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]

Samizdata quote of the day

The ADC is a fire-eater and longs for the fray.

– Douglas Haig, Diary entry for 20 July 1917 commenting on a meeting with American Commander-in-Chief Pershing and other members of his staff.

And the name of this fire-eating ADC?

George S. Patton.

A thought experiment on how private road owners would deal with the threat of terrorism

When dealing with complex political issues I often find it useful to ask myself what would happen in the absence of the state. This is not because I think that the glorious libertarian revolution is just around the corner but because such an exercise can at least give us some clues as to what the state should be doing in the here and now.

So, what do I mean by private roads?
Roads where the owners may decide who uses them, under what circumstances and have the means to enforce their decisions. The type of ownership could include purely commercial enterprises – out for a profit, individually-owned roads and – what I think will be the most common form – club-owned roads.

A lot would depend on people’s propensity to tolerate acts of terrorism. My guess is that this would be pretty low but I could be wrong. But that’s the great thing about the free market: it is a wonderful way of finding out what people really want. If the propensity is high then I would guess the outcome would be very similar to what we have now. Terrorism would simply be something that people would have to get used to. But let’s assume that the propensity is low. A commercial road owner would therefore have a very strong incentive to prevent terrorism.

Because, if a competitor was better at preventing terrorism then more people will want to use his roads.

But what of a road owned by a club?
This is an important example if I am right that most private roads would be in this form. The governance rules might be in the form of one frontage one vote. But it may be that the number of votes is proportional to the fees charged.

Now a road club will not have the same incentives as a commercial road – they would not exist to make money. But they would have incentives enough. The principal one would be that their members would want to preserve the value of their properties and one factor in that would be how likely it was that their properties became subject to terrorism.

Individual road owners, we can assume, would be in much the same position as clubs.

So, assuming there are strong incentives to prevent terrorism how would road owners go about it?
Obviously they would want to stop the terrorists. But they would also want to make it as easy as possible for non-terrorists to go about their business. And they would want to keep the costs down.

A key moment is what happens when someone enters the road – or road network – from one of the inevitably large number of frontages. You could have a guard on every frontage searching every person entering the road. However, this would be expensive. Not only that but it would be unlikely to be effective. Guards would get bored and become inattentive and would themselves become likely targets.

Another approach might be to deny access to anyone suspected of being an active terrorist. But this is fraught with difficulty. How would you know who is who?

Far simpler and more effective would be to ban anyone harbouring any terrorist sympathies whatsoever. Effective terrorist campaigns can always rely on a sea of sympathisers who are not themselves terrorists to aid and abet those who are. These sympathisers are usually easy to identify. Exceptions might be granted for children and members of the older generation. Or maybe there would be a system of vouching for people, guarantees of good behaviour or even the taking of hostages. The chances are that if private roads came about tomorrow terrorist sympathisers would wake up to find their properties surrounded by barbed wire.

The next issue would be those seeking entry from another road i.e. a road owned by another entity. What you would probably see is a system of guarantees. One road owner would guarantee the non-terrorist nature of their road users to other road owners. Obviously, there would be some fairly hefty compensation should one road owner’s users engage in acts of terrorism on another road owner’s territory. That would mean that road owners would be very careful who they let out.

There is a precedent for this – sort of. Those familiar with the movie The Day of the Jackal will recall that the idea that they might be letting a terrorist loose on foreign soil scared the living daylights out of the British government.

So, what would happen to the terrorist sympathisers?
It is difficult to see how terrorist sympathisers would be allowed to use non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. They would therefore only be allowed to use terrorist-sympathiser roads. As terrorist sympathisers tend to be poor and geographically concentrated, they would have an immediate problem over what to do for an income especially in the absence of a welfare state. Faced with poverty some would choose to leave for terrorist-sympathiser majority countries while others would choose to change their beliefs. Of course, there is the issue as to whether such conversions would be genuine. I have no answer to this.

But what if the terrorists engaged in acts of terrorism from their own roads?
They could for instance mortar bomb non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. My guess is that they would get mortar-bombed back. Just to greater effect.

Yuval Noah Harari on how the knowledge economy reduces war

In this earlier posting about a book I had been reading, I talked about how reading can turn sort of knowledge into knowledge of a more solid sort. The author says something which you already sort of knew, but as soon as he says it, you know it much better. Often such knowledge consisted of things you already knew about separately, but you hadn’t connected them in your mind.

Recently this happened to me again. Like many others, I have lately been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. And I soon learned that Harari, like Steven Pinker, has noticed that the world has been becoming a lot less warlike.

I already agree with Harari that a major reason for this reduction in warfare is nuclear weapons. On page 17 of my paperback edition of Home Deus, he says this:

Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide, and therefore forced the most powerful nations on earth to find alternative and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. …

Quite so. But next comes this thought, which I had not, until now, put together in my mind:

… Simultaneously, the global economy has been transformed from a material-based economy into a knowledge-based economy. Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. And whereas you can conquer oil fields through war, you cannot acquire knowledge that way. Hence as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and war became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world – such as the Middle East and Central Africa – where the economies are still old-fashioned material-based economies.

