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]

Learning patience from Jeremy Corbyn

I have always thought that we libertarians have a lot to learn from socialists. Not about what are true ideas. They can tell us very little about that, although the process of combating those ideas is very valuable. But about how to spread ideas – how to make ideas count for something – the socialists can tell us a great deal. Their success in spreading their own ideas is all the more impressive when you consider how very bad most of these ideas are.

We can learn, for instance, patience. This is from a piece in the Guardian a few days ago by Rafael Behr:

Whatever else Corbyn’s surprise ascent last year represents, it demonstrates the value of patience. It takes a particular temperament to plug away in apparently futile opposition, making pretty much the same speech to the same fringe meeting for 30 years, letting no belief be washed away by shifting political and economic tides, but instead sifting events for bits of evidence to support the unwavering faith. Not everyone who is cast on the wrong side of history sticks around, confident that history will swing by again in the opposite direction. Yes, Corbyn has been lucky, but fortune only furnished the battle. He gets the credit for winning.

And he is still winning. The tendency in Westminster is to measure success by the restless pulse of the news cycle and the temperature of public opinion. In those terms, Corbyn is not doing so well. It took the best part of a fortnight to conduct a shadow cabinet reshuffle from which the casual observer will have gleaned that Labour is in chaos, divided over nuclear defences with a new bias towards the view that Britain shouldn’t have any. By conventional measures this is bad, but the tradition from which Corbyn hails does not respect those conventions.

To sneer at 14 days of reshuffle-related mess is an error based on the Westminster canard that a week is a long time. Corbyn and friends come from a place where 14 years is a pause for breath; where 30 years of barren rhetoric can whizz by without frustration. Set that as the tempo of achievement and the appointment of an anti-Trident shadow defence secretary is a monumental triumph. Every day in the leader’s chair is more triumphant still if it stops the Labour party returning to what it was.

When libertarians have contrived serious victories, these are the sorts of ways we have done it. When we start winning bigger and more dramatic victories, these are the sorts of ways we will do it.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

Samizdata quote of the day

In a way, then, Palin’s speech was the perfect endorsement for Donald Trump’s campaign: an incoherent mess of angry, resentful sentiment, delivered in a way designed to provide the maximum in media spectacle. Palin effectively—and, okay, somewhat poetically—captured and amplified the identity-politics-driven nonsense that feeds both the candidate and his supporters.

Peter Suderman

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

A new ‘recruit’ to the Anti-Sex League

A man who has been acquitted of rape, after a retrial, (spot the insinuation) has made subject to an ‘interim sexual risk order’ by Magistrates in York.

It requires the man disclose any planned sexual activity to the police or face up to five years in prison.

The order – which was drawn up by magistrates in Northallerton, North Yorkshire, and extended in York – reads: “You must disclose the details of any female including her name, address and date of birth.
“You must do this at least 24 hours prior to any sexual activity taking place.”

A further court hearing in May will decide whether the interim order should be made into a full order, which has a minimum duration of two years and can last indefinitely. Sexual risk orders were introduced in England and Wales in March last year and can be applied to any individual who the police believe poses a risk of sexual harm, even if they have never been convicted of a crime. They are civil orders imposed by magistrates at the request of police.

This is an interim order, pending a full hearing, and the court’s power is wide:

(3)The court may, if it considers it just to do so, make an interim sexual risk order, prohibiting the defendant from doing anything described in the order.

The Full Monty, as it were, is below in section 122A of the Sexual Offences Act 2003, with a broad discretion for the order to be made. So now this chap must manage his affairs so that he pops down the police station, queues at the desk with the people reporting lost wallets etc. and then reports the details of his intended ‘conquest’ at least 24 hours before he gets frisky, sexual ‘activity’ not just intercourse, is covered. It is not clear what Plod will do in the meantime, but I expect that the lady concerned may face some questioning.

Well George Orwell’s Anti-Sex League appears to be taking shape here. Can anyone remember this being discussed by candidates at any General Election? Did the Stasi even dream of doing this sort of thing?

