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]

Memo to Tories: don’t tell Labour’s lies for them

“It may take a lot of defeats for conservatives to work out that providing a pale imitation of the other guy’s manifesto is not a route to electoral success.”

Fredrik Erixon, Swedish economist

There is a worse error still: pretending you did what you promised in your own manifesto when you didn’t. Gordon Brown’s Big Blowout was a fitting end to 13 years when Labour spent like there was no tomorrow. Today is the tomorrow Labour spent like there wasn’t. The coalition won 60% of Britain’s votes in 2010 by promising to remedy that – and the Tories still say they did, they are and they will. Can anyone count on their fingers how many pounds of debt have been paid off? (What do you mean, you don’t have a negative number of fingers !) They paid off nothing. They even increased the debt. The increase was nothing compared to Gordon Brown, of course – and nothing is something when compared to Gordon Brown, who in turn compares well to Jeremy Corbyn – but not one pound was paid off.

The UK is like a couch potato, so ashamed of a spectacular blow-out that he tweets all his friends he’s switching over to the DASH diet and gym workouts. He doesn’t actually do it – he keeps lazing on the couch, eating at the rate to which he has now become accustomed, and each month the old bill for that huge takeaway binge has only its interest paid on his credit card statement – but he’s been tweeting so much that his even fatter friends now reply, “Hey, you deserve a break after all this! Come and join us for another big blow-out.” Now he is trapped by his own lies.

For seven years, austerity has been talked about. It suited Labour, it suited the media – and it suited the Tories to pretend they were doing some. Now the Tory party is caught in its own lies.  Surely, after all this austerity, Britain could afford another night out with Labour.

Back in the ’80s, under the austere Margaret Thatcher, interns and electives loved working in A&E – and patients did not wait so long to be seen. The reasons they don’t love it today have nothing to do with austerity – quite the opposite – but how would you know if you listened to the public debate on it? Likewise, many a green is justly called a watermelon: green on the outside, red on the inside. Grenfell tower was made green on the outside and was red that night: red is the colour of fire and of blood. How many would be alive today if the £9 million it cost to clad it had been austerely withheld?

I very sincerely hope it will not take the next Tory leader an actual electoral defeat to work all this out.

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Samizdata quote of the day

As I pointed out two decades ago, the Serious Fraud Office’s primary weapons, common law conspiracy to defraud, and the second limb of false accounting, if construed as the courts appear to understand them and universally applied would make all commerce impossible. It is an early example of the modern trend in antijurisprudence whereby everything is illegal just in case and ‘the proper authorities’ are trusted to pick on Bad People.

– Guy Herbert

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Why you should support the “And A Pony” Party

I am writing today to solicit your support in favor of the “And A Pony” Party, the only party that truly cares.

Other parties advocate minimum wage laws, but only the AAPP advocates raising the minimum wage to $175 per hour and giving all workers a pony. (We ask why our political opponents lack the courage to stand up for our working people.)

Other parties favor preserving old-age pensions, but only the AAPP proposes tripling all old-age pensions annually and giving every retiree a pony. Why do our opponents fail to support our position? It can only mean that they hate the elderly, don’t want them to live well in their golden years, and wish to deny them the companionship that only a pony can provide.

Other parties propose providing all citizens with health care paid for by someone other than themselves, but only the AAPP proposes giving all citizens free health care, weekly massage and spa treatments, and a pony. Our opponents clearly do not care sufficiently about the well-being of all our nation’s citizens, and refuse to join us in this call.

Other parties propose spending more money on education, but only the “And A Pony” Party is bold enough to insist upon reducing class size to one half (that is, two qualified and state licensed teachers per student) and providing a pony for every child in school. Surely every child will learn better if provided with two full time teachers, and what could be more important than educating our youth? We call on our political opponents, who do not seem to care about our children as much as we do, to stand aside in favor of those who truly are concerned for their future.

Other parties would like to reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil, but only the “And A Pony” Party proposes to provide every family, completely free of charge, with as much electricity as they could ever use, generated entirely by clean technologies, and a pony, too. Our opponents, who are in the pockets of big energy and the anti-pony lobby, would have us continue to enrich the fat cats forever, and would deny families vitally needed ponies.

