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]

Cherchez le mème

I am troubled at the spread of a certain meme. It is hostile to liberty, yet seems to be fairly popular with those who in other respects defend freedom of speech and abhor State interference in personal relations. In the comments to this Samizdata post, a regular commenter here, ‘Mandrill’, expressed this particular meme unambiguously:

It should be illegal for any adult, parent or not, to indoctrinate any child in any religion, period. If they choose to follow one of the multitudinous superstitions which we’ve infected our intellects with once they’re an adult that’s their business, but to poison a child’s mind against reason from a very young age is, in my view, abuse and is something that stunts not only the intellectual growth of the child but that of the rest of humanity also. Just as much as genital mutilation (male or female) is.

That is all.

I have a few more examples that I have collected at the end of the post. Those quoted are not necessarily famous or influential, only those that I bestirred myself to note down or to find by casual googling. Trust me, there are plenty more out there. Feel free to add your own examples in comments. I would also welcome comments from anyone – such as Mandrill – who thinks this is a good meme.

Meanwhile let me speculate on how what I hold to be an insidious and bad meme is propagating itself with some success among them as should know better. Such qualities as ‘truth’ and ‘goodness’ and ‘internal consistency’ are often useful characteristics for a meme to have but are by no means essential to its success as a replicator.

1) Firstly, the ‘ban religion for children’ meme appeals by a having a spurious similarity to generally accepted ideas about when and whether sex should be prohibited. Most of us accept that consenting adults can do what they like, but children and mentally deficient people cannot give meaningful consent. My answer to that is sex is sex and talk is talk.

Campaign groups often try to ‘borrow’ some of the public willingness to abhor and forbid certain sexual acts and use it to get the public to abhor and forbid non-sexual acts of which the pusher disapproves. For instance, campaigners against smacking children often blur the boundaries between sexual and physical child abuse. In a loosely related way campaigners against rape sometimes blur the boundaries between forced sexual intercourse i.e. rape and the sort of ‘force’ involved in the use of emotional blackmail to get sex. → Continue reading: Cherchez le mème

What Bush is really saying

My favourite commentary on all the financial mayhem of the last few days and hours is this, from Scrappleface:

“To sustain this shining city on a hill,” Mr. Bush said, “we need to rescue the ignorant, irresponsible folks – from Wall Street to Capitol Hill to Main Street – who got us to where we are today. We must guarantee that no American suffers the soft bigotry of being forced to live with the consequences of his bad decisions.”

The president, in remarks to the news media clearly aimed at reluctant Republicans in Congress, said, “Our financial system rests on a foundation of huge banks, brokerage houses and quasi-governmental agencies that followed Washington’s lead by gambling on long-shot, poorly-collateralized investments. Now this glorious way of life is threatened, and we must act to preserve it.”

“We need to guarantee that the structures, systems, people and products that got us to this point won’t be tossed on the ash heap of history,” said Mr. Bush. “If these giant companies fail, then America will be left with nothing but thousands of small to mid-sized financial firms that made prudent investment decisions during the past 15 years.”

I’ll skip the next paragraph, if only so that I can say read the whole thing without having already stolen the whole thing, but the final paragraph demands inclusion:

“It is a moral imperative that we guard the civil rights of these idiots,” he said. “If we fail, then we face the specter of free market capitalism run amok, and millions of Americans will feel the painful lash of personal responsibility across their backs.”

One of the reasons I like this is because it makes me laugh, while at the same time allowing me still to be Thinking About It All, rather than just escaping into pure escapism.

One thing I do strongly believe (“know” would be putting it too strongly) that is relevant to all this mess is that the Great Depression was not caused by the Wall Street Crash, but by the mistaken things done before and after – especially after – the Wall Street Crash. To say that the Crash caused the Depression is that old folly of blaming the messenger for the message. It is now clear to us all, to those to whom it was not clear at the time, that the mistakes made during the previous few years have done a lot of damage. But I fear that the mistakes being made right now will prove even more costly.

