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]

Frank J on Obama’s re-election chances

If you only go to IMAO occasionally (like me), or even not at all, then allow me to pass on a recent Frank J-ism (if you will pardon the expression) which made me smile if not laugh out loud, from here:

And the thing is, maybe the economy is technically turned around and very slowly starting to go in the right direction, it’s just does Obama not expect us to not notice how far he went off course before finally getting things around? It’s like we’re driving from Newark to New York, and we’re constantly yelling at Obama, “Turn around! You’re going the wrong way!” And eventually we’re in Los Angeles, right at the shore where we can’t go any further off course, and Obama finally says, “I guess I better turn around.” And then he expects us to buy him lunch for making the smart move of turning things around. And we’re like, “Man, we were so much better off when we were back stuck in that ditch.”

I think a negative maybe got wrongly doubled sowhere near the beginning of that, but you get the point.

My approximate understanding of voters is that they do indeed vote about the immediate future, rather than reward or punish politicians for their past deeds or misdeeds, the most famous case being how British voters booted out Churchill in 1945, despite his triumphant war leadership, but because of his presumed inability to win the peace. He won in 1951 not because of his heroic past, but because of what he was then saying: set the people free.

Obama is now tanking in the polls because the US economy is now experienced as bad. If it feels like the US economy is heading in the right direction come election day, Obama could indeed win. I could go on, but prefer to leave commenters who actually live in the USA, like Paul Marks, to take that further, if they care to. I will only say that I vividly recall being told, by a visiting American at the time when President Bill Clinton was riding very low in the polls during his first term, that he had zero chance of winning again. But, he did.

Also, I was amazed by this FJ revelation:

It’s time to admit the truth: I’m not a bland American male, but really a gay girl living in Syria.

I did not know that.

So, she probably doesn’t know that much about Obama’s re-election chances either.

Form over substance

A few days ago Phlip Davies MP suggested that disabled workers or those with mental health problems could get work more easily if they had the right to voluntarily opt out of the minimum wage.

He said,

“Given that some of those people with a learning disability clearly, by definition, can’t be as productive in their work as somebody who hasn’t got a disability of that nature, then it was inevitable that given that the employer was going to have to pay them both the same they were going to take on the person who was going to be more productive, less of a risk, and that was doing those people a huge disservice.”

Within hours so much outraged commentary flowed out of newspaper columnists, charity representatives and politicians of all parties, including Mr Davies’ own, that you’d think there’d been an outbreak of indignation dysentery.

Let us look at a few of the responses.

“A lower minimum wage if you’re disabled? Not acceptable, sorry,” says Lucy Glennon in the Guardian.

“It is a preposterous suggestion,” MIND spokeswoman Sophie Corlett was quoted as saying in the Yorkshire Post, “that someone who has a mental health problem should be prepared to accept less than the minimum wage to get their foot in the door with an employer.

“People with mental health problems should not be considered a source of cheap labour and should be paid appropriately for the jobs they do.”

“Philip Davies’s comments are another obstacle to disabled workers being treated as equal,” said Paul Farmer, chief executive of MIND, writing in the Telegraph. He added, “He has caused offence to many people who work with a mental health problem and those who want to work on an equal footing, yet struggle to overcome the stigma they face.”

Jody McIntyre in the Independent was also outraged. His suggestion that Members of Parliament should work for less than minimum wage was not bad, though. Of the mentally disabled, he said “A strong test of any progressive society is how it’s most vulnerable people are valued for their worth, rather than pitied for their faults. Philip Davies clearly places little value on the role of people with learning difficulties in our society; instead of celebrating their diversity, he chooses to reinforce the discriminatory myth that people with learning difficulties are more of a risk to employers.”

There was more, much more. After reading loads of responses I noticed something that they all had in common… as not having.

Not one response of all the many I read even tried to argue that Mr Davies was factually wrong. They were outraged, disgusted. They asserted what no one denies: that mentally disabled people are equal citizens and often prove to be hardworking employees, valued by their employers. But I could not find one article that argued that Davies’ description of the way things go when a person with an IQ of 60 or a history of insanity seeks a job was inaccurate, or gave reasons to believe his proposal would not increase their chances of landing one.

“Philip Davies is right, of course,” says Tim Worstall. “But so profoundly unfashionable that no one will say so”. He then goes on to argue that Davies is right. His views will not be purist enough for some libertarians, but the novelty of reading someone bother to put forward a chain of reasoning when talking about this topic is a bit of a thrill. The fact that he bothers to think about what will actually happen to disabled people, particularly mentally disabled people, under various scenarios shows a thousand times more compassion than the people whose response is mostly concerned with their own emotions.

A quote from Charles Murray: “It seems that those who legislate and administer and write about social policy can tolerate any increase in actual suffering so long as the system does not explicitly permit it.

Environmental news from Canada

Ezra Levant:

There are about 100 professional anti-oilsands activists in Canada, who do nothing but attack Canada’s oil industry. Typically they pose as grassroots environmentalists. But the facts are different.

