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]

Phone versus Zone (again)

Dan Hannan, in a piece about how Indians would like Britain out of the EU so that Indians can more easily do business with Britain, ruminates upon the irrelevance of mere geography in the modern world:

Two generations ago, when most business was localised and freight costs were high, regional customs unions had a certain appeal. But in the Internet age, geographical proximity has never mattered less. Culture and kinship trump distance.

Likewise, in many eyes, lack of cultural affinity and lack of kinship trump geographical proximity, or they should. The biggest reason why Brexit seems now to be winning in Britain is that we are now watching EUrope make a hopeless mess of mass immigration from its geographically near but culturally very distinct eastern neighbours.

Near the end of the same piece Hannan says:

Next year, Britain will have to decide whether we are defined chiefly by our geography. Must we merge with states which happen to be in the vicinity, or do we recognise that some values transcend continents, linking us to kindred peoples in more distant lands?

I was having similar thoughts here, a while back, when the internet was just getting into its stride as a mass experience.

I see that I also had some rather prophetic things to say in that piece (posted in 2002) about the recently concluded Rugby World Cup (2015). The point being that rugby is an activity that was then and still remains at the mercy of geographical proximity. Rugby tournaments that happen every year, all the time, need to be based in the same approximate locality. Northern Hemisphere rugby teams were in 2002, and remain in 2015, physically separated from their superior Southern Hemisphere rivals. England had a little moment of superiority in the noughts, just winning the 2003 World Cup and coming second in 2007. So when England recently got knocked out at the group stage of the latest Rugby World Cup in 2015, in England, it felt like a uniquely terrible failure. But come the semi-finals this time around, no Northern Hemisphere teams remained in the tournament, despite the event itself having been held in the Northern Hemisphere. In the quarter finals, New Zealand slaughtered France, and Argentina decisively defeated Ireland, France and Ireland having been regarded by many as the best Northern Hemisphere bets. Many had realised that Argentina, who now regularly play against the Southern Hemisphere big three (NZ, Australia, South Africa) have recently got a lot better, but many others, me included, were amazed, not just by the fact of Argentina’s victory over Ireland but by the manner of it. Wales and Scotland did better but still lost, to South Africa and Australia.

However, the fact that regular rugby tournaments are obliged to cluster geographically is no reason for political entities to attempt to do the same. Geographical proximity to weaker teams and separation from the strongest teams is seen by Northern Hemisphere rugby people as a problem, not as any sort of answer to their problems.

With Dan Hannan, I say: Brexit. And it has to be a good sign that this anti-Brexit guy, in an article with very high google visibility, is making excuses about why his team may be about to lose rather than even attempting to make persuasive arguments about why it should win.

Samizdata quote of the day

Brussels is effectively offering landowners money to advertise the EU. Then again, that’s the reason that a lot of people in Britain agree to support the EU: NGOs, charities, big corporations and universities.

Daniel Hannan

Who should we blame in the Volkswagen scandal?

By now, everyone knows about the Volkswagen scandal. VW have admitted installing software that cuts exhaust emissions when their cars are being tested and lets them spew death and disease every which way when they’re not.

So who is the villain here? To my mind there are two possible suspects: the US Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union. I know what you are thinking: why can’t we pin the blame on both of them? Well, cheer up because I think we can.

To my mind pollution is simple. The polluter pays the victim. I would like to find some non-state means for doing this and as I understand it in the days prior to environmentalism just such a mechanism – albeit involving courts – did indeed exist.

Of course, since then government has queered the pitch for everyone introducing two principles which it rolls out according to taste. One, that the polluter pays the government. Two, that the polluter becomes subject to government violence – or to put it in statist terms: pollution is regulated.

So, the government imposes regulations in which if you score below a certain number you are left alone and if you score above they send the boys round. Black mark against the EPA.

But meanwhile the EU has been promoting diesels like crazy over recent years. Whether this is a sinister French plot or the result of the global warming hoax, who knows. The really sad thing is that we have ended up with that abomination: the diesel-powered sports car. Oh yeah, and London’s air ain’t too great either.

