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]

Health and safety law in action

All eggs that are sold in the United States would be illegal according to European health regulations.

Also, all eggs that are sold in Europe would be illegal according to US health regulations.

Simon Gibbs on direct health care

Last Friday Simon Gibbs spoke at Brian Micklethwait’s. He explained that libertarians are very good at talking, which is important and useful, but that he wanted to see them doing more, and that inspiring such action is what his Libertarian Home project is really about.

He had many ideas of things that libertarians could do. Some were simple and obvious, such as attending demonstrations so that the media is forced to explain who this strange new breed of demonstrator is, or handing out leaflets at events such as Occupy demonstrations where some of the attendees might not be fully sold on all of the ideas of their movement and might be amenable to persuasion. But what he really wants to see is demonstrations of things that would be everyday in a libertarian society actually working.

An example of this is direct health care. In the USA, Dr Josh Umbehr runs AtlasMD. You pay $50 per month for access to a general practitioner. You get better service, email and phone advice, and out of hours appointments. And someone who sees you as a customer rather than a nuisance, and spends time with you and helps you to find the right consultant or to try different medicines instead of rushing you out in time for the next appointment. Simon found one doctor in the UK who offers such a service for £125 per month for a couple.

I would like to see more of this. Simon explains:

It would not need to be the dominant form of healthcare, but merely to be available for about the price of a gym membership to 10% of the population. We can then start to use this kind of care as a counter example to the sainted NHS. To get there, we need to stimulate demand. We need to talk about this idea with friends and talk about the various ways in which this would be more pleasant and more convenient than the GP service we get from the NHS. We would then be able to talk about the NHS as something like a safety net for very serious medical catastrophes, not something we rely on every day for every kind of medical assistance.

The British Medical Association – auf den Tag!

Teresa May, I could learn to like even you. Just deal with the BMA as you have dealt with the Police Federation.

Soon, soon, oh let the day be soon!

Doctors vote for ban on UK cigarette sales to those born after 2000.

Samizdata quote of the day

The only serious black mark against the NHS was its poor record on keeping people alive

- This was written in all seriousness in a Guardian (No! Really?) article praising the NHS. Seriously. Not joking.

Speaking of Krugman misspeaking…

In the United States, we’re in the midst of a giant scandal about just how bad the Veterans Administration hospital system is.

For those unfamiliar with it, the US maintains a mini-NHS just for former soldiers, and it appears that it has both been undergoing a systematic meltdown and systematically falsifying records that would have allowed outsiders to learn of the situation.

As it happens, Paul Krugman, everyone’s favorite economist, effusively praised the VA hospital network as a model for future American health care in 2006, claiming it demonstrated that state operation of the health system was to be wished for rather than feared. Quoting his New York Times Column:

I know about a health care system that has been highly successful in containing costs, yet provides excellent care. And the story of this system’s success provides a helpful corrective to anti-government ideology. For the government doesn’t just pay the bills in this system–it runs the hospitals and clinics.

No, I’m not talking about some faraway country. The system in question is our very own Veterans Health Administration, whose success story is one of the best-kept secrets in the American policy debate.

The discovery of a column or speech by Professor Krugman that seems embarrassing in the light of later discoveries has become quite routine. (see, for example, his effusive praise for the quality of Thomas Piketty’s data and the inability of opponents to refute it at a point where “Capital in the 21st Century” had been in public hands for mere days. There are numerous other examples to be had.)

What is not routine, sadly, is for Professor Krugman to ever acknowledge such a mistake. I am unaware of an instance of his admitting to an error.

Samizdata quote of the day

We have to break people away from the choice habit that everyone has

- Marcus Merz

Truly there is are few things more valuable than an honest enemy, for by their own words they are revealed.

The state has been astonishingly successful at “breaking people away from the choice habit” in the UK, where arguing for choice in medical care results in people looking as you incredulously as if space monkeys are flying our of your mouth.

Longer pub opening hours and fewer car accidents in the UK

Assuming this data is accurate and sustained (a big assumption, and the usual caveats must apply), this sort of item is going to make the nanny statists out there feel very uncomfortable:

In recent history, the UK has liberalized its rules concerning the hours that pubs can operate. For example, the Licensing Act of 1988 expanded Sunday hours and no longer required pubs to close for two and a half hours in the afternoon. In 2005, the law in England and Wales was further liberalized such that pubs could remain open until 5 am instead of closing at 11 pm. An article in the latest issue of the Journal of Health Economics claims that the 2005 liberalization of pub hours actually decreased the number of traffic accidents.

