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]

Putin warns Ukrainians against implementing EU deal, so…

Vladimir Putin has warned the Ukrainian government against getting closer to the EU, threatening their access to Russian markets.

So the Ukraine has to decide between losing their access to 142 million Russians with a total GDP of $2.1 trillion (official), or improving their access to 511 million people with a total GDP of $16.95 trillion (official).

Hmm, yes I can see how that might be a difficult decision :-D

Nice libertarianism

For some while now, leading London libertarian Simon Gibbs has been telling his many libertarian friends and acquaintances about a Libertarian Home event which he is organising which will happen on October 23rd in the Drama Studio of the Institute of Education. At this event, a group of speakers from across the political spectrum (somewhat biased towards libertarians but with non- and anti-libertarians definitely also being heard loud and clear), will take it in turns to speak about the The Causes of the Cost of Living Crisis.

Attendance will not be free of charge. It will cost £11. But, over the years, libertarians have shown themselves willing to pay quite a bit more than that for similarly well organised conferences. Simon is an energetic and conscientious organiser of such things, and I think I would have been optimistic about this event even if he had not offered me free entry in exchange for my best efforts as a photographer.

For quite a while now, but especially during the recent Labour Party Conference, Labour leader David Ed Miliband has been making this notion of the cost of living crisis a central theme in his ongoing attempts to become our next Prime Minister. City A.M.’s Ryan Bourne, before the Labour Conference got started, wrote thus:

Labour’s party conference will see Ed Miliband try to shift public focus away from the Scottish referendum fallout and back towards the choice at next year’s general election. In particular, he’ll seek to refocus our minds on the “cost of living crisis” narrative that he’s been composing since 2011.

And so it proved. I heard this phrase a day or two ago in a radio news item where the words “Miliband” and “cost of living crisis” emerged next to each other. Whether Miliband will succeed in persuading the country that even more taxing-and-spending will do anything to abate this cost of living crisis, as crisis it certainly is for a great many people, remains to be seen. Whatever. But if you want a minority cause to get some little sliver of majority notice, what you must do is supply your minority answer to a majority question. So kudos to Simon for identifying this particular debate as something libertarians can get in on, and get in on very eloquently. I am really looking forward to this October 23rd meeting.

→ Continue reading: Nice libertarianism

A fairly neat crushing of the “Mansion tax” idea

Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, has some fairly blunt comments to make in a release on Labour Party leader Ed Milliband’s proposal to levy an annual tax (“Mansion tax”) on residential properties valued at £2 million or more. I would hope that it isn’t all that hard to persuade regular readers of this blog that such a tax equates to a tax on the right to continue owning a property after it has been bought or inherited simply because said property has passed some arbitrary valuation threshold. As I have come to learn, some people enamoured of the collectivist notions of Henry George, a writer in the 19th Century, believe that because physical land is fixed (you cannot make more of it) that when the value of said rises for reasons outside the direct control of the owner or owners, that because the state protects such holdings against theft, the state is entitled, nonetheless, to demand a sort of “rent” to be paid by the owners of the land to everyone else because of their enjoying some “unearned” rise in the price, so that the owner is not in a fundamental sense an owner at all, but a tenant of the collective. Advocates of the Mansion Tax” usually do not make the case in such abstract terms, perhaps because the sheer, socialistic nature of it would make it unappealing in some eyes. (There is no fundamental difference between taxing high-value properties on such grounds and taxing people with great inborn talents because they did not directly create them.) In cruder terms, this tax plays on a general hostility towards “the rich” that remains an ugly feature of UK society. Some may try and finesse the issue by pointing out that rising prices have been driven by central bank quantitative easing (printing money) and land planning, to which my response is to stop doing those things, rather than hit the owners. (There is, by the way, an urgent need to relax UK planning laws and yet, as I suspect is the case, most politicians, including the hapless leader of the Labour Party, are unlikely to enact thorough reforms, apart from superficial measures to hurt “the rich”).

