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]

Tunnel Vision – Switzerland vs the United Kingdom

If tunnel building were an Olympic support, I suspect that Switzerland would bestride the top step of the podium and its virtually unknown national anthem would blare out to the cheering crowd, thrilled by the culmination of a 20-year slog of building the Gotthard base tunnel, the world’s longest rail tunnel, which opens today, co-incidentally the anniversary of a British naval triumph against the French, the Glorious First of June (with those rebellious colonists being involved tangentially).

This twin-bore tunnel opened on time and within budget, and it runs level and almost straight through the varying geology of 35 miles of Swiss mountain, a fantastic achievement, but with sadly 9 deaths, but that seems very low over 20 years and 35 miles. If it can be traversed, per reports, in 17 minutes, that’s an average speed of over 120mph. The idea is to get lorries crossing the Alps through Switzerland off the Swiss roads. Switzerland is, of course, (along with Liechtenstein) surrounded by the European Union but outside it.

And meanwhile, as the Swiss literally give geology both barrels, in England, we have our glorious Channel Tunnel and the Channel Ports (as the Sage of Kettering relayed to me once ‘The problem with the Channel Tunnel is that it has a government at both ends.‘). Well, today a House of Commons committee has come up with a rather skeptical report about a new plan to cope with cross-Channel traffic. For those who do not drive in the South-East of England, there is a standing plan in place to cope with the vagaries of the joys of free movement of goods in the glorious European Union whenever the Channel Tunnel runs into a problem (e.g. when the French start horsing around, burning sheep etc.), called ‘Operation Stack’, where the Kent police close an entire motorway, the M20, and park lorries bound for the Continent on it pending the cessation of hostilities, typically a period of 5 days of so, when a major motorway becomes a lorry park, and to Hell with the locals.

part of the M20 was used 32 times last summer by queuing lorries – a process known as Operation Stack.

The British answer to this problem is, of course, to shell Calais and demand its return to English control (er, no), it is to build a 65 hectare lorry park at a cost of £250,000,000. This would be as big as Disneyland (the one in California) and bigger than the Vatican (a mere 44 hectares) and with the added bonus of no Pope. It will allow 4,000 lorries to be parked whilst the benighted lorry drivers await the restoration of normality. One might ask why each lorry space would cost £62,500 (c.$90,000 US)?

Do we see here cultural differences between the UK and Switzerland? The acceptance of failure and its normalisation, a tendency towards inflated cost and an attitude of weary resignation, against a positive can-do attitude that bulldozes through problems.

So why can’t we be like Switzerland?

Postscript: Eric’s comment indicates that the Swiss may not have been above a bit of creative accounting in completing the tunnel on time and in budget, for which I am grateful, I may have been misled by the BBC (which in Cyrillic was the acronym for the Soviet Army Airborne Forces, what a co-incidence).

The ‘Clownocracy’ – modern Britain on show

A couple of unrelated incidents, and a political milestone all in the news today appear to me to sum up the ascendency of the ‘clown class’ in modern Britain, where personal responsibility and personal dignity appear to be outmoded notions.

Firstly, after a bomb scare led to the abandonment of the last football match of the Premier League season between Manchester United and Bournemouth, it appears to have turned out that the realistic but inert suspect device found just before kick-off was in fact a practice bomb left by a company engaged to plant suspect devices as part of a security drill. But this was only found out long after the event and after the Army had carried out a controlled explosion on the device.

What part of counting them all out and counting them all in was too hard to organise? Did no one remember the drill?

Secondly, it appears that a senior woman police officer in Greater Manchester Police has been suspended after attending a conference on Women in Policing.

Assistant Chief Constable Rebekah Sutcliffe has been suspended after the alleged “inappropriate behaviour” following a reported row with Superintendent Sarah Jackson.

The pair are said to have become embroiled in a “loud disagreement” over who had the “best boobs” while attending the Senior Women In Policing conference.

Quite how this would be a breach of police discipline, even if the alleged incident happened, is not immediately clear. However, ACC Sutcliffe has been reported as saying:

“I’ve nothing to say. This is an incredibly stressful time.”

Thereby immediately contradicting herself. And grammarians may ponder if she ought to have said ‘better boobs’ rather than ‘best’ as surely the comparative applies, rather than the superlative?

