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]

Samizdata quote of the day

The mystery of government is not how Washington works but how to make it stop.

– P. J. O’Rourke

Mr Obama turns up the socialist ratchet

“Congratulations, Democrats. Beginning now, you own the health-care system in America. Every hiccup. Every complaint. Every long line. All yours.”

Kathryn Jean-Lopez.

I wish that were true. Here in Britain, where filthy wards in NHS hospitals, for example, have been a regular staple of the UK newspapers, the standard response is usually to demand even more money, more rules, and so forth. If you challenge the model of tax-funded healthcare free at the point of delivery, then you are political dogfood. And Mr Obama and his allies know that. As Mark Steyn has been putting since before Mr Obama’s election, Mr O. is counting on what the UK politician Sir Keith Joseph once dubbed the “ratchet effect”: ratchet socialism a little more, and make it harder and harder for anyone to push back.

Of course, sometimes this argument will be proven wrong. I do get the impression that a lot of Americans, including those middle-of-the-road voters who gave Obama a chance in 2008, are now very alarmed at the huge debt that his administration seems to be encouraging. So it may be that Mr Obama is a one-term POTUS. But his legacy might take a lot longer to reverse.

On a more philosophical line, here is what I wrote a while back about the bogus nature of healthcare “rights”.

Hate crimes

It is a melancholy fact to face that while most of us, most of the time, like to imagine that we live our lives by some sort of moral code, and respect our fellows as beings deserving of respect if they do not threaten our lives or property, some people do not live by such a code, nor care. One particular species of maggot in our world is the person who likes to verbally and physically abuse disabled persons.

The issue of care and protection of the mentally and physically handicapped, raising as it does issues of personal autonomy, concerns about abuse of state power and medicine, etc, is too big an issue to push into a blog post. No, the point I want to address is the narrower one of whether it makes any sense at all to create another “hate crime”: the crime, as it were, of hating disabled people. In brief, I think creating such a “hate crime” is foolish, albeit an understandable move driven by those with honorable motives to protect the weak.

Let’s be clear from the get-go that I regard those who hate, and who act on that hate, of disabled people to be scum of the earth. It does bother me, though, that a crime of say, assault on a person and his property should be treated as being far more serious because the state has tried to measure, or establish, the hate that exists in the mind of the attacker. A crime is a crime, surely. If an able-bodied man is mugged in the street, does it make any specific difference in terms of sentencing the criminal, assuming the criminal is caught? The area where physical or mental disability comes into play in sentencing a criminal is where, say, the disability clearly meant that the disabled victim could not defend himself. That is why assaults on the aged and infirm, and on children, are treated – at least supposedly – more severely than assaults on say, the holder of a karate black belt. Of course, in investigating a crime, the fact that a suspect has a motive such as hate of group X or Y might be useful in helping to narrow down a list of suspects. However, as a factor in sentencing, the idea of “hate crime” strikes me as nonsense.

What next – political hate crimes where a person is sentenced for the crime of “hating” those in public office or who are members of certain ideological/political groupings?

Who said it?

It has been urged and echoed, that the power “to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises, to pay the debts, and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States,” amounts to an unlimited commission to exercise every power which may be alleged to be necessary for the common defense or general welfare.

[…] For what purpose could the enumeration of particular powers be inserted, if these and all others were meant to be included in the preceding general power? Nothing is more natural nor common than first to use a general phrase, and then to explain and qualify it by a recital of particulars. But the idea of an enumeration of particulars which neither explain nor qualify the general meaning, and can have no other effect than to confound and mislead, is an absurdity,[…]

Answer here.

Dodgy dossier

Policy Exchange has just published a “research note” purporting to show that the tax on cigarettes in the UK should be increased, and that “that every single cigarette smoked costs the country money – 6.5 pence each time someone lights up.”

If you read the paper [pdf], you will find it is an astonishingly dodgy dossier. Here is how the figure is made up:

Taxation of tobacco contributes £10 billion to HM Treasury annually; however, we calculate that the costs to society from smoking are much greater at £13.74 billion. Every cigarette smoked is costing us money. These societal costs comprise not only the cost of treating smokers on the NHS (£2.7 billion) but also the loss in productivity from smoking breaks (£2.9 billion) and increased absenteeism (£2.5 billion); the cost of cleaning up cigarette butts (£342 million); the cost of smoking related house fires (£507 million), and also the loss in economic output from the deaths of smokers (£4.1 billion) and passive smokers (£713 million).

The notion of “cost to society” is a pretty weird one.

