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]

Eatless in Seattle

Via Twitchy, I came across this article asking “Why are so many Seattle restaurants closing lately?”

The writer, Sara Jones, goes through the possible answers to this question at some length. Ownership changes. “Concept switches”, whatever they might be. Premises too big. Ingredients too pricey. Menus too esoteric. Too loud. Too quiet. Managers who do too much. Managers who do too little. Many and various are the potentialities diligently listed by Ms Jones. It is a little hard to see why a plague of Managers Doing Too Much should suddenly descend on so many of Seattle’s eateries all at once, though. Could there be something else behind it all, some really strange and frightening phenomenon whose name no one in Seattle dare speak? It’s like in Jaws when no one wants to say the word “shark”.

Dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dim-dum dimdum dimdum dimdumdimdumdimdumdimd-AAAAAAAGH!

Though none of our local departing/transitioning restaurateurs who announced their plans last month have elaborated on the issue, another major factor affecting restaurant futures in our city is the impending minimum wage hike to $15 per hour. Starting April 1, all businesses must begin to phase in the wage increase: Small employers have seven years to pay all employees at least $15 hourly; large employers (with 500 or more employees) have three.

In fairness to the author, she does discuss the effect of the minimum wage hike eventually, after having exhausted all other options. She’s doing better than many.

Yet another reminder: the state is not your friend

The US government, working tirelessly to bring new opportunities to criminals worldwide:

Microsoft released a security advisory on Thursday warning customers that their PCs were also vulnerable to the “Freak” vulnerability. The weakness could allow attacks on PCs that connect with Web servers configured to use encryption technology intentionally weakened to comply with U.S. government regulations banning exports of the strongest encryption.

Thanks Uncle Sam!

The state is not your friend

Samizdata quote of the day

Unfortunately, this is not what many Greeks (or Spaniards) believe. A large plurality of them voted for Syriza, which wants to reallocate resources to wage increases and subsidies and does not even mention exports in its growth strategy. They would be wise to remember that having Stiglitz as a cheerleader and Podemos as advisers did not save Venezuela from its current hyper-inflationary catastrophe.

Ricardo Hausmann

There are several things in this article that I think are very debatable and damn I hate seeing people describe spending less of other people’s money as “austerity”, but this is an interesting piece nevertheless.

Samizdata quote of the day

In his first six years in office, President Obama has performed well for those who wrote those checks. He brought in Wall Street insiders such as Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers to concoct his economic policy, which brought a recovery to the financial plutocracy before virtually anyone else. Wall Street was back by 2009; the rest of us have had to wait for 2015. Obama and the Democrats in Congress also handed the big banks a nice gift in the form of the Dodd-Frank Bill which helped them achieve that “too big to fail” status and has accelerated the growing consolidation of the American financial system. Indeed, since Dodd-Frank was passed smaller banks’ share of banking assets has dropped twice as quickly as before, notes a recent Harvard Kennedy School of Government study. Smaller and community banks – historically more likely to loan to small businesses – have seen a 50 percent drop in their share of lending while the the five largest banks now control over 40 percent of lending, twice their share 20 years ago.

Joel Kotkin

The US decides to take another step towards stagnation

What is all the more galling is that this “net neutrality” nonsense wasn’t stopped by a Republican-controlled Congress. This cannot be just blamed on Obama and his cohorts, argues Dr Hurd:

The federal government — and this probably includes most of the Republican Party, as well — cannot stand the idea that the Internet economy was a successful instance of (in today’s context) relatively unhampered market capitalism. It’s precisely because this model of (relatively) unhampered capitalism worked so well that government now has to regulate it. Otherwise, it could be held up as a model for the rest of the economy. “If the Internet works so well with little or even no regulation, then what does this suggest for health care, education, lending, and all the other sectors of the economy under government management or control?”

The statists who run the nation’s capital can’t have it, and they won’t have it. That’s why Obama and his Democratic majority on the FCC pushed this through. And that’s why the Republican-led Congress won’t lift a finger in protest. Most of them are just fine with it.

The people I hear defending the Orwellian-named Net Neutrality do so on the premise that it will bring this or that benefit to the consumer. Which consumer? Any action of government bringing benefit to one party (or company), by definition brings harm or loss to another. On what basis does the government take over management of the Internet itself to “benefit consumers” when the government will be the one picking winners and losers based on political — never economic — considerations?

The only proper role for government is a crucial one — to uphold contracts voluntarily entered into by consumers and businesses. Without such a role for government, there would indeed be chaos and anarchy. Advocates of “Net Neutrality” want us to believe that turning the Internet into a public utility will inaugurate this role, when the government was already playing that role all along. The real and only possible purpose for this rule is to ensure that government sets the terms of contracts into which customers and businesses would otherwise freely enter.

Here are more thoughts from the Internet Society.

Mumbai slums better than expected

In episode two of Our Guy In India, truck mechanic and Isle of Man TT racer Guy Martin visits the biggest slum in Mumbai, Dharavi. He is surprised to find how nice it is.

