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]

Snow in London in November



Photographed by me this afternoon.

But, as we all know, this is weather, not climate.

It’s only the climate if it gets too hot.

Time to set off some more blue touchpaper

I suppose that if someone asked me what is the subject that libertarians get into the most debates about with each other, I would probably say foreign policy (ie, should or would a libertarian polity even have a “policy” at all?); but then I might say that in second or third place would be intellectual property rights. It never fails to get the fur flying, metaphorically anyway. Here is an example of a fierce opponent of IP who is also an equally robust defender of property rights in everything else, at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, Stephen Kinsella.

My SQOTD a few days ago created a comment thread where IP came up. Now, I am not going to reprise the arguments for or against IP – here is a great essay by Tim Sandefur on the subject and here is another defending IP – but ask a slightly different type of question from readers, which is: what happens if state-created IP rights no longer existed? Could or would such things ever exist under any kind of Common Law system? How would new, potentially immensely useful ideas, come into being if folk could immediately copy them?

It is not good enough, I think, for a person to respond: “well, if writing books/making music/etc no longer pays, then take up bricklaying or perform live, or teach kids for a fee, or whatever.” I do not find such answers entirely satisfactory. In the age of the Information Economy, when so many people create value not by hard physical labour but increasingly, by manipulating ideas and concepts, it seems glib, to say the least, to shrug one’s shoulders about this.

So here are some ideas I have about what would happen. Remember, this post is not about my defending or attacking IP, but posing the question of what happens in a non-IP world, and whether we like the results:

More prize competitions to stimulate inventions, such as the Ansari X-Prize. Consistent libertarian opponents of IP should, of course, want the prize-winning funds to come from private donors and businesses, not the state. I happen to think that such prizes are a great way to foster innovation anyway.

Drugs: we might see a fall in the number of drugs being brought to market, if copying could be done. Bringing drugs to market is notoriously expensive; of course, libertarian anti-IPers might retort that a lot of the cost is caused by regulatory agencies such as the FDA in the US and their international counterparts, and they have a point; even so, reputable drug firms do not want to kill their patients, so trials and tests can take many years, even in a purely laissez faire environment. So we might have fewer drugs being sold and developed from what would otherwise be the case. We cannot measure this shortfall, but it seems a fairly reasonable guess that such inventions might decline. IP opponents need to address this, or at least state that this is a cost that “we” (whoever “we” are) are willing to pay. (This is a bit like the argument that getting rid of limited liability companies could harm, rather than help, economic growth but that the price is worth paying if we remove other problems allegedly connected to LL).

Contracts. Some firms, fearing that staff might defect and take blueprints of ideas to competitors, might insist on non-disclosure rules on staff in the event that they leave. This might actually lead to pretty draconian contracts being enforced in certain sectors, such as drugs and software, though not always easy to enforce in practice. Again, this would depend on the circumstances of individual firms, the sectors they are in, barriers to entry, etc. But some firms might be able to draw up such contracts particularly if the supply of labour for such jobs exceeded present supply.

Secrecy and concealment. Some firms, such as makers of radical new inventions, would go to far greater lengths to build them in such a way that the design was concealed, making it harder for people to get hold of the object, break it apart and reverse engineer it. It may still happen anyway, but firms might go to all kinds of ploys to try and make their stuff harder to copy, not always in ways we would like. Such efforts are a cost; again, is this a cost that outweighs the alleged negatives of IP?

And as a matter of practical reality, we might see some individuals get so enraged at having their ideas copied that this could get quite nasty. If a composer of a piece of music sees his score copied by someone who cannot even be bothered to acknowledge the source, and who performs it live and earns a fortune, then the composer might find out ways of seriously ruining the career of the performer, such as by libelling that person, blackmailing them, even physical violence. Do not forget that libel laws, for instance, are in part a way that the legal system tried to prevent folk killing each other in duels over affairs of honour. No-one likes the plagiarist, and opponents of IP need to accept that such conflicts might arise. I am not saying that the example of the irate composer would be justified in what he might do, but we are talking about likely outcomes, whether we approve of them or not.

