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A tremendously successful LA conference

One of the reasons for slow output on this blog over the weekend was that several of your regular scribes, such as yours truly, Guy Herbert, Brian Micklethwait and Philip Chaston, were at the annual Libertarian Alliance (UK) conference in London. Several of us remarked on how many people turned up for the two days. By my reckoning, we had about 140 folk in total. What was particularly gratifying was the number of younger people in their early 20s whom I had never heard of before. Several of the newbies mentioned that they had come across the LA via the world of blogs. This is encouraging: there is nothing more dispiriting than to observe that the circle of folk who share similar views is static and getting greyer and more wrinkled. Suddenly, that appears to be changing.

There may have been several reasons why the LA conference proved so successful in terms of numbers. First of all, the speaker list was particularly strong: Aubrey de Grey, David Friedman and Hans-Herman Hoppe, to name just three. I thought Professor Friedman (son of Milton Friedman) was terrific when he spoke about how new technologies, such as nanotech, artificial intelligence and new forms of encryption, would throw up all manner of new legal issues. He is an irrepressible speaker and great value. Another reason for the high numbers at the conference is that I wonder whether the credit crunch has produced an unintended result by refocusing attention on the arguments about capitalism and financial markets. People want to know about what defenders of laissez faire think. Quite a few of the attendees were students furiously writing stuff down for assignments. The LA is getting used as a resource for academics.

I came home from the event yesterday feeling enthused and proud of how Tim Evans and Sean Gabb have driven the LA forward after the sad loss of Chris Tame, its founder, more than two years ago. He’d have been very proud, I have no doubt.

Creativity trumps the downturn

Recessions can be the tool of ‘creative destruction’, if governments get out of the way and do not prevent the next wave of entrepreneurial experimentation by ‘softening’ the impact of the recession and distorting the efficient allocation of capital. Gordon Brown, take note: companies and governments have to fail. George Gilder, always an enthusiastic prophet, writes of the coming possibilities in Forbes. He identifies four areas that the financial wizardry of venture capitalism can nurture: ‘cloud computing’, graphics processing, nanotech engineering and energy saving construction materials. Gilder is useful for identifying waves of start-ups and linking them to wider technological change.

A great line is where Moore’s law is referenced as insufficient for our needs:

This vast expansion of the scale of computing across the network, however, renders Moore’s Law doublings inadequate to meet the need for speed. A key answer is the movement of optical technologies to chips themselves by such companies as Luxtera, a venture startup in Carlsbad, Calif., technologies based on Caltech advances that link fiber directly to chips. Azul Systems of Mountain View is pioneering a combination of Java-based parallel processing with virtualization software to produce multitrillion-bit-per-second performance in data centers.

A contentious but thrilling point if we wished to measure the proximity of a singularity event. As a useful summary of tech developments, Gilder is hard to beat. Nanotech filters allow pure water to be sucked up from a fetid puddle and new construction materials allow towers to be lighter and stronger and more radical. Hopeflly we can welcome new radical architecture: wierd, wonderfu to live in and wandering off the set of last century’s sci-fi cityscapes.

*One has to look elsewhere for exciting biotech, Gilder’s blind spot here.

The IEA blog on Marx and on the gender gap

The IEA now has a blog, which is good. Good that it has one, and good in that it looks to be good.

Here are two characteristic quotes, from the two most recent posting at this blog. First, here is a recycled little something that John Meadowcroft contrived to get published by the Times yesterday, about Marx:

Sir – Marx’s theory of the crises of capitalism is little more than a melodramatic description of the business cycle – standard fare in economic analysis. Every original contribution that Marx made to our understanding of capitalism is demonstrably false: the working class does not become increasingly immiserated; the class structure does not become increasingly polarised; no society has evolved from feudalism through capitalism to communism; the iron law of wages is fallacious; the State does not wither away when capitalism is abolished. Marx will continue to be neglected by serious scholars because he was wrong in every important respect.

And here is a the final paragraph of a summary of this publication:

Given the complex causes of the gender pay gap, it is clear that complete equality of pay is unlikely to be achieved without draconian measures that would restrict freedom of choice and damage the economic prospects of both men and women. Calls for new legislation on equal pay should therefore be resisted.

The IEA has always seemed to me to be the kind of organisation which should have a blog, but also as the kind of organisation which has been mindlessly prejudiced against having a blog on account of having nothing to say about kittens and sunsets and the personal dietary habits of its inmates, and on account of not liking the bark-at-the-moon style of current affairs commentary, as if that were all you were allowed to do, blogwise. This is like denouncing the whole idea of telephones merely because other people often chatter pointlessly to each other with them. Why should that bother you? Happily, the IEA has now overcome any such prejudices.

