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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

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.

Indeed.

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.

Reminders

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.

Have the argument anyway – and keep on having it

Buried in among the comments on this SQOTD is a disagreement between Jaded Voluntaryist and Rob Fisher.

Jaded Voluntaryist:

There are certain positions that it is unwise to try and debate rationally – specifically because they are not rationally held positions. … nothing you say is really likely to change the minds of such people.

Rob Fisher:

But have the debate anyway. Those who overhear it might then be prevented from joining the wrong cause.

I agree with Rob Fisher entirely. Jaded Voluntaryist says, and then repeats, that the people (“such people”) you argue with are beyond argument, which may be so. (Alternatively, they may just not want to argue with someone who keeps telling them they are being irrational.) But JV seems to me to ignore the point about those onlookers. Onlookers, particularly the silent ones, are what propaganda is all about.

Closely related to the point about arguing with those whom it is impossible to argue with, so to speak, is the virtue of repetition. Keep on having the arguments.

Repetition is actually humility. Repetition is recognising that what you say won’t reach the whole world, the very first time you say it. If others won’t repeat it for you (which is actually what reaching the world consists of), then if you think it deserves to reach at least a bit more of the world than it did first time around, you will have to repeat it yourself.

In the comments on this excellent posting at Counting Cats (a posting which restates some ancient truths about incentives but puts them in an academic rather than an “economic” context – highly recommended), you will observe commenters, many of their names being familiar from here, repeating to one another (as is entirely appropriate) many of the above truths about the need to keep on arguing. Are they talking only to themselves, echoing in their own echo chamber? No. One hitherto silent reader joins in, to say:

Keep it up guys, well done. … Every little anecdote helps.

Indeed.

I and many others have said all this many times before, which is because it deserves to be said again and again.

Spreading ideas effectively

Suppose a well-off libertarian compiles a list of a hundred books that do a good job of promoting libertarian ideas and are not currently available online, goes to the publishers and offers to buy the online rights. Most books, including most books about ideas, do not make all that much money, so my guess is that a publisher should be willing to sell the online rights for ten thousand dollars, perhaps less. A few will be books that were or are best sellers, and their rights might be expensive—but those are books that most curious readers can probably find in the local library, so although webbing them would be useful, it would not be as useful as webbing less successful books. Cross them off the list and replace them with a few less expensive ones. Total cost a million dollars.

The project also requires a libertarian lawyer willing to volunteer his time to negotiate the purchases and a libertarian web designer willing to web the books, perhaps with the assistance of a few more libertarians willing to scan them. Libertarian lawyers and libertarian web designers exist—I’ve even gotten offers from some of the latter to redesign my somewhat out of date web site for free. And putting a hundred such books on the web should significantly increase both the number of people who become convinced by libertarian arguments and the quality of the arguments of those already convinced.

David Friedman.

Well, I have a pretty big book collections these days, although not as colossal as that of Brian Micklethwait of this blog, or the late Chris Tame (he had the sort of private library that was mind-blowing, and that was just the science fiction bit).

I’d be interested to know if such an idea could be made to work. If one of the main ideas is reaching out to students – who are short of money and for whom book purchases are a big cost – anything that can help things along is a good idea.  (The comment thread on Friedman’s post is worth reading also.)

What the Adam Smith Institute did

Successful people are often born into a world that is not, so to speak, theirs. The world in which they get dealt their first cards is what it is and where it is, but their real world, the world they were meant for, is something and somewhere else. They are born the son of a coal miner or of a provincial shopkeeper, yet their natural place in the world is to be a classical musician or a weather forecaster in a big city or a diplomat or a music hall comedian or a technology billionaire. The mega-successes are those who know, early, not so much what they want or want to do, as where they need to be – where, for them, the action is – and who shift heaven and earth to get to that sweet spot in the world just as soon as possible, often taking truly hair-raising risks to get there. They identify where they want to be, calculate the price of getting there, and pay that price. And then, having got to where they need to be, they are happy! The inconveniences and disappointments – even the humiliations – that they then encounter do not depress them, because everything that happens, however bad, is evidence that they are exactly where they want to be and where they should be.

In the early pages of Think Tank, subtitled “The Story of the Adam Smith Institute”, we are told exactly such a story, of a group of young pro-free-market guns knowing where they need to be, and doing whatever they have to do to get to that exact place, namely within ten minutes walk of the House of Commons, in the centre of London. They juggle finances, scrounge furniture off aunts in faraway places, put money down on a London office lease well before they know how they are going to meet the payments, buy and sell cottages in Scotland, earn extra money by teaching, and generally bet their farms on their new farm being just what they want. (By the way if you want a shorter review of this book than this posting is, try the three short reviews at the other end of the above link. All three are very positive, but also very informative.)

To help me think about this posting, I asked a respected friend what he thought of the Adam Smith Institute. I expected some sort of rumination on what they had achieved and what they might yet achieve, on what they have got right and what wrong. Instead my friend simply said that he liked Madsen Pirie. This is a significant fact about the ASI, I think. Simply, they are nice people, fun and interesting to be with. Following Madsen Pirie’s lead, they exude a gleeful camaraderie that my friend and I, and surely many others of a like mind, find very appealing. Madsen Pirie’s Think Tank radiates a similarly good humoured and companionable atmosphere. When reading it, I kept hearing that Madsen Pirie voice, with its big grin and its self-mockingly over-precise diction.

