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]

Samizdata quote of the day

At some point we Californians should ask ourselves, how we inherited a state with near perfect weather, the world’s richest agriculture, plentiful timber, minerals, and oil, two great ports at Los Angeles and Oakland, a natural tourist industry from Carmel to Yosemite, industries such as Silicon Valley, Hollywood, and aerospace—and serially managed to turn all of that into the nation’s largest penal system, periodic near bankruptcy, and sky-high taxes.

- Victor Hanson Davis, as pointed out by Instapundit.

This point though could be made about any community. There is no country on earth that is not voluntarily in poverty. If you choose to have an anti-wealth creating atmosphere, then you will be poor. If you choose a wealth-creating meta-context in your society, then you will have wealth.

The rise of the wealthy East Asian nations, with almost none of the natural resources that bless the State of California, demonstrate that there really is no excuse.

A new way of looking at ‘Peak Oil’

I was quite interested to read this article in The Times which suggested that the peak output of crude oil production would quite possibly be driven by the limits of consumer demand for the stuff, rather then the constraints of supply of oil. This idea, put forward by BP’s chief economist, Paul Davies, was that consumer demand would weaken, due to economic factors and also political factors as Western societies increasingly demand ‘cleaner’ energy solutions for their cars.

With car makers introducing alternative energy vehicles and these likely to be widespread by the end of the decade, it is quite understandable where Paul Davies is coming from. And given that the decline in existing oilfield production is less then had been thought, it is possible that supplies could continue to increase to meet the rising demand from the newly booming economies of India and China.

With alternative energy cars still very much at the prototype stage, it is unlikely that the current demand-driven spike in oil prices will slacken in the short to medium term. But I was curious to read the opinion of Times correspondent Carl Mortished. He suggested that to reach a peak in production would require global regulation, taxation, and other notions beloved of journalists. It seems to me that the reason why oil production is continuing to climb is the very global nature of the commodity; there is no government able to regulate it, and even the producer’s cartel OPEC is not very successful. It is, rather, the demands of the free market that drive the oil industry, just as it is the demands of the free market that drive auto makers to devise alternatives to gasoline powered cars.

A cheerful prognosis from a dismal scientist

Writing in Forbes, Alexander Tabarrok has written a cheerful essay on the long term outlook for world economic growth.

New ideas mean more growth, and even small changes in economic growth rates produce large economic and social benefits. At current income levels, with an inflation-adjusted growth rate of 3% per year, America’s real per capita gross domestic product would exceed $1 million per year in just over 100 years, more than 22 times higher than it is today. Growth like that could solve many problems.

It is good to see a whole-hearted, open and positive outlook for humanity. Much of the media’s reportage accentuates the negative, as bad news always sells. Even here at Samizdata.net, we spend much of our time chronicling the follies and evils of governments and handing out (well deserved) brickbats. But there is also plenty of reason to be cheerful too.

I would just add one caveat to Professor Tabarrok’s optimism. Long term economic growth requires a stable framework of liberty, peace and a consistently applied rule of law. The trend of events by governments in the last decade have not been positive on these metrics, and governments who think that they can erode the rights and liberties of their citizens without it having an economic impact in the long term are kidding themselves.

The curious saga of the Tom Cruise book

There is a new book about Tom Cruise, the American movie actor. Normally this information would not elicit even a groan from me. I simply have no interest in Cruise, movies, Hollywood and the pampered, pathetic world of the modern celebrity. But this new book, on the other hand, seems to be much more interesting then its subject matter.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Australian bookstores have been denied access to sell the book, not because of any government ban, but because the US distributor has decided that it will not sell the book outside the US or Canada. The distributor, Ingram International, will fulfill existing orders, but will not accept any more orders.

This is a very curious story. What is not said but is left implied is that the most controversial aspect of the Tom Cruise story is his adherence to the Church of Scientology. It seems that the Church came to some sort of legal arrangement with the distributor.

US-based Ingram International, described on its website as “the world’s largest wholesale distributor of book product”, sent an email to its Australian customers this morning citing unspecified legal reasons for not being able to distribute the book outside the US and Canada.

“Although I recently e-mailed stating Ingram’s ability to offer the book to international customers, the position has now changed that we will not sell it outside of the US and Canada,” Asia, Australia and New Zealand sales representative Jonathan Tuseth wrote in the email.

If so, it seems to be hardly worthwhile- anyone who wants to read the book, anywhere in the world, can do so by ordering through Amazon.com.

However it is another sad retreat from the old position of ‘publish and be damned’. The publishers of Salmond Rushdie’s book showed some courage in the face of Muslim rage in 1989, but now publishers seem to be willing to retreat at the first hint of a lawsuit.

This is just the sort of case that an aspiring young political figure with a passion for freedom should take up as a rallying cry for liberty, freedom and rationality. Do not hold your breath.

Very bad news for Cuba

Fidel Castro is on the mend and is ready to resume a political role, according to Brazillian President Luis Inacio Lula de Silva.

Although his future has been a matter of speculation, Dr Castro on December 17 gave his strongest hint he would not return to power, in a letter read on television. “My basic duty is not to cling to office, nor even more so to obstruct the rise of people much younger, but to pass on experiences and ideas whose modest value arises from the exceptional era in which I lived,” he said in a signed letter.

Very modest value indeed.

David Brooks on Mitt Romney

Former governor Mitt Romney won the Michigan Primary, and it seems he did it the old fashioned political way, not by showing any leadership or vision, but rather by showering other people’s money at the voters. This earned him the scorn of David Brooks in, of all places, the New York Times. The money quote was pure snark.

