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

See, whilst many (most of them apparently on Twitter) are psychologically able to ignore, or excuse, or basically discount altogether the taking money from people bit of public spending, there are some of us that just can’t.

One day it occurs to ask the question, “What exactly gives them the right to help themselves to whatever they want?” and the answer turns out to be because they can. Then you get a bit angry and frustrated, feel almost entirely helpless, then, just to make things that little bit worse, everyone else in the world comes and slaps you in the face for even daring to consider such heretical notions.

The taking from me bit doesn’t count. I don’t matter. It’s the no longer giving bit that counts. Think about how people feel! Think about all the things they could do with that money, or that job, or learn from those people or achieve with the support of those others! Don’t you understand? Have you no feelings?

Apparently not. I just keep thinking, “But it’s not your money. How can you live with yourselves taking it?”

Charlotte Gore, spotted earlier in the week by David Thompson.

Dumb versus dumber – some more thoughts on the forthcoming US elections

Concerning these elections that are coming up in the USA in a week or two’s time, there seems to be a big argument going on about how smart the Democrats are compared to the Republicans. How smart or dumb are Barack Obama, Sarah Palin and the rest of them? Who, for instance, is being smarter or dumber about the year 1773? But those who worry about how smart or how dumb the various candidates for election are, or how smart or how dumb are the particular voters they are each trying to pander to, are, I think, missing a bigger point.

If you think that you and people like you should control large swathes of society and large swathes of the economy, then you really had better be very – make that impossibly – smart, and you are not smart, if only because you believe in this seriously dumb idea. But if the notion that you keep repeating during your campaign is that neither you nor people like you, nor your political opponents nor people like them, should have this kind of centralised power over everything, then provided you are sufficiently smart to make that one smart idea stick and have political consequences, it really doesn’t matter how dumb you may be about anything or even everything else.

Obama has many smart opinions and many dumb ones, I think. But if he and his ilk are to have the kind of power they seek over the world, then them being quite smart and quite dumb guarantees not smartness but dumbness, in all the areas of life where regular people have found that they want to do things in their own various ways, while Obama and his friends think that something that they consider smart is preferable. And the smarter Obama and his friends think they are the dumber they end up being. (Alternatively, as Paul Marks likes to say, Obama is smart and is being dumb on purpose. Either way, it is not smart to vote for him.)

It is said that Sarah Palin and her ilk have many dumb opinions. Clearly Palin couldn’t have got where she is, any more than Obama has got where he is, without being smart about some things. But yes, I’m sure Palin’s fairly dumb about some things. But the difference is not merely that Palin is smart and dumb this much, while Obama is dumb and smart that much; it is that their dumbness or smartness have profoundly different consequences if Obama and friends think that President Obama and friends should boss lots and lots of things, while Palin and friends think that President Anyone and friends bossing lots and lots of things is dumb and are able to act on that notion.

So, for instance, if you have (what I would consider to be) dumb opinions about God, evolution, and so on, it doesn’t matter, if, when you win your election, your most important political idea about God, evolution etc., is that both you and I should be allowed to worship God or not, think seriously (as I would see it) about science or not, as you imagine that your God is telling you to, or as I think makes sense. If that’s what you’ll do when you win your election, that’ll do for me. And our agreement actually goes deeper than this. If the major political consequence of you believing in your God is you also believing that nobody on earth should try to play God, then I agree wholeheartedly. Politically, we are more than mere allies; we are kindred spirits.

My worry, and the worry of lots of others who believe in the government bossing as little as possible, is that the team which now says it is against politicians bossing everything, even against themselves doing it, may do very well in their mere elections, but then, when the power to boss everything actually is right there in their hands, they will forget the one truly smart thing they were saying during their campaign, and start being truly dumb. The bad news is that quite a few of the people on my preferred team probably already think like this. The good news is that others in the team I support are already looking beyond the elections, and saying that if that is how things then go, they won’t go along with it.

