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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Why we libertarians love Uber not just as a service but as an issue

I and my libertarian friends all love Uber. By that I don’t just mean that we love using Uber, the service, although I am sure that just like many others, we do. I mean that we love talking about Uber, as a libertarian issue, as an issue that nicely illustrates what libertarianism is all about and the sorts of things that libertarians believe in. In particular, we believe in: technological innovation and the freedom to do it, for the benefit of all, except those in the immediate vicinity of it and overtaken by it, because they make a living from the technology that is being overtaken.

Example. A couple of weeks ago I attended a talk about Art, which suggested that Art is not abundant enough and not benefiting enough people. A big part of the response from the floor during the Q&A afterwards was: It depends what you mean by Art. By most reasonable definitions, there has never been more Art. Prominent London libertarian Professor Tim Evans compared the attitude of the speaker to that of a London Black Cab driver fretting about how to keep London Black Cabs going, what with so many Londoners now preferring Uber Cabs. My point is not that this was a fair comparison, although I thought it was. My point is that we libertarians love Uber so much that we insert Uber into conversations about quite other things. Uber is something that we just love to talk about. And it’s not just Tim Evans, and me, and Johnathan Pearce, and Rob Fisher and Perry de Havilland who love to write and talk about Uber. Based on the conversations I’ve been having with fellow libertarians, it’s pretty much all of us. This is an issue which unites all of us, and which divides our opponents. After all, even anti-libertarians need a taxi ride from time to time, and they prefer it to be cheap and obtainable rather than expensive and unpurchasable.

At the very moment I first typed in the above paragraph, an email arrived from the IEA, telling me about how the IEA’s boss, Mark Littlewood, has been mixing it with Black Cabbies on the radio.

As for me, I found my interest renewed in the Uber battle when I encountered this Black Cab, last August, in Victoria Street, just up the road from the Houses of Parliament:


Why was this cab of interest to me? Well, let’s take a close look at the rather intriguing politics lesson on the side of this Black Cab:


As you can see from this posting at my personal blog, way back in August when I took those photos, I had in mind to put something here way back, provoked by them. But the delay didn’t matter. This issue is not going away any time soon.

The taxi driver whose taxi sported this advert clearly thought that this was an advert about how wicked Uber is. Uber lobbies. Uber puts Prime Ministerial friends on its payroll. Bad Uber. But to me, this read more like an advert in favour of David Cameron. Cameron wants Uber to flourish in London. Does he now? I did not know this. Good for Cameron. And bad for Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, who does not.

This also an advert for Uber itself. Uber is cheaper … because it pays no tax! Come again … Uber is cheaper, you say? Hm, interesting. I must give it a go.

The LTDA, who, as you can see from the top picture, is responsible for the above advert, thinks that Uber is systematically breaking the law. What that tells me is not that Uber is bad, but that the law, insofar as it now impinges upon Uber, is an ass.

→ Continue reading: Why we libertarians love Uber not just as a service but as an issue

Just in case there was any doubt that Boris Johnson is an arsehole…

These bureaucratic new rules will not improve your ride. They’re designed to address the concerns of black cab drivers, who feel under pressure from increased competition. But the answer is to reduce the onerous regulations cabbies face today – not increase them for everyone else

Uber spokesman

Who should we blame in the Volkswagen scandal?

By now, everyone knows about the Volkswagen scandal. VW have admitted installing software that cuts exhaust emissions when their cars are being tested and lets them spew death and disease every which way when they’re not.

So who is the villain here? To my mind there are two possible suspects: the US Environmental Protection Agency and the European Union. I know what you are thinking: why can’t we pin the blame on both of them? Well, cheer up because I think we can.

To my mind pollution is simple. The polluter pays the victim. I would like to find some non-state means for doing this and as I understand it in the days prior to environmentalism just such a mechanism – albeit involving courts – did indeed exist.

Of course, since then government has queered the pitch for everyone introducing two principles which it rolls out according to taste. One, that the polluter pays the government. Two, that the polluter becomes subject to government violence – or to put it in statist terms: pollution is regulated.

So, the government imposes regulations in which if you score below a certain number you are left alone and if you score above they send the boys round. Black mark against the EPA.

But meanwhile the EU has been promoting diesels like crazy over recent years. Whether this is a sinister French plot or the result of the global warming hoax, who knows. The really sad thing is that we have ended up with that abomination: the diesel-powered sports car. Oh yeah, and London’s air ain’t too great either.