I knew that war is diminishing, in fact I have written blog postings about what a big change that is for humanity. And I knew that the knowledge economy is now becoming a bigger deal than the mere possession of agricultural or resource-rich land. Who now does not? But call me dumb, as maybe some tactless commenters will, but I had never – or never very clearly (only “sort of”) – made the causal connection between these two things. Taken together, the rise of the knowledge economy and the arrival of nuclear weapons, themselves a consequence of recently acquired knowledge, amount to a transformation in the cost-to-benefit ratio of war. It used to be that war incurred some costs, heavy costs if you did badly, but if you did well, war might yield handsome gains. Not any more, except when it comes to places still stuck in the logic of quarrelling over physical resources.

A more respectable reason, besides me being dumb, why I had not made this rather obvious connection is that there has been another process that has masked the peaceful nature of knowledge-based economies, which is that when “knowledge” first arrives in a society, its first impact is not to cause peace to happen, but rather that particular sort of war that is so misleadingly categorised as “civil”, i.e. war of the worst sort. Look at sixteenth century Germany, seventeenth century Britain, eighteenth century France and twentieth century Russia and China. All were in those times cursed by newly “educated” generations who each fervently believed that they possessed knowledge, of why and how they should rule the world, but who were really themselves possessed by various sorts of ideological frenzy. So maybe I can be forgiven, as can others who took a while to see or who still do not see the connection between knowledge and peace. It’s because the connection between knowledge and peace takes a while to even happen, and at first it goes in the wrong direction rather than the right one. To put it another way, it takes quite a while for “knowledge” to shed its sneer quotes. To put it yet another way, there are experts and there are “experts”.

Si vis pacem, para bellum

What will the West gain when Montenegro’s membership in NATO becomes official? Not much. Barely half a million people live there. The Boise, Idaho, metropolitan area is more populated than that. With roughly 2,000 soldiers, its miniscule army will hardly boost NATO’s military capacity by an iota.

Vladimir Putin wants it and needs it much more than we do, badly enough to assassinate an elected head of state and instigate a regime-change. That’s precisely why he shouldn’t have it.

For years now, the Kremlin has been violently expanding its power, its influence and even its territory in Europe and Asia. Every time Putin racks up a victory and gets away with it, he grows more confident that he can take more. That’s how it goes with expansionist dictators everywhere. So if you don’t want to go to war against Russia—and only an insane person would—the fewer wins in Putin’s column, the better.

Michael Totten

How dare the U.S. demand NATO states have the means to defend themselves!

If you needed yet another reason to reject the EU as an utterly toxic organisation, here is an absolute corker:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday that Europe must not cave in to U.S demands to raise military spending, arguing that development and humanitarian aid could also count as security.

No doubt Jean-Claude Juncker feels that NATO should deploy Oxfam, Save the Children & Charlotte Church to Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn in order to deter any Russian incursions into the Baltic states.

In retrospect

It is reported in the Guardian that the career of a noted creative artist is coming to an end.

… the offences of Phil Shiner, the human rights lawyer who has just been struck off by the solicitors’ disciplinary tribunal, are worse even than they appear at first sight. It is hard to comprehend the nightmare faced by British soldiers he wrongly accused of torture and murder in Iraq. But he did not only fail those he traduced in court. He failed Iraqis who believed they had a case; he failed genuine victims of abuse who will face a harder fight in future. And his dishonesty and deception, and the bringing of baseless cases, risks tainting the whole case for human rights.

There is quite a bit to agree with in this editorial, but the insouciance of the writer takes my breath away. Will the Guardian, so long his leading patron and publicist, be holding a retrospective exhibition of its own extensive Phil Shiner back catalogue?

The Pope has staged a coup in ‘Malta’!

News reaches us from the Telegraph of rumblings in Rome, where an expansionist Pope appears to have burst the bonds set up by Mussolini and, setting his sights on the smallest ‘state’ within Rome, persuaded the British head of the International Sovereign Military Order of Malta, Grand Master Matthew Festing, to resign. Unlike a previous situation of Argentine aggression against a small group of islands sitting peacefully in a deep blue sea, this has passed off far more peacefully and entirely within Rome.

The background to this dispute is, we are told:

Mr Festing and the Vatican have been locked in a bitter dispute since one of the order’s top knights, Grand Chancellor Albrecht Freiherr von Boeselager, was sacked in December in the chivalric equivalent of a boardroom showdown – ostensibly because he allowed the use of condoms in a medical project for the poor.

Is the article hinting that the ‘condoms’ issue is a bit of a stretch?

When Festing fired von Boeselager, he accused the German of hiding the fact that he allowed the use of condoms when he ran Malteser International, the order’s humanitarian aid agency.

Von Boeselager and his supporters say the condom issue was an excuse by Festing and Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke, an arch-conservative who has accused the pope of being too liberal, to increase their power.

Well since neither the Swiss Guard nor the St John’s Ambulance have got involved, it all seems rather peaceful. But the Pope seems to brook no dissent, not even in his last satellite ‘state’.

