.

The EU vs. free speech on the Internet

This tweet was the first I’d heard of it.

You can not carry that

Today I learned that Stansted Airport security will make you put your child’s comforter through the Xray machine. And before you get it back, if the beeper goes off, ask him to stand still on his own to have a wand waved at him.

My two year old boy sat down and screamed at the man. I was very proud.