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]

Elephant rights?

Yesterday, I encountered this Economist advert (one of this set), in the tube, which included the following argument that booming Chinese investment in Africa is bad for Africans:

Elephant numbers in Africa are falling fast because of the Chinese demand for ivory.

My immediate reaction was that elephants should maybe be farmed. That would soon get the elephant numbers up again, and it would also be good for Africans, because it would provide them with lots of legal jobs. If you google “elephant farming”, you soon learn that an argument along these lines already rages.

People much like Doug Bandow (and like me) say: Why not farm elephants? And people like Azzedine Downes, as and when they encounter this elephant farming idea, are enraged:

These days, it seems like any idea casually dropped in a coffee break conversation can be, if repeated often enough, and forcibly enough, taken seriously by those not really interested in finding solutions. They are looking for sound bites and this one was a doozy! I have seen these arguments take on a life of their own and so struggled to overcome my own vision of elephants in iron pens being kept until they could be killed for their teeth.

“First of all”, I started. “No-one needs ivory.” “Secondly, your proposal raises so many ethical questions that I don’t really know where to start.”

“Don’t get upset”, he said. “I was just wondering. You are right, it is an awful idea.”

I hope I never hear that idea coming up again and, if I do, I hope it will be just as easy to convince the next misguided soul that it is an awful idea.

I’m afraid that Azzedine Downes is going to hear this notion, seriously argued, again and again, unless he covers his ears.

I think I get where he is coming from. Killing elephants, for any reason, is just wrong, like killing people. Downes doesn’t spell it out, because he is not in a spelling things out mood. (“I don’t really know where to start.”) But it seems to me that what we have here is the beginnings of the idea that certain particularly appealing and endangered and human-like animals should have something like a right not to be killed, just as you and I have such a right. If someone kills us, the government will, depending on its mood, go looking for who did it and maybe, if it catches the miscreant in question, punish them in some way or another. Killing elephants, says Downes, is likewise: murder. See also: whales.

Farming a bunch of humans for their bodily organs would also be murder. A kidney farmer pointing out that he was raising his clutch (herd? pack? flock?) of humans not just for the serial killer hell of it, but in order to profit from selling their kidneys, would make things worse for himself, legally speaking, because this would provide the jury with a rational motive. Motive is not justification. Motive gets you punished, not acquitted.

In the matter of elephants, pointing out that farming elephants for their tusks might, given the facts on the ground in Africa, be the difference between African elephants as a species surviving, and African elephants being entirely wiped out by ivory poachers (for as numbers diminish, so prices will rise and rise), or perhaps entirely replaced by a newly evolved species of tuskless elephants, is, for Azzedine Downes, entirely beside the point. Farmers killing the elephants for their tusks doesn’t solve the problem, any more than the slave trade solved the problem of slavery. The problem of slavery was slavery, and the problem here is people killing elephants, which they would do even more of if they farmed them for their tusks. This is absolutely not just about the mere survival of a species. It is about not doing something morally repugnant. The elephants must be saved. They must not be murdered. End of discussion.

Thoughts anyone? How about the Azzedine Downes tendency proving their love of elephants by buying lots of elephants, and large elephant habitats, and then spending more money protecting the elephants from ivory poachers, but without farming them or otherwise exploiting them, other than as objects of photographic devotion by tourists. Presumably this is sort of what they are already doing, even as the idea of people owning elephants sticks in their throats, just as does the idea of people owning people.

Here’s another thought. How would Azzedine Downes feel about elephants having their tusks removed and sold on to Chinese ivory carvers when the elephants die but not before they die? Die of natural causes, I mean. As a matter of fact, are the tusks of elderly elephants, just deceased, still worth enough for that to be any sort of economically viable compromise? And as a matter ethics, would the Downes tendency tolerate even that?

Elephant tusk donor cards? Well, not really, because how would you know, in this new world of elephant rights, how the elephant or elephants actually felt about such a scheme? In this connection, the recent proposal that humans should be presumed willing to part with any or all of their useful-to-others organs when (as above) they die but not before they die, unless they explicitly say otherwise by carrying a non-donor card, is surely relevant.

