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

Talking of anniversaries…

A year ago today I posted Discussion Point XXXVI

What will happen to the Euro? I am not asking “what should happen”, but what will happen. Take this opportunity to put your predictions on the internet, and later be hailed as a true prophet or derided as a false one.

Come, take your bows, or your lumps, and predict anew. The fat lady has not yet sung.

You thought they couldn’t do it?

You thought that no one could top awarding a Nobel peace prize to Barack Obama, a decision taken, if I recall correctly, eleven days into his presidency?

They topped it.

This is sublime. This is art.

European Union wins Nobel peace prize

Thoughts on extradition and its limits

“Perhaps the most annoying thing about Julian Assange (yes, I know it’s a long list) is that he is in danger of giving the European Arrest Warrant (EAW) a good name. Maybe my memory is failing, but I don’t recall any of his supporters being critical of the EU’s fast-track extradition system when it was being debated 10 years ago.”

Philip Johnston, in today’s Daily Telegraph. It is an interesting point to make. Leaving aside Assange for a minute (there’s no need to hurry), the power of extradition creates an interesting point for those concerned about liberty and the importance of due process of law. Some extradition agreements between states might be acceptable if, for example, an offence for which a person is to be extradited to country B from A is recognised as a criminal offence in both nations. However, with the EU Arrest Warrant, you can be extradited into a country from another where the offence in question is not recognised in the place where the person happens to be staying at a particular point in time.

As we have seen with recent controversy about the UK’s extradition agreement with the United States, a person can be moved to the US – and vice versa – without a prima facie establishment of guilt having to be shown in the country where the person is being transferred from. Given the plea-bargaining lottery that the US adopts in certain cases, for example, this seems to involve serious abuse of due process.

These points need to be aired because, amid all the other issues kicked up by the Assange affair (the alleged sex crimes, the activities of Wikileaks, potential damage to military forces in the field, etc) the specifics of extradition principles can be obscured. Unlike some more isolationist types, I don’t have a problem with treaties between states to shift suspected criminals around to see that justice is done, provided there is a reciprocal recognition of the rules of procedure. For instance, there is simply no way that a country such as the UK should have such an arrangement with a state enforcing shariah law, say, or with a country such as Russia, which is a police state, or for that matter, Ecuador.

Samizdata quote of the day

“People who do otherwise commendable work are capable of rape and other crimes. If presented with rape allegations, they must face them like anybody else, however otherwise worthy their past contributions. Now, these statements should be so self-evidently obvious, it is ludicrous that they need to be said. But the furore over WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange sadly makes it necessary. Although now granted political asylum by Ecuador, Assange is a rape suspect who skipped bail. Yet some of his supporters have ended up making arguments that they would never dream of making about anybody else.”

Owen Jones, writing in the Independent. He is, by the way, a big fan of Wikileaks. I am not so keen, as I have explained here before at Samizdata, such as when Wikileaks affected private bank details.

Here is also a good article on the impact of Wikileaks’ activity on investigative journalism, by Nick Cohen.

Update: George Galloway has, er, tried to defend Assange. With friends like Galloway, Assange doesn’t need enemies.

Samizdata quote of the day

The Greek electorate is in denial. It rejects austerity, but insists on keeping the euro. All the main parties duly parroted what voters wanted to hear, making for a fantasy election, a make-believe election, a fingers-in-my-ears-I-can’t-hear-you election. The only list which was honest about the necessary cuts – a coalition of three liberal parties – failed to gain a single seat.

Daniel Hannan

Discussion Point XXXVII

Who do you hope wins the election in Greece today?

As a starting point for discussion, I thought the headline of this Guardian article “A Syriza victory will mark the beginning of the end of Greece’s tragedy” might well turn out to be true if Syriza do win, albeit not in the way the left wing authors expect.

Estonia bites back, and then some

This is delicious about Professor Paul Krugman.

The president of Estonia chewed out Paul Krugman on Wednesday, using Twitter to call the Nobel Prize-winning economist “smug, overbearing & patronizing,” in response to a short post on Estonia’s economic recovery. Krugman’s 67-word entry, entitled “Estonian Rhapsody,” questioned the merits of using Estonia as a “poster child for austerity defenders.” He included a chart that, in his words, showed “significant but still incomplete recovery” after a deep economic slump.

