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]

When numbers are so big that people lose any grip on reality

Japan is currently in the process of monetising its vast debt (in plain English, printing money). To get some scale of the issue, check out this following news report from the Japan Times.

Japan’s national debt hit a record-high ¥1.025 quadrillion at the end of March, up ¥33 trillion from a year earlier, the Finance Ministry said on Friday. The central government debt, which increased ¥7 trillion from the end of December last year, kept rising mainly due to ballooning social security costs in line with the aging population. The balance of government bonds, financing bills and other borrowings crossed the ¥1 quadrillion mark for the first time ever at the end of June 2013.

Here is a definition of what is a Quadrillion. Even at the dollar-yen exchange rate of one dollar buying 101 yen, this is a scary, but also barely comprehensible, sum of money. That leads me to the view that the public no longer can really get to grips with how massive debt, both in funded and unfunded, forms is, and indeed with the very notion that a lot of this debt is not even “on the balance sheet”.

How North Korea advertises itself to businesses considering setting up shop there

Some of these claims are false. Some reveal more truth than the writers intended:

Lowest labour cost in Asia.

Highly qualified, loyal and motivated personnel. Education, housing and health service is provided free to all citizens. As opposed to other Asian countries, worker’s will not abandon their positions for higher salaries once they are trained.

Lowest taxes scheme in Asia. Especially for high-tech factories. Typical tax exemption for the first two years.

No middle agents. All business made directly with the government, state-owned companies.

Stable. A government with solid security and very stable political system, without corruption.

Full diplomatic relations with most EU members and rest of countries.

New market. Many areas of business and exclusive distribution of products (sole-distribution).

Transparant legal work. Legal procedures, intellectual rights, patents and warranties for investors settled.


Shortly after the Twitter ban came into effect around midnight, the micro-blogging company tweeted instructions to users in Turkey on how to circumvent it using text messaging services in Turkish and English. Turkish tweeters were quick to share other methods of tiptoeing around the ban, using “virtual private networks” (VPN) – which allow internet users to connect to the web undetected – or changing the domain name settings on computers and mobile devices to conceal their geographic whereabouts.

Some large Turkish news websites also published step-by-step instructions on how to change DNS settings.

On Friday morning, Turkey woke up to lively birdsong: according to the alternative online news site Zete.com, almost 2.5m tweets – or 17,000 tweets a minute – have been posted from Turkey since the Twitter ban went into effect, thus setting new records for Twitter use in the country.

May it continue thus.

Kill a man and you go to jail… kill 45 million and you get commemorated in souvenir shops

People in Shaoshan in China, the birthplace of Chairman Mao, are making good money selling keepsakes of history’s most prolific mass murderer. I find it odd that the BBC reporter doing a little video on that somehow neglected to ask “why are you selling souvenirs of a man responsible for murdering tens of millions of your fellow Chinese people?”

Actually I think we all know why that question never got asked.

Clearly Braunau am Inn in Austria is missing a trick.

It makes you proud to be British

If you are lucky enough to be permitted to cross the border from Sinuiju in (totalitarian) North Korea to Dandong in (horribly repressive, but at least they have food) China, one of the first things you will see is this.

nk_tescoGod bless Tesco.

Fears of instability?

The execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has rekindled fears of instability in the secretive nuclear-armed state.

Huh? Fears of instability? What. The. Fuck.

Here, oh most vile and dismal of BBC copywriters, let me fix that for you…

The execution of the once-powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has rekindled hopes of instability in the secretive nuclear-armed state.


The President of Mongolia preaches freedom to North Korea – in North Korea

This report (spotted by the ever alert Mick Hartley), describes a remarkable speech made by the President of Mongolia, at the end of a visit he made in October to North Korea.

A speech given at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang by the president of Mongolia late last month has caused raised eyebrows for its starkly critical portrayal of the follies of tyrannical rule and the repression of human rights.

