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]

The strange durability of really, really crap ideas

The story of rent controls has been the same everywhere they have been tried. Until they were abandoned, rent controls in Seventies Britain led to a catastrophic fall in the number of rented properties available, and they did nothing to stop unscrupulous Rachmanite landlords. Rent controls accelerated the woeful degradation of much of New York’s housing stock, and in so far as there has been a boom in New York property, it has taken place in housing not subject to rent controls.The Swedish economist Assar Lindbeck has said that rent control is “the most effective technique presently known to destroy a city – except for bombing”; and the reason he has come to that conclusion is that experience has shown that it is an idiotic way to tackle the problem of high rents.

Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, and newspaper columnist.

I should add that one of the things I notice about Ed Miliband, the Labour leader – and many others who share Miliband’s views – is not so much ignorance of economics, as hostility to the idea that humans act as they do. The assumption seems to be that to bring about desirable objective X, one should pass a law to ensure X happens, and if it doesn’t, then evil intent has caused it. So, if you want to raise pay, you pass a minimum wage law decreeing that employers must pay staff so much money; if you want to hold down the cost of rentals, you pass a law banning landlords from pushing up rents above that level, and so on. And the fact that landlords and employees might alter their behaviour as a result or that unemployment and crap rental housing might ensue is the fault of evil people, not the forseeable result of interfering in the market. And on housing prices, as Boris mentions, the main problem is that supply in the UK is artificially suppressed by planning laws. (It should be noted that people of all political persuasions favour these, either for aesthetic or more narrowly self interested reasons.) But to admit that is, for the Miliband mindset, unthinkable: the State cannot have caused a shortage of something, surely! It must be because bad, uncaring people have somehow failed to provide enough housing!

To put it even more simply, with the Milibands of this world, we are dealing with the mentality of a child. Now, I don’t care whether Miliband looks or sounds odd, or is a tosser who knifed his brother in the back, so to speak, although I suppose these things do matter. What, at root, terrifies me about the idea of this fuckwit taking power is that he is a fuckwit, and alas, insufficiently self aware of his fuckwittery and inability to deal with reality. Or perhaps another way of seeing this is that he is an example of a mindset that goes back to JJ Rousseau and further back: the idea that what matters is that one is sincere, one cares, rather than reflect on the actual results of what one does.

London for Londoners

I spent some time in and around Leicester Square / Covent Garden / Oxford Street in central London this afternoon. The centre of the metropolis on a Saturday afternoon is full of people from other places. These people walk too slowly, don’t know when to stand and when to walk on the escalators (and which side to stand on), sometimes attempt to start conversations with strangers, and lack the proper air of purposefulness that is an integral part of the ancient London culture. At times they speak with absurd accents, totally different and much more jarring than the Slavic, Francophone and Hindustani accents that are so comfortable and reassuring, and that I am so used to hearing.

At times like this afternoon I feel alienated. I am culturally in a foreign place. This is no longer my city. This is not the city I did not grow up in.

When the London Independence Party (LIP) comes to power, something must be done about this. I fear that it is going to be necessary to impose border controls – at least on Friday evenings and Saturday mornings. These must be imposed near Watford, Epping, Reading, and a few other places, so that LONDON FOR LONDONERS can be maintained on our weekends.

Simultaneously we must maintain, defend, and keep open at all costs the corridors to Stansted, to Gatwick, and to Luton – to our precious airports. Desirable people must be allowed the freedom to come and go as they please, of course.

Why would HSBC… indeed any international bank… wish to remain in London?

Is this not rather predictable?

HSBC will look into upping sticks and moving its headquarters out of London once the regulatory environment becomes clearer, its chairman said today.

“We are beginning to see the final shape of regulation, the final shape of structural reform and as soon as that mist lifts sufficiently we will once again start to look at where the best place for HSBC is,” Douglas Flint said.

He was speaking at an informal shareholder meeting in Hong Kong. This comes as a recent hike in the special tax levied on banks in the UK makes it increasingly costly to do business, people familiar with the situation told Reuters.

