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]

Samizdata quote of the day

What do you want?
Whose side are you on?
That would be telling. We want information… information… information.
You won’t get it.
By hook or by crook, we will.

– The Prisoner (intro written by George Markstein, as far as we know)


The state has never been your friend. What about your friends (and others) who work for the state?

I came across an article titled The Public Sector: Standing In Our Way Until We Pay Up (browsing Catallaxy Files). Both are recommended reading. The article is written from an American perspective, but speaks of experiences both Americans and non-Americans would be familiar with. I have reproduced what I found to be the more thought-provoking parts of the article here:

…one popular theory of the state — one that is pretty well-supported by the historical evidence in the European context — is that this is where governments come from: protection rackets that survive for a long enough period of time that they take on a patina of legitimacy. At some point, Romulus-and-Remus stories are invented to explain that the local Mafiosi have not only historical roots but divine sanction.

The fundamental problem — the provision of services — never really goes away. It is even today a critical issue in places that are (or recently have been) ruled by crime syndicates such as the Taliban and Fatah. Hamas, especially, is known to put some real effort into the social-services front. There are some services that markets historically have not done a very good job of providing — these are called “public goods,” which is a specific term from political economy and not a synonym for “stuff the public thinks is desirable” — and their provision is the only real reason we have governments. Or, more precisely: Providing public goods is the only legitimate reason we have governments.

In reality, we have governments for lots of reasons, most of them illegitimate: That ancient instinct toward banditry is powerful, and the desire to make a living by simply commanding economic resources rather than earning them through trade or labor seems to be a fixed feature of a certain subset of human beings. Patronage and clientelism are very strong forces, too, and government can be used to create public-sector salaries or welfare benefits that are well in excess of the wages that political clients could expect to earn in honest work. In the United States, our swollen public-sector payrolls, particularly at the state and local level, are little more than a supplementary welfare state, providing a more dignified form of public dependency for relatively low-skilled and mainly unenterprising people.

When it comes to government, if you aren’t involved in the provision of actual public goods, you are involved in extortion. It may be legal. It may have the blessing of the mayor, the city council, and your union representative, but it’s still extortion. And you should be ashamed of yourself. If your only purpose is getting in the way until somebody hands you money, then you are part of a protection racket. And you might want to think about going into a more honorable line of work.

Prior to reading the article, I was familiar with the hypothesis that the origin of the modern state has its roots in criminal enterprise, yet it is always amusing attempting to reconcile this with the modern state’s increasingly matronly efforts to get its subjects to behave themselves. And it is certainly far from an implausible theory, when you consider how similar the objectives of a criminal enterprise and a state can be. The major difference is, of course, that the state functions within the law – hardly surprising since it is the major source of law – while criminal organisations operate outside of the law. But honestly, how could the activity of a crime gang that defeated a local rival in a turf war be described as anything other than a spot of localised gun control – in terms of ends, if perhaps not means?

→ Continue reading: The state has never been your friend. What about your friends (and others) who work for the state?

Why we libertarians love Uber not just as a service but as an issue

I and my libertarian friends all love Uber. By that I don’t just mean that we love using Uber, the service, although I am sure that just like many others, we do. I mean that we love talking about Uber, as a libertarian issue, as an issue that nicely illustrates what libertarianism is all about and the sorts of things that libertarians believe in. In particular, we believe in: technological innovation and the freedom to do it, for the benefit of all, except those in the immediate vicinity of it and overtaken by it, because they make a living from the technology that is being overtaken.

