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]

Henry IX – another What If? for the collection

You never stop learning strange things, do you? For instance, this morning, I was (still am) listening to CD Review, and the presenter Andrew McGregor suddenly starts talking about how, in the year 1612, the heir to the throne, James I’s son Prince Henry, rather foolishly went for a swim in the Thames, caught typhoid, and died. Cue an “outpouring of grief”, which included songs about the death of the young Prince (aged 18), hence the CD angle.

And who became king of England instead? Why, only Charles I, who got himself executed in 1649, in the midst of a ferocious civil war between himself and his severely angered Parliament. That I had heard about. Prince Henry was apparently, and in fascinating contrast to his younger brother, a Protestant:

Henry was quite the Protestant – when his father proposed a French marriage, he answered that he was ‘resolved that two religions should not lie in his bed’.

You can’t help wondering: What If? What if Prince Henry had not gone for that swim, and had become the King instead of Charles I? How might English history have turned out then?

If it is loopy to query current banking, then I am happy to be known as a lunatic

Last night, I attended a very entertaining Adam Smith Insitute event at which Eamonn Butler and guests talked about Austrian economics. Mr Butler has a new book out and it is an excellent, succinct summary of what this form of economics is all about. And he touches, very briefly, on the issue that seems to be getting some people worked up into a tizzy: fractional reserve banking. FRB is an issue we have already had a good working over on at this site and a good comment thread. A brief summary of my view is that I don’t think many forms of FRB would be able to survive in a pure free market without bailouts, “too big to fail” protections, government deposit protection, etc. But it should not be banned: if folk want to take the risk of depositing money in an FRB account, then that is their business, like smoking, off-piste skiing and unprotected sex. With currency competition and removal of legal tender laws, such FRB banks would have to be run with ruthless attention to risk control. So I don’t see the need for any restrictions.

However, what annoys me about the reaction of fellows like this is that they seem to be supposing that the current banking system, the system that has recently been brought almost to its knees, with such shining examples such as Northern Rock, the Dunfirmline Building Society, Bradford & Bingley, HBOS, etc, etc, is somehow basically okay. Riiiight. They are saying that those pesky Austrians, with their “loopy” ideas about how two people cannot simultaneously hold the same claim to the same money at the same time (which strikes me as a perfectly sensible view, in fact), should shut up. Well, they are not going to shut up.

I have to say I find the sheer gall of these “why don’t these guys shut up?” line of analysis to be pretty unedifying. If FRB – at least as it currently operates – is so splendid, and if banking really is about “borrowing short and lending long”, then maybe the defenders of the current form of banking could explain to the taxpayers of the UK quite why we have had had to spend hundreds of billions of pounds in the recent banking clusterfuck. Just asking.

So it is illegal to burn a Koran, now?

From the Telegraph: ‘Koran burning’: men expect to be charged with inciting racial hatred

From the BBC: Men arrested in Gateshead over suspected Koran burning.

From the Guardian… nothing that I can see right now (9.45 am). This absence is being remarked upon in the comments sections of unrelated Guardian stories.

Correction – upon searching I see the Guardian did have a story yesterday. The remarks I mentioned are on the absence of comment or commentable pieces dealing with this story in today’s paper. Quite right too. This is a big story for two reasons. Firstly, who would have thought it? After all that buildup, Pastor Terry Jones, the ticks-every-stereotype gun-toting American pastor, did not burn any Korans. Instead the deed was done in the car park of a Gateshead pub. The second big aspect of this story is explained in this line from the Guardian story I did not see earlier:

Northumbria police said the men were not arrested for watching or distributing the video, but on suspicion of burning the Qur’an.

All usual caveats apply. I consider burning a religion’s holy book to be a nasty deliberate insult. People should still be free to do it. They should also be free to video themselves doing it and distribute the video, whether or not it spreads religious or racial hatred. I am not in favour of the hatred. I am in favour of the freedom. Anyway, I sort-of knew that the video distribution was probably illegal upon grounds of spreading religious hatred. I did not know the burning itself was.

