We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

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

Samizdata quote of the day

The left has never properly come to terms with its past, and has never fully accounted for its history of anti-Semitism (which today goes under the guise of ‘anti-Zionism’). As the critic and filmmaker Jamie Palmer has written: ‘Soviet anti-Semitism was diligently and uncritically reproduced in the communist press and thus made its way into the ideological bloodstream of the left’. Unlike the very public repudiation of racism on the mainstream right, no similar detoxification has taken place in the ‘bloodstream’ of the left. Properly rooting out anti-Semitism begins by challenging fanatical anti-Zionism. It is perfectly possible to oppose the human rights abuses of the Israeli government without completely dismissing the Zionist project, which in its most basic interpretation means simply the preservation of Israel as a Jewish state. If the anti-Zionists wish to be consistent, they should be equally scathing about other movements for ethnic and cultural self-determination – such as that of the Kurds or the Palestinians themselves. The fact they rarely are should worry anyone calling themselves a progressive.

James Bloodworth, International Business Times. I probably share very different political and economic views from the author, but he is right to call out the vileness of those who defame Jews.

Ken Livingstone really is a scumbag.

Being a libertarian, I defend the right of people to say what they want, however offensive or daft, but it is worth pointing out that much of the Left and certainly people such as Livingstone have made part of their careers out of criminalising “hate speech”, so it would be deliciously ironic if such lowlifes were criminally prosecuted for some of this nonsense. In so many ways, the Left resembles a circular firing squad.

Hardly a surprising conclusion, but surprising to see pro-EU Reuters run this…

I find this self-evident:

Patrick Minford, a professor of economics at Cardiff University, said Britain should rely on tariff levels agreed at the World Trade Organisation, and that scrapping the EU’s external tariffs would lower consumer prices by 8 percent, and boost gross domestic product by 4 percent after around 10 years.

The benefits of bilateral trade deals were overrated and a lot of foreign investment was drawn to Britain by its underlying competitive strengths rather than its access to the rest of the EU, Minford said at a news conference in London organised by economists who support a so-called Brexit.

“There is no need for us to go off chasing a million trade deals with the rest of the world. They are irrelevant,” he said.

But given the flood of pro-EU scare stories that Reuters tends to run, I was a bit surprised to see it get some pixels there.

Samizdata quote of the day

The referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU has thrown many things into sharp relief. It has made more visible the fraying of the Tory Party that has been brewing for a few decades now. It has demonstrated that the politics of fear is everywhere, being peddled by both the Leave and Stay campaigns, and even being openly celebrated by one pro-EU columnist on the basis that ‘fear alone has a purity you can trust’. But most strikingly, the referendum campaign has confirmed the death, or at least utter exhaustion, of a left that believes in democracy, in change, in people. In throwing its weight behind the Stay campaign, having historically been suspicious of the EU, the left has completed its journey from demanding democracy to supporting technocracy.

Brendan O’Neill

Elton John knows Barbra Streisand, so…

With that in mind, it seem positively hilarious that he appears to be unaware of the Streisand Effect!

You’d need a heart of stone not to laugh :D

War on Sugar

Mars, owner of Dolmio and Uncle Ben’s food brands, is labelling its products to tell people which ones they should only eat once per week. It is something to do with trying to get people to eat less sugar, for some reason.

Nutritionist Jenny Rosborough from Action on Sugar told the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme: “It’s great that they are pushing forward this responsible labelling and raising awareness. “But the challenge we have with it is that only the health conscious will look at the labels in the first place, therefore it’s not going to hit the people who need it the most.”

By which she means poor people who are too stupid to be allowed to make their own decisions. And who are Action on Sugar anyway? The writer of the blog Hemiposterical has found that they are the same people as Consensus Action on Salt and Health, funded largely by the mysterious Marcela Trust. What motivates them, I wonder? (Incidentally, even the NHS is very lukewarm about the harmful effects of salt, when pressed.)

And where did this new war on sugar come from? There is a sugar tax. There is even an app. Made by a quango. It is like a conspiracy of very boring illuminati. And even evil multinational corporations are going along with it. Very strange.

Perhaps it originates from inside the World Health Organisation, who last year urged “countries” to reduce people’s sugar intake by half to 25g per day for adults because sugar causes bad teeth, obesity and diabetes. Yesterday I drank a 330ml bottle of lemonade containing 33g of sugar. I am not obese, do not have diabetes and still have all my teeth.

Put yourself in the position of the head of a government agency. You have an amorphous blob of population and you can poke it with various sticks (such as advice, regulation and taxes) and observe the effects (such as the amount of money spent on certain medical treatments). You can vary the pointyness of the sticks and the amount of poking and get different effects. You keep doing this until you get the effect you want. The truth of the stick is irrelevant. Individuals have no reason to think that there is any truth in government advice. It can be ignored (ignoring taxes is harder). What surprises me is that I observe people making some attempt to follow the advice and berating themselves for failing.

