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]

In the expenses scandal, the EU dimension cannot be overstated

“The readiness of politicians to relinquish power amazes me…..Take the European constitution, now rebranded as the Lisbon treaty. I read all the drafts of that document, spoke to lawyers and became convinced that its calculated opacity was a charter for the creeping takeover of national policy by bureaucrats and judges. There were brilliant MPs who could debate every inch of the detail – David Miliband, Gisela Stuart, David Heathcoat-Amory, Chris Huhne. But I met others who hadn’t even read the document and looked incredulous that I had. When the annual EU membership fee is £6.5 billion, when EU directives have driven almost half of the regulations passed here since 1998, and when implementing those regulations has cost £106 billion (according to a recent study by Open Europe), it is not surprising that people ask what MPs are doing.”

Camilla Cavendish.

As she points out in an excellent Times column, the contempt many of us feel for MPs is not just driven by their corruption. It is far more serious than that. It is that a group of people, either through apathy, venality, EU fanaticism or blind cowardice, have decided that they need to transfer powers away from the traditional cockpit of British politics. MPs are admitting they have little point other than to vote on minor, parish-pump matters. In which case, there is little case for paying them more than a local town councillor, or paying them anything at all.

The Times has a pretty good editorial on reforms that are needed. I have my quibbles, but it is generally on the right track. My main point of disagreement, however, is that none of the changes will significantly alter the balance between the state and the individual until the former is drastically reduced in size.

Brown’s nemesis

I love the headline on this piece in the Spectator by Matthew Lynn. I don’t think he is talking about our own Brian Micklethwait, but he could be.

Mr Lynn is talking about the risk, now rising, that the UK will have its sovereign debt ratings cut, a fact that means the UK government has to pay higher interest rates to investors wishing to hold UK gilts. I suspect the US could be headed for a similar fate.


A spot of bother in the UK

Oh dear… seems the EU is being beastly to us again.

I wonder if I can buy brain futures or it is just pork bellies?

If they get ponies, so must we

In the days when UFOs were big news, someone – as usual I have forgotten where I read this, but it might have been in something by Arthur C. Clarke – once put forward a very good reason not to believe that the US military were concealing alien visitations: “If there really were UFOs,” said a military man, “all us captains would be majors.”

And so they would. The proven existence of alien spaceships buzzing around in our atmosphere would prompt a vast expansion of the armed services. No doubt the governments of the world would also pour resources into the sciences. Administrators, too, would need more power and money in order to deal with the dramatic changes to our accustomed mode of life that might be necessary. The alien threat, scary though it would be, would be so good for so many people in receipt of a government salary that I am quite surprised that no one of any significance propagated it. In fact, according to believers in UFOs, the military-industrial complex went to great efforts to pooh-pooh the whole idea. Given the benefits it would have brought them, maybe I should revise my cynical views about bureaucrats.

That was then. This is now. These days the threat of global warming rather than flying saucers is good news for many people getting a government salary.

Some people will read this as meaning that I take climate change to be a group delusion, as UFOs were. Not so. I believe it is happening a little less strongly than I did in 2006 but I do not know. Back then I said, “The consensus convinces because there is no good reason to suppose that so many eminent scientists are lying or deceiving themselves when they say climate change is happening. But if you give me cause to believe that departure from the consensus gets a person ostracised, then there is a good reason.” I still think this, but I have become equally aware of another incentive for scientists to believe that global warming is happening.

Via Tim Blair and Benny Peiser comes a beautiful example of how the words “climate change” have come to be seen as the key to the government strongbox.

In the Guardian, Tariq Tahir asks:

“Changing behaviour will be as vital as new technologies in tackling climate change. So where is the funding for linguists, anthropologists and sociologists?”

The red things you see everywhere are tongues hanging out.

“If we were asked as institutions to help solve major global challenges, and asked what is the ‘dream team’ that we would want to field for doing that,” says Wellings, “as soon as you start to put that together, there are engineers, technocrats and very often people in the humanities and the social sciences.”


He points to the School of Oriental and African Studies, a member of the 1994 group. “I don’t know what the future of geopolitics is, but I do know that in the future we are going to have to turn to people such as those at Soas, who are experts in languages and anthropology from that part of the world. It will be an inevitable response that we will need a world-class centre of excellence of the sort that we already have there.”