Example. A couple of weeks ago I attended a talk about Art, which suggested that Art is not abundant enough and not benefiting enough people. A big part of the response from the floor during the Q&A afterwards was: It depends what you mean by Art. By most reasonable definitions, there has never been more Art. Prominent London libertarian Professor Tim Evans compared the attitude of the speaker to that of a London Black Cab driver fretting about how to keep London Black Cabs going, what with so many Londoners now preferring Uber Cabs. My point is not that this was a fair comparison, although I thought it was. My point is that we libertarians love Uber so much that we insert Uber into conversations about quite other things. Uber is something that we just love to talk about. And it’s not just Tim Evans, and me, and Johnathan Pearce, and Rob Fisher and Perry de Havilland who love to write and talk about Uber. Based on the conversations I’ve been having with fellow libertarians, it’s pretty much all of us. This is an issue which unites all of us, and which divides our opponents. After all, even anti-libertarians need a taxi ride from time to time, and they prefer it to be cheap and obtainable rather than expensive and unpurchasable.

At the very moment I first typed in the above paragraph, an email arrived from the IEA, telling me about how the IEA’s boss, Mark Littlewood, has been mixing it with Black Cabbies on the radio.

As for me, I found my interest renewed in the Uber battle when I encountered this Black Cab, last August, in Victoria Street, just up the road from the Houses of Parliament:


Why was this cab of interest to me? Well, let’s take a close look at the rather intriguing politics lesson on the side of this Black Cab:


As you can see from this posting at my personal blog, way back in August when I took those photos, I had in mind to put something here way back, provoked by them. But the delay didn’t matter. This issue is not going away any time soon.

The taxi driver whose taxi sported this advert clearly thought that this was an advert about how wicked Uber is. Uber lobbies. Uber puts Prime Ministerial friends on its payroll. Bad Uber. But to me, this read more like an advert in favour of David Cameron. Cameron wants Uber to flourish in London. Does he now? I did not know this. Good for Cameron. And bad for Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, who does not.

This also an advert for Uber itself. Uber is cheaper … because it pays no tax! Come again … Uber is cheaper, you say? Hm, interesting. I must give it a go.

The LTDA, who, as you can see from the top picture, is responsible for the above advert, thinks that Uber is systematically breaking the law. What that tells me is not that Uber is bad, but that the law, insofar as it now impinges upon Uber, is an ass.

→ Continue reading: Why we libertarians love Uber not just as a service but as an issue

How James Bond violated the rights of British citizens earlier this evening

For just over a year now, the younger of my two Goddaughters has been a student at the Royal College of Music, learning to be a mezzo-soprano. The two of us just shared supper in Chelsea, and while we consumed it she told me something very bizarre and rather sinister, about the chaos that was apparently inflicted, earlier this evening, upon her and her colleagues at the RCM by the latest James Bond film London premiere. This jamboree took place just across the road from the RCM, at the Royal Albert Hall, and it seems that the RCM was commanded to evacuate all its practice rooms that overlooked this premiere activity (quite a lot of which was outside the Royal Albert Hall on those big steps at the back), to stop anyone seeing it, and in particular, presumably, to stop them filming it or photographing it. These RCM practice rooms are in constant use, and alternatives are very hard to come by. Neither the students nor the teachers of the RCM were at all amused by this intrusion into their already stressful and hardworking lives.

How the hell can a mere bunch of movie people insist on barging into other people’s buildings and ordering them around like this? I thought James Bond was all about defending the liberties of British citizens, not violating them. According to GD2, the Royal College of Music did not agree to this arrangement. It was merely informed of it, by Westminster City Council. If the College did consent voluntarily to this arrangement, in exchange for a cash payment, for instance, rather than simply being forced to submit to it, they didn’t tell any of their inmates about that fact.

You can see what the people who inflicted all this upon the RCM were thinking. It was their event. They owned it. Nobody whom they did not invite or control should be allowed to film it. But, I say that if you want total control of the filming or photographing of an event, don’t hold your event in a public place, out in the open air, and then impose your control on places that merely overlook this public place. If you do bizarre things in public, you are fair photographic game, to anyone in the vicinity who chooses to snap you or video you.

GD2 is my only source for this story, and maybe she, or I in reporting what she said to me, have it wrong. I’d welcome comments about this or similar events, corrective if necessary. (I could find nothing about this event, other than about it simply happening, on the www.) But if what GD2 told me is right, and if my recollection of what she told me about it is also right, well, I am not impressed.