And this under an supposedly ‘conservative’ Prime Minister :-D The Stupid Party indeed. If Labour wins, I imagine this will become a stampede as businesses bolt for the exit.

Loss of nerve: “just standing there watching”

Another one:

Hampstead Ponds constables ‘failed to help’ drowning Moshe Greenfeld because of ‘dangerous and murky’ water

The City of London has admitted that its health constabulary officers had not entered A Hampstead Heath bathing pond to try to save drowning teenager.

Moshe Yitzchok Greenfield, 19, a prominent rabbi’s son, began to struggle after going for a dip in the pond in north London on Wednesday, 15 April, the hottest day of the year so far, when temperatures in London hit 25C (77F).

[…]

James Eisen, a 43-year-old freelance journalist, told The Times: “I was walking past and I could see a lot of commotion going on over the far side of the pond. The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.

“There were police officers and paramedics and firefighters on the bank just standing there watching while the boys dived under. There were at least seven police officers on the side.

“It was a chaotic and surreal scene. I heard one of the boys shouting to one of the ambulance crews and asking how long someone could survive under water without breathing as they continued swimming around in a panic. I’m guessing the emergency services are told not to go into the water but if that’s the case they probably shouldn’t have let the boys carry on swimming about.”

If you want to know the sort of incentives that create such men of steel, look at the story of fireman Tam Brown, whose courage in risking his life to save a woman from drowning was rewarded with the threat of disciplinary action for “breaking procedure”, or at the three unarmed policemen similarly rebuked for daring to try and save William Pemberton’s life while their armed colleagues huddled outside waiting for orders.

Now, there are one or two caveats before we add Moshe Yitzchock Greenfield to the list that includes the Colly family who burned to death while police actively prevented attempts at rescue, Edward Paul Brown, a baby who died within minutes of birth in a hospital lavatory while nurses refused his mother’s pleas for help because they did not have the proper training, and Alison Hume, whom the Strathclyde Fire Brigade left dying for six hours at the bottom of a mineshaft because, after all, “the fire service was only obliged to save people from fires and road traffic accidents.”

The first caveat is this: Moshe Greenfield and his friends were swimming in an area marked as out of bounds to swimmers, and chose to go into the water after the lifeguard had left. That was irresponsible, though practically everyone can recall doing something equivalent at that age and coming to no harm.

The second caveat is this: as an official spokesman said, “The heath constabulary officers are here to enforce bylaws in the park — they are not trained lifeguards and the water is dangerous and very murky, so they are advised they are not to go in until proper assistance arrives.” He has a point, although it would be a stronger one if the heath constabulary officers actually had enforced the bylaw forbidding swimming. Perhaps our society would be better off if it were made completely clear that once you step outside the law, even a park by-law, you are on your own. The state washes its hands of you. I could go with that. A fine big notice board with shiny black letters saying “PAST THIS POINT WE WILL WATCH YOU DROWN” and helpful accounts of the last six people to whom this rule was applied; that would at least be fair warning. No longer would the citizen be treated as a spoilt child, emboldened to folly by the knowledge that the parental State would never let the worst happen.

That might be a better world than ours. But it is not ours. In general our government insists on rescuing people from their own folly. And what Hampstead Heath Park Constabulary actually provided was the worst of both worlds: officers who will act neither as police nor as parents.

By the way, it was not an act of courage beyond what can be asked of men to make some attempt at rescue. The “dangerous and very murky” waters” weren’t the North Atlantic. It was the pond in Hampstead Heath, for God’s sake. And some men – boys, really – did try. As the witness said, “The guy’s friends were going in and out of the water and holding their breath and diving under frantically.” It was just beyond what can be asked in these enlightened times of the men we pay, train and equip specifically to do that sort of thing.

