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The video of Aiden Gregg’s talk about the psychology of political belief is now up and viewable

Yes, incoming from Simon Gibbs of Libertarian Home saying that the video of Aiden Gregg’s talk, that I earlier flagged up here as being on its way and worth a watch, is now there to be watched. In his accompanying commentary on the talk, Simon (after quoting me – thanks mate) lays out a lot of the data detail that I merely alluded to.

Says Simon in his email to me:

It could use some upvotes on reddit. Are you registered there?

Me? No. But maybe some readers are, and could oblige. And while they are about it, tell me more about reddit. I am starting to get the same feeling about the social media that I got about email, when I delayed bothering with that, way back whenever that was.

Commenting on my posting yesterday about the Alex Singleton book launch, “RogerC” said:

PR, marketing and in general the how of getting ideas out there and into people’s heads is an area where I’ve always thought we’re weak. Conversely, the left is very, very good at this stuff. They’ve been making a conscious effort to do it and to develop the techniques for a hundred years now, and their position has advanced immeasurably as a result. …

Agreed. There is a lot that we can learn from the statist left, whose success in spreading their ideas has been all the more remarkable when you consider how bad their ideas are and how much havoc these ideas have long been known to cause. Aiden Gregg brings his expertise as an academic psychologist to this same terrain, of how to present ideas in such a way that they are more likely to win widespread acceptance.

Aiden Gregg at the Rose and Crown last week

On Thursday 9th of this month, exactly a week ago, I mentioned here a Libertarian Home meeting due to take place that evening in the Rose and Crown, Southwark. It happened, I went, and I wrote most of what follows the following evening. But then life got in the way, and I am only now posting what I then wrote.

The first thing I want to say about Aiden Gregg’s talk about the psychological foundations of differing political beliefs, libertarian and otherwise, is that I greatly enjoyed it. And I got the strong impression that most others present did also.

Much of what Gregg said was based on a book by Jonathan Haidt, entitled The Righteous Mind (now on its way to me via Amazon). Haidt looks as the contrasting ways of thinking and feeling of three big categories of American political people – in descending order by size: liberal, conservative and libertarian. (It’s an aside, but straight away, that itself strikes me as a big win for the libertarian movement. A generation ago, would “libertarian” have been in the mix, as a distinct big category? I wonder how greenies feel, if they read Haidt’s book, about not being included as a distinct big category. Also, as was asked during the Q&A, what of non-Americans?)

My immediate reaction to Haidt’s various different ways of thinking and feeling was to wonder exactly what these are. Are they notions relating in any way to the biology of the brain? Are they, that is to say, “real”? Or are they merely things that Haidt has found that political people like to think about? Are they just questions which, if you put them to political people, seem to reveal and illuminate differences of deeper attitude? Are they, as Perry de Havilland might say, questions about contrasting meta-contexts? This is the perpetual problem of the social sciences. What exactly are you observing? What are you talking about? I will perhaps have more to say about such things, and about exactly which people score exactly what on which variable, once I have had a closer look at Haidt’s ideas in written form, although I promise nothing.

Memory plays tricks – definitely mine now does – so others might describe this talk very differently to the way I am doing. But, what I heard as Gregg’s main conclusion was that nature, when it comes to political affiliation (religion was hardly mentioned) is not destiny. You are not doomed, because of the sort of person you were born as, to be any particular sort of political animal. The main thing to learn from such work as Haidt’s is not that most people are beyond hope when it comes to converting them to Righteousness (in my case, to libertarianism), but that you have a better chance of converting someone to Righteousness if you understand their psychological dispositions better. What “moral foundations” (to quote the words on my scribbled notes) do they consider to be most important?

As to what these moral foundations are, we were offered six variables of concern, so to speak, to consider important, rather more or rather less than others: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, freedom/oppression. If, like most libertarians, you are more exercised about freedom/oppression than, say, about sanctity/degradation, but are arguing with a conservative whose cconcerns are the opposite of yours, then you just banging on about how freedom/oppression is what matters most, and that libertarianism scores well on this variable, will not get you very far. It will be a dialogue of the deaf.

