It is rare at the moment to see an advocate for Remain come out openly and state that the lack of democracy is precisely what is good about the European Union. Most Remainers I encounter will bluster that there is nothing undemocratic about it, that MEPs have lots of powers, or that powers wielded by bureaucrats are okay because they are holding delegated powers, and stop moaning, shut up, etc. But Sam Bowman, of the Adam Smith Institute (broadly pro-leave as far as I know although there isn’t an official stance) has this to say from a FB posting he made the other day and which, he stresses, isn’t the official ASI view:
I like and respect many Leavers, but I’ve never shared their enthusiasm for democracy – I want liberty and prosperity, and I don’t want to trade that in just to give my stupid next-door neighbours more power over my life. To the extent that the EU does restrict democracy it is often for the best, preventing governments from doing nasty, illiberal things (like restricting immigration or subsidising domestic firms). There’s a small chance that a Jeremy Corbyn could be elected – if he is, under the British political system he would have basically unlimited power to do whatever he wants. The EU limits that power, and in my view that’s a good thing.
Of course, there are perhaps several reasons why you won’t read such a bracing critique of democracy from most Remainers. For a start, it would produce condemnation from all sides, including those on the Remain side who would be embarrassed that one of their side had spilled the beans, as it were. It is also brave to state a key issue of political theory, which is that, if you love liberty, then democracy can be as much a bug as a feature. The greatness of the United States, at least in terms of how it was conceived by the Founding Fathers, is that it is a constitutional republic, first and foremost, not a democracy. Democracy is the least-worst way we have of getting rid of governments; it is not a sure guardian of liberty, and there are examples of how democratically elected governments have trampled on property rights and other rights. Even if the UK does quit the EU – I personally suspect the Remain side will win this week – there is a real need to address how some of the checks and balances of the UK political order have been weakened dangerously by a succession of Conservative and Labour governments. The Common Law has been badly weakened and often this cannot be blamed on the evils of Brussels. We did this to ourselves. There aren’t a lot of Edward Cokes, Thomas Jeffersons, John Lockes or James Madisons on the Leave side, but we are going to need to do some clear thinking on the kind of country we want.
I personally think that Sam is wrong about the beneficial constraints, as he sees it, of the EU. It may be that some oppressive and foolish measures have been struck down by the EU, but there are also cases – such as a recent horrific example of the EU Arrest Warrant – where the illiberality of the EU is all too clear. Some dumbass British laws may have been struck down, but this is outweighed by outrages that haven’t been. The Leveson restrictions on the free UK press do not, as far as I know, face a challenge from Europe; the EU arguably is in favour of such a move. Quite a lot of the restrictions on freedom of speech in order to outlaw “hate crimes” haven’t been restricted by our being in the EU and the EU is pushing for moves in this area, in fact. Not many checks or balances there, I am afraid. I cannot think of any major “nanny state” restrictions pushed for at a UK level that have been beaten back by Brussels (I invite readers to give any cases if they exist). The regulatory upswing in the UK after the financial crisis has been made worse, not restricted, by the EU. The EU is pushing for additional layers of regulation on the City, and hasn’t as far as I know pushed in the reverse direction. In areas such as health and safety, the record of any constraint is non-existent.
Some subsidies and so on have been restricted by the Single Market, but that seems to be the main area where the EU might have been a net plus from a classical liberal point of view in keeping national lawmakers in check.
Sam’s other points are well made, but too much of it seems like he is against Leave because of that “tone” issue I mentioned the other day here. I am afraid I have long gone beyond the point where this matters to me one iota.
Addendum: Here is a nice item on James C Bennett, whom is known by some of us here, about the EU and the case for Brexit. Here is a link to his book, Time For Audacity.
Today, I am in my usual last Friday of the month tizz, because this evening I have an event in my home, and I am, as usual, behind in my preparations. This particular event is more than usually tizzual, on account of it being not a sit-down talk but a stand-up performance, by Dominic Frisby. Frisby is honouring my home with an early dry run of his forthcoming Edinburgh Festival show, Let’s Talk About Tax, which he will be performing in Edinburgh from Aug 3rd until August 28th.