Another thought: Will it soon be possible to make something a lot like ivory with 3-D printing? Or with some sort of magical bio-engineering process? Perhaps, but if so, that would presumably take much of the fun out of ivory. But then again, so might ivory farming, if it got too efficient.

Perusing the Samizdata postings category list reminds me that maybe similar considerations apply, or soon will apply, to hippos.

Time for me to stop and for any commenters, who want to, to take over.

Helping children in Morocco

In April, my friend Elena Procopiu is going on a trek through the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, to raise money for a charity called the Moroccan Children’s Trust. Elena writes about MCT’s activities,and her fundraising activity for it, here.

There are hundreds of children on the streets of Taroudant suffering daily harassment, humiliation, physical abuse and exploitation as they try to earn a living off the streets. …

… and MCT is trying to do something about that.

Elena’s many friends have started chipping in. I will shortly be doing likewise. I have already learned some geography, by googling Taroudant.

I am looking forward to hearing about this expedition when Elena returns to London. Just as interesting as her report of the trek in the mountains will be what else she will then be able to tell us all about the work of MCT. After the trekking is done, the trekkers will spend a further few days meeting some of the local Moroccans involved, and some of the children and parents they are trying to help. If anyone reading this is inclined to donate also, Elena assures us that this is the sort of thing that all their donations will be spent on. The trekkers are all paying their own travelling expenses.

It makes a difference to me that Elena is personally acquainted with the people who run MCT, which as of now seems to be quite a small operation, with no big London HQ or any such nonsense. The boss of the enterprise is a British doctor. I’m guessing that MCT began when he was doctoring in Morocco, but then realised that many of his patients, or potential patients, had other problems besides medical problems.

I say “or potential patients”, because it is a sad sign of the times we live in that an important part of MCT’s work is helping people fill in forms, so that they can then visit doctors, attend schools, and so on. Sadly, being a bureaucratic un-person can be a slow sentence of death to someone already on the poverty line, in a country like Morocco.

Really helping total strangers can be very difficult. Time and again, people who are trying to help, or who say they are, only end up making matters worse (for coincidental evidence of which you need only note the immediately previous post here this very morning). Which is why, for me, having a personal friend involved in a particular charitable effort makes the difference – all the difference, actually – between me saying no and me saying yes, to a request for a donation. That way I will get the lowdown on how the money is really being spent, and whether it is reasonable to go on hoping that it is doing some actual good. Meanwhile I am genuinely doing a favour for a friend, who I already know I really will be helping.

I hope to be reporting further about this, perhaps with photos that Elena says she will be taking on her travels.

UNESCO gets Nigerian education wrong

UNESCO has published some statistics (in a fact sheet) about how badly Nigeria is doing educationally. But, says James Stanfield:

Unfortunately, these statistics fail to take into account the thousands of unregistered low cost private schools that exist across Nigeria and the millions of children who attend these schools.

But why is this unfortunate? First, the state of the world is better than someone says it is, which is good to know. Second, a bunch of people with the desire to govern, in practice to derange, the entire world is ignorant of what is really going on in it. To me, that also sounds rather good. Accurate statistics are the lifeblood of government.

Stanfield’s answer to why it is unfortunate that UNESCO is wrong about Nigerian education goes like this:

Without an education crisis and UNESCO would quickly become redundant. Second, by widely exaggerating the number of out of school children, this also allows UNESCO to point the finger at Western donors for failing to meet their funding commitments.

If proving UNESCO wrong about education in Nigeria would really lead to UNESCO’s demise, then Stanfield might be right to call UNESCO’s mistaken statistics unfortunate and to set about convincing UNESCO and the world of UNESCO’s wrongness. But they will surely have no such effect. “If only” says Stanfield’s title, UNESCO would admit its errors. But UNESCO being wrong about it hasn’t stopped education improving in Nigeria. UNESCO will go on being wrong about education in Nigeria. Education in Nigeria will continue to improve.

