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]

Sam Bowman’s Minimum Wage talk tomorrow – Dominic Frisby’s Bitcoin talk last Friday

Sam Bowman’s talk tomorrow at the Rose and Crown has been causing worries for Libertarian Home organiser Simon Gibbs, on account of Meetup not working properly. Simon has become unsure about how many people are going to show up, but urges us all to come anyway. (I definitely intend to.) He ends his report on all this by saying that …:

… the capacity issue sometimes looks tricky on paper, but it rarely is.

My experience, with my last Friday of the month meetings, which take place in a living room which is only about half the size of the room upstairs at the Rose and Crown, is that it is almost mystical how exactly the number of attenders seems always to suit the space available for them. It’s a kind of benign spacial variant of the original Parkinson’s Law. Last Friday, for instance, Dominic Frisby looked like he might be stretching my infrastructure beyond its limits. But then I emailed people to that effect, and there was a bug going round, and the weather turned nasty, the upshot of all that was that the number who showed was just right to fill the room in comfort, and just not enough to cause any discomfort. Amazing.

It’s like we really do not need to be planned or coerced by a central authority, but can just sort things out for ourselves.

Mine was a fairly Bitcoin-savvy gathering, and several of the Bitcoin-savants present have said that they were surprised at how much more they learned, both from Frisby and from each other. I was not one of those experts; I was merely there. For me, the main message I took away from the evening was that Bitcoin, in the opinion of many people, does have real value, because it makes electronic economic transactions far easier. Although some doubts were expressed, nobody present dismissed Bitcoin as a complete fraud and a bubble waiting to just burst and vanish. In general the mood about Bitcoin was very positive, more so than I had expected, and of course even better about the general principle of encrypted currencies generally.

The big news item was that Frisby reckons he has cracked the identity of the founding genius of Bitcoin, a mysterious figure who is currently only known by a Japanese alias. Who is he? Read my Bitcoin book, said Frisby. This will be available some time around late spring or early summer, and I will keep Samizdata posted.

The other thing I will remember about last Friday was that, for complicated reasons involving an NHS kidney operation that suddenly became available (after a huge wait) to his usual back-up canine custodian, Frisby asked if he could bring his dog with him. You don’t want mere attenders bringing dogs. But since the speaker would be the main victim if a dog attended and spoke out of turn, I figured that Frisby’s dog almost certainly would behave exactly as well as promised, and so it proved. Frodo, despite being rather obviously hungry and eager to make friends with potential food providers, behaved impeccably throughout the entire evening. Not a single bark, not one. Again: amazing.

Picture of Frisby and Frodo:


Sam Bowman’s talk tomorrow will be about the idea of a legally fixed minimum wage. The libertarian orthodoxy is that, just as we don’t want or need the government to be organising our social lives or our healthcare, a government-ordained minimum wage is a really bad idea. When I met Sam earlier in the week, this orthodoxy is what he told me he would be reinforcing in his talk, citing some recent evidence.

We also discussed the idea of Sam addressing one of my last Friday of the month meetings later in the year, on the far more contentious subject of “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism”. He is, or such is my understanding, and no doubt with various reservations and qualifications, for it. I am not now totally against Bleeding Heart Libertarianism but am strongly inclined that way. I am far less inclined to leave the definition of Bleeding Heart Libertarianism as the sole property of those now calling themselves its supporters. I also have a very high opinion of Sam Bowman. That should be another good gathering, as and when it happens.

The video of Aiden Gregg’s talk about the psychology of political belief is now up and viewable

Yes, incoming from Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home saying that the video of Aiden Gregg’s talk, that I earlier flagged up here as being on its way and worth a watch, is now there to be watched. In his accompanying commentary on the talk, Simon (after quoting me – thanks mate) lays out a lot of the data detail that I merely alluded to.

Says Simon in his email to me:

It could use some upvotes on reddit. Are you registered there?

