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]

More on technology and threats to business models

Following on from this post about how technology can boost some businesses but later turn them over, I thought about a specific type of business that I use, as a result of one of the comments. Namely, the optician. I am one of those folk who wear glasses pretty much all day and I do not like bothering with contact lenses or laser eye surgery. I have a slight stigmatism in my right eye and contact lenses for such a thing are very pricey. Since I was a young boy I have worn specs, and after the usual phase of being teased as a “four-eyes”, I got over that, and decided, “To hell with it, I am going to go for the intelligent preppy guy look instead”. (It worked on the ladies, I find. Come to that, I find some women in glasses incredibly attractive).

But will modern technology and things like the internet put some opticians out of business? Possibly. If you know your prescription and the type of lenses you need, then I suppose that if you see a frame that suits, you can submit the order, and assuming the postal system is working, get the specs in a few days. In my case, though, I actually like to browse through a number of different frames and try them on first. There does not seem to be a substitute for doing it in the flesh, so to speak. It is the same, surely, for buying some kind of clothes, even off-the-peg ones where you know your size. Sometimes there is just no getting around the need to go to a store, go to the changing room and try stuff on.

Food for thought in London’s clubland

The week resumes after a highly enjoyable and stimulating annual Libertarian Alliance conference, which I attended along with one or two other members of the Samizdata crew, such as Brian Micklethwait. I may put together some more considered thoughts about some of the ideas and issues that arose over the past two days, but for now, let me join in congratulating Antoine Clarke – another occasional Samizdata writer – for picking up a deserved literary prize, and also Tim and Helen Evans and Sean Gabb, for putting this event together. What was encouraging was how we had delegates from all over the globe, with plenty of new, young faces.

One of the best sessions was the final one, in which we were treated to a survey of how the UK public actually thinks about banking and the credit crisis. The results, as Antoine himself suggested, might show that people are far less naive in believing fashionable nonsense about financial affairs than politicians assume. It would be nice to think that whenever some warmed-up Keynesian goes on about “quantitative easing”, the response from Joe Public is to roll the eyes.

The conference also featured a highly entertaining post-dinner speech by Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes. As Paul noted, it is galling that the word “freedom” is conspicuously absent from the rhetoric of any of the main party leaders in the UK. The same, for that matter, can be said of those in countries such as the US.

Samizdata quote of the day

Whenever is found what is called a paternal government, there is found state education. It has been discovered that the best way to insure implicit obedience is to commence tyranny in the nursery.

– Benjamin Disraeli

A derangement of expectations

So if you purchase a Baby Einstein for your child and he/she does not in fact attain legendary levels of accomplishment in the subjects of physics and mathematics (and become laughably inept at economics), i.e. become just like Albert Einstein… apparently you can get your money refunded.

I assume any parents who dangled a ‘Baby Mozart’ over Hank and Britney’s cribs and were rewarded with nothing but derivative Anton Salieri pastiches from their children, they too can demand Disney put them into funds to compensate them for their bitter disappointment at the mediocrity of their offspring.

A good friend of mine who purchased a ‘Baby Guderian’ for his child several years ago is now expressing some alarm that young Rupert may not in fact turn out to be the military genius that Britain is sure to need in future years when we inevitably take our final leave from the EU, not to mention liberating Aquitaine from the intolerable yoke of the French state.

Is there no end to corporate misrepresentation and malfeasance?

Samizdata quote of the day

I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution or that have failed their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is “needed” before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituents “interests,” I shall reply that I was informed that their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can

– Barry Goldwater

One rule for the establishment…

… and another for ‘outsiders‘.

When the LibDems take money that is questionable, it is done in ‘good faith’ and that is the end of the matter… when UKIP does it, they are bankrupted by the Electoral Commission.

Curious, no?

Steve Jobs was absolutely right

Microsoft has no taste. Who in the name of Allah thought this was a good idea?


Update: Here is some proof that this is real. Some people may find this video disturbing.

Michael Jennings talks failing businesses

Patrick Crozier recently did a podcast interview with our own Michael Jennings, on the subject of businesses that are now failing, which I heartily recommend. Michael zeroed in, in particular, on bookshops, spectacles, newspapers and – very topically for today (although the conversation itself took place a short while ago) – postal services.