Most environmental activists are actually paid professionals. And most work for foreign lobbyists.

He is talking only of Canada, but even so, it puts a whole different slant on things, doesn’t it? Read the rest of the piece for a few details.

I also think it puts a different slant on the constantly heard – and utterly ridiculous – claim that in the absence of Old School Dead Tree Media news reporting, there will no longer be any news, just bloggers blogging and twitterers twittering, about nothing.

There will still be plenty of news. But it may be somewhat different news.

The Greek tragedy: not a bug, but a feature?

London mayor and newspaper pundit Boris Johnson has a good article in his usual Daily Telegraph redoubt and it is getting a lot of attention, as it should:

“The Greek debt crisis is deepening, in other words; and there are only two options. We could continue down the road we are on, in which the euro shambles becomes an invisible and surreptitious engine for the creation of an economic government of Europe. Indeed, there is a sense in which the slow-motion disaster of the PIGS – Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Spain – has been terrific for the federalist cause. Bit by bit we seem to be creating a fiscal as well as a monetary union, in which huge sums – including about £20 billion of UK bail-out cash – are being transferred from the richer to the poorer parts of the EU. The idea is that Germany, France and others should “socialise” the debts of the periphery – take them on, in other words – so as to keep the eurozone together and to stop the domino effect, with all the attendant damage it is feared that would do to the European banking system.”

“These profligate and improvident countries would be obliged, in return, to submit to a kind of economic supervision that is now proposed for Greece. Taxes, spending, benefits – all the panoply of economic independence – would then be subject to agreement with Berlin and Brussels. I sometimes think Kohl, Mitterrand, Delors and co instinctively knew that this would happen.”

Oh, they knew. They wanted this to happen – maybe not in the wrenching, embarrassing way that has manifested itself in the case of Greece, Ireland the rest, but they surely wanted economics to be melded to the service of politics.

“They probably calculated that if only they could achieve monetary union, the euro would create such strains that the de facto creation of a United States of Europe would be impossible to resist. The trouble is that there is just no democratic mandate for anything of the kind.”

Democracy, schemocracy, as Mel Brooks might have put it.

Keynesians fighting like rats in a sack

An interesting item about how economists influenced by the teachings of the late JM Keynes are falling out with one another.

Here is a quote worth pondering from Henry Hazlitt: “Keynes constantly deplored saving while praising investment, persistently forgetting that the second was impossible without the first.” Page 203, The Wisdom of Henry Hazlitt.

Will Saudi Arabia now ban the burqa?


Women in Saudi Arabia have been openly driving cars in defiance of an official ban on female drivers in the ultra-conservative kingdom.

My thanks to Antoine Clarke for the h/t. Antoine’s Norlonto Review has been only occasional in recent months, but is now active. And Antoine adds this observation:

SAUDI ARABIA NEEDS A BURQA BAN. Women defy government ban on driving and post videos of themselves driving around town. Of course the veil makes it harder to identify them.

I guess those Islamic scholars who insisted that the burqa was a liberation have a point.


Samizdata quote of the day

We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle

– Winston Churchill

Examples of spectacular historical ignorance

It has emerged that the Provisional IRA, rather than its deniable offshoot the South Armagh Republican Action Force, was responsible for the 1976 Kingsmills Massacre. If you do not know about that event, the grim story is here.

On 5 January 1976, the 10 textile workers were travelling home from work in the dark and rain on a minibus in the heart of rural County Armagh.


A man asked their religions. There was only one Catholic left on the bus. He was identified and ordered away from his Protestant work mates. He was able to run off.

The lead gunman spoke one other word – “Right” – and the shooting began.

Mr Black was the only one to survive.

It seems almost indecent to let such an event be the starting point for a more general line of thought, but that is the way the mind works sometimes.

I had remembered the Kingsmills massacre. The last question put to the men and the awful choice of what to answer when you did not know whether the terrorists asking were Loyalist or Republican had stuck in my mind. Today I have advanced a little further in knowledge: I now know that analysis of the guns used confirms that it most likely was the IRA after all. The thing is, though, that my level of knowledge, which I tend to think of as average, is actually way above average. I have known for three decades that this massacre occurred. I knew that a few days previously five Catholics had been murdered and that the Kingsmills massacre was carried out in reprisal for this. And here’s the point, I know that there are Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, Republicans and Loyalists, and could give you a basic account of which side is which and how that situation came to be.

My own background is Irish Catholic. My family loathed the IRA. So I grew up paying a slightly above average amount of attention to Northern Ireland and I noticed over the years that plenty of people in the world literally did not know that there were any Protestants there. These people thought that that it was a case of “the English” occupying Ireland. Partisans on the Republican side also spoke thus, but selective rather than complete ignorance was their problem, as it was for partisans on the Loyalist side. The way in which those soaked in the history of a conflict can blank out the other side and talk of “the people” when they mean “our people” is tragic but a quite different phenomenon from that of ordinarily well educated members of society who simply have no idea – but not, alas, no opinion.