And if I had to decide about all this, right now, knowing only what I know now, I’d say: let the market now do its job. The economy has been fatally mixed in recent years. Unmix it. If you have just lost your shirt, the taxpayer won’t buy back so much as a button for you. Yes, cruel, and I certainly wouldn’t say that every shirtloser has been stupid, as Scrappleface’s Presdent Bush does. And such cruelty is certainly not how you win elections. But far more cruel would be (will be?) changing the rules of the entire game for the worse.

Update: Von Mises Institute Bailout Reader.

Join our debate and skip the ‘fixed’ one

Bob Barr will be at Reason’s office in DC tonight at 20:00 Eastern Time. You can watch here for a link that will allow you to join the event. If you are in DC, you might want to plan on dropping in for the live event.

The time at the Barr website says 9pm EST for the Counter-Debate now, which is 2100.


I have always regarded Lloyd’s List as hard-packed with hard fact (as about the most expensive newspaper by weight you are likely to find anywhere, it should be). But can this really be true?

British Foreign Office officials are understood to have advised the Royal Navy not to confront or arrest pirates in the region [the horn of Africa] for fear of transgressing human rights legislation or encouraging their seeking asylum once taken to the UK.

If such advice is followed, it seems there is precious little reason left to even have a Royal Navy.

Hat-tip: The Register

Samizdata quote of the day

Mr Kim and his elite did not wilfully seek the deaths of ordinary North Koreans, but they accepted them as collateral damage resulting from their need to maintain power.

– from the Economist yesterday

Fancy a drink, Sir Thomas?

I have been reading this book, by Ian Mortimer about Henry IV. King Henry ascended the throne of England after successfully deposing Richard II, and his own reign seems to have consisted of one attempt after another to depose him. Yet Henry IV died in his bed of natural albeit very painful causes.

One of these failed rebellions against King Henry, at the beginning of the year 1400, involved a certain Sir Thomas Blount.

Only six men, including Sir Thomas Blount, received the full traitor’s death of being drawn, hanged, disembowelled, and forced to watch their own entrails burned before being beheaded and quartered. Blount’s execution resulted in one of the greatest displays of wit in the face of adversity ever recorded. As he was sitting down watching his extracted entrails being burned in front of him, he was asked if he would like a drink. ‘No, for I do not know where I should put it’, he replied.

I had no idea that the people who suffered these frightful deaths were able to say anything at this late stage in their ordeal. I guess the executioners were trying to be as nice as they could to Sir Thomas, against whom they presumably had no personal animus, rather like Michael Palin in this. But, talk about too little, too late.

Gordon Brown is not a good man

I realise that I keep going on about it, and I realise that I dissent from the view often expressed here that the next British government (Cameron’s) will probably be no better than this government now, but if I were allowed just one more thing to say about Gordon Brown and his government, it would be that I wish people would stop saying or writing this:

Mr Brown is a good, decent man but …

Mr Brown is not a good, decent man. He is an utter shit, and his utter shitness is inseparable from the difficulties he now faces in continuing to be Prime Minister despite his obvious unsuitability, and to the miseries he is still inflicting upon the rest of us.

I will not expand at length about Brown’s shititude. Suffice it to say that Gordon Brown is the living embodiment of the phrase “he won’t be told”. When he is told, he shouts like a spoilt but thwarted seven year old, until whoever it is just gives up or goes home and pretends to be ill. And all his henchmen are like this too. All who care have heard the stories. All who can bear to think about them now know of the blunders, and of the refusal to do anything about them except increase the doses of poison. Brown himself is beyond hope, and he will be subjected in due course to the modern, humane version of hanging, drawing and quartering (which is a whole hell of a lot more humane than he deserves), either by his underlings or by the voters. I will merely content myself now with explaining why otherwise sane-seeming journalists like Alice Miles (the one linked to above) keep repeating this obvious tosh about Brown’s goodness and decency, despite all of them knowing perfectly well that it is tosh. It is just possible that if the explanation – the one you are about to read – of this strange phenomenon were to get around commentators might be persuaded to stop talking this particular brand of tosh.