In the meantime, Wellings, who is also vice-chancellor of Lancaster University, fears there will be less money for academics to engage in speculative research in social sciences and humanities.


Diane Berry, Reading University’s pro vice-chancellor for research, echoes this argument. “It is clearly important to protect funding for Stem subjects and medicine. However, we cannot afford to conceive our science base too narrowly – we must protect our wider research base.

“This is because addressing current and future global challenges depends on the successful interplay of all subjects. Furthermore, the boundaries between the natural sciences and the social sciences and humanities are becoming increasingly fluid as research at the frontiers of knowledge becomes increasingly inter- and multidisciplinary.”

The fact that people believe something because they have incentives to do so does not make their beliefs untrue. But it is a reason for caution.

Stupid stupid everywhere, nor any stop to think

There is a lot of stupidity about. To come up with examples from the world of politics would merely be depressing. In Act Two Scene Three of Macbeth the play takes a break from people murdering each other and Scotland descending into civil war so that a comic doorman can make lame jokes about brewer’s droop. In the spirit of that doorman, here are two wavelets in the world tsunami of stupidity that flowed my way recently:

Example 1: Barnado’s, the children’s charity, has put one of those collection bags through my door. The slogan on the envelope reads:

“We believe in children, do you?”

I would so like to say, “No, I’m a paedgnostic,” but that might be misunderstood. This slogan does not quite reach the heights of meaninglessness scaled by “Us needs you ’cause you’re Younique” that featured in the book Spacetime Donuts, but that was fictional and meant to be stupid.

Example 2: Several thousand of those things in which Barnardo’s so ardently believe took their Biology GCSEs today. One syllabus, extruded by Edexcel, is called 360Science. Yeah, without a space. No further evidence that it will be 360Stupid is really required, but in case anyone is wondering… a family informant swears that one of the questions on today’s paper featured a picture of a cat bearing the caption “This photograph shows a cat.”

What have you seen lately that is amusingly stupid?

UPDATE: to my mortifishameification I realise that “paedgnostic” would mean almost the opposite of what I meant. Consider it replaced with paedo-agnostic, which sounds even worse. Of course one could also tell the Barnardo’s collector that one takes either the weak or strong apaedist position.

An enjoyable film that has a serious flaw in it

Like many people, I thoroughly enjoyed the new Star Trek film, which seeks to “re-boot” the series by going back to the early days of Messrs Kirk, Spock, Scotty and the rest in much the way that the makers of Casino Royale tried with some success to do with 007. I liked the paciness, humour and action of the ST film a lot; some of the cast were great. I thought the fellow who played Spock stole the movie with such brio that he should be probably up before a court for grand larceny. But I have a reservation: I thought that the guy playing Kirk was often a total jerk, albeit with some redeeming qualities, and it was wildly improbable that a starship would have employed him as a commander at that point. Yes, I know that the very premise of the movie is fanciful, but there has to be enough credibility and character development to make it work at even the level of fantasy (that is why Lord of the Rings triumphed as a movie series, for instance).

And this guy thinks the same way. But even so, Stark Trek is well worth the money and far more enjoyable than a lot of SF films I have seen in recent years.

The odds that Brown will go by the end of this year

William Hill, the betting firm, is offering 5/2 odds that Gordon Brown leaves the office of Prime Minister this year. I guess if you want to finesse it, it would be worth knowing what are the odds that he has gone by the end of the party conference season in the autumn (ie, by the end of September in Labour’s case).

Dozens of MPs, such as from Labour and Conservative, could be de-selected by their own local party members over expense abuses that have come to light; it is likely that the issue will be one of the very top questions that a voter will have of a candidate who is up for re-election, whenever the polls are held. As far as I know, my local Pimlico MP, Mark Field, is a good guy in this expenses issue, but I’ll have to check. Here’s some data on him at the “They Work for You” website, an invaluable resource. Mr Field, is, by the way, sound as they come in opposing ID cards.

As a side-issue, I hope, as Guido says, that Douglas Carswell gets re-elected for his East Anglian seat with a good majority. He’s been one of the undoubted good guys of this whole sorry process, not something you will usually read at Samizdata. Here is Mr Carswell’s blog.

