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Milton Friedman on how imposing equality makes inequality worse

I have long believed the thing that Milton Friedman is quoted saying in this bit of graphics:

And I am pretty sure that I first clarified this idea in my head at around the time when I first heard Milton Friedman saying this, and that this was not coincidence.

I screen-copied the above graphic from this video, which is Jonathan Haidt giving a talk about Socialism and Human Nature. It lasts just under half an hour, and I recommend it. The above Friedman quote comes near the end, at 23m 05s.

The world is so full of nonsense that particular bits of nonsense often get neglected by the people who ought to be pointing them out, because these people are so busy with other bits of nonsense.

The particular bit of nonsense that Milton Friedman and I are not here neglecting is the claim that equality can be achieved by the forceful redistribution of resources, and the more of that the better. Not only is such “egalitarianism” tyrannical, which makes it bad by my preferred standards and by Milton Friedman’s preferred standards, because it is tyrannical. It is also fails by its own standards, hence the sneer quotes. It doesn’t achieve equality. On the contrary, it rearranges inequality in a way that makes the inequality worse.

The very act of imposing equality requires that the imposing “egalitarians” be unequally powerful and lavishly rewarded for their brutal efforts, compared to the wretches upon whom they are imposing the equality. Name one purportedly egalitarian regime where they actually have achieved any serious reduction of inequality. You can’t, because there has never been one.

This is clearly the case in hell-holes like Cuba and Venezuela, where the masses languish in poverty, where the bosses live like kings and where the henchmen of the bosses get more or less lavishly preferential treatment (because if they didn’t they stop henching). But I include in the above assertion (that equality cannot be successfully imposed) the relatively genteel cruelties of the British welfare state, and other welfare states like it around the world. Have these relatively benign socialisms got rid of any poverty, any cruelty, any inequality? Well, some, to begin with. But they have then unleashed far worse and bigger doses of poverty and inequality. If the long-term purpose of the British welfare state had been to make poverty and inequality far more permanent and far harder to eradicate, it would have done almost nothing differently to what it has done.

Any critic of socialism who says something like: “the result of socialism is equality of misery” is being seduced by a nice sounding phrase into not thinking about what he is saying, and into conceding far too much. Here is no less a personage than Winston Churchill, who loved fine phrases to distraction, saying something a lot like this, among other and truer things, which perhaps explains why so many British Conservatives of my vintage still say things like this.

A libertarian world, just as Milton Friedman says, is the least unequal world that can be contrived. I’m not going to argue that point in detail. I merely assert it, to clarify that I regard myself and Milton Friedman as egalitarians of the best sort, as better at egalitarianism than the socialists, as egalitarians of the rough-and-ready, best-we-can-do sort, without any sneer quotes.

On Civilization

The true mark of the civilized society is not that it defends the rights of people who are loved by the bulk of the population, for those people need no defense. No one, after all, will arrest a popular person for saying or doing popular things. The true mark of the civilized society is that it defends the rights even of those who are universally reviled.

Indeed, in a truly civilized society, there would be no question but that you would defend the rights of people who disgust you provided they do no violence to others.

Our society is not civilized.

Jordan Peterson on identity politics

With blogging (as with life in general), there is often a tug-of-war between doing it soon, and doing it right. This posting is strictly a case of me doing it soon. And what I am doing soon is saying: watch this. It’s psychology academic Jordan Peterson, denouncing (the word “bloody” occurs quite a lot) the legal imposition upon Canada of identity politics (excused by, among others, some of his fellow academic psychologists), and all the chaos that this misuse of law is going to and is starting to cause.

The video goes on for the best part of two hours, and I have so far only watched twenty minutes of it. Like I say, doing it soon. But I already know that this is the kind of thing, and the kind of man, that many Samizdata-readers will want to see, and at the very least to learn about, perhaps by other and quicker means. The phrase “individual freedom” gets quite a few mentions, along with “bloody”, bloody being the word Peterson uses to describe the ideas which and the people who threaten individual freedom.

See also today’s QOTD here, which points towards the same intellectual territory and the same battles. Before posting this, I checked in the comments there, to see if anybody had made any mention of the above video, or of Jordan Peterson. Had they done so, I’d have had to write this differently. So far: not. I could have appended this link to that comment thread, but I reckon it deserves a bit more prominence.