A strategic steel reserve?

The recent controversy about the potential closure, by India-headquartered Tata, of the steelworks in Wales (formerly owned by Corus) has revived old memories of when the UK government (ie, the taxpayer) owned steelworks. It was an unhappy episode. The picture of middle-aged men, in “tight-knit communities” (the cliches write themselves) losing their jobs with not much immediate prospect of getting another job (such men are, apparently, incapable of doing this), is politically toxic. (Interestingly, the role that anti-carbon policies, enacted to prevent global warming, have played in hurting such industries isn’t getting all that much attention as far as I can see. Does. Not. Compute.) Never mind that tens of thousands of bank staff (not all “fat cats”) have been given their P45s in recent years – when steelworkers are given the bullet, it has a visceral effect on the public imagination of a kind that is very different. People can easily visualise the value of making steel, used as it is in many modern industrial products; they cannot so easily figure out the worth of people processing interest rate swaps transactions, for example. Also, the bank bailouts of 2008-09 mean that for a new generation of voters, the idea of bailing out a failed set of institutions, while unpleasant, isn’t off-limits. If we must bail out banks, so the argument goes, let’s bail out steel. (Just as, in the US, the same kind of logic was used to justify bailing out GM, shafting GM creditors in the process.)

Momentum is building for the current government to nationalise the steel factories, a prospect that no doubt would have appalled the late Margaret Thatcher. The present Business Secretary, sometimes billed as a future Conservative Party leader, has said that part-nationalisation is an option. One of the arguments used to make the prospect more palatable to people otherwise wary of the whole notion is that Britain needs a core capacity to make steel, because we need to be able to build weapons in times of war, for example. (A similar argument is sometimes used to defend protection for forms of agriculture; the UK imports many foodstuffs but has been vulnerable to blockades and attacks on shipping in previous world wars.)

But if this military-need argument really is as strong as is made out, then there is a case for saying that the most cost-efficient (from the point of view of free market economics and taxpayers’ interests) isn’t nationalisation, or the alternative of just shutting down plants, but a sort of strategic reserve. To some extent, in a free market where there are futures and options markets for commodities such as iron, etc, those much-maligned speculators will hoard steel/other during a market glut and wait for prices to rise before selling, and vice versa. If there is a more pressing military requirement that cannot be easily slotted into this market argument, then a “strategic steel reserve” might be an idea, as the investment advisor and former Comservative Party parliamentary candidate Douglas Hans-Luke says. (I don’t endorse all of his views, I should add.) It is an idea worth considering, and arguably, just as an individual should keep a first aid kit, flashlight, water purifier, set of knives, screwdrivers and fire-lighting items and other emergency tools handy, and learn how to use them, so should a country. It is, arguably, a basic requirement of even a minimal state to have that “emergency toolkit” in the cupboard, just in case. Even better, in a healthy civil society, the public should have these things, and be encouraged to learn how to use and store them. And of course that includes firearms and types of working knives, a subject about which the UK lost the plot years ago. It is, I understand, a crime to carry a Swiss Army knife in your pocket in the UK, for instance. Ironically, such things are made out of high-grade steel from places such as Sweden.

An emergency steel reserve sounds a lot easier to defend than nationalisation, not least because it is rational on its own merits. I’m ready to be convinced otherwise. How about every schoolkid gets taught how to make steel and weld during science class?

 

 

Thanks, Recep old boy. Cheque’s in the post. Yours, Boris.

The Telegraph reports,

Turkey demands Germany prosecute comedian for Erdogan insult

Angela Merkel is facing a political dilemma after Turkey demanded one of Germany’s most popular comedians face prosecution for insulting its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The row could jeopardise the EU’s controversial migrant deal with Turkey.

The German government confirmed on Monday it had received a “formal request” from Turkey over the weekend indicating it wishes to press charges in the case.

If Mrs Merkel agrees to allow the prosecution, she will face accusations of limiting free speech to placate the authoritarian Mr Erdogan.

But if she refuses it could put the migrant deal with Turkey, which she personally brokered, at risk.

Jan Böhmermann, one of Germany’s most successful young comedians, faces up to five years in prison over a poem in which he referred to Mr Erdogan as a “goat-f*****” and described him as watching child pornography.

Insulting a foreign head of state is illegal under German law, but a prosecution can only take place if a foreign government requests it.

Any prosecution also requires the express authorisation of the German government — leaving Mrs Merkel in a difficult position.

Death to the blasphem… long live the brave reformer!