It was a lively meeting, livelier than usual. Partly this was because of Aiden Gregg’s relaxed and low key demeanour. When the room erupted with interruption, as it did from time to time, his attitude seemed to be that this was amusing, rather than any kind of insult to him personally. I guess if you are an academic psychologist, a group of people is interesting to observe no matter how disruptively it behaves, and perhaps the worse the better. You look on with amused detachment, as if observing baboons. Especially if they are libertarian baboons and this the sort of behaviour you expect from such baboons.

But there was, I think, another reason for the lively response to this talk, which is that all of us were, but not in a bad way, taking it personally. We were – certainly if my own response was anything to go by – thinking things like: how do I score on these various variables? What do I think is most important? And: I wonder how my scores differ from other people in the room, from other libertarians generally, and from other people generally.

I have always felt myself to be, psychologically, a lot more like (compared to other libertarians) many of the ideological opponents of libertarianism, of the softer, kinder, better-meaning sort. I just think that the way to get a softer, kinder, better world is through a policy of radically diminished state activity and greatly increased freedom compared to what we live with now. I don’t favour the free market, despite it being rather red in tooth and claw but simply because it is free. It is free, and that’s very nice. But I do not think that it is actually very red in tooth and claw. And I think that the statist alternatives to it are much redder in tooth and claw than those proposing such alternatives typically suppose, or pretend. Socialism, for instance, and especially the sort of state-imposed socialism that is actually capable of being done in a big way, doesn’t strike me as at all egalitarian, at all fair (to allude to variable 2 in the Haidt list). It merely installs a different and far more toxic sort of unfairness.

On another variable, authority, I also perhaps dissent a little from others in my libertarian tribe. For me one of the great glories of freedom is that it creates authority of the good sort. It only undermines authority of the undeserved sort. Ditto loyalty. In general, a free society makes people nicer. It makes people (Randians: look away now) more altruistic. One of the most significant shortages that afflicted the Soviet Union, throughout its baleful history and especially when it collapsed, was a shortage of public spirit, that is to say, of the willingness of people to put themselves out for each other, and especially for strangers.

My point here is not just that I now have all these clever things to say about authority and niceness and the USSR and so on and so forth, on the back of having attended this Aiden Gregg talk. It is that I believe I was not the only one thinking personal thoughts in response to what he was saying, while he was saying it. We were all, I suspect, doing this. This was a talk that got us all, as the say goes, going. It got us all thinking.

It was, in short, very good, just the sort of thing that such talks should be.

As is usual at Libertarian Home events, there was a video camera running, as I mentioned when commenting on this rather blurry set of photos that I took at the event. In a comment he has just attached to that posting, Simon Gibbs apologises about the lighting, following me moaning about it. But I think, if you take photos, that it’s your business to work around such things. That I did not do this very well on that particular night is partly because I was distracted by finding the talk so very interesting.

I’ll end by saying that, if what Aiden Gregg was saying sounds like the kind of thing that interests you, keep an eye out for that video. Libertarian Home videos take quite a while to emerge, but emerge they always seem to do, eventually. (A previous Aiden Gregg performance for Libertarian Home, in the same venue, can be watched by going here.)

Devika on a new Indian anti-corruption party and Aiden Gregg on the psychology of libertarianism

About a week ago, “Devika” posted a very interesting piece at Libertarian Home, about a man called Arvind Kejriwal, an Indian anti-poltician who is in the process of becoming an Indian politician.

I don’t have much to say about this piece, other than that any British libertarians who think that there is much to be learned from the success of Kejriwal’s Anti Corruption Party in India to the problems faced by libertarians in Britain in getting that noticed politically would probably be making a mistake. Although I am sure that Indians disagree a lot about what causes it and whose fault it is, almost everyone in India detests the corruption that is rampant in India and in Indian politics, probably even a great many of those who practise corruption. Perhaps some of them most of all, because they feel forced to do terrible things. None of the regular political parties can convincingly argue against such corruption, because, as Devika explains and as everyone in India knows, they are all part of it. So, a new anti-corruption party, run by people with very public track records of honest and persuasive campaigning against corruption, was always liable to be a runaway success, unless and until it too succumbs to the same corrupting pressures that corrupted all the other parties. Here’s hoping that does not happen any time soon.