This circumstance reminded me of the crap inflicted on London when the Olympic Games came to town.

Samizdata quote of the day

The United Nations is truly an amazing organization. Dictators and authoritarians from around the world can work together to solve their common problems, like how to keep their own citizens under control. A solution to this serious problem has been found, Cyberviolence against women is the new justification for the police state. Terrorism just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Max Michael

A welcome slap in the face from the Magistracy for the Education nomenklatura

A gentleman living on the Isle of Wight took his school-age daughter on holiday to Florida in term time. The child’s absence from school was noted…

The Local Education Authority issued him with a fixed-penalty notice for £60, for failing to ensure that his child attended school regularly. He refused to pay this ‘penalty’ (a bureaucratic alternative to prosecution). The ‘fine’ was doubled (by the bureaucrats) to £120, he refused to pay, so he was summonsed to the Magistrates’ Court by the authority to face a charge under Section 444 of the Education Act 1996 (from John Major’s time).

Sure enough, he argued, my daughter wasn’t in school, big deal. The offence was not made out. Here is the wording in question.

Offence: failure to secure regular attendance at school of registered pupil.

(1)If a child of compulsory school age who is a registered pupil at a school fails to attend regularly at the school, his parent is guilty of an offence.

So, for those (many) parents harassed, threatened and fined by bureaucrats, they have been acting as if the law required total attendance at school.

The rule of law has prevailed, the offence was not made out, on the prosecution’s case, the case failed. What troubles me is that I find that, in England in 2015, refreshing.

But as Mrs Thatcher once said ‘Just rejoice at that news!‘.

The Finnish tax police want a pizza the action.

If reports are true, the Finnish tax police want the public to report anyone selling a take-away pizza for less than €6.

“Unless a pizza is on temporary sale there is no way a legitimate establishment can offer pizza for less than six euros,” Det Insp Minna Immonen of the Uusimaa police department is quoted as saying.

So they have calculated that it is not possible to remain in business selling pizza for less than that price, and still pay the 12% VAT.

12% VAT? What a pleasantly low rate, here in the UK it is 20% for almost everything. I will not be diverted onto a discussion as to what is standard or zero-rated, except to note that on learning that horse semen is subject to normal VAT but bull semen is zero-rated (effectively exempt) as in most of Europe horses are not ‘food’, I decided that whoever made that ruling in Brussels bloody well deserved that to be their legacy.

However, the intrusion is greater, you should get a receipt for your pizza, so Finland has joined Italy as a place where every transaction (even a 1€ cup of coffee or Sachertorte in Venice) leads to a receipt being printed at the till, for fear of the Tax Police.

Police are trying to crack down on the “grey economy”, which costs the country millions of euros in lost tax revenue each year. They also want people to make sure they get a receipt for their pizzas, regardless of value.

We all surely know that the ‘country’ is in fact ‘the State’, and those millions of Euros of lost revenue go on to lead happy, productive lives in the private sector in the hands of their owners. It is a sorry state of affairs when price signals are used by tax authorities to go looking for suspects, rather than customers for bargains, perhaps the tipping point from a tolerably free society to an unpleasant one. I do recall the Sage of Kettering remarking years ago that someone had calculated that no business could carry on in New York City if it followed all the regulations that apply to it.

Still, this has generated some scorn, so that is a positive sign.

The UN report is not “well-meaning”

The UN report is not “well-meaning.” It’s an effort to use the hysteria of privileged Western women to slip through global censorship in service of autocrats and oligarchs at home and abroad. The people pushing it are not good people who are going too far. They’re awful, horrible people exploiting useful idiots.

Glenn Reynolds

I know my Corbyn routine is getting old but he won’t stop sending me jokes

Via JohnW and the rest of the internet,

Treat meat eaters like smokers, warns Jeremy Corbyn’s new vegan farming minister Kerry McCarthy

(Just a little note to the Telegraph subs: she isn’t actually farming minister yet. Labour would have to win an election for that.)