The explanation, briefly, is that when you are denouncing someone as a complete waste of space and begging the earth to open up and swallow him, you find yourself wanting to say something nice about him, anything nice, to prove that you are being fair, that you are willing to give him credit for his virtues, such as they are. And this is where this absurdly false cliché about Brown’s goodness and decency has come from. Brown is a good and decent man (and I am a kind and fair-minded and good-hearted person for saying so), but blah blah blah. But he is a crap Prime Minister, his decisions have all been disastrous, he has wrecked the economy, he is an unreconstructed state centralist despot despite decades of evidence proving the evilness of such despotic centralism, his speeches are intolerable, he must go, he will not go, they must dump him, they will not dump him, the country cannot take much more of this, blah blah blah. But the truth is simpler. Prime Minister Brown has no virtues. None. He is a bad and nasty man. And blah blah blah. It may not serve the argumentative purposes of commentators to find no nice things to say about Mr Brown at all, but it would serve the truth far better.

When the state screws with the market

I went in search of funny quotes, like the one at the start of this posting, but instead found mostly sensible ones, like this (via here):

The fact that insurance companies refused to insure property located on storm-wracked coasts is not an instance of market failure. A market failure supposedly occurs when the price of goods and services do not reflect the true costs of producing and consuming those goods and services. That’s clearly not what happened here. The market is practically shouting at people, “Don’t build something you can’t afford to lose where hurricanes periodically crash ashore.”

Instead the state “insurance” scheme is an example of government failure which occurs when a government intervention causes a more inefficient allocation of goods and resources than would occur without that intervention. In this case, it’s the government that’s telling people that it’s OK to build in dangerous areas and then not charging them enough for the “insurance.”

And this (via here):

The CRA …

That’s Community Reinvestment Act.

… forces banks to make loans in poor communities, loans that banks may otherwise reject as financially unsound. Under the CRA, banks must convince a set of bureaucracies that they are not engaging in discrimination, a charge that the act encourages any CRA-recognized community group to bring forward. Otherwise, any merger or expansion the banks attempt will likely be denied. But what counts as discrimination?

According to one enforcement agency, “discrimination exists when a lender’s underwriting policies contain arbitrary or outdated criteria that effectively disqualify many urban or lower-income minority applicants.” Note that these “arbitrary or outdated criteria” include most of the essentials of responsible lending: income level, income verification, credit history and savings history – the very factors lenders are now being criticized for ignoring.

And this (via here):

If we really wanted advance warning (and a chance to mitigate) the next financial crisis, we wouldn’t be banning short-selling; we’d be legalizing insider trading.

Now there’s a thought. All those quotes are from Americans, about America. But it is at least as bad here. Today, on my wanderings in London, I came across a headline in a free newspaper that went Darling declares war on City’s risk culture.


What new horrors of intervention will be inflicted upon the British economy by this dying government of ours, in its dying months, as they forget about the country as a whole and concentrate on trying to keep the loyalty of their core vote?

Samizdata quote of the day

The country’s gone to the dogs, the economy’s going down the toilet, crime is through the roof, I’m on half the wages I was two years ago and am barely keeping my head above water and crossing my fingers that I’m going to even have a job in six month’s time, like lots of others no doubt, and all these assorted wonks do is wiffle on and on about which interchangeable dipstick is going to which interchangeable, ineffectual government department next.

Who the chuff is Alan Johnson? Who the chuff is Ed Balls? Who the chuff cares? Just clear off the whole damn lot of you.

Blognor Regis gives his opinion yesterday about some recent reshuffle speculation

Lowering tax rates and boosting tax revenue

This Sunday Essay at Coffee House, entitled How cutting corporate tax rates raises revenue, written by Matthew Sinclair of the Taxpayers’ Alliance is a reminder that however well libertarianism, free marketism, classical liberalism, whatever, may be doing – in the sense of increasing the number of individual libertarians, free marketeers, classical liberals, whateverists – public opinion about taxation, out there beyond the battles of the mere ideologists, seems to remain stubbornly unaltered. Taxes should be as high as we can afford, but no higher than we can afford. That’s what public opinion still seems to believe, and people like Matthew Sinclair cannot afford to challenge this opinion. The Taxpayers’ Alliance is, you could say, built on not challenging it. It is an alliance between those who want taxes cut, and cut, and cut, until they scarcely exist, and those who believe that, just for now, taxes are too high, and that public spending should be done better, so that public spending can be boosted rather than the very idea of it discredited.