Francis has said he wants the 1.2 billion-member church to avoid so-called “culture wars” over moral teachings and show mercy to those who cannot live by all its rules, especially the poor.

Perhaps this is the Pope’s version of the Brezhnev Doctrine?

When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.

I am not saying it’s Autons but… it’s Autons

From Instapundit (my emboldenings):

The miniature Perdex drones, different from larger, more common remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) like the well-known Reaper and Predator, operate with a high degree of collective autonomy and reduced dependency on remote flight crews to control them. The large group of more autonomous Perdex drones creates a “swarm” of miniature drones. The swarm shares information across data links during operation, and can make mission-adaptive decisions faster than RPV’s controlled in the more conventional manner.

In a statement released by the U.S. Department of Defense, Strategic Capabilities Office Director William Roper said, “Due to the complex nature of combat, Perdix are not pre-programmed synchronized individuals, they are a collective organism, sharing one distributed brain for decision-making and adapting to each other like swarms in nature,” Director Roper went on to say, “Because every Perdix communicates and collaborates with every other Perdix, the swarm has no leader and can gracefully adapt to drones entering or exiting the team.”

Doctor Who fans will know exactly where this sort of thing leads:

You have been warned.

Bellingcat chronicles the Russian war against Ukraine

The investigative reporters at Bellingcat have produced a very interesting report on the Russian war against Ukraine, including many incidences of the Russian army firing artillery across the international border in 2014.

Well I must say James Mattis sounds like an interesting fellow!

To be honest, if his colourful quotes were intended to alarm me, they actually had quite the opposite effect.

“Be polite, be professional, but have a plan to kill everybody you meet.”

– James Mattis

Trafalgar, 211 years ago today

May the Great God, whom I worship, grant to my country and for the benefit of Europe in general, a great and glorious Victory; and may no misconduct in any one tarnish it; and may humanity after Victory be the predominant feature of the British Fleet. For myself, individually, I commit my life to Him who made me, and may His blessing light upon my endeavors for serving my Country faithfully. To Him I resign myself and the just cause which is entrusted to me to defend. Amen. Amen. Amen.

The prayer of Horatio Nelson, commander of the British fleet, written on the eve of the Battle of Trafalgar, the following day. For those interested in this period of naval warfare, I strongly recommend this excellent book by Sam Willis.

Roger Knight’s excellent biography of Nelson, which I read about three years’ ago after it was published, is also a brilliant study of the man. (Being an East Anglian, as Nelson also was, I am somewhat biased.)

I leave it to Samizdata readers to elaborate on the potential parallels between Nelson’s destruction of the French/Spanish fleets on that day and the recent far less violent assertion of UK independence on 23 June, 2016.

Haig’s greatest mistake

On 15 September 1916 tanks made their debut at Flers-Courcelette, one of the many engagements which took place during the Battle of the Somme.

The battle marked the beginning of a sorry chapter in British military history because the truth – a truth that to this day few seem prepared to acknowledge – is that the First World War tank was useless.

The list of its failings is lengthy. It was slow, it was unreliable, it had no suspension and it was horrible to operate. The temperature inside was typically over 100°F and as exhaust gases built up so crew effectiveness collapsed. It was also highly vulnerable. Field artillery could take it out easily. Even rifle ammunition could be effective against it. While normal bullets might not be able to penetrate the armour they could knock off small pieces of metal from the inside – known as spall – which then whizzed round the interior wounding all and sundry.

That the tank was the brainchild of Winston Churchill from his days as head of the Admiralty should have alerted senior commanders to the possibility that it was yet another of his crackpot schemes. But they persisted. For his part, Haig being a technophile put a huge amount of faith in the new invention. His diary is littered with references to the tank and he seems to have made great efforts to secure ever more of them. In consequence, huge amounts of effort went into a technological dead end when it would have been far better spent on guns, shells and fuzes.

Not that such efforts were ever likely to satisfy the snake-oil salesmen who made up the ranks of the tank enthusiasts. In the face of tank failure after tank failure they simply claimed that their beloved weapon just wasn’t being used properly.

Of course, like all good conmen they liked to take credit for other people’s successes. So, when a huge number of tanks were used at Cambrai in 1917 and the initial phases went reasonably well they were happy to put it all down to the tank. The fact that within 3 days an initial tank force in the hundreds had been whittled down to single figures by mechanical failures and withering German artillery fire was glossed over.

The credit should really have gone to the “predicted barrage”. As with so much to do with artillery this needs a little explaining. If your artillery barrage is to be effective you need to know where your shells are going to land. Although manufacturers attempt to build guns with uniform characteristics this is an extremely difficult thing to do. Worse still every time a gun is fired the barrel experiences wear and its characteristics change. Before Cambrai the answer had been “registration”. Guns would fire shells at the enemy and observers would spot where they landed. The drawback was that the enemy could tell that an attack was on its way. In a predicted barrage the gunners worked out in advance where the shells would land so the first the enemy would know about an attack was when he was hit by a full-scale barrage. This meant that for the first time since the beginning of the war surprise could be re-introduced to the battlefield.

Cheaper than a Great War tank and about as useful.

Cheaper than a Great War tank and about as useful.