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]

Recorded conversations that I have recently done – and one that I am about to do with Perry de Havilland

Last Monday morning I did what I think was probably my best recorded conversation yet, with a man named Leon Louw. Here is the conversation we had, and here is the publication that Leon Louw was talking about. I recommend both with enthusiasm. Here is my bloggage about it all. Anyone even slightly interested in what distinguishes successful governments from failing governments, nice countries from nasty ones, will profit from following at least one of those links.

A few days before that, I did another recorded conversation, about the Libertarian Alliance and its workings, with Tim Evans, (pictured on the right here), who is now its President. Bloggage about that from me here.

And then last Tuesday, I had another of the regular conversations I have with Antoine Clarke about elections and related matters around the world, this time about the recent US midterms.

These conversations, especially the one with Leon Louw, have stirred me into setting up another of these things, with someone I have long wanted to talk with in this way, namely Samizdata’s own Perry de Havilland. I have just spoken on the phone with Perry and he has no objections to me flagging this up beforehand here nor to me asking the Samizdata commentariat if they have any questions that they would particularly like me to put to Perry. I do not promise to use every such suggestion, but all suggestions that do materialise will be considered.

This conversation will be happening this coming Saturday afternoon. Perry and I will be talking about what Perry did before Samizdata, what made him start it, about what it has been like doing it for the last five years, and about what effects it may or may not have had, during that time and in the future. That kind of thing.

I am going to start whatever preparatory reading I manage to do here.

A fine gesture by a fine writer

John Scalzi, a science fiction writer whom I admire and learned about via the blogs, is giving free copies of his books to servicemen and women in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now, leaving aside what one thinks of either military campaign, I think this is a grand idea, and I hope and trust that authors, film-makers and musicians do the same. These armed forces personnel are risking their lives and deserve a bit of comfort and support, particularly now when so many people, even “moulting hawks” like me, are doubting the wisdom of military intervention in the Middle East. We put them there, God help us.

Scalzi’s first book, Old Man’s War, is definitely worth a read, and the successor, The Ghost Brigades, is also pretty good. If you like Robert Heinlein or Peter Hamilton, for example, you will like Scalzi. I hope he is around for a long time to come. He writes hard science fiction with characters you believe in, can like and admire, warts and all.

(Thanks to Alex Knapp for the tip).

The folly of recycling

New web portal LibertarianHome has a video of a brilliant American TV show called Bullshit! which demolishes the case for recycling. But, says the portal:

Despite the compelling evidence against recycling, Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth wants everyone to be forced to recycle. He attacks support for “the personal freedoms of citizens… this is a basic value that will need to be reviewed.”

Green on the outside, red on the inside.

Sean Gabb on Doughty Street TV tonight

There are quite a few fans of Sean Gabb who read this blog, so they might like to be told, if they have not been already, that Sean will be on 18 Doughty Street TV this evening between 9 and 10pm, discussing libertarianism. Sean is a fluent and experienced media performer and should be well worth seeing and hearing.

Here is a picture of him that I took last weekend, hatching who knows what plots with fellow Libertarian Alliance supremo Dr Tim Evans, at the LA’s Conference in the resplendent National Liberal Club.


Captions anyone? Mine goes: “One day all this will be ours! Ours I tell you!”

UK Press Complaints Commission calls for ‘voluntary code of conduct for blogs’

Blogs and other internet sites should be covered by a voluntary code of practice similar to that for newspapers in the UK, a conference has been told. Press Complaints Commission director Tim Toulmin said he opposed government regulation of the internet, saying it should a place “in which views bloom”. But unless there was a voluntary code of conduct there would be no form of redress for people angered at content.


It is extraordinary how people opine without understanding the subject. It seems like Mr. Toulmin understand nothing whatsoever about the internet. There is indeed a “form of redress for people angered at content” on blogs available and that is… blogs. It is extremely simple: go to blogger.com, spend about five minutes doing the ‘three easy steps’ and then start posting your rebuttals on your own damn blog.

As for a voluntary code of conduct… I invite Tim Toulmin to ask his lawyer to write one down on a piece of paper, roll the document up tightly and then stick it wherever his lawyer’s imagination and Mr. Toulmin complacency will allow. I look forward to being told off for that remark when Tim Toulmin sets up his own blog.