David Thompson has more to say about this, as does his commentariat. My thanks to him, because this was how I found out about this video, and about this man.

Samizdata quote of the day

Compulsive liars shouldn’t frighten you. They can harm no one, if no one listens to them. Compulsive believers, on the other hand: they should terrify you. Believers are the liars’ enablers. Their votes give the demagogue his power.

– Nick Cohen in The Observer. It is long, but you should really read the whole thing, as we say. Cohen thinks of himself as on the Left, but I say we are already beyond that. It is liberals against the rest; the rest are suddenly terrifyingly strong.

Not left vs. right but short term vs. long term

Sometimes I observe a public discussion and notice that each side is talking across the other and neither side is understanding. I wonder if a change to the language of the debate might be constructive.

When Donald Trumps talks about making Mexico pay for the wall by imposing a 20% tariff on imports from Mexico, the left rightly point out that this means that Americans will pay for the wall. Similarly, those who want the UK to remain in European Union talk about the importance of trade. Nearly everyone agrees that tariffs are bad and trade is good. But dig a little deeper and soon it becomes clear that people are not talking about free trade at all. They are talking about the kind of trade that involves hugely complicated and interventionist multilateral treaties between governments.

I often try to explain that I am in favour of free trade and that we do not need people in government to make complicated deals: we just need to leave people alone and they will trade with each other. I am met with various objections. Exporters will suffer because foreign governments will increase tariffs and people in foreign countries will find it too expensive to buy British goods. Foreign governments will subsidise production and people in foreign countries will be able to sell things cheaply to British people; so cheaply that British people will stop buying things from British companies until those companies go out of business. At this point the foreign people might put up their prices and if they time it right the prices might never go down again because skills required to restart British companies might be lost.

My answer to these objections is that people are clever and they will find ways to make the most of the new situation. But it will be a situation in which people are, on the whole, richer than they were before. Cheap foreign goods make us richer. Not exporting things frees up labour to do other useful things.

But I can not deny that in the short term people will lose jobs and will struggle to find new things to do. My arguments are all about how people can get richer in the end. People who think the government can help with trade want to help the man who works in the widget factory and wants to be still working in the widget factory tomorrow.

Some Trump supporters and some people in favour of the UK leaving the European Union want to reduce immigration. I am in principle in favour of freedom of movement. I would argue that the ability of people to move to where there is demand for their labour makes production cheaper and everyone richer. But I can not deny that people moving around can make life uncomfortable for people staying still if the people staying still find their wages going down as a result. It is certainly not helpful to make accusations of bigotry in the face of such concerns as people on the left often do.

It might turn out that we all agree about what happens when people are free to move and trade, we just have different time preferences.

Interestingly, some of the same people who object to unilateral free trade are also in favour of freedom of movement, even though it is equivalent to unilateral free trade in labour.

Discussion point: porn on the bus

Here are two contrasting articles from the Guardian:

Watching porn in public is not OK. It’s harassment – Rhiannon Lucy Cosslett

Pussy Riot celebrate the vagina in lyrical riposte to Trump – Luke Harding

It is no discredit to the Guardian that different writers for the paper have said contradictory things, although none of the dozens of comments I read to Ms Cosslett’s article brought up the the difference between the views of old and new feminists on whether it was liberating or deplorable to shock the public.

Many Libertarian-ish people would say that incompatible preferences across different groups of people regarding what should be seen in public could be solved by property rights and competition. Each shopping mall and bus company could set its own rules, some catering to the puritans, some to the libertines. That would be nice, but until we find the door into Libertopia we must deal with the major regulator of such things being the State.

What do you think? How should people behave here and now? Do the existing laws come first or ten millionth on our list of things to oppose – or should we support them? Is there more of a problem than there used to be, now that people can watch R18 movies on their Kindles on the bus while a twelve year old sits next to them? Or is this just another moral panic that could be solved if people kept their eyes to themselves?

By the way, consider this blog post to be a a venue where, as they say on the cinema screens, “Strong language may be permitted, depending on the manner in which it is used, who is using the language, its frequency within the work as a whole and any special contextual justification”.