So writes James Schneider, over at the Econlog economics group blog.

Here is another excerpt:

The reduction in traffic accidents for England and Wales are plausibly related to the change in pub hours because the largest reductions occurred during weekend nights and early mornings. The impact on young drinkers was particularly strong. Accidents involving young people on Friday and Saturday nights decreased by an estimated 32.5 percent.

So there is evidence, perhaps, to confirm a general, common-sense sort of view that if you treat adults like adults, they behave accordingly. It is interesting that the message of this article is as troubling for the paternalist Right as it is for the Fabians on the left. I remember reading some time ago the author Theodore Dalrymple, who has made something of a name by lamenting the alleged ghastliness of modern life in the UK, reticent past, having a pop at liberalised pub hours. The Daily Mail, for example, regularly has a go and rarely fails to write stories about how we Brits are living in a sea of booze.

And yet it turns out that there has been a coincident sharp fall in road accidents on one hand, and looser licensing laws, on the other. It should be borne in mind, though, that recent years have seen a continued strong enforcement of drink-drive laws; police are pretty tough on speeding in general; there may be, for demographic reasons, just fewer tearaways on the roads in general. On the other hand, our island is more crowded than it used to be and our roads are busier, so you might think there would be more risk of accidents, not less. And yet the number of accidents, including fatal ones, has fallen.

Correlation is not causation. It is, however, worth noting that had the number of road accidents risen significantly at around the same time as our drinking laws had changed, I think I can imagine how organisations such the British Medical Association, The Lancet, and other campaigners would have used such sets of data.

You gotta hand it to him…

…Mark Goddard of Newton Abbot in Devon is not a man afraid to take his medical destiny into his own hands hand.

Man builds home-made guillotine and chops off hand after doctors refuse to amputate

Mark Goddard has been in constant pain since he was involved in a motorbike crash 16 years ago.

But after an unsuccessful two-year campaign to have his nerve shattered hand surgically removed, he decided to do it himself.

He rigged up a home-made guillotine using an axe with a weight strapped to it, to ensure it would have enough power to amputate his hand.

The first blow sliced though the bone but didn’t sever all the tendons, leaving his hand hanging off a bloodied stump.

He then used a surgeon’s scalpel to cut through the remaining tissues before dropping the remains into a bin, which he later filled with charcoal and set alight – in order to prevent his hand being re-attached.

That was the Express. The Mirror adds some more details:

Dad refused NHS operation builds GUILLOTINE to amputate his own hand – but it still hurts

Mark spent two weeks designing the guillotine and ensured his wife and son were out before he severed his hand.

He tied two tourniquets above his forearm to reduce blood flow and had a first aid kit nearby.

Mark wants a device called a spinal stimulator implanted into his back to ease the nerve pain.

He said he was “reasonably hopeful” his wish would be granted after receiving a more sympathetic hearing from doctors and psychiatrists in the wake of his dramatic protest two weeks ago.

A Devon and Cornwall police spokesman said: “Police received a call from the ambulance service to say a man had cut his hand off.

“We were concerned he might have a knife and be a risk to himself or others.

“Units attended and upon arrival a 44-year-old man had indeed cut his hand off. He was otherwise rational.

While it is not the place of the police to criticise the behaviour of citizens who have remained within the law, it would be a harsh judge who held it against the police spokesman quoted that the placement of his penultimate word did imbue his observations with a slightly ironical tone.

I totally support Mr Goddard’s right to do as he pleases with his own body, sympathise with the suffering that led him to take such a desperate measure, applaud the practical and rational way he went about it, and very much hope that the NHS will be persuaded to take his pain seriously in future, but I am not sure I would recommend his method. Hands up who thinks it was a good idea? (Er, not you, Mark.)

Hello Mr Dictator, your doctor with the sharp knife will see you shortly

Well, for all his Marxist ideology, collectivist ruination of Zimbabwe’s once-strong agriculture sector and destruction of its currency, it appears that only the best of capitalist medicine will do for the bastard:

HARARE (Reuters) – President Robert Mugabe is in Singapore for an eye operation ahead of his 90th birthday on Friday, a spokesman said, maintaining a government denial that Zimbabwe’s long-serving ruler is suffering from prostate cancer.

George Charamba said Mugabe, Africa’s oldest president, left Harare on Monday and would be back in the country for birthday celebrations on Saturday.

