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]

And some, I assume, are good people.

Seen online:

When America elects people, they’re not electing their best. They’re not electing you. They’re electing people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

On dismissing questions about democracy with cliches

I’m more than a little sick of people quoting Churchill (and generally mangling the quotation badly) in discussions about democracy as though his famous remark on the topic was a substitute for clear thinking.

Blithely saying “yes, it’s the worst form of government… except for all the others! hahaha!” doesn’t really lend any new information or depth to a discussion about legal systems, decision making and institutions.

Indeed, bringing up the quotation seems to often be a way of de facto avoiding meaningful in-depth discourse rather than a way to illuminate discourse. Perhaps I’m excessively caricaturing here, but one almost imagines the subtext as: “Ha, ha, yes, isn’t it funny and uncomfortable that this goddess I worship, Democracy, is such a fickle and awful violator of my trust. In fact, so deep is my devotion to Her in spite of Her terrible behavior, and so uncomfortable is this realization that my devotion may be misplaced, that I’d rather not have this discussion at all. So, how about the baseball playoffs?”

This is not useful. Turning away from a problem that makes you uncomfortable doesn’t fix the problem, it just perpetuates it. I recognize most people don’t agree with my view of the necessity, morality or efficacy of having a state, but even among those of you with the mainstream position on that topic, there is a lot of legitimate, and even important, discussion to be had here.

For example, there is always a central question about goals versus methods. That is to say: is the point to have as good a set of laws and as well managed a legal system as possible, with voting being used as a tool to try to achieve that, or is the notion that the maximally faithful expression of the general will is in itself the goal?

If it is the latter, of course, one must accept the idea that at intervals “the people” will vote for censorship, suppression of minorities, genocide, and even worse. If it is the former, then voting is a decision making process, and one must ask, really ask, if it is truly so important that one make sure that every last person, no matter how uninterested, uninformed, or frankly stupid, should get their input into the decisions being made?

As just one more of many example of this: the drafters of the U.S. constitution (and we know this because we have their writings) feared the very sort of Imperial Presidency we’ve developed. They wanted a very limited Presidency, and they wanted the President to be elected quite indirectly. Indeed, at the start of the U.S.’s experiment in government, the Electoral College was a meaningful body, and the Electoral College members were often chosen by state legislatures and not even directly by the people. This was specifically intended to impede the potential for large, ignorant mobs to have too much of a hand in the selection of the President.

Now, if your goal is to give “the people” as much say as possible in the selection of the President, well, this probably seems like a bad thing, and indeed, the electoral college would seem like an institution to be subverted or defanged to the greatest extent possible. If, on the other hand, you are trying to make sure that on average the decision made is reasonable (though perhaps not a particularly imaginative or interesting one) and that extreme decisions (especially extremely bad ones) are very unusual to impossible, this choice makes considerably more sense.

When people whip out the old “democracy is terrible except for everything else!” chestnut, and wink at you, what they’re ultimately doing is impeding thinking about this sort of thing, and certainly impeding having a meaningful discussion about the available points in the design space for institutions. Don’t be one of the people who quotes it as a substitute for having a real conversation.

(BTW, as an aside, most people get the original Churchill quotation badly mangled. It was:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

That comes from a speech before the House of Commons on November 11, 1947. You will note that he’s far less glib than the average person misquoting him.)

British, indeed world, politics is dominated by the idea of ‘Social Reform’ – and this is an idea which violates basic economic law

What is “Social Reform”? Social Reform is the idea that increasing government spending and/or regulations reduces poverty or other “social ills” (sickness and so on) and it is the idea that has dominated British thinking since the late 19th century. Liberal Party “Radical Joe” Chamberlain of Birmingham (so beloved by Prime Minister May) outlined his program of using government to improve life (the central idea of “Social Reform”) in 1865 – but Liberal Party Manchester had already taken over such things as the provision of water and gas and undertaken various other “Social Reforms” in the years after the Act of 1835 set up modern local government in the cities and towns, replacing the old “Closed Corporations” – apart from in the one-square-mile City of London that has kept its Closed Corporation to this day.