Most of what we see of Dharavi in the programme appears well looked-after: clean and tidy and with lots of decoration. There is also a lot of commerce. The people are well dressed; the children well fed. There are refrigerators and large televisions. The walls and floors are decorated with “right fancy tiling”. Some residents are more middle-class than might be expected: Guy meets a man who works as a backing dancer, choreographer and dance teacher.

The narrator explains that Dharavi generates £300 million in trade per year, though I am not sure how this is measured. He goes on to say that 85% of residents have a job; that anyone can set up a business; only 3% of Indians pay income tax; and many slum businesses are (unsurprisingly) unregistered.

We see one business that grinds spices, another making tread plates for stairs, another selling phone calls (though mobile phones are more common). Guy visits the Children’s Education Society’s Banyan Tree English School, which the sign says is a computer education center authorised to teach a course called MS-CIT. Also available here are free medical checks and treatment for children under 12.

It’s not all good. Some areas are so densely built-up that it is dark at street level in the daytime, though we see inside a house here and it is not unpleasant. And there is no running water or sanitation, though people are managing somehow. I also suspect the programme does not show the worst of it. What I do see is life getting better for poor people in India.

The programme is currently viewable online, at least in the UK, though I do not know for how much longer.

Thiel spiel

Many libertarians think that the answer to meetings like those Davos and Bilderberg Group get-togethers of the rich and powerful is to complain about them until they stop. This is ridiculous and pointless. Quite aside from the absurdity of libertarians objecting to people freely consorting with one another, how on earth are they going to stop the richest and most powerful people on the planet from meeting up and talking to each other from time to time?

My attitude has always been, not that such gatherings are automatically evil, but that we need our people to be right there in among them, and to make them less evil. People like Peter Thiel, who strikes me as being one of the smartest and most interesting people on the planet. The usual come-back about allegedly smart people goes: “If you’re so smart, why ain’t you rich?” Peter Thiel has some very good answers to that line of attack. Around 2.2 billion answers, according to Forbes magazine. This short Forbes profile describes Thiel as being “ideological to the point of eccentricity”, his particular eccentricity being that he is a libertarian. I don’t know if Peter Thiel spends any of his time bending the ears of fellow plutocrats and billionaires at gatherings like those alluded to above, but if he does, good.

And, if he does, maybe this excellent video performance provides clues about the kinds of things he says. (You might want to skip the rather numerous thankyous to other people at the start from the Independent Institute’s David Theroux, and go straight to where Thiel himself starts talking, at 7 minutes 45 seconds.)

I have ordered a copy of Thiel’s latest book, and not just because I want to read it, although I definitely do. I think of a book order as being like voting for an idea that I like the sound of, or in this case an author that I like the sound of.

The solution to a unfavourable business environment is…

The best way any government in the UK can bring prosperity is not by being ‘pro-business’ but rather by being ‘pro-market’. Labour sneeringly loathes both business and markets, the LibDems do not understand either and the Tories do not grasp that there is even a difference.

The solution? Try to do your business in Hong Kong, Singapore or New Zealand if you realistically have such a choice.

So why have overseas subsidiaries at all if you are a US business?

Question: why have overseas subsidiaries at all if you are a US business? Why not just hive off any non-US based businesses into actual, and not just nominal, separate businesses? As other nations do not try to tax and regulate non-domicile activities in the way the US does, surely it make more sense to simply do business elsewhere, have your HQ elsewhere and just make deals to sell your stuff to US only based companies if you want to access the US market (i.e. do it indirectly)?

Well what I would do is this…

Shared Parental Leave: How should business prepare for its effects? … so asks an article in City A.M… and surely the correct answers are to reduce your workforce with improved automation, find ways to outsource off-shore, or just move the whole business somewhere the state does not run your affairs to quite the same extent, unless the nature of what your company does precludes those options.

Thomas Piketty wants a war (sort of)

There are already plenty of reasons to take a dim view of Piketty’s leveling ideas on wealth. Here’s another (H/T, Econlog):

I think it would be a big mistake to oppose the objective of global progressive taxation of income and wealth with the objective of class struggle and political fight, for at least two reasons. First, making this tax reform possible would require a huge mobilization. This has always been the case in the past. All the big revolutions engendered a big tax reform. Take the French Revolution, the American Revolution, or World War One: although it was not a fiscal revolution initially, through the Bolshevik Revolution, it had a huge impact on the acceptance of a progressive tax regime and more generally social welfare institutions after World War One – and even more so after World War Two. These were fiercely opposed by the elite and by the right just before these shocks, so this shows that we need a big fight and sometimes violent shocks to make progressive tax accepted. It would be a big mistake to think of progressive taxation as a technocratic process that comes quietly from a minister and experts. This is not at all the history of taxation.

The man was interviewed and had his comments published in a blog rather aptly called Potemkin (not sure how ironic that is).

Perry Metzger, who writes occasionally for Samizdata, nicely skewered Piketty’s reasoning a few months ago.

Samizdata quote of the day

Of all the legion of bad outcomes that result from political ambition, the most striking of our times is surely the euro, an unashamedly political project bolted on to sovereign European nations of long and proud competing traditions in the hope of making them more like the United States, at least in terms of economic prowess.

Jeremy Warner.