Further update: Confusingly, there is now another Guardian story illustrated by exactly the same picture as the first one but directly contradicting it in what it says about the actual grounds for arrest: Quote:

The six men were arrested on suspicion of stirring racial hatred, police said, which is outlawed under the 1986 public order act. They were not arrested for the actual attack on, and burning of, the Qur’an, but in connection with the posting of the video. Section 21 of the 1986 act reads: “A person who distributes, or shows or plays, a recording of visual images or sounds which are threatening, abusive or insulting is guilty of an offence if he intends thereby to stir up racial hatred, or … racial hatred is likely to be stirred up.”

Last update, I promise: Yet another confusing aspect of this story is that according to the second Guardian story, the men have been charged with stirring up racial hatred under the 1986 Public Order Act, not religious hatred at all.

Will the prosecution be able to make that – the racial angle – stick? Do they even want to? So far as I know, scarcely anyone has actually been prosecuted under the Racial and Religious Hatred Act 2006. One might have thought this would be an ideal opportunity for the authorities to try out the Act in the courts, if they were serious. Could it be that the racial hatred charge is intended to fail and is merely a piece of theatre to placate Muslims and protect our troops in Afghanistan?

Getting in a fix about science and free speech

I can think of few greater contemporary British journalists than Christopher Booker. He is the AGW alarmists’ waking nightmare. In fact, he inflicts sleep deprivation on all manner of promoters of scares, seeing, as HL Mencken once realised, that scares are a means by which power-hungry folk can persuade benighted citizens to sign up to the latest safety measures.

And yet even great men have their off days. In last week’s edition of the Spectator (which is behind a subscriber firewall), he writes, on page 20, that there is a dastardly campaign by the Darwinian establishment to crush any signs of dissent from those who subscribe to some form of Intelligent Design (or what might be more accurately known as Creationism). He then goes on to liken the plight of these poor, oppressed ID advocates with AGW skeptics. And yet the parallel strikes me as absurd. AGW skeptics fall into various camps: those who simply want to trash any suggestion that AGW is a problem; those who say that AGW is a problem but who are unsure about its effects, and those who realise that AGW is probably happening but who debate whether it can be mitigated, reversed or adapted to, and who want to know about the pros and cons (think of the likes of Nigel Lawson, or Bjorn Lomborg, etc). A lot of AGW skeptics pore over immense amounts of data to highlight their doubts; and some of them, such as Lawson, employ powerful economic and related arguments that draw on known facts.

But ID advocates do not have the same kind of facts, as far as I can see, to conclusively press their case. What they have instead is a sort of “We cannot explain X so in the absence of a better idea, we’ll assume a Creator got involved”. Not terribly convincing, is my reaction. I accept that some scientists might be sympathetic to ID without losing any integrity, but what Booker’s article signally fails to address is whether any ID advocate has given a plausible explanation, with proof and evidence, of how a particularly complex phemomenon of nature came to be “created”. All they do, it seems from Booker’s article, is to state that because there are “gaps” in fossil records, etc, that therefore the gap must imply that some outside agent (like a God), caused X or Y. But his article does not go beyond that to explain what sort of processes these ID folk imagine happened. And the reason for that is simple: they don’t know. By contrast, AGW skeptics seem to a far more persuasive lot and are able to throw out all manner of facts and data to back their case up. I am just not convinced that Creationists come remotely close.

In fact, a recent comment on this kind of issue by someone called bgates on Samizdata nicely captures a key issue here, because it might explain why a lot of people treat evolution theory and creationism as being on an equal footing:

“It’s interesting that so many people who think they’re proponents of evolution discuss the matter in terms of “belief”. I’ve never heard anyone voice a belief that red light has a longer wavelength than blue, or a belief that B-lactam antibiotics work by interfering with bacterial cell wall synthesis. Those statements are instead presented as facts that have been deduced from an examination of physical evidence. The difference seems to be that so many of the most fervent defenders of the theory of evolution are unaware of the (astonishing, voluminous, and altogether convincing) physical evidence supporting the idea. They don’t have knowledge of the evidence, they have faith in their belief, and they’ll fight for their beliefs as passionately as any mujahedeen.”