President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj delivered the speech on the final day of his visit to North Korea. Mongolia has traditionally maintained friendly relations with the North, but the tenor of the speech is bound to have caused surprise even though it was delivered before an audience of relative loyalists.

Relative loyalists. Now there’s a choice phrase. I’m guessing it does not mean people who are literally blood relatives of the ruling dynasty.

Under this report, Daily NK reproduces the full text of the President’s speech, and it is well worth a read.

Quote (and it is very quotable):

I believe in the power of freedom. Freedom is an asset bestowed upon every single man and woman. Freedom enables every human to discover and realize his or her opportunities and chances for development. This leads a human society to progress and prosperity. Free people look for solutions in themselves. And those without freedom search for the sources of their miseries from outside. Mongols say, “better to live by your own choice however bitter it is, than to live by other’s choice, however sweet”.

See what I mean about quotable?

No tyranny lasts forever. It is the desire of the people to live free that is the eternal power.

You surely do now.

In 1990 Mongolia made a dual political and economic transition, concurrently, without shattering a single window and shedding a single drop of blood. Let me draw just one example. Over twenty years ago, the sheer share of the private sector in Mongolia’s GDP was less than 10%, whereas today it accounts for over 80%. So, a free society is a path to go, a way to live, rather than a goal to accomplish.

As I say, remarkable. Pessimists may say: it’s just words. But words matter. Why would any of us bother with reading and writing the stuff here at Samizdata if words did not matter?

I never used to like those Mongols much. Now, I find myself warming to them.

On when a statist country tries to buy stuff in supposedly less statist ones

There is some controversy at present about the moves by the UK government (and not just the UK, the government of little Malta is at it) to let Chinese-owned (ie, state-owned) businesses invest in the UK, buy shares of local firms, and the like. Iain Martin more or less says we should only let the Chinese do so if they accord equal freedoms to UK firms. At present, any non-domestic organisation wishing to do business in Mainland China (it is different in Hong Kong) is required to set up a joint venture with a local Chinese partner. In practice, it means making nice to the local, often corrupt, representatives of the Chinese communist party. The comment thread on Martin’s article contains its usual share of foreigner-hating buffoons but there are some intelligent observations as well.

A difficulty presents itself. First, the UK is already one in which the state owns a fairly large share of the economy, not just through the overtly public sector bit, but by national controls and regulations over all kinds of sectors, such as transport and energy. True, the UK is a democratic polity, but given the imperfections of democracy, and Britain’s membership of the EU, the accountability of politicians for what happens in the UK is, to say the least, limited. And so does it really make sense for Britons to get in a rage about sinister foreigners buying bits of the UK?  It is not as if we are operating in a world of unfettered capitalism. (Those who remember the late 80s when Japanese firms were buying Western assets will feel a sense of deja vu coming on when reading about another supposed menace from overseas.)

Then there are the exploits of what are called Sovereign Wealth Funds. Such funds, mostly run by energy-rich jurisdictions in the Middle East and Asia, are politically and legally opaque. We have seen how the heads of these large gobs of wealth have bought such “trophy assets” as football teams (Manchester City) and so on. State-owned EDF, the French energy conglomerate, is a big player in the UK energy market. (I note that one Samizdata commenter on a previous post about energy policy seems rather upset about this. The accursed French!.)

In fact, if we are going to ban investment into a jurisdiction such as the UK from entities deemed to be opaque, or the arms of oppressive regimes of various kinds, that is going to create quite a headache. These folks have a lot of the money. They may not, of course, have it forever. China’s property market is, shall we say, an unknown quantity. If the US fracking revolution continues, and the price of energy falls a bit, some of the prowess of the SWFs might decline. It might also be a smart idea if Western governments learned to live within their means rather than go begging for such sources of money to make up the deficit gaps, which is what is really going on here.

But then again, these issues might not be all that new. In the past, politicians of various hues have tried to reinstate protectionist controls on foreign trade by objecting to things such as “dumping”, for instance (evil foreigners selling us subsidised cheap stuff). If China wants to sell us cheap things, and we can save money by paying less for such things than we would otherwise, and invest/spend what we have saved on something else, I don’t really see the problem in that.