Harold Macmillan was not a superman

There have, as I might expect, been a flurry of reviews about a recent biography of Harold Macmillan, who – to those non-Brit readers who might not have heard of him – was prime minister in the late 1950s through to 1963, and who was involved in controversies that hung over his head until his very old age, such as the issue of his alleged involvement in sending Cossack forces back to the tender mercies of Stalin at the end of WW2. He was a complex and interesting character in many ways; my mother remembers his nickname of “Supermac” and the extraordinary period in the early 1960s when the Profumo Scandal broke, as well as Macmillan’s own resignation through ill health and the subsequent emergence of Alec Douglas Home as leader. Home, let it not be forgotten considering how he was mercilessly lampooned by parts of the leftist press, almost won the 1964 general election.

One review here by Simon Heffer more or less sums up my own views of the man. Heffer recognises that for all Macmillan’s undoubted merits – he was, for example, an extremely brave army officer wounded several times in the First World War – that he was a decidedly flawed politician in certain respects, particularly on the crucial issue of economic policy and industrial relations. The 1950s and 60s saw the rise of what was to be dubbed the “British disease” – a time of rising industrial strife, inflation, low productivity, endless “stop-go” cycles of Keynesian-inspired reflation followed by subsequent slamming on of the monetary brakes. And while it would be grossly unfair to pin too much blame on one prime minister for the sort of problems that eventually came to a head in the 1970s, he must take some share of the responsibility for the mess that was eventually addressed – after a fashion – by Mrs Thatcher’s administration in the 1980s. And yet the impression I get from Heffer’s review, and particularly, this one by Peregrine Worsthorne, is that the biography more or less absolves Macmillan of any blame whatever. Worsthorne’s review in the Spectator – behind a subscription firewall – carries this, for instance:

“He was right to have himself been the main political champion of his old friend Keynes and his economics.”

Oh dear. Fell asleep during the 1970s, did we?

He also says that Macmillan was right to have played down the danger of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. I am not sure that is really true, but if it was true, is that to his credit? With the benefit of hindsight, the Soviet Union was a rotten house that looked imposing with all its mass Red Square parades and all the rest but eventually crumbled very fast, but at the time, it did not seem that way, and some very supposedly clever people, such as that Keynes fan (!) JK Galbraith, were arguing as late as the early 80s that there was no real difference economically between the West and the Soviet Empire. And the sheer size of the Soviet armed forces, and the way that the Hungarian and Czech revolts were harshly suppressed, hardly squares with the idea that that Empire could be treated with a sort of shrug of the shoulders. By the way, for a dose of good sense on the Cold War years, I recommend this by Norman Stone.

But perhaps the most ludicrous aspect of Worsthorne’s review is this part, in which he writes mournfully of what might had been had Sir Alec Douglas Home won in 1964:

“This would have spared us both the Thatcher interlude, which put power in to the greedy hands of what Macmillan called the ‘banksters’, and then the Blair/Brown years, which entrusted it to the equally grasping and disreputable New Labour cabal, which purported to be a meritocracy. But it is beginning to look as if a promising reaction has set in – not too late one hopes – and although David Cameron is not exactly a 14th earl, he is the next best thing, so Uncle Harold must be cheering in his grave.”

I am going to do Worsthorne the respect of assuming he is sane, and serious, when he wrote that somehow, Mrs Thatcher’s time in office was some sort of ghastly “interlude” when the rightful aristocratic rulers of us unwashed were horribly pushed aside by a bunch of grammar school educated City slickers and Jewish intellectuals. Macmillan once infamously said that he regretted there were more Estonians than Etonians in the Tory Cabinet of the time, a particularly nasty little line. Sure, the attack on the Blair and Brown bunch is perhaps more deserved, but let’s not forget that Blair was a Fettes public schoolboy, and a good many of Mrs Thatcher’s ministers came from smart backgrounds.

In fact, when all is said and done, what Worsthorne rates as Macmillan’s greatest achievement, is contained in the opening paragraph of his review. I leave readers with this to ponder:

“Since the main purpose on earth of the Conservative Party was, and still should be, to keep Britain’s ancient and well-proven social and political hierarchy in power – give or take a few necessary upward mobility adjustments – Harold Macmillan must rank very high in the scale of successful Conservative prime ministers; just below Benjamin Disraeli, whose skill in sugaring the pill of inequality and humanising the face of privilege is never likely to be bettered.”

In other words, whatever Macmillan may or may not have done to stem the UK’s post-war economic decline, at least he kept the toffs on top.

Words fail me.

