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]

Bitcoin: The Future of Money?

Dominic Frisby’s book Bitcoin: The Future of Money? is now available.

The first chapter describes what Bitcoin is and how it works. The achievement of this chapter is that Dominic has described Bitcoin in plain English without missing any important details and without simplifying to the point of error. Too often when I read writing intended for the general audience about something I know about, I notice how wrong it is and how ill informed the general audience must be about all things. Not here.

Technical description out of the way, the rest of the book deals with the culture of Bitcoin’s early adopters, the various scandals we may have heard about and what they mean, what Bitcoin means for the state and for you, and what the future might hold for Bitcoin and cryptocurrencies in general.

The longest chapter is about the mysterious Satoshi Nakamoto, who wrote the original paper and developed the first versions of the software, and who has successfully remained anonymous. It is not particularly relevant to understanding Bitcoin, but it is very intriguing, and I think there is a good chance Dominic has reached the right conclusion about Satoshi’s identity.

There is discussion of the problems of inflationary fiat currency: the author has read his Detlev Schlichter. There is discussion of how the decentralised nature of Bitcoin sidelines governments and opens up new markets with people who are otherwise difficult to trade with. And there is discussion of the problems, too: the volatility, the technical challenges, and the dangers of being defrauded in a new marketplace where we are still learning what are the best business practices and how to decide who to trust. Finally, there is some advice about where to buy Bitcoins. It is not out of date yet!

The book is concise, complete, correct, entertaining, and a very good introduction to what Bitcoin is all about.

Samizdata quote of the day

Bank bail-outs have been a cultural catastrophe for those of us who support free markets, low taxes and enterprise. During the 1980s and 1990s, much of the British public came to accept and even embrace capitalism, in return for a simple deal: profits and losses would both have to be privatised. Clever entrepreneurs, savvy traders or brilliant footballers would be encouraged to make money; but companies and investors that placed the wrong bets would be allowed to fail, with no pity. Not only did this trigger an explosion in prosperity, it also helped shift the British mindset towards a much more pro-enterprise position. The rules of the game felt fair: risk and reward went hand in hand. The government would serve as an umpire, not a supporter of vested interests.But the crisis of 2007-09 put an end to this implicit bargain, at least in the eyes of vast swathes of the public.

Allister Heath.

Bailouts are a disaster for pro-capitalists. It is almost as if it was deliberate. My only slight caveat here with what is a typically incisive article is that I am not sure how deep the greater support for capitalism really ever went. It certainly never penetrated academia, and parts of the policy maker world. But I am an optimist: the continued respect that seems to be shown among ordinary people for genuine entrepreneurs (not crony capitalists) shows that something has taken root.

Another bout of indignation dysentery

Everyone is very, very cross. The welfare reform minister, Lord Freud, has caused outrage for saying that some disabled people are “not worth the minimum wage”.

Spoken without tact but with truth. Some of our fellow human beings are incapable of doing work that is worth anyone’s while to pay six pounds and fifty pence per hour to have done.

Freud had been responding to a question from David Scott, a Tory councillor from Tunbridge Wells. Scott had said: “The other area I’m really concerned about is obviously the disabled. I have a number of mentally damaged individuals, who to be quite frank aren’t worth the minimum wage, but want to work. And we have been trying to support them in work, but you can’t find people who are willing to pay the minimum wage.

While it is certainly true that many people with a disability also have abilities or dispositions that allow them equal or surpass as workers their able-bodied and able-minded colleagues – it is also certainly true that many others, sadly, don’t. This is particularly often the case for the mentally disabled. Long ago, I was a teacher. I saw some sad sights, few sadder than the dawning awareness in a child’s eyes that he or she would never be able to do all that “the others” could.

Still, people are resilient. Such a child might very well grow up to be quite capable of sharing and rejoicing in the dignity of work – real work for real employers, not charity – were it not illegal. Only those whose labour is worth more than £6.50 an hour are allowed to sell it. Those less able are compelled by law to be unemployed.