Conservative Party Prime Minister Disraeli made it compulsory for local government to do about 40 Social Reforms (i.e. perpetual government spending functions) in 1875 – whether local tax payers wanted this or not. And J.S. Mill stated in 1848 (in his “Principles of Political Economy”) that “everyone agreed” (by which Mr Mill meant that he and his friends agreed – no opponent counted as part of “everyone”) that local government should do X,Y, Z, to help the people. Liberal Party Prime Minister Gladstone agreed in 1870 that School Boards be set up in most of the country (some towns, such as the one I am sitting in, refused to have one – but were forced to have one some 20 years later) to build state schools on the Prussian model – although denying they would be like the Prussian schools. And Conservative Party Prime Minister Disraeli put unions above the Common Law in 1875 – by allowing “picketing” (obstruction) and giving the unions immunity from some claims of civil damage. This was part of the theory that wages and conditions of work should not be determined by the market (by supply and demand) but by “collective bargaining” – basically (as W.H. Hutt explained in the “Strike Threat System”) of “give us what we want – or we will not allow people to go in or our of your place of business, at least we will make it very difficult for them to do so”. Conservative Party Disraeli was a Social Reformer – he had no love for “capitalists” believing (or half believing) that they “exploited” people, and Liberal Party Mr J. S. Mill had much the same opinion (indeed a more radical one) – longing for the day when workers co-ops would replace the “capitalists”.

Since about 1870 the British state has grown – not just spending more money, but spending more money even as a proportion of the economy (leading to a rise in taxes over time). In the early 19th century the state, at least as a proportion of the economy shrank – since the 1870s it has grown. Also the early 19th century witnessed deregulation – the repeal of various restrictions and edicts. From the 1870s onwards there has been a massive increase in regulation – with the state seeking to control every aspect of life, much the like the last years of Queen Elizabeth the First when there was an orgy of statute passing, often quite demented statutes such as the “Statute of Artificers” which tried to make everyone follow the occupation of their parents, there were also attempts to tie people to the parish of their birth and other throwbacks to the late Roman Empire (the Emperor Diocletian and all that).

→ Continue reading: British, indeed world, politics is dominated by the idea of ‘Social Reform’ – and this is an idea which violates basic economic law

Samizdata quote of the day

Turning to communism for fear of fascism is like suicide for fear of death

Perry de Havilland.

Sadly, it is time to recycle this one yet again it seems.

German Historicism and American Pragmatism are very different philosophies, but they have some similar results

German “Historicism” (whether of the “right”, Hegel, or the “left” Karl Marx) and American “Pragmatism” (Charles Pierce, William James, John Dewey….) are very different philosophies (very different indeed) – but they have some things in common which lead to some similar results. They both deny objective and universal truth – the Ralph Cudworth or Thomas Reid thinking of “We hold these truths to be self evident….” of the American Declaration of Independence and the philosophy of the Bill of Rights. Made most obvious by the Ninth Amendment – indeed the Bill of Right is clearly compiled in the wrong order, the Ninth Amendment should be the First Amendment and the Tenth Amendment should be the Second Amendment – read it and it should be obvious to you.

German Historicism holds that different “truths” apply to different “historical periods” and to different “races” and “classes” – perhaps the only answer that such a relativist philosophy deserves is the one that such men as Erik Brown, “Mad Jack” Churchill and Audie Murphy gave it. But there are books that refute it, for example Carl Menger’s “The Errors of Historicism” (1883 – specifically on the German “Historical School” of economics and its denial of the universal and objective laws of economic truth), “Human Action” by Ludwig Von Mises, and “The Poverty of Historicism” by Karl Popper.

→ Continue reading: German Historicism and American Pragmatism are very different philosophies, but they have some similar results

National Socialists are Socialists

National Socialists are socialists and trying to counter the “Identity Politics” of the left with more “Identity Politics” is like trying to counter arsenic with cyanide

One does not really need to read “The Road to Serfdom” by F.A. Hayek or “Omnipotent Government” by Ludwig Von Mises (although it is good to read these works – especially “Omnipotent Government”) to know that National Socialists are socialist collectivists – watching the Nazis, for that is what they are, marching at night with lighted touches through the University of Virginia chanting “Blood and Soil” should tell anyone that these people have nothing in common with the philosophy of the Bill of Rights – that they are collectivists, socialists.

