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

Supercars are supposed to run over Arthur Scargill and then run over him again for good measure. They are designed to melt ice caps, kill the poor, poison the water table, destroy the ozone layer, decimate indigenous wildlife, recapture the Falkland Islands and turn the entire third world into a huge uninhabitable desert, all that before they nicked all the oil in the world.

– Sage and raconteur Jeremy Clarkson. I cannot count the ways we love him.

Not as rational as Sam Harris likes to claim

Here is a long blog post by Timothy Sandefur dissecting the collectivist economics and moral philosophy of Sam Harris. Harris is one of the “new atheists”, who, along with Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens, have developed a bit of a reputation for bashing religion. I haven’t read Sam Harris, and Sandefur does not make me any more inclined to do so. (Of all these men, Hitchens is the best, in my view.)

It is interesting that those who criticise religion on the grounds of reason and logic can, as in the case of Harris, make such basic errors on subjects such as trade, notions of self-ownership, justice and the like. It is as if they are craving a secular god to fill a gap left by the traditional one. I must say I was quite shocked at the incoherence of some of Harris’s comments and his failure to examine and demonstrate his premises, such as when he talks about “fairness” without asking what he might mean by that. It is disappointing. On a related point, Greg Perkins, who writes at the Noodlefood blog, had a point about the big gaps in “new atheist” thinking a few years ago. (That link has been updated).

I suggest people brew up a coffee for Sandefur’s posting. It is not a 60-second read. Another case, in fact, of how blogging is often where the quality writing is, whatever some sneerers might once have said about this medium.

Welcome, Instapundit readers! Meanwhile, Reason’s Hit & Run blog has a related issue on how supposedly pro-science leftists can make utter tits of themselves.

Guido dishes the dirt on Labour and Libya

Following on from Perry’s post immediately below this one, I see that Guido Fawkes (aka Paul Staines), has, by his standards, a pretty long, and more significantly, very strongly worded item pointing to all the various links between the late, unlamented Labour government, and the equally unlamented Libyan dictator. I wonder how Tony Blair regrets that photo of him shaking hands with Gaddaffi?

Maybe not. Maybe, Blair might argue, that yes, the guy was and is a bastard, but he came clean about his own WMD programmes in 2003 after Saddam was toppled and to that limited extent, it was right for the West to “reward” those countries run by people who had shown some signs of seeing sense. But the trouble with this sort of realpolitik is that it requires a country like Britain to turn a sort of Nelsonian blind eye to the manifest wickedness of a regime and its past. And let’s not be partisan here: the same calculations have been taken by rightwing administrations as well. Such statecraft is an ugly business, and not a place for high-falutin sanctimony. That said, the deal to release the guy blamed for the Lockerbie massacre, only to see how this release was treated by the Libyan authorities, stank to high heaven. It also unnecessarily has damaged relations between the UK and US.

As for what happens next, I haven’t the foggiest idea.

Good news from Libya?

I hope the reports of rebel triumph prove to be the case… and kudos to the UK and France for helping things along whist also resisting the urge to get too deeply involved.

But that said, I cannot help but hope the dirty secrets now emerge of how overseas politicians aided and abetted Qadaffi over the years, in particularly the disgusting deal over Abdelbaset al Megrahi. It would be wonderful to see the polities in England and Scotland take one in the face if the unlovely details eventually come out.

Samizdata quote of the day

A drug is not bad. A drug is a chemical compound. The problem comes in when people who take drugs treat them like a license to behave like an asshole.

– Frank Zappa

Samizdata quote of the day

The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.

– Alexis de Tocqueville (attributed to…)

Samizdata quote of the day

During the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Christians were not supposed to charge interest. Therefore, the most common moneylenders-to-kings were Jews. They could loan money at a profit, and were thus more likely to lend it.

But whenever the King’s debts got too large to repay, he began to demonise the Jews. And eventually came a pogrom. And hey-ho, the debt went away along with the Jews.

I’m seeing the demonisation of banks. I wonder how long before government throws a pogrom?

Ellen Kuhfeld

A picture says a thousand words

A graph on the growth of the regulatory state, courtesy of the National Review Corner blog.

“The IPL has become a bit of a welfare state …”

I am now, as if regular readers of my recent stuff here need to be told, paying at least as much attention to the final game, which began this morning, in the England India test match cricket series as I am to such things What To Do About The Deficit. England are already 3-0 up, and are now looking to make it a 4-0 thrashing. This morning England, batting first, made another good start. But then it rained for the rest of the day.

