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 risks we run

In all the talk and words about the UK Brexit vote last Thursday, a regular line is that the Leave side has been “misled”, and doesn’t know what it is doing, and it is going to have buyer’s remorse, etc, etc. Who knows, maybe that criticism is apt. However, it is a bit rich for those who, for example, favoured the creation of the European single currency, as many pro-Remainers did (they might hope we’d forget) to claim that those who wish to leave an entity with pretensions to be a superstate are not thinking of the risks. That is a bit rich.

The launch of the single currency is arguably one of the riskiest, most hubristic transnational projects of recent decades, and I still see very little sign of contrition for rolling out a new form of fiat money without creating the economic and political architecture to deal with life inside a one-size-fits-all interest rate.

One reason why remaining EU states are scared of what has happened is the fear that a eurozone member state, envious of how the UK has just voted, might have similar ideas.

Samizdata quote of the day

“England has saved herself by her exertions, and will, as I trust, save Europe by her example.”

William Pitt, the Younger

In partial defence of two Red Princes

Over the last two days two scions of notable political families have attracted controversy related to the referendum.

In a leaked telephone call, Will Straw, Remain campaign director and son of Jack Straw, said the following:

“We need to recognise that people have been pulled up short by Jo Cox’s death and it is now time to make a very positive case for why we want to be in the European Union… to call out the other side for what they have done to stir division and resentment in the UK. That is something we must all do… This is what we think is the closing argument of the campaign, reflecting all the arguments that we have been setting out for many months but also the new context that we’re in. What we want to say is people should vote Remain on Thursday for more jobs, lower prices, workers’ rights, stronger public services and a decent, tolerant United Kingdom.”

I see little to condemn there. He is a political campaign manager: deciding how to adapt his campaign message to best take advantage of recent events is what he is paid for. I do resent how the Remain side has smeared the Leavers as somehow responsible for the doings of a deranged neo-Nazi, but what was Straw meant to do, ignore it? Does anyone think his counterpart on the Leave side was not similarly briefing his team on how to minimize the fallout?

Stephen Kinnock MP, son of Neil Kinnock, has also been the subject of angry comment. At the ceremony – basically a secular memorial service – held in Parliament to honour Jo Cox he was one of very few MPs to depart from the consciously bipartisan tone. While wearing (unless my eyes deceive me) an “In” campaign badge, he said,

“I can only imagine Jo’s reaction had she seen the poster unveiled hours before her death – a poster on the streets of Britain that demonised hundreds of desperate refugees, including hungry terrified children fleeing from the terror of Isis and Russian bombs. She would have responded with outrage and a robust rejection of the calculated narrative of cynicism, division and despair that it represents.”

That catch in his voice was not faked. Jo Cox was his personal friend. It seems probable that she was murdered for political reasons. (The likelihood that the killer had mental problems makes that no less true.) It must have seemed urgent to speak for her when she could no longer speak for herself. He still should have stood firm against the temptation to make a political point at that time and place. To do so struck in its own way at the very thing he said he wanted to preserve: the sense across all parties that, as Jo Cox herself said, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”

Mr Kinnock’s speech did not play well among the Independent‘s commenters.

The one-world government logic of Remain

One of the arguments of those wishing the UK to stay in the European Union is that if the UK decides to leave, it will still need to accept most, if not all, EU laws if the UK wants to continue to trade and interact with this bloc. (This is the position, for example, of Norway and Switzerland, or so the Remainers say.) It is all about keeping British “influence”.

The Remainers often don’t appear to realise where the logic of their argument leads. Surely it leads to the case for World government. Let’s look Westward for a moment. Consider the recent example of how the US uses a “worldwide system” of tax. Any American living abroad has to file an annual return to the Internal Revenue Service. The US recently enacted a thumpingly controversial and intrusive piece of legislation called the Foreign Account Taxation Compliance Act, or FATCA. This means any foreign financial institution must take all necessary steps to establish whether a client is American or not or, if it interacts with the US. If no such steps are taken, the FFI must pay a 30 per cent withholding tax. It means that the IRS and other branches of US government have been able to enforce a massive piece of extra-territorial legislation on the rest of the world. Many Americans can’t get access to accounts when they live abroad. The situation is a shambles. Do I hear Remain-type people arguing that we should join the US in political union to try and sort this out and “influence” the US? Of course not. In another case, that of the football organisation FIFA, it was the use of dollar-based transactions by the alleged crooks at FIFA that led to the US Department of Justice, rather than the Swiss or others, sending in the investigators to Zurich. I haven’t heard of Swiss people arguing that Switzerland should become part of the US so that the Swiss can gain “influence” in Washington over such powers.