I am not doing this blog posting because I need more people to come to my home this evening. I can fit in a few more, but I already have a decent number of acceptances. Nor am I doing this blog posting to tell you what a brilliant show this is. It is being done by the always entertaining and always thought-provoking Dominic Frisby, so I expect it to be entertaining and thought-provoking. But meanwhile, I haven’t yet seen it.
No, what I want to do here is simply to praise Frisby for the fact of this show. Even if – worst case – it flops in Edinburgh, which I don’t think it will, but even if it does, … well played sir! The fact that Frisby is sallying forth to the Edinburgh Fringe, one of the key facts of British showbiz life where would-be upwardly-mobile entertainers all vie with one another to make their mark as writers and performers, and that he will there proclaim the sort of pro-free-market notions and crack the sort of pro-free-market jokes that seldom get spread or cracked in this arena or similar arenas, is cause for praise in itself. The way to get anything started is to start, and this is a start. In the illustration above, Frisby is wearing a hat. Were I now wearing a hat, I would take it off to him.
I did an earlier posting here, praising Frisby’s excellent book Life After The State. Today is, see above, a busy day for me, so to save me the bother of making the same point in different words, please allow me to quote myself and make a point I made in that earlier posting, in the same words:
If we think that showbiz people typically proclaim bad political ideas, then our task is to persuade such people to think better and to proclaim better ideas, rather than us merely moaning that such people somehow have no right to be heard opining at all, about anything except showbiz. Maybe it is in some ways true that celebrity opinion-mongers shouldn’t be paid attention to, as much as they are. But they are, if only because being paid attention to by lots of people is the exact thing that these people specialise in being very good at. Maybe people are foolish to get their foolish political ideas from politically foolish showbiz people. But many do. Whether we like it or hate it, recruiting at least a decent trickle of showbiz people is a precondition for us achieving any widespread public acceptance of our ideas.
I rather think that this show marks a new moment in Frisby’s career. At his website, he describes himself as a Financial writer, comedian, actor of unrecognized genius and voice of many things. The “voice of many things” bit concerns his voice-over work, often to be heard on British TV. But note the “financial writer, comedian” bit. Hitherto, Frisby has tended to keep these two activities distinct from one another. As a speaker and writer on libertarian friendly matters he is always witty and entertaining, but he hasn’t, when doing that stuff, gone straight for laughs. He has basically been arguing and informing. Yes, with a smile on his face and plenty of reader and audience amusement as well as thought-provocation. But basically, he has done comedy for laughs and when being serious he has been serious. This Edinburgh show, on the other hand, looks like it may mark the moment in Frisby’s career when he seeks to combine his financial thinking and talking and writing with comedy.
I wish Dominic Frisby all possible success in this enterprise, and hope that others follow where he is leading.
I have never read or taken an interest in Harry Potter, I only bought one such book as a requested present for a young family member, for which I apologise. However, J K Rowling, Labour donor, renowned author and Cybernat 5-minute hate subject, has gone up in my estimation as she stood up for Donald Trump’s right to visit the UK, echoing the attitude of Voltaire.
‘I consider him offensive and bigoted. But he has my full support to come to my country and be offensive and bigoted there.’
The best-selling author said that Trump’s freedom to make ‘bigoted’ remarks, ‘protects my freedom to call him a bigot. His freedom guarantees mine.’
She warned that attempts to repeal any of those freedoms, however well intentioned, means ‘we have set foot upon a road with only one destination.’
We know what that destination is. She goes on.
Rowling explained that if she was to back a travel ban of Trump, because of his offensive comments, then she would have ‘no moral grounds on which to argue that those offended by feminism or the right for transgender rights or universal suffrage should not oppress campaigners for those causes.’
‘If you seek the removal of freedoms from an opponent simply on the grounds that they have offended you, you have crossed a line to stand along tyrants who imprison, torture and kill on exactly the same justification,’ she added.