Which meant that the radio commentators and their various guests had to talk amongst themselves, rather than commentate on the mostly non-existent action. And one of the things they talked about was the contrast between the general demeanour and attitude of the two teams, as illustrated by how they both warmed up at the start of the game. Compared to the quasi-military drill in perfectly matching attire that was the England warm-up, India looked, they said, like a rabble, and have done all series. The biggest recent change in how the Indians actually play, they all agreed, is that the Indian fast bowlers are now significantly slower than they were two or three years ago, and several inches fatter.

Why the contrast? Well, it seems that the top Indian cricketers now play too much cricket of the wrong kind – limited overs slogging basically, which encourages run-restricting rather than wicket-taking bowling, and careless, twist-or-bust batting. And they play not enough cricket of the right kind. Hence their arrival in England in a state combining lack of preparation with apparent exhaustion and general lack of fitness. But, you can’t really blame them, said the commentators. The Indian Premier League now pays its players more in a month than cricketers of an earlier generation would ever see in their entire careers.

The reason I mention all this, apart from the fact that I personally find it all very interesting, is that, in among all this cricket chat, somebody said something very Samizdata-friendly that I thought I would pass on. Former England cricketer, now cricket journalist and pundit, Derek Pringle, threw in the following, concerning the impact of the Indian Premier League on the attitude and physical preparedness of the top Indian players:

The IPL has become a bit of a welfare state for them.

You might reckon it odd to compare the predicament of men who are being paid rather lavishly to do too much work, but of the wrong sort, with the very different circumstances of people who are being paid very little by comparison to do next to nothing, beyond go through the motions of looking for work without actually doing it. You might also want to ask whether limited overs slog-fests really are “wrong”. After all, if that’s the sort of cricket that people generally, and Indians in particular, will now pay most readily to watch, what is so wrong about it?

Good points both, but not the point I want to make now. What my point is about the above soundbite is that Derek Pringle was simply assuming, when he said it, that state welfare makes you fatter and lazier and less industrious than you otherwise might have been. Pringle, famously inclined to being a bit of a fatty himself, just knew that we all knew what he was getting at. It didn’t have to be spelt out. Simply: state welfare rots the body and the mind and the soul. Anything else which, arguably, resembles state welfare in its financial impact upon the individuals concerned is likely to do similarly debilitating and demoralising things to those individuals also. If you are one of those eccentrics who still thinks otherwise, the burden of proof is entirely on you to explain your bizarre and contrarian opinions.

The argument that state welfare corrupts – physically, mentally and morally – is not, to put it mildly, new. When the modern British welfare state got under way after World War 2 this argument about the potential impact on its recipients of state money was already centuries old, and it was duly re-presented in opposition to the new welfare arrangements. But, the old argument was dismissed, with scorn, and also with, I believe, much genuine sincerity. These were the days, remember, when the masses of the British people were at a unique summit of mass moral excellence. (Thousands upon thousands of them used to turn up to watch county cricket, in other words the kind of cricket those cricket commentators are saying the Indian cricketers haven’t been playing enough of.) Are you seriously saying, asked the welfare statists, that a bit of help when times are bad is going to turn these good people (good people who had just won the war, don’t forget) into barbarians? Not, as Americans now say, going to happen. Yet, as a crude first approximation, this is what did happen, if not to them then to a horrifying proportion of their descendants.

And before any anti-immigration commenters pitch in, let me answer them with two questions and my two answers. Given the same welfare arrangements but no mass immigration, would there now be similar barbarism? I strongly believe so, even if maybe not on the same scale. Given the same mass immigration but no state welfare to speak of, would there now be similar barbarism? Much less, I think.

Realising that state welfare corrupts is one thing. Taking state welfare away from the millions of people whose entire lives are now organised around the assumption that state welfare will continue indefinitely is quite another, which is why this radical change of opinion has been somewhat subterranean. So far it has had little practical effect. But, as Derek Pringle’s casual aside illustrates, this changed opinion is now well in place, and sooner or later this will surely have consequences.

Sticking it to the NYTimes…

I was reading an article by Janet Daly, whom I rather like even if I do not always agree with (I met her at a Stockholm Network shindig once and found her sharp and charming), in which she excoriates the NYTimes for a risible screed about the recent riots in Britain:

Never likely to be outdone when it comes to Left-liberal sententiousness, the New York Times has produced a corker of a leading article on our very own riots. With a mock-judicious bit of throat-clearing, it begins on a tone of apparently unimpeachable even-handedness: “nothing can justify or excuse the terrifying wave of lawlessness, etc, etc … the perpetrators must be punished, etc, etc.”

But it then lurches into an absurd compounding of the irrelevant and the ill-informed. David Cameron, the paper intones, is “a product of Britain’s upper classes and schools”. (This is scarcely intelligible English: does it mean upper-class schools?) And so, presumably as a consequence of his class-induced ignorance, “he has blamed the looting and burning on a compound of national moral decline, bad parenting and perverse inner-city subculture”.