Other parties believe the government should reduce unemployment, but only the AAPP proposes to give a good, high paying job to every worker who wants one no matter what their skill level or age, and a pony. Would our opponents give every worker a good, high paying job? They have been in power for decades, and yet they have not delivered for our people. It is time for a change!

Other parties pretend that they want to do something about the growing problem of hunger in our country, but only the AAPP promises to provide every creature with a functioning digestive tract within the bounds of our nation’s borders as much free, nutritious and well prepared food as they can possibly eat, as well as a pony. (The astute will note that we are therefore promising to give every pony a pony. This is correct. You will note that the other political parties do not promise to give every pony a pony, let alone provide free meals to all ponies, thus demonstrating that they are indifferent to the suffering of our nation’s noble equines. Indeed, it appears they do not care about the hungry at all!)

Other parties pretend to care about the plight of the homeless and advocate for more public housing, but only the “And A Pony” Party would give every citizen, living or dead, an eight bedroom mansion complete with a fully heated swimming pool, a tennis court, and a stable with a pony in it. Our heartless opponents pass the indigent begging for scraps on the street every day and cannot find even a trace of kindness in their hearts for their plight, let alone work, as we will, to assure that every citizen gets a mansion and a pony.

In the next election, you face an important choice. If you truly care about the future of your nation — if you truly want to see our people live the lives of prosperity, happiness and pony ownership that they deserve — there is only one possible party you can vote for: the “And A Pony” Party. I sincerely hope, for the sake of our country, that you support us in our quest to help our children, the homeless, the hungry, the sick, the old, and the poor.

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Harry Potter and the Ignorance of Ignorance

Many will know Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy, a fun essay by Benjamin Barton on episodes in the books that insinuate scepticism about government (and about mainstream media, though this is less the essay’s theme). In the Potter books (and even in ‘A Casual Vacancy’, which is a bad book written by a good writer), J.K.Rowling (sometimes wittingly, sometimes quite unwittingly, I think) teaches lessons that are indirectly unhelpful to those who love statism. Telling an 18-year-old, “You realise Corbyn’s Bureaucracy will be every bit as efficient, as fair and as restrained as the Ministry of Magic”, can be a more useful start to a conversation than mentioning Stalin or Venezuela. (Not that you’ll get any agreement from Rowling herself on that – but my post “Harry Potter and the Silly Tweets” must wait till another day. 🙂 )

When “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” came out in 2003, at the height of the protests against attacking Iraq and the war on terror, the PC brigade went off her for a while.  The book’s picture of a hidden evil leader inspiring hideous acts of terrorism, while politicians and the media corruptly downplayed the danger, didn’t quite suit them. Of course, she had planned that plot in the mid-90s as a natural part of the series’ architecture – its appearance in 2003 was coincidental – but the essay has a point.

However right in the middle of his argument, Benjamin shows that he is an American – that the everyday experience of growing up as a child in Britain, with UK politics as a “noises off” background one gradually starts to notice, is one he has not had – and does not suspect that he needed. To him, it seems obvious that the politics of the Magical world are not democratic:

Defenders of bureaucracy argue that democracy justifies bureaucracy as a result of deliberation and public buy-in. Rowling strips the Ministry of Magic of even this most basic justification, as Fudge is replaced by Scrimgeour as the Minister of Magic with no mention of an election. To the contrary, Rowling uses the passive voice of the verb “to sack” repeatedly to describe Fudge’s fate. … It is unclear who appoints the Minister of Magic, but perhaps the elites.

Benjamin is arguing logically from his US experience: presidents are elected and are never just ‘sacked’. But the British reader instantly recognises that Benjamin is arguing from an ignorance of UK experience. Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister without an election. An election has now been held and Theresa May is still prime minister, but had she not accepted her inevitable future by promising her party to “serve as long as you wish me to”, she might already have been sacked. She will cease being prime minister before the next election – probably long before. British children and teenagers, the book’s protagonists, grow up knowing that there are elections from time to time, and that the head of government changes from time to time, and that the two are related, but often only indirectly. They also see that Fudge talks like a politician in Britain – like a man with an electorate to worry about, a man who has to care about whether it ‘looks like’ he’s doing the right thing for the magical community.

So, transatlantic commenters, what things about the US do I not know that I do not know? And have I any company in my ignorant ignorance? Have you met an ignorance more ignorant, and more ignorant of it, than mine?