A particular point which Michael emphasised was how the same technology can start out by helping a particular business, but then turn round and smack it in the vital organs.

The dead tree press, for instance, thanks to the lead given by men like Rupert Murdoch, at first thrived on computer technology. Now look at it.

Computer technology also started out by making postal communication a better deal rather than a worse one. Junk mail, without the e- at the front, was, after all, an early bastard child of computers. And postal services the world over, like most businesses, have enthusiastically applied computer technology to their various activities, making old-school physical communication that much quicker and cheaper and thus more attractive to users than it would otherwise have been. But again, now look at the predicament of post offices, and in particular, today of all days, our own Royal Mail. Note how easily the Royal Mail itself is managing to communicate with us all, despite not being able to send out any letters.

I found particularly interesting what Michael said about the book-selling trade. Once again, the same pattern repeats itself. Early computer technology helps the old-school businesses, in this case the big book-selling chain stores like Borders, by making them more organised. But the big Borders expansion has now gone into reverse, with, for instance, the Oxford Street, London, manifestation of it having just now closed.

Book selling works well on the internet because books are a standard product that you don’t necessarily need to smell, fondle, weigh in your hand, and so on, like you might want to do with something like a camera or a laptop computer. But a product doesn’t have to be generic and standardised to work well as an internet purchase. It just has to be easy to describe with complete accuracy. Most pairs of spectacles are a bespoke product. You just have to know exactly what you want. But this is doable. So high street opticians are a good candidate for execution any year now. I am sure that the Samizdata commentariat will be able to suggest more candidates for imminent death.

Patrick and Michael ended their conversation by agreeing that they didn’t think that the bad economic conditions we’ve been having lately are going to go away any time soon, which means, as Michael pointed out, that people are not going to stop being highly price-conscious, which is one of the big drivers of computerisation and internet-isation, and failure for all the businesses that can’t adapt to these processes.

I’ll end this by recycling an interesting comment that Michael has just added to Patrick’s posting:

As Patrick said, we recorded this over Skype. I was in my home in South-East London talking into my laptop and Patrick was in his home in South-West London conversing with me and replying. This may be another example of what we were talking about. In the late 1990s the traditional former telco monopolies had a huge boom, due to their being seen as the companies that would provide this bold internet future. Now, where are they? BT is now a company that one barely notices, although they do admittedly own the copper that our conversation was going through between my flat and the exchange (although not the equipment in the exchange). Mobile carriers themselves are probably next in this regard.

Like I say, recommended.

Palin right, Gingrich wrong

Sarah Palin has joined several other quite prominent Republicans and demonstrated that she ‘gets it’ by endorsing a third party Conservative over a Republican RINO running for the House in New York … whereas Newt Gingrich has demonstrated the exact opposite.

Gingrich stated of his backing the official Republican nomination Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava:

“We have to decide which business we are in. If we are in the business about feeling good about ourselves while our country gets crushed then I probably made the wrong decision.”

Which means he thinks the way to revitalise the Republican Party is to nominate Republicans who are functionally interchangeable with Democrats on a great many issues.

Contrast with Palin’s view, who clearly drew the correct lessons from her experience running as McCain’s veep, has picked the Conservative Party of New York candidate over the official Republican one, as did Dick Armey and Fred Thompson:

“The Republican Party today has decided to choose a candidate who more than blurs the lines, and there is no real difference between the Democrat and the Republican in this race.”

As I have been arguing for quite some time now, this is exactly the sort of notion that needs to work its way into the Republican Party. No wonder the media hate her.

The sleep of reason brings forth monsters

There is an excellent article in the Times (of London) today about the bitter fruits of relativism, of the pernicious idea, so beloved by our faux sophisticates, that there is no such thing as objective truth. That notion has done enormous damage; far from shielding us from the effects of bigotry and violence, the idea that there are no rights or wrongs has arguably achieved the opposite. Give up reason and respect for evidence, and monsters fill up the resultant gaps. Just look at the wasteland of much of our education system today, for example.