Leave that aside for a moment. Add up costs and revenues to the state, which might be one semi-logical way of determining whether the smoking in some sense “runs a deficit”, and using Policy Exchange’s own figures you get a big surplus for the Treasury. Even if you assume all house fire costs are borne by the state and not partially by insurers and householders, and there are no errors in the headline figures, then you can only get to £3,549 million. (Have you noticed how public policy research generally involves implausible numbers of significant digits, and at the same time utter absence of error estimates?) On that basis smokers are contributing roughly £6Bn annually towards public spending.

But what are we to make of the suggestion that counting “lost output” is meaningful? To my mind the idea that an economic aggregate represents a collective wealth that may be politically attributed and redistributed is repulsive even if it is coherent (which I doubt). The state’s royal We, which Policy Echange is channelling here, may in turn choose to impersonate you and me and everyone else, but it only controls the taxed margin of other’s outputs. Output and taxation are apples and oranges. It is meaningless to add them together. Unless you want (or deserve) a punch.

And even were it not meaningless, there’s an accounting fraud here. If you count output putatively lost to smoking, then you must also count the gains. There is the output of the tobacco industry, distribution and retailing in the UK to consider. Imperial Tobacco alone had a gross profit for the year ending September 2009 of approximately £5.3 billion. The CTC industry consists of tens of thousands of small shops. Honest research, however dubious its theoretical basis, would attempt to estimate the value-added, too. It would also be clear – without referring to a paper cited in the footnotes we cannot tell whether the cost-of-illness measure used in determining those “lost outputs” also includes the gains to third parties in pensions unpaid and public services unused by people dying early. If you are going to add apples and oranges, you should also tell us explicitly whether you have subtracted pears.

But what set me off on this chase was actually just one of those headline figures. Most of the margin of costs over gains in this strange sum is covered by the £2.9 billion allocated to the “output lost to cigarette breaks”. How do they know? “[A] number of studies have investigated workers taking breaks in order to smoke, and have tried to quantify this time at between £915 million and £3.2 billion per annum.” Hm.

Read through to p13, and you discover that the number of studies was… two. Er, no. It was one… Or some sort of strange interpolative hybrid… I cannot decide. Make your own mind up:

McGuire et al. estimated that £915 million annually is lost on the basis that average smokers spend tenminutes a day smoking, while light smokers and part-time workers would use approximately half of this
time. The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) used similar initial assumptions on average smoking time to
calculate that some £2.6 billion would be saved through the introduction of smoke-free legislation. Using
McGuire’s estimates of 5.2 million working smokers, with the RCP’s estimates of ten minutes a day smoking
reveals an intermediary figure of £2.9 billion.

I think that is ‘intermediary’ in the sense that a magician is an intermediary between a rabbit and a hat.

However they get there, if someone thinks that cigarette breaks ought to be a determining factor in public policy, rather than a matter for negotiation between employer and employee, then I suggest that it would be a good idea if they are kept as far as possible from the levers of power. This lot are said to be influential on the presumptively incoming Cameron team. Oh dear.

Samizdata quote of the day

Authoritarianism is a disease of the mind. It criminalizes the act of asking “why?” It is the obedience-sickness that turns good people into perpetrators and victims of atrocities great and small.

Cory Doctorow

Samizdata quote of the day

There should be a sympathy with freedom, a desire to give it scope, founded not upon visionary ideas, but upon the long experience of many generations within the shores of this happy isle, that in freedom you lay the firmest foundations both of loyalty and order.

– William Gladstone

And thus it begins…

This is not exactly a John Brown incident but it is certainly a serious shot over the bow of the Federal government:

This week, Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal signed House Joint Resolution 2 (HJ0002), claiming “sovereignty on behalf of the State of Wyoming and for its citizens under the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States over all powers not otherwise enumerated and granted to the federal government or reserved to the people by the Constitution of the United States.”

The warning in Resolution HJ0002 is pretty clear:

“That this resolution serve as notice and demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, from enacting mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers. The state of Wyoming will not enforce such mandates.”

Freudenthal himself states:

“For decades we have shared increased frustration dealing with the federal government and its agencies. What started out as a leak in the erosion of state prerogative and independence has today turned into a flood. From wolf and grizzly bear management, to gun control, to endless regulation and unfunded mandates – the federal government has become far too powerful and intrusive.”

If Wyoming were the only State to do this it would be interesting as it is the site of the libertarian Western ‘Free State’ project. As the article further reports, it is far more than that :

Wyoming joins 10 other states that have passed similar resolutions since last year; Alaska, Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Tennessee passed theirs in 2009, and Utah, Alabama, and South Carolina have joined Wyoming in passing resolutions this year.