The trouble with blogging for fourteen years is that one runs out of fresh clean ways to express foul things. I am adding very little to what I said in 2007:

Let me say (before someone says it for me) that I do not claim that I would have the courage to go into a house where a killer might lie in wait, or that I would have jumped in the bitter, fast flowing waters of the Tay to save some stupid woman who wanted to top herself. But such were the traditions that were honoured in the police and fire services. In fact, when I talk about “gutlessness” and “loss of nerve” here I am not talking about individual physical courage. Fireman Tam Brown showed great courage. At least three of the policemen in the Pemberton murders did as well and all of them showed more guts than I would. But institutional gutlessness surrounded them, was embarrassed by them, and will kill off their like eventually. Poisoned soil does not long give forth good fruit.

Come friendly economic collapse, fall on Twickenham

A couple of nights ago I went along to a local election hustings. This was a mistake.

The candidates from the mainstream parties seemed to be straight out of tranzi central casting – one of them, Vince Cable, is even a Cabinet Minister. To a man, woman, being of indeterminate sex they thought the EU and the UN were a good thing, that climate change was real and that Israel was to blame for the conflict in the Middle East. That last one brought the loudest cheer of the evening. One even claimed that Israel wasn’t a democracy. Two of them still managed to find merit in the Greenham Common protests.

I had been hoping for better from the UKIP guy. But no. Other than getting the UK out of the EU he was just the same even accepting climate change which he thought was due to overpopulation. This was especially disappointing given that his predecessor once stood on a manifesto calling for Britain to leave the EU and UN, and abolish the NHS and state education.

Just in case you were wondering, this nonsensical consensus (Mark Steyn uses the wonderful term “lunatic mainstream”) was not on display in a down-trodden, poverty-stricken part of the world where you might expect idiotic ideas to reign. It was in a prosperous, peaceful London suburb with a highly-educated population. Hey, it even has a phantom framer.

The economic collapse that at some point will engulf us all scares the living daylights out of me. But at the same time it seems to be the only way these delusional ideas are ever going to get swept away.

Sense on the BBC

After a televised pre-election debate between UK opposition party leaders, I watched a political magazine programme called This Week on BBC One. I was pleased to hear former Conservative minister Michael Portillo repeat and reinforce to BBC viewers what might have been the only sense to come from the debate:

The other thing that struck me about the debate was the unreality of it all. The first question was from a young person who said, “you’re passing this enormous burden of debt to the next generation”, and Nigel Farage, in his own way, addressed that question. The others just kind of ignored it and started promising how much more money they were going to spend.

And this idea that we’re living under austerity — it was Nigel Farage, actually, who made the point — that the national debt has doubled during this government. Each year the government spends on us £90 billion more than it raises from us and the rest is passed to the next generations to pay back.

And I think the reason Nigel Farage reacted in the way that he did to the audience, whether he was wise to do so or not, was that every time somebody talked about spending more money there were great cheers, and every time someone tried to talk about reality there was stony silence.

Yes, people seem very keen to vote themselves other people’s money.

A political challenge

From the Daily Mail:

Polish prince challenges Nigel Farage to a DUEL with swords over Ukip slurs on immigrants

And why not? Resort to the field of honour would be in accordance with prime ministerial precedent. Those were the days. The Sussex Advertiser of 23rd March 1829 blandly recorded, “His Grace was seen riding through the Horse-Guards at six o’clock on Saturday morning, and returned to Downing-street at eight.”

Samizdata quote of the day

On the NHS, that has gone far beyond a joke. It is not enough to value the idea of universal healthcare free at the point of use as a concept – one must “love the NHS”. Doctors and nurses are not doing their job in difficult circumstances – they’re fighting on the front line. Nobody wants to reform the NHS – Labour leader Ed Miliband wants to “rescue” it. The debate is uncritical, nostalgic, what The Economist called “ideological, ahistorical bunkum” – and nothing short of cowardly.

Andy Burnham, Labour’s Shadow Health Secretary, has warned that there are “24 hours to save the NHS” so often over the past five years that people are beginning to doubt his grasp of Babylonian concepts of time.

Andy Silvester

What a truly horrifying thought!