Samizdata quote of the day

The logical end-point in the reach of government is either state ownership of all private property, which is communism, or state control over what people do with their property, which is fascism. With communism discredited, the world is moving inexorably towards the latter. Every business is regulated in some way or other, and economic freedom is being progressively restricted with ever-tightening regulations.

Alasdair Macleod

Requiem for a Comrade: Tony Hollick (1942-2016)

Like all London-based libertarians of a certain vintage, I have fond and vivid memories of Tony Hollick, who died in October of this year. At the time when he was most active in the British libertarian movement, when that movement’s membership was numbered only in the dozens or less, people like Tony made a huge difference, attending and helping to organise meetings, writing and editing and, as is explained so well below, above all, arguing, which is what you are bound to do with ideas if you take ideas as seriously as Tony Hollick did. The moral and intellectual support that Tony supplied, in particular, to the late Chris R. Tame, was especially important and valuable. And see also this obituary of Tony Hollick, by Tim Evans.

Last week, on Wednesday December 7th, Tony Hollick’s funeral took place at Beckenham Crematorium, London. Below is the eulogy that his much loved godson, Gerald Hartup Jnr, wrote and read out on that sad occasion:

Tony was my godfather and I loved him dearly. He was one of my father’s oldest and closest friends and was much loved by all in the Hartup family.

He was a spectacular teacher, kind, generous with his time and very patient. As I was growing up reading philosophy, economics, politics and following current affairs I would always discuss these matters in depth with him. He was a superb sounding-board and I was very lucky to have spent so much time speaking with him. I learned a vast amount from Tony and am eternally grateful to him for that.

Tony did not like authority (huge understatement!). He particularly disliked authority when combined with a sense of injustice. He was a man with an extremely strong view on what is right or wrong and had an unbendable set of guiding moral principles. He was stubborn, passionate and had fire in his belly which would be shown in glorious style when he encountered something he considered wrong or unfair. This was a trait he displayed early on when as a boy he was expelled from two of the finest schools in the world – Dulwich College and Geelong Grammar School. A common theme behind both of those expulsions was a steadfast refusal to accept or yield to what he felt were unfair treatments and practices. He had a powerful sense of righteousness and this was always evident in the social or political causes he championed.

Tony is one of the most erudite people I have known. Not attending university did not hinder his accumulation of knowledge as he devoured swathes of books. His studies were broad, varied and extensive. His favourite fields were political philosophy and physics both in which he developed an awesome depth of knowledge. He was very thoughtful, intellectually curious and he carried himself with a scholarly disposition.

Politics was a big part of Tonys life. He had a unique take on matters and he would have described himself as a left leaning libertarian. In terms of political activity he was a founding member of the Libertarian Alliance, he worked at the alternative bookshop (a focal point of the Libertarian movement at the time), The National Association for Freedom (later the Freedom Association) and FOREST (Freedom Organisation for the Right to Enjoy Smoking Tobacco). He certainly practised what he preached. He was a self-styled defender of freedom political activist and he put his health and his body on the line for the cause. It is important that this is remembered.

He was always entertaining to debate with and wow, he loved to argue. As a child I would always hear my father on the phone with Tony arguing passionately about some political topic. As I got older and smarter the baton was passed to me and I too would spend considerable time on the phone with him arguing and debating whatever matter was at hand. It really could be anything – political, philosophical, religious, historical, moral, cultural, you name it – he would have a view on it and would argue it. I think he just really loved the sport of it. Verbal sparring must have been one of his favourite things to do and with my father and I, he had some tenacious and willing sparring partners. He could have made a very imposing barrister. I do pity the many hapless victims who would have stumbled into a debate with him unknowing or unprepared for his assault! Debating him was great fun, challenging and at times exasperating – it certainly sharpened up my and my father’s oratory skills.

He was an intriguing character with some fun interests. He was a tech savvy early embracer of computers and the internet. He loved science fiction, film and literature. The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and The Matrix were sources he would often use for analogies or making comparisons from. Working on designing and producing electrically powered roller-skates was a hobby of his. He was a horologist and truly loved the beauty of watches. His prized possession was an Omega Speedmaster pre moon landing watch which he took immaculate care of for 50+ years, it gave him immense joy and he never tired of talking about it. He adored cars and motorbikes and over the years he owned some really cool vehicles. He was a cat person, long after his dear cat Beeper passed away he would affectionately recall stories about how brilliant, intelligent and lovable a creature Beeper was.

