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]

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?

If you like your health plan you can…

An entertaining story from the Guardian:

Obamacare website developers rush to fix bug suggesting hacking methods

Flaw in Affordable Care Act site records hack attempts through its search box and re-presents code as autocomplete options

Samizdata quote of the day

If you don’t own your own body, I shudder to think of the implications of the tragedy of the commons.

- Commenter “charles austin”, here. Read about those implications here. The mills of incentives grind slow but they grind exceeding small.

Hi, I’m Bill Clinton and I’m here to help

“The insurance companies simply do not offer those plans that are being cancelled. And there’s no way they can reformulate them in the 30 days available. And anyway, killing off those plans was the whole point of the design change. They wanted to destroy “insurance” as a concept in health care and to move to something much more like pre-paid health care. Thus plans that had high deductibles (ie, catastrophic plans, aka insurance instead of assurance) had to be banned. This isn’t a mistake, an error, a flaw in the plan, it was one of the very points of it all.”

- Tim Worstall, commenting on calls by former US president Bill Clinton for efforts to be made to prevent insurance firms scrapping medical cover in the US, and hence save the face of the current Obama administration. When a politician as crooked as Clinton is seen trying to come to the rescue, you are, in non-technical terms, up shit creek sans paddling device. (Actually, given how things are going, Clinton’s era was a veritable golden age, although let’s not forget that his own “Hillarycare” reforms were shot down by the-then Congress.)

Noonan nails Obamacare

In my previous posting here I asked: What if there is a real collective disaster? Well, from what I’ve been reading, in the US of A now, they’ve got one. Not a day now goes by when I don’t thank the universe that I won’t have to navigate my way through Obamacare, or anything like it, any time soon.

I particularly liked this comment on it, from Peggy Noonan:

I bet America hopes the websites never work so they never have to enroll.

SQotD has already been taken, but had it not been …

I also liked the comment from a few days back (sorry don’t recall where) to the effect that the most secure thing about Obamacare is that not even the hackers are able to get into it long enough to steal anything.

A few years back, whenever one of us Brits here had a moan about the state of things in Britain, American commenters would chime in with invitations to us to give up on dear old doomed, doomed Britain, and come and live in the land of the free. There’s been less of that sort of commenting lately.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Never in human history has the general health of most ordinary people been better than it is now. But paradoxically, there can scarcely ever have been a time when health care has been a more difficult political problem for the governments of advanced countries than it is now. These two apparently contradictory facts are not unconnected. It is precisely because of the stupendous advances in the treatment of disease that the role of government has become so contentious. With the scope for life-prolonging medical intervention now virtually limitless – and thus spending on it being potentially limitless as well – there are moral and practical questions about its availability and distribution which every democratic society has to address.”

- Janet Daley.

As she explains, the lessons that ought to come out of the UK’s nationalised, socialist model of healthcare ought to give pause anywhere to reformers trying to impose a similar system. Which naturally leads her to look at the disaster of the Affordable Care Act. (US economics blogger and long-distance athlete Charles Steele has smart observations on this.) And the Marginal Revolution blog has an interesting perspective on the IT disaster of the ACA.

Tangentially, a rather fine novel, called Nobel Vision, was published a few years ago in which the lurch towards socialist-style healthcare was part of the plot. (The Ayn Rand influence is pretty clear on the author, it seems.)

Discussion point: circumcision

Circumcision ruling: European bureaucrats are effectively banning Jewish boys, argues Brendan O’Neill, quoting the Jerusalem Post and unintentionally supported in his argument by the creepy quote from the Council of Europe in which it calls for “debate” and in the same breath announces what the result of said debate is to be. And this was put forward by a German rapporteur. I am not usually one for endless digs at modern Germans for evil done before most of them were born, but, Frau Rupperecht, do you have any idea of what that must look like to some of the Jerusalem Post’s older readers?

And yet – irreversible modification of a child’s body without the child’s consent. Gulp.

And yet again – parents irreversibly modify their children’s bodies by surgery all the time.

We have discussed this several times before, acrimoniously. Any new thoughts? Any constructive reformulations of old thoughts?

I have a question for medically knowledgeable readers. I gather that a far higher proportion – 79% in 2002 – of men in the US are circumcised than in the UK, yet the number uncircumcised is also huge. There must therefore be scope for large scale comparisons of outcomes. Have these been done? Does male circumcision make much difference?