Sexual risk orders (England and Wales)

122A Sexual risk orders: applications, grounds and effect

(1) A chief officer of police or the Director General of the National Crime Agency (“the Director General”) may by complaint to a magistrates’ court apply for an order under this section (a “sexual risk order”) in respect of a person (“the defendant”) if it appears to the chief officer or the Director General that the following condition is met.
(2) The condition is that the defendant has, whether before or after the commencement of this Part, done an act of a sexual nature as a result of which there is reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary for a sexual risk order to be made.
(3)A chief officer of police may make an application under subsection (1) only in respect of a person—
(a)who resides in the chief officer’s police area, or
(b)who the chief officer believes is in that area or is intending to come to it.
(4)An application under subsection (1) may be made to any magistrates’ court acting for a local justice area that includes—
(a)any part of a relevant police area, or
(b)any place where it is alleged that the person acted in a way mentioned in subsection (2).

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

Samizdata quote of the day

America is truly the land of opportunity, even multimillionaire actors can be victims deserving special treatment.

A commenter called Joshinca, commenting on this post about the Oscars, by Roger Simon.

I know this might seem a bit contrarian-for-the-hell-of-it, and I might miss out, but these days a good rule of thumb for me is that if a film has won an Oscar, then there is a more than trivial possibility that it sucks in some way. They resemble Nobel Peace prizes, almost.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

Cheap 3D printing is getting better

I receive emails from Google about, among other things, 3D printing. These 3D printing emails link to pieces that mostly confirm my current prejudice about 3D printing, which is that it is an addition to the technological armoury of current manufacturers rather than any sort of domesticated challenge to the conventional idea of manufacturing being done by manufacturers. Far from making manufacturing less skilled, 3D printing is, as of now, making manufacturing more skilled. Which is good news for all rich countries whose economic edge is provided by being able to deploy an educated rather than merely industrious workforce.

Here is the kind of story that these emails link to:

my colleagues and I have found a way to print composite material by making a relatively simple addition to a cheap, off-the-shelf 3D printer. The breakthrough was based on the simple idea of printing using a liquid polymer mixed with millions of tiny fibres. This makes a readily printable material that can, for example, be pushed through a tiny nozzle into the desired location. The final object can then be printed layer by layer, as with many other 3D printing processes.

The big challenge was working out how to reassemble the tiny fibres into the carefully arranged patterns needed to generate the superior strength we expect from composites. The innovation we developed was to use ultrasonic waves to form the fibres into patterns within the polymer while it’s still in its liquid state.

The ultrasound effectively creates a patterned force field in the liquid plastic and the fibres move to and align with low pressure regions in the field called nodes. The fibres are then fixed in place using a tightly focused laser beam that cures (sets) the polymer. …

The patterned fibres can be thought of as a reinforcement network, just like the steel reinforcing bars that are routinely placed in concrete structures …

In earlier pieces I have done here about 3D printing, commenters have compared the current state of domestic 3D printing with the state that domestic 2D printing had reached in the days of the dot matrix printer. Remember those? Maybe not. They disappeared from common view quite a while ago now.

The above description of miniature reinforcing rods makes me think that something like a 3D printing analogue to the 2D domestic laser printer may be about to emerge. Laser printers supplied, once their price had fallen to something domestically tolerable, unprecedented clarity and flexibility to domestic computer users. The process described above, and all the other 3D printing advances that those google emails tell me about, will, if all develops well, supply unprecedented internal strength, and hence just all-round quality, to cheaply printed 3D objects.

None of which means that specialised 3D printing by specialisers in all the various different sorts of 3D printing that are now coming on stream will cease to be a way to make a living, any more than specialised 2D printing experts have all now been run out of business by amateurs in their homes. (Quite the opposite – that link being just one for-instance of a hundred that I might have picked – I just happen to have particularly noticed taxis covered in adverts.) It is merely that, in the not too distant future, domesticated 3D printing may actually become seriously useful to people other than hobbyists and 3D printing self-educators.