“But Paul the opposition to them was controlled by Marxists – a movement that has murdered even more people than the Nazis” – and where have I denied that? I understand that very well – and I have condemned the left, in the strongest terms, all my life. But one does NOT oppose arsenic with cyanide – one does NOT oppose the “Identity Politics” of the “left” (of the Frankfurt School of Marxism “Diversity” crowd) with an “Identity Politics” of the “right”.

“But Paul one can not defeat the Marxists with the philosophy of the Bill of Rights (mocked for centuries now by the “educated” – Mr Hume, Mr Bentham and so on) – one can only defeat collectivism with a different form of collectivism”.

A pox on such a “victory” – and a pox on all those who choose it.

“…I find it rather regrettable that Lady Hale’s judgment makes so many references to defecation.”

said Lord Walker, a UK Supreme Court Justice in one, rather unfortunate case. However, we had better get used to Lady Hale’s judgments as she has now been nominated as the next President of the Supreme Court, a promotion from her position as Deputy President, and her influence on UK law will grow.

Why anyone should be concerned that a former academic lawyer with her track record should be in charge of a court that does not sit en banc is that she may well control the lists and influence which judges sit on particular cases, thereby having scope to shape the law.

She has long been a supporter of greater diversity in the judiciary.

“It may be a genuine occupational qualification to choose a black Othello or a female Desdemona, but could it be thought a genuine occupational qualification to bring a minority perspective to the business of judging in the higher courts?

“So do we need to revive the argument for some special provision, akin to that in Northern Ireland, to enable the appointing commissions to take racial or gender balance into account when making their appointments? Would that really be such a bad thing? I think not.”

But some might prefer to have judges who judge the case before them on the basis of applying the law, rather than their own perspective, if one hoped for the rule of law to be seen to be maintained.

Lady Hale has however, speaking privately, cast doubt on her own judgment in one case, a meagre consolation for the losing party.

The trouble with the UK’s Supreme Court is that it is really the result of a Lefty wet dream about judicial activism, finally in 2005 (wef 2009) destroying a long tradition (before then vandalised in the 1870s) of the UK’s final court* being a committee of the House of Lords. (* Not for Scots Criminal Law, which remains under the Scottish Court of Session).

The UK’s Supreme Court has been described by one of its justices as a political court, being politicised by its inevitable involvement in devolution issues and interpretation of Human Rights and EU law (as was, to be fair, the House of Lords before it).

I have a modest proposal, that the Supreme Court be abolished, saving taxpayers money and removing an avenue for more legal fees to be charged in pursuit of a result, thereby removing work and money from the legal profession and reducing litigation risk. There is a simple alternative, that should a party find that litigation results in an injustice, or a nonsense whereby different UK courts have different precedents to follow, that party could petition Parliament to change the law, even in respect of that particular case, as happened in the Burmah Oil case. This approach would have the advantage of getting our Parliamentarians to see the consequences of the laws that they pass (or do not pass) and also take up time that could be spent passing more unhelpful legislation.

To those who say that our politicians should not be our judges, I say ‘Better than our judges being our politicians.

The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

There are several reasons, mostly to do with me getting older, which have caused me to slow down as a Samizdata contributor, but just recently something more mundane has been getting in my way. I needed a new computer screen, my previous one having stopped working. I thought that a sprint, metaphorically speaking, would sort this out, but the sprint turned into a marathon.

When buying things like computer screens, I prefer shopping in actual shops to internet shopping. I find returning defective goods to shops less complicated than returning them to internet suppliers, not least because I now get free travel on London’s public transport system, but also because I have a face in front of me to complain to and from whom to demand satisfaction. But more fundamentally, I like to see, close up, what I am thinking of buying, rather than relying on imperfect internet imagery. When I start out buying something like a new screen, I don’t really know what’s now being offered or what I would now like, until I start looking at what’s now available, in the flesh, so to speak.

So, for instance, as I got stuck into my screen browsing, I realised that I might appreciate at some time in the future being able to attach my screen to one of those bolted-onto-my-desk swinging arms, thereby freeing up some desk space. Not all screens have the screw holes in the back of them to make this easy. Often, those imperfect internet images don’t tell you about this.

I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of everything that happened during my screen marathon, but two particular things made life difficult. One, shops (Currys PC World in particular) have a nasty habit of displaying screens as being on sale when, it turns out, they aren’t available on account of having run out. Only the one manky old display version remains. Twice, my efforts to buy a screen were thwarted by this nasty little shop habit.