One other consequence of a world without IP is that it makes enforcement of property rights in non-rivalrous stuff – such as land, movable goods – even more important in economic life than it is now. Property is inseparable from wealth creation, since if we cannot have the security of knowing that we can build up a store of wealth, then we cannot plan ahead and deal with our fellows in peaceful, voluntary ways. Good fences and good neighbours, and Englishmen in their castles, etc, etc.

Anyway, comment away. Play nice in the sand-box.

Samizdata quote of the day

“What you need to know about Ireland’s economic crisis is that it’s not about Ireland: a small country of slightly more than 4 million people and an economy of roughly $200 billion. It’s about Europe. For decades, Europe has pursued two great political projects. One is the democratic welfare state, designed to improve economic justice through various social safety nets. The other is European unity, symbolized by the creation in 1999 of a single currency — the euro — now used by 16 countries. The fact that both contributed to Ireland’s troubles suggests that Europe could be on the brink of a broader crisis.”

Robert Samuelson.
He’s a steady-as-she-goes, moderate voice of, well, good moderate sense. And he’s just said that the welfare state and the creation of the euro are going to tip Europe over a cliff. When Tory MPs said this a decade ago, they were called “swivel-eyed extremists”, and in Mrs Thatcher”s case, deemed to be insane.

Dear Norman…

To anyone with a vaguely libertarian perspective observing the relentless creep of regulatory politics into ever more aspects of civil life, it has long been self evident that as a practical matter the statist right are largely interchangeable with the statist left. After all David “I see no liberty” Blunkett was simply standing on the shoulders of Michael “there is something of the night about him” Howard, no?

Hence the recent remark by the dependably dismal John Major that he likes being in coalition come as no surprise to me whatsoever. Indeed the only thing that ever so slightly raised one eyebrow on my part was his willingness to left the mask slip.

And with this in mind, I left a comment on Norman Tebbit’s blog in response to this:

“I respect those who are working in UKIP, but I would hope that you would respect us Eurosceptics in the Tory Party too.”

“Well I would respect you a lot more if you were not aiding and abetting the people who have turned the Conservative party into a party of Big Euro Statism… but the fact is they could not have done it without folks such as yourself helping to keep a critical mass of genuine conservatives voting for the party despite profound unease with the likes of Cameron, Major et al.

If you are hanging in there because you seek to take over the Tory party (re-take really) and drive out the twerps who now freely admit they are ideologically fungible with the left (something I have been pointing out for a decade, so Major’s remarks are hardly a revelation to me)… ie you remain a Tory so you can do a UK version of the Tea Party… well great, that is certainly something I could get behind… but if you are just going to be enablers for people who frankly do not share your conservative views, then with all due respect Norman (and I do mean that) you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution, and that is a great pity.”

The Wikileaks files, ctd

“The Wikileaks story is great fun. The embarrassment of others always is. But however much the Guardian, the New York Times and Julian Assange assure us that this represents a shattering blow to every assumption we hold about foreign relations, the fact remains that it’s a collection of little substance that will do nothing to reshape geo-politics. The Saudis would like someone to whack Iran? No kidding. Afghanistan is run by crooks? Really? Hillary Clinton would like to know a lot more about the diplomats she is negotiating against? You surprise me. The Russian government may have links to organised crime? Pass the smelling salts, Petunia. The Americans are secretly whacking al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen? What, you thought the Yemenis were doing it? Muammar Qaddafi has a full time, pneumatic Ukrainian ‘nurse’? Nice one. Diplomats are terrified of Pakistan’s nukes? Me too. And so on, ad infinite boredom.”

Ben Brogan, The Daily Telegraph.

I had some thoughts on the Wikileaks outfit a short time ago. As Brogan says, none of the revelations seem be dangerous in terms of revealing, say, agents in the field who might now be in fear of their lives, nor has it betrayed deception measures of the type designed to foil the enemy, as in leaking cipher codes. All I would say is that Mr Assange had better get himself some decent personal security. He’s pissed off the likes of the Saudis. Very unclever.