Sinclair justifies lower tax rates, at any rate in this piece, entirely by pointing out that lower corporate tax rates will yield higher tax revenues. As they will. But could the same not be said for other taxes? By talking about lowering corporate taxes, Sinclair confirms the prejudice that tax cuts are only for a certain sort of person and a certain sort of institution. The libertarian political nearly-nirvana – a world in which politicians agree that taxes must be cut and cut and cut (see above) to the point where tax revenue, having done its predictable surge upwards, then starts instead to surge downwards again – but quarrel about exactly whose taxes should be cut first, and exactly whose benefits should be cut first and exactly which tyrannical bureaucracy should be shut first and exactly which costly laws and regulations should be repealed first, even as total tax revenue continues to go down, seems as far away as ever.

I still want to believe that under the radar – under the Laffer Curve, you might say – the change I really want may actually be happening. I want to believe, and I do actually think it makes some sense to believe, that the majority that favours high (as I would call it) taxes and high spending (just not too high) may be diminishing, and that the minority that wants taxes and spending both to be cut radically may be increasing. I also believe that the Taxpayers’ Alliance is doing more good than harm on this front. But Sinclair’s piece tells me little about that, one way or the other.

The Chief Executive of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, Matthew Elliott, is giving the after dinner speech on the Saturday of the Libertarian Alliance’s annual conference in October. He speech will be entitled “Reasons to be Optimistic: Why we are winning the battle for lower taxes”. Lower rather than low is the point there, I think.

Samizdata pub of the day

It won’t last, but while it does

An Australian pub offering free drinks to women who remove their underwear and display it to patrons and staff will be investigated by alcohol licencing regulators, authorities said on Thursday.

The Saint Hotel in Melbourne has promised a “No Undie Sundie” event over the coming weekend, where woman who remove their underwear and hang it above the bar will receive A$50 ($39) worth of free drinks.

I wouldn’t like this. It’s not the female anatomy qua female anatomy. It’s more the other men who’d be there, yelling and drinking, and slapping me on my frail back. But me not liking something is not the same as me thinking something should be illegal. Sadly, it seems that “Liquor Licensing Victoria director Sue Maclellan” is not in the habit of making such subtle distinctions.

Good that Guido, to whom thanks, and who currently has this report in his Seen Elsewhere section, doesn’t just babble on about party politics, but from time to time at least notices more fundamental issues.

Piggy in the market

Lower Marsh, just beyond Waterloo Station from me, is one of my favourite London streets. It has carts loaded up with goodies from vans, and amongst these goodies are classical CDs sold by a bloke called Neil. A few yards due west from where Neil plies his trade, there is Gramex, a regular shop, which also sells an abundance of classical CDs. These CDs cost far less than downloads from the internet, and unlike downloads they are things, which I prefer. When you drop a Wagner opera on CD on your foot, it hurts. That’s what I call real value.

Anyway, yesterday, in the autumn sunshine (finally!) I came across this, which surely says something profound about the current state of the financial markets, although I am not sure quite what:


There was another one next to it, the same only black. These pigs are quite big and very solid, made of cast iron I suspect. Don’t drop one of them on your foot. They were going yesterday for a tenner each. Hurry while stocks last.

More banking and piggy banking photos by me here, and further market speculations here. The smiling china pigs are currently on show in the window of a fancy goods (I think they call such places) shop in Strutton Ground, another market street in my part of London, just off Victoria Street.

For some further commentary on what things cost these days, try this very Dail Mail piece by Robert Hughes. Hughes ought to realise that ‘artists’ these days are like small and badly behaved children. The more you complain, the happier they are, because what they crave most is attention.