However, even as supply gets ever cleverer, when it comes to domestic 3D printing there remains the problem of demand. As I asked in this earlier posting here (commenter Shirley Knott agreed): What 3D printed objects will be demanded domestically in sufficient quantities, again and again with only superficial variations (in the way that black-on-white messages on paper are now demanded) to make domestic 3D printing make any sense? No answer was supplied in those comments three years ago, and I have heard no answer since. So the above ultrasound-arranged reinforcing rods trick will almost certainly turn into just another manufacturing technique for old-school manufacturers to apply to their old-school specialist manufacturing businesses. Which means that this posting becomes just another Samizdata Ain’t Capitalism Great? postings. Which is fine. On the other hand, few can see killer apps coming, until suddenly they come. So maybe a future beckons, which sees us all eating out, but making other, inedible stuff in our kitchens.

The reinforced concrete reference also makes me even more eager than I long have been to see how 3D printing impacts on the world of architecture, architecture being another enthusiasm of mine. Postings like this one at Dezeen make it clear that this is a question that lots of others are wondering about also.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

Samizdata quote of the day

I don’t need a special month or special channel. What’s sad is that these insidious things only keep us segregated and invoke false narratives.

Stacey Dash

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

I can’t get a bus!

Normally I would not bother to unpick the economic nonsense of Corbynista Owen Jones, but he has the sort of article up on the Guardian that passes for conventional thinking among a sizeable chunk of the population, so I am going to quickly have a pop at it:

Travel outside London….Britain’s deregulated bus system reveals itself as the source of widespread, justified disgruntlement – an overpriced, inefficient, poor-quality mess. According to a report to be published this week, since deregulation in 1986 – unleashed with the promise that “more people would travel” – bus trips in big cities outside London have collapsed from 2bn to 1bn a year. In London, on the other hand, where everything from how much we pay to which routes exist is decided by the mayor and Transport for London, bus use since the 1980s has gone in the opposite direction: from around 1bn to more than 2bn trips a year. Britain’s bus privatisation disaster is a story of profit before need, and a discomfiting tale for those who believe the private sector automatically trumps the public realm.

Jones doesn’t use the term, but he presumably thinks that the fact of there being far fewer bus services in the UK than a certain period in the past is a case of what economists call “market failure” – where there is a lot of supposed demand for X, but and under-supply of it, which needs to be fixed by, you guessed, the State (supported by the taxpayer, the very same people who are supposedly unable to pay for the under-supplied service). There are several issues here. First of all, services run by a municipality (ie, a monopoly with no competition) typically don’t lend themselves to good consumer service. Second, in a large metropolis such as London, where an organisation such as Transport for London runs things, there is still quite a lot of competition (cycling, walking, cars, etc) the abuse that any monopoly power has is constrained, although the situation is far from ideal. Funnily enough, the other day TFL, which had been lobbied by taxi drivers to go after Uber, seems to have decided against it, which is good news.

In the countryside, it may well be true that there are a dearth of buses. It may not be profitable to run them on certain routes, but is that an argument against private provision and for state control? In very sparsely populated parts of the country, it is a serious mis-allocation of scarce resources to provide such things when there are more urgent requirements instead for the resources in question. Second, if a person goes to live in the country, part of the pro/con of living in the back of beyond is that you don’t have lots of rapid-transit transport nearby. You may have to rely on having a car, driven by either you, or by a neighbour, partner, etc. That is part of the trade-off that comes from choosing to live in the sticks, rather than in the city. Why should those who have chosen the option to live in the country, or to stay there, be subsidised in transport terms by those who do not? In some cases, the persons paying for the subsidy will be far less well off than those taking advantage of it. That is the sort of regressive transfer of wealth that I assumed a lefty such as Jones would be against. This sort of issue also explains why, other things being equal, the cost of buying a home in central London is far higher than, say, the middle of Norfolk or Yorkshire.