Libertarianism is Britain is in a very different position to the anti-corruption tendency in India. Almost everyone in India is anti-corruption, divided only in whether they think anything can be done about it. Almost nobody in Britain is a libertarian. A British libertarian party will accordingly only pick up a tiny number of votes and cause a tiny little stir, no matter how capably lead and well publicised.

Devika notes how the Indian anti-corruption party did very well by asking its members to guide its direction and policies. This works well, because all concerned are united against corruption. The only argument is about how to diminish it, which corrupt processes to attack first, and so on. A British libertarian party that allowed anyone who joined to influence its policies would very quickly cease to be libertarian.

I want to be clear that at no point in her piece does Devika herself make an explicit connection between what Kejriwal and his anti-corruption party are doing and what British libertarians should do. I do not know if she thinks any of the things I have just been criticising. But I do sense this implication, a bit. More to the point, whatever Devika thinks about such things, some of Libertarian Home’s readers may draw just the sort of conclusions from her piece that I am criticising. Certainly, discussions at the Rose and Crown about libertarianism and libertarian politics are now saturated with the frustration of wanting to bring libertarianism to the attention of a wider public, but of not knowing how to contrive this.

There is another such discussion taking place this evening. This will be lead by Aiden Gregg, who is both a libertarian and an academic psychologist. Gregg will be talking about the psychological dispositions of libertarians in particular and of politically active people generally. I think this is a fascinating subject, full of lessons for libertarians to learn about how to be more effective libertarians. So, I will definitely be there.

In my opinion, one thing that libertarians can definitely now do (as opposed to trying to copy too directly the activities of Arvind Kejriwal) is to tell people like Aiden Gregg how important and valuable they are to the libertarian cause, and to encourage them to stick at it. We need our people everywhere, especially in the universities, and especially in faculties which are not economics faculties.

Sean II on not spouting libertarianism to friends-and-family

Here is a comment, from someone called “Sean II”, on a posting done just over a year ago at Bleeding Heart Libertarians entitled Freedom and Feminism. I think (but am not sure) that I got to this via one of the links here. He attached a ping to this posting about JK Rowling, which I got an email about.

Whatever, I think that the following comment is interesting, and entertaining, and just all round deserving of a little bit more attention than however much attention if got a year ago:

Interesting you should mention the friends and family dimension.

Of the people close to me, I’ve only ever put forth a serious effort to share libertarianism with my wife. And even that mostly took the form of me saying casually “these ideas can be found lying around the house, if you should ever happen to develop an interest in them. Obviously, I’d like it very much if you did, but please feel no more pressure than that.”

Everyone else in my private life gets sorted into the category of “Don’t argue. Not worth the risk of hostility, alienation, and rancor.”

As you might guess from that, I spent the holidays holding my tongue while some people praised Chris Christie’s “handling” of the weather, others spoke (in a convincing mimicry of informed discussion) about the urgent need to hold magazine capacity below 30 rounds, and one dear in-law rhapsodized about the perfectly obvious necessity of federally funded light rail NOW!

My wife asked me why I never say anything. I told her: “The same reason why Doctor Who doesn’t give everyone a physics lecture when he visits the 16th century. He’s too far ahead, they’re too far behind, any dialogue that arose between them on the subject would be little better than a session of verbal abuse. All the information and all the practiced arguments would be on my side. They’d have no choice but to fight back against me with maximum nastiness.”

The odd thing is … they’ve all seen my library. Floor to ceiling, it’s politics, philosophy, and history. You’d think, at some point, one of them would get suspicious of my silent partner act, and wonder why I grow quiet whenever my own favorite subjects come up for discussion.

That’s pretty much how I feel about my family. My friends not so much, because the majority of them are libertarians, or at least libertarian-sympatico. But I also have plenty of friends whom I do treat in exactly this silent way, although not with the Doctor Who-ish sense of silent superiority that Sean II says he feels. After all, if I’m so clever, why ain’t I winning them over?

An interesting bit of the libertarian movement is the bit that consists of people – like Sean II? – who behave like and feel like and have similar personal and consumer tastes to “liberals”, and who actually get along very well with liberals and who often marry liberals, but who are, actually, on the quiet, libertarians. These are the double life libertarians, the libertarians in the closet.

And an interesting moment in intellectual and political history may one day happen when such libertarians feel more free to tell it like it is to their friends and families. Will this moment ever happen? Has it already, for some? Discuss.