Me? No. But maybe some readers are, and could oblige. And while they are about it, tell me more about reddit. I am starting to get the same feeling about the social media that I got about email, when I delayed bothering with that, way back whenever that was.

Commenting on my posting yesterday about the Alex Singleton book launch, “RogerC” said:

PR, marketing and in general the how of getting ideas out there and into people’s heads is an area where I’ve always thought we’re weak. Conversely, the left is very, very good at this stuff. They’ve been making a conscious effort to do it and to develop the techniques for a hundred years now, and their position has advanced immeasurably as a result. …

Agreed. There is a lot that we can learn from the statist left, whose success in spreading their ideas has been all the more remarkable when you consider how bad their ideas are and how much havoc these ideas have long been known to cause. Aiden Gregg brings his expertise as an academic psychologist to this same terrain, of how to present ideas in such a way that they are more likely to win widespread acceptance.

Devika on a new Indian anti-corruption party and Aiden Gregg on the psychology of libertarianism

About a week ago, “Devika” posted a very interesting piece at Libertarian Home, about a man called Arvind Kejriwal, an Indian anti-poltician who is in the process of becoming an Indian politician.

I don’t have much to say about this piece, other than that any British libertarians who think that there is much to be learned from the success of Kejriwal’s Anti Corruption Party in India to the problems faced by libertarians in Britain in getting that noticed politically would probably be making a mistake. Although I am sure that Indians disagree a lot about what causes it and whose fault it is, almost everyone in India detests the corruption that is rampant in India and in Indian politics, probably even a great many of those who practise corruption. Perhaps some of them most of all, because they feel forced to do terrible things. None of the regular political parties can convincingly argue against such corruption, because, as Devika explains and as everyone in India knows, they are all part of it. So, a new anti-corruption party, run by people with very public track records of honest and persuasive campaigning against corruption, was always liable to be a runaway success, unless and until it too succumbs to the same corrupting pressures that corrupted all the other parties. Here’s hoping that does not happen any time soon.

Libertarianism is Britain is in a very different position to the anti-corruption tendency in India. Almost everyone in India is anti-corruption, divided only in whether they think anything can be done about it. Almost nobody in Britain is a libertarian. A British libertarian party will accordingly only pick up a tiny number of votes and cause a tiny little stir, no matter how capably lead and well publicised.

Devika notes how the Indian anti-corruption party did very well by asking its members to guide its direction and policies. This works well, because all concerned are united against corruption. The only argument is about how to diminish it, which corrupt processes to attack first, and so on. A British libertarian party that allowed anyone who joined to influence its policies would very quickly cease to be libertarian.

I want to be clear that at no point in her piece does Devika herself make an explicit connection between what Kejriwal and his anti-corruption party are doing and what British libertarians should do. I do not know if she thinks any of the things I have just been criticising. But I do sense this implication, a bit. More to the point, whatever Devika thinks about such things, some of Libertarian Home’s readers may draw just the sort of conclusions from her piece that I am criticising. Certainly, discussions at the Rose and Crown about libertarianism and libertarian politics are now saturated with the frustration of wanting to bring libertarianism to the attention of a wider public, but of not knowing how to contrive this.

There is another such discussion taking place this evening. This will be lead by Aiden Gregg, who is both a libertarian and an academic psychologist. Gregg will be talking about the psychological dispositions of libertarians in particular and of politically active people generally. I think this is a fascinating subject, full of lessons for libertarians to learn about how to be more effective libertarians. So, I will definitely be there.

In my opinion, one thing that libertarians can definitely now do (as opposed to trying to copy too directly the activities of Arvind Kejriwal) is to tell people like Aiden Gregg how important and valuable they are to the libertarian cause, and to encourage them to stick at it. We need our people everywhere, especially in the universities, and especially in faculties which are not economics faculties.

My year in twelve pictures

If Michael Jennings can roam the world taking photos, then I can roam London and nearby spots, doing the same. Here are twelve photos from my year, one for each month.