“Athens or Sparta?” was a question Tony considered crucial to ask when trying to get an understanding of a person. Of course, with Tony, it was never a simple question but the start of a long, playful and philosophical dialogue. It is very difficult to sum up a character as colourful and complex as Tony but to do so in one word I would choose “Athens”. He was unquestionably “Athens” and I think he would be happy with that.

Mike Rowe denounces reductive grumbling (and so do I)

I haven’t yet found or invented the exact right phrase to describe it, but I know it when I hear it and I do not like it. “Reductive grumbling” is the best I can do to describe what I am getting at, until such a time as a better description of the thing presents itself to me. I’d been meaning to blog about this very bad mental habit for quite some time, and I have now been jerked out of my torpor by the fact that someone else has just now also been denouncing this way of thinking and talking. Which means that I can now do a more meaningful blog posting with a link to this denunciation, as reported by Kaitlin Collins of The Daily Caller, and with quotes from this denunciation:

“It’s easy to make anything feel small and silly by reducing it to its chemical composition or its various component parts …”

… provided the person on the receiving end of your reduction doesn’t see through the trick you are trying to play, as Mike Rowe does.

Rowe is responding to a woman who had complained about Mike Rowe’s objection to people burning the US flag. Rowe doesn’t argue that burning the US flag should be forbidden by law, but he doesn’t like it.

“But if you really believe our flag is nothing but a ‘mere symbol,’ equally suitable for flying or burning, ask yourself if you’d be comfortable if the people you work with suddenly started coming to the office in pointy white hats fashioned from bedsheets? Would that be a problem for you? Or how about The Rainbow Flag, favored by the LGBTQ community? Would it be OK if people started burning that? If not, why not? I mean, it’s only a symbol, right?”

I myself wrote about this syndrome, over a quarter of a century ago now, in this Libertarian Alliance rant which I still remember fondly and which was provoked by a P. J. O’Rourke rant about an epic trip he once made across America, in a Ferrari. Even though the technology I ranted about (compact discs) was pre-internet and now pretty much obsolete for all but compact disc dinosaurs like me, my ranting still works, for me anyway.

→ Continue reading: Mike Rowe denounces reductive grumbling (and so do I)

Patrick Schumacher on solving the housing crisis

Incoming, from a libertarian friend whose views I always pay attention to:

Have you seen article about Patrick Schumacher of Zaha Hadid on Dezeen? Uncompromising libertarian attitude to solving housing crisis. Worth linking to …

Yes I have seen it, but have not yet read it (or watched it). I was definitely already going to attend to this, and now I definitely will. But, no need for me to do that before mentioning it here. Read and watch here.

Earlier Samizdata Patrick Schumacher posting here.

Schumacher will also be speaking, at this Adam Smith Institute event in early December, about “Governing private cities”. I already have my ticket.

Robert Lawson puts numbers to the economic freedom of the world

I believe in making a bit of a fuss about visiting pro-free-market luminaries. Our movement needs celebs, and one good way to get celebs is to make our own people into celebs. One more photo of whoever it is, on a blog, won’t turn him into a celeb on its own, but every little helps. So, below is a photo I took last week, of Robert Lawson, during the Q&A after a talk that he gave at the Adam Smith Institute office in Great Smith Street, on the subject of the Economic Freedom of the World, and more to the point, on the measuring of it:

robertlawsonasi

He looks like he’s conducting an orchestra, doesn’t he? Actually, he was drawing graphs in the air in front of him. The lighting in the ASI’s upstairs premises where this talk took place prefers to light the walls rather than the speaker, so that was one of the very few semi-adequate photos of Lawson that I managed.

This other photo, on the other hand, which showed the final graphic that Lawson gave us on one of those big telly screens that used to cost a fortune but which are now ubiquitous (thank you: economic freedom), came out much better, because the screen supplied its own light:

freetheworldasi

Free The World indeed.

This work by Robert Lawson, putting numbers to which countries are doing what in the realm of economic freedom, should not be confused with that being done by a rival enterprise, the Heritage Foundation.