My year in twelve pictures

If Michael Jennings can roam the world taking photos, then I can roam London and nearby spots, doing the same. Here are twelve photos from my year, one for each month.

They are chosen, I hasten to add, as much to help me say things about what is in them and about digital photography as for their technical quality. Which is… rather variable.

→ Continue reading: My year in twelve pictures

Deirdre McCloskey’s list of true liberals

Almost a decade ago now, the still much missed Findlay Dunachie did a posting here about the wicked sayings and doings of Communist academics and supporters and subverters in America, some of whom were then trying to expunge from the historical record their long catalogue of blunder and subterfuge and just plain evil. Earlier this year I encountered this posting again, and recycled its particularly eloquent opening sentences as a Samizdata quote of the day.

But this posting contained other things that were perhaps even more memorable than those opening sentences, namely two lists of the bad communists and communist sympathisers in question. List One: The Academics. List Two: The Spies. May they live in infamy.

I was reminded of those lists when I recently encountered another such list, this other list being a roll of honour rather than of dishonour. It appears towards the end of Deirdre McCloskey’s book Bourgeois Dignity, which was published in 2010. (The Anton Howes talk that I flagged up here recently is pretty much Anton Howes channelling this book.)

What is this book about? Well, one way to describe it would be for its author to list all the people whose ideas she approves of and is herself channelling.

So, that’s what she does, on page 400:

My theme in short is the true liberal one of the de la Court brothers, Richard Overton, John Lilburne, William Walwyn, Thomas Rainsborough, Richard Rumbold, Spinoza, Dudley North, Algernon Sidney, Locke, Voltaire, Hume, Turgot, Montesquieu, Adam Ferguson, Smith, Thomas Paine, Destutt de Tracy, Jefferson, Madame de Stael, Benjamin Constant, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Charles [not Auguste] Comte, Charles Dunoyer, Malthus, Ricardo, Harriet Martineau, Tocqueville, Giuseppe Mazzini, Frederic Bastiat, Mill, Henry Maine, Richard Cobden, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Cavour, Johan August Gripenstedt, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Karl von Rotteck, Johan Rudolf Thorbecke, Carl Menger, Lord Acton, Josephine Butler, Knut Wicksell, Luigi Einaudi, H. L. Mencken, Johan Huizinga, Frank Knight, Ludwig von Mises, Willa Cather, Rose Wilder Lane, Walter Lippmann until the 1950s, Nora Zeale Hurston, Karl Popper, Isaiah Berlin, Michael Polanyi, Friedrich Hayek, Raymond Aron, Henry Hazlitt, Bertrand de Jouvenel, Ronald Coase, Milton, Rose, and son David Friedman, Murray Rothbard, James Buchanan, Ludwig Lachmann, Gordon Tullock, Thomas Sowell, Joan Kennedy Taylor, Roy A. Childs, Julian Simon, Israel Kirzner, Vernon Smith, Wendy McElroy, Norman Barry, Loren Lomasky, Tibor Machan, Anthony de Jasay, Douglas Den Uyl, Douglas Rasmussen, Deepak Lal, Chandran Kukathas, Ronald Hamowy, Tom Palmer, Don Lavoie, David Boaz, Richard Epstein, Tyler Cowen, David Schmidtz, Donald Boudreaux, Peter Boettke, and the young Robert Nozick. It is the obvious and simple system of natural liberty. It contradicts the aristocratic sneering by conservatives at innovations and at the bourgeoisie, or the clerical sneering by progressives at markets and at the bourgeoisie. The true-liberal claim is that unusual bourgeois dignity and personal liberty in northwestern Europe, and especially in Holland and then in Britain, made for unusual national wealth, by way of a revaluation of ordinary, bourgeois life.

Interesting, both for its inclusions and for its exclusions. Particular kudos to the very select few who need only be mentioned with one surname!

The most notable exclusion that commenters here may want to notice and opine about is Ayn Rand. Rand gets no mention either in the book’s index or in the list of works cited. My guess is that McCloskey’s attitude to Rand can be summarised as the claim that Rand contributed a minus quantity to our understanding of, to quote the title of McCloskey’s earlier book, The Bourgeois Virtues.