They are chosen, I hasten to add, as much to help me say things about what is in them and about digital photography as for their technical quality. Which is… rather variable.

→ Continue reading: My year in twelve pictures

From missing the EUropean boat to not getting stuck in the EUropean swamp

Last night I attended a meeting of the End of the World Club, and by the end – of the meeting, not the world – the conversation had turned uncharacteristically optimistic. Oh, there were the usual prophecies of doom, and it is hoped that the next meeting will be someone talking about what it was like living through the Zimbabwe hyper-inflation. But the second of the two speakers last night was Rory Broomfield, speaking about the Better Off Out campaign, as in: Britain would be better off out of the European Union. That is an argument where at least some headway is now being made. How big the chances are that Britain might either leave or be kicked out of the European Union some time in the next few years, I do not know, but those chances have surely been improving. I can remember when the fantasy that “Europe” was going to cohere into one splendidly perfect union and lead the world was really quite plausible, if you were the sort already inclined to believe such things. EUrope, in those days, was a boat that Britain needed not to miss. Now, EUrope is more like a swamp into which Britain would be unwise to go on immersing itself, and should instead be concentrating on climbing or being spat out of.

Mention was made of shipping containers, i.e. of the story told in this fascinating book. Compared to the arrangements it replaced, containerisation has damn near abolished the cost of transporting stuff by sea, which means that the economic significance of mere geographical proximity has now been, if not abolished, at least radically diminished. Regional trading blocks like EUrope now look like relics from that bygone age when it would take a week to unload a ship, and when Scotch whiskey could not be profitably exported from Scotland because half of it would be stolen by dock labourers.

Containerisation also exaggerates how much business Britain does with Europe, because much of this supposed trade with EUrope is just containers being driven in lorries to and from Rotterdam, and shipped to and from the world. The huge new container port now nearing completion in the Thames Estuary is presumably about to put a demoralising (for a EUrophile) dent in these pseudo-EUropean trade numbers.

Mention was also made of a recently published map (scroll down to Number 29 of these maps). This map shows the economic centre of gravity of the world, at various times in history. A thousand years ago, this notional spot was somewhere near China. And the point strongly made by this map is that this centre of economic gravity is now moving, faster than it has moved ever before in history, from northern Europe (it was in the north Atlantic in 1950), right back to where it came from, leaving Europe behind.

Broomfield talked about how you convince people of such notions. For younger audiences, he said, just moaning on about how terrible EUrope is doesn’t do it. You have to be positive. But the trick, said Broomfield, is to be positive about the world. The important thing is that Britain, and you young guys, should not held back by EUrope from making your way in that big world.

The actual End of the World is not nigh any time soon, but the world is changing.

Might we actually be winning?

In his ‘Seen Elsewhere’ section, top right, Guido is today linking to a piece entitled An Anarcho-Capitalist Defence of the Royal Family. Sounds like fun, and it is.

For me, the most amazing bit is not any bit in this piece, but the bit at the bottom where it says who wrote it:

Christina Annesley is a 21 year old anarcho-capitalist and the founder of Leeds Liberty League. She has a BA in History from the University of Leeds and is currently writing a dystopian fantasy novel.

There are just so many things that are great about that.

Extreme weather – and some thoughts about what publicity stunts do and do not accomplish

Earlier this year, we here in the UK had a spring that felt more like winter. Now we are enduring the frightful ordeal of a summer that is exactly like a summer, only more so. I don’t know about other UK-based Samizdatistas, but this current burst of local warming saps my will to blog. When it is this warm, my idea of fun is not sitting next to a typing machine that happens also to be a fan heater. But I will give it a go anyway, and in a way that doesn’t change the subject from the weather.

Last week, there was a publicity stunt by some lady mountaineers, who climbed up the Shard, to protest against oil and gas drilling by Shell in the Arctic. Measured with a tape measure and a stop watch, media reactions to this escapade say that it was a big success.