Some diesel

Some diesel

Miscellaneous thoughts and questions

Why is that we are quite happy to use the term NOx but not the term COx? It makes no sense.

What were VW doing selling diesel cars in the US? Petrol (US = gasoline) is much cheaper there. So the market for diesel cars is much smaller. Come to think of it it’s probably because they were trying to make inroads into the market in the expectation that diesel taxes would come down making diesels more attractive. It is a tax issue isn’t it?

Why is it that cars are regulated in this way? I find it difficult to believe that a lorry or bus is in any way cleaner than a car. But I bet the latter two are not nearly as stringently regulated. To ask the question is, of course, to answer it. They do it because they can.

Did anyone else catch that excellent Mark Evans documentary about the diesel engine on BBC4 the other night? Comet swirl chambers, eh?

Boris Johnson supports cartels and high prices

Boris Johnson wants people to pay more for transport in London because breaking up a taxi cartel is bad apparently. And people paying less to move around the city is bad for the economy apparently. And in an age of ubiquitous GPS, ‘The Knowledge‘ should be used to limit the numbers of people driving cabs in order to keep prices up.

Bear in mind this fuckwit may well try to be Prime Minister one day.

The driverless-car revolution: how far, how fast?

There was a news article a week or two back saying that driverless cars currently under test in California had been involved in four collisions. This sounded bad until you dug into the details and it turned out that in each and every case it was a human driver at fault. As Nassim Taleb points out there is no such thing as confirmatory evidence, but this in no way falsifies my theory that driverless cars are already safer than their human-directed equivalent.

This makes me think that the driverless car revolution is on the way and is going to take place far sooner than most of us think. Yes, there are legal issues to be resolved. Yes, government will drag its feet. Yes, there will be horrible accidents of the sort only computers can cause. Yes, there will be a transitional period of mixed human and computer driving. But it will happen and it will – over all – be better. But given it is going to happen I wonder what it will be like? For instance:

  • Will cars continue to be user-owned? Will we even have “our” exclusive cars or instead use cars in the same way we use taxis today?
  • Could this make micro-cars more attractive?
  • Will styling continue to be so important?
  • Is there anything to prevent a speed-limit of 120mph, or higher, on motorways? If so, what future inter-city trains?
  • Will this advantage electric cars?
  • If buses can self-drive is there any future for commuter trains?
  • If cars can drive themselves to and from our doorsteps will we still need driveways?
  • Is this good or bad news for Uber?
  • What will cabins be like without the need for a driver and a steering wheel?
  • Will there be implications for the layout of vehicles?
  • How soon will it become illegal to drive a car on the public highway?

It’s going to be fascinating to watch.

Hopefully they'll look better than this.

Hopefully they’ll look better than this.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I guess it’s going to come down to what consumers want to do,” said Lt. Chris Cummings, the Police Department’s liaison to the Taxi Commission.

– Report here. Thank you Instapundit.

Lt. Cummings didn’t say if he approved, because the Police Department’s job is to enforce ordinances, not make them. Maybe he was speaking through gritted teeth. But the Portsmouth Taxi Commission is unanimously for it. Good for them. The more Uber and its rivals are allowed in this or that place, somewhere, and the more we get to hear about it, the more chance that they will be allowed almost everywhere.

Samizdata quote of the day

To people saying “pulling The Interview means the terrorists won”: we’ve been taking our shoes off at airports for no reason for 14 years…

– @ozchrisrock (Not the real Mr Rock, but as quotable.)

It was slightly quicker to go from London to New York 55 years ago on a de Havilland Comet, including the refuelling stop in the middle, than to go direct on a modern airliner and take in the two security theatre performances at either end.

Robot lorries now seem to me more immediately promising than robot cars

Great confidence is being expressed about how robot cars are about to change the world. Robot cars, says a typical headline that Google (one of the prime movers in this new technology) has just today alerted me to, may be coming sooner than you think. But doubts are also being expressed:

A good technology demonstration so wows you with what the product can do that you might forget to ask about what it can’t.

Case in point: Google’s self-driving car. There is a surprisingly long list of the things the car can’t do, like avoid potholes or operate in heavy rain or snow.

Yet a consensus has emerged among many technologists, policymakers, and journalists that Google has essentially solved – or is on the verge of solving – all of the major issues involved with robotic driving.