But if this is a stressful time, what on Earth are you doing in policing? Try something really stressful, like bomb disposal, like Lt-Cdr John Bridge GC GM and bar. He would have come in handy at Old Trafford yesterday.

And finally, Natalie Bennett is not going to stand for re-election as Leader of the Green Party when her term expires. So the party memorably described as ‘Communism for middle-class women’ will have a new leader. So the Schadenfreudefest of Ms Bennett being interviewed (very softly I think) on any topic may no longer be repeated so as to expose the Greens for what they stand for, banning anything that they can think of. This of course may be a negative development in terms of the political landscape, but why didn’t she either resign at the time or stand on her record?

Manoeuvring the Benevolent Laissez Faire conference

Since Brian is busy exploring rooftops and mountains in the south of France, it is my turn to be “nudged” by conference organiser Simon Gibbs whose event is running this Saturday (May 14th).

As Brian predicted Simon has indeed been busy, not least sorting out a new venue – De Morgan House, on Russell Square. Problems with a floor, or something. Make sure you go the right place.

It is also interesting that the event has won over a new speaker – Syed Kamall. Syed has always kept good company by attending the right events and has impeccable free-market credentials. That he has made it to quite a senior position and is continuing to speak at such events is a compliment to the man.

In case you never heard of him, he has been MEP for London for years, rose to chair a bit of the EU parliament, and lately stood against green lunatic Zac Goldsmith for the Tory mayoral nomination. He would have made a much better candidate. He also, amusingly, pissed off the right people, including David Cameron and his own EU counterpart Guy Verhofstadt (triggering the Daily Mail to use a big red warning).

Syed is very serious about making sure his constituents know how to solve problems without relying on people like himself – solving their problems outside politics. That he is coming to say this at “Benevolent Laissez Faire” is a great compliment to the event. Fair enough: under one roof are Syed, two blockchain-enabled anarchists, the second most senior Randian, and a certain “Doctor Anton Howes” (whose name sounds familiar).

Looks like a fun way to spend a Saturday afternoon!

Benevolent Laissez Faire conference on May 14th

I am being nudged by Simon Gibbs, who is organising it, to say something here, now, about this Libertarian Home event, about and against taxation.

This event will happen on the afternoon of Saturday May 14th, in Holborn, London. The speakers (see the list here) will include: Yaron Brook; Anton Howes; and a couple of new names to me, “Janina Lowisz, BitNation and Julio Alejandro, Humanitarian Blockchain”. Sounds intriguing, in a twenty first century and good way. I’m guessing that the gist of what they may say will be that the internet makes it possible for things to be crowd-funded and micro-financed and generally supported in ways that not long ago were impossible, and that modern life thus offers even greater opportunities to chip away at and to improve upon the tax-and-spend state, both ideologically and in practice. You could sum those speakers up by saying that there is no need for high taxes in the future (Lowisz, Alejandro), there was no need for high taxes in the past (Howes), and there is no excuse for high taxes ever (Brook).

That nudging I mentioned at the start of this posting is worth emphasising. Based on how a similar event in October 2014 went, which Simon Gibbs also organised, Simon will do whatever he needs to do, having already lined up some good speakers for May 14th, to get also a good throng of people to listen to them and to mingle with and to network with one another. The cost of a ticket is, if you book now, £12, and there is a basic sense in which attenders will be paying their £12 for all that nudging that Simon is now doing, to ensure that this event is a success. The most helpful way that you can support Simon and his nudging would be, if you now know that you want to attend, to book your own ticket, now. To tell Simon, now, that you will be attending, go here, and click on the bigger and lower of the two red rectangles saying: “Join us!”

I could expand, on the wrongs of taxation, on the particular excellence of Anton Howes as a speaker and as an up-and-coming libertarian historian and intellectual, on how interesting and how well organised and welcoming that October 2014 event was (at which Yaron Brook also spoke), and how many attended it, and so on and so forth, but Simon wants the word on this latest event on May 14th to spread now, and he wants this posting to go up now. So, up it goes, now.

Taxation is of course a very topical subject just now. If you want more tax talk here, try this.

Loss of nerve: “just standing there watching”

Another one:

Hampstead Ponds constables ‘failed to help’ drowning Moshe Greenfeld because of ‘dangerous and murky’ water

The City of London has admitted that its health constabulary officers had not entered A Hampstead Heath bathing pond to try to save drowning teenager.