Go east, young man

Occasionally, whenever one of us Samizdata scribes writes about events in the UK, such as loss of civil liberties, or the latest financial disasters perpetrated by the government, or crime, or whatnot, there is sometimes a comment from an expatriate writer, or US citizen in particular, suggesting that we moaners should pack our bags, cancel the mail and come on over to America. Like Brian Micklethwait of this parish, I occasionally find such comments a bit annoying; it is not as if the situation in Jefferson’s Republic is particularly great just now, although a lot depends on where you live (Texas is very different from say, Vermont or for that matter, Colorado).

But considering what might happen if Obama wins the White House and the Dems increase or retain their hold on Congress, I also wonder whether we might encounter the example of enterprising Americans coming to Britain, not the other way round. The dollar is rising against the pound, so any assets that are transferred from the US to Britain go further. Taxes are likely to rise quite a bit if The One gets in, although they are likely to rise in the UK too to pay for the enormous increase in public debt, even if the Tories win the next election in 2010.

Of course, this is an issue at the margins. If I were an American looking to get out of a left-tilting America, there are many other countries apart from Britain I would want to live in, not least because the weather here is generally lousy, you cannot defend yourself with deadly force, and the place is so crowded. Switzerland is likely to be popular for those who want to go to Europe; some East European states will be attractive. And there is the whole of Asia to consider, possibly even the better bits of Latin America. But do not be surprised to read of a steady exodus of Americans in the next few years, assuming Obama proves to be as bad as some reckon he is. We might hear the accents of the West Coast or New York on the London Underground and in the bars of the West End a bit more.

Update: Here’s more on the collapse of the pound. At this rate, New Yorkers will be heading to London to do their Christmas shopping. Seriously, this shows that markets believe Brown has so badly mortgaged the UK economy on debt that Labour will try to turn on the money printing presses. And we know where that leads.

I like coffee, I like tea…

Enough of terrible politicians. What people should really know is what to drink during social and business encounters. Over to you, John Tierney.

You can always count on self-defeating French nationalism

As I suggested yesterday on the immigration issue, a danger during harsh economic times is that political leaders play the nationalist card, not just on the immigration – or emigration issue – but also on the purchase of so-called national “champions” by foreigners. It was the protectionism of the early 1930s in America, copied by many other nations, that helped transform would have been a relatively short, if unpleasant, recession into a global slump.

It appears that Nicolas Sarkozy, French president, has learned very little about this episode. He wants France (ie, the benighted French taxpayer) to create a national fund to prevent French firms from being taken over. So if cash-rich Middle East, Asian or other businesses want to invest in say, an under-capitalised French firm, then Sarko would rather the French state owned it instead. Quite how this squares with the European Union’s single market rules is unclear. But then, ever since the credit crunch, whatever “free market” credentials the EU project ever had would appear to be totally dead.

There are times when, in one of my less admirable moments, I pray that certain politicians suffer a grisly end. It is not big of me, I know, but boy it is hard sometimes.

Poles are leaving the UK

Over a year ago, when parts of the UK were inundated by floods, I remember the Spectator’s Rod Liddle moan that one reason why the water was running off the ground and into the rivers so much faster was because of all the additional immigrants crowding into the UK at the time. (Yes, really). It was a nonsense argument: much of the worst flooding was in places like Gloucestershire rather than in London, the former hardly being a hotbed of immigration. But hey, if you are in the business of defending zero-sum economics and the “lump of labour fallacy”, not to mention hold a general dislike of foreigners messing up the view, any stick will do.

It turns out that tens, maybe hundreds, of thousands of immigrants want to go back to their country of origin because of the changing economic landscape, and may do so. So Rod and his other worriers can sleep easy. Britain is now able to breathe free (sarcasm alert).

On a side-note, I’d add that with a recession now occuring, dislike of “foreigners” taking “our jobs” is going to become an even more toxic political issue, particularly where among the low-paid, arrivals from abroad do depress wage rates, if only in the short run. But then one should consider the shocking fact that during the boom years, immigrants were taking half of the new job vacancies in the UK, despite there being a large amount of unemployment among the indigenous population, a terrible indictment of the tax and welfare system’s destruction of work incentives.

What about people who bomb abortion clinics in America?

When reading on the internet about Islamic terrorism, commenters often mention that there is also terrorism by Christian fundamentalists in America, where there have been bombings of abortion clinics and shootings of abortion providers.

How prevalent is this form of American domestic terrorism? In recent years there have been round about 15,000 – 20,000 murders in total per year in the US. How many of these were of abortion providers?

Guess now. Scribble your answer down.

If you had asked me a few months ago I would have said three or four murders per year.

