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]

The country is in the best possible hands

“Consider the following statements about the Prime Minister that have accumulated in my notebook, from a number of those closest to him. All can be described as his intimates, arch loyalists in whom he confides on a daily basis. What is telling is how some of the sharpest insights into his weaknesses come from those who spend the most time with him. Here, for example, is one of his closest government allies: “David is interested in doing his duty as Prime Minister, not in policy or politics or revolution.” Another puts it this way: “He is more inclined to say ‘Don’t frighten the horses’.” And another: “David is more of the steward of the nation than someone fired by a missionary zeal to transform things.” Or this from an old friend: “His problem is that he has never had a burning desire to be anything other than prime minister.” And here is a friend from his wealthy social circle: “David is frightened of people who have stronger views than him, and that includes Sam.'”

Benedict Brogan.

The last sentence is damning. Even if you rather like the idea of a prime minister who takes the old-fashioned approach of just running the store without any sort of revolutionary zeal (not always a bad thing in a Tory, let’s be fair), the fact that he fears people with stronger views than his own is, frankly, astonishing if it is actually true.

Samizdata quote of the day

Politicians can’t reform Social Security because they can’t talk about it honestly, and they can’t talk about it honestly because the median voter doesn’t want to admit a basic fact: Grandpa is an embezzler.

Peter A. Taylor

Thoughts on the French elections

“Listening to the candidates last night, it was clear that there is no pro-capitalist, pro-globalisation, low-tax, eurosceptic, outward looking party in France – there is no equivalent to the British Conservative party’s Thatcherite tendency. What passes for the centre-right in France is social-democratic and fanatically pro-EU; it is very different to the centre-right parties seen in English-speaking countries and many emerging markets. The “right-wing” eurosceptic candidate (who was crushed) is a protectionist who wants to tax the rich – and hates French workers who have moved to London. The only successful eurosceptics are the hard left who believe Brussels to be a capitalist plot and fascists who hate foreigners, the free market and multinationals.”

Allister Heath.

In the latest series of problems to hit the euro-zone, there are problems for the Dutch. Spain and previously, Italy, have been in the news for their economic woes. But France is the Big One. If this country – about the same in terms of wealth as the UK – votes for a socialist, with his promise to impose a 75% tax on those he deems rich, then the cafes, restaurants and schools in and around parts of London will ring even louder with the sounds of French accents than is the case already. The exodus of French people in recent years to these and other shores has been striking (they are not coming here for the weather). It is, if you like, a sort of French version of “Going Galt”, although I doubt any of the French political establishment has ever read Atlas Shrugged, nor cares.

I like France a lot and relish any chance to go there. In fact, during the two weeks of this year’s London Olympics, I am in the southwest of France, in a small town to the west of Montpelier. But I would not want, as a professional, to live in the country if it heads down a damagingly socialist path.

Samizdata quote of the day

Only with BANKRUPTCY (not Revolution) does the possibility of reform emerge. As the Socialists (unlike the French Communists or American Marxists such as Barack Obama) will not opt for the totalitarian alternative. That is certainly also true in Britain – no reform can be expected before bankruptcy. And may well be true in the United States also.

Paul Marks

Samizdata quote of the day

At a time when the UK Government is imposing another £16bn of spending cuts, is abolishing pensioner tax reliefs, and is apparently so financially stretched that it needs to tax warm pasties, it has somehow managed to find an additional £10bn to bail out the eurozone. This from a prime minister who declares himself a “eurosceptic”. Is it any wonder that the Tories are trailing in the polls?

Jeremy Warner

I am not a great fan of Jeremy Warner, but the sight of him reporting something that should have been obvious years ago did seem worth a mention.

And by the way, I am delighted that France looks likely to elect an overt tax-and-spend lunatic even more statist and destructive than the dismal Sarko. So… hands up who thinks gold is still a bad bet?

The Imjin River remembered

Incoming from my friend Tim Evans:

Today is the sixty-first anniversary of one of the most extraordinary actions by a British army unit during the Cold War. Please, just spare 9 minutes of your time to quietly watch and reflect on a battle that has long fascinated me: the Battle of the Imjin River.

I’ve been out and about most of the day, but tomorrow morning, I will do what Tim suggests.

Samizdata quote of the day

It is at first denied that any radical new plan exists; it is then conceded that it exists but ministers swear blind that it is not even on the political agenda; it is then noted that it might well be on the agenda but is not a serious proposition; it is later conceded that it is a serious proposition but that it will never be implemented; after that it is acknowledged  that it will be implemented but in such a diluted form that it will make no difference to the lives of ordinary people; at some point it is finally recognised that it has made such a difference, but it was always known that it would and voters were told so from the outset.

– Yesterday (see below) I quoted a paragraph written by James Delingpole. The above paragraph, originally written to describe the onward march of the European Union, is quoted by Delingpole, in his book Watermelons (p. 45), to help him explain how AGW went from crankery to globally imposed policy. Delingpole found it in The Great Deception (p. 605) by Booker and North. They got it from a Times editorial, published on August 28, 2002.