Alex Singleton on how Britain should follow Greenland’s example and leave the EU

Singleton’s conclusion:

… it is not just fish where the EU is damaging us, but in financial services, manufacturing – indeed, its ever-increasing regulations impose unnecessary costs across the whole of our economy. Greenland, which retains free trade with the EU, shows that we can have the benefits of European exports, without the costs of its diktats. It’s surely time that we, too, said goodbye to Brussels.

Okay, cards on the table, Singleton is a sometime Samizdatista and a good friend of mine. But more pertinently, he is one of those free marketeers who is, unlike many of our breed, highly sensitive to mood, to atmospheres, to appearances, superficialities, surface trends, straws in the wind, stylistic nuances. He may not always be right about who is hot or who is cool (as opposed to merely who is right), but he is always thinking about such things. He is, after all, a paid journalist working for a major British broadsheet newspaper, who is trusted by that newspaper with editorial as well as writing responsibilities. When he writes stuff, he is typically wearing a suit. He is, in other words, the exact opposite of your typical old grump UKIPer. The significance of this piece of his about Greenland and the EU is not just in what it says, but in its timing. If Singleton reckons that now is a good time to be saying such things, that says something to me, as in something else besides what he is actually saying.

As still current Samizdatista Johnathan Pearce has often said here in recent months, especially in comments, something important just might be stirring in little old Blighty. It’s as if “we”, whoever exactly we are, have been sitting on our hands, waiting for Gordon Brown to depart, and then waiting to see how David Cameron would turn out (given that his mere words communicate so very little). Now we are beginning to learn, and now we are beginning to find our voices and to exert some actual pressure.

An ephemeral question about a weird video of a propeller

One of my favourite blogospherical institutions is David Thompson’s Friday Ephemera. No matter what else may be happening in the world, there, every Friday, they are. The world’s financial system may be going to hell. My life may be a perpetual disappointment, doomed in not very may years to end, probably in pain. But meanwhile, never fear, every Friday, a couple of clicks will get me to things like … a horse in a carspiral staircaseswhisky barrel flooring … the credit crunch in the form of aerial photos of Florida … a sex toys chess setcool bookshops … a cat with bionic legs … a high rise tennis courtsecure parking … an oddly shaped football pitch (that was on a Sunday but look at it anyway) … a fish with handsbookshelf pornJapanese travel posters … or a scary trick like this (not for those with heart problems).

Ninety five bloggers out of a hundred with a taste for such trivia would give each of these oddities a posting to itself, and add a paragraph or two of superfluous waffle (although that’s what I usually do, so maybe I am projecting there). But David Thompson is merely sprinkling a little weekly seasoning upon what is basically a very serious blog. His more typical meat and two veg posting is something like a fisking of some piece of leftist nonsense, or maybe several such pieces.

Last Friday, I had the honour of providing not one but two of David’s chosen ephemera. One was a cat seeing off some alligators, and the other was a video taken with a mobile phone from the inside of an airplane of its propeller, in motion.

I promised David Thompson that I would ask Samizdata’s notably educated commentariat to explain the strange effect with that propeller, and this is me doing that.

Can anyone say what is going on at the other end of that last link, in a way that makes it seem less than totally bizarre?

Samizdata quote of the day

It is not necessary to have divine permission to know right from wrong

Christopher Hitchens

Samizdata quote of the day

Who the hell do you think you people are?

– Nigel Farage MEP uses the TV cameras in the European Parliament in Strasbourg to berate the Euro-elite and to create another few minutes of video that is now starting to make some waves, particularly in the USA. Which means that it is that much more likely to get noticed over here also. That “people” should probably have come after the first “you” rather than the second, but it will do. As a major British Newspaper has now noticed, the Euro-project is starting to look not just seriously corrupt and seriously nasty but also seriously vulnerable.

