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]

LSE report on ID cards

The likely cost of rolling out the UK government’s current high-tech identity cards scheme will be £10.6 billion on the ‘low cost’ estimate of researchers at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), without any cost over-runs or implementation problems. Key uncertainties over how citizens will behave and how the scheme will work out in practice mean that the ‘high cost’ estimate could go up to £19.2 billion. A median figure for this range is £14.5 billion.

The LSE report The Identity Project: an assessment of the UK Identity Cards Bill and its implications is published today (27 June) after a six month study guided by a steering group of 14 professors and involving extensive consultations with nearly 100 industry representatives, experts and researchers from the UK and around the world. The project was co-ordinated by the Department of Information Systems at LSE.

The LSE report concludes that an ID card system could offer some basic public interest and commercial sector benefits. But it also identifies six other key areas of concern with the government’s existing plans:

  1. Multiple purposes
  2. Will the technology work?
  3. Is it legal?
  4. Security
  5. Citizens’ acceptance
  6. Will ID cards benefit businesses?

To read the full text visit here. Also, you can download the executive summary of the report here and a full text (300 pages) here.

Ideal Government blog is providing a discussion space for the LSE identity project as well as for the topic of Identity cards in the UK in general. Well worth a trip over there…

No re-think on ID cards

Rose Prince of Mirror.co.uk writes that Tony Blair yesterday hinted he would force ID cards on the public even if they were opposed by the House of Lords. A day after the controversial scheme narrowly survived a knife-edge vote in the Commons, the Prime Minister suggested he would take a tough line with peers who tried to block his pet project.

His warning came as the head of the UK Passport Service said international con artists would be able to duplicate the technology within a decade. Bernard Herdan fuelled fears over the cost of the scheme by claiming the proposed biometric ID would need to be regularly updated to stay one step ahead of the fraudsters.

All we can do is to keep on changing the design.

Despite the growing opposition to ID cards, Mr Blair appeared to threaten the use of the Parliament Act – the device used by the House of Commons in a last resort to force legislation through the Lords.

This is insane… I wonder why?

ID card rebels offer compromise

Daily Mail reports that Labour rebels have offered an olive branch to Home Secretary Charles Clarke over his controversial plans for identity cards, inviting him to meet them to talk through their concerns.

The chairman of the Campaign Group of left-wing MPs John McDonnell, who wrote to Mr Clarke, made clear that the rebels were ready to seek compromise over his Identity Cards Bill rather than trying to wreck the legislation altogether.

Just say no to the authoritarians

There is a new outfit calling itself the Smokers Liberation Front which is taking a no retreat, no surrender line regarding the ‘health fascists’ (taglines are: “No More Passive Smoking. Welcome to Active Smoking!” and “Separate & Ventilate. Don’t Legislate!”).

My view is that if you are on private property (and that includes businesses), and if the owners elect to allow smoking there and you think this could damage your health, feel free NOT to go in or take a job at that place. Simple really.

Smokers Liberation Front - Blogging Smokers

ID cards bill passes second Commons reading

The second reading of the ID cards bill was passed by 314 votes to 283, giving the government a majority of 31. In the end just 20 Labour MPs joined forces with the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to oppose the ID card scheme, meaning a few abstentions swung the vote in the government’s favour.

Pondering Batman Begins

The first choice to be faced when making a Batman film (or any other superhero film) is to whether it should be played for laughs or played straight. This Batman film tries to play it straight and I think that is the right choice. It is harder to play a superhero film straight but that is the spirit in which the stories were written and enjoyed.

Critics will not tend to like a straight superhero film (for example they hated the Bruce Willis film Unbreakable, which I would argue is a very fine film indeed), but it is the way to go, and the Spiderman films showed that critics and public can accept it (sometimes). The character of Batman is less difficult to present in one way, in that he is a superhero with no superpowers.

So one is left (in the comics) with a man of great inherited wealth, who is man of practical invention, physical action and great public spirit. Well John Walton (who died a few days ago) was a man of great inherited wealth who choose to join the army and served (as a medic) with U.S. Army Special Forces in Vietnam, he was also an inventor (no sneering about how he died in an aircraft he built himself – his stuff was good quality), and a man who administered the Walton family charitable activities. Of course John Walton did not go out and fight crime, in the big city, in an armoured suit shaped to scare the criminals (for a start he did not like big cities), but the rest of his life story shows that the Bruce Wayne character idea is certainly not “unbelievable”

Batman Begins decides that all of the above is too much for one man and so has Mr Wayne helped by a scientist in his company – but again that is hardly an absurd position. Where the film does stain belief is that Mr Wayne owns his company and in these days of inheritance tax and capital gains tax, having a man inherit control and keep it even after a determined effort to “take the company public” (i.e. hand over ownership to the pension funds and other financial institutions) by the hired manager… that strains belief. → Continue reading: Pondering Batman Begins


verb. To record (usually spoken narrative) audio files (usually in MP3 format) and make them available on-line so that they can be downloaded and listened to rather like an ‘on-demand’ radio show.

Although podcasts can be listened to on any suitable hardware (i.e. a computer or MP3 player), the term ‘podcast’ derives its name from the iPod, a very popular portable MP3 player made by Apple.

Samizdata quote of the day

“If there ever IS an armed rebellion against the Federal government, I do hope the bastards at LEAST have the decency not to act surprised.”

Commenter independent worm, in a Hit & Run post concerning some idiocy or other by members of Congress.

More on ID cards

Fine and detailed article here over at The Register, a techie website, laying out many of the pitfalls associated with the British government’s wretched ID card measures. Some of the arguments are pretty familiar terrain to Samizdata regulars but in the current climate it pays to repeat an argument as loudly as possible.