Such a pity about the working, as my maths teachers used to say, but positive sentiments in favour of liberty and openness to debate are welcome and refreshing, albeit depressingly scarce in public debate.
I am being nudged by Simon Gibbs, who is organising it, to say something here, now, about this Libertarian Home event, about and against taxation.
This event will happen on the afternoon of Saturday May 14th, in Holborn, London. The speakers (see the list here) will include: Yaron Brook; Anton Howes; and a couple of new names to me, “Janina Lowisz, BitNation and Julio Alejandro, Humanitarian Blockchain”. Sounds intriguing, in a twenty first century and good way. I’m guessing that the gist of what they may say will be that the internet makes it possible for things to be crowd-funded and micro-financed and generally supported in ways that not long ago were impossible, and that modern life thus offers even greater opportunities to chip away at and to improve upon the tax-and-spend state, both ideologically and in practice. You could sum those speakers up by saying that there is no need for high taxes in the future (Lowisz, Alejandro), there was no need for high taxes in the past (Howes), and there is no excuse for high taxes ever (Brook).
That nudging I mentioned at the start of this posting is worth emphasising. Based on how a similar event in October 2014 went, which Simon Gibbs also organised, Simon will do whatever he needs to do, having already lined up some good speakers for May 14th, to get also a good throng of people to listen to them and to mingle with and to network with one another. The cost of a ticket is, if you book now, £12, and there is a basic sense in which attenders will be paying their £12 for all that nudging that Simon is now doing, to ensure that this event is a success. The most helpful way that you can support Simon and his nudging would be, if you now know that you want to attend, to book your own ticket, now. To tell Simon, now, that you will be attending, go here, and click on the bigger and lower of the two red rectangles saying: “Join us!”
I could expand, on the wrongs of taxation, on the particular excellence of Anton Howes as a speaker and as an up-and-coming libertarian historian and intellectual, on how interesting and how well organised and welcoming that October 2014 event was (at which Yaron Brook also spoke), and how many attended it, and so on and so forth, but Simon wants the word on this latest event on May 14th to spread now, and he wants this posting to go up now. So, up it goes, now.
Taxation is of course a very topical subject just now. If you want more tax talk here, try this.
The whole notion that culture can be “appropriated” in any negative sense is one of the most absurd notions being bandied about (and that is really saying something given the carnival of absurdities that passes for critical thinking these days).
Such ideas about culture are profoundly fascist in origin, a collectivist notion that somehow culture and identity must be preserved in a “pure” state from outside influences and somehow “belongs” to an ethno-national grouping. It is very much akin intellectually to abominating miscegenation. Yet strangely the same people who spout such arrant nonsense tend not to picket performances featuring oriental ballet dancers or black opera singers (as well they shouldn’t). Sorry (not really) but the future is cosmopolitan and voluntary. I will take whatever aspects of any culture I think are worth incorporating and there is not a damn thing anyone can do to stop me. And if some collectivist jackanapes is offended by my “appropriation”, well take a guess how many fucks I give because that just makes it all the more delicious 😉
Libertarian Home holds speaker meetings on the first Thursday of every month. The most recent of these meetings featured a talk by Tim Evans. You can watch and listen to the whole of this talk, which lasts 33 minutes, here. At the other end of that link you can also read a summary, by Libertarian Home’s Simon Gibbs, of the first big chunk of the talk, which consisted of Tim’s take on Jeremy Corbyn. Since that posting went up, Simon Gibbs has done another summary, of what Tim Evans said in the same talk in connection with tomorrow’s Budget.
Videos play to the strengths of human beings as communicators. We have evolved with the innate ability to talk, provided only that we start out hearing others talk, and most of us are pretty good at talking. But we have to learn reading and writing, especially writing, and even the most fluent and practised writers struggle to write down every worthwhile thought that they have ever had.