Nevertheless, the mainstream media angle on all this may have somewhat disappointed the lady mountaineers. It was: Does This Kind Of Thing Work? Does a bunch of women showing off their shapely bottoms on nationwide television by clambering up a rather irrelevant but shapely new London tower really do much to change opinion on such matters as Arctic oil and gas drilling? That was the BBC’s original slant on this, and I heard the same thing on the Channel 5 TV news in the evening. Maybe I am reading too much into this, but such questions suggest to me a slight pulling back from this argument on the part of the media people, a feeling that a whole generation of broadcasters is detaching itself from a previously definite point of view, the obvious truth of which would have been their starting point only a few years ago, but which they now regard as just another of those arguments that people have, which it is now their job to report rather than to take sides in.

The pessimistic line on this, from the anti-alarmist point of view, is that all that the media people were really asking was: How Can We Best Make Everyone Into Climate Alarmists? Will this stunt accomplish this, or do we need to try other methods? We. They are still all on side with the climate alarmists, but some of the climate alarmists, especially those in the media, are now starting seriously to fret about tactics. But even if there was a big whiff of that about the coverage of this stunt, does not the suggestion that these lady climbers might not actually have been persuading anyone to think differently at least suggest that maybe their team in this argument might be wrong about matters of far greater substance, such as – whisper it ever so quietly – the alleged scientific fact of forthcoming climate catastrophe?

What is not deniable, if you will pardon the expression, is that a libertarian, Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home, was asked to join in the coverage and say what he thought about it all,. You can listen to what Simon said here, and read Simon’s further thoughts on all this here. It was an email from Simon Gibbs that alerted me to this story. He knows that I am fond of the Shard.

→ Continue reading: Extreme weather – and some thoughts about what publicity stunts do and do not accomplish

Danny Weston on Hansen at the LSE

I recommend this report by Danny Weston (guest writing at Bishop Hill) of a talk at the London School of Economics given by NASA’s James Hansen. Hansen is a manic climate alarmist, and the audience was almost entirely other manic climate alarmists. But Weston himself managed to get a question in edgeways.

To echo many of the Bishop Hill commenters, congratulations to Danny Weston for attending this event, for spoiling the party by actually expressing doubts out loud about what Hansen said, and above all for writing his report of the event, for an influential climate skeptic blog.

Opponents, however manic, need to be listened to, and argued against. The point is often made here by commenters that arguing against such people as Hansen and this LSE audience is a waste of time and effort, and there is a definite and entirely understandable trace of this feeling in Weston’s own report. Wrong, wrong, wrong. In among that audience were other doubters besides Weston, a few of whom identified themselves to Weston afterwards sotto voce, congratulating him for what he said. Genuine undecideds, and even some of the majority who flatly disagreed with Weston, may also have been impressed by Weston’s sheer guts, as well as by his arguments. And by writing it all up, Weston greatly reinforces this silent bystander effect.

Weston ends his report with these words:

All in all a thoroughly depressing experience.

I hope that responses like this, and like the many other positive comments at Bishop Hill likewise full of congratulation and admiration, will have cheered Weston up a bit, and maybe even a lot.

Video of a Stephen Davies talk to the Essex University Liberty League about the history of the British libertarian movement

Today I received one of those collective emails with a big list of recipients at the top. It was from Tim Evans to the Essex University Liberty League, and copied to the rest of us, suggesting all the copyees as potential speakers to the Essex University Liberty League. I was pleased to be even suggested, because I was a very happy student at Essex University in the early 1970s. Fingers crossed, hint hint.

But much more importantly, following a little googling for the Essex University Liberty League, I found my way to this, which I had not noticed before and which is a video of a talk given by the noted libertarian historian Stephen Davies to … the Essex University Liberty League. Having both hugely enjoyed and been hugely impressed by the talk that Stephen Davies gave to the Liberty League Freedom Forum in London just under a fortnight ago, on the subject of healthcare, I cranked up this video about the history of British libertarianism and had a listen.