For another similar view to mine, see here.

Election for President of Ecuador

I hear that the anti-leftist candidate for President of Ecuador has been overwhelmingly defeated by the leftist candidate (an academic ‘economist’ who thinks, among other things, that free trade with the United States would be bad for Ecuador).

The last time saw the anti-leftist candidate (a very wealthy businessman) via television, he was on his knees (quite literally) begging for votes and promising people “jobs, homes, health care, education” (etc.) if only they would vote for him. And he has gone down to defeat by about two thirds of the voters.

He might as well have given a very different speech.

“Subhuman scum, when you vote for the leftist (which I am sure you will) he will put into place policies that will make you suffer greatly – some of you may even starve to death. This is exactly what deserve – as you lust after goods that are not yours and are prepared to use violence, or to have other people use violence on your behalf, to get those goods.

I have sold all my property and have taken the money out of the country, I am speaking to you via satellite from the Cayman islands”.

Certainly he would still have lost, but he would not have humiliated himself by going on his knees, begging and promising the moon. And he would have saved the fortune the election campaign cost him.

A really big telly

This looks like it would swallow up my entire living room wall:

Move out that old armoire and clear off the living room wall – it will soon be time to make room for that new 70-inch LCD television.

With 42-inch flat-panel TVs flying off retailers’ shelves this holiday season as prices dip below $1,000, brokerage house Sanford C. Bernstein said in a research note on Tuesday that 70-inch TVs could be the “right size” in 2009.

“We decided to investigate the optimal screen size for high definition viewing,” wrote analyst Jeff Evenson in the note. “We conclude that 65 inch to 75 inch is the right size for a 10 foot viewing distance.”

Mind you, given my income levels, I am happy to stick to my modestly-sized flatscreen for the forseeable future.

Samizdata quote of the day

The overwhelming majority of theories are rejected because they contain bad explanations, not because they fail experimental tests.

– David Deutsch

The wrong war in the wrong place

There seems no end to the absurdity of US planners as to the conduct of the war in Afghanistan… surely the way to victory in all military conflicts is the unswerving pursuit of a single core objective (in this case the destruction of the Taliban and its power base) with ruthlessness and focus.

Yet what do we see? A demented conflation of the entirely justified war against the sponsors of the 9/11 attack on New York and Arlington, with the preposterous ‘war on drugs’. At a stroke, attacking the income of Afghan farmers and warlords alike thereby more or less guaranteeing that these people will make common cause with the Taliban on the basis that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Limited liability and corporate social responsibility

The late Milton Friedman was famous for many viewpoints but one that stands out for me was his admirably blunt statement that the purpose of a business is to make money for the people who own it, not to advance some social, environmental, religious or other agenda. Period. A publicly-quoted firm on the London Stock Exchange or Wall Street should focus on making money for its shareholders. In a competitive market – key proviso – such a purpose will tend to work, as Adam Smith said it would 230 years ago, in the interest of the consumer and worker:

Friedman wrote:

When I hear businessmen speak eloquently about the “social responsibilities of business in a free-enterprise system,” I am reminded of the wonderful line about the Frenchman who discovered at the age of 70 that he had been speaking prose all his life. The businessmen believe that they are defending free en­terprise when they declaim that business is not concerned “merely” with profit but also with promoting desirable “social” ends; that business has a “social conscience” and takes seriously its responsibilities for providing em­ployment, eliminating discrimination, avoid­ing pollution and whatever else may be the catchwords of the contemporary crop of re­formers. In fact they are–or would be if they or anyone else took them seriously–preach­ing pure and unadulterated socialism. Busi­nessmen who talk this way are unwitting pup­pets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.

The doctrine of corporate social responsibility is very much on the march in Britain. Companies are increasingly encouraged to do things to help the environment and help local communities. My own firm encourages its staff to devote some time to voluntary work and sets aside time and resources for that end. Now, I have no trouble whatsoever with a firm that, with the consent of its owners – shareholders – decides to back certain causes so long as the shareholders realise that such activity could affect their shares either positively or negatively. So long as it is made explicit and the owners are allowed to decide yes or no. The problem starts to arise however when this doctrine is forced upon the business owners by state regulation. This is not simply a problem that can face listed companies; it can also potentially affect firms that are not publicly listed but owned, say, by a private equity fund or an individual.