I appreciate it’s a hard question:

Bernard: “What is it that the prime minister does not know?”

Sir Humphrey: “How can I tell you what the prime minister doesn’t know? It could be almost anything!”

(From ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, episode 6, quoted from memory)

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Some observations about death and dying

Someone close to me died recently. Here are a few of the things I learnt:

  1. Diagnosis is far worse than death.

  2. Sort out your will. Also: sort out a lasting power of attorney, a potted biography, who is going to do the eulogy and what music, hymns and readings you want at your funeral.

  3. Dying people like visitors.

  4. You can’t be sad all the time.

  5. Not everyone wants to die at home.

  6. While this is not the occasion to indulge in NHS bashing, let us say it did not exactly cover itself in glory. Honourable exception: district nurses.

  7. Downturns can happen very quickly.

  8. It sounds obvious, but medical professionals have to be, well, professional. They cannot afford to get emotionally involved. This means that sometimes you don’t pick up on the gravity of the situation.

  9. Pain control is not as simple as you might think.

  10. Brace yourself when you hear the word “Midazolam”.

  11. Most people don’t get a chance to utter dying words. And they’re probably not that profound anyway.

  12. If death is swift, if there is time to talk, if caring is not a burden, if there was nothing anyone could have done, then you are lucky. You won’t think it of course.

  13. A lot of the stress and exhaustion comes from not knowing what you’re doing. Give yourself a break. You’re probably doing much better than you think.

  14. The dead look quite different from the living and the change takes place instantaneously.

  15. If you can, try to close their eyes and mouth.

  16. Some of you may be thinking that if someone is dying it would be a hoot to borrow their car and drive like a loon safe in the knowledge that the points would end up on their licence. This would be illegal. And very, very naughty.

  17. When someone dies there is so much to do you don’t have time to grieve.

  18. Everyone wants a death certificate. Everyone.

  19. You can talk to the grieving but steer clear of jokes or flippancy.

  20. Undertakers are useful. There is a lot that goes into a funeral.

  21. I am glad I went to the Chapel of Rest. I have no idea why.

  22. Pallbearers can be hard to find in England.

  23. It’s the day after the funeral that really hurts.

  24. Most of the deceased’s things will end up in the bin.

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Samizdata quote of the day

Double-standards – more double-standards: do you remember Stephen Fry and a whole bunch of others railing about the winter Olympics being held in Sochi, in Russia, because of Vladimir Putin’s supposed homophobia? I’ve never taken much of an interest in the Winter Olympics, nor has most of Britain actually, it’s not a hugely popular event. And at the very moment he was ranting about Russia, the cricket world cup, a game we do play a lot of, was getting under way in Bangladesh, where the penalty for same-sex relationships is life imprisonment. In Russia, it’s legal.

The Bangladesh escape censure because it’s an Islamic country, and the lefties never wish to be nasty about Islamic countries. More recently, you will have heard them all screeching about the horrible Democratic Unionist Party and their homophobia and how utterly ghastly they are. But again they make no comment whatsoever about the approach to homosexuality in the Islamic world and within the Muslim communities. That is never mentioned.

Rod Liddle

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1917: Britain alone (sort of)

In an earlier post I said that things were looking good for the Allies in late 1916. In essence, they were getting stronger and their enemies were getting weaker. In early 1917, things got even better. America joined the war while Russia became a republic with a democratic constitution. What could possibly go wrong?

Well, as we know, lots did. First, while America may have been a rich country with a large population it suffered from exactly the same problems as Britain did in 1914. Its army was small and not prepared for war against similarly-armed opponents. It would take time to become effective and it’s debatable whether it ever really did.

Second, the French launched the ill-fated Nivelle Offensive. Although it was far from a total failure, Nivelle had made extraordinary claims for it. When the hopes founded on these claims were dashed French morale collapsed. What happened to the French army at this time is still shrouded in mystery. The rumour is that far more French soldiers ended up getting shot for mutiny than was admitted at the time or even subsequently. It’s possible we’ll get to find out a little more this year when a few more of the archives are opened.

One of the odd things was how this affected Haig’s standing. In February, there had been an attempt to subordinate him to the French High Command. By May, the French government was asking his opinion on who should head that High Command. He didn’t give it.