There are, as Mark says in his comments below, specific problems that make the Mansion Tax bad, but I wanted to make the forgoing to remind people that there is nothing remotely liberal, in the proper, classical use of the word, in such a tax, even though there are people who sometimes try and pass themselves off as libertarians who have, in my experience, sought to champion such levies. (The writer Jan Narveson has a good debunking of Georgisism.)

Anyway, here is Mark Littlewood:

“Introducing a mansion tax would be poorly targeted, arbitrary and deeply unfair. The UK already faces some of the highest property taxes in the western world when stamp duty, inheritance and council tax are taken into consideration. Such a levy would act as a double tax, whereby people pay income tax and then are taxed again on a house bought with that income.

“Aside from this, it would disproportionately penalise those who bought houses many decades ago in areas where property prices have rapidly shot up. A person’s assets does not always equate to their income. It would also be an arbitrary tax. People could own several homes costing just under £2mn and not face the levy.

“This is an extremely unwelcome addition to the Labour Party’s already disastrous attempts to tax the wealthy. Evidence has proven that their favoured 50p top rate of income tax raises trivial amounts of money. Those earning over £150,000 pay nearly 30% of all income tax. Politicians should be cultivating this tax base, not eroding it.”

Remember, there is a fairly high chance that Milliband could be in power at some point.

Bono

Bono is annoying. This was supposed to be a post in which I gloated about how, if I had an iPhone, I would be making use of the U2 removal tool, too, the story being that Apple gave away the latest U2 album for free and enough people complained that they had to offer a way to remove it.

And I would support my argument with stupid Bono quotes. But it turns out he is harder to pin down than that.

If globalisation means a better life for more people, we’re all in favour of it. If it means a better life for less people, we’re all against it.

Non-commital but hard to disagree with. And then there is this analysis:

While Bono has become synonymous with campaigns such as Drop the Debt that fit his right-on rock star image, he also has a well-developed sense of how capitalism works. U2 has acquired a business empire with an estimated worth of nearly (EU)700m. Much of that is due to their artistic talent, but a substantial portion has come from careful management of business opportunities.

Bono’s idea for helping the Third World involves the destruction of trade barriers and protectionism, and investment in the development of self-sustaining businesses. His economic instincts are pro-globalisation, but in a perfectly sensible business way. One of his big ideas to help the Third World, the launch of the ethical brand Product Red, with partners such as Motorola, Gap and Giorgio Armani, is based firmly on capitalist principles.

That is from an article criticising him for tax avoidance, of all things.

I am almost starting to like him. It is very annoying. Still, I do sympathise with @twitflup via The Daily Poke:

Just woken up to find U2 downstairs watching TV and eating my biscuits. Will their presumptions that I want them in my life ever end?

Samizdata quote of the day

“There are no facts, only interpretations”, Friedrich Nietzsche once said. One needn’t be a nihilist or a relativist to be bemused at the latest radical rewriting of history from our official number-crunchers. Everything we thought we knew about the British economy’s performance over the past 15 years or so now turns out to be wrong. Endless articles, books and academic papers have become worthless at the stroke of the statisticians’ pen.”

Allister Heath.

Hey, I thought the science was settled!

You would need a heart of stone to not laugh

Tim Newman has a great piece about the authorities shutting down McDonalds in Russia. The article is splendid on oh so many levels, such as:

Apparently, he told one of the Russia servers to greet the customers and offer a smile, which prompted the following response:

“Why? We’re the ones with all the burgers.”

It seems that almost 25 years later some Russians still haven’t worked out the basic relationship between business and customer.

Read the whole article.

Venezuela circles the drain

Venezuela enters the high farce stage of its development.

In a move that will no doubt help further the Venezuelan government’s aim of establishing a socialist utopian republic, President Nicolas Maduro announced this week that grocery stores will soon begin the mandatory fingerprinting of customers. The peculiar initiative, which could be implemented by the end of the year, is meant to help combat the hoarding and smuggling of government-subsidized goods.

Is this not truly epic? Is not socialism stranger than a chorus of singing penguins?

An independent Scotland will have to choose between the pound and Socialism

Whatever the “Yes” campaign claims, threatens or believes, here will be no currency union between an independent Scotland and the remainder of the United Kingdom. All three major parties plus UKIP have said this outright, and the voters back them up. Quite right too, unless you think it’s a good idea not to cancel the joint credit card after a bitter divorce.