Some diesel

Some diesel

Miscellaneous thoughts and questions

Why is that we are quite happy to use the term NOx but not the term COx? It makes no sense.

What were VW doing selling diesel cars in the US? Petrol (US = gasoline) is much cheaper there. So the market for diesel cars is much smaller. Come to think of it it’s probably because they were trying to make inroads into the market in the expectation that diesel taxes would come down making diesels more attractive. It is a tax issue isn’t it?

Why is it that cars are regulated in this way? I find it difficult to believe that a lorry or bus is in any way cleaner than a car. But I bet the latter two are not nearly as stringently regulated. To ask the question is, of course, to answer it. They do it because they can.

Did anyone else catch that excellent Mark Evans documentary about the diesel engine on BBC4 the other night? Comet swirl chambers, eh?

Cameron folds on demanding opt out from EU labour regulations

Seriously was anyone so credulous that they did not see this coming? To expect Cameron to stand his ground demanding the return of the opt out abandoned by Tony Blair, is like expecting a jellyfish to lift weights.

But at least the tech sector must be happy with Cameron, as he has promised to increase incentives for UK businesses to invest in more labour saving technologies, thereby increasing productivity and reducing total hours of employment needed, or to just automating certain jobs away entirely.

The EU’s Memory Holes

The European law gives individuals and institutions the right to demand that search engines such as Google must de-list postings containing ‘outdated’ or ‘irrelevant’ information. The Euro authorities insist that this cannot be construed as censorship, since the material will not actually be removed from the internet – it will simply not be linked to by Google and Co anymore. When plans for these regulations were first announced in 2012, the European Commission’s vice-president said: ‘It is clear that the right to be forgotten cannot amount to a right of the total erasure of history.’ That sounds like rewriting history. If material is not listed by search engines, it is effectively invisible to most online and ceases to exist as public information.

No, no, say the authorities, of course we are not banning this controversial book! We are simply ordering all libraries and bookshops to remove it from their shelves and websites forthwith. You will still be at liberty to read it – if you can find a copy anywhere, or even spot a reference to its existence…

Mick Hume

Subsidies: one of the very best ways to screw up an economy and a society

Krasimira is gloomy about the future. She doesn’t think Greece will implement the necessary reforms and will, in the end, have to leave the eurozone. As ever, she views the situation through a Bulgarian prism. “Greece has received €30 billion from Europe,” she says. (In fact the figure is far higher). “That’s more than seven other Balkan countries have received put together — I saw it on Bulgarian TV. You’ve got to pay back your debts in order to take more loans. If I ask you for a loan you’ll give it to me; if I can’t pay it back you wont give me any more.”

She has a final comment — on the EU subsidies. “In Bulgaria the state doesn’t give subsidies to the farmers.” She points to some sprinklers watering the garden. “So what you see here: water being wasted, you’ll never see in Bulgaria. My brother has 2,200 hectares there and grows corn and wheat and he is not allowed to overly water them, he has to rely on the weather. If it’s not good he has a problem.”

“Yes, the subsidies have made Greek farmers spoiled and wasteful. But since Bulgaria joined the EU and started receiving subsidies you’ve seen the same thing — people receiving subsidies and using them to buy houses and consumers goods instead of investing the money.”

The EU as resource curse: it’s an old tale — and one that seems to have had disastrous effects for Greece, which for years grew fat on easy money. Now in its time of crisis it must watch its poorer, leaner neighbor to the north further compound its deep, almost existential, despair.

– David Patrikarako, from the article Greece vs Bulgaria

François Hollande pays tribute to Jacques Delors in more than one sense

Le Journal du Dimanche printed a loyal address made by President Hollande to Jacques Delors on the occasion of the old emperor’s nintieth birthday.

Here are some extracts, translated by me and Messieurs Google et Bing:

“Because Europe can only advance if it carries the idea of ​​transcendence. No nation can contemplate giving up part of its sovereignty if it is not satisfied that it will emerge stronger from this process. He [Delors] intuited that out of the crisis, Europe needs to define a new horizon that can give rise to a new hope, because he knows that the European idea runs out of steam when it is no longer put into action.”

