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]

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A classic study of free banking in Scotland before 1845

Those good people at the Institute of Economic Affairs have put this fine study of free banking, as it existed in Scotland until the middle of the 19th Century, back into print. It is examined in great detail, with lots of figures and examples of how these banks operated, how many bank failures there were, and so forth. There are a few equations but nothing that should faze all but the most mathematically challenged. Historical scholarship of this detail and depth is vital. It is as vital, in fact, as those studies that showed that in Victorian Britain, before the Welfare State came along, Britain already had an extensive network of mutual aid societies. Without this historical memory, it becomes easier for politicians to sell the lie that the solution to X or Y lies in ever bigger government.

Readers can either read the pdf for free or, if it is tough on the eyesight, as it is for me, readers can get a publication-on-demand sorted out for just £10.

I do not suggest that free banking is necessarily the panacea for the current troubles. But it seems to me that a point lost on the anti-globalistas as well as many of the other critics of the current financial system is that they fail to grasp how banking, as it is practised in most instances today, has deviated from a genuine example of laissez faire capitalism. What we need is sound money, administered by banks operating under the constant blast of competition in proving the soundness of that money. When you think about it, it is not very hard to grasp the idea, is it?

Go on Sarko, make my day

The President of France is threatening to walk out of the G20 gabfest this week if the countries cannot agree on stricter regulation of the world’s financial markets. Of course, Mr Sarkozy buys into the fantasy that what has happened shows the failure of “unregulated capitalism”. If only he would walk out of the conference, which is likely to involve further layers of largely useless and counter-productive rules and meaningless communiques, not to mention disrupt London, provide a focus point for tens of thousands of anti-globalistas, and cost Londoners a ton of money in policing and disruption.

Go on Sarko, do it for les enfants.

“We have to wait for the fire brigade because of health and safety”

Reported by Lucy Bannerman in today’s Times:

Fire kills child, 3, and parents as police prevent neighbours from trying to rescue them

A pregnant woman, her husband and their three-year-old son were killed in a house fire early yesterday as police who arrived before the fire brigade prevented neighbours from trying to save them. The woman screamed: “Please save my kids” from a bedroom window and neighbours tried to help but were beaten back by flames and were told by police not to attempt a rescue.

By the time firefighters got into the house in Doncaster, Michelle Colly, 25, her husband, Mark, 29, and son, Louis, 3, were dead. Their daughter, Sophie, 5, was taken to hospital and believed to be critically ill.

Davey Davis, 38, a friend of the family, said: “It was the most harrowing thing I have ever witnessed. Michelle was at the bedroom window yelling, ‘Please save my kids’ and we wanted to help but the police were pushing us back and not allowing us near. We were willing to risk our lives to save those kiddies but the police wouldn’t let us.

“Tempers were running very high, particularly with the women who were there, but the police were just saying we have to wait for the fire brigade because of health and safety.

“There were four or five police officers. They were here before the fire brigade. We heard the sirens and we came across to help but they wouldn’t let us.

“I thought the police were there to protect lives. At one time they would have have gone inside themselves to try and rescue them.

“When a family is burning to death in front of your eyes, rules should go out of the window – especially with kids. Everybody wanted to try and help.”

In a previous post about loss of nerve in our public services I said, referring to instances in which firemen and policemen had “broken procedure” to save life, that despite their personal courage “institutional gutlessness surrounded them, was embarrassed by them, and will kill off their like eventually. Poisoned soil does not long give forth good fruit.”

Seems like the poison has worked its way well in. Note: I do not know whether the Colly family could have been saved had the attempt been made while Mrs Colly was still alive to scream for someone to save her kids. A spokeswoman for the South Yorkshire Police said, “The senior officer in charge is confident we handled this incident as professionally as possible. In a situation like that you could end up with more deceased bodies than you had in the first place.”

One of the lesser known sights of London is the Watts Memorial in Postman’s Park. I gather it featured in the film Closer, starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law. No, I am not being funny, suddenly veering off into a travelogue in the middle of a post about the deaths of a family. I wish there were something to laugh about. The memorial was set up by a Victorian artist, George Frederick Watts, to commemorate those who died saving others. It consists of hand made plaques each bearing the name of a person who sacrificed his or her life and a brief citation. Very quaint they are, with their crowded lettering with the extra-large initial capitals and little swirly plant motifs and curlicues in the corners. Even the names are quaint, laboriously given in full. Police Constables Percy Edwin Cook, Edward George Brown Greenoff, Harold Frank Ricketts and George Stephen Funnell are among them. I wonder what PC Percy Edwin Cook, for instance, who perished when he “Voluntarily descended high tension chamber at Kensington to rescue two workmen overcome by poisonous gas” would have made of his successors in the South Yorkshire force.