“Essentially”. That’s a word that often means “not”. And “on the verge of” often signals a problem that turns out to be hideously intractable, as year after year passes with nobody any nearer to a definitive answer. I seem to recall an entire British high speed train project being abandoned because they just could not make the tilting of the carriages work perfectly. It worked okay, but okay wasn’t good enough. It had to be perfect, and perfection proved elusive. Here is what wikipedia says about that, for whatever wikipedia may be worth when reporting a story that remains controversial.

Even that constantly repeated refrain about how robot cars are coming “sooner than you think” is, if you think some more, an acknowledgement from robot car boosters that there are actually widespread doubts out there in the regular, non-techy world about how well these devices really will work, and how completely, above all how quickly, all the problems that they will face have really been and will really be solved. Yes, the techies will eventually get their robot cars working, probably. But for a few more years yet, there will surely be a nasty little clutch both of known unknowns and of unknown unknowns to deal with, all of which will have to be thoroughly dealt with. Crucially, such problems will all have to be solved. If robot cars get the go-ahead and work flawlessly for two months, followed by a lurid catastrophe like something out of a disaster movie, when a bunch of robot cars all follow each other into a swamp or over a cliff, or just run amuck and kill dozens or even hundreds in one catastrophe like in a plane crash, then their introduction will be judged a failure rather than given nine out of ten for technical accomplishment and an A plus for effort.

This strikes me as a lot more immediately promising:

→ Continue reading: Robot lorries now seem to me more immediately promising than robot cars

Some Brittany holiday snaps

Earlier this week I got back from a week in Brittany. During the first few days of my stay, I and the friends I was staying with visited the island of Belle Ile. Their daughter is my god-daughter, and she was singing (very well) in a classical singing festival that happens in Belle Ile every year.

While in Belle Ile we also enjoyed other sorts of music making. In particular, at midday, in the fish market of Belle Ile’s biggest town, La Palais, we listened to a small beat combo called, as I later learned from the small print in some of my photographs, Les Gadgos. Les Gadgos are a bunch of blokes, but they have engaged a lead singer for their latest clutch of songs and their latest CD, a blond chanteuse named Mélody Linhart, who looked weirdly matter-of-fact in her days clothes. But she sang very well, in English. She did various venerable American standards, like St James Infirmary, and slightly more recent American movie tunes, including I Want To Be Like You. She made the latter piece of froth sound almost as profound and existential as St James Infirmary.

But take a look at this other Les Gadjos person, who I now know to be called Clément Lenoble:


A classic French type, I think you will agree. But that cigarette was actually quite a surprise, because Clément Lenoble was one of the very few people whom I observed during my week in France who was smoking. There were a few. He wasn’t the only one. But the basic news is, those Frenchies are no longer fumer-ing. Not the sort who live in or summer in Brittany, anyway.

Instead, this business is on the up and up:


That was just a clutch of e-cigarettes in the window of a shop that also sold other stuff. But later, I came across an entire shop devoted to this one product:


French smokers are a dying breed. No doubt, anti-smoking fanatics would reply that they’re a dying breed because smoking is killing them all off, and I do agree that this change of habit is probably a good thing. But even so, I miss guys like this, singing their gravel-voiced chansons in bars, with their whiskey glasses on the piano and their gauloises hanging down from their creased and lived-in faces. Or maybe I just miss the idea of such people, being around, in France.

Smoking is now illegal in most public places in France. I just wish les pouvoirs-that-be had been content to let the habit die away of its own accord. But that is not how such people think.

I also photoed many other more fun things.

→ Continue reading: Some Brittany holiday snaps

A glorious bit of capitalism!

Talk about a fine bit of opportunistic business! Well done!

Airport security kabuki theatre

Even if checking every passenger exhaustively was the right way to thwart terror, why would any serious government issue a press release about it, informing the terrorists that you were on their case and keeping them up to speed on the things you’re looking for? They didn’t do that with Bletchley Park and the Enigma codes. Leaving aside the possibility that our leaders are just plain dim, we must assume their statements are a clever decoy. In that case, everything that we must endure at Stansted and Heathrow is pure ‘security theatre’. This would not be unusual. Much of what passes for ‘security’ and its kissing cousin ‘safety’ is little more than an elaborate show.

Michael Hanlon. He has a book out with a co-author about safety issues, which looks interesting.

Samizdata quote of the day

We’re in a political campaign, and the candidate is Uber and the opponent is an asshole named Taxi.

– Uber CEO Travis Kalanick

Gratitude to City A.M.’s Lynsey Barber for spotting this quote and supplying the link to it.