This paragraph packs its own, statistically-deadly punch in the direction of the New York Times columnist:

Estonia, which in 2011 became the latest country to join the eurozone, has been heralded by some as an austerity success story. That year, it clocked a faster economic growth pace than any other country in the European Union, at 7.6 percent. Estonia is also the only EU member with a budget surplus, and had the lowest public debt in 2011 — 6 percent of GDP. Fitch affirmed its A+ credit rating last week.

Update: Dan Mitchell weighs in with some damning data of his own against Krugman.

Midnight approaches…

I read this

Leaders of the three biggest [Greek] parties met at the presidential mansion for a final attempt to bridge their differences, but the talks quickly hit an impasse as they traded accusations on a deeply unpopular bailout package tied to harsh spending cuts

…and…

Polls since the election show the balance of power tipping even further towards opponents of the bailout, who were divided among several small parties but now appear to be rallying behind Tsipras, a 37-year-old ex-Communist student leader

…and was then reminded of this by H.L Menchen which I have often quoted…

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard

Greece is often credited as being the place where formal democracy was first practised in antiquity and so it seems fitting that it is Greece where the current social democratic order of regulatory statism enters its terminal state of Maenad frenzy, perhaps proving beyond all doubt that social democracy is unreformable via democratic means.

But do not kid yourself that the tragicomic indigent collective derangement on ever more florid display is something peculiar to the Hellenic world.

My faith in humanity is back somewhere in the middle, although I do have my Kindle back

On December 1 last year a bag and a coat were stolen from my rental car in the city of Portimão in Portugal. The bag contained a few items of value, one of which was my Kindle. As I recounted at the time, a few days later (on December 10) a post was made to my Facebook account from my Kindle from a Portuguese fellow named Pedro, who told me that his father had found it in the middle of a road while walking his dog. At the time I made the post I had forwarded Pedro my address, and he had stated that he would post my Kindle to me. My assumption was that the criminals had thrown the Kindle out their car window due to the fact that a Kindle is tied to a particular Amazon account and this cannot be changed from the Kindle, and was thus useless to the criminal.

Upon my making that post, a couple of Samizdata commenters suggested that I was being overly trusting and mentioned the possibility of scams involving criminals who lure victims in various ways with the prospect of returned items and then rob them further. I was sceptical of this, as I had not given Pedro any information other than my address, which a criminal could have found out from documents that were in the car anyway and which isn’t exactly a secret anyway. (I am listed in the phone book, assuming phone books still exist). When one is on one’s guard it is usually easy to tell the difference between someone who is trying to scam you and someone who is genuine, which is why most scams work by targeting people at those moments when they are off their guard. Pedro did not feel like a scammer, so I was confident I would get my Kindle back. He felt more like some teenager or young man who upon being given the Kindle started playing with it and while figuring out how it worked found out how to make a Facebook update and did so.

However, I waited for the Kindle to be returned. Nothing arrived. I was mildly disappointed by this, but compared to the unpleasantness of having my possessions stolen in the first place it wasn’t a big deal. As it happened, I remembered that when I first contacted him Pedro had asked if I were still in Portugal. (I wasn’t). Perhaps his attempting to contact me had been an attempt by criminals to get me to meet with them so that they could steal from me some more. Or something.

As of the 2nd of February this year, no Kindle. My assumption was that I wasn’t getting it back, but I thought I would just give it one more try. I sent another e-mail to Pedro, just asking him whether he had sent it. I got the following reply.

HI Michael
The lady from the post office and made a “mistake” and didn´t sent it for me!! Because she donne something rong.
And i had tried to send it by registraded mail and it was taking to long??? so i have been to the post office and checked!!
I did know it since monday and i was supose to deliver it to some inglish frinds of mine that i have brougth to faro airport today and they were landing in London and i have forgothen it at home!
Monday morning i will try to send it to you!!
Sorry about that!

Now, I wasn’t going to take this as a literal statement of fact any more than I would a statement that the Kindle had been eaten by his father’s aforementioned dog along with his homework (a better guess was simply that he had not got around to sending it), but as there was still a reasonable chance that I might actually be getting it back, I thanked him once more. Another e-mail was forthcoming.

You can call if you whant!!
00351 967 xxx xxxx
Pedro

This was slightly peculiar, and I wasn’t actually going to call him (what would I say?) but things had reached the stage of being more amusing than anything else. It didn’t feel like I was in contact with criminal mastermind Professor Pedro Moriarty, but I really had no idea what was going on. On Tuesday February 7, more e-mail

Hi Michael
I have a friend that whent to London today and he will post it for you today so you will get it tomorow or the day after.