One problem, I think, is limited liability laws. Such laws, one might argue, create a bit of a “moral hazard” problem in that the firm’s owners are less mindful of the harmfulness or riskiness of their decisions than if they were subject to the conditions that used to prevail under the old English Common Law. Might the reason that we have so much focus on the supposed social responsibilities of business stem in part from the idea that limitied liability is a privilege that carries responsibilities? Purist free marketeers might say that the logical step is to remove the privilege, but would the ability of firms to operate on a large scale, with all the advantages that can bring, come to an end without limited liability?

I am not sure about the answers to all these questions, which is why I ask them. I know that some libertarians and classical liberals, such as Sean Gabb, have posed the argument that limited liability is inherently contrary to a consistent free market doctrine, and that the creation of large corporations with certain immunities has actually created businesses that are increasingly indistinguishable from government. On the other hand, one might envisage how constraints on corporate liability might emerge without state legislation, although I confess I am not sure how this would work.

Related thoughts here and here.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’d rather be stuck in a lift with Abu Hamza than Zac Goldsmith

– Sean Gabb, at the Libertarian Alliance/Libertarian International conference today

Those fixed-wealth fallacies die slowly

This recent posting of mine here referred to the wonders of global divisions of labour and the consequent availability of cheap goods and services that would have once been luxuries. The posting quoted an example about something as simple and evocative as exports of flowers (aaahhhhh) but of course it applies to anything: computer software, underwear, books, automobile components and furniture.

The ensuing comments were interesting (one of the reasons I like blogs with comment threads is that they give me ideas to write about). One argument, which I have heard several times, went something like this: globalisation and free trade is obviously grand in many ways and gives us all manner of goods unknown to our ancestors. However, the people who do best out of this tend to be smart people who can handle the rapid pace of change that globalisation brings. But not-so-smart folk, who are used to manual labour but not much up to anything else, will end up on the scrapheap. This is a bad thing as it erodes the social fabric, destroys established communities (such as Yorkshire mining villages, etc), and in particular, means that the sort of folk – mostly men – who used to expend their energy and pride on producing ships and material goods lose purpose in life, turn to crime, etc, etc. If they get jobs at all they tend to be worse-paid, “McJobs” which are demeaning to perform. Conclusion: globalisation has big losers as well as winners.

Superficially, this sort of argument carries a certain amount of force, but only lasts until one realises that this sort of line could be used not just to stop cheap imports from China and inflows of Polish construction site workers, but could, for example, be used to ban people in California from importing stuff from neighbouring Nevada, or ban a guy living in Paris from moving to Bordeaux because he is “stealing” a job from people who live in the French coastal town. In other words, when one realises that national borders are lines on a map, the perversity of protectionist economic arguments is manifest. Taken to its logical extreme, I am “taking” jobs from people in East London because I work in Canary Wharf but live in London’s central area of Pimlico.

The other sort of problem here is that it reminds me of how people still view work that involves physical objects, such as manufacturing, as being in some way more “real” than service-based jobs. It demonstrates the lingering Marxian view that wealth is not wealth unless you can drop it onto your foot. It is a view that also, I think, reflects a highly gloomy, if not disdainful, view of one’s fellows. Despite the difficulties involved and the wrench of closures of factories, millions of jobs have been created in countries like the United States that have replaced the old jobs, and many of those jobs are not the supposedly-terrible “McJobs” but jobs that have long-term career prospects. (Although folk that poke fun at “McJobs” tend to ignore several things, such as that such jobs are good entry-level jobs and people then move on to something else).

Here is an admirable debunking of the idea that free trade encourages a “race to the bottom” in terms of incomes. Another admirable paper by the late Murray Rothbard here.

Readers may wonder why I am bothering to write about this, given that protectionism is pretty discredited (I have yet to meet anyone who, when sober, takes Lou Dobbs seriously). But the easy charms of protection continue to seduce lawmakers and even quite intelligent interloctors on blog comment threads. Like ivy threatening to throttle a young plant, protectionism needs to be ruthlessly cut back by argument, over and over again.