But worse, far worse, was that the first screen that I decided to buy, a Samsung S24F356, turned out to be defective. When I got it home and plugged it in, I discovered that it was seriously overheating. The right hand edge of the screen, near to where the power feeds in, quickly became almost too hot to touch. That couldn’t be good. The tropical weather that has been afflicting London lately solidified my determination not to tolerate this. So, back I went with it to Currys PC World Tottenham Court Road. And I swapped my Samsung S24F356 for an identical model, another Samsung S24F356. Everything else, apart from the overheating, about the Samsung S24F356 seemed very nice, and I assumed – well, I hoped – that the overheating on the first Samsung S24F356 was a one-off misfortune.

→ Continue reading: The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

People will die!

If you don’t watch this video, people will die!

Harry Potter and the Ignorance of Ignorance

Many will know Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, a fun essay by Benjamin Barton on episodes in the books that insinuate scepticism about government (and about mainstream media, though this is less the essay’s theme). In the Potter books (and even in ‘A Casual Vacancy’, which is a bad book written by a good writer), J.K.Rowling (sometimes wittingly, sometimes quite unwittingly, I think) teaches lessons that are indirectly unhelpful to those who love statism. Telling an 18-year-old, “You realise Corbyn’s Bureaucracy will be every bit as efficient, as fair and as restrained as the Ministry of Magic”, can be a more useful start to a conversation than mentioning Stalin or Venezuela. (Not that you’ll get any agreement from Rowling herself on that – but my post “Harry Potter and the Silly Tweets” must wait till another day. 🙂 )

When “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” came out in 2003, at the height of the protests against attacking Iraq and the war on terror, the PC brigade went off her for a while.  The book’s picture of a hidden evil leader inspiring hideous acts of terrorism, while politicians and the media corruptly downplayed the danger, didn’t quite suit them. Of course, she had planned that plot in the mid-90s as a natural part of the series’ architecture – its appearance in 2003 was coincidental – but the essay has a point.

However right in the middle of his argument, Benjamin shows that he is an American – that the everyday experience of growing up as a child in Britain, with UK politics as a “noises off” background one gradually starts to notice, is one he has not had – and does not suspect that he needed. To him, it seems obvious that the politics of the Magical world are not democratic:

Defenders of bureaucracy argue that democracy justifies bureaucracy as a result of deliberation and public buy-in. Rowling strips the Ministry of Magic of even this most basic justification, as Fudge is replaced by Scrimgeour as the Minister of Magic with no mention of an election. To the contrary, Rowling uses the passive voice of the verb “to sack” repeatedly to describe Fudge’s fate. … It is unclear who appoints the Minister of Magic, but perhaps the elites.

Benjamin is arguing logically from his US experience: presidents are elected and are never just ‘sacked’. But the British reader instantly recognises that Benjamin is arguing from an ignorance of UK experience. Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister without an election. An election has now been held and Theresa May is still prime minister, but had she not accepted her inevitable future by promising her party to “serve as long as you wish me to”, she might already have been sacked. She will cease being prime minister before the next election – probably long before. British children and teenagers, the book’s protagonists, grow up knowing that there are elections from time to time, and that the head of government changes from time to time, and that the two are related, but often only indirectly. They also see that Fudge talks like a politician in Britain – like a man with an electorate to worry about, a man who has to care about whether it ‘looks like’ he’s doing the right thing for the magical community.

So, transatlantic commenters, what things about the US do I not know that I do not know? And have I any company in my ignorant ignorance? Have you met an ignorance more ignorant, and more ignorant of it, than mine?

I appreciate it’s a hard question:

Bernard: “What is it that the prime minister does not know?”

Sir Humphrey: “How can I tell you what the prime minister doesn’t know? It could be almost anything!”

(From ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, episode 6, quoted from memory)

An intolerance of leftists

The sight of the profoundly illiberal Jeremy Corbyn preaching to the young-and-ignorant at a music festival moved Christopher Barrow to pen some remarks

Just in case anyone missed it, Jeremy Corbyn gave a speech at Glastonbury last Saturday. Tens of thousands of British young people, high on a false sense of community and overpriced hash, lapped up his vision of a wonderful future. Why shouldn’t they? Just about everyone is apparently due to benefit, all at the expense of an unspecified ‘elite’.