A overtly Marxist Guardianista wants to replace Jeremy Clarkson. The Horror. The Horror! You would think someone with a Russian name would know how well Marxism turned out the last time…

Samizdata quote of the day

In the late 1970s, the top rate of income tax in the UK was over 80 per cent and the top one per cent of income tax payers paid just 11 per cent of the total. Rates are dramatically lower today, and the one per cent paid 27.7 per cent of the 2011/12 total. The idea you get more money out of the rich by putting the screws on runs counter to the facts.

Marc Sidwell

By what reasonable definition are the Tories “conservatives”?

Yet again the utterly dismal David Cameron is being generous with other people’s money:

David Cameron’s plan to offer workers three days’ paid leave for volunteering has come under fire from the business world. The Prime Minister has pledged that if the Tories win the General Election up to 15m workers in the public and private sector will be able to take paid time off for volunteering. In the private sector, only companies with more than 250 employees will be subject to the scheme. Communities secretary Eric Pickles got a rough ride on the Today programme this morning as he struggled to explain who would bear the costs of the scheme and what level of compulsion would be involved.

Is Labour even worse that this dismal shower? Yes, without a doubt, but the only difference is how fast the state marches, not the direction in which it marches. I am old enough to remember when the Tories under Edward Health nationalised companies, so even historically it is hardly like comparing chalk and cheese. No wonder there is talk of making voting compulsory, given there is hardly any difference between the main parties.

The UK’s “non-domicile” tax regime and Labour’s desire to end it

The Labour Party has stirred up the usually rather complacent wealth management sector in the UK by vowing to end the so-called “non-dom” system under which a foreigner who wants to spend some time in the country can avoid paying tax on all his/her worldwide income and capitals gains so long as this money is kept outside the UK. If such a non-dom has lived in the country for seven years, they must pay an annual levy and depending on the duration, that annual levy is as high as £90,000. A study by University College, London, published in 2013, concluded that the system brought in more revenue for the UK than was being lost by the absence of such a system.

At face value, the non-dom system might look like a great deal for a person who is worth tens of billions of pounds, dollars or whatever and who “only” pays several thousands per year to live in the UK. But if such a person’s wealth has been largely generated outside the country and is kept outside it, what is unfair about this position? If Mr Stinking Rich brought those billions to the UK, he would have to pay a thudding great tax bill. Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, must know that, or if he doesn’t, he is being reckless. The whole idea that a person should pay tax to the country of his/her birth regardless of having not lived there for a period – as is the case with the odious worldwide US tax regime – cuts against the idea that one should pay taxes that focus on where you actually live.

Matthew Sinclair has a good piece here on the issue.

From a point of narrow party politics, I suppose Ed Miliband and his colleagues think they are being clever at playing the class war card and hope to trap opponents by having to defend the non-dom system. I notice that whenever a weapons-grade knob such as Miliband makes such a crowd-pleasing proposal, it is seen as a “trap” and that therefore the other side are told that it isn’t wise to oppose it. But this sort of cowardice-as-a-tactic approach merely favours the bully. A braver, and ultimately better, argument is to state that it is in the UK’s interest to encourage internationally-minded investors and entrepreneurs (so long as they are not criminals and jihadi nutcases) to come to the UK and enrich themselves and everyone else. To pander to the zero-sum, dog-in-the-manger mindset of Miliband and others is also foolish.

There is also a broader point to be made here: such attacks represent, at the margins, part of a rollback of globalisation, of the free movement of capital and people, a process from which London, as a global financial centre, has been a mighty beneficiary.

Far too many people in the banking and financial markets more broadly have fought shy of voicing their concerns about the demented nature of so much “banker-bashing” and attacks on inequality recently. Consider the respect granted to Thomas Piketty’s fatally flawed claims about inequality and his call for draconian taxes on capital. It is sometimes stated – I heard such a statement recently at a gathering – that “neo-liberals” (ie, classical liberals) have “won” the argument and that we now need to move on. How complacent that is. The arguments for freedom and capitalism are being lost in the UK, or at the very least, they aren’t being made very effectively.