Brilliant. The time, nearly fifty minutes of it, just flew by. Davies really is a master communicating a large body of ideas and information, seemingly with effortless ease, in what is (given the sheer volume of all those ideas and all that information) an amazingly short period of time, although in other hands the same chunk of time would feel like an eternity.

Thank goodness cheap videoing arrived in time for Davies to be extensively captured on it, for two reasons. First, it would be very hard to take notes that would do justice to a Stephen Davies talk, and it would be impossible to remember it all. There is, every time, just too much good stuff there. You want to be able to hear it all again, with a pause button available. Second, I get the distinct impression that Davies knows a great deal more about the present and the past of the world, and of the people trying to make the world more liberty-loving, than he has so far managed to get down on paper. Indeed, I sense that Davies’s recent IEA job, stimulating Britain’s student libertarian network, is a calculated trade-off on his part, between one important job, namely that, and the other important thing that Davies ought to be doing, namely writing down many more of his brilliant thoughts and discoveries and opinions and historical wisdoms than he has so far managed to write down.

Although, now would be a good time to flag up a piece Davies wrote for the Libertarian Alliance entitled Libertarian Feminism in Britain, 1860-1910, which is about the kind of thing his talk is about. The point being that most feminists then were libertarians, in contrast to the collectivists that most feminists are now. So, Davies has written some of his wisdoms down, just not as much as he might have.

However, meanwhile, and as a natural consequence of all the student networking that he has lately been doing, Davies does often give a talk, and sometimes someone records it. Like I say, thank goodness for video. And congratulations to whoever did video this particular Davies talk to the Essex University libertarians. Richard Carey, who did the short blog posting where I found the video, does not say who did this. Presumably an Essex libertarian. As I say, kudos to whoever it was.

Sadly, the Stephen Davies talk to LLFF2013 about healthcare was not videoed.

The Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013 and the rapidly growing strength of the UK’s pro-liberty student network

Just about now, I had hoped to be writing in some detail about some of the many interesting things said at the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013, which happened last weekend. I still hope to. Meanwhile, I have already done a quick posting at my personal blog, with lots of photos, about how good, in general, this event was. And here is another posting about LLFF2013 to say, again, that it was very good.

As I said at my own blog, the best thing about this gathering, excellent though the line-up of speakers was, was the audience that it succeeded in attracting. This audience was big, around two hundred strong. It was mostly young, mostly students. And it was very smart. As you will observe if you take a look at my crowd shots, most of the audience, besides being young, was male. But not all of it was. And the young males looked like they are the types to be going places in the future.

A good way to get across the quality of this whole event is to quote from the comment that Michael Jennings added to what I put at my blog, in connection with the two talks that Randy Barnett gave:

I overheard Randy Barnett talking to an American colleague in the gap between his two talks on Sunday. Essentially, he was saying that the audience of his first talk had been fantastic, and it was great to have a question and answer session full of such smart comments and questions.


At the obvious risk of insulting others who contributed importantly, I singled out for particular praise for their organisational efforts: the IEA’s Stephen Davies and Christiana Hambro, and the Liberty League’s own Anton Howes, not just for their work on this LLFF but for previous iterations of it, in London and elsewhere in the UK. Time was when there was a sprinkling of libertarians and free marketeers in London, but when similarly inclined people outside London hardly knew of each other’s existence. People like Davies, Hambro and Howes, and others of course, are now changing all that. There is now a big and growing pro-liberty network among Britain’s student population, with pro-liberty student groups getting started in university after university. When I spoke with Davies about all this, his main worry seemed to be in finding places to fit everyone in. The answer seemed to be: smaller events, but more of them, in more places. Sounds good. Sounds very good.

I have long had the impression that the organisation which has lead the way in earlier years in building a pro-liberty student network in the UK was the Adam Smith Institute, as I mentioned towards the end of this earlier posting here, about the history of the ASI so far. Now, under Mark Littlewood‘s leadership, the IEA is piling in also. In general, the amount of inter-organisational co-operation that you now see going on (it always has gone on but now especially), between the various UK pro-liberty groups and think tanks, is most admirable.