Of course it was a vague speech offering goodies to young people, old people, sick people, students, European residents and ‘refugees’. The plan would actually mean higher tax for all working people (who the Labour Party are supposed to prioritize) and a vast raising of our National Debt, as Obama did.

The really concerning matter however is the lack of logic and common sense that lies beneath current leftist and ‘liberal’ (in the US sense of the word) ideologies now prevalent in our societies. There are huge dangers that cannot be overstated, though they remain hidden in Corbyn’s recent advertisement for Leftism, especially to young people.

As I see it the main problem with leftist rhetoric is that it is solely focused upon “what it is not”. Granted it is anything but the stereotypical mindset of a bigoted white male; the wolf-whistling, England for the English brigade (who would actually be virtually impossible to find these days). Let’s call this “Retro Racism”.

The left have decided that as long as they vehemently oppose anything approaching this, then anything goes: they’ve achieved ideological enlightenment. The danger of this leftist viewpoint, the source of their strength and smugness, is that opposition to Retro Racism is actually all its got. It fails to understand that there are higher and more sophisticated points of view than just a strong distaste for Retro Racism. The are important paths of logic and sense that it doesn’t allow itself to explore.

This is precisely what Political Correctness is. It makes everyone hypersensitive about going anywhere even close to the vilified Retro Racism. This becomes the total scope of the political toolkit of active ‘liberal’ leftist. Facing the many and varied problems of the world principally tied to an aversion to anything not Politically Correct is irresponsible in the extreme. Political Correctness shuts down sophisticated discussion, at a time in the world when it is needed most. There are far more levels of sophistication beyond being “not racist”! Naivety isn’t the pinnacle of intelligence, nor is it of kindness.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this is the question of immigration. Corbyn glows with smugness and vanity as he proclaims “bridges not walls for refugees”. One question of actual reality (a place where leftists don’t like to venture) is at what point would you erect a wall instead of a bridge? A 100,000,000 population for Britain? 150,000,000? Maybe a population like this is the best thing for the country, but at least lets talk about it! It isn’t racist.

However aren’t leftists are a shining example of tolerance, love and unity? Well yes to everyone BUT white males who don’t cower to their ideology. If not, you’re fair game for abuse, violence and assassination if they had their way. The strong white male is anathema to the feminized West. Leftism appeals to repressed aggressive individuals and offers a safe environment to direct their anger. This is so dangerous for our future. Jungian Shadow anyone!?

It is not an exaggeration to state that we see shades of the violence of Communist Russia in the leftist pursuits of the modern Western world. Namely people believing they are correct to defend an ideology with violence when they are so convinced about it. This is a slippery slope indeed…

Of course we all want a world somewhat like the one described by Corbyn at Glastonbury. But the key point is to understand human nature. We have to be open and honest with ourselves as a starting point. Leftism is a dangerous meeting of repression with naivety. It we start out falsely misjudging ourselves, we are heading for deep trouble.

The problem is that understanding the problems of leftism is a sophisticated endeavour. You can’t communicate this to 50,000 young people in a field. There is always hope for the future. Lets just hope the youth discover truth over platitudes. Wisdom over naivety. And Love over vanity.

– Christopher Barrow

Can happiness be distributed less unequally?

The replies to Natalie’s recent question, What were you doing a year ago… contain many a phrase like “I just couldn’t stop grinning” and “Ah, the happy Friday and Saturday”.

Reading them reminded me of a Christmas card I got from friends six months ago. Usually it contains a printed newsletter of what they and their children have been up to during the year. For the first time in some three decades since we left university, there was no newsletter – just a short hand-written note saying that Brexit and Trump had so depressed them that they had decided to “cultiver nos jardin.”

Elections – and politics generally – seem to cause great inequality of happiness. As the result of each election or vote is announced, some are very elated and others are very depressed. If equality of happiness is the goal, should we diminish the importance of politics? After all, it surely can hardly be that they enjoy our misery – or we theirs – since such a view of human nature would seem to rule out the kind of grand government plan that risks the perverse incentives of its methods in order to advance its worthy goals. 🙂

At a time when standard arguments against socialism are not being quite as effective as we could wish here in the UK, I wonder how this one might fare?