And in conclusion, for all I support Booker’s general stance on free speech and resistence to any thought control, I think – as a AGW skeptic myself – that is not really smart for Booker to lump AGW skeptics into the same supposedly “oppressed” category as creationists. If creationists come in for abuse, they need to raise their game and employ the same rigour, if they can, as those who have looked at the AGW issue, and cried foul.

Sidepoint: Timothy Sandefur had some interesting thoughts about science and freedom of expression, and the role of the state, here.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’ve commented this before, but I can’t help thinking there’s something wrong, some undiagnosed mental condition, afflicting people who exhibit an unnatural interest in the private lives of others. Perhaps at some point in the future this condition will be identified and a treatment devised for it, but until then the appropriate response to someone who thinks a bar of chocolate or a “fat goose at Christmas” is a sign of moral decay is to point them out in the street and utter the traditional condemnation “‘Ee’s a nuttah!”

– Commenter Roue le Jour, who is on a SQOTD roll it seems

The Vince Cable moment

I guess it will be interesting to see whether there is any pressure among backbench Tory MPs – or at least some of the more intelligent ones – for the government to try and edge out “Vince” Cable from his post as Business Secretary, following a terrible speech that has been monstered in many quarters, such as here, and here.

The funny thing is, had Cable said something on the lines of “risky gambling by banks and hedge funds has been a problem and has been encouraged by irresponsible central banks”, he’d have a very good point. Had he, in his attack on monopolies, attacked the regulations, taxes and other government moves that drive up barriers to entry, he’d also be correct. But he does nothing of the kind. He’s a sort of economist who, trained from, I suspect, neo-classical textbooks full of elegant supply-demand curves rather than real human beings, imagines that any market that does not have a vast number of identical players with no pricing power or edge is “imperfect”, and therefore in need of correction by government. He ignores how it is the very “imperfections” of the real world – such as differences in tastes, values, levels of knowledge and so on – that give markets their raison d’etre, as understood by the “Austrian” school, with its view of competition as a discovery process, not as a static game full of omniscient Gods.

In fact, the government actions that lead to less flexible markets continue to get worse, which is something Mr Cable seems not to be dealing with. At the moment, the Financial Services Authority, the UK financial regulator, is rolling out a programme of “reforms” called, excitingly, the Retail Distribution Review. The aim, which sounds very noble, is to raise the standard and independence of financial advice. The effect, however, will be to drive hundreds of financial advisors out of business – some industry figures predict that as many as 20 per cent of UK IFAs could go by the time the RDR takes full effect in 2012. This, of course, only worsens the problem of how financial advice is often something that ordinary UK citizens rarely use.

Here is something I wrote before on attacks on the City.

Life beyond a hundred

David Lucas, commenting on a posting at my place sparked by the fact that a relative of mine by marriage is celebrating her hundredth birthday today, pours cold water on the likelihood of serious life extension much beyond a hundred:

I believe increased life expectancy is due to decreased rates of death, initially in childhood, later on in mid-life and now in tackling old-age diseases. There is remarkably little growth in people living significantly beyond 100-110.

The future pattern is likely to be most people living to around 100 and then dying of multiple organ failure.

Which I find bleak, but convincing. You read about occasional people of long, long ago living into very old age even by our standards, even as you wince at the tales of multiple infant death, then and later. The statistics of how medicine and food and hygiene have affected life expectancy until now are surely just as Lucas says.

But does that mean that it will always be like this? Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe medical magic will trundle slowly onwards, from stopping half the babies dying, to stopping half the surviving adults dying with the onset of middle age, to stopping three quarters of the wrinklies from dying well before they are a hundred, to keeping everyone alive even longer, by means now not known about. Or perhaps now known about but not yet widely bothered about, because now too difficult and expensive, and crucially (to use a morbidly appropriate adverb), too uncomfortable.