In other words, countries that have the economic muscle to create a situation where dealing with it entails certain extensions of judicial power can have influence way beyond their borders and aren’t likely to want to have that power diluted by sharing it with others. The US is, despite the best efforts of its political class, the world’s largest economy, and likely to remain so for a while. Ironically, the US hasn’t actually signed up to many of the very cross-border tax compliance moves that it insists upon when applied in other lands. Rank hypocrisy, you might say. But what this also reveals is that when you hear a lot of fine words about “gaining influence”, what it really boils down to is brute economic wealth and power. China, for example, owns a lot of US Treasury debt, as do a number of other Asian jurisdictions, and I suspect that explains why the US hasn’t launched many noisy campaigns about evil expat “tax evaders” in that region. This isn’t edifying, but that’s reality.

The “influence” that the UK may have in the corridors of Brussels comes, if it exists at all, from the relative prosperity and hence economic power of the UK, rather than on anything else.

In fact, to gain the “influence” that involves going along with the Brussels machine as the Remainers see it requires the UK to operate under the Qualified Majority Voting system of the EU. So, on key issues, such as a proposed EU transaction tax on banks, the UK is likely to be outvoted, suffering damage to a key industry (the City). The UK is most likely to object to EU directives where the UK sees a key interest at risk, and by definition, most likely to be in a minority when a QMV process occurs. The “influence” is diluted, often in ways that hurt real UK interests. QMV may seem to benefit the larger countries, but in certain respects it means that the UK can lose key votes on issues that really matter, such as to financial services.

Competition between jurisdictions, with freedom, crucially, of citizens to be able to migrate and with open capital flows, represents arguably the best check on power that we have. A looser Europe, enjoying free trade and free capital flows, but without such centralised political power, is arguably the best outcome from a liberal (in the right sense) use of the word. World government is a deluded dream, but I fear the Remain camp is not willing to face up to where the logic of its argument is leading.

Discussion point: would you miss it?

Donald Tusk: Brexit could destroy western political civilisation

You are not allowed to play our game, nyah, nyah, nyah

The Guardian is covering German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble’s interview comments that he will not let Britain play with him or his EU friends if it does not do what he wants.

Germany’s finance minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has slammed the door on Britain retaining access to the single market if it votes to the leave the European Union.

In an interview in a Brexit-themed issue of German weekly Der Spiegel, the influential veteran politician ruled out the possibility of the UK following a Swiss or Norwegian model where it could enjoy the benefits of the single market without being an EU member.

“That won’t work,” Schäuble told Der Spiegel. “It would require the country to abide by the rules of a club from which it currently wants to withdraw.

“If the majority in Britain opts for Brexit, that would be a decision against the single market. In is in. Out is out. One has to respect the sovereignty of the British people.”

I am left wondering what he means and why we should care. On what he means, the article does not help.

A lot of people seem to be under the impression that “trade deals” are somehow important. I am of the view that unilateral free trade is perfectly fine. If the German government wants to tax and bully Germans who want to buy things from people in Britain, that is very much the German people’s problem. It might mean that Germans buy fewer things from the UK, but does that really matter? Mainstream thinking seems to be that it will cost Jobs, but jobs are a cost. There is no shortage of work to do, so if British people spend less time and effort making things for Germans they will just have more time and effort left to make things for other British people, or people in other countries. Of course there will be some short term pain and turmoil as a result of changes, but that is true of all changes, so I think it is only necessary to consider the long term. And in the long term, as long as the British government allows us to buy things from Europe if we want to, everything will be fine.

George Osborne tweeted, “UK would have to accept free movement and pay in to EU to continue to access trade”, as if the EU would impose an embargo on us like the USA does Cuba.

Peter Mandelson said, “We cannot leave the club and continue to use its facilities.” What facilities specifically does he mean? There is an awful lot of vague language about. As far as I can tell we will still be able to visit France and bring back wine, even outside of the EU.

Matthew Elliot, formerly of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Big Brother Watch and now the Vote Leave Campaign Committee, said, “The eurozone economies are dependent on trade with the UK. We are the fifth largest economy in the world, while many of them are in a desperate state due to the failing single currency. There is no question about it, Britain will still have access to the single market after we vote leave. It would be perverse of the eurozone to try to create artificial barriers – and would do far more damage to them than to anyone else.” This sounds about right. But then he went on to talk about the ability to “forge trade deals” with emerging markets outside of the EU, which I still see as unnecessary.

People trade with people. Governments just decide whether to get in the way or not. At least for now, UK government people on both sides of the EU debate are talking about the importance of not getting in the way. So that is one good thing.

Wastage

A hundred years ago the British Army may not have been fighting a major battle on the Western Front but it was still taking casualties.

The Times 4 May 1916 p4

The Times 4 May 1916 p4

I make that 187 deaths. It represents the typical daily rate for the Western Front. How did these men die? Most would have been killed by shelling, or in trench raids or in machine-gun strafes while erecting barbed wire entanglements in no-man’s land. Others would have been killed by snipers. An unlucky few would have been killed in motor accidents or when shells exploded prematurely causing guns to explode or when grenades went off prematurely or in gas attacks or underground fights between tunnelers. Most of the Canadians would probably have been killed in German counter-attacks at St Eloi.