For me it is the inclusions in this list that are the most interesting. It makes me want to learn more, in particular, about the English men of the seventeenth century at the top of the list, and about all those Germanic sounding people, throughout, several of whose names are entirely new to me.

I’d be very interested to hear if anyone reading this list can honestly claim to have even heard of everyone on it. Paul Marks has, obviously, but … anyone else?

Happy Christmas to all who are reading this, and happy googling, of the who is he? sort, that this posting will, I hope, stimulate.

JK Rowling and the Libertarian Sub-Text

Thanks to a recent Instapundit link, I found my way to an essay by Benjamin H. Barton, entitled Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, which deserves to be linked to for its title alone. It is about the decidedly libertarian and not very sub anti-government-bureaucracy sub-text that Barton finds in the Harry Potter books generally, and in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in particular.

The truly surprising aspect of The Half-Blood Prince is how effortlessly Rowling covers the questions of the nature, role and legitimacy of government in what is ostensibly a work of children’s literature. I must admit that when I sat down to reread the Harry Potter books in light of The Half-Blood Prince I did not expect to find the overwhelming skepticism of government that seeps through Rowling’s work.

Barton’s argument is that Rowling presents the Ministry of Magic as a classic Public Choice Theory bureaucracy, staffed by selfish power-seekers rather than by selfless servants of the public good. Barton further suggests that Rowling’s own experiences as a welfare-recipient might have radically lowered her opinion of state welfare as an actual purveyor of welfare.

I read the first Harry Potter book a long time ago but have read none of the subsequent Potter books, so I have no independent opinion about how right or wrong Barton is about these books, and in particular about The Half-Blood Prince, which I have in particular not read. Comments from libertarians who have read all the Harry Potter books would be especially welcome.

One of the big reasons why I have not read more than one of the Harry Potter books, aside from the fact of me now being a childless old man, is that there are so many other books that I want to read. However, I have long suspected that JK Rowling, while not exactly an overt libertarian, might well be some kind of quasi-libertarian useful not-idiot, so to speak. One of the many items on my current to-read list is Rowling’s own (non-children’s) novel, entitled The Casual Vacancy, which I already possess and which I did make a start on earlier this year, before other reading intervened. This seems to be a story about the interaction of politics with the welfare system, about the people who do the politics and who have the welfare done to them and about how these two groups interact.

If I had to guess, I’d guess that Rowling is one of those people whose understanding of state socialism is that it tends not to supply “socialism” of the sort she would like, rather than as any kind of root-and-branch opponent of state socialism as such. Which is a good start. Socialism is, among other things, a huge and hugely false promise. Realising that it comprehensively fails to achieve even its own declared objectives – never mind any other worthwhile objectives – is a huge step in the right direction.

But that is an ignorant guess, and I now definitely intend to finish reading The Casual Vacancy, and then maybe also Rowling’s new detective novel. She wrote this detective novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling, under an assumed name, but was then outed, surprise surprise. The name that Rowling the detective novelist has assumed is: “Robert Galbraith”. This name was, as I have just learned by following the above link, “partly inspired” by the name of Robert F. Kennedy. This would suggest to me – summarising ruthlessly, as befits my ignorance of the matter – a lady who mostly wants government to do better rather than one who mostly wants government to do less.

On the rationality of ageism in libertarianism and in life generally

I always was an ageist and, despite now being quite aged myself, I remain one. In my case this now means that, when wearing my libertarian hat, I attach more importance to recruiting the next generation to the libertarian cause than I do to recruiting my own generation to it. It’s not that I am especially good at turning young people into libertarians, or for that matter at making young libertarians into better young libertarians. But, I try, and I especially admire those libertarians who do this better than I do. Luckily there are quite a few. I suppose the main thing I do to make libertarians and to make libertarians into better libertarians is to fly the flag for the thing itself, libertarianism, which by its nature appeals more to the young than do less excitable and exciting versions of free-market-inclined wisdom.

Oldies often moan about ageism, particularly when they are not that old and are still trying to get new jobs, to replace the jobs that ageist fiends have so cruelly snatched away from them. Oldies engaged in job hunting often find themselves competing with younger rivals, and finding that they are, to put it bluntly, past it.