Moshe Yitzchok Greenfield, 19, a prominent rabbi’s son, began to struggle after going for a dip in the pond in north London on Wednesday, 15 April, the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures in London hit 25C (77F).


James Eisen, a 43-year-old freelance journalist, told The Times: “I was walking past and I could see a lot of commotion going on over the far side of the pond. The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.

“There were police officers and paramedics and firefighters on the bank just standing there watching while the boys dived under. There were at least seven police officers on the side.

“It was a chaotic and surreal scene. I heard one of the boys shouting to one of the ambulance crews and asking how long someone could survive under water without breathing as they continued swimming around in a panic. I’m guessing the emergency services are told not to go into the water but if that’s the case they probably shouldn’t have let the boys carry on swimming about.”

If you want to know the sort of incentives that create such men of steel, look at the story of fireman Tam Brown, whose courage in risking his life to save a woman from drowning was rewarded with the threat of disciplinary action for “breaking procedure”, or at the three unarmed policemen similarly rebuked for daring to try and save William Pemberton’s life while their armed colleagues huddled outside waiting for orders.

Now, there are one or two caveats before we add Moshe Yitzchock Greenfield to the list that includes the Colly family who burned to death while police actively prevented attempts at rescue, Edward Paul Brown, a baby who died within minutes of birth in a hospital lavatory while nurses refused his mother’s pleas for help because they did not have the proper training, and Alison Hume, whom the Strathclyde Fire Brigade left dying for six hours at the bottom of a mineshaft because, after all, “the fire service was only obliged to save people from fires and road traffic accidents.”

The first caveat is this: Moshe Greenfield and his friends were swimming in an area marked as out of bounds to swimmers, and chose to go into the water after the lifeguard had left. That was irresponsible, though practically everyone can recall doing something equivalent at that age and coming to no harm.

The second caveat is this: as an official spokesman said, “The heath constabulary officers are here to enforce bylaws in the park — they are not trained lifeguards and the water is dangerous and very murky, so they are advised they are not to go in until proper assistance arrives.” He has a point, although it would be a stronger one if the heath constabulary officers actually had enforced the bylaw forbidding swimming. Perhaps our society would be better off if it were made completely clear that once you step outside the law, even a park by-law, you are on your own. The state washes its hands of you. I could go with that. A fine big notice board with shiny black letters saying “PAST THIS POINT WE WILL WATCH YOU DROWN” and helpful accounts of the last six people to whom this rule was applied; that would at least be fair warning. No longer would the citizen be treated as a spoilt child, emboldened to folly by the knowledge that the parental State would never let the worst happen.

That might be a better world than ours. But it is not ours. In general our government insists on rescuing people from their own folly. And what Hampstead Heath Park Constabulary actually provided was the worst of both worlds: officers who will act neither as police nor as parents.

By the way, it was not an act of courage beyond what can be asked of men to make some attempt at rescue. The “dangerous and very murky” waters” weren’t the North Atlantic. It was the pond in Hampstead Heath, for God’s sake. And some men – boys, really – did try. As the witness said, “The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.” It was just beyond what can be asked in these enlightened times of the men we pay, train and equip specifically to do that sort of thing.

The trouble with blogging for fourteen years is that one runs out of fresh clean ways to express foul things. I am adding very little to what I said in 2007:

Let me say (before someone says it for me) that I do not claim that I would have the courage to go into a house where a killer might lie in wait, or that I would have jumped in the bitter, fast flowing waters of the Tay to save some stupid woman who wanted to top herself. But such were the traditions that were honoured in the police and fire services. In fact, when I talk about “gutlessness” and “loss of nerve” here I am not talking about individual physical courage. Fireman Tam Brown showed great courage. At least three of the policemen in the Pemberton murders did as well and all of them showed more guts than I would. But institutional gutlessness surrounded them, was embarrassed by them, and will kill off their like eventually. Poisoned soil does not long give forth good fruit.

Malala does not deserve the Nobel Prize for Peace (please read on)

She doesn’t deserve to be saddled with it. Having shown real courage she does not deserve to be inducted into a club many of whose existing members are so grotesque that the blogger Jim Miller has for years called the Peace prize the “Nobel Reprimand”.