An extreme case of this is the libertarian historian and IEA apparatchik Stephen Davies, whose movement-building activities cruelly cut into his history-writing time. But: good news, there is a video of an excellent talk given by Davies to Libertarian Home in June 2013 about The History of Individualism, in which he says many of the things that he has not had the time to write about. Better yet, follow that link and you will also encounter a summary by Simon Gibbs of what Davies said. There are many other videos of Steve Davies talking and I recommend all of them. But if you want to learn quickly about a particularly good talk by Davies, follow that link.
Quite aside from their excellence at getting things said that otherwise might not be said, it’s good to see and to hear people whom you are interested in, rather than merely to read what they have written. You get to see what they are like, and something of how they feel about the world as well as how they merely think about it. When speaking, people are often able to say things, of an elusive yet true nature, with a sense of just how sure they are or are not about it all, and in a way that sometimes even surprises them a little. (I sure I am not the only one who sometimes feels that I don’t know what I think until I hear what I say.) You don’t usually receive as much information by watching and listening to someone on video as you would if you had actually been been there, although you sometimes see and hear more, rather as watching sport on television can often be more informative, in some ways, than actually being there. But the point is that video is good in the same kind of way that face-to-face contact can be.
All of which is part of why videos now abound on the internet. They communicate a lot. (The above also explains the popularity of programmes like Skype.)
The trouble is, a lot of videos can take their time, especially videos like the ones I have just been linking to which are simply videos of talks. Take their time? What I mean is: they take your time, often in large gobs.
→ Continue reading: Libertarian Home video talks summarised
The BBC have produced an article on the ‘crime wave’ that swept Britain during World War Two.
As you might expect, the war provided plenty of cover for criminal elements, with looting of bombed-out houses, stealing rings from the dead and so on.
But, as the article notes:
One of the reasons for the rise in crime was there were suddenly many more laws citizens could break, says Ms Gardiner.
Numerous orders were issued by the government to keep the wheels of war rolling smoothly.
For example, compulsory work orders were made and anyone failing to do their bit could end up in court.
An engine tester in Coventry was sentenced to three months’ hard labour in 1943 after taking 10 days off without permission when he got married.
And there were price controls as well, again creating new crimes.
Other orders included maximum price controls to prevent businesses from profiteering.
In 1941, in Newcastle, the Blaydon District Industrial and Provident Society was fined £290 after it sold two pounds of apples for about £11 when the maximum price was £4.
£11 for 2lbs of apples would be criminal now of course, but only because of the use of Imperial measurements, but £12.10p per kilo would be fine, rather than lead to one.
It’s a good thing the War is over and freedom prevailed….
But back to the War, the government had its quotas for production
Elsewhere a farmer near Darlington was fined more than £1,000 in 1942 after failing to grow two acres of potatoes, as ordered by the minister of agriculture.
The Northern Echo reported County Durham needed to grow 23,000 acres of potatoes that year for the war effort which “depended entirely on each individual doing his share”.
So that’s ‘The Common Good before the Individual Good‘, fighting fire with fire. At least it was only a gross input indicator, cultivate two acres, not produce X thousand lbs of potatoes, with fines for not having a good crop.
And would you believe it, a government compensation scheme was abused by an unscrupulous person!
One man in London was jailed for three years after claiming to have lost his home 19 times in a three-month period. On each occasion he had received at least £500 compensation.
My image of life during the war is one of a life of dreary, unrelenting anxiety: Will we have enough to eat? Will we be killed by bombs? Will my family survive? When will it all end? Whilst the war had to be fought and won, I cannot help wondering if the brutal conditioning of the populace helped to pave the way for the subsequent strangulation of the freedoms preserved by victory.
The article concludes:
“Human nature doesn’t change. There was a great deal of bravery, strength and fortitude shown by many people but there were also those willing to abuse the situation for their own advantage.”
Isn’t that what the Soviets called ‘speculation‘?
And from that long lesson in human nature and economics, never in the field of human conflict, has so little, been learned, by so many.
I have been reading Charles Murray’s book, Coming Apart.