All hiring decisions are a risk. A promising young recruit, if he (for “he” please read he-or-she from now on) works out okay, might then offer several decades of useful productivity, and even if he soon moves on to another enterprise or activity, you and your colleagues might still gain from having him in your network, for many years hence. An oldie, by contrast, will either be an immediate asset to your enterprise, or he won’t be an asset at all. This may be cruel, but that doesn’t change the fact that it is true. That much touted oldie quality, experience, can be very valuable, but only if it enables the oldie in question to contribute things of great and immediate value. In a crisis, a wise oldie may be just what you want, to fight, now, the fire that is raging, now. But if you are building for the future, as most hirers are most of the time, at least partly, youth and a potentially long future will often trump age and experience. Experience, the young will get. And in addition to not being so set in their ways and better tuned in to new technology, young people have something especially important that old people do not. They have quite long futures ahead of them. Unless there are major breakthroughs in the life-extension trade, a long future is not something that an oldie can ever have or ever acquire.

The enforced irrationality of compelling people to ignore such considerations, by passing laws, which force people (of all ages) to be less prejudiced against old people than they are inclined to be, is bound to cause many bad decisions and to prevent many good ones. Hirers should be allowed to decide for themselves between age and experience and the immediate future on the one hand and youth and the more distant future on the other.

Madsen Pirie is a notable recruiter and improver of young libertarians, in fact, I would say, he is one of the best recruiters and improvers of young libertarians in the world. Pirie featured in my previous posting here, which quoted from a piece by him about a speech he recently gave to some students at the University of Brighton. He does performances like this a lot, for university students, and just as often for teenagers who are still at school. I have lost count of the number of times that Pirie has said to me what I am saying here, far more eloquently than I am saying it. Get ‘em young. The cumulative impact of Pirie’s now seriously impressive number of libertarian-decades doing this kind of thing (for he too became a libertarian when quite young) is beyond calculation, in terms of its benefits to our species and its future.

Last Tuesday evening, at the Adam Smith Institute Christmas party, I was able to observe some of the latest human consequences of Pirie’s labours over the decades, happily enjoying their Christmas drinks and each other’s vivaciously youthful company. It was a similar story only even more so at that Liberty League gathering I wrote about here earlier this year. A lot of the same faces were to be seen at both these events.

I have a goddaughter who is now an aspiring and decidedly glamorous classical/operatic singer. She is in London just now, auditioning to get into one or other of the two best London music colleges (fingers crossed, so far so good, blah blah). She went with me to this ASI Christmas party. She also was struck by the youth and intelligence of the majority of those present. She had a good time. She was impressed.

We do not have to choose between dreaming of a better future and thinking intelligently about how to get a better future

Madsen Pirie describes how he invited his University of Brighton audience to look at the world “through neo-liberal eyes”, rather than through the sort of eyes they are probably more used to using:

Others look at what is and compare it with a vision in their mind of what it might be. We are more empirical, comparing it to what was. Life expectancy about 150 years ago was about 30 years, and had been so for millennia. Now it is about 68 years globally, and higher than that in developed countries. We look at death to mothers in childbirth, and see it is now a tiny fraction of what it was even at the turn of the previous century. We look at infant mortality and see how that, too, is now a tiny fraction of what it was. Many of the diseases of the past have been conquered or controlled, and although there are new ones now that we live longer, we are in the process of controlling those, too. In the past most people battled to survive at subsistence level, whereas now we have more people above poverty and starvation than ever before in the history of humankind.

In other words we see things as being better than they were. Of course we can imagine a future which will be better than our present, but the empirical approach is to compare present with past, examine what made the difference, and attempt to do more of it. What made the difference was economic development and wealth creation, not the redistribution of existing wealth. It was opportunity, not equality, that drove progress, and we who support freedom want to see more of it, so that the future world will be as different from the present as ours is from the past.

I agree with everything there, except that very first sentence, about how “others look at what is and compare it with a vision in their mind of what it might be”, the implication being that we “neo-liberals” don’t do this.

I think it is truer to say that we do indeed think in exactly the empirical yet optimistic way that Pirie describes, but that we also compare what is with what might be. The difference is not that we look to the past and our opponents look to the future, but that we look more intelligently at the past than they do, and we also look to a different and better future.