In other words, the reason nobody now lives beyond about a hundred and ten is basically the same reason that nobody, two hundred years ago, ever travelled faster than a galloping horse. The techies just hadn’t got around to repealing this seemingly fixed law of nature. And then, one day – puff-puff – the techies got that sorted, and a few people did start travelling at twenty, thirty, forty, a hundred, two hundred, three hundred, five hundred miles per hour, quickly followed by nearly everybody else who could afford it.

We’ll see. Well, I probably won’t see, but we as in humanity as a whole may.

And if people ever do routinely live to be four hundred or more, what will be the results of that? A crate of Tesco Viagra for whoever can come up with the most surprising yet likely consequence of mass super-longevity.

Samizdata quote of the day

Socialism is communism designed by capitalists.

By redistributing income rather than wealth, it meets the proles expectation that somebody else’s money will be given to them, the truly wealthy’s expectation that their capital will not be touched and cripples the higher earners who are only going to be anti-government trouble makers anyway.

– Commenter Roue le Jour

A very sad incident

I am not going to attempt a detailed analysis of the shooting of Erik Scott in Las Vegas because it has already been done. I would suggest you read it and then listen to what our own police experts have to say.

I do have opinions of my own on the general situation. I bet we will find some person of coastal liberal persuasion at Costco soiled their knickers at the sight of a perfectly legal weapon and made an hysterical and totally misleading call to 911. With nothing but the terror-stricken voice of an idiot to go on, the 911 operator primed the responding police for a deadly response. Then, to top it off, the responding officers were incompetent.

The officers should be sent to remedial training. But the real guilt seems to me elsewhere: I sincerely wish the person from Costco who initiated the fatal chain of events could be charged with manslaughter.

I will now wait for our more than competent police commentators to chime in…

Samizdata quote of the day

For a couple of centuries an “Advertisement” in Philosophical Transactions expressly forbade pronouncements by the [Royal] Society as a whole on any scientific or practical matter.

… it is an established rule of the Society, to which they will always adhere, never to give their opinion, as a Body, upon any subject, either of Nature or Art, that comes before them.

That sensible “Advertisement” disappeared in the 1960s when a politically ambitious physicist, Patrick Blackett, was the President.

– From the blog of Nigel Calder, doyen of science writers, via Philip Stott, who does his bit to inject some climate realism into the Radio 4’s Home Planet.

The Royal Society should return to its former path of virtue. And The Lancet would benefit from that motto, too.

What’s wrong with ObamaCare?

Doctor Zero:

ObamaCare is the most powerful job-killing force unleashed against our economy in decades. It dramatically increases the cost of labor, and applies huge fines against companies that resist its mandates. Companies such as Caterpillar, John Deere, Prudential, and AT&T responded by announcing thousands of layoffs. This is a perfectly rational reaction to a bill that dramatically increases the cost of labor, especially when the legislation keeps mutating and producing expensive new horrors, such as the nationalization of student loans that wiped out thousands of jobs at Sallie Mae.

I sort of get much of that, although I would definitely have to follow the second link to see how ObamaCare is nationalising student loans, and to find out what on earth “Sallie Mae” might be. But, speaking more generally about this huge furore, I have a real problem with ObamaCare. Not in the sense that it is causing me to lay off hundreds of my employees, but in the sense that I am finding the arguments about it very hard to follow. Mountains of verbiage have already been written about ObamaCare and many more will follow. But I am afraid I missed the early bits, where the actual blow-by-blow damage that ObamaCare will unleash (is now unleashing) was itemised, briefly and punchily. Anti-ObamaCare writers tend now merely to allude to the assumed harm of it, rather than yet again itemising it. Much is made by critics of ObamaCare of the immense length and complexity of the relevant legislation, which it seems most US politicians have no more read right through than I have. But what, approximately speaking, does it all say?