His campaign was a reminder of how far corporate Republicans are from free market Republicans. He proposed $20 billion in new federal spending on research. He insisted that Washington had to get fully engaged in restoring the United States automotive industry. “Detroit can only thrive if Washington is an engaged partner,” he said, “not a disinterested observer.” He vowed, “If I’m president of this country, I will roll up my sleeves in the first 100 days I’m in office, and I will personally bring together industry, labor, Congressional and state leaders and together we will develop a plan to rebuild America’s automotive leadership.”

This is how the British Tory party used to speak in the 1970s.

Who should be more ashamed of themselves- Mitt Romney for pandering or Michigan primary voters for swallowing this claptrap?

Something I thought I would never see

A headline in the Australian newspaper struck my eye just now: ‘Teachers warm to merit pay‘. A deeper reading of the story reveals a few caveats, but the fact that Australian education unions are willing to concede anything at all to the principle still struck me as the most surprising thing to me. I thought we’d see peace in the Middle East, cold fusion and spending cuts long before seeing education unions in Australia concede the principle of merit pay.

Oscar Pistorius marks a minor tipping point in sports history

Oscar Pistorius is a South African who has had the lower half of both his legs amputated, and participates in atheletic events with the use of artificial limbs. He has been banned from this year’s Olympic Games because the International Association of Atheletic Federations has rules that his artificial legs give him a ‘significant advantage’ over his able-bodied rivals. He uses carbon fibre blades to race.

A study, carried out by Professor Peter Bruggeman at the German Sport University in Cologne, compared Pistorius with five able-bodied athletes of similar ability.

“Pistorius was able to run with his prosthetic blades at the same speed as the able-bodied sprinters with about 25 percent less energy expenditure,” the report concluded.

This is a small but significant point where an athelete using artificial limbs now has an advantage over normal-bodied atheletes. I doubt that his artificial limbs give him an advantage in day to day life, but in this narrow field, Pistorius does seem to get an edge. I think this is going to be the start of a wider trend.

Get your dog tags here

Ministers are planning to implant “machine-readable” microchips under the skin of thousands of offenders as part of an expansion of the electronic tagging scheme that would create more space in British jails.

Amid concerns about the security of existing tagging systems and prison overcrowding, the Ministry of Justice is investigating the use of satellite and radio-wave technology to monitor criminals.

But, instead of being contained in bracelets worn around the ankle, the tiny chips would be surgically inserted under the skin of offenders in the community, to help enforce home curfews. The radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, as long as two grains of rice, are able to carry scanable personal information about individuals, including their identities, address and offending record.

This is beyond belief, or, at least, it would be if we had not been covering the various madcap schemes coming out of Whitehall the past few years. What we have here is a government that believes that the rights and liberties of its people ought to be ordered to suit the priorities of British police forces.

Now if you take this to be a good idea, you are going to be hard pressed to deny the logical conclusion, that if we were all implanted with RFID tags, it would be much easier to solve and prevent crimes in the first place. This is very probably true, but it also degrades the individual to the point where humans become mere vassals of the almighty British State.

Given the trend of affairs in the UK, that is probably the way things are going to go- give it a decade or two. Early adapters should get themselves arrested and tagged early, to beat the rush.

How hard can it be?

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has been in Tehran talking to the regime there about it’s nuclear program. He asked a few questions about Iran’s intentions. The response? We’ll get back to you- see you next month.

“We will try to solve all the outstanding questions by mid-February before Mohamed ElBaradei presents his report in March to the Board of Governors,” the head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation Gholam Reza Aghazadeh told the ISNA news agency.

“We are hoping that all the past and present questions about our dossier will be solved and that we will return to a normal situation,” Mr Aghazadeh said.

If Iran’s intentions are within the parameters set by the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, why will it take Iran a month to answer the IAEA’s questions?

Echoes of the Fourth Century

I was talking to a friend this evening who noted that a bank had sent him a letter promoting a loan; confounding the pessimists who think that the days of easy credit are completely dead. He observed that the letter contained the phrase “The mill that produced this paper supports sustainable forestation”.

It is hard to believe that the bank really cared that much about the source of their paper, but banks, being creatures of the market, are sensitive to their customers, and make efforts to please them. The small but noisy minority of ‘environmentally friendly’ customers that would have approved of the bank’s effort to be eco-friendly would be appeased, and the rest of the client base would care not a jot.

But we are seeing more and more of these nods to the environment being enforced with the power of national governments. It is rather like what happened to ancient Rome in the Fourth Century. The first Christian Emperor, Constantine the Great, lifted restrictions on Christianity in 312, and Christianity backed by the power of the state made slow but steady gains at the expense of the old pagan faiths before the Vestal Virgins were disbanded by Imperial order in 394.

I am not sure what will really qualify as comparable milestones in the rise of environmentalism as the official faith of the West, but for those of us of a skeptical nature, I think it does rather have a feel of being like a Pagan in 4th Century Rome.

Samizdata quote of the day

IN 2006 EMI, the world’s fourth-biggest recorded-music company, invited some teenagers into its headquarters in London to talk to its top managers about their listening habits. At the end of the session the EMI bosses thanked them for their comments and told them to help themselves to a big pile of CDs sitting on a table. But none of the teens took any of the CDs, even though they were free. “That was the moment we realised the game was completely up,” says a person who was there.

- The Economist reports on the decline and fall of the music studios.