I have already made it clear in the comments, but I’d like to repeat how much I like the look of Michael Taylor’s idea on naming and shaming the businesses, officials and politicians backing this proposal. The Freedom of Information Act can be a highly effective weapon in the hands of those skilled at digging out information and we should make use of it.

Having some experience of investigations, I’ll be hoping to post up more details of the sort Michael Taylor referred to in the next few days. Please keep the comments coming in and hopefully this blog can kick up a storm.

Stepping back from the brink

Peggy Noonan, former Reagan speechwriter and current Wall Street Journal columnist, often serves in my mind of an example of how even East Coast conservatives share a mindset that is parochial, elitist, insular, and irredeemably statist. However, in today’s column she steps back from the Bos-Wash bubble to marvel at the bloviating egomaniacs that populate Washington.

What’s wrong with them? That’s what I’m thinking more and more as I watch the news from Washington.

Welcome to the club, Peggy. Too bad it took you so many decades to join up.

How exactly does it work? How does legitimate self-confidence become wildly inflated self-regard? How does self respect become unblinking conceit? How exactly does one’s character become destabilized in Washington?

And, bless her, she even takes on the fair-haired boy of the elites, Barack Obama. Barack is widely heralded because he is young, a Democrat, reasonably articulate, and, of course, because he is black. He has also revealed himself to be a first-rate egomaniac. Although in the Senate he doesn’t even make the A team for self-importance, what with such colossi as Roberty Byrd and John McCain to contend with, he is certainly putting himself forward as a bloviator to be reckoned with.

This week comes the previously careful Sen. Barack Obama, flapping his wings in Time magazine and explaining that he’s a lot like Abraham Lincoln, only sort of better. “In Lincoln’s rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat–in all this he reminded me not just of my own struggles.”

Because this kind of inflated self-regard is part of the molecular make-up of politicians, there is no such thing as “good” government, instituted through any kind of ethical or institutional means. There is only “limited” government.

Do not get mad… get even

There is a serious plan being master minded by pro-liberty activists to use powers of ’eminent domain’ in New Hampshire to take a house belonging to Supreme Court Justice David H. Souter and build a hotel on the site.

The proposed development, called “The Lost Liberty Hotel” will feature the “Just Desserts Café” and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon’s Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.

“This is not a prank” said Clements, “The Towne of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen. If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development.”

The way the systems works is that you need to make sure at least five of the Selectmen have a nice fat stake in the project personally (and why bother to hide it? That is how this process works). Justification? Easy: it will draw pro-liberty activists and tourists into Weare and thereby increase tax revenues to the town.

This is one of the most splendid ideas I have heard in a while as I have long liked the idea of using the impositions of the state against the very people responsible for imposing them on others. When it comes to such things, there is no ‘public and private sphere’, there is just a private sphere.

James Tooley on private sector education in Africa

I am watching a news report on Newsnight, broadcast by the BBC, about private education in Nigeria. The report is the work of Professor James Tooley, who I think is one of the most interesting public intellectuals in the world.

Tooley has been roaming the world in recent years, finding cheap, successful, private schools, which are everywhere outperforming the shoddy state provided schools. Nigeria is no different.

It is one thing to see white blokes in suits saying at some pro free market conference that the private sector is better than the public sector. Watching Nigerian parents explaining the same thing, to a BBC news camera, is something else again.

So why, Tooley is asking, is everyone in denial? There is no global crisis in education. The private sector is supplying higher standards at a fraction of the cost.

Now we are in white blokes discussing it all mode, and Professor Keith Lewin of Sussex University is explaining that what Tooley has spent the last decade scrutinising with his own eyes is all a figment of his, Tooley’s, imagination.

Tooley has the advantage over Lewin. He has been there. He has seen it. He has found schools which, until he and his colleagues found them, nobody not directly involved with the schools in question knew existed. This is market success, says Tooley, and we should celebrate it.

Tooley’s report showed an incandescently eloquent private sector teacher in action. And he also showed a state school teacher in a state school classroom, a classroom filled with state school pupils who were busy trying teaching one another, while he, the state school teacher, was fast asleep at his desk.

Lewin says that this is all a tragedy, because he sees state failure. The state is, or should be, the educator of last resort. Market success is important to Lewin only because as far as he is concerned market success equals state failure, and state failure is bad bad bad. Lewin refers to “his colleagues in Africa”, who agree with him and do not agree with Tooley.

Those, I would guess, would be the state education bureaucrats who, time and time again, do not even realise that there is a thriving educational private sector in their own country, pretty much right under their noses. The government bureaucrats whom Lewin (I suspect) spends most of his African research time communing with, have little idea about this ferment of private education. Insofar as they do know of it, they do not want to know of it, because it makes them feel irrelevant. This is because they are irrelevant. And if they are irrelevant then so is the living that Professor Keith Lewin of Sussex University makes helping to prepare all this state bureaucrats for their careers in state education.

Now Lewin is talking gibberish about why Britain nationalised its schools in 1870. What we have just seen, says Lewin, invites the withdrawal of the state from the provision of all public services. Well, yes.

The thing about Tooley is not just what he says. It is also the sincerity and enthusiasm with which he says it. He will never convert the Lewins of this world. But he does seriously contest what they say, and, just like the numerous private schools which he has found the world over – in Africa, in China, in India, in Pakistan, in fact everywhere he looks – he does it with a fraction of the resources that the Lewin side of this debate now commands.

For more about all this, read this Sunday Times article by Tooley, which I would never have found out about had it not been for the BBC.

The BBC, outrageously biased, rampant supplier of last resort of rampantly pro-capitalist propaganda.