Cards on the table. I liked and admired this book a lot, just as I have long liked and admired its author. I was given a free copy of it by its author, who had very good reason to hope that I would say nice things about it, and I will. I recommend this book as an entertaining and informative way to acquaint yourself with the Adam Smith Institute and with those who founded and still lead it.

→ Continue reading: What the Adam Smith Institute did

Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013 – April 5th-7th

Yes, the Liberty League Freedom Forum 2013 is coming to London soon, and yesterday I booked my place at it. This cost me twenty five quid plus a small booking fee, and that price includes meals, so this would be quite a bargain even if all that the product consisted of was the meals. And if you are one of those peculiar people who does not live in London or nearby, and you take the “with accommodation” option, that will cost you a further … ten quid! For two nights of “hostel” accommodation. What that means I am not sure, but if a roof is involved it is also quite a bargain.

Common courtesy, however, demands that if one takes one of these amazingly enticing deals, as I just have, that one will also pay at least some attention to the events during the day, in between the eating and the hostelling.

So it helps that there is an impressive array of speakers. There are names that are familiar to me, like: Baker, Bowman, Davies, Dowd, Singleton, Wellings, to name but a few of the ones I know well. And there are others I hardly know at all, which you also want when you attend something like this, like Abebe Gellaw, exiled Ethiopian journalist and activist, and Wolf von Laer, Chairman of European Students for Liberty. And there are in-between people, whom I approximately know or know of, but would love to get to know better. Here is the full list of speakers and subjects. (Well, fuller, see below.)

The talk I am most looking forward to is the one by libertarian historian Steve Davies, entitled: “Health Costs: Always Up?” Good question. And given what a great speaker Davies always is, great answers are bound to be supplied.

Recommended. Given the prices being asked, I would recommend that you consider, soon, if you would like to go, and if you decide that you would, to book soon also.

Plus, I just re-read the email I got from Liberty League yesterday, which got me thinking about this event, and it started like this:

The UK’s biggest pro-liberty conference is only a few weeks away. We have even more speakers now confirmed, with legal expert Professor Randy Barnett on libertarian law, Professor Terence Kealey on the “Innovation versus Leviathan” panel, Peter Botting leading the public speaking workshop, Dr Tim Evans on anarcho-capitalism, Linda Whetstone on liberty movements around the world, along with the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Mark Littlewood, and author JP Floru.

They’ll have to talk fast.

A short video about the Alpha Graphs

A few months ago I gave a talk to Libertarian Home, of the sort that happen regularly at the Rose and Crown in Southwark. (They have a speakerless social at the same venue which I intend to be at, tomorrow.) My talk was … well, to put it kindly, it was somewhat less than the sum of its parts. It had its moments, but it didn’t add up. Worse, the more I struggled to pull it together, the longer it went on and the more incoherent it got.

But something good may yet have emerged from this muddle, because Libertarian Home’s Simon Gibbs and I recently agreed that it might make sense to rescue (i.e. for Simon Gibbs to rescue) one of the somewhat better bits of this talk and make it into a video short. Simon has now done this, with added graphics.

The subject is something I have already blogged about here, namely the tendency of statist measures to start out quite good, only later going wrong and then ever more wrong, and on the other hand the tendency of a truly free market, when a particular bit of it starts, to be a mess, and only somewhat later to start getting seriously good and in the long run superb. Two intersecting graphs, in other words, one going up and then down and down, and the other going down and then up and up.

My first label for this phenomenon involved hockey sticks, but when it comes to graphs the hockey stick is well and truly taken, and now I’m calling my graphs “alpha” graphs, because that’s how they look when put together.

Alas, even this bit of my talk could have been a whole lot more eloquent. For starters, I should have waved my arms around in a way that fitted how the graphs would look to the audience. As it was, I got them the wrong way around, sideways I mean, and hence somewhat clashing with what Simon does with them in his superimposed graphics. Nevertheless, the basic idea survives, I think, and is usefully provocative of further thought, as Simon demonstrates with his own further thoughts.

My own main further thought about the Alpha Graphs (here’s hoping those capitals catch on) is that the Adam Smith Institute should be mentioned in connection with them. One of the ASI’s basic tactical insights from way back is that there are indeed often many advantages to be gained and gamed by politically well-connected individuals or organisations or companies, from statist policies rather than free market policies, but that with a bit of cunning these tendencies can be countered, for instance by making the arrival of a competitive market very much to the advantage of a few big early participants, or with right-to-buy, right-to-sell arrangements with regard to such things as public housing that goes back into the market. It’s a matter of how you sell the new market, and to whom. Instead of just using Public Choice Theory (the Alpha Graphs being a tiny part of all that) to excuse libertarian policy failure; use it to point you in better (because more politically effective) policy directions.

That isn’t the complete answer to the problems described by the Alpha Graphs, but it is certainly a part of it.

The other thing I want to repeat in this posting is that I think that short videos are an excellent way to go, when it comes to spreading libertarian ideas, provided only that you know how to produce them adequately. (The technique has recently been used with great effectiveness by the Adam Smith Institute’s own Madsen Pirie to explicate basic economics.) I hope Simon Gibbs produces many more such video quickies in the next few years, and helps and encourages others to do the same, both in the form of excerpts from other bigger performances (by no means only from performances that he himself has recorded), and in the form of original creations of his own. Such a program could be a great developer of future libertarian star performers, as well as a chance for older libertarians like me to add their pennyworths.