Jones states that because, in his view, people “need” X that it is the responsibility, in the event of some alleged market failure, for the State to step in. But leaving aside whether the need is real or a figment of Jones’ socialist imagination, consider a basic example of a human need: food. Food is, despite some interventions and distortions created by the State, such as import tariffs and subsidies for farmers, largely handled in the private sector here. Ask yourself whether we would be better off in having food supplied by something such as Transport for London, or Sainsbury’s, Tesco’s or Asda. It does not even come close, does it?

 

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

In the interests of balance…..

The other day I linked to an item about Donald Trump’s economic illiteracy. Today, there is an item in the Daily Telegraph by Emma Barnett (whoever she is). She piles on Trump for the endorsement he has received from Sarah Palin. Her article is about how deranged most American voters, and by extension, much of the political class, are and is. But the article itself is an example of a different kind of stupidity, mixed up with a generous loading of condescension and superciliousness. And I just loved this about the approach Brits are supposed to take to what is going on Stateside:

If the US political stage were solely split between the reasonable wings of the Democrat Party, a socialist Bernie Sanders and hawkish Hillary Clinton, we’d probably be better able to relate.

So let me get this straight: the UK would be fine with an election between an economically illiterate fool (Sanders) and a probable criminal (Clinton). OK, we currently have an official opposition led by a terrorist-supporting sub-Marxist (Corbyn) and a government led by a patrician Tory of mixed accomplishments (Cameron), although “call me Dave” is probably not as venal, or as congenital a liar, as H. Clinton (we are talking in relative terms, in case people object that DC isn’t particularly honest). So yes, there is much about American politics that a lot of Brits, marinated in mixed economy juice and decades of socialism, cannot relate to, but please, don’t let’s assume that we’d all be quite content with a race between Sanders and Clinton for ultimate power any more than most Americans would.

Oh and by the way, if H Clinton is “hawkish”, I am not sure how that assessment fits with the running sore that is the siege on the Benghazi Embassy, and her behaviour over said.

 

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

Then consider your role in creating poverty

I read this

Pope tells Davos elite: Consider your role in creating poverty

…and my immediate response was “Fine, and then consider your role in creating poverty”. This economically illiterate collectivist favours precisely the sort of top-down state run economics that strangle innovation and distort markets to favour whoever can best manipulate the means of collective coercion.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

Samizdata quote of the day

I will admit to rather enjoying the sight of Donald Trump storming through the Republican race. It’s simply refreshing to see someone over turning the established and perhaps too measured way that politics has been approached recently. However, my enjoyment is as nothing to the perils of the economic policy which he’s just announced, which is that he’ll get Apple to start making “their damn computers” in America instead of in other countries. This is really not a sensible policy at all even though it accords with his other misunderstandings about trade. Because the net effect of such a policy would be to make America a poorer country. Something we’ve known since David Ricardo published in 1817. And, since making the country, or the people of the country, poorer is not at all the point nor purpose of having an economy, or even a public policy about the economy, this is something we really shouldn’t try to do.

Tim Worstall.

Of course, I suspect that Trump knows full well that protectionism is a lousy idea and harms those who advocate it. I am guessing that he doesn’t care.

National Review’s Kevin Williamson has a book on Trump that makes for sobering reading. If anyone thinks Trump is any kind of supporter for limited government conservatism, I have a beach resort in Leeds I’d like to sell you.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

German border controls – things ain’t what they used to be…the ‘Dodendraad’

Recent events in Germany may have led some to ask if Germany still controls its borders. Well of course the German Federation does, it had an entire Border Police Force, the Bundesgrenzschutz to do that, and it has quietly been building a Federal Police Force by merging the Railway Police with the Border Police. However, the German Federal State does not seem to regard border control as that much of a priority.

