One of the most encouraging things happening to the British pro-free-market and libertarian movement is the outreach work being done by the Institute of Economic Affairs, to students at British universities and in British schools. In this IEATV video Steven Davies and Christiana Hambro describe what they have been getting up to in this area. They are a bit stilted in their delivery and demeanour. Steve Davies in particular is a rather more relaxed, animated and persuasive public performer than this short video makes him seem. I get the feeling that there were retakes, as they negotiated car doors and seatbelts when on camera. But if any of this inclines you to be put off, don’t be, because the process these two excellent people are talking about in this video is definitely the genuine article.
They mention the Freedom Forum. This has, says Davies “rapidly become the biggest gathering of pro-liberty students and young people in the UK”. The latest iteration of this, Liberty League Freedom Forum 2014, is happening next weekend and its detailed timetable has just been announced. If this get-together was just a one-off annual event with nothing else related to it happening, that would definitely still be something, although I do agree with those who say that the title of these things is a bit of a mouthful. But LLFF2014 is a great deal more than just an annual event, being but the London manifestation of a much bigger program of intellectual and ideological outreach to universities and to schools throughout the UK.
Recently I dropped in at the IEA, where Christiana Hambro and her IEA colleague Grant Tucker made time to tell me in person about what they have been doing. I also picked their about people who might be good to invite to talk at my last-Friday-of-the-month meetings. For me, the most interesting thing that they said to me was in answer to my question concerning to what extent their outreach activities were piggy-backing on the earlier efforts of the Adam Smith Institute, efforts which have been going on for many years, under the leadership of ASI President Madsen Pirie. What Christiana Hambro and Grant Tucker said was that when it came to outreach to universities, then yes, their work does depend on earlier ASI efforts. University economics departments are tough nuts to crack open with contrary ideas, and the best way to get to universities is by working with free market and libertarian student societies, rather than relying on the intellectual hospitality of academics. The ASI has done a huge amount to encourage such groups over the years, and without such groups what the IEA is now doing in universities would have been harder to accomplish.
But in schools, it has been a very different story. The ASI has done plenty of work in schools as well over the years, but what Christiana Hambro and Grant Tucker said to me was that basically, in schools, the IEA’s outreach operation is basically operating in virgin territory, with economics pupils all of whom have heard of Keynes, for instance, but none of whom have ever heard of Hayek. Another way of putting that might be to say that when it comes to preaching free market economics to British schools, this is a town that is plenty big enough for the both of them.
Schools are also different from universities in often being much more open to different ideas than universities are. Universities are dominated by people who take ideas seriously, but this can have the paradoxical result that many universities and university departments become bastions of bias and groupthink, all about deciding what is true and then defending it against all heretical comers. Schools, on the other hand, some at least, are more concerned to persuade their often indifferent pupils to care, at all, about ideas of any kind, which, again rather paradoxically, makes many such schools far more open to unfamiliar ideas than many universities. A teacher may be a devout Keynesian, even a Marxist. But if these IEA people from London can help him stir up his pupils’ minds by showing economics to be an arena of urgent and contemporary intellectual and ideological conflict rather than merely a huge stack of dull facts mostly about the past, then he is liable to be very grateful to these intruders, even if he flatly disagrees with their particular way of thinking.
Present at this Liberty League Freedom Forum that is coming up next weekend, which I will be attending (just as I attended LLFF2013 last year), will be some of the products of all this outreach. Someone like me has heard most of the featured speakers before, some of them many times. But many of the people at LLFF2014 will be hearing talks from people only a very few of whom they have ever encountered before. Here are some of the topics which they may find themselves learning about: Public Speaking and Networking, Doing Virtuous Business, How To Be A Journalist, and (my personal favourite) Setting Up A Society (i.e. a school or university pro-liberty society).