“This is a routine check-up, a routine cataract operation for his left eye whose date was set down more than a year ago and the president has gone out to fulfil that appointment,” Charamba told Reuters on Tuesday.

“There is nothing more than that, nothing serious” he said, dismissing speculation that Mugabe is struggling with his health. “He had a right eye operation a couple of years ago and he is going to have the other attended to now.”

So if it is a routine matter, why does this man have to fly thousands of miles, churning out all that carbon, which as we know, is causing the planet to get so much warmer (stop the sarcasm, Ed.)?

Or maybe the fellow wants to do a bit of shopping down in Orchard Road?

The state does not care about you

Doing the rounds on Facebook is a story about a cancer patient told by the Department of Work and Pensions that she contributed to her illness and therefore does not qualify for some amount of welfare payment. One commenter points out that she probably broke some rule, such as drinking too much or not going to some medical appointment or other. Debate ensues about whether such rules are fair.

There are more such stories on a blog called Benefit Tales, such as the the man who died in a freezing flat after the DWP stopped payments to him because he did not attend an assessment, because they sent the letter demanding that he attend the assessment to the wrong address.

The problem is centralisation. A government department can not know exactly how ill a certain individual feels today, and it will not visit you to find out why you did not attend an appointment. It certainly can not just pay money to anyone who asks for help because there are too many of those, so it must make rules, write letters and feed forms into computers. Letters go missing and no rigid set of rules will make sense for every single complicated human. But by demanding that the state looks after everyone, such centralisation is just what welfare state supporters are asking for.

It is much better to look not to the state for help, but to one’s friends and neighbours. They are the ones who know just how ill you are and can knock on your door and make sure you are all right. And if they were allowed to hold on to a little more of their money, they might be able to club together and pay your heating bill and bring you groceries. Similarly, private charities, because they can choose who they help, are better placed to more efficiently allocate their resources to the most deserving.

As usual, public debate misses alternatives to the state. A television programme about people on benefits recently aired, and the mainstream media helpfully divides people into those who think welfare recipients are undeserving and those who think they need more help. The result is that the state is asked to do more to help people, and do more to stop cheats, frauds and the undeserving. Few think to ask the state to do less.

But, as Perry’s quote of yesterday says, it makes no sense to ask the state to look after people. If you want to look after the poor and the chronically ill, be a libertarian: take the money and the power away from the heartless state and leave it in the hands of people who care.

A website about human progress

Recently I’ve been getting emails from the Cato Institute plugging their new website, HumanProgress.org.

Personally, I find the way that this website works to be annoying and confusing and just generally off-putting in a way I can’t quite pin down. I can find stuff, but every time I try to make progress through it, I am assaulted by what feels to me like mild-to-severe waves of user hostility. The screen, for instance, frequently covers itself in grey, in a manner which feels to me like it’s not working properly. But it could easily be that it is just me that is now semi-permanently annoyed, confused and hostile. I’d be slightly interested in whether anyone else shares my annoyed, confused and hostile reaction to the way this website works.

But I am really far more interested in the message that the website is trying to put across. It could be that there is just so much good news about human progress to be navigated through, such an abundance of data choice when it comes to learning about how well the human species is doing just now, that any website devoted to such matters is bound to overwhelm and confuse someone like me, whose brain is rooted in the twentieth century, when news like this was so much harder to come by and when websites were only being dreamed of. (The multiplication of genuinely useful websites seems to be a story that HumanProgress.org doesn’t seem to provide data about, but maybe they do and I just haven’t spotted it yet.)

This message, of relentless human betterment, will surely remind many readers of Steven Pinker’s recent book, The Better Angels of Our Nature, which I wrote about here (where there are links to other and earlier postings on the same subject).

Apocalypse. Saw. Oblivion. The NHS.

The Sanctuary

Visit the Alton Towers Resort from 16 March and experience The Sanctuary, a terrifying scare maze!

The Sanctuary has been closed to patients for almost 50 years, but appointments are now being taken at the newly opened establishment as a controlling force, known only as the Ministry of Joy launches a series of trials, recruiting advocates for its new 2013 project. What starts out as a rejuvenating check up at The Sanctuary soon takes a turn for the worse.

Will you make it out with a smile on your face?

I like the Festival of Britain style graphics on the first link.

What does it mean that a theme park horror ride takes its inspiration from the visual style of a public information film issued by the Ministry of Information circa 1946?