“Let’s abandon our broken NHS and move on”, says Melanie Phillips.

Dame Julie Moore, the respected chief executive of the University Hospitals Birmingham trust, was asked last week to explain why the NHS was in such difficulty. A lot of it, she believed was down to leadership failure and incompetence on every level. “We’ve created a culture of people who are terrified of making decisions because you can’t be held to account for making no decision but you can if you make a decision,” she said.

Much of the blame lay with previous governments who had centralised power, leaving many of her colleagues “waiting for a command from God on high” instead of taking the initiative.

What Dame Julie describes is typical of highly politicised bureaucracies. In the NHS, this entails a culture of fear from the health secretary downwards. What are they all so frightened of? In essence, that the veils of illusion surrounding the NHS will be torn away and it will be seen to be the failure that it is.

That this is so surprises me not at all. That it is said by a popular, if marmite-flavoured columnist suprises me a little. That the comments ordered by recommendations enthusiastically agree with her surprises me quite a lot. One would get a very different result at the Guardian, of course. The Daily Mail? Right now, I think the Mail readers would feel as free as Times readers do to recount their bad experiences of the NHS, yet would still baulk at the words “abandon the NHS”.

Samizdata quote of the day

At the weekend, the left-wing firebrand Polly Toynbee lamented the “extraordinary growth of inequality”. She has previously described it as “soaring”. The Observer columnist Will Hutton has said that the income gap is “ever-increasing”. It has become a factoid that the income distribution is widening year-on-year, especially after the financial crisis. And yet, these claims are just not true. To uncomfortably paraphrase Ronald Reagan and Mark Twain, the trouble with our left-wing friends is not their ignorance about inequality in the UK, but that they know so much that ain’t so.

Ryan Bourne.

The final paragraph of this article has a lovely sting in the tail.

Samizdata quote of the day

King is aware that monetary policy has been used to provide short-term gains at the cost of long-term pain – what he calls the “paradox of policy”. Despite extremely low rates, the global economy remains out of kilter. It’s a pity that King never considers Friedrich Hayek’s early work which suggests that economies become unbalanced when central bankers impose an inappropriate interest rate. But as King buys into the “savings glut” story, he doesn’t believe that monetary policymakers are to blame. For the man in charge of the Bank of England when UK bank Northern Rock went down, this is a convenient if not quite satisfactory conclusion.

Edward Chancellor

Hey, Cameron! Remember what you did to Jimmy Carr?

June 2012: David Cameron uses his bully pulpit as Prime Minister to denounce the comedian Jimmy Carr for the entirely legal way he arranged his financial affairs to minimize tax.

April 2016: David Cameron is denounced from all sides for the entirely legal way he arranged his financial affairs to minimize tax.

I weep. With laughter.

How hard is it to understand profit and loss, supply and demand?

There is a steelworks at Port Talbot in south Wales owned by the Indian Tata group, which is losing money hand-over-fist. The owners appear to have thrown in the towel after 9 years, and are looking for a buyer, for a works losing a reported £300,000,000 a year. So poor old Tata is consuming its capital to the detriment of its investors, and the benefit, for now, of its staff and contractors.

The reaction to this disappointing news about the works, which will doubtless be devastating for those who work there and rely on it for their own livelihoods, seems to be that ‘something must be done’, but once again the Broken Window Fallacy should be borne in mind.

At present, the UK government appears to be tempering calls for nationalisation of steel works, although one Conservative MP, Mr Tom Pursglove, has come out to call for nationalisation, pointing out that Brexit would make it easier for the UK government to grant state aid to industry.

Conservative MP Tom Pursglove is delivering a letter to the prime minister this afternoon calling on the government to ignore EU rules on state aid and consider nationalising the steel industry. As a prominent campaigner for Britain to leave the EU, it is no surprise that he believes Britain would be in a better position to protect the steel industry if we were not bound by EU rules. Those on the other side of the referendum debate point out that the EU is our most important market for steel, with more than half of our steel exports going to the EU and more than two thirds of our imports coming from it.

As my maths teachers used to say ‘Show your working!‘. Funny how EU rules on State Aid don’t seem to apply to farming.

What is truly depressing is that almost no one, apart from a valiant chap from the IEA I heard on Radio 4 news this afternoon, is suggesting that a steel plant should be profitable, the Zeitgeist seems to be that the plant should simply exist. However, there are reports that the Chinese government is subsidising steel exports by selling it below cost price. The IEA chap on Radio 4 said that China has, in the past 2 years, produced more steel than the UK has produced in its entire history (but there are many different kinds of steel, and they are not fungible).

Is anyone scared that China will up the price of steel once it has caused much capacity in the rest of the world to shut down?