Third, the February Revolution failed to stick. The Russian army had ceased to be an effective fighting force well before the Bolshevik take over in November.

So by late summer 1917 Britain’s only effective ally was Italy. While I am tempted to crack jokes Italian “effectiveness” the truth is that I don’t know enough about Italy’s contribution in the war to comment with any great authority. And, anyway, after the defeat at Caporetto, in November, they were in much the same position as the French.

Worse still, in February, the Germans launched unrestricted submarine warfare. This sent shock waves through the British high command. At one point, Jellicoe, the First Sea Lord, claimed that Britain had only a matter of months left before its food supplies ran out. The only thing that could save it was the British army capturing the Channel ports where most submarines were based.

This is the context in which Passchendaele – or the Third Battle of Ypres as it was officially known – was fought.

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The delusion that things can’t get any worse

That’s it really. You probably know exactly what I am thinking. So get commenting.

My thoughts along these lines were provoked by a comment on this piece in The Sun by Iain Martin, who is prophesying Corbynite doom, in the event of a Corbynite victory.

The comment, in response to what Martin and the first few commenters all say, went thus:

But standards of living are falling and poverty is increasing while those that rule over us get richer and this is happening under a Tory government, so how is this any better than the nightmare scenario that you portray. Truth is that any system that leads to the politicians thinking that the rule over us rather than govern on our behalf is flawed.

Some systems, however, are more flawed than others.

Sliding down a hill is very troubling, but the idea that jumping off a cliff is the answer is crazy. Unless, and this is my real fear, enough British voters are now so angry at the world and the way it is treating them that they are willing totally to ruin their own lives in order to at least knock a little of the stuffing out of the bastards who are doing this to them. Wreck the country would it? Boo hoo. That’s not a bug, that’s a feature. The fucking country fucking deserves to be fucking wrecked. The vote as suicide bomb, you might say.

This, I believe, was the psychological fuel behind a significant chunk of the Brexit vote, and if anything could make me regret voting Brexit myself, it is the knowledge that if we get Brexit and then full-on, in-our-faces Corbynism, we really will be in a bad way, every bit as bad as the Remainers have been saying.

The result of the recent British general election was very bad. But it did, perhaps, have this mitigating feature, that it created a country full of people who are seriously scared of Corbynism (that being a link to another piece of writing very similar to Martin’s), before Corbynism has actually struck, and who are able and willing to get their act together to stop such a national catastrophe.

It may be that the electoral rise of Corbyn will, for him and for his cadre of demented followers, turn out to have been premature. From the point of view of the socialists-that-really-mean-it, the time for a country to be realising for the first time what a catastrophe socialism-that-really-means-it would be, needs to be after the socialists-that-really-mean-it have seized command, and when, from the point of view of all those of us who would prefer to live in a half decent country, it’s too late.

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A thought experiment on how private road owners would deal with the threat of terrorism

When dealing with complex political issues I often find it useful to ask myself what would happen in the absence of the state. This is not because I think that the glorious libertarian revolution is just around the corner but because such an exercise can at least give us some clues as to what the state should be doing in the here and now.

So, what do I mean by private roads?
Roads where the owners may decide who uses them, under what circumstances and have the means to enforce their decisions. The type of ownership could include purely commercial enterprises – out for a profit, individually-owned roads and – what I think will be the most common form – club-owned roads.

A lot would depend on people’s propensity to tolerate acts of terrorism. My guess is that this would be pretty low but I could be wrong. But that’s the great thing about the free market: it is a wonderful way of finding out what people really want. If the propensity is high then I would guess the outcome would be very similar to what we have now. Terrorism would simply be something that people would have to get used to. But let’s assume that the propensity is low. A commercial road owner would therefore have a very strong incentive to prevent terrorism.

Why?
Because, if a competitor was better at preventing terrorism then more people will want to use his roads.

But what of a road owned by a club?
This is an important example if I am right that most private roads would be in this form. The governance rules might be in the form of one frontage one vote. But it may be that the number of votes is proportional to the fees charged.

Now a road club will not have the same incentives as a commercial road – they would not exist to make money. But they would have incentives enough. The principal one would be that their members would want to preserve the value of their properties and one factor in that would be how likely it was that their properties became subject to terrorism.

Individual road owners, we can assume, would be in much the same position as clubs.