We have these spasms every few years. Allow me to recycle my post from the last one, in which the speaker of inconvenient truth was Philip Davies MP who said,

“Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”

And I said then and repeat now:

Within hours so much outraged commentary flowed out of newspaper columnists, charity representatives and politicians of all parties, including Mr Davies’ own, that you’d think there’d been an outbreak of indignation dysentery.

[...]

Not one response of all the many I read even tried to argue that Mr Davies was factually wrong. They were outraged, disgusted. They asserted what no one denies: that mentally disabled people are equal citizens and often prove to be hardworking employees, valued by their employers. But I could not find one article that argued that Davies’ description of the way things go when a person with an IQ of 60 or a history of insanity seeks a job was inaccurate, or gave reasons to believe his proposal would not increase their chances of landing one.

[...]

A quote from Charles Murray: “It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.”

Thinking outside the box

I really hope this article is tongue in cheek. If not (or even if so) then I have a better idea… just replace money with bananas and release several million monkeys into every major city. It will stop people and companies getting into debt because they have to be spent quickly before they go off or marauding monkeys steal them (what with monkeys being vastly more likely to act in a consistent manner than any government that has ever existed since the beginning of human history).

If science ever finds a away to expunge people from history and un-invent their ideas from people’s minds, making all books on the subject vanish into some dimensional tesseract, I would nominate John Maynard Keynes as the most pressing candidate for expungement.

Closing DECC – Bishop Hill and commenters on why and how

Bishop Hill has a posting up today about the gigantic folly that is the D(epartment) of E(nergy) and C(limate) C(hange).

Says the Bishop:

As we look at UK energy policy now, DECC has had the country make a massive financial gamble on the back of a prediction that was wholly unfounded and which has been obviously so for many years. We now learn that DECC has also distributed this astonishing wave of public money in a manner that can only be described as monstrously incompetent, and which many will assume to be monstrously corrupt…

Comment (Oct 3 9.32am) from “fen tiger”:

I have a relative who works at DECC, and has done since getting his masters. He’s an environmental economist (one of many in DECC, I imagine), briefing the likes of Huhne, Davey, and Gummer. He appears to know nothing whatever about the climate question, but is fully invested in the warming scare (condition of employment, I guess).

Closing DECC would obviously benefit the country: but it would also benefit many of those who work there. My relative is not an untruthful man, but he has worked since leaving university in an environment where systematic untruthfulness and wishful thinking are the norm; an environment where the taxpayer would get better value if he were paid to stay at home and do nothing. He desperately needs to get out and find a real job (although his qualifications won’t help with that).

This comment is anonymous partly because I don’t want to foment a family rift, and partly because I am ashamed of having a family member employed in this way.

But how to close DECC?

“Roger Tallbloke” (Oct 3 9.08am) had already commented earlier, thus:

Strategic action on the part of the consumer could actually make a difference and help get rid of DECC. This action is quite simple, and won’t take long or cost the consumer anything. Here’s what they need to do.

Vote UKIP.

Would that work? Is this a case where your vote might actually make a difference?

UKIP has turned into a me-too operation on most of the big items of state spending, as Ben Kelly writes in this Libertarian Home report of the recent UKIP conference. But on UKIP’s energy policies, Kelly writes this:

Energy – Ah, Roger Helmer; an intelligent and articulate man, an asset until you get him on the subject of gays or the finer details of rape. Then it’s hide behind your hands time. Luckily he was simply talking about energy policy today. He wants to scrap the Climate Change Act, cut all green taxes, end subsidies for wind farms and get fracking, creating a sovereign wealth fund with the tax income. It is the Guardian’s worst nightmare, and I like it.

Me too. It would be a worse Guardian nightmare if there wasn’t that bit there about “creating a sovereign wealth fund with the tax income”. But when it comes to voting, the question is not: What gets me everything? It is: Does anything get me anything?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Google obviously has a monopoly in search. There are all sorts of questions about whether it is abusing that monopoly or not. But I distrust the power of the EU regulators to make things better. I think the technology industry is dynamic enough that the Google monopoly will not last for ever. In practice, anything [the EU does] to micromanage the Google product will produce a cure that’s worse than the disease.”

Peter Thiel (quote is taken from the Financial Times, which is behind a registration wall).

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.