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

Another fail by Obama

With the TTIP, the EU and US set out trying to construct a slightly watered down version of the single market – in which corporations would be able to use the courts to force governments to open up their public services to foreign providers. It was doomed to collapse because there is such an obvious asymmetry between the US and the EU on this. The US already has high involvement of private companies in the provision of public services. As for those where the state does still retain a monopoly – like defence – there is no way US courts are going to allow, say, French missile manufacturers to supply weapons. It will be ruled out on grounds of national security.

Europe, by contrast, has a relatively high degree of state involvement in the economy, giving plenty of juicy opportunities for US firms – and plenty of reason for left wing parties in France and Germany to oppose TTIP. Britain may now be at the back of Barack Obama’s queue – though what relevance that has given that it will soon be where we stand in Hilary Clinton’s or Donald Trump’s queue that matters. But my money would be on post-Brexit Britain sewing up a trade deal with the US before the EU has managed it.

Ross Clark, having fun at the expense of Barack Obama, whose comment earlier this year that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” in trade deals with Washington if it had the temerity to quit the European Union has, along with so many others, backfired.

We are often told that President Obama was going to bring us an era of smart diplomacy, unlike that that moron Bush, etc, etc. The gap between the promise, and the reality, is wider than ever.

The Eurocrats were nothing if not predicted

I found this post from eleven years ago while hunting around the internet for something else. It is quite strange to read it now. The author may have been on to something:

As several people have predicted would be the case, many of the EU’s ‘great and good’ are just continuing with the Great European Integration project as if the French and Dutch NO votes never happened. But it does seem that the shock to the system those votes administered to the torpid media has indeed woken up a few people. It seems that the insects have not noticed that someone has picked up the rock they were under.

Have they noticed even now?

Patrik Schumacher – architect and libertarian

One of my daily internet visits is to a site called Dezeen. Here I learn about lots that bores me, involving designers making small buildings shaped like boxes rather than ornamented, and about lots that interests me, including such things as much bigger and (to me) much more interesting buildings that are being dreamed of, built and celebrated.

On the matter of Brexit, Dezeen reported that the the overwhelming majority of “creatives”, in London and in the world generally, favoured and still favour Remain. These creatives were very angry when they learned that a majority of British voters did not share their views.

But Dezeen also had a recent link to a creative who sings a very different sort of ideological song to that sung by most of the kind of creatives whose work and opinions Dezeen reports on. I give you Patrik Schumacher:


Patrik Schumacher has written an opinion piece for Archinect, with these words at the top of it:

Brexit: a chance to roll back the interventionist state and unleash entrepreneurial creativity …

I have very little in common with the arguments of the Leave Campaign, and in particular reject the anti-immigration thrust of the Campaign. However, I welcome Brexit as offering an enhanced ability and chance to experiment with new policies that dare more economic freedom.

Later on in the piece, we read stuff like this:

I am convinced that the next prosperity potentials of our civilisation can only be explored and discovered if the straight jacket of the nanny state is gradually loosened and dismantled. (The bigger the scale of a country or block, the easier it becomes for the state to expand its scope. That’s why I favour small countries: they must keep their state action small in scope and cannot afford to erect trade barriers or impose heavy tax and regulatory burdens.) It’s time to roll back the state and for us to take the risk of giving more freedom and self-responsibility to us all, unleashing entrepreneurial creativity, organisational experimentation as well as individual aspiration and empowerment.

It’s those particular sorts of libertarian phraseology that I find so intriguing. “Roll back” the “interventionist state”. “Unleash entrepreneurial creativity”. “Nanny state”. “Heavy tax and regulatory burdens”. Above all the simple: “Economic freedom”. This guy is one of us. There really can be no doubt about it. He has been reading the same kind of stuff that Samizdata readers have read, in among training to be an architect and then working as an architect. Any libertarians who doubt the ability of libertarian ideas to spread beyond the confines of mere libertarians should read this piece, and rejoice.

Patrik Schumacher works for Zaha Hadid architects. The recently deceased Zaha Hadid was rumoured to be a very “difficult” woman to work for. Bossy. Opinionated. Highly individual in her behaviour and in her designs. I don’t know much about Hadid other than noticing when she recently died (at far too young an age for an architect). But if Patrik Schumacher was the sort of man she hired to do her bidding, I am starting to suspect that she too may have been some sort of libertarian, maybe in the closet, but maybe of the in-your-face variety.

There’s lots more I could say about this, but my basic point is: how interesting, and how encouraging.

Samizdata quote of the day

First, Brexit means Brexit. The campaign was fought, the vote was held, turnout was high, and the public gave their verdict. There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the backdoor, and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and it is the duty of the government and Parliament to make sure we do just that.

Theresa May

May is currently the front-runner to be the next Prime Minister.

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.

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.



One way to be a media celeb is to be a lousy finance minister

This item at the EconLog blog caught my eye. It has the ring of truth about it:

And yet, good for him, this is exactly the outcome of his short time in Greek government. As a Minister, he has nothing to exhibit as success. But an intense countenance, an elaborately casual look, and his colourful prose makes him a perfect fit for the world of celebrities. I suppose this is another proof of the immense powers of “commodification” of global capitalism.

The author, Alberto Mingardi, is writing about the “cool dude” Greek finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis. The man’s rather strained form of Marxism will, so the author of the piece, hurt him not at all because his targets are, for different reasons, ones that aren’t particularly sympathetic, such as the German government, and Brussels.

The point, though, its that being a failed socialist finance minister isn’t enough to get that sort of media celeb status without other ingredients. After all, there are quite a few of such people and in some cases, such as former UK chancellor Gordon Brown, he is about as trendy as flared jeans; he has all the media appeal of steel reinforced concrete. The Greek chap has the looks and demeanour of an outsider, even if, in reality, he is as much a part of the Big Government class as the rest of them. He understood that people fall for all this bollocks about wearing leather jackets, riding a motorbike and not appearing to be A Suit.

And back in the UK, assuming that Jeremy Corbyn (not exactly the sort of name one associates with horny-handed coal miners or ship-builders) becomes leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition, and leads Labour into the sort of disaster widely foretold, he has a career as a media celeb sorted: the ageing geography-teacher schtick with the beard, loose jackets and references to Tony Benn.