If I have got it a bit wrong concerning who exactly deserves a pat on the back for all this pro-liberty activity, well, that is but a symptom of the fact that, as has been said before, it is amazing what you can accomplish in life if you do not care who gets the credit.


The latest wave of communicational cleverness has made face-to-face meetings to spread good ideas both easier to organise, and more necessary to organise. Easier, obviously. More necessary because it now takes much clever thinking and cooperative enterprise to get good ideas heard and acted upon in this new media hubbub, just as it used to when the media were dominated by a few megaliths.

There was, I now realise, a joyous interlude when good ideas had the run of the blogosphere and those who might have been using the blogosphere to spread bad ideas instead mostly just waited for the good ideas to go away. But now the bad ideas are back with a vengeance, never having gone away – just having been temporarily heckled a bit, and now different skills and energies are needed to get the good stuff said and done, and in much the same considerable quantities as two decades ago.

There are now so many meetings, just in London, of the kind I am inclined to be attending, that I myself have taken to sending out reminders when my own last-Friday-of-the-month meetings are imminent, and I greatly appreciate it when others do the same. Nobody has yet complained to me about my reminders. Several have said thanks. (My speaker this month, by the way, will be Samizdata’s own Rob Fisher, who will talk about the impact that open source software is having on the world.)

So it was that I was very glad to receive this, this morning:

Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013 is this weekend!

The conference is just a day away, and we have well over 200 people signed up. LLFF will be the largest gathering of classical liberal and libertarian students and young people in the UK, and the second largest this side of the Atlantic!

If you haven’t seen it already, make sure to check out the Full Conference Pack, with timetable, maps, session descriptions, travel directions and more, here.

More here, and what I earlier said about this event here: here.

Another meeting I will soon be attending is this evening, organised by Libertarian Home at the Rose and Crown in Southwark, and addressed by our own Adriana Lukas. Details here. Get there at between 7pm and 8pm (which is when the talk starts).

Reminding people about your meeting involves the same kind of humility that is involved in repeating good ideas. People don’t necessarily hear things the first time you say them, and if they do they often forget them, especially when they now have so many other things to be attending to. And even when they have told you that they will definitely be attending your meeting, your meeting is not likely to be the biggest thing in their lives, and they are entirely liable to forget all about it until several days later. Unless they get a reminder.

Read the whole thing – while you can

Nick Cohen is that rare and admirable thing, a genuinely liberal left-winger. Here he is in full flow today in The Observer:

We are in the middle of a liberal berserker, one of those demented moments when “progressives” run riot and smash the liberties they are meant to defend. Inspired by Lord Justice Leveson, they are prepared in Parliament tomorrow to sacrifice freedom of speech, freedom of the press and fair trials. They are prepared to allow every oppressive dictatorship on the planet to say: “We’re only following the British example” when outsiders and their own wretched citizens protest.

A rant worth reading. Do.

Something that Mr Cohen doesn’t cover is that, we too, appear about to be regulated. Parliament is not just abridging the freedom of the press, but of the web too. As Guido Fawkes explains regulation looks likely to cover not just Fleet Street (if that were not bad enough), but:

“relevant publisher” means a person (other than a broadcaster) who publishes in the United Kingdom: (a) a newspaper or magazine containing news-related material, or (b) a website containing news-related material (whether or not related to a newspaper or magazine)

(My emphasis.) That means ALL the blogging commentariat there, almost all charities and campaigning organisations of every political stripe who publish news comment or press releases or highlight particular stories on their websites, and maybe your personal site, too.

Once you’ve read what Messrs Cohen and Staines have to say, you might feel like commenting on the news yourself. If you live in Britain an email to your MP, especially if he or she is a Labour or LibDem MP, might be worth the effort. You can write to them – including the ones who will only take a fax – easily from the site of the same name: writetothem.com  Do so before they vote on the proposals.