I have explained the existence of a Protestant population in bad French and worse Italian. I remember reading of angry editorials in American newspapers of thirty years ago that appeared to be unaware that the Republic of Ireland was an independent state. Colonel Gaddafi of Libya – now there’s a name from the past, wonder what happened to him? – at one time was visited by a delegation of Protestant paramilitaries who convinced him that this was not a straightforward anti-Imperialist struggle and got him to cease sending arms to the IRA.

I think a few of the commenters to this article still literally do not know of the existence of the Protestant population. If they do know of it, they ain’t showing it.

The ignorance that is rational for individuals can do great harm.

What are your experiences of spectacular historical ignorance? What effect does that ignorance have? To count, examples should not be the ignorance of the illiterate and semi-literate. There are millions on Earth who do not know the world is round. That is sad but not interesting. What is sad but interesting is the state of those for whom some basic historical fact is an “unknown unknown”, to use Rumsfeld’s formulation.

On second thoughts, why confine ourselves to history? A Scottish friend of mine relates that some of people she talks to in her part of the world literally think that the financial crisis of 2008 arose because bankers took “all the money” for bonuses. They think the government could get all the money back and make everything OK again, had it but the willpower. Discussing the matter, she modified that slightly, and said that if these friends and acquaintances were ever to articulate the idea I have just described they would probably see that it could not be correct, but they never have articulated it. This is in a Labour-voting but by no means deprived area near Glasgow, but I would not bet on the proportion of people thinking thus in my Tory part of Essex being much different, for all that ‘banksters’ keep the local economy going.

These holes in peoples’ knowledge will have their effect in the end. One could call it trickle-up ignorance.

Samizdata cultural quote of the day

“The fundamental story about consumer taste, in modern times, is not one of dumbing down or of producers seeking to satisfy a homogenous least common denominator at the expense of quality. Rather, the basic trend is of increasing variety and diversity, at all levels of quality, high and low.”

Tyler Cowen, Creative Destruction: How Globalization is Changing The World’s Cultures. Page 127. First published in 2002.

Subsidised artists do economics

Counting the true cost of the arts cuts is the headline on a Guardian article by Mark Brown. It starts (emphasis added):

A very good thing, the Lost Arts website, was launched on Thursday in Westminster with the aim of of recording all the organisations, initiatives, projects, commissions, tours and more that will be lost due to cuts in public spending on the arts.

It will also keep a running total of money lost to the arts and the money lost to the Treasury as a consequence.

The initiative is a collaboration between eight unions: the Musicians’ Union (MU), Equity, The Writers’ Guild of Great Britain, the NUJ, Bectu, Unite, Prospect and PCS.

If you follow the link you get to Lost Arts. The front page currently says:

Money lost to the arts since 30.03.2011: £20,392,023.
Money lost to the economy since 30.03.2011: £40,784,046.

Emphasis added, again. The latter figure is exactly twice the former. I suppose this is a reference to the claim made by John Smith, President of the FEU, in the comments that “Every £1 invested in the Arts generates £2 for the wider economy”.

£2 out for every £1 in is really very modest as such claims go.

Toby Young on increasing the supply of good education

Ever before I wrote this, I was on the lookout for Fixed Quantity Of… theories, and even more since then. Usually these theories are fallacies. Often, changing how something is done, and in particular changing the rules or the overall setting within which something is done can quite dramatically change, for the better or for the worse, both the quantity and the quality of whatever is being argued about.

Here is another such theory/fallacy, the Fixed Quantity of Education fallacy. Toby Young takes aim at it here. He and some friends of his are setting up a “free school”. Their critics in the state education sector object, because this new school will suck educational excellence out of their schools and make it available only to a privileged few.

In particular, it is said that this new school will draw middle class children away from state schools, to the educational detriment of these schools. State educators who talk like this sometimes make it sound as if most of the good teaching that goes on in their schools is done by middle class children rather than by educationally expert adults. Perhaps they have a point.

But the amount of satisfactory educating going on is very variable, depending on how relaxed or restrictive are the rules about how it may be done and who may do it. (For instance, if it were forbidden for parents to educate their children at home, that would, I believe, sharply diminish the supply of good education.) Toby Young says that the real reason the detractors of the educational venture he favours are so vocal is that they fear being shown up as bad educators, by a new school that creates a vast new surge of educational excellence, thereby proving that they could be doing this too. No upper limit on the total amount of available education is stopping them, only their own stupid educational ideas and habits. I am sure that he has a point.

Samizdata quote of the day

NHS North Central London operates under strict data protection guidance and is taking the matter extremely seriously. We have started an investigation into the issues raised by the loss. We are liaising with the office of the Information Commissioner.

– A spokesman from NHS North Central London, responding ineffectually to questions from The Register about having recently lost a laptop containing 8.6 million health records. The laptop was “password protected”, apparently, so everything is okay.