Perhaps the police spokeswoman was right. Perhaps if health and safety had been less comprehensively assured and the Colly incident handled rather less professionally, we would have ended up with more than the three “deceased bodies” – no, make that four, when you count the child expected to be born in two weeks – that we did end up with. Still, more than four dead bodies is quite a lot and quite unlikely, I cannot help thinking. And I also cannot help thinking that there is more to this than just counting the dead under different scenarios. If the critically injured five year old girl does survive she will be burdened by more than just the fact that her family died. She will eventually have to know that those who might have answered her mother’s last desperate appeal were held back on grounds of “health and safety.” Not theirs, obviously.

UPDATE: Other accounts give the spelling of the family name as “Colley”. They confirm that the police actively prevented rescue attempts.

FURTHER UPDATE: There is a thoughtful discussion in the comments regarding several moral and practical questions, and whether the press accounts are to be trusted. Quite possibly not. Yet I must add that if the South Yorkshire police are trying to convince me that they are not abdicating responsibility in order to follow rote “health and safety” procedure (as commenter “sjv” put it), then best not claim, as they appeared to in the Mail report linked to in the word “other”, that the reason they will not tell us exactly how long elapsed between the arrival of the police and the arrival of the firemen is “‘data protection’ rules.”

Samizdata quote of the day

“It is perfectly possible for inertia to be beneficial and an improvement, if the alternative is poorer. It is the same fallacy as the claim of the current Government concerning the current economic crisis, that ‘doing nothing is not an option’.”

– Former England rugby player and man of firm views on the sport, Brian Moore. Now a television commentator and newspaper pundit, Mr Moore sees parallels between the rule changes in rugby – some of which have been a retrogade step, in his view – and the reaction of certain governments to the credit crisis.

South Park on the bailout

I must say it is about time that we found out what the South Park kids made of the bailout. This is probably not entirely work-safe.

Tony Blair’s crucial contribution to the mess must never be forgotten

I would not want to get on the wrong side of this scribe when words don’t fail him:

But this? This hole in the air encased in a suit of clunking verbal armour? This truck-load of clichéd grandiloquence in hopeless pursuit of anything that might count as the faintest apology for an idea? Words fail me.

Thus does Matthew Parris muse upon the oratical inadequacies of Prime Minister Gordon Brown. If Brown is now the main object of your rage and loathing, then read the whole thing. You will surely enjoy it greatly.

But what matters to me is not whether Brown is now a doomed and hopeless failure, for clearly he is. But how much more of my country will he quadruple-mortgage? How much more of my country’s earth will he scorch? And, later, how much of the Labour Party as a whole will he take with him into the history books and nowhere else? Not that much more, not that much more, and the more the better, is what I am now hoping (against hope) for.

Now is as good a time as any to confess that I was one of those people who used once to accuse Samizdata sage Paul Marks of not “getting” New Labour.

My problem was that I did really believe (and do still believe) that when Blair said that he was not in favour of wrecking my country’s finances, he did truly mean it. Time and again, Blair outfaced his party with that very proclamation. I don’t believe in ruining Britain, he would shout at his massed ranks of idiot followers. So fire me, he kept saying. And the massed ranks of idiots, despite being enraged by this exasperatingly sensible talk, kept not firing him.

My problem was not that I was wrong to notice these protestations of fiscal virtue, or wrong to consider them significant. Where I went wrong was in understanding their actual impact.

I didn’t think that Blair was ushering in any sort of libertarian nirvana, no way. Nor was I relaxed about the damage being done by Blair to the legal system and to the criminal law and to the regulatory regime. Europe was, as it remains, a continuing disaster. But at least, I thought, this time around Labour will not smash up everything economically. But actually, the whole Blair “political achievement” made it possible for Labour to break Britain with a ferocity and completeness that has no parallel in recent British history. The more we trusters trusted Labour not to scorch Britain’s earth, the more earth they were able actually to scorch, and this scorching, of course, continues.

Old-style socialists were not trusted, and as soon as the danger signs appeared, as they inevitably did as soon as each successive attempt at a socialist-inclined government had got its flamethrowers working and scorching, voters and investors reacted accordingly. This time around, too many (me included) thought that it would be different, until such time as even we could not doubt the unique scale of this particular disaster. To the precise degree to which we thought things would be better this time, they were actually worse, and it was cause and effect.