I do not object to the substance of Stanfield’s blog posting, merely its rather unfortunate wording about how unfortunate the UNESCO “fact” sheet really is. The ideal arrangement is for people like James Stanfield to carrying right on telling everyone how well education is now doing in places like Nigeria. This tells rich donors that they can keep their money instead of giving it to UNESCO, and it tells people in rich countries to stop fretting about education in poorer countries, and instead to tackle their own educational problems, by dismantling their own state education systems.

Yes they do know it’s Christmas

I like this:

CAPE TOWN. After 28 years of silently tolerating it, a group of unemployed local musicians have joined forces to release a Christmas single, entitled ‘Yes we do,’   in response to the Bob Geldof inspired Band Aid song, ‘Do they know it’s Christmas?’

Thankyou to Tim Worstall for spotting this.

Speaking at the launch of the single, whose proceeds will go towards teaching discipline, literacy and contraception at British schools, composer and singer Boomtown Gundane said that for years he had been irked by Geldof’s assumption that hungry Africans were also stupid.

Sadly, it’s a joke. But quite a good one, I think.

The news from Africa is often very good

Legitimately self-made African billionaires are harbingers of hope. Though few in number, they are growing more common. They exemplify how far Africa has come and give reason to believe that its recent high growth rates may continue. The politics of the continent’s Mediterranean shore may have dominated headlines this year, but the new boom south of the Sahara will affect more lives.

From Ghana in the west to Mozambique in the south, Africa’s economies are consistently growing faster than those of almost any other region of the world. At least half a dozen have expanded by more than 6 per cent a year for six or more years.

The Economist, 3 December, page 77. (Behind the magazine’s paywall, so thank me for typing it out for you). The magazine has a nice study of the continent, laying out the continued problems but also the many bright spots. There is a handy map showing which countries have the fastest and slowest GDP growth rates, with the fastest rates in black (Ethiopia, at 7.5 per cent), then red, lighter red, all the way down to the deadbeats, in white. Of course, in looking at percentage rises or falls in growth, it pays to remember that statistics can be highly misleading (hardly a surprise to any skeptics of government, of course) and it is easy to rise fast from a low base. But still, these numbers are indicative of a more positive picture.

Needless top say, Zimbabwe came at the bottom of the growth league. It remains a grim lesson in how collectivism, cronyism and debauchery of money spell disaster. If parts of Africa are beginning to understand the follies of this and start to make serious money, that is excellent news. For a start, refugees from the hellholes of the continent might, instead of entering sclerotic Europe, choose to make a life in a more congenial place elsewhere.

Of course, there have been false dawns before. But with the flood of money entering the continent from China (after all that commodity wealth), I have a feeling that the rise of Africa has some staying power, particularly given the young demographics. Of course, it could all be messed up from things such as a rise of global protectionism.

If only…

George Monbiot begins a banker-bashing article in the Guardian with these words,

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire.

Inevitable result? That is a lot to ask, in Africa or anywhere.

If in most of Africa in the last half-century the probable, or, Dear God, the permitted, result of the hard work and enterprise of women – or men – had been a modest increase in wealth, and not, as it mostly was, the expropriation of whatever you had gained and a chance to be murdered as a hoarder or class enemy by whatever Derg or other bunch of socialist thugs was calling itself the government that week, why, then Africa might have thrown off poverty the way Taiwan and South Korea did.

As Adam Smith said, “Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice: all the rest being brought about by the natural course of things.” Let us remember those who died in avoidable famines because that “little else” was too much to ask from Africa’s leaders, and from their Guardian reading admirers.

Even Africa is now slowly but surely getting richer, now that the worst of the folly has been thrown off. Inevitable wealth as the result of enterprise and hard work was not necessary to bring about this result. Just a half-decent chance at it.

Sic semper tyrannis

Gaddafi summarily executed by Libyan rebels… the world is a better place today than it was yesterday.