So, assuming there are strong incentives to prevent terrorism how would road owners go about it?
Obviously they would want to stop the terrorists. But they would also want to make it as easy as possible for non-terrorists to go about their business. And they would want to keep the costs down.

A key moment is what happens when someone enters the road – or road network – from one of the inevitably large number of frontages. You could have a guard on every frontage searching every person entering the road. However, this would be expensive. Not only that but it would be unlikely to be effective. Guards would get bored and become inattentive and would themselves become likely targets.

Another approach might be to deny access to anyone suspected of being an active terrorist. But this is fraught with difficulty. How would you know who is who?

Far simpler and more effective would be to ban anyone harbouring any terrorist sympathies whatsoever. Effective terrorist campaigns can always rely on a sea of sympathisers who are not themselves terrorists to aid and abet those who are. These sympathisers are usually easy to identify. Exceptions might be granted for children and members of the older generation. Or maybe there would be a system of vouching for people, guarantees of good behaviour or even the taking of hostages. The chances are that if private roads came about tomorrow terrorist sympathisers would wake up to find their properties surrounded by barbed wire.

The next issue would be those seeking entry from another road i.e. a road owned by another entity. What you would probably see is a system of guarantees. One road owner would guarantee the non-terrorist nature of their road users to other road owners. Obviously, there would be some fairly hefty compensation should one road owner’s users engage in acts of terrorism on another road owner’s territory. That would mean that road owners would be very careful who they let out.

There is a precedent for this – sort of. Those familiar with the movie The Day of the Jackal will recall that the idea that they might be letting a terrorist loose on foreign soil scared the living daylights out of the British government.

So, what would happen to the terrorist sympathisers?
It is difficult to see how terrorist sympathisers would be allowed to use non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. They would therefore only be allowed to use terrorist-sympathiser roads. As terrorist sympathisers tend to be poor and geographically concentrated, they would have an immediate problem over what to do for an income especially in the absence of a welfare state. Faced with poverty some would choose to leave for terrorist-sympathiser majority countries while others would choose to change their beliefs. Of course, there is the issue as to whether such conversions would be genuine. I have no answer to this.

But what if the terrorists engaged in acts of terrorism from their own roads?
They could for instance mortar bomb non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. My guess is that they would get mortar-bombed back. Just to greater effect.

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Samizdata quote of the day

Free-marketeers, even at the more purist end of the spectrum, usually accept imperfect approximations of their ideals. (I have met exceptions to this, but not many.) We are comfortable embracing second-best, even third-best and fourth-best solutions. Browse through the IEA’s publications section, and you will find IEA authors endorsing the Chilean pension system, the Swiss healthcare system, the Icelandic system of tradable fishing quotas, Sweden’s approach to labour migration, and many other such examples. None of these endorsements come without qualifications: the authors are saying “This is not real X. Real X has never been tried”. But unlike socialists, they can identify X-approximations that they consider quite good.

That is because free-marketeers generally believe in a positive dose-response relationship. A little bit of liberalisation does a little bit of good (think of the difference between Mao’s China and Deng Xiaoping’s China), quite a bit of liberalisation does quite a bit of good (think Chile before and after the Chicago Boys), and a lot of liberalisation does a lot of good (think Hong Kong and Singapore). That’s an oversimplification. There are reform bottlenecks: When an economy gets the basics wrong (the rule of law, independent courts, enforceable contracts and property rights etc), measures like trade liberalisations or privatisations count for little. Also, most free-marketeers accept some role for the state, so they do not strive for absolute purity.

Kristian Niemietz

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Samizdata quote of the day

Socialism is tribal economics.

Guy Herbert

(These four words suddenly clarified something I’ve been trying to explain for years with mixed success.)

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Samizdata quote of the day

I was speaking with a friend the other night, and I made the point that the meta-narrative of the 2016 election is learned helplessness as a political value.  We’re no longer a country that believes in human agency, and as a formerly poor person, I find it incredibly insulting.  To hear Trump or Clinton talk about the poor, one would draw the conclusion that they have no power to affect their own lives.  Things have been done to them, from bad trade deals to Chinese labor competition, and they need help.  And without that help, they’re doomed to lives of misery they didn’t choose.  

Rod Dreher . He is quoting JD Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture In Crisis

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