Meat should be treated like tobacco with a public campaign to stop people eating it, Jeremy Corbyn’s new vegan shadow farming minister has suggested. Kerry McCarthy, MP for Bristol East, has irked the British farming industry with her veganism and vice presidency of the anti-hunting League Against Cruel Sports.

In an interview with Viva!life, a magazine for vegans, she admitted she was a “militant” when it came to clamping down on meat consumption. She said: “I really believe that meat should be treated in exactly the same way as tobacco, with public campaigns to stop people eating it.”

Samizdata quote of the day

While the risk-averse policies of universities have long been open to abuse, it is students’ unions that have done the most to popularise the illiberal logic the government is now adopting. Over the past few years, censorious student activism has hit new and ridiculous heights. Take one look at the NUS-led clampdown on lad culture – which recently received government approval – and you can see where Dave has been getting his ideas from. SU bans on rugby teams, lads’ mags and pop songs, all in the name of protecting women from offence and dunderheaded men from coming under the influence of a mythical ‘rape culture’, chime perfectly with Cameron’s insistence that we should clamp down, not only on terrorist views, but on those ‘intolerant ideas which create a climate in which extremists can flourish’. He may as well have called it terror culture.

So don’t be fooled by these hypocrites and opportunists. If we want to fight for free speech on campus, we need to take on the illiberal views of blue-haired campus nutjobs as well as doublespeak Dave. And if you want to join the real fightback, check out our Down With Campus Censorship! campaign today.

Tom Slater for Spiked.

On immigrants

I’m afraid I feel rather personally about the current immigration crises in the United States and Europe.

(Yes, we have a crisis in the United States as well, or at least, we have Presidential candidates with high poll numbers claiming that we do, and said candidates are threatening to enact draconian measures, including mass deportations.)

I take the matter quite personally because my own father was once a war refugee. Indeed, he was once a war refugee who, because he was a member of a non-Christian religion, was denied refuge in more or less every civilized part of the world. Seventy five years ago, of course, Jews were not considered particularly welcome even by countries that knew full well what was happening in Germany.

My father managed to save himself by ignoring laws that said that he wasn’t allowed to cross borders in the night without permission. Had it been up to many people, of course, he would have died instead, but he quite sensibly believed that he was under no moral obligation to pay attention to people who would have preferred him to remain where he was and die, and thus he formed his own immigration plan without the permission of the legal authorities at his destination.

(Of course, only this morning I read that Victor Orbán has complained that allowing Syrians into Europe would diminish the Christian character of the continent, the sort of claim I’ve heard before in different contexts, including from the political movement that forced my father to flee in the first place. This does bring to mind an ancient set of questions for adherents of Christianity, such as what sort of razor-wire walled internment camp designs Jesus would have favored, as well as whom Jesus would have deported. But I digress.)

For me, the question of immigration is, because of my family history, a very emotional one. None the less, I have given the matter a considerable amount of thought, and I believe that, although I care deeply about the issue, my position is still not an irrational one. Rather, I think that my family history simply allows me to put faces to the theoretical people who might be denied passage and die where they are, and thus gives me the ability to understand by example the human consequences of policies.

(Indeed, this is perhaps much the same thing that has happened for people who have viewed the the photographs of poor Aylan Kurdi, who drowned because even though his family had plenty of money to go from where they were to a place of safety, they had to give it to smugglers instead of to a reliable airline or ferry company. Seeing an individual face, hearing an individual name, makes it harder to ignore the consequences of a policy. But again, I digress.)

So, as I have said, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’ve come to a straightforward conclusion. Anyone proposing that immigration from one country to another be stopped through the use of coercive state violence is, morally speaking, doing the equivalent of proposing to beat on the hands of a drowning man desperately trying to climb out of the sea.

I claim that there is no more moral justification for preventing a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting a house and then looking for work than there would be for preventing a man from within the borders of your supposed “nation state” from doing the same. I have scoured the literature on moral philosophy and failed to find any justification for the claim that a man born across an imaginary line has particularly different rights than a man born within it. I claim this is true regardless of whether the man from Homs seeks to rent the house next door because he is fleeing for his life or because he prefers the weather in your part of the world.