“What threatens us is not too much Europe but too little.”

“The eurozone has managed this week to reaffirm its cohesion with Greece.

The quality of the Franco-German relationship had a great deal to do with it. The European spirit prevailed. But we cannot stop there. I have offered to take forward Jacques Delors’s idea for a Government of the euro area with the addition of a specific budget and thus also a Parliament to ensure democratic control.”

Found via Bloomberg and the Drudge Report. The French original can be seen at the first link. Is he really saying what I think he’s saying? A unified Eurozone government?

Watching the Greek drama unfold is fascinating

People in Greece are rioting against ‘austerity’ (which is the term used to describe the state spending less of other people’s money).

Troika. IMF. Democracy. blah blah blah…

Yet what is all really boils down to is this…


Hardly surprising so many Latvians, Lithuanians and Slovaks are utterly unmoved by the ‘plight’ of Greece.

Samizdata quote of the day

Greece became what it is today through the tireless efforts of Andreas Papandreou, the anti-Pinochet, who helped create a second Greek lost decade, ran up the national debt, raised the natural rate of unemployment, and kept inflation sky-high. Today, Greece, relative to the E.U. 15, is in the same place in RGDP per capita terms as it was in the early 1960s, before the economic boom under the Junta. Greek convergence with the rest of Europe ended in the late 1970s, and it actively fell behind in the 1980s. Clearly, as Andreas was the anti-Pinochet, blaming neoliberalism for the post-1980 economic stagnation in various countries (including Communist ones!) is simply being unconscionable.

E. Harding, commenting here. The main article itself by Scott Sumner is also well worth reading.

Looking back in anger and bemusement

William Hague got a terrible press at the time of his leadership of the Tory Party (no hair, Northern accent, etc etc). So he can be forgiven for a tinge of bitterness as he looks back and recalls his laser-accurate predictions in the 1990s over the follies of single, monopoly currencies such as the euro:

In future decades, in the very business school where I spoke in 1998, I believe students will sit down to study the folly of extending a single currency too far. Sad though it will be to see it, their textbook is likely to say that the Greek debacle of 2015 was not the end of the euro crisis, but its real beginning.

Meanwhile, China’s A-shares (mainland) equity market is tanking. It is arguably far more of a serious issue for the global economy than Greece, but you would not believe that judging by the brokerage notes I get at the moment.


On the future of photography in public (and on what I think of the EU)

There are many reasons for my diminished Samizdata productivity. For my friend Johnathan Pearce, it is pressure of work. With me, it has been more like laziness and cowardice. As I get older, I find that my desire to tell others what to think, although still vestigially strong, is now in decline. I find myself more and more interested simply in noticing or learning about how things are, and (increasingly) how they once were. If I tell others what they should think, they sometimes hit back with great vehemence about how I should dump what I think and think something different, and us oldies don’t enjoy even virtual fighting as much as we used to. I think what I think, you think what you think, and let’s just leave it at that, is my attitude, more and more. This doesn’t quite chime in with banging away here, day after day, about all the various and numerous people who are wrong on the internet. Faced with the choice between (a) getting back into the swing of posting stuff here, or (b) wandering about in London taking photographs of how things in London merely are (or are in the process of becoming), and writing about such things at my personal blog, I more and more choose the photoing and the personal blogging option.

I’m talking about photos like this one, which I took recently, of the Shard:


I posted this photo at my personal blog a week or more ago, and ruminated upon why I particularly liked the way the Shard had been looking that day.

But then came this comment, from a blogger in South Africa whose blog I like and who likes my blog, an expat from Sheffield who calls himself 6k:

I hope you have permission to take that wonderful photograph. Or rather, I hope you won’t need to have permission to take such wonderful photographs in future.

My first reaction was: Hey, 6k liked my photo! But I did also notice the next bit. What?!? Need permission?!? What is he talking about?!? What 6k was talking about can be found here, that being a link he helpfully supplied in his comment, immediately after the words quoted above.

→ Continue reading: On the future of photography in public (and on what I think of the EU)

Discussion point: the coming British referendum on leaving the European Union

1) Which side will win?
2) Which side should win?