It wasn’t always thus for German governments, we all know about the Berlin Wall, or the ‘Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart‘, an example of German bureaucracy showing some resolve as to who crosses its borders. The Wall was of course, the weak point in the East German border, although technically it did not divide the Germanies, but the Allied Occupation Zones from the Soviet Zone and from the DDR, and for most of the time, there was no point fleeing to comradely Poland or brotherly Czechoslovakia, but that changed in the late 1980s. At the Berlin Wall, some 138 deaths have been recorded, there may have been many more.

But there was a more deadly border defence put in place by a German state, Imperial Germany, it was called the Dodendraad, a lethal electric fence, the implementation of which left, by one estimate, around 850 people killed, other reports say around 2,000 – 3,000 people were killed, including shootings etc. at the fence. You may well say ‘It doesn’t quite sound German‘, and you would be right. It wasn’t even ‘protecting’ Germany’s border, but someone else’s. The Dodendraad (Wire of Death) was put along the frontier between occupied Belgium and the Netherlands in the First World War, as a means of controlling movement over the frontier. A frontier that had two peoples with effectively one language joined by trade and family, and separated by murderous force. The Wire did not cover all of the Belgian/Dutch border, as the Kaiser did not violate Dutch neutrality by seeking to place it around Baarle-Hertog’s many borders with Baarle-Nassau.

The task facing the Imperial Army was demanding, there were no Belgian power stations to power the 2,000 Volt wires along the over 200 miles of the fence, as Belgium (we are told) had no power grid at that time.

Around the clock there was a guard every fifty up to one hundred and fifty metres. At nighttime the number of border guards was doubled, there were also more patrols. German soldiers were ordered to fire immediately after every unanswered warming. Yet they were not allowed to fire in the direction of The Netherlands. The soldiers walked from one switching cottage to the next one, returning when they met with a colleague halfways.

For the poor border Belgians, life was grim:

Placing the wire of death made it impossible to enter The Netherlands. Border traffic was reduced. For inhabitants of the border region this was a painful ordeal as their friends and relatives very often lived in both countries. All traffic to The Netherlands was forbidden or required a strict German control. Whether one could visit a relative or a friend on the other side of the border, depended on the arbitrary decision of the local commander who might – or might not – grant a written (and paid for) permit to leave the country for just a few hours or days. Belgians had to leave the country through a specific gate and had to enter again through the same gate, subject to scrutinous control and registration. If one failed to return in time from a visit to e.g. a sick relative, one simply risked having family members imprisoned or you were forced to pay a heavy fine.

So even before the Germans sent Lenin to Russia to found and then electrify the Soviet Union, they had built a model death strip that many a socialist thinking about the good old days of East Germany could have been proud of.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK

No need to cry over the disaster of the UK Labour Party today

Tim Montgomerie, over at the CapX site, writes about his fears of how the UK will fare longer term while the main opposition party, Labour, slides further and further into lunacy. That it is becoming more brutishly statist/mad isn’t in doubt. We have Jeremy Corbyn’s support for secondary picketing in union disputes with employers, calls by him for powers to ban firms from paying dividends if they are not deemed to pay staff enough, ending a nuclear deterrent – while keeping submarines (for what, deep-sea fishing?); potentially moving to give Argentina some sort of stake in the Falklands, talk of reaching out diplomatically to ISIS, “people’s quantitative easing”, and so on. It is a mixture so mad, so evidently mad to anyone with a basic understanding of state-craft and economics, that I remain convinced that Corbyn is not really interested in winning power soon, but is interested in discrediting the very tradition of parliamentary democracy by enabling the Tories to retain power for a long time and hence building up resentment about it. Maybe I am, however, assuming too much in the way of feral cunning on the part of Corbyn and his unlovely allies. Maybe these men and women are sincere, and just unbelievably thick.