I also worry that seventeen is too young to be made into an icon. Maybe I worry too much. So far her response seemed to display a fortunate combination of groundedness and a pitch-perfect judgement for what to say to the press. I genuinely hope that her response includes quite a lot of calculation, because a person who can work the crowd is more likely than an ingénue to be fitted by temperament to thrive rather than wilt in a life spent on the world stage.

The worse the better

Perhaps I would not go quite so far as the Russian revolutionary Nikolay Gavrilovich Chernyshevsky in regarding with delight any failure to reform the old regime on the grounds that more misery for the poor brings forward the day of revolution.

But I am rather pleased that “arch federalist” Jean-Claude Juncker is to be the next president of the European Commission. Though it is not his fault, even the man’s name rankles.

On the rationality of ageism in libertarianism and in life generally

I always was an ageist and, despite now being quite aged myself, I remain one. In my case this now means that, when wearing my libertarian hat, I attach more importance to recruiting the next generation to the libertarian cause than I do to recruiting my own generation to it. It’s not that I am especially good at turning young people into libertarians, or for that matter at making young libertarians into better young libertarians. But, I try, and I especially admire those libertarians who do this better than I do. Luckily there are quite a few. I suppose the main thing I do to make libertarians and to make libertarians into better libertarians is to fly the flag for the thing itself, libertarianism, which by its nature appeals more to the young than do less excitable and exciting versions of free-market-inclined wisdom.

Oldies often moan about ageism, particularly when they are not that old and are still trying to get new jobs, to replace the jobs that ageist fiends have so cruelly snatched away from them. Oldies engaged in job hunting often find themselves competing with younger rivals, and finding that they are, to put it bluntly, past it.

All hiring decisions are a risk. A promising young recruit, if he (for “he” please read he-or-she from now on) works out okay, might then offer several decades of useful productivity, and even if he soon moves on to another enterprise or activity, you and your colleagues might still gain from having him in your network, for many years hence. An oldie, by contrast, will either be an immediate asset to your enterprise, or he won’t be an asset at all. This may be cruel, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. That much touted oldie quality, experience, can be very valuable, but only if it enables the oldie in question to contribute things of great and immediate value. In a crisis, a wise oldie may be just what you want, to fight, now, the fire that is raging, now. But if you are building for the future, as most hirers are most of the time, at least partly, youth and a potentially long future will often trump age and experience. Experience, the young will get. And in addition to not being so set in their ways and better tuned in to new technology, young people have something especially important that old people do not. They have quite long futures ahead of them. Unless there are major breakthroughs in the life-extension trade, a long future is not something that an oldie can ever have or ever acquire.

The enforced irrationality of compelling people to ignore such considerations, by passing laws, which force people (of all ages) to be less prejudiced against old people than they are inclined to be, is bound to cause many bad decisions and to prevent many good ones. Hirers should be allowed to decide for themselves between age and experience and the immediate future on the one hand and youth and the more distant future on the other.

Madsen Pirie is a notable recruiter and improver of young libertarians, in fact, I would say, he is one of the best recruiters and improvers of young libertarians in the world. Pirie featured in my previous posting here, which quoted from a piece by him about a speech he recently gave to some students at the University of Brighton. He does performances like this a lot, for university students, and just as often for teenagers who are still at school. I have lost count of the number of times that Pirie has said to me what I am saying here, far more eloquently than I am saying it. Get ’em young. The cumulative impact of Pirie’s now seriously impressive number of libertarian-decades doing this kind of thing (for he too became a libertarian when quite young) is beyond calculation, in terms of its benefits to our species and its future.

Last Tuesday evening, at the Adam Smith Institute Christmas party, I was able to observe some of the latest human consequences of Pirie’s labours over the decades, happily enjoying their Christmas drinks and each other’s vivaciously youthful company. It was a similar story only even more so at that Liberty League gathering I wrote about here earlier this year. A lot of the same faces were to be seen at both these events.

I have a goddaughter who is now an aspiring and decidedly glamorous classical/operatic singer. She is in London just now, auditioning to get into one or other of the two best London music colleges (fingers crossed, so far so good, blah blah). She went with me to this ASI Christmas party. She also was struck by the youth and intelligence of the majority of those present. She had a good time. She was impressed.

A talk on September 30th about surviving the Zimbabwe inflation

I just got an email from the End of the World Club, about their next meeting. This will be at 6.30pm on Monday September 30th, at the Institute of Economic Affairs, London SW1.