And thanks Samizdata readers! It turns out that there has been a fair amount of foreign coverage of this saga. The reports generally do not address what is the 800 lb gorilla in the drawing room: the fact that Parliament is as ineffectual as it is in large part due to the transfer of great powers to the EU. And the expenses of European MPs in Strasbourg will no doubt make for fascinating reading.

Drawing the right lessons

Very smart article by Niall Ferguson on the lessons to be drawn from the financial crisis. As one would expect, many of the wrong lessons have been learned by policymakers. As he says, the 1970s was a period of relatively heavy financial regulation and state controls over part of the banking system, and yet it was a grim period economically (unless you happened to be an OPEC oil producer). He also picks up on the point that Canada, which operates a broadly free market banking system, has not suffered anything like so badly as its neighbour, or indeed the UK. That’s mightily inconvenient for our own Gordon Brown in claiming that the crisis was like swine flu or a meteorite impact from outer space, rather than something that was caused in many cases right on his doorstep.

Who benefits from the Parliamentary expenses scandal?

It is often a useful question to ask: who benefits from this? Senior Libertarian Alliance honcho Sean Gabb, who not surprisingly is grimly satisfied at seeing the discomfiture of this partly corrupt, oppressive and pointless bunch of political boobies, asks whether his one-time adversary, a certain Boris Johnson, might be a prime long-term beneficiary from the current expenses crisis. Mr Johnson, a former editor of the Spectator, a Daily Telegraph journalist and former member for the safe Tory seat of Henley-on-Thames, is now Mayor of London. Being outside the House of Commons, Mr Gabb argues, confers upon the colourful Mr Johnson the chance to pose as a man untainted. Quite possibly so.

But maybe Mr Gabb is in danger of being caught up in his own cynicism, understandable thought that may be (full disclosure: I am an old friend of Sean Gabb whom I have known for more than 20 years). Mr Johnson, does, of course, have other potential skeletons rattling in his cupboard, as do many of us mere mortals who do not happen to be moral saints. But right now, all that I want is a politician with the sense to roll back the state to the extent that Sean Gabb and I share. In other words, roll it back a long, long way. That surely has to remain the prime focus of our energies, long after stories about expense fiddling have faded from view.

Not a record to be proud of

The Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Martin, is due to speak about his position at 3:30 pm today (about an hour from when I am now writing this). There is a high chance he will resign in disgrace, rather than risk the even greater ignomy of being forced out by a vote of no-confidence from MPs. It appears that even fellow Scot Gordon Brown will not explicitly back him. The scandals over the outrageous arrest of Tory MP Damian Green, and now the relentless series of stories of MPs abusing expenses for things like mortgages on second homes, has damaged confidence in Parliament so badly that fringe parties such as UKIP and the British National Party – a party of hard-left economic views, let it be noted – may do relatively well in the upcoming June European Union elections.

This whole saga demonstrates the truth of the thesis that politicians increasingly have come to regard their own interests as set apart from the country as a whole. It adds to the notion, put forward by Sean Gabb, of an “Enemy Class” that is quite consciously at odds with the more conservative (small – c) values of the country. Of course, there has always been an element of this – it is naive to imagine that Parliament ever quite met some Greek ideal – but it is now in a particularly bad way.

Let’s hope Mr Martin sees sense and takes the proverbial bottle of whisky and the loaded revolver into his study. He will be the first Speaker to be ejected from his role in more than 300 years. Not a record to be proud of.

As an aside, it surprises me still how little this whole saga is registering in the foreign media. Anyone got any examples of US, French, German etc coverage of this? It might be nice if even Instapundit mentioned it.

Samizdata quote of the day

Perhaps the fact that we have seen millions voting themselves into complete dependence on a tyrant has made our generation understand that to choose one’s government is not necessarily to secure freedom

– Friedrich Hayek

…or perhaps not

Tradition trashed in the eurovision

First there was the financial crisis; then, our entire political numpties were found out to be embezzlers. But now, we have a real black swan.

Nul point Norway wins Eurovision with the highest number of points ever achieved in the competition.