They are not liberals and they are not progressives

Pro Tea Party writers in the USA still, mostly, call their statist enemies “liberals“. Later in that same piece I’ve linked to, its author, Michael Gerson, also uses the phrase “panicked progressives”, partly because “progressive” is an alternative word for “liberal” that is now doing the rounds with what appears to me, from here in the UK, to be particular vigour just now (having (like “liberal”) been around for many decades), and partly, presumably, because panic and progressive both begin with p and the phrase sounds good. I like pretty much everything Gerson says in this piece, but put it like this: I wish he lived in a world where there already were better words hammered into everyone’s heads to describe the people he is criticising other than “liberal” and “progressive”.

Because, the word “progressive” is just as wrong as the word “liberal”. The statists who argue for the destruction of the dollar and for bank bail-outs (again) and for nationalised derangement of medical care and for green-inspired economic sabotage aren’t “liberals”. They do not believe in liberty; they believe in curtailing liberty. But neither do they believe in anything which it makes sense to anybody except them to call “progress”. Progress is the exact thing these statists are now trying and have always tried to destroy, and just lately have been doing a pretty damn good job of destroying. Progress means things getting better. These self styled “progressives” are only making things worse.

Underneath these unsatisfactory labels, which the statist (a better word for these people in my opinion) enemies of liberty and progress have chosen for themselves and have been using for decades, is an assumption, both by the statists and by those who really do believe in liberty and in progress, that the statists are the people who will inevitably continue to decide about such labels.

But the statists no longer do. One of the biggest events to have happened in the entire world in the last two or three years is that the statist tendency has lost its monopoly control of the media in the USA. The statist media used to be “mainstream”. No longer. Now, their bias is utterly clear and out in the open, because there is now a whole different torrent of different media outlets exposing this bias, every day, every hour, every minute. The statists no longer control the agenda. The statists no longer control the language.

Well, that’s not quite right. Statists are still controlling the language, because they are still being allowed to.

But statist words will go on meaning what the statists want them to mean only if the real liberals and the real progressives allow such foolishness to continue. For the people who really do believe in liberty and in progress can now decide their own language. They can use their own preferred words amongst themselves and they can attach their own preferred words to their enemies, and when they do, there will not be a damn thing that the statists will be able to do to stop them.

In this blog posting, which is centrally about not using the words “liberal” and “progressive” to describe people who are neither, I have instead called these people “statists”. I am somewhat unsure about that word’s rightness, not least because it might suggest greater devolution of power within the USA, in accordance with its Constitution, from the Federal Government to state governments, rather than any sort of generalised opposition to or suspicion of governmental compulsion of all kinds. Comments on that, including comments to the effect that there are much better words than “statist” out there, just waiting to step up or which already have stepped up to verbal stardom, so to speak, which I hadn’t thought of or which I have temporarily forgotten about, would be very welcome. Dirigiste? Centralist? Governmentalist? Despotist?

Whatever. “Statist” (or whatever) is not central the point of this posting, which is a double negative, rather than anything positive. What I am very sure about is that people who really do believe in liberty and in progress should stop calling the enemies of liberty “liberals” and should stop calling the enemies of progress “progressives”.

Samizdata quote of the day

Former US representative in Kandahar, Bill Harris, told the paper that the embarrassing mistake was not Britain’s alone, saying “something this stupid generally requires teamwork.”

Many thanks to Taylor Dinerman for the heads up on this QOTD material:

Making bets

I rather like this habit of economists trying to put their own money on the line in making certain predictions. David Henderson has an item about it. It adds a certain frisson to the joustings between different camps. The most famous bet of all, of course, is the one between the late Julian L Simon and Paul Ehrlich. The latter lost his bet that the price of commodities would rise over a certain period (they did not) and he declined to accept another bet for another decade. Poor loser, I say.

I would have liked to have seen the odds back in 2008 that Obama would likely be only a one-term president, or that one, or possibly two, nations could be driven from the euro-zone by say, 2011/12.