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]

We may be fucked but we are less fucked than you… Part Deux

Sometimes useful insights about the state of the world comes from sources very far removed from the dismal mainstream media. This was taken from Knight Frank estate agency promotional bumf stuck through my door yesterday under the title “What nationalities are buying in your area?”

Given what has happened with the presidential elections in France we will be seeing many more French buyers shortly. We have also seen a huge spike from people in France searching on our website for properties in London.

Yup. We may be fucked but we are less fucked than you.

We may be fucked but we are less fucked than you…

I received this via e-mail and thought it was too good not to share…



John Butler on a potential new golden age

I’ve just been listening to an interview, conducted by recently acquired Samizdatista Patrick Crozier. His inteviewee is John Butler, and they talk about the contents of Butler’s new book, The Golden Revolution. Access this interview at the Cobden Centre blog. It lasts just over forty five minutes, but to me it felt less.

I have not read Butler’s book, but judging by this interview, my immediate impression is that Butler’s strength as an economic commentator is his combination of an unswervingly market based understanding of economic reality with a far more detailed grasp of the recent history of the twentieth century’s big economic events and big economic policy decisions, more detailed than is usual among your typical unswerving market based understander of economic reality. Butler understands why the great policy mistakes of the twentieth century were indeed mistakes. But he also knows the detail of the circumstances that made these mistakes so attractive to the people who made them.

I won’t try to retell the story Butler tells. Suffice it to say that, like many of us here, he attaches great importance to the decision, by President Nixon, to abandon the gold convertibility of the dollar.

As for the resulting mess and what to do about it, Butler considers that a return by the world to gold as the basis of its currency arrangements is not only desirable, but possible and even likely, and he reflects on the various ways in which this change back to monetary sanity might soon be accomplished and by whom.

A strongly recommended listen, to anyone who has three quarters of an hour to spare and a desire to understand the state of the world somewhat better.

Samizdata quote of the day

How do I know that my narrative is better than yours? The experiments of the 20th century told me so. It would have been hard to know the wisdom of Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman or Matt Ridley or Deirdre McCloskey in August of 1914, before the experiments in large government were well begun. But anyone who after the 20th century still thinks that thoroughgoing socialism, nationalism, imperialism, mobilization, central planning, regulation, zoning, price controls, tax policy, labor unions, business cartels, government spending, intrusive policing, adventurism in foreign policy, faith in entangling religion and politics, or most of the other thoroughgoing 19th-century proposals for governmental action are still neat, harmless ideas for improving our lives is not paying attention.

Deirdre McCloskey

Crowd-funding and threats to state arts programmes

Greg Beato at Reason magazine (the July edition) has this nice item, “The Internet vs the NEA”, about how innovative ways to fund creative projects in the arts have become such a hit that they are annoying the advocates for the publicly subsidised (ie, from taxes) sector. He is talking about a crowd-funding project in the US known as Kickstarter:

Current NEA funding amounts to about $1 per U.S. taxpayer each year. Yet the program is controversial and likely will remain so because those who contribute to it have no say in how their dollar is applied. Kickstarter, by contrast, gives people that control. It turns arts patronage from an abstract, opaque, disconnected, possibly involuntary act into one of dynamic engagement, where creators get to pitch supporters instead of faceless institutions and supporters feel as if they have a personal stake in helping creators realize their visions.

Kickstarter increases the pool and variety of funding sources for creators and allows people who are not wealthy to act as patrons. Artists can seek levels of financing that the NEA isn’t designed to accommodate on either end of the spectrum, from a few hundred dollars to a few million. And the chances of success are greater for Kickstarter applicants: In Fiscal Year 2011, 5,574 individuals and organizations applied for NEA grants across six program categories, and 2,350, or 42 percent, obtained them.

It is certainly too early to say that Kickstarter has made the NEA superfluous. At the same time, it may also turn out that Yancey Strickler’s reservations about rivaling the U.S. government are far too modest. Last year Kickstarter funded more than three times as many projects as the YEA did, in a wider range of disciplines. So far, at least, Kickstarter works just as well for hot dog cart entrepreneurs and 3D printer manufacturers as it does for documentary filmmakers and oddball literary magazines. Perhaps Strickler should start preparing himself for the burden of making, say, the Department of Agriculture’s Market Access Program (MAP) unnecessary too.