We should remember that China needs the West to grow to sustain the value of what it wants to buy abroad. Ironically, one of the best ways to keep pushing China down the path to real capitalism rather than the odd hybrid it has now is to expose its people to doing as much business abroad as possible. So long as Western leaders play their hands intelligently and push for more penetration of China’s markets as part of that process, that surely is in everyone’s long term interests.

Teaching Austrian Economics to China

Which is better? A technically superb photo of something you’ve seen many times before, like a wonderful still life oil painting? Or, a technically very average photo of something remarkable, that you never thought you’d live to see?

If you are in the mood for the second sort of photo, and you are someone who likes the kind of ideas that Samizdata seeks to spread, you should definitely take a look at this:


This is a group of Chinese people to whom Tim Evans of the Cobden Centre, seated proudly in their midst, was speaking, on Friday September 20th, about … Austrian Economics. And yes that is people from China China, not from some already strongly capitalistic outlying fragment of China.

My thanks to Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home for telling me about this. Gibbs writes:

Tim Evans of the Austrianist Cobden Centre shared this image on Facebook. It is unclear who is visiting who but he is depicted front and centre with a delegation of Chinese officials as if he was an honoured guest or leader. Tim has been training the group in the details of Austrianism. The group worked with the Chinese State Council and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

Of this exercise, Tim Evans writes:

Spent a great day on Friday lecturing key academic and economic advisers to the Chinese State Council and the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. I regularly work with senior Chinese officials and find many of them to be increasingly well versed in the ideas of the Austrian School of Economics.

Austrian Economics is very persuasive to a certain sort of economically curious person, because it is basically a statement of how things are. It describes a world of realities which are true whether you care about or accept their truth or not. This stuff is true no matter what else you choose merely to believe. You can, in principle, understand that Austrian Economics describes how the world is, yet still believe that the world ought to be a centralised despotism or a socialist nirvana, or maybe even some combination of the two.

But, it is rather difficult to stick with such beliefs on a permanent basis. Once you accept the truths that Austrian Economics tells you, it is difficult not to find yourself believing that the world ought to be different from the tyrannical way that a lot of it still is.

Malinvestment in China

From the Wall Street Journal today:

A $91 billion industrial project here, mired in debt and unfulfilled promise, suggests part of the reason why China’s economy is wobbling – and why it will be hard to turn around.  The steel mill at the heart of Caofeidian, which is outside the city of Tangshan, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Beijing, is losing money. Nearby, an office park planned to be finished in 2010 is a mass of steel frames and unfinished buildings. Work on a residential complex was halted last Christmas, after workers completed the concrete frames. There is even a Bridge to Nowhere: a six-lane span abandoned after 10 support pylons were erected.

“You only need to look around to see how things are going,” said Zhao Jianjun, a worker at a plant that hasn’t produced its steel-reinforced plastic pipes for months. “Look north, west, east,” he said, gesturing to empty buildings. Chen Gong, chairman of Beijing Anbound Information, a Chinese think tank, says Caofeidian shows the flaws of the Chinese economic-growth model, in which the government plans investment and companies are expected to follow suit, regardless of market conditions. Chinese local governments are “driven by the blind pursuit of GDP,” said Mr. Chen.

There are reasons why I have doubted much of this “China will overtake the US and dominate the world” stuff and the details referred to above are part of it, though goodness knows state-driven mal-investment is hardly the preserve of China. Far from it. But there has been enough evidence around to suggest that vast sums of money poured into Chinese projects of this type will not bear fruit. And there will be a reckoning.

I always said this would happen eventually

Mongolian neo-Nazis rebrand themselves as environmentalists.

An unspeakably inhumane regime

Young, ambitious, Chinese officials are being required to read Tom Friedman if they want to get ahead.

I knew the Chinese government was cruel, but until now I had no idea just how cruel.