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]

Thought for the day

“Organic farming has been put forward as one of the major pillars of a new, more-sustainable human society that would be “kinder to the earth”. Unfortunately, organic farming cannot deliver on that promise. In fact, organic farming is an imminent danger to the world’s wildlife and hazard to the health of its own consumers.”

Dennis Avery, quoted in Fearing Food, (page 3) by Roger Bate and Julian Morris.

Something for George Moonbat to ponder, I reckon.

When ignorance is bliss

I do not really believe this, but it makes a good story:

The man who sparked the flat tax revolution is former Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar. He governed his country from 1992 to 1995 and from 1999 to 2002. When the historian became Prime Minister in 1992 at the age of 32 he knew nothing about economy. Laar’s area of expertise were Europe’s 19th-century national movements. “It is very fortunate that I was not an economist,” he says. “I had read only one book on economics – Milton Friedman’s “Free to Choose.” I was so ignorant at the time that I thought that what Friedman wrote about the benefits of privatisation, the flat tax and the abolition of all customs rights, was the result of economic reforms that had been put into practice in the West. It seemed common sense to me and, as I thought it had already been done everywhere, I simply introduced it in Estonia, despite warnings from Estonian economists that it could not be done. They said it was as impossible as walking on water. We did it: we just walked on the water because we did not know that it was impossible.”

Shrewd politicians often pretend to be dumber than they are, if only so that they can look well-meaningly sheepish instead of thoroughly ridiculous when things go wrong. So, I take Laar’s claim to ignorance of economics and of economic policy outside Estonia with a pinch of salt. But what does not seem to be in doubt is the importance that a good book can have, and good ideas in general. If only the same did not apply to bad books and bad ideas.

I visited Estonia briefly in 1991, for a Libertarian International gathering in Tallin. I am not surprised that the Estonians are now doing well. They struck me as very level-headed and efficient people. They of course have a long mercantile tradition as a result of their proximity to and seaborne trade with Scandinavia. Those places are not called the “Baltic” states for nothing.

England win the Ashes and Zimbabwe goes on losing

I like to interrupt TV coverage of test cricket with CEEFAX news of about other cricket matches, and this afternoon the news trickled through that England were (probably) winning – and then that they had finally won – the Ashes!


The ladies of Australia have had the same armlock on the Female Ashes as their menfolk have had on the Male Ashes in recent years, only more so. But today the English ladies beat the Australian ladies by 6 wickets to clinch a series win. With luck, England will get the Male Ashes back this summer as well. The men of Australia followed on today at Trent Bridge, and the men of England are well placed to get a win tomorrow and go one up with one to play in their series. Here’s to us limeys making it a double.

I wonder if a lady will ever play international cricket for her men’s team, so to speak. Cricket is not a game that is wholly conditional on brawn, although you do have to be fit, of course. Some of the greatest ever batsmen, like Bradman, Gavaskar and Tendulkar to name but three, have been quite small men. And bowlers, even quick ones, do not have to be giants either. And great slow bowlers can be quite small, and even physically handicapped. So, even if a female physique may be a handicap, it may one day be overcome.

Meanwhile the usual low-level politico-sporting storm rumbles and bumbles along about whether Civilisation ought, still, to be playing cricket games against Zimbabwe. At one time I was in the habit of making a bit of a fuss about such games here, because it was a way to make a fuss about Zimbabwe. But all the world that cares now knows that Robert Mugabe is ruining that unhappy country and the only question is whether someone can end his life and/or despotic reign before natural causes finally oblige. Other African rulers do not want anything done, because this might set a dangerous precedent. I mean, what kind of place would Africa become if merely being a thieving and destructive monster meant that you lost your job as tyrant? Very different, that is for damn sure. And since the rest of the world is disinclined to revive White Imperialism and barge in and rearrange matters without lots of local consent – the only new imperialists in Africa these days are the Chinese, and they are there for the minerals, not to take up the Yellow Man’s Burden – it really does not matter what the cricketers do about Zimbabwe. Playing against the current politically deranged Zimbabwe team and thrashing it probably does just as much good (and just as little) as refusing to play against it.