I recommend this book, but I doubt that I myself will be reading every word of it, and certainly not every number. This is because I am already convinced by Murray’s basic thesis, which is that that America is becoming increasing divided along class lines. The temptations of government welfare, just as you would expect, have enticed the poor into self-destructive habits far more than the rich, because the rich, being rich, are insulated by their riches from these temptations. The rich have also resisted the temptation to smash up their families and raise their children out of wedlock, even as they mock those who still proclaim such notions in public. When it comes to family values, says Murray, the rich ought to be more ready to preach what they practice. All this strikes me as very true.
I was particularly struck by this, which is how Part III (“Why It Matters”) begins (p. 238 of my Penguin paperback edition):
The economist Maynard Keynes, accused of changing his mind about monetary policy, famously replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?” The honest answer to Keynes’s question is “Often, nothing.” Data can bear on policy issues, but many of our opinions about policy are grounded in premises about the nature of human life and human society that are beyond the reach of data. Try to think of any new data that would change your position on abortion, the death penalty, legalization of marijuana, same-sex marriage, or the inheritance tax. If you cannot, you are not necessarily being unreasonable.
So it has been with the evidence I have presented. A social democrat may see in parts 1 and 2 a compelling case for the redistribution of wealth. A social conservative may see a compelling case for government polices that support marriage, religion, and traditional values. I am a libertarian, and I see a compelling case for returning to the founders’ conception of limited government.
In other words, as Perry de Havilland never tires of saying: metacontext, metacontext, metacontext.
Keynes himself changed his mind a lot less than he said he did, I think.
Like Charles Murray, I am a libertarian. But like Murray, and unlike many libertarians, I also believe that old school married parenthood is the best setting in which to raise children, even if, like all other libertarians, I absolutely do not believe that old school married parenthood should be legally compulsory or that any alternatives to it should be legally forbidden. I am not myself married, but a lot of my best friends are libertarians who are married and who are now raising children. They are my friends not just because I like them, but because I admire what they are doing. I love to attend weddings, and have become good at photographing them. Partly this is because I just have, and because I especially like to photograph the many other amateur photographers also present. But I also love weddings because I strongly believe in what is promised at and accomplished by such ceremonies. So, I like Charles Murray’s general ideological attitude to life.
But, I also strongly agree with Murray about how hard it can be to change such ideological attitudes. In particular, merely spraying facts around the political landscape does not necessarily change it very much. Rather does it merely, as Murray says, confirm in the minds of all who hear these facts that they have been right all along about what needs to be done about them.
But this does not mean that minds cannot be changed. Facts, if they are overwhelming enough, can make a difference, especially to people who are young enough still to be making up their minds. But when communicating with such people it is essential not to confine yourself only to facts, however overwhelming they may seem to you. You should also engage at the ideological level. You should state the metacontextual conclusions that you want people to arrive at.
If this does nothing else, it at least enables people to realise that they are in this or that metacontextual team, and to help to make that team a little bit stronger.
It is one thing merely to be a libertarian. You will make a lot more difference to the world if you also realise that a libertarian is what you are. Being a libertarian means have a much more restricted idea of what governments should compel and forbid than tends to prevail nowadays. But it does not mean refraining from having and expressing opinions about how to live wisely.
I have always thought that we libertarians have a lot to learn from socialists. Not about what are true ideas. They can tell us very little about that, although the process of combating those ideas is very valuable. But about how to spread ideas – how to make ideas count for something – the socialists can tell us a great deal. Their success in spreading their own ideas is all the more impressive when you consider how very bad most of these ideas are.
We can learn, for instance, patience. This is from a piece in the Guardian a few days ago by Rafael Behr:
Whatever else Corbyn’s surprise ascent last year represents, it demonstrates the value of patience. It takes a particular temperament to plug away in apparently futile opposition, making pretty much the same speech to the same fringe meeting for 30 years, letting no belief be washed away by shifting political and economic tides, but instead sifting events for bits of evidence to support the unwavering faith. Not everyone who is cast on the wrong side of history sticks around, confident that history will swing by again in the opposite direction. Yes, Corbyn has been lucky, but fortune only furnished the battle. He gets the credit for winning.