On argumentative optimism and argumentative pessimism

Something almost all effective polemicists have in common is a degree of optimism. They believe that their polemic can – at the very least might – make a difference. You can be as clever as all hell, but if all you do is cleverly convince yourself that your side in the argument is doomed, then mostly you will contribute only a lowering of morale.

Which is one of many reasons why, as JP noted the other day, I like Delingpole so much. He may be a bit naïve sometimes, a bit too boyishly enthusiastic for some tastes. But far better that than been-there said-that done-that seen-it-all certainty that there is damn all any of us can do about anything. Delingpole is always on the lookout for where a difference is there to be made in whatever argument he is involved in, and eager to make it.

In Australia for instance:

… in Australia, climate change is probably a more pressing political issue than it is anywhere else in the world. Australia after all is a ruddy great island made of fossil fuels. It has an economy which is dependent on fossil fuels. Therefore, when Australia finds itself burdened with an administration which decides to put a swingeing tax on fossil fuels – Gillard’s hated Carbon Tax – in the name of saving the earth from “Climate Change” then clearly Climate Change becomes of pressing concern not just to enviro-loon activists but also to ordinary, sane people who worry about tedious stuff like paying their bills, keeping their jobs and ensuring that their kids have some kind of economic future. The  Queensland election result was, I suspect, just the beginning. The tide against the Great Global Warming Scam – the biggest and most expensive outbreak of mass hysteria in history – is turning and, right now, Australia is the best place in the world to go for a beachside view.

I don’t know if Delingpole is entirely correct about Australia being the best place on earth to set about saving the earth from the pseudo-earth-savers, but I like his attitude.

I have been ruminating quite a bit lately on the phenomenon of argumentative pessimism, and what causes it.

Pessimists will tell you that the reason they are miserable is that their team is losing the argument, and that nothing can be done about this. Which may, in this or that case, be true. But if, like the Delingpoles of this world, you think you might win, you might. If you think you won’t, then you still might, but it’s a lot less likely. If others win, it is likely to be in spite of you.

But I think there are many other and rather less honourable reasons for argumentative pessimism, less honourable simply because they are based on making various sorts of mistake.

One common error, similar to that made by the critics of the free market when they confuse their own inability to imagine an entrepreneurial (rather than state-imposed) solution to this or that problem that is exercising them, is to confuse one’s own personal inability to win some particular argument with the claim that therefore this argument is unwinnable, by anyone on your side. This is a form of arrogance. “If I can’t win this, nobody can.” Really?

Another error, I think, is the tendency to remember argumentative defeats but to forget argumentative victories. Victories mean that you tend then to move on to other arguments. But when you lose an argument you are liable to brood about it, and to remember it, and to hang around until you can reverse things. The cure for this is not necessarily to abandon fights that you are losing or have lost but believe that you might win in the future. Don’t be pessimistic about your chances of reversing matters. But it is worth recalling all those arguments that your team has won, but which you personally have then forgotten about. This exercise will remind that you although not all arguments are won, arguments at least can be won, because they have been.

I agree, before lots of commenters queue up to say it, that naïve optimism, especially when it takes the form of believing that total argumentative victory is just around the corner when actually it is not – that people “just need to be told” etc. – is also a mistake.

But one of the many reasons why excessively naïve optimism is such a big mistake is because it is yet another cause of pessimism.


Those who have been following its descent into CAGW hystericism know that the “Royal Society” has long been, in Bishop Hill’s words this morning, a rather grubby advocacy outfit. Nevertheless, kudos to the Bishop for noticing three grubby advocates who have recently become fully signed up Royal Society Grubby Advocates, i.e. “Fellows”.

That “Royal” tag still impresses casual bystanders, a lot. So, is it now time to start slagging off the Queen for allowing her prestige to be abused by these grubby advocates? I think so. If it’s a story that these grubby advocates are “Royal” (and you can bet these new GAs will now use their Royal tag at every turn) then it should also be a story that the Queen is a stupid old cow for allowing this to happen. No doubt the Queen has googlers on her payroll who track what is being said about her, out here in un-Royal world. Well, now, oh Royal Surfers, Keepers of the Queen’s Internet or whatever you are called, I am saying that. In my youth I used to make fun of this woman by saying she and her shambolic family ought to be privatised. Maybe I’ll crank that up again.

Businesses, boroughs, symphony orchestras and the like, have to work hard doing good things, or at least not bad things, to earn the adjective “Royal”, or to say that what they do is “by appointment” to Her Majesty, etc. etc. So, it either is, or ought to be, possible to be told that you have worked so hard at bad stuff that you may no longer use such words. So, over to you Queen.

“The Society” has a rather different ring to it, I think. More like something in a Monty Python sketch. As would be entirely appropriate.