It’s good that there is competition in this important intellectual arena, but to me it is very confusing, and I don’t think I am the only one thus confused. The ASI email about the event included the words “Economic Freedom of the World Index”. But googling for that before the event took me to this Heritage site. On the subject of this rivalry, Lawson was very polite, and I think we all sensed some behind-the-scenes animosity there. He described the Heritage Freedom Index as somewhat more speculative and opinion-based and less based on actual data sets, supplied by others, than his own efforts. “Black box” was the phrase he used, by which he meant that it is harder to scrutinise how the decisions were arrived at in the Heritage process than it is to scrutinise the Fraser Institute process. In contrast, all the data that Lawson referred to in his talk, with his other graphic offerings on the screen above, is publicly available.

Here is a .pdf of the Economic Freedom of the World 2016 Annual Report, which tells the story as of 2014, which I believe is the latest date that Lawson has done the sums for. Scroll down to page 8 and you get the big national league table. The positions I notice are: Hong Kong in the lead, the UK at number 11, USA at 16. Hong Kong is top every time. The UK is holding about steady. The USA has been falling steadily during the last couple of decades or so.

Lawson also drew our particular attention to that remarkable ex-USSR-possession, Georgia, which is trying to do a Leicester City and is currently at 6. (Heritage doesn’t include Georgia in its top 10.)

And so on. Hours of fun to be had. The more serious point is that economic freedom the world over had been rising healthily until about 2010, but is now flatlining.

True Believer Austrianists might have winced a little at Lawson’s determination to be empirical, to gather evidence, to test theory against fact. He was quite explicit that social science, broadly defined (in the German manner) to mean systematically gathered and systematically tested knowledge about how the world works, is something that is entirely possible. He pointed out that economics is not the only science that is unable to conduct all the experiments it might like to, but instead must mostly depend on theories, and on observations to test those theories. When was the last time you saw an astronomer conducting an experiment with some planets or stars?

But, please don’t take my word for any of this. Thank goodness for those websites, because if you really want to get to grips with all this stuff, you need not depend on me to tell you about it. All I really want to say here is: interesting man, interesting talk, and well done the ASI for hosting it. Apparently Lawson was only here because he wanted to be at this sporting event, last Sunday. If so, then thank you: sport.

Thoughts on the politics of coastlines

Samizdata is a blog about ideas and about the human institutions that result from, embody, and spread ideas. Which ideas are good, which bad, and why? Almost every day at least one of us here will be telling you, or quoting someone else telling you, about some small or not so small aspect of this huge agenda.

But reality itself also has very contrasting consequences, in the form of the different versions of reality that prevail in different places, and in the form of the sort of the contrasting ideas that these contrasting circumstances encourage and discourage.

Consider coastlines. My friend Roger Hewland, who runs the CD shop where I must have bought about half of the enormous classical CD collection I now possess, is fond of saying that it makes a huge difference to a country how much of a sea coastline it has. Being a little older than me, Roger Hewland was born just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and the difference between Britain and Germany, in terms of the lengths of their coastlines, is a favourite example he offers of this contrast. A thoughtful child living through WW2 was bound to wonder why that huge war was happening. That Germany has only a rather short coastline compared to the length of its other borders, while Britain is surrounded by the sea, became part of Hewland’s answer. I disagree with Hewland about many things, what with him being a socialist albeit a congenially entrepreneurial one, but we agree about the political importance of coastlines.

This contrast, between seafaring and land-based powers, has dominated political and military history, both ancient and modern. Conflicts like that between Athens and Sparta, and then between all of Greece and Persia, and the later conflicts between the British – before, during and since the time of the British Empire – and the succession of land-based continental powers whom we British have quarrelled with over the centuries, have shaped the entire world. Such differences in political mentality continue to matter a lot.

Throughout most of modern human history, despots could completely command the land, including all inland waterways. but they could not command the oceans nearly so completely. Wherever the resources found in the oceans or out there beyond them loomed large in the life and the economy of a country or empire, there was likely to be a certain sort of political atmosphere. In places where the land and its productivity counted for pretty much everything, and where all communications were land-based, a very different political atmosphere prevailed.

→ Continue reading: Thoughts on the politics of coastlines