And he is still winning. The tendency in Westminster is to measure success by the restless pulse of the news cycle and the temperature of public opinion. In those terms, Corbyn is not doing so well. It took the best part of a fortnight to conduct a shadow cabinet reshuffle from which the casual observer will have gleaned that Labour is in chaos, divided over nuclear defences with a new bias towards the view that Britain shouldn’t have any. By conventional measures this is bad, but the tradition from which Corbyn hails does not respect those conventions.
To sneer at 14 days of reshuffle-related mess is an error based on the Westminster canard that a week is a long time. Corbyn and friends come from a place where 14 years is a pause for breath; where 30 years of barren rhetoric can whizz by without frustration. Set that as the tempo of achievement and the appointment of an anti-Trident shadow defence secretary is a monumental triumph. Every day in the leader’s chair is more triumphant still if it stops the Labour party returning to what it was.
When libertarians have contrived serious victories, these are the sorts of ways we have done it. When we start winning bigger and more dramatic victories, these are the sorts of ways we will do it.
Preston Byrne, who will be known to some Samizdata contributors, has this fascinating and lengthy comparison about the state of freedom in the US and UK. He comes to the conclusion that according to a range of metrics, the UK isn’t a free nation any longer.
The United States – while free – is never very far away from turning into something similar. The difference in attitude between my two homes (and two passports) is about a heckuva lot more than gun control: it is a misunderstanding about what rights are and how they should work. Modern Europeans don’t seem to notice or even particularly care about state overreach.
“Gun violence is a problem for the government,” says the man on the Clapham omnibus, “so guns should be banned, just as we banned them in England.” He goes on to point out that England wants to ban, or has banned, encryption, extreme viewpoints, democratically-elected foreign political parties, Donald Trump, knives, or whatever other Public Enemy Number One du jour happens to be in vogue, irrespective of whether the evidence supports or requires the proposed legislative action.
Rights, in the mind of the Englishman and in his laws (thanks to sub-section (2) of most Articles of the European Convention), are and shall always be conditional.
On the flip side, Europe can, and does, use policy to achieve social welfare gains far out of proportion to their cost. It is unquestionably better to be a small-time drug dealer (or a member of his family or circle of extended friends) when said dealer finds himself before an English court than if he found himself before one in New York County.
Pastor who said Islam was ‘doctrine spawned in hell’ is cleared by court
A born-again Christian pastor who denounced Islam as “heathen”, “satanic” and a “doctrine spawned in hell” has been cleared after a three-day trial in a verdict that upheld the right to offend under the principle of freedom of expression.
The National Secular Society said the verdict was a “welcome reassertion of the fundamental right to freedom of expression”.
Campaigns manager Stephen Evans said the society strongly disagreed with the tone and content of McConnell’s comments, but added: “At a time when freedom of speech is being curtailed and put at risk in any number of ways, this is a much needed statement from the judge that free speech will be defended and that Islam is not off-limits.”
– and this:
An Islamic academic spoke in support of McConnell outside the court on the grounds of freedom of expression. Muhammad al-Hussaini, a senior research fellow in Islamic studies at the Westminster Institute, said: “Against the flaming backdrop of torched Christian churches, bloody executions and massacres of faith minorities in the Middle East and elsewhere, it is … a matter of utmost concern that, in this country, we discharge our common duty steadfastly to defend the freedom of citizens to discuss, debate and critique religious ideas and beliefs – restricting only speech which incites to physical violence against others.
“Moreover, in a free and democratic society we enter into severe peril when we start to confuse what we perhaps ought or ought not to say, with what in law we are allowed to, or not allowed to say.”
Like Michael Jennings, I end my 2015 blogging efforts here at Samizdata with a clutch of pictures. Unlike Michael, I haven’t managed to do anything like this for every one of the last ten years. I did do something similar two years ago, but this time last year my retrospective attention was concentrated on the speakers at my monthly meetings, without any pictures of them.
I began my 2015 in France.
→ Continue reading: My 2015 in pictures