England expects…

On this day in 1805, a famous signal was sent in the context of the struggle against an earlier iteration of pervasive European Union.

Understanding the Tea Party

I rather liked this excellent article by David Harsanyi explaining the rise of the Tea Party:

Do I wish that Colorado senatorial candidate Ken Buck hadn’t declared that being gay was a choice (as if there’s something wrong with choosing to be gay)? Yes. Do I wish he hadn’t followed up by comparing a gay genetic predisposition with alcoholism? I do. If you were brainy enough to watch “Meet the Press” instead of wasting time in church last Sunday, no doubt you cringed at this primitive lunacy.

After all, what’s more consequential than a faux pas about nature and/or nurture? Who cares that Democrat Michael Bennet was busy moralizing about the cosmic benefits of dubious economic theory and science fiction environmentalism – ideas that have already cost us trillions with nothing to show for it?

Just as long as we stay focused on what’s important, right? We’re so easily distracted.

Those who believe being gay is a choice are Neanderthals. The enlightened trust science. That’s why the president appointed a science czar, people. A science czar who co-authored a textbook arguing for mass sterilizing of Americans to prevent an imagined population bomb. You know, “science.”

Read the whole thing.

A measure of how businessfolk now loathe the Washington political class

This article by one of the Home Depot founders has been out for a few days, but I thought it would be good to put it up as it communicates, with a sort of barely suppressed rage, how businessfolk in the US feel patronised and insulted by the sort of policymakers in Washington, obviously starting with Obama.

And I would happily wager that there are a lot of business people who feel pretty much the same way about the UK, as well. I just wish we would have more entrepreneurs making these kind of comments.

Samizdata quote of the day

Presenting the climate changes we’ve been experiencing in the last decades as a threat to the Planet and letting the global warming alarmists use this bizarre argument as a justification for their attempts to substantially change our way of life, to weaken and restrain our freedom, to control us, to dictate what it is we should and should not be doing is unacceptable. Their success in influencing millions of quite rational people all around the world is rather surprising. How is it possible that they are so successful in it? And so rapidly? For older doctrines and ideologies, it took usually much longer to get such an influential and widely shared position in society. Is this because of the specifics of our times? Is this because we are continuously “online”? Is this because religious and other metaphysical ideologies have become less attractive and less persuasive? Is this because of the need to promptly refill the existing spiritual emptiness – connected with “the end of history” theories – with a new “noble cause,” such as saving the Planet?

The environmentalists succeeded in discovering a new “noble cause”. They try to limit human freedom in the name of “something” that is more important and more noble than our very down-to-earth lives. For someone who spent most of his life in the “noble” era of communism this is impossible to accept.

Václav Klaus

Samizdata quote of the day

Rees and the Royal Society are seeking ever greater roles for science in the political sphere. Politicians, who are suffering from a historic inability to define their purpose, take the authority this lends them with ever more enthusiasm. But this has resulted in a qualitative shift in the character of science. Where once it provided the means to liberate human potential, it now exists to regulate it. Instead of ‘speaking truth to power’, science increasingly speaks official truth for official power. The result is bad politics and bad science.

– Ben Pile of Climate Resistance asks What’s Next for the Royal Society?, the above quote being his concluding paragraph. Linked to by Bishop Hill. Suggested by Michael Jennings, who is on his travels and couldn’t post it himself.

Paul Krugman = toast

Probably the most devastating take-down yet of the economist and leftist news columnist I have ever read. The man’s credibility is in total ruins. The stuff at the end about the housing bubble is the killer. Read the whole thing.

Another poke at creationism and the false parallel with AGW sceptics

…the value of a scientific theory is judged by its power to predict – not in the sense of “psychic” predictions headlined in supermarket tabloids, but in the sense of predicting further experimental results. One failed prediction is enough to torpedo a theory. Success with every prediction, on the other hand, means only that it has survived everything thrown at it thus far. So, if evolution is valid, the newer discoveries made since its inception ought to be consistent with it. Apart from some haggling among specialists over relatively minor details, this has turned out to be overwhelmingly the case. Darwin and others predicted the essential properties of inherited generic units, even though genes and chromosomes were unknown at that time. From evolutionary theory, DNAs from different species should exhibit a branching pattern that reflects the same time sequence of divergence as it is deduced by other methods; they do. The primitive metabolic chemistry of ancestral organisms should be discernible in today’s organic cells; it is. There shouldn’t be much difference in the genetic code inherited by all organisms; there isn’t. And so it goes.”