Regards
Pedro

Nothing arrived on the 8th, 9th, 10th, or the 11th, so at that point I mentally shrugged and gave up on it.

However, early on the morning of Monday February 13th, I heard the encouraging thump of a package coming through my legendary mailslot. It was a padded post bag, sent recorded delivery from Brighton on the 11th. It did indeed contain my Kindle. The saga was over. I posted a status update of delight to my Facebook account.

Except, it wasn’t. → Continue reading: My faith in humanity is back somewhere in the middle, although I do have my Kindle back

Keynesians on austerity – predictably wrong

I have lost count of the number of opinion pieces written by finance commentators and journalists who complain that the austerity programmes of Europe are doomed to fail, because they cause perpetual economic contraction, resulting in shrinking government revenues, curtailing the ability to pay down debt – which was why the austerity programmes were embarked upon in the first place. And this will go hand-in-hand with a widespread, precipitous and neverending decline in living standards, which raises the spectre of social and/or political collapse. The alternative solution they generally propose comes from our good friend Baron Keynes. Naturally.

This is utterly wrong-headed. Naturally. I do not take much issue with the consequences of European austerity that have been identified, however austerity is not the cause of these. Austerity works just fine if governments do not implement it alongside tax increases. Which is what pretty much every austerity programme (either real or imagined) in Europe is either proposing or enacting. It’s the tax increases that will cause the vicious cycle mentioned above – not the austerity, stupid. Austerity alone redirects capital from government programmes to more productive areas of the economy, resulting in growth. But austerity plus tax hikes decreases the size of one part of the economy (the public sector, and this on its own is of course a good thing), whilst putting a yoke on the private sector by preventing individuals and companies from stepping into the breach, with punitive taxes discouraging investment or making it unaffordable. Of course this is a recipe for limitless economic contraction and social misery.

Citizens of a nation that requires a genuine period of austerity must be aware that there will be pain as structural adjustments take place whilst private sector investment slowly and surely crowds out a throttled and atrophying civil service. But pain is and was always going to be inevitable when the almighty spending binge so many governments have embarked upon over the last couple of decades unavoidably draws to a close, either through substantial policy shifts or sovereign default. The former is much less painful than the latter, but more politically difficult, so it seems. And, in dealing with the current debt crisis, Keynesians have never seen a can they haven’t wanted to kick down the road.

Samizdata quote of the day

They said it would never be agreed. Then they said it would never be launched. Then they said it would fail. When it was a success, the euro-haters still insisted that the single currency was a recipe for economic chaos and political instability. The phobes are proving to be wrong again. At a time when so much of Europe’s political leadership is in flux, the single currency is the steadying point in an uncertain and worrying world.

Imagine that the recent turbulence on the continent had occurred when Europe still traded in pre-euro currencies. What would have happened to the French franc when neo-fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen forced the Prime Minister to quit? The franc would have plunged. What would have happened to the Dutch guilder when an anti-immigration party with a dead leader impelled itself into government? The guilder would have plunged too. Before a German election too close to call, even the stolid old mark would be gyrating. And instability in currency markets would be fuelling even more political chaos: a vicious, downward cycle.

That this has not happened is thanks to the euro. The single currency has taken all this political upheaval in its calm stride.

– From an anonymous editorial in the Observer headed “A tolerant euro”.

From 2002, in case you were wondering.

Looking across the English Channel

There has been a lot of commentary in parts of the English-speaking media and blogosphere about the US presidential elections, and of course this part of it has had its commentary about the candidacy of the likes of Ron Paul and Gary Johnson, for example. The coverage shows how US politics looms quite large over the UK, or at least certain parts of it.

Compare and contrast with the level of commentary one might expect to get about the mid-year polls for the presidency of that neighbour, France. In part, the difference is that the French elections do not hold out any prospect of a pro-free market, limited government candidate making much running, although I may be wrong about that. The language barrier is an obvious issue but it cannot be the only explanation for this difference in coverage. And I also note that in another country, Germany, even the so-called quality papers give pretty scant coverage of the machinations of the Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and the other parties. Considering that the future of the euro might hang on who gets to control the German parliament in Berlin, you might think a bit more interest might be a good idea.

We are told that the European Union was all about bringing the big happy European family closer together, and yet as far as parts of the English-speaking media is concerned, some of the more consequential nations in the world get less coverage than a primary race in a US farm state (Iowa). That, I think, is very telling. And it does suggest that the idea of the Anglosphere, as Brian Micklethwait suggested the other day, has legs.