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]

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but I saw not the merest hint of a smile from any staff, and the receptionist was very grumpy about my address being out of date on her computer.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.

Bitcoin: The Future of Money?

Dominic Frisby’s book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? is now available.

The first chapter describes what Bitcoin is and how it works. The achievement of this chapter is that Dominic has described Bitcoin in plain English without missing any important details and without simplifying to the point of error. Too often when I read writing intended for the general audience about something I know about, I notice how wrong it is and how ill informed the general audience must be about all things. Not here.

Technical description out of the way, the rest of the book deals with the culture of Bitcoin’s early adopters, the various scandals we may have heard about and what they mean, what Bitcoin means for the state and for you, and what the future might hold for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general.

The longest chapter is about the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, who wrote the original paper and developed the first versions of the software, and who has successfully remained anonymous. It is not particularly relevant to understanding Bitcoin, but it is very intriguing, and I think there is a good chance Dominic has reached the right conclusion about Satoshi’s identity.

There is discussion of the problems of inflationary fiat currency: the author has read his Detlev Schlichter. There is discussion of how the decentralised nature of Bitcoin sidelines governments and opens up new markets with people who are otherwise difficult to trade with. And there is discussion of the problems, too: the volatility, the technical challenges, and the dangers of being defrauded in a new marketplace where we are still learning what are the best business practices and how to decide who to trust. Finally, there is some advice about where to buy Bitcoins. It is not out of date yet!

The book is concise, complete, correct, entertaining, and a very good introduction to what Bitcoin is all about.

Brad Pitt on Guns

They are all coming out of the woodwork. First we have Bono talking sense about economics, now Brad Pitt talks sense about owning guns.

The Radio Times reports that Pitt doesn’t feel that he and his family are safe unless there is a gun in the house.

“The positive is that my father instilled in me a profound and deep respect for the weapon,” he said.

An entertaining Guardian commenter

This exchange, on a sad and silly story about Lego ending its partnership with Shell in response to a Greenpeace campaign, made me smile. Someone complained about Greenpeace. Someone else replied: “Oh you mean like protecting our children’s future then eh? Bastards!” RoomSixteen pointed out:

“Greenpeace is one of the greatest threats to your children’s future. If not for Greenpeace, we’d have rolled out nuclear long ago, not to mention GMO like Golden Rice.

Greenpeace is against fusion, for heaven sake! How evil can you be?

“Greenpeace a bigger threat to my kids future than the corporate machine eh?”, came the reply.

Yes. The ‘corporate machine’ has afforded you a lifestyle that allows even your useless progeny a chance at a dignified life and not, as is Greenpeace’s most fervent ambition for them, a life of hard, manual labour 24/7 as subsistence farmers.

Later, and I am editing a bit:

Their campaign against Golden Rice has cost more lives than the invasion of Iraq.

[…]

Vitamin A deficiency kills half a million children each year. Times ten, that’s five million third world children, for starters – say a fifth of those would have survived if Golden Rice had been marketed in their countries, that’s a million children. Plus a million those who’ve gone blind.

But that’s only half of it. GMO R&D is proceeding at a snail’s pace, because investors know the great, noisy unwashed will camp outside their windows if they do. That’s one of the main reasons we don’t have drought/salt/flood resistant crops in the fields yet. And strawberries the size of baseballs, of course, but that’s a first world problem.

Much the same could be said about nuclear (although the causation is not quite as straightforward) because thanks to Greenpeace, we’re only doing now what should have been done 20 years ago, namely designing better and cheaper reactors to replace coal plants and provide cheap and plentiful energy. And energy is the lifeblood of welfare: the more you have, the better your life.

This guy is a real trooper; he is probably saving a good few naive young Guardian comments readers from believing in the toxic worldview there.. And it is good strategy, too. I have long noticed that the appeal of the left comes from their portrayal as the Nice Ones. Pointing out that they are Killing Poor Children is exactly what is needed to fight them.

He is also educating people about economics: “And yes, Monsanto makes money on bt corn, but so does the farmer, otherwise it wouldn’t sell.”