Yes indeed he has, thus putting himself in agreement with about 90 per cent of the British population. But the New York Times in as uninterested in the overwhelming majority of British public opinion as it is in the great mass of American public opinion. It is as smugly and narrowly orthodox in its Left-liberal posturing as its counterparts in Britain

Good stuff. But what really caught my eye was a comment under this article by a blogger rejoicing in the giggle inducing pseudonym “He’s Spartacus”, which I reproduce entirely here as it is rather splendid:

Comments are pre-moderated at the NYT and I have little doubt that mine will not pass muster, so here it is….

It’s difficult to know where to begin dissecting this flatulent nonsense, it’s so full of holes, so I’ll content myself with saying that the NYT continues to demonstrate that it knows as little about the reality of life in Britain as it does about America.

No….wait….scratch that….

This social disintegration is exactly what clear thinkers have been warning about for more than half a century.

Replace the family with the State, bellow “revolution!” from every street corner while in reality making the banks and corporations you claim to hate yet more powerful because, loath though you may be to admit it, they debt-fund the State’s rent-seeking schemes and social engineering projects, steal our money at gunpoint to pay for it all, ghettoise entire communities by telling them they can develop separately (now where have I heard that before?)….

What were you THINKING?

Reap the whirlwind.

Now for the good news….

The state has failed, and the really good news is that a lot of people have worked this out for themselves, as evidenced by the thousands of ordinary, law-abiding folk who, once they had recovered from initial impact of the sheer cold-bloodedness and randomness of the violence, took responsibility for protecting their own streets and neighbourhoods.

If this spells the beginning of the end of the nanny state, I for one will raise a glass to the state-created bottom-feeders who initiated it.

To which all I can say is… amen to that.

A gem buried at the bottom of a comment thread

This person at the Daily Caller appears – with some justification I might add – to take a dim view of Ron Paul, the US congressman and Republican primary contender for the presidential ticket known as “Dr No” on account of his saying no to various government measures and enterprises. He is, famously or infamously, a hardline anti-interventionist in foreign affairs, so much so that his views might be dubbed as almost pacifist. He has called for accountability by the Federal Reserve, and argues that institution ought to be closed down. But he has feet of clay, and this article I link to, which is written in a sort of furious burst of anger, focuses on those flaws and makes light of Paul’s merits. In particular, the article unfairly misrepresents the Austrian school of economics and its methodology. It also seems to smear libertarianism on issues like legalising prostitution and drugs, ignoring the obvious arguments that criminalising consensual acts has created huge costs for society.

All the way down at the bottom of a comment thread prompted by this article, is large item by commenter Michael P. Ivy. It is so good that I reproduce it here. There is the odd typo, but it is worth quoting in the raw:

I am always amused by wannabe economists, who call themselves capitalists, but, are unable to embrace or understand the true axioms of capitalism when push comes to shove. Austrian economics spins on essentially to axioms: (1) that there is no free lunch, and (2) all human action is purposeful action motivated by the individual’s (not society’s) desire to move from a less to a more desired state. These are self evident truths, much like the “more is preferred to less” axiom of the neoclassical school. You butcher Rothbard without understanding his work and particularly his crititique of the neo classical school of wackjob indifference curve analysis and welfare economics. The notion that an individual can be indifferent between two different states of the world without ever actually exercising choice is not a reliable basis for recommending redistribution measures of the Kaldor/Hicks kind. Even Samuelson so much as admitted that it is impossible to derive a social welfare function without making assumptions about the marginal utility of money et al (1951).

The problem with Keynes’ economics, is that it must rob resources from one sector of the economy to furnish another and it consumes resources in the process. Moreover, in doing so, the government does so without the knowledge of the benefits that those resources procure that only those individuals holding those resources…know. This is the problem with any measure of government involvement in economics. That they suffer from fiscal illusion (not my money so it don’t matter) is one thing, but, they effectively create an environment of uncertainty by destroying productive incentives. Incentives do matter after all and I have yet to see the mathematical models of the neo-classicals actually recognize this and quantify them. The fact is, is that you can’t unless you invoke a value judgement of the Keynesian/Samuelson kind.

Welfare economics has never worked and it never will work, for as M. Thatcher so plainly points out, “Socialism is a great idea until you run out of other people’s money”. The statement captures two notions: (1) if their actually was a multiplier effect on GDP from government spending, don’t you think this would be a permanent line item of the government’s income/expense statement?, and (2) the No Free Lunch axiom is underscored by the fact that since government is an unproductive entity that consumes resources for its existence without actually creating anything of value is that eventually the productivity of the market is unable to keep up with and compensate for the unproductive actions of government. True capitalists understand this.