Lets hope this puts the right idea in people’s heads elsewhere.

50,000,000,000,000 Zimbabwe dollars

Andy Janes has just bought one of these:


He paid £1.70. Not bad. But how many pounds will such a thing cost in a few years time?

Have a nice weekend.

Guido dishes the dirt on Labour and Libya

Following on from Perry’s post immediately below this one, I see that Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines), has, by his standards, a pretty long, and more significantly, very strongly worded item pointing to all the various links between the late, unlamented Labour government, and the equally unlamented Libyan dictator. I wonder how Tony Blair regrets that photo of him shaking hands with Gaddaffi?

Maybe not. Maybe, Blair might argue, that yes, the guy was and is a bastard, but he came clean about his own WMD programmes in 2003 after Saddam was toppled and to that limited extent, it was right for the West to “reward” those countries run by people who had shown some signs of seeing sense. But the trouble with this sort of realpolitik is that it requires a country like Britain to turn a sort of Nelsonian blind eye to the manifest wickedness of a regime and its past. And let’s not be partisan here: the same calculations have been taken by rightwing administrations as well. Such statecraft is an ugly business, and not a place for high-falutin sanctimony. That said, the deal to release the guy blamed for the Lockerbie massacre, only to see how this release was treated by the Libyan authorities, stank to high heaven. It also unnecessarily has damaged relations between the UK and US.

As for what happens next, I haven’t the foggiest idea.

It’s those pirates again

Praveen Swami, diplomatic editor of the Daily Telegraph, has a good piece – although I might quibble on one or two points – concerning the problem of Somali piracy, about which I have written several times here at Samizdata. I am not going to add further comment to what I have already said, but I was impressed by this article and a longish comment attached to it by a person with the signature of “IgonikonJack”. It is pretty good. And another, by “itzman”, refers to the issue of “letters of marque”.

A related point is that I have been reading Wired for War, by PW Singer, and it has fascinating things to say about some remarkable new technologies as apply not just in areas such as robotics and pilotless aircraft – those “drones” – also in the innovations now under way in the nautical world. They will surely play a part in any move to suppress piracy, but as Singer points out, the bad guys can increasingly get their hands on technology as well, and often by entirely legitimate means. This is all the more reason why libertarians, who are sometimes at the cutting edge of thinking about alternatives to government-imposed laws, as in the case of legal writer Bruce Benson, should get involved in how to address issues such as piracy.

In the Daily Telegraph article I link to, is the fact that, at the time of writing, more than 1,000 people are being held hostage by Somali pirates. If the same amount of people had been taken hostage on civil airliners, say, I think the major powers of the world might have adopted a more robust view by now.

Regime smashing in Libya

Others have been complaining about how long it has taken, but I have been surprised at the speed with which the West has responded to events in Libya, and have been unable to shake the feeling, until today actually, that the reports I was reading were send-ups for comic purposes of some kind.

I am an agnostic about Western intervention in foreign parts rather than an outright atheist, but I respect the atheist position and deeply fear the true believer, “nation building” idea. Governments are good at destroying stuff, but tend to be shambolic at any kind of creativity. The more creative they try to be, the more destructive they typically end up being. People do creative, not governments.

This operation seems to be mostly destructive, which is all to the good. I think it reasonable to hope that it accomplishes some good, rather than only fearful that it will all go horribly wrong.

The West’s leaders are telling Gadaffi that maybe he can rule his country, but not the way he has been for the last fortnight or so. Bombing it and shelling it into submission is not allowed. Do that and we’ll do the same to you. Govern your country with riot police. Maybe arrange some elections, and then fix them. Bribe people into supporting you, rather than just killing them like they are armed soldiers. Above all, and now I’m going by what David Cameron said this afternoon, don’t announce ceasefires and promise them to your fellow members of the Head of Government Club, but then not deliver them.