Montgomerie’s point about the dangers of their being a miserable excuse for an opposition is true in a sense (competition is healthy) but it is worth noting that when, as in recent years, parties competed over who could provide the best sort of managerialist/half-capitalist/half statist arrangement, the quality of governance was not notably great, in my view. And consider this shocker of a paragraph from Montgomerie, who is, remember, a supposed Conservative:

I can think of many things that the Blair-Brown governments did that benefited Britain and which a Tory-led government would unlikely to have initiated (but has now embraced – and sometimes extended). The minimum wage. Free access to museums and galleries. The targeting of institutional racism in public bodies like the Metropolitan Police. The smoking ban in public places. The (near) abolition of hereditary peers. The establishment of the Department of International Development. Active measures to increase the diversity of parliament. A lower age of consent for gay men.

The minimum wage. This is an economically illiterate measure that to the extent it makes a difference, does so by raising unemployment, particularly among the young, unskilled and among minorities. True, the current Tory government has embraced the idea, but that was more out of low political calculation over trying to “shoot the Labour fox” than out of understanding of labour markets. Bad idea.

Free access to museums and galleries. I am a taxpayer  and pay for museums and galleries. Anyone who buys anything like a pint of beer or fills up a car with petrol pays taxes. Clue to Mr Montgomerie: these things aren’t free. Someone get this man an economic textbook.

The targeting of institutional racism in bodies like the Metropolitan police. “Institutional racism”: a sloppy term. Just because the share of police officers on the beat doesn’t match 100 per cent with the makeup of the population in area X does not, ipso facto, prove that there is racism around or that it was a decisive factor at work, absent other forces. And the same applies to arrest data – that X per cent of arrests in London are among young males from ethnic group X does not, of itself, prove there is a problem unless you could prove intent. To discriminate is to choose – which involves a conscious agent. A lot of nonsense gets committed by ignoring this basic point.

The smoking ban in public places. This was a draconian step that, while it is good for non-smokers such as me, is not so great if you value tolerance. Appallingly, it applies to spaces owned by private sector bodies, such as offices and pubs, where the decision should be down to the owners of said as much as possible. With publicly-funded bodies, the taxpayer rightly should have an important say in the matter. A genuine Conservative ought to be able to make that distinction, rather than support a blanket ban.

The (near) abolition of hereditary peers – well, if this system was to be replaced by one that meant the House of Lords remained a vigorous check on the Commons and prevented foolish, ill-drafted legislation getting through, that would be worthwhile. The jury is out.

The establishment of the Department of International Development – a body that takes taxpayer’s money to fund government-to-government aid. There is now quite a body of research proving that much state-backed of foreign aid is worthless, if not actively harmful, and far less effective than encouraging free trade and open access to markets so as to build self-reliance and foster growth. Also, there is the small matter of taxpayers having the right to decide what to do with their own money if possible, as the default position. (Which is what Conservatives are supposed to assume, right?)

Active measures to increase the diversity of parliament. Translation: more women and ethnic minorities. The composition of a political party should be down to the party and its members, rather than decided in any other way. By “active measures”, does Mr Montgomerie support coercive interference with how MP candidates are selected? I should hope not. Parties are voluntary bodies and paid for voluntarily, and should remain so and retain autonomy to select MPs how they like, whether it be for rational or daft reasons.

A lower age of consent for gay men. Sure, encouraging the notion of respecting relations between consenting adults is a good idea. Shame it is honoured so rarely by what passes for respectable opinion these days.

The current plight of the Labour Party is a source for some concern but unlike Montgomerie, I don’t feel particular sorrow over its demise. Labour has presided over a number of disasters in our history. To give some examples, its nationalisation of much of British industry post-1945, based on notions of state control and central planning, did immense harm, and the punishingly high income tax rates after the war, which the Tories did not really reverse until 1979, meant the UK had little in the way of a start-up, entrepreneurial culture for decades. There may have been some incremental good done along the way (some of the criminal law reforms in the 1960s were good) but by and large the achievements of Labour have been negative. If Corbyn finishes this lot off, I am not going to cry into my cornflakes. Sooner or later, the market for a moderate liberal/left, if it is big enough, will be filled.

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on LinkedInShare on TumblrShare on RedditShare on Google+Share on VK