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]

:g/David Blunkett/s//Jacqui Smith/g

I have said it before. I am trying to remember if I lacked the nerve to use the full obscenity last time, or whether an editor removed it.

Once again, though, I cheer the demise of a loathsome Home Secretary, but acknowledge that it will make little difference.

There was a time that I thought that Michael Howard was an unusually and unpleasantly illiberal Home Secretary. In truth, that was a fair estimate of the man, but I did not know what was to come.

A bet

At this rate, predictions that there will be a General Election in the UK by the end of this year look pretty credible. It may be that we will get a poll by the autumn, particularly if the meltdown of the government directly affects things like the UK’s debt credit rating. Another day, another bunch of Labour politicians head off.

Being nice and prosperous

There is a Reuters story quoting a survey suggesting that the recession could trigger a general increase in violence around the world. As is always important in these kind of claims, we need to be sure that correlation between two things – violence and economic uncertainty – is not being conflated with causation. Consider: Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in the early 1990s when the world, in general, was quite prosperous, albeit coming out of a short recession in countries such as the US and UK, when the price of oil had also been falling. The violence that broke out in the MEast later in parts of Africa (think Sudan, think USS Cole) took place in the middle to late-1990s, a period when emerging market economies were generally on the rise. The exceptions may prove the rule: what I think is true is that places that are felt, rightly or wrongly, to be unfairly excluded from a global prosperity are often likely to be unstable, and quite violent, but not always.

In fact, it is even arguable that greater prosperity might even cause some forms of violence if reactionary/religious groups regard such wealth as a defilement of whatever it is they want to protect. (I happen to think that explains why some anti-globalisation folk are often, in essence, reactionary snobs). That in part explains the argument of those who said that the West was attacked on 9/11 not for its supposed transgressions in the Middle East, but for its wealth and freedom per se.

Where I think economics does play a more direct role is where you have regimes that are financially busted, with few remaining resources, and where they greedily, and desperately, eye other, resource-rich nations nearby. That explains some, but not all, military campaigns. As in the case of Japan during the 1930s, a hunger for raw materials, coupled with a militaristic ruling ideology and elite, led to the Japanese conquests in parts of East Asia and the Pacific Rim. The same happened with Argentina and its invasion of the Falklands Islands in 1982 (the islands are supposedly close to some very big oil reserves). Ceasar’s conquest of Gaul had a partly economic incentive (all that gold, slaves, etc). And so on.

There may also be some evidence that the more prosperous we are, the more tolerant we are, too. In fact tolerance, which is allied to liberty, and prosperity, are faces of the same coin. In the minds of the great Victorian champions of free trade, such as Richard Cobden and John Bright, free trade and peace went hand in hand. A bit naive, maybe – trade routes need to be protected against thieves and thugs – but it is a view based on an essentially benign view of how most of us live our lives, given half a chance.

Samizdata quote of the day*

The left should be sensitive to inequality, the left should never accept liberty on a playing field that is unequal.

– Conor Gearty. Quoted in this account of a debate on liberty at the Hay Festival by Afua Hirsch (do I detect an elegant lefty lawyer’s eyebrow raised in, “There was no competition for this position…”?).

Every time I hear Prof Gearty or another human rightist of his water argue for a policy with which I agree (banning torture, say, or permitting freedom of expression), I have to remind myself that they are proceeding from an entirely different foundation. The position is coherent, but coherently alien.

* Well, last week, actually.

Patrick Crozier on how to make F1 racing more fun

If you wondered why Formula 1 motor racing sometimes has all the excitement and crowd-pleasing qualities of a German art-house movie without subtitles, then Patrick Crozier will explain it to you here and here. I recall him making these and related points in a talk at Brian Micklethwait’s place a few years ago. Very interesting it was.

Even if you are not a sports fan or motoring enthusiast, the broader lessons of how a sport can regulate itself into narcolepsy are worth reflecting on.

What is seen and what is unseen

Even in Britain, the headlines this morning are full of the imminent bankruptcy filing of GM. It is, as one report points out, the biggest bankruptcy in US industrial history, setting an unenviable record. Several things stand out as I looked through the details but one immediately grabbed my attention: the US taxpayer could be on the hook for up to $60 billion on account of state assistance. $60 billion. I guess we all get so punch-drunk with the vast sums involved in bank bailouts and the like that the significance of these sums becomes a little fuzzy (or maybe it was that white wine I had at the BBQ yesterday). $60 billion of money that is being spent to rescue part of a veteran auto firm will be money that will not be available to fund, say, a new set of business startups in the US. GM has highly recognisable brands and a lot of well organised workers. Pretty much everyone has heard of it, has heard of Detroit’s status as a car-making town. So, naturally, there is big media and political interest in what happens to GM. All those thousands of jobs on the line, etc. But the entrepreneurs, taxpayers and consumers who will see their wallets lifted, business plans stymied, or car purchases affected – who speaks for them? Taken as a whole, far more people will be affected by the cost of paying to sort out GM than the management and workers, but given the dynamics, it is usually far easier for politicians to portray themselves as “saving” a firm by spending or “investing” (sic) public money than it is to accept, however painfully, that a firm needs to be broken up and capital released for other, more productive things. (It needs to be remembered that GM’s problems pre-date the credit crunch).

The French classical liberal economist, Frederic Bastiat, wrote a famous essay, “What is seen and what is not seen”. He was attacking things like subsidies and tariffs. And not a word of his essay is out of date.