I am reminded of an outburst from a gentleman at a recent talk I attended by the University of Texas philosopher and Objectivist, Tara Smith (a very smart and nice lady, by the way). I blogged about it here. The person concerned – I do not know his name – became incredibly angry that she had dared present any argument that says that there is an external reality outside of ourselves, that existence exists whether we like it or not, that there are laws and principles one can discover, etc. What he did not realise was that his own certainty about his own opinion undermined the notion that one cannot be certain of anything. In the act of attacking certainty, he in fact validated it.

No need to break banks up

“There is no real evidence that any fewer UK banks would have gone bust had this separation been in place. It was not proprietary trading that brought down HBOS, it was bad lending to commercial property. Northern Rock, Bradford and Bingley and the Dunfermline did not own investment banks. RBS was brought to its knees as a result of a multitude of bad lending decisions, the over-priced takeover of ABN Amro and vast holdings of dodgy “assets”; its collapse was not caused by a giant investment banking bet gone wrong. In the US, it is likely that Citigroup would have required a bailout even had it not owned an investment bank. Generally, the same is true of all of virtually all the recipients of Tarp funds.”

Allister Heath, arguing against the idea, floated the other day by the Bank of England governor, that governments should force banks to split off their supposedly high-risk investment banking arms.

Of course, with the “too big to fail” doctrine now more or less entrenched, the danger is that politicians will feel – with some justification, arguably – that they do not want taxpayers to be held to ransom by the threat of having to bail out huge firms, so the “solution” is to prevent banks being so big in the first place. My own preference is that all state-backed deposit protection should be abolished, so that any bank operating on a fractional reserve basis would have to take its chances in a free market, with the only deposit protection coming from private insurance. But in the current policymaking environment, that does not appear very likely or politically palatable. But sooner or later, the idea of taxpayers’ underwriting the losses of FRB banks has to be confronted.

Question Time and the BNP

There is obviously plenty of controversy – seen across the internet and the MSM – about the decision by the BBC, the UK state broadcaster, to let the British National Party leader Nick Griffin appear on the BBC’s Question Time current affairs show. For non-Brits, I should explain that QT is a show where a panel of politicians, pundits and the occasional “personality” take questions from an audience. The audience is selected, according to the BBC, from a supposed balanced cross-section of the public. What in fact this means is that such folk are often drawn from a series of pressure groups and the like. The journalist Paul Johnson once said, many years ago, that if the QT audience were representative of the UK population as a whole, he would think of blowing his brains out. I agree. If I ever chance upon the programme, I feel murderous not towards the panelists, but towards a large part of the audience. It fills me with despair.

Even so, the decision of the QT producers to let this man on the show has thrown up some bizarre arguments. This morning, the Labour MP and pundit, Diane Abbott, told the BBC Breakfast TV show that Griffin should not appear. At the core of her argument, if one can dignify it with such a word, was the idea that only “mainstream” parties should be allowed to be panelists. The interviewer did not immediately hit back with the question as to what Ms Abbott defines as “mainstream”. After all, one could object to a Labour, or indeed Conservative politician, appearing on the show on the grounds that both parties support the idea of seizing a large portion of our wealth on pain of imprisonment; support wars against countries that, whatever the justification, involve the deaths of innocent civilians; support the UK’s membership of an oppressive and undemocratic European federal state, have taken away the right of self-defence for householders; have supported, and continue to support, an intrusive, meddling and yet also incompetent state apparatus. On those grounds alone, one could argue that such politicians should not only be banned from Question Time or any other forum, but hanged from a lampost.

Given that the BNP – a party with a hard-left, socialist economic agenda, by the way – has been elected to several seats in the EU Parliament, it would be odd not to allow the leader of a party that has won a million votes not to be held to account in the run-up to a general election next year. Of course, if we had a genuine free market in broadcasting, the editorial judgement of the BBC, which is funded by a tax, would be irrelevant. But given we have a state-financed broadcaster, that broadcaster, under its charter of incorporation, should enable elected political parties to be put to the public test. The BNP is an odious party for a libertarian, and Mr Griffin is, as his background suggests, a nasty piece of work. What have other parties to be afraid of in putting this lot under the media microscope?