Corrie Chipps will talk about “Lessons from Zimbabwe: A Broke Billionaire’s Survival Guide”, discussing her personal experience of watching a prosperous economy spiral into total collapse and how Zimbabweans have adapted.

Email me (click top left here, where it says “Contact”) if you are interested in this, or other EotWC meetings, and I’ll put you in touch.

I have the feeling that there might be rather more than the usual EotWC turnout for this one. Here is a case where the political and the personal overlap, big time. I for one will definitely be attending, barring disaster or memory failure, and I expect to learn a great deal.

If the DEA does it, it isn’t perjury

According to this Reuters exclusive entitled “U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans”, the US Drug Enforcement Administration has been running a secret program to cover up the fact that it has been receiving information from the National Security Agency that it has subsequently used in court.

Under this covert program, agents are instructed to fabricate plausible explanations of how the agency uncovered evidence through means that did not involve NSA intercept capabilities in order to hide the true source of the information.

Now, normally, under US common law, such coverups are considered a very, very bad violation of the rights of a defendant, who is entitled to learn the source of information used against them at trial so that they can rebut the evidence presented by the prosecution. Furthermore, under the laws of almost every civilized country, lying in court is considered a crime, to wit, perjury.

I suspect, however, that we will not see any investigations, let alone prosecutions, of government officials for what is clearly a crime. Indeed, I suspect that we are all so conditioned to the idea that government officials are now above the law that no one reading this would even expect such a prosecution.

There’s something rather sad about this state of affairs, isn’t there?

If the President does it, it isn’t treason

This morning the New York Times, NPR and the BBC have all been discussing details of communications between senior Al Qaeda leaders which form the basis for closing numerous US, UK and other embassies worldwide. A New York Times article on the subject is typical:

The Obama administration’s decision last week to close nearly two dozen diplomatic missions and issue a worldwide travel alert came after the United States intercepted electronic communications in which the head of Al Qaeda ordered the leader of the group’s affiliate in Yemen to carry out an attack as early as this past Sunday, according to American officials.

Additional detail is given later in that article and in dozens of others from numerous news organizations. They know these details only because they were leaked said details by sources inside the Obama administration.

These details are clearly useful to Al Qaeda. They inform the leadership of that organization in no uncertain terms of US intercept capabilities, alerting them to the need to change their communications methods.

Had an Edward Snowden or a Bradley Manning revealed such information, it would be called “treason” by many commentators. Charges would be pressed in court of “aiding the enemy”.

When the leak is official and far more damaging, no one mentions treason. Instead, this is simply business as usual.

News headlines do not focus on questions about the identity of the suspected leaker. The leaker or leakers will not have to flee to foreign countries to evade prosecution, even though the Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers than all previous administrations combined. That is because the leak is clearly authorized at the highest levels, never mind that it may have just “burned” a vital intelligence source in the process.

One may wonder why the Obama administration has chosen to leak such information to the press. That is an open secret. The New York Times first article on the subject some days ago has, buried within it, the following paragraph, a paragraph that should by all rights be the lead:

Some analysts and Congressional officials suggested Friday that emphasizing a terrorist threat now was a good way to divert attention from the uproar over the N.S.A.’s data-collection programs, and that if it showed the intercepts had uncovered a possible plot, even better.

In other words, aiding the enemy is fine provided it is in the service of fighting the actual joint enemy of Al Qaeda and the Obama administration, to wit, the general public.

The History of Individualism – an evening lecture with Dr Steve Davies

Libertarian Home is hosting an evening lecture next week with Dr Steve Davies called ‘the History of Individualism’ in London.

Most libertarians would agree that to build a free society “we wouldn’t start from here”, but we here we are. Dr Davies will put the present rise of libertarian politics into context and show how the progress of liberty, and the words used to describe it, have changed through the ages. Dr Steve Davies is a historian, a PhD, and Education Director at the Institute of Economic Affairs.

This inaugural lecture takes place in the Griffin Room above the Counting House pub, a first class meeting space in The City.

The event will be catered for with a buffet of pub fare sponsored by the Pro Liberty Party.

Formality begins at 8 and will be concluded by 9. Please RSVP.

7:00 pm, Monday June 17th
The Counting House
50 Cornhill, London EC3V 3PD (map)

This event is highly recommended if you are in the London area. Several Samizdatistas will be there to hear the lecture.