To hell with nation building, lets see some nation wrecking!

The fact that the leaders of the Sunni minority oppose a federal structure for Iraq, and have the ability to torpedo the new constitution, does not change the reality on the ground that Iraq is already in effect three nations.

The Kurds in particular have both an effective local administration and by far the best militias to call on if needed. The Kurdish situation is also helped by the fact that it was really the Peshmerga who moved into the vacuum and liberated the Kurdish region whilst US and British forces smashed Saddam’s armies in the south.

Eventually if the Kurds do not get the autonomy they desire, it is just a matter of time before they simply secede and I rather doubt the US had either the stomach or the inclination to use force to prevent what is a purely internal matter for the Iraqis and Kurds. Any in any case, so what if Iraq breaks up? The obsession with ‘stability’ and countering Iran is what lead the West to unwisely back Saddam Hussain for so many years and look where that got everyone in the end.

An independent Kurdish Northern Iraq may give the Turks cause to fret (unfortunate but them’s the breaks) and give Iran acute dyspepsia (which has to be a good thing) because Kurdish success in Iraq will no doubt give the Kurdish minorities elsewhere ideas above their station. However I fail to see how thwarting long standing Kurdish aspirations is in the interests of the US and UK, particularly as the Kurds have been quite amenable to US interests as of late and have shown themselves to be the sharpest operators.

Of course the prospect of a Shi’ite Islamic Republic of Southern Iraq is not very agreeable but it at least has the virtue of allowing more tailored pressures to be put on the three constituent parts of ‘Iraq’ rather than a probably futile one-size-fits-all constitution which in any case may fall apart as soon as western forces pull out.

An Iraq of highly autonomous cantons is probably the best that Iraq’s Sunni politicos have any right to expect because the alternative is never going to be a return to the ‘good old days’ of Sunni dominance and centralised rule from Baghdad, it is going to be splitting the county in three independent parts. And there is something to be said for that anyway. To hell with ‘nation building’… sometimes the cause of liberty (and probably long term stability too) may be served by a bit of ‘nation wrecking’.

Ponder the psychopathology of this…

There is an article in The Spectator which perfectly sums up the expression “The state is not your friend” that described the nightmarish encounter someone had with the officious little shits that are employed to police our borders and protect us from middle class Australian women.

It should be only under the most extraordinary circumstances in which an agent of the state should be able to legally refuse to give you their name and thereby avoid personal responsibility for their actions. Read the article and then ponder the thesis that the reason many people take jobs in places like the Immigration service is to satisfy a psychological need to exert arbitrary power over others. This is your tax money at work.

Portable development

Is there anything, anything, now going on in what used to be called, either with delicate euphemism or with a sneer, the “developing world”, but which now really is the developing world, that is more encouraging than the rapid spread throughout said world of portable telephones?

I have just done a piece for the ASI blog about this process in Africa, linking to this New York Times article. And the Private Sector Development blog (whom I have just added to my personal blogroll here), in addition to supplying the same link today, have also linked to of a recent Economist piece on the same subject. Pablo Halkyard also links to this Wall Street Journal piece.

It is not all good news. It never is. Governments all over the place are now demanding extortionate connection taxes, to the point where the tax bill is starting seriously to outweigh what would have been the regular cost. Sounds like those cheap European air tickets that I sometimes buy on the internet for peanuts, where the government then charges me peanuts times four. Nevertheless, even there the news is partly good, because at least some governments are learning that if they cut connection taxes down to something more in line with the extreme cheapness of the service itself, people are more ready to pay such taxes. That is because illegal phones are more likely to go wrong and harder to get mended if they do go wrong. Is the unwillingness of people to pay big taxes good news or is their willingness to pay small taxes bad news? You decide.

The portable phone quote that made me smile the most this morning was this, from the Economist piece:

(Oh, and the “digital divide” vanishes, too.)

I especially like the brackets.


Until a day or two ago, I tended to regard the word “nanotechnology” as nerd-speak for it will never happen. But there really does seem to be a buzz surrounding this latest nanotchnological announcement:

A joint effort between the University of Texas and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization has created industrial-ready material made of nanotubes. The scientists reported this in the Friday edition of the journal Science.