As for me, no matter how many times I hear Steve Davies speak, I am always keen to hear what he has to say about something new, and this year, I am particularly looking forward to him answering the question: “But who will build the roads?” In my opinion, when Libertaria finally gets going, somewhere on this planet, defence policy (often regarded as a big headache) will be very simple. Just allow the citizens of Libertaria to arm themselves. But, building “infrastructure”, while nevertheless taking property rights seriously (instead of merely taking seriously the idea of taking people’s property from them to make infrastructure) will, I think, be much more tricky. I look forward very much to hearing what Davies has to say about this.
Too bad that his talk clashes with the one about Setting Up A Society. I’d love to sit in at the back of that one also, and maybe I will pick that one on the day. That such clashes will happen is my one regret about this event. But you can see why they want to do things this way. As well as big gatherings, they also want small ones, in which new talent feels more comfortable about expressing itself, and flagging itself up as worth networking with, by other talent.
I recall writing a blog posting here a while back, in which I described a talk I heard the IEA’s then newly appointed Director Mark Littlewood about his plans for the IEA. Right near the end of that piece, which I think still stands up very well, I wrote that: “there is now considerable reason to be optimistic about the future of the Institute of Economic Affairs”.
There still is, and even more so.
I found this comment from a business owner (correction, “Chief Architect of BitcoinStore“) poignant. The context is that it is a response to people moaning about Reddit moderators removing links to a hacked database file, but it is widely applicable. Now I am middle class with children I find myself going along with a lot of things that I would really prefer to fight against.
I haven’t been able to look through the leak fully myself (still setting up the VM) but the fact still remains that this is stolen property containing other peoples’ data. If you fear what the people in fancy costumes with guns will do to you, you comply with their demands. That’s not censorship, that’s self-preservation. [ …] Sadly it doesn’t change the fact that there are people with guns who will take your money, lock you in a cage or just plain beat/kill you for not complying with their version of the rules.
For example, at BitcoinStore we state true value on exports and that results in citizens of some countries being charged absurdly high import tariffs (VAT). Our customers don’t like this and neither do we. We’re repeatedly asked to state false value, but we never do. We don’t do this because we agree with the concept of VAT or the idea of being forced to reveal the value or contents of a shipment, but because the people with guns can and will take away our money, freedom and lives.
Does the threat of having our awesome stuff taken away reduce the amount of awesome stuff we could have? Yep. Is it horrible terrible bullshit? Yep. Will they still put us in a cage no matter how much we are against them having the power to do so? Yep.
As a group of freedom-loving people it is indeed our responsibility to change all of these things, remake the world in a more favorable image, but we also must recognize that we are NOT the side that has all the guns, tanks and political power. We’re the side throwing rocks at the people with M16s and we need to behave accordingly. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight, it means we need to be smart about it.
This is guerilla warfare, we fight only the battles we know we can win and we take all the weapons we can off our fallen enemies we can carry. A series of small wins makes us stronger and we can go after bigger wins with time. Charging headlong into the enemy is suicide.
Smart tactics, not loud voices will win this fight. Choose your battles.
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.
George Lakoff says, ‘Liberals do everything wrong’
“Progressives want to follow the polls … Conservatives don’t follow the polls; they want to change them. Political ground is gained not when you successfully inhabit the middle ground, but when you successfully impose your framing as the ‘common-sense’ position.”
If all political belief originates from one of two wellsprings, if the last thing you should do to propagate your belief is to water it down, if backing it up with facts just weakens it, what would a debate look like, in a world of perfectly understood frames?
It is, plainly, the longstanding failure to protect nature that powers Lakoff’s exasperation with liberals. “They don’t understand their own moral system or the other guy’s, they don’t know what’s at stake, they don’t know about framing, they don’t know about metaphors, they don’t understand the extent to which emotion is rational, they don’t understand how vital emotion is, they try to hide their emotion.
Unlike Professor Lakoff, I think that liberals (in the US sense of the word) propagate their ideas quite successfully, but his advice on framing seems well worth following.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.