The “locavore” error

As quoted in James Delingpole’s assault on parts of the Green movement, Watermelons. The writer here he quotes on page 197 is Stephen Budiansky:

The statistics brandished by local-food advocates to support such doctrinaire assertions are always selective, usually misleading and often bogus. This is particularly the case with respect to the energy costs of transporting food. One popular and oft-repeated statistic is that it takes 36 (sometimes it’s 97) calories of fossil fuel energy to bring one calorie of iceberg lettuce from California to the East Coast. That’s an apples and oranges (or maybe apples and rocks) comparison to begin with, because you can’t eat petroleum or burn iceberg lettuce.

It is also an almost complete misrepresentation of reality, as those numbers reflect the entire energy cost of producing lettuce from seed to dinner table, not just transportation. Studies have shown that whether it’s grown in California or Maine, or whether it’s organic or conventional, about 5,000 calories of energy go into one pound of lettuce. Given how efficient trains and tractor-trailers are, shipping a head of lettuce across the country actually adds next to nothing to the total energy bill.

It takes about a tablespoon of diesel fuel to move one pound of freight 3,000 miles by rail; that works out to about 100 calories of energy. If it goes by truck, it’s about 300 calories, still a negligible amount in the overall picture. (For those checking the calculations at home, these are “large calories,” or kilocalories, the units used for food value.) Overall, transportation accounts for about 14 percent of the total energy consumed by the American food system.

Read it all. Oh, and buy Delingpole’s book. He is, as Brian Micklethwait says here, a hugely effective voice for our side. And as Brian points out, now that he has got his teeth into junk science, I am looking forward to his take on the current enthusiasm for junk money.

Misunderstanding libertarians

I probably should not do it to myself, but sometimes I can not help but wonder how a large group of seemingly intelligent people can be so wrong about so much. Charlie Stross has written about what might even be somewhat legitimate concerns about Amazon but as ever with him there is an infuriating wrongness floating on the surface and the comments amplify it.

But there is much to learn here about misconceptions about libertarians. Let me start with Charlie’s characterisation.

I’m not going to lecture you about Jeff Bezos either, although I do want to note that he came out of a hedge fund and he’s ostensibly a libertarian; these aspects of his background make me uneasy, because in my experience they tend to be found in conjunction with a social-darwinist ideology that has no time for social justice, compassion, or charity.

I am a libertarian. I notice that people suffer less when they are richer. I notice that greater freedom leads to greater wealth. My views are formed precisely out of a desire to see greater wellbeing and happiness in the world and this has been translated in the mind of someone who is ostensibly not a moron into a survival of the fittest race to discard those inferior to me to starvation and disease for my own personal benefit.

I need a new advertising agency.

I need to start being explicit about the end goals and work back from there, and always remind people about the goal at every opportunity. It needs to be the first and last thing I say in any debate with a non-libertarian: the aim is to reduce suffering. Now: how do we do that?

Then there is comment 100:

Perhaps you could point to a working libertarian utopia so I could understand how such a wonderful system works? Otherwise, it’s no more meaningful than those who complain that they problem with communism is it hasn’t been tried properly…

It has not been tried but one can notice without much effort that the places that look more like libertarian utopias, that is to say they have more freedom and smaller governments, tend to be richer than those that look less like libertarian utopias. Richer meaning that there is less starvation and suffering, let us not forget.

In comment 128 Charlie makes the closest thing yet to an interesting point when he accuses us of having a “fundamentally broken model of human behaviour”. It is a shame he does not say how the model is broken. The biggest problem I can think of with human nature is the tendency in many humans to want a leader or to want to boss others around. It really would be nice if these people could find each other without involving me. Which brings us to comment 473:

The thing is, libertarians really don’t just want to be left alone. You want to impose a libertarian society on us even though the overwhelming majority has made it abundantly clear that they have absolutely no desire for such a change.

If you want to go off on your own and build a libertarian country, go with our blessing. But leave us in peace. If you want to stay, accept that we do not want a libertarian society and let the matter drop.

Oh how much I would love to. Perhaps Jeff Bezos will finally succeed. Until then, good luck getting the International Community to allow it. With that option removed it is probably not worth pointing out to this commenter exactly who is imposing what upon whom. What is really going on is that this person thinks that a more libertarian society would lead to more starvation and disease and of course he does not want that imposed upon him. It is the same marketing problem again.

Dragon flies on April 30th

NASA has given SpaceX a go ahead for their trip to the ISS to test the Dragon spaceship in its cargo mode.

What differentiates Dragon from other Commercial Cargo contract holders is that this is only one small step towards a much bigger goal for SpaceX. Dragon has heat shield capacity for a free return into the Earth’s atmosphere from deep space; it carries solar panels so that as far as energy supplies are required it has unlimited endurance; it is roomy enough for 7 people to be in couches for liftoff with two technicians *standing* inside the capsule. Not only that, it is reusable and Elon is working out the details for the booster and second stages to be re-usable as well, with a long term goal of briinging the systems price down to $.5M per person for a trip to Mars.

Elon is not the only big news coming up this year. Within the next 12 months we can expect up to 4 private vehicles to fly suborbital test flights.

This is going to be a very big year for NewSpace.