The nanotubes are made of carbon and possess incredible strength. The sheets of nanotubes measure just a few times wider than the actual carbon atom, or 2 millionths-of-an-inch (2000 times thinner than paper). A square mile of this will could weigh as little as 170 pounds. The sheets are transparent, flexible and stronger than steel or high strength plastics.

Apparently that has applications to batteries, fast cars, flat screen TVs, and at least half a dozen other things I forget. Oh yes, it will make it easier to build those giant lifts that will take stuff into space for thirty pence per item, instead of for twenty zillion dollars per item which is what the Space Shuttle now costs.

This is the stuff that I find most impressive:

“Rarely is a processing advance so elegantly simple that rapid commercialization seems possible,” says Ray Baughman, a chemist from the University of Texas at Dallas. The process starts “with a ‘forest’ of half-millimeter-long nanotubes sticking upright on an iron-based platform. Pulling gently from the edge of the forest with an adhesive strip, such as a Post-It note, uproots a row containing millions of nanotubes. As these nanotubes pull out, they tangle with the next row, and so on.”

It sounds almost like something you could do at home, like spinning.

The point is: (a) this guy presumably knows what he is talking about, and (b) if he is wrong, he is going to be proved extremely wrong, extremely soon. He will not want that, so presumably he is on the level.

Most of the readers of this blog who care about this kind of stuff will already know all about this particular excitement. After all, Instapundit has already linked to it, and generally been all over the story. So has Tim Worstall. My point is not so much that hey, here is this techo-announcement. My point is that this particular techno-announcement does actually have a seriously historic feel to it. This sounds so very easy to do, and so very useful, for so many different kinds of stuff. This, in short, feels big.

Am I right?

A new blog

Laissez Faire Books, the bookshop that stocks all manner of fine tomes from the complete works of Murray Rothbard to obscure 19th century liberal historians, now has a blog. Definitely worth checking it out on a regular basis and some of their stuff is frequently cheaper than the other big online book retailers. I once spent a very pleasant two hours browsing through their store in downtown San Francisco last year.

Thanks to the ever-readable Marginal Revolution for the pointer.

The UN is a dependable moral compass

If the UN says something should or should not be done, it is a safe bet that doing the opposite is most likely the correct course of action. Thus when the UN says Britain must not expel Muslim clerics who incite terrorism, clearly this is indeed the best policy.

It does not matter if a compass always points south, as long as you know that you can use it to find your way just as effectively as with one which always points north.

Samizdata quote of the day

I had never heard the word blogger until May 25 . But now I know them well because of all the amazing coverage they had of the protests. My friends overseas all followed what happened through the blogs, because they have more credibility than the mainstream media.
Rabab al-Mahdi, a political science professor at the American University in Cairo, and an opposition activist.

There is no CCTV footage… then again, here is the CCTV footage

So the CCTV camera tapes which would have shown the facts pertaining to tragic shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes were blank. Right. But the IPCC says they have the vital CCTV footage. Ooookay, that is sorted then.

What the hell is going on?

It is the market economy, stupid

Uber-blogger Andrew Sullivan, fresh back from his holidays, rages against Americans who drive big SUVs on the grounds that by doing so, they help swell the coffers of terror sponsoring states in the Middle East. Patriotic Americans, says the ahem, British Mr Sullivan, should drive smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. He does not like the habit of “soccer moms” driving their kids around in such vast vehicles, full of clobber he thinks is a waste of space and money.

Well Andrew, maybe. I would have thought that with the price of crude oil hitting the region of around $66 per barrel, that even the dimmest motorist is going to see the impact on a bank statement eventually and wonder about trading in the Hummer for something a tad smaller. I know it is crazy ideological talk but people do actually take account of prices.

If oil prices stay on their current trajectory, it won’t need a scold like Sullivan to remind Americans, or indeed anyone else, to adjust their consumption. All it takes is the operation of prices. Some Scottish geezer called Adam Smith once wrote about this about 230 years ago, I think. It is such a shame that even bright folk like Andrew Sullivan take all this time to catch on.