I do not welcome, for instance, a future of “equality”, the sneer quotes there being because equality of the sort that is equal enough to satisfy the sort of people who demand equality will require someone to impose it, and that someone has to be unequally powerful to be doing such imposing. If you truly believe in equality, then you – you personally – will do what you can to improve the circumstances of those at the bottom of the heap. The poor will keep their freedom, thereby ensuring that whatever improvements you offer them really will be improvements. And you will not contrive these improvements by robbing richer people, because that will require you to be – unequally – powerful enough to do that, and there goes your precious equality. It will be equality that does not apply to you.

But just because I do not dream silly dreams of imposed equality, this does not mean that I dream no other dreams, dreams of freedom, dreams of progress, and yes, dreams of greater equality, that really is that, rather than just inequality that has been rearranged a little, in favour of new equalising rulers.

And nor does it mean that Madsen Pirie himself refrains from any such dreaming. He dreams – does he not? – of a future world that is – in a good way – “as different from the present as ours is from the past”. And he compares, as I do, that dreamed future with the present, to the present’s disadvantage.

The President of Mongolia preaches freedom to North Korea – in North Korea

This report (spotted by the ever alert Mick Hartley), describes a remarkable speech made by the President of Mongolia, at the end of a visit he made in October to North Korea.

A speech given at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang by the president of Mongolia late last month has caused raised eyebrows for its starkly critical portrayal of the follies of tyrannical rule and the repression of human rights.

President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj delivered the speech on the final day of his visit to North Korea. Mongolia has traditionally maintained friendly relations with the North, but the tenor of the speech is bound to have caused surprise even though it was delivered before an audience of relative loyalists.

Relative loyalists. Now there’s a choice phrase. I’m guessing it does not mean people who are literally blood relatives of the ruling dynasty.

Under this report, Daily NK reproduces the full text of the President’s speech, and it is well worth a read.

Quote (and it is very quotable):

I believe in the power of freedom. Freedom is an asset bestowed upon every single man and woman. Freedom enables every human to discover and realize his or her opportunities and chances for development. This leads a human society to progress and prosperity. Free people look for solutions in themselves. And those without freedom search for the sources of their miseries from outside. Mongols say, “better to live by your own choice however bitter it is, than to live by other’s choice, however sweet”.

See what I mean about quotable?

No tyranny lasts forever. It is the desire of the people to live free that is the eternal power.

You surely do now.

In 1990 Mongolia made a dual political and economic transition, concurrently, without shattering a single window and shedding a single drop of blood. Let me draw just one example. Over twenty years ago, the sheer share of the private sector in Mongolia’s GDP was less than 10%, whereas today it accounts for over 80%. So, a free society is a path to go, a way to live, rather than a goal to accomplish.

As I say, remarkable. Pessimists may say: it’s just words. But words matter. Why would any of us bother with reading and writing the stuff here at Samizdata if words did not matter?

I never used to like those Mongols much. Now, I find myself warming to them.

Samizdata quote of the day

We need a free-market version of corporate social responsibility. We need to equip businessmen with an ethical code that tells them there’s a principled reason not to get in bed with the government.

- Jonah Goldberg, in this week’s Goldberg File email, quoted (quotulated?), at much greater length, by Nicholas Russon.

David Thompson (and me) against government arts subsidies

Incoming from David Thompson:

Wondered whether the discussion linked here – about art and public funding – might be of interest to Samizdata readers.

Here are some of my objections to taxpayer-funded arts subsidies:

- It is immoral to steal money to subsidise other people’s hobbies.

- The greatest art seems to happen when high art and low art combine, in the form of something that is superficially entertaining and stirring and popular, and also as profound as profundity seekers might want it to be. Arts subsidies harm art by dividing it into less good entertainment art, paid for by punters, and less good high art, paid for with subsidies. Arts subsidies in Britain are now being cut somewhat. The result will be somewhat better art.

- Arts subsidies turn art into political agitprop, in favour of subsidies for art and for everything else that the subsidising classes consider to be worthy, and at the expense of everything productive that the subsidising classes consider to be unworthy. This is why abolishing arts subsidies is politically and ideologically so much more important than the relatively small sums of money involved, compared to other subsidies, would suggest.

If you want more from me about this, see also this and this, from way back.

LATER: … and this, here, quite recently.