Let us pray that the second Revolution (or Civil War as the case may be) remains one fought out in legislatures and courts. Let us also pray that our side wins, because if it does not, the US is finished as a free and prosperous country.

Tony Blair’s nice little earner

The sheer venality of the current political class, while not necessarily a radical departure from what has been the case in the past, still has the capacity to make me rub my eyes in amazement. Get a load of this:.

Tony Blair waged an extraordinary two-year battle to keep secret a lucrative deal with a multinational oil giant which has extensive interests in Iraq.

The former Prime Minister tried to keep the public in the dark over his dealings with South Korean oil firm UI Energy Corporation. Mr Blair – who has made at least £20million since leaving Downing Street in June 2007 – also went to great efforts to keep hidden a £1million deal advising the ruling royal family in Iraq’s neighbour Kuwait.

In an unprecedented move, he persuaded the committee which vets the jobs of former ministers to keep details of both deals from the public for 20 months, claiming it was commercially sensitive. The deals emerged yesterday when the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments finally lost patience with Mr Blair and decided to ignore his objections and publish the details.

Of course, the fact that Mr Blair makes a lot of money is hardly a reason for criticism per se, and given that the story is in the Daily Mail, a noisy mixture of rightwing populism on social issues, economic nationalism and Blimpish anti-Americanism, I tread a little carefully. But even so, it is pretty galling that a man like Blair who has largely risen to where he is on the back of artifice and bullshittery of heroic proportions should be making so much money. Also, considering that one of his most contentious decisions to support the war to topple Saddam was always going to be attacked by the usual types as being “all about oil”, it does seem incredibly crass for this man to validate the usual Blair/BushHitler/Halliburton/Blackwater/blah blah conspiracy theory tropes of the Michael Moore left and Raimondoesque right.

Oh well, at least he can keep Cherie Blair in the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. I would not be at all surprised if Blair ends up becoming a tax fugitive from the UK.

Mr Blair is, of course, a classic example of the political class so ably described by Peter Oborne, the British journalist. No doubt Messrs Obama and Sarkozy are taking notes.

In some ways UK politics has reverted to the 18th Century model, as described by the likes of Lewis Namier, when different gangs of folk with remarkably similar views scrapped for the spoils of office. And as Mr Blair now shows, those spoils are remarkably lucrative indeed.

The joys of regulation

The Australian state of Western Australia has a population of 2.2 million people, and occupies an area of just over 2.6 million square kilometres. Just for reference, that is seven and a half times the size of Germany or alternatively ten times the size of Texas.

However, average house prices are amongst the highest in the world, as there is a shortage of land.

It rather boggles the mind.

Correction: Texas is actually slightly more than a quarter of the size of Western Australia. My apologies to Texans.

I am the Meister of the Dance!

Well, as it is St Patrick’s Day, I cannot think of a person more able to sum up certain features of Irish culture than Denis Leary.

(Not safe for all work environments).

‘The Alternative Manifesto’ – Examining the diagnosis, and possible cure, of Britain’s ills

Dr Butler’s work is a follow up to his book “The Rotten State of Britain” – itself a fine book explaining many of the problems this country faces.

In “The Alternative Manifesto” Dr Butler concentrates on the terrible economic position that Britain finds itself in, what really caused this position and what should be done about it.

Unlike the United States there is little challenge in Britain to the establishment view that all our problems are caused by “greedy bankers” and “lack of regulations”. The “lack of regulations” point is utterly absurd as there are endless national and indeed international regulations (for example the “mark to market” rule was part of the international financial regulations agreed, years ago, in Basel, Switzerland).

And, as for “greedy bankers”, they are indeed greedy, but to blame their greed for the crises is like blaming the speculators of “charge alley” for the problems of Britain in the 18th century – many great figures of English literature did this (as to attack the wicked speculators diverted attention from the politicians who were paying many of the great figures in English literature), but that does not alter the fact that it was the “public credit” itself, the endless government borrowing, that was at the root of the economic problems and the political corruption – not the speculators in the debt, however wicked they may have been.

Even today with our fiat money and fractional reserve banking taking beyond any level of sanity – even the most crazy banker can only build a pyramid of debt on new money that the governments themselves have created, and indeed it is these governments who are normally the loudest voices demanding that banks “expand credit” – lend more money.

However, presently Dr Butler’s works are the only books dissenting from the establishment view (the view that the root of the problem is the greed of bankers and the solution is yet more taxes and regulations) that one can find in (for example) high street book stores.
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