Considered over the last fifteen years I was overestimating somewhat. According to the best-known pro-abortion organisation in the US, NARAL Pro-Choice America,

Since 1993, seven clinic workers – including three doctors, two clinic employees, a clinic escort, and a security guard – have been murdered in the United States. Seventeen attempted murders have also occurred since 1991.

That figure comes from a document published in December 2007. So far as I know the figures have not changed since then.

However the phrasing “Since 1993 seven abortion clinic workers have been murdered in the United States” could be re-arranged, with equal truth, to say that “since 1998 no abortion clinic workers have been murdered in the United States.”

The last such murder was ten years ago today.

When I first found out this fact I was surprised. Again and again I have read comments that assumed that this type of terrorism was less deadly than Islamic terrorism but was nonetheless a steadily lethal undercurrent of American life – a death here, a death there.

In the fight against any type of crime, no victory can ever be anything but temporary. The most you can ever say is that the trend is down. There have been several attempted murders of abortion providers during the last ten years and the fact that none of them have succeeded must owe something to mere chance. As has often been observed, the terrorist only has to get lucky once. However it does now seem probable there will be zero murders of abortion providers during the presidency of George W Bush. I doubt that he will be given much credit for this, though if the trend had been otherwise he would certainly have been given the discredit.

The Bailout Reader… essential reading

The Bailout Reader over on the Ludwig Von Mises Institute site is an essential reality based antidote to the crapulous ignorance on offer in the mainstream media on the current economic crisis. When it comes to economics at least, the Ludwig Von Mises Institute is hard to better.

If ever there was a ‘Crisis of Regulatory Statism’, look around you… this is it.

Read every word of it.

An Idaho write-in campaign

Greg Nemitz is running a write-in campaign for the Idaho 2nd Congressional District:

I’m Gregory Nemitz. I’m a conservative Republican running for Congress as an official Write-In candidate for Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District.

Your Congressman, Mike Simpson, recently voted twice for the $810 billion bailout bill. You also need to know that the liberal Democrat candidate said she would have voted FOR the bailout.

I have absolutely no idea if we have any readers in that district, but if you are one, check out his campaign video.

Greg is an acquaintance of mine through aerospace circles. We first crossed paths on the internet a couple decades ago and I have even met him in person a few times.

More off-balance sheet fun and games

Spectator politics correspondent Fraser Nelson spots that Gordon “off balance sheet” Brown, as I will now continue to call this shit of a national leader, has devised an accounting wheeze to remove the tens of billions of public debt involved in the Northern Rock bailout from the public accounts. As a result, Brown can claim that the UK public finances are fine, nothing to look at here, please move along.

As Mr Nelson points out, Brown engages in practices that politicians are only too keen to condemn when applied by banks. But at least banks, if they try to remove certain default risks off their balance sheets, use forms of tradable insurance policies known as credit default swaps. I’d be interested to know how exactly Brown & Co. intend to hedge out the risk that Northern Rock does not return to any form of profit. This disconnect between the talk of prudence on the one hand and financial trickery on the other will, I hope, be the undoing of this overrated bullshitter from north of the border. Brown is damaging the age-old Scottish reputation for plain dealing. No wonder so many Scots want to cut loose from the UK. I don’t blame them.

Trying to find some positives

One of the hardest things for a libertarian to do at the moment is to maintain any kind of optimism or sense of confidence that his or her ideas will catch on. The danger is that if one sinks into despair, then that despair will come across as a form of defeatism, which turns into a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy. If I have a criticism of one of the head honchos of the UK-based Libertarian Alliance, Sean Gabb, is that he used to wallow so much in this sort of “we are all doomed” schtick that I almost imagined, that in a perverse kind of way, that he was secretly rather enjoying it and that it was all a bit tongue in cheek. Funnily enough, at last year’s annual LA conference in London – the next one is held this weekend – I sensed that Mr Gabb had cheered up a bit. Even so, reasons for to be grim about civil liberties issues remain but sometimes I think that momentum might be slowly changing at the level of public debate. Increasingly, if the government comes out with some new measure, it is geeted with a sort of wearied resignation or outright derision; enthusiasm for such measures are few, or supported by obvious toadies and fools.

Take this story in the Daily Telegraph today. The outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions, no less, talks about the UK embracing the politics of fear:

Outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Ken Macdonald warned that the expansion of technology by the state into everyday life could create a world future generations “can’t bear”.

Maybe they will not just bear it, but do something about it.

In his wide-ranging speech, Sir Ken appeared to condemn a series of key Government policies, attacking terrorism proposals – including 42 day detention – identity card plans and the “paraphernalia of paranoia”.

Paraphernalia of paranoia – that is a nice turn of phrase.