By the way, you will notice that some of the casualties are listed as suffering from shell shock. Obviously, this had become a recognised condition by this stage of the war and presumably didn’t incur the death penalty.

A slap in the face becomes a kick in the balls for the Education nomenklatura

A fresh instalment in the case of the man, the heroic Jon Platt, prosecuted for taking his chid out of school in term time for a holiday, but was acquitted by Magistrates. Scandalously, bureaucrats on the Isle of Wight appealed against the decision of the Magistrates to throw out the case, only to find that the High Court has found ‘no error of law’ in the Magistrates’ decision, so the acquittal remains. This has now blown back in the face of the bureaucrats, as this decision sets an unwelcome precedent with two High Court judges giving a ruling on the law, and meaning that for years, bureaucrats have harassed parents and got many to pay fixed-penalty notices on what was likely, in most cases, to be a wholly wrong interpretation of the law. As Mr Platt put it:

“Is there really 100,000 parents who are so criminally incompetent that it warrants dragging them to court?”

It appears that the scale of the problem is vast:

According to local authority data, almost 64,000 fines were imposed for unauthorised absences between September 2013 and August 2014.

And are the bureaucrats saying ‘Oh well, the law is the law, we must respect it’? If they are, I can’t hear them.

This is, of course, great news for parents in England and Wales who may now take their children on holiday in term-time without a realistic prospect of a prosecution. It also means that the old and absurd complaint about prices and supply-and-demand, ‘Oh look, holiday prices go up at half-term, how exploitative blah, blah, blah, regulate the holiday industry…‘ will be less easy for buffoons and villains to make out, and there will be a more economic use of resources in the holiday industry, taking use one more step away from the Stone Age.

What’s not to like when the light of freedom flickers more brightly?

Panama – it’s not just for the canal or the hats

What most of us would like is for the Government to spend less and leave us with more of our own money. If Messrs Cameron and Osborne now get caught up in a tidal wave of popular resentment against the avariciousness of the rich they will only have themselves to blame for playing footsie with the Left’s analysis that wealth creation is to be despised, inheritance is evil and judicious tax planning is immoral. Rather than mount a robust Tory defence of the virtues of material success backed by lower or flatter taxes and affordable public spending, they have burnished their so-called One Nation credentials to avoid being portrayed as out of touch, privileged and posh. There may well be activities exposed by the Panama Papers that will warrant criminal investigation. But this story has been hijacked by anti-capitalist campaigners who think all our earnings should be handed over to the state to be redistributed by Jeremy Corbyn and his followers. They simply cannot understand the aspirational instincts that drive most people, and they never will.

Philip Johnston, one of the many who are writing about the Panama Papers affair.

As an aside, one issue that hasn’t been directly faced in the commentaries is this: if it is appalling for journalists to hack phones and steal private, confidential data in pursuit of politicians, celebs, etc, why is it noble and good to do so when this involves leaking millions of account details, many of which are about people who haven’t committed any crimes? Ok, it is in the public interest, will be the retort. But who gets to decide this?

Britain leaving the EU will be disruptive: that is (mostly) good

In recent years it has become fashionable to hail changes and technologies that are “disruptive”. The example of Uber, the business that Brian Micklethwait of this parish and others have saluted, being a classic case in point. Of course, just because something is disruptive doesn’t make it good for the consumer. Blizzards and earthquakes are disruptive, for example. (Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur, has pointed out that disruption can be a painful, if not always desirable part of the process of reaching a destination, not the desired destination as such.) Even so, it seems to be highly fashionable to praise technologies if they are “disruptive”; in my daily work-related reading it is hard to avoid seeing this or that business model as “disruptive” with the strong implication that this is a Good Thing.

Ironically enough, however, one of the most disruptive events that may occur in the next few months is if British voters elect to leave the European Union. This will, so critics of such a “Brexit” claim, create uncertainty and be clearly a very disruptive event. All kinds of assumptions of how things are will be turned upside down. My goodness, we poor little moppets might have to learn about how to negotiate trade deals, repeal, replace or cut down on legislation, or have to recalibrate our relations with other nations. There will be a lot of disruption.

And yet apart from a few isolated examples, I see few signs of the pro-Brexit camp saying that this disruption will be a positive good thing; if anything, I sense they want to play this down, although senior Telegraph journalist Allister Heath has argued that the shock effect of Brexit will be positive for the rest of the EU (such an argument is likely to be lost on the existing EU elites barely able to conceive of life outside the comforting embrace of what they have known). It would be good if the pro-Brexit campaigners could argue two things: 1, that Brexit will be disruptive and interfere with the tranquil world of certain people, and 2, that this disruption is good, healthy, necessary and likely to trigger a run of reforms and changes that otherwise are unlikely to happen.

 

 

Libertarian Home video talks summarised

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

Samizdata quote of the day

Why I’m an engineer: I decided long long ago that I wanted to avoid any field where the measure of success was a subjective judgement by some authority.

– Samizdata commenter ams, explaining why I am happy I became an engineer (of sorts) even if I was not consciously doing it for that reason at the time.