“And of the predictive power of creationism? Can it predict which band in a series of tree rings should indicate the same age as a given mix of carbon isotopes? Or the tidal record that ought to be found written into fossil corals by the moon’s orbital motion of several hundred million years ago? Does it have anything to say about the composition of the early atmosphere and the kinds of minerals that would be formed as a consequence – their chemical nature, where they should be located, and at what depths we should expect to find them today? Can creationism, in fact, give a hint of any future finding? Not a one. It operates with hindsight only. Because of its built-in unfalsifiability it can cobble together an explanation of anything at all – but only after the fact as established by other means. As a method of prediction it is sterile.”

James P. Hogan, Minds, Machines and Evolution, in the chapter, “The Revealed Word of God, pages 174 and 175. Hogan wrote good SF and non-fiction, although this Wikipedia entry (treat with some care), suggests he also was a Holocaust denier, which is a bit like finding out that your close friend is selling hard drugs to teenagers. He died in July this year.

As some may know, I wrote a while back about what I saw as an unconvincing attempt by the UK journalist Christopher Booker to play the victim card and assume that advocates of AGW scepticism and intelligent design proponents (i.e., creationists), were both equally victims of intolerance from the scientific community. But actually, as one commenter – I think it was Counting Cats at his own blog – pointed out, there is more in common between AGW alarmists, with their almost religious approach, and creationists.

The reason why I keep returning to this topic is that for all that I am unbudgeable on tolerance for all manner of views, barking mad or eminently sane, the point is that if we are going to be able to resist some of the more oppressive demands of AGW alarmists, it pays not to ally ourselves with what I regard as seriously flawed ideas, such as creationism. It is the sort of thing that will be seized upon by the AGW alarmists, in their quest to treat any dissent as examples of bad science. Just sayin’.

A mighty wind from the start

I am reading a review of this book (thank you Instapundit), about Stalin and Hitler and their many and mutually supportive crimes, and I came upon a fact that was very surprising to me:

About as many people died in the German bombing of Warsaw in 1939 as in the allied bombing of Dresden in 1945.

Here in Britain we remember, those of us who are the remembering sort, Winston Churchill’s metaphor-mangling talk of winds and whirlwinds, sewing and reaping. Relatively mild bombing of British cities by the Luftwaffe was followed later in the war by truly horrific bombing of German cities by the RAF.

But that original wind, in other parts of Europe, was windier than I had realised.

LATER: And here’s another little fact that pulled me up short:

In just a few days in 1941, the Nazis shot more Jews in the east than they had inmates in all their concentration camps.

Although, I am not clear whether that is inmates in camps at that time, or inmates in camps over the whole period. The former, I think. Either way, it is hideous. Not sure I want to read the entire book. I already get the general idea.

Comparing like with like – and how unlike they then became

When in my teens, in the 1960s, I wondered what rules were best for governing the world, and the nations in the world. Comparisons like this (featured by Tim Worstall at the ASI blog today, he having come upon it here) helped me to decide:


As Tim Worstall notes:

[T]he countries are matched as to rough starting point before the communist armies marched, matched roughly as to culture and so on, and yet after that series of communist experiments we see the same result everywhere.

Exactly. It was the matching of like (to start with) with like that was most telling. And before 1990, we also had the damning comparison between East and West Germany (very near to my English home) to contemplate.

So, said contemporaries who were drawing more nearly opposite conclusions, you want sweatshops like they have in South East Asia? With growing confidence, I learned to say: yes. If people in South East Asia now have sweatshops, that’s a pity. They must be very poor. But how will shutting down those sweatshops make them any less poor? You’re saying poor with hope of escape is worse than poor with no hope at all. That sounds downright wicked to me.

That time proved me, and all who argued as I did, right was one of the big reasons for communism collapsing where it did collapse, and trying to insert capitalism into itself where it did not.

Some libertarians now live in dread of a time when such comparisons will no longer be possible, because the entire world will be equally stagnant, and nobody except them will be able to see this. Some people are determined to be miserable.