This was one of the big things that Saddam Hussein did wrong, as I understand that earlier story. He didn’t just invade Kuwait. He told other members of the Head of Government Club that he wouldn’t. Lying to your people is okay. They all do that. That’s business as usual. But lying to fellow members of the Head of Government Club is not the done thing. Do it and you get blackballed, by which is meant that your armed underlings, the basis of your power, get slaughtered. Provided, that is, you are not bossing a serious power, and Westerners slaughtering your underlings would start a serious war, as opposed to an “asymmetric” war (i.e. a slaughter of your slaughterers).

LOL!!!: Just watched a British military talking-head-in-a-suit on the BBC, when asked to say what success for this operation would mean, say: “removing Saddam”, and then hurriedly correct himself.

The Kenyan Constitution – Natalie Solent was correct

Some people may remember Natalie Solent writing a post on Samizdata about statist developments in Kenya (a post inspired by a BBC report – of all things).

Predictably a from-central-casting leftist commenter turned up – accusing Natalie Solent (and even nice, gentle, fluffy me) of lies, ignorance…

Well Glenn Beck has actually read the new Kenyan Constitution, passed last week (even I could think of better things to do than read the small print of the new Kenyan Constitution – for example pluck out some of my nose hairs, so if Glenn wants to use his failing eyes to read the thing for the rest us…) and he read out sections of it on Monday, live on his show.

There is a list of “positive” rights (i.e. nice things the government must do for you) – wild promises of health, education, and so on. The idea that these can be afforded even in a developed economy (in the long term) is problematic – as for in an economy like Kenya, the idea is absurd.

Also (as even the Economist magazine admitted – although, of course, it supported the new Constitution) large areas of what are presently privately owned land can now be taken by the government.

Lastly – we have an interesting definition of “freedom of speech” (the very thing that Natalie was pointing to) . “Hate speech” is excluded from “free speech” protection – and hate speech is defined as an attack on a group, or an individual (which just about covers everything one might use a right to free speech to do). I am sure that Frank Lloyd (President Barack Obama’s “Diversity” Commissar at the Federal Communications Commission) would love to introduce such a Constitution in the United States (no naughty Fox News, or talk radio or internet to upset him any more), Kenya may even replace the Venezuela of President Chevez as his favourite country.

Although there are no explicit use of words like “Marxism”, the style in which the Kenyan Constitution is written (and a lot of the content – see above) is very much like the old Soviet Constitution – not a nasty, negative, set of limitations on government power like the United States Constitution.

Almost needless to say Comrade Barack Obama spent a lot of money making sure the new Kenyan Constitution was passed – although Glenn Beck did not mention that point. Although Glenn did mention that this sort of Constitution was the “Dream” of Barack Obama’s Marxist pro Soviet father (not to be confused with his Marxist mother or socialist maternal grandparents, or his Marxist childhood mentor Frank Marshall Davis, or his fellow Marxists in New York whilst a post grad, or the Marxists he worked with for his whole adult life in Chicago, or his Marxist Liberation Theology Minister for twenty years Rev. J. Wright or…), as made clear (if one reads carefully) in Barack Obama’s own first book “Dreams…”

A friend of mine has looked into the Kenyan constitution – I hope I do not have to read it (i.e. I am forced to when some moron, or paid hack, comes along and say it is a wonderful example of truly limited government), from the sound of even this bit it seems like the Constitutional document equivalent of a snuff film.

His initial comments were:

I’ll stick to other countries’ coffee now, the rights enumerated are amazing, even goods and services. Why didn’t Marx think of simply enumerating legal rights to plenty? Were the massacres encouraged as a reason for the new Constitution? Clause 10 is bad enough; 34 (4); 43; 66, 73 etc.

How do I enforce my rights (were I Kenyan) under 43 (1) (c): By not paying in a restaurant? Everyone is obliged to uphold the Constitution 3 (1). OK, start saving up for the Famine relief now…

No wonder the Economist magazine supported it (no I am not saying they are Marxists – they are just whores who always try and get into bed with the powerful) and Comrade Barack spent American tax money to make sure it passed.