And if you think the market is unable to coordinate itself with respect to defense, innovation, policing of private property, mass transit, health, education, indeed all the things you think we require a central planner for, then you obviously have not bothered to school yourself on the opportunities that can and will present themselves if productive individuals are left alone and allowed to participate. Finally, I see that your article is riddled throughout with incorrect and obnoxious assertions about economic theory presented by Rothbard, Mises et al. (semi-autistic dogmatism). The fact is, is that there is nothing dogmatic about the Austrian school. Its core tenet is that the best production, exchange, and coordination of resources occurs when individuals are left free and unfettered to choose. And by whatever math you might care to invoke, given the level of debt ($16T) incurred by the Welfare State, I’d say you’re pointing the dogmatic finger in the entirely wrong direction. THAT is what is dogmatic….doing the same illogical, nonsensical thing over and over again (at the people’s expense), and expecting a different result every time. So before you decide to write another diatribe on someting you don’t know much about, I’d recommend that you review Rothbard…again, and in particular his piece on “Towards a Reconstruction of Utility and Welfare Economics”. There is nothing dogmatic, hairy scary or offensive about it.

Very good.

Ron Paul is very much a mixed bag, and I would not vote for him, and I am troubled by some of his views. But the fact has to be faced that almost unique in Western politics, he has put forward a classical liberal agenda on certain issues, and done so consistently. And he has managed, despite his age, to touch a lot of young people. There is a lesson here somewhere.

Caught in their own nets

Sit down. I am about to astonish you. Via the Drudge Report, I found this: Seattle’s ‘green jobs’ program a bust.

A green jobs scheme has failed. Over the shock yet? I’ve always meant to ask one of the enthusiasts for these schemes why they do not also support a job-creating proposal to forbid the generation of electricity by any means other than men on treadmills, but I have not done so for fear of giving them ideas.

I was lying earlier. I am not surprised at all and do not expect you to be. The best that any government “job creation” scheme can ever do is “create” a few jobs in some specific place or profession while the spotlight is on that place or profession – at the cost of destroying the wealth that actually creates long term jobs, but in a conveniently spread out way so no one much notices. Greens strive to convince us that there are external costs paid by the community as a whole when jets fly or factories produce geegaws. “Look at the whole picture,” they urge. “Don’t be bedazzled by the transitory benefit accruing to a few and fail to see the larger but subtler harm being borne by the many.” They have a point. I wish they could apply it to ‘job creation’.

Apparently, however, this Seattle scheme was even a bust in its own terms. It withered even before the spotlight moved on.

The unglamorous work of insulating crawl spaces and attics had emerged as a silver bullet in a bleak economy – able to create jobs and shrink carbon footprint – and the announcement came with great fanfare.

McGinn had joined Vice President Joe Biden in the White House to make it. It came on the eve of Earth Day. It had heady goals: creating 2,000 living-wage jobs in Seattle and retrofitting 2,000 homes in poorer neighborhoods.

But more than a year later, Seattle’s numbers are lackluster. As of last week, only three homes had been retrofitted and just 14 new jobs have emerged from the program. Many of the jobs are administrative, and not the entry-level pathways once dreamed of for low-income workers. Some people wonder if the original goals are now achievable.

I enjoyed the implication that there are others who do not wonder at all, no sir, no sliver of doubt that the original goals might not be met has ever crossed their minds.

That was not the only part of this article rich in irony. Look at this:

“Who’s benefitting from this program right now – it doesn’t square with what the aspiration was,” said Howard Greenwich, the policy director of Puget Sound Sage, an economic-justice group. He urged the city to revisit its social-equity goals.

….Greenwich said the energy retrofit market has turned out to be extremely complicated, with required hammering out of job standards, hiring practices, wages and how best to measure energy benefits.

Market? Where was the market there? The things that have “turned out” (talking as if it all happened by chance) to be “extremely complicated” (that I can believe) are the workings of the interlocking tangle of government rules and protections that people like him and his “economic justice” group advocate. Job standards. Hiring practices. How best to measure energy benefits on some government form. It is sad for all those whose hopes are dashed by these schemes, like the mugs here in the UK who trained as assessors to issue Energy Performance Certificates, or like the unfortunates who got burnt metaphorically and literally in the great Australian insulation debacle. (Not surprisingly, Tim Blair, chronicler of that saga, also has a post about this Seattle fandango. Mine was started first, though.) But what a joke when the very thing that reduces the progressive silver bullet to a twist of mangled brass is… all the stuff that progressives wanted all along.

On second thoughts, I need not worry about giving them dangerous ideas. The great ‘men on treadmills’ job creation scheme would never get moving. It would have to be persons on treadmills regardless of gender, age, religious belief or sexual orientation for a start. And what about disabled access?