Indeed, the only way to stop a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting an apartment from a willing owner, and taking a job from a willing employer, would seem to be to threaten to do violence or actually to do violence to that man. Which is to say, the only way to prevent him from moving would be the initiation of violence against an entirely peaceful person who has done nothing whatsoever to the people doing violence to him.

Therefore, not only would it seem that there is no moral justification for preventing such behavior, and not only would it seem churlish, but it would also seem that, if anything at all can be called immoral, then doing violence to a peaceful person who wants nothing more than to rent a house, find a job and live as everyone else does is immoral. Perhaps, of course, there is no such thing as right and wrong beyond personal whim, perhaps morals are not a real thing at all, but if morals are indeed a real thing and if morality means anything useful, then clearly such acts are immoral.

I know that some, perhaps even here on Samizdata, would suggest that immigrants are coming to the West to take advantage of our generous state welfare policies. If you believe that, then there is a trivial solution. I will in no way oppose the proposal that the law that opens the border should also specify that immigrants and even their children should not receive state benefits until they’ve lived in the country for ten, or twenty, or, who cares, make it a thousand years if you like. I don’t believe in the dole or state benefits of any sort to begin with, so I can’t consistently oppose denying people such benefits.

I have heard some others say “but they will vote and they are illiberal!”, and if you believe that, fine, deny them the right to vote — I’m an anarchist, and as I don’t believe in elections in the first place, I feel comfortable with denying the franchise to immigrants forever if you feel that is necessary for you to agree to open the border.

But, if you refuse to consider opening the border even if those coming are doing so with their own resources, are renting or buying homes with their own money, are not taking state benefits and are not voting for more collectivism, then I am afraid that I do have to look askance at your position.

Which is to say, your position was immoral in the first place, but if you refuse to reverse a completely immoral position even if the supposed “pragmatic” rationale for holding it vanishes, then perhaps your rationale is not only immoral but was also not held for pragmatic reasons in the first place.

On the jailed county clerk

For those who are not aware, an elected county clerk in Kentucky was jailed for contempt of court for failing to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples because she claims that aiding same sex marriage violates her religious beliefs. She had been given a court order to do so and refused to either comply with the order or to resign her position.

An acquaintance asked this on his FB wall:

He asked: “Do any of my libertarian (or anarchist or otherwise anti-‘state’) friends agree that Kim Davis should be jailed for not issuing marriage licenses to gay couples?”

I thought I’d reproduce my answer here.

So, there are two levels to this. On the one hand, as an anarchist, I would say the state shouldn’t exist at all, and a minarchist would agree with me that marriage licenses should not exist. No one should need to seek state permission to enter in to a private interpersonal relationship.

However, lets presume a world where the state does exist, and marriage licenses do exist. Under those circumstances, a government official whose job is to give out such licenses ought not have any discretion about withholding them from people who meet the general legal qualifications.

If you would like translated version of that, imagine that you have an official whose job is to give out building permits, and they refuse to give out a building permit for a headquarters for an organization that they feel offends their religion. As an example, imagine such an official refusing to grant permission for a church which is a heterodox schismatic sect of the religion they follow because they consider such people heretics. Now, clearly, there shouldn’t be building permits, and no state official should have such power to grant them in the first place, but given that state officials are out granting building permits, they shouldn’t be able to stop people from building things that offend them, even if their religion says that the people building the building are heretics.

In this particular instance, generally, I’d say that she should have been fired for failing to do her job, not jailed, but given that she is an elected official, the current legal regime provides very little in the way of other options to the judge.

Note that if libertarianism is about anything, it is about curtailing the power of state officials to deny people the right to do things, even if those things deeply offend them, if those things are purely consensual for all involved parties and do no violence to others. To the minarchist the state ought to be minimized, to the anarchist it should not exist at all, but neither would grant a state official the right to make the decision to interfere in such behavior.