I suspect I am not the only Brit who feels this way. Not that long ago, for instance, I heard those comedians on Mock The Week take it in turns to denounce Americans for not welcoming ObamaCare, and I knew they were talking out of their smug and self-satisfied arses (especially that little bald one who is smug self-satisfaction personified, if you don’t happen to agree with something he is saying). Death panels? No. It’s free healthcare for those who can’t now afford it, you obese God-frazzled morons. What could possibly be wrong with that?!? Do you all want to die prematurely of terrible diseases and accidents that the British health service cures immediately at no cost?

But had I been on the panel, trying to resist (in particular) the Smug Dwarf’s relentless leftery, I don’t think I would have done a very good job. Most Brits watching, if my reaction is anything to go by, either agreed that all American opponents of ObamaCare are indeed morons, or that they perhaps have their reasons for not wanting it, but that these reasons will for ever be a mystery, probably involving some Americanised version of God.

So, commenters, please fill me (us) in. Please help us Brits – this particular Brit especially – to wrap our brains around ObamaCare. What, briefly, are those “mandates” that Doctor Zero refers to? How are student loans involved? And what else is being inflicted?

I would like to be able to concoct a further posting entitled something like: “A brief but pretty much complete explanation for confused Brits of why ObamaCare is a really bad idea and why so many Americans are right to hate it”. And maybe, with your help, I will be able to do that.

One particular request. What concerns me is not to dig deeply into any particular harm that ObamaCare is doing. What I seek is completeness, combined with as much brevity as can be contrived. In the event that I do manage that follow-up posting that I can now only dream of, I want an American to be able to wizz through it, and say something like: “Yup, that about covers it. That’s why so many of us hate it. I actually don’t think number three is quite as bad as your short description of it implies, and I think number five is far worse even than you say. But, nothing major is missing from that list. Good job.”

Maybe such a posting already exists, and I need only read it, and link to it.

Or maybe (I’ve just been following the links in the quote above, just to check that they work), my question is wrong. Maybe what I really want is a brief guillotine-blow-by-guillotine-blow guide to the entire Obama legislative “achievement”, of which “ObamaCare” is only a part.

Anyway, whatever help anyone can offer along these approximate lines would be most welcome.

I see no reason to give a free pass to the Cato Institute

Errrr… I have news for you, Cato Institute… Barack Obama was lying.

He never had the slightest intention of going about eliminating Federal government schemes or aspects of such schemes, in the hopes of reducing the overall burden of government.

On the contrary his entire political life has been spent trying to increase the size and scope of government – and to do so in the most corrupt ways possible. Only someone who knew nothing about Barack Obama’s time in politics would be surprised by the hundreds of pages of detailed corrupt wasteful schemes in the “Stimulus” Act, and in the Obama Care Act – and in every other Act he has had passed (the details of which written by such old comrades of his as Jeff Jones – a man who repents of his Communist terrorism as much as Bill Ayers does, i.e. not at all).

Let us say I am wrong – and that Barack Obama is not trying to destroy America and the West in general on purpose (as part of the Cloward and Piven doctrines of spend America to the destruction of “capitalism” that he was taught at all those Marxist conferences he went to whilst a post grad at Columbia)…

…Even if the question of motivation is put on one side, the facts of his record both in the Chicago Machine, and at State level, and then in the United States Senate, where he managed to be even more corrupt and wild spending than Christopher Dodd (one of the two main supporters of the ultra vile “Financial Reform Act” that Obama has just had passed – the other being a creature called Barney Frank), something that might be thought to be pretty much impossible… well, it seems pretty damn obvious what to expect from President Obama.

“But they always knew that Paul”.

No, “with all due respect” the Cato Institute (like Reason magazine) contains some people, not all – but some, who really believed Barack Obama in 2008 – people who never bothered to do the slightest research into the record of Barack Obama – and were abusive (very abusive) to anyone who tried to point out their errors. → Continue reading: I see no reason to give a free pass to the Cato Institute