(Just a reminder: there almost certainly will not be any divorce. All the polls point to Scotland choosing to remain part of the UK.)

So, to Plan B. Sterlingisation. The Guardian has flagged up a report from the Adam Smith Institute saying, correctly in my opinion, that for iScotland (OK, so I did just say “iScotland” and I cannot guarantee to resist “rUK” either – sue me) to use the pound as Panama uses the dollar would be the best option.

Under “sterlingisation”, Scotland would not be able to print its own currency and would lack a lender of last resort. But the ASI report said the experience of Panama pointed to this being an advantage because it would force lenders to be more prudent.

In contrast to the situation for a currency union, there would be nothing the rUK could do to stop iScotland simply deciding unilaterally to use the pound, and no reason it should care anyway. But it would be tough for Scotland at first. It would be the equivalent of gastric band surgery. No more splurging on welfare for you, Alba my love!

This is not the first time the Adam Smith Institute has said something like this. My post on currency options for an independent Scotland back in February was partly inspired by an article by Dr Eamonn Butler of the ASI.

You know my views. No surprise that a free-marketeer like me agrees with the ASI here. It does seem a little odd for the Yes campaign, spearheaded as it is by the Scottish National Party, backed by the Radical Independence Campaign and the National Collective, to be quite so keen.

Samizdata quote of the day

To be fair, Swiss agriculture is so heavily subsidised that it makes French agriculture look like a bastion of free market liberalism. If the Swiss were to expand it further to make more exports to Russia, that would make them poorer, not richer.

I see that places like Argentina do seem to be attempting to sell things to Russia in response to recent developments. I wish them luck with it, honestly, and this might be good for Russian consumers from the perspective that Argentina does, at least, produce some decent cheeses.

On the other hand, doing business with Russia is likely to be a nightmare. Just like doing business with Argentina. Possibly they deserve each other.

Michael Jennings

Central planning causes empty shelves in Cuba, say BBC

Years after the collapse of the USSR, Cuba remains a bastion of communism, central planning… and shortages of basic goods.

I am not surprised that there are empty shelves in Cuba. I am surprised to be reading such things on the BBC.

despite Cuba’s proximity to the US, Washington’s 50-year-old trade embargo – which was designed to squeeze this island’s communist government from power – means there’s no American investment here. There’s no Starbucks, no Coca-Cola plant.

Some might see that as a good thing. But they might not find shopping for essentials quite so quaint. I once approached my big local supermarket full of optimism. I now know I’m likely to find a mixture of half-bare shelves and ones stacked with a single product: cheap ketchup, say, or adult incontinence pads.

Basic items disappear whenever Cuba struggles to meet its import bills. For weeks there was no toilet paper or cartons of milk. Now even the delicious local coffee is “lost,” as Cubans say – “esta perdido”.

Mind you there’s plenty of “partridge in brine,” should anyone fancy that. I’ve seen the same pile of cans on display for more than two years at $25 apiece. Perhaps a central planner ticked the wrong order box.

The story is even promoted from other stories under the banner “in today’s magazine”.

Anyone else get the ‘wry smile’ response from this?

I found this interesting:

Apple Inc has begun storing personal data for some Chinese users on servers provided by China Telecom, marking the first time that the company has stored user data on mainland Chinese soil. Apple attributed the move to an effort to improve the speed and reliability of its service. It also represents a departure from the policies of some technology companies, notably Google Inc, which has long refused to build data centres in China due to censorship and privacy concerns.

Now I can certainly see why making it easy for the ghastly Chinese authorities to spy on people would be undesirable, but I wonder… where to locate the data centres then? Presumably not in the USA or UK if state access to people’s data is the big problem right, right? ;-)

Samizdata quote of the day

To paraphrase Hayek, then, the curious task of the liberty movement is to persuade citizens that our opponents are the idealistic ones, because they believe in unicorns. They understand very little about the State that they imagine they can design.

– Michael Munger