Did Blair do this on purpose? As the catastrophe started to unfold, did he realise what he had done, sticking his killer grin on the front of the latest and greatest Labour assault on Britain’s economic viability? Did he care? Does he care? Frankly, I don’t care. I now, still, regard Blair more as a destructive force of nature rather than as a deliberately evil man, but in practice, what does it matter? What matters, as we have become used to hearing as other pettier disasters have unfolded in recent years, is to make sure that nothing like this can ever happen again.

The point is not just that Brown has been and is still a catastrophe. That’s a given. The point to ram home, now and for as long as his name is ever remembered, is that Tony Blair was also a catastrophe, and arguably a much bigger one. For without Blair, there could have been no Brown. Burying the Labour Party for ever, as it deserves, does not merely mean keeping the horrid memory of Brown and his cloth-eared blunderings alive. It means remembering how Tony Blair made those blunderings possible.

So, let us learn the big political lesson of this catastrophe, to ensure that, indeed, the catastrophe can never happen again. And it is this. When the Labour Party sounds bad, it is bad. When it sounds good, it is even worse. Only the idiots in the Labour Party now can be blamed for Brown, and not even they really voted for him. But they did allow him to clamber unopposed into the driver’s seat of the wrecking and burning machine, and for that they all deserve their particular places in hell. But many more Brits voted for Blair, because they thought that even if things were not automatically going to get any better (as the idiots were singing – remember that?) then at least, fiscally speaking, they wouldn’t get that much worse.

Clearly Britain will never “vote Brown” in the future, any more than it did this time around for Brown himself. But Britain did “vote Blair”, and this it must never do again.

A great “pulp” writer remembered

I came across this fine tribute website to John D. MacDonald, the writer of many crime/mystery novels, most of which were set in the area around Florida, the Bahamas and Caribbean. If you have not come across his writings, which are a sort of mixture of Lee Child, with a twist of Raymond Chandler, a shot of Ian Fleming, a light coating of Eric Ambler and a tincture of Robert Parker, then you should correct that oversight. One thing I love about these old 1950s and 1960s novels is the artwork on the covers. I love those “pulp” covers with pictures of hot dames, tough private eyes, guns, boats, gambling cards with smudges of coffee or whiskey on them. There is a whole genre of design and artwork that went into making these covers that deserves more credit than it usually gets.

Even today, the MacDonald books, especially his Travis McGee stories, which later got a hilarious echo in the crime capers – also set in southern Florida – of Karl Hiaasen – read as freshly and sharply today as when they were first written. Reading them makes me want to jump on a plane and head on down south for a spot of marlin fishing off the Keys. Bliss.

Samizdata quote of the day

The cognitive dissonance you speak of is found on the right as well, it is not confined to the left. Actually, the problem is, there is no dissonance, there is an honest and fair dinkum doublethink, with no internal conflict.

CountingCats, commenting here.

I am with Glenn

Let us celebrate Human Achievement Hour.

Any common ground?

Talking of protests – see Perry’s post immedately under this one – there are a number of protests going on in London to coincide with the pointless and expensive Group of 20 meeting of major industrialised and developing countries next week. There could be some serious clashes. It makes me wonder, given the Tea Party anti-bailout protests in the US at the moment – which are starting to get more coverage from the MSM – as to whether there is any understanding on the part of the G20 protesters that they actually might share some common ground with the free marketeers of the Tea Partiers. After all, do the anti-globalistas understand the rage that many Tea Partiers feel at having their hard-earned cash used to bail out banks that were run by often quasi-state institutions and highly paid executives? Of course, a lot of the G20 protesters are Naomi Klein-type socialist buffoons who want to replace what they mistakenly think of as “unregulated capitalism” with central planning etc, but it seems to me that the might be a section of the protesters who might be open to understanding the real causes of the crisis and understand also the injustice of the prudent bailing out the imprudent.

Of course this may be unwisely optimstic and that all of the G20 protesters are statists of one sort of another, out to bash at a “system” that they do not comprehend. If there are ugly scenes in these protests and people working for banks are targeted and hurt, I hope that Gordon Brown, a prime minster of a government that once used to fete the City when it suited, feels suitably ashamed for pilloring those same bankers now that the credit crisis has hit. It is now another reason why my loathing of Gordon Brown and his brand of politics has reached hurricane-force level.

Turn every damn light in your house on

At 8:30 pm, I will turn on every single light in my house for one hour in protest against those who would bring our civilisation into a new dark ages.