Such a business model for funding artists and so forth might also demonstrate how people can get certain creative ideas off the ground without the largesse of a single patron, be it a state or person. And because contributions to ventures such as Kickstarter are voluntary, it also means that the donors – many thousands of them – are far more likely to be engaged and interested in what gets created. By contrast, if you were to ask a person on the street about what they thought their tax pounds were used for in funding the arts, some might have a general idea, but many would not have a clue, and certainly not down the level of fine detail. For example, how many of any readers of this blog could quickly come up with ideas on what new sculptors got funding this year?

Happiness studies.

Pleasure is a brain wave right now. Happiness is a good story of your life. The Greek word for happiness is “eudaimonia,” which means literally “having a good guiding angel,” like Clarence the angel in It’s a Wonderful Life. The schoolbook summary of the Greek idea in Aristotle says that such happiness is “the exercise of vital powers along lines of excellence in a life affording them scope. But nowadays there is a new science of happiness, and some of the psychologists and almost all the economists involved want you to think that happiness is just pleasure. Further, they propose to calculate your happiness, by asking you where you fall on a three-point scale, 1-2-3: “not too happy,” “pretty happy,” “very happy.” They then want to move to technical manipulations of the numbers, showing that you, too, can be “happy,” if you will but let the psychologists and the economists show you (and the government) how.

Deirdre N McCloskey, writing about the whole, rather dubious realm of “happiness studies”. The fact that the UK’s paternalistic prime minister, David Cameron, is a fan of this sort of thing does not fill me with confidence.

Samizdata quote of the day

I’m reminded of something the writer Pico Iyer told me about the Dalai Lama. Whenever the head of Tibetan Buddhism visits Japan he is asked how the country can improve. His devotees expect an answer along the lines of deeper spiritual contemplation or a stronger commitment to peace. According to Iyer, the Dalai Lama consistently deflates his audience with the practical admonition: “Learn English.”

– David Pilling, interviewing Hiroshi Mikitani in the Financial Times. (I would recommend reading Pico Iyer, too, who is one of the more interesting and entertaining travel writers out there).

Such a happy crowd are we

D-MYST was formed by young people in the city who were concerned that they were being targeted by tobacco companies in their favourite films. They launched a campaign called ‘Toxic Movies’, to put the spotlight on the issue, and have gained international publicity for their cause.

D-MYST members say that taking smoking out of youth-rated movies is not about censorship – but is about asking film-makers to think again before they make films which young people can see, which contain smoking.

the SmokeFree Liverpool “youth group”, D-MYST (Direct Movement by the Youth SmokeFree Team).

Inspiring is it not, the young people spontaneously coming together in their milk bars and discothèques to defend the innocence of their favourite films that they love to watch of a Saturday morning? Perhaps one could even make a film aimed at the “youth market”, as I believe it is called, depicting the kids’ plucky struggle, interspersed by lively songs and numbers from some popular beat combo. It would show how they damn darn well went out there and got funding from a Quasi Autonomous Non Governmental Organisation called SmokeFree Liverpool who in turn got funding from an NHS Primary Care Trust who in turn got funding from the Department of Health who in turn got funding from the taxpayer.

A nasty, cynical man called Christopher Snowdon wrote a report called Sock Puppets that said “D-MYST is the very model of an astroturf group”, and that the story of it being formed by the youth of Liverpool was “slightly implausible”. Wrong-O. It is very implausible indeed. However it did lead me to the wonderful ABC Minors Song, which goes:

We are the boys and girls well known as

Minors of the ABC

And every Saturday all line up

To see the films we like and shout aloud with glee

We like to laugh and have our sing-song

Such a happy crowd are we

We’re all pals together

We’re Minors of the ABC.

I bet that crazy D-MYST gang would love it as a theme song!

Chicago’s Aqua Tower

While rootling around in my personal blog archives chasing up something else, I recently found myself looking again at this 2007 posting, about what looked like being a really cool tower, in Chicago. So, I wondered, did they actually build it?

Indeed they did. Here is a good photo culled from amongst these, which I found here:


I also particularly recommend these photos, which say “^John Picken- flickr/cc license” in among them, so I’m guessing that means don’t copy without asking, so I didn’t. But that needn’t stop you looking at the photos where I found them.

LATER: Wrong. “cc” means (see comments) creative commons. (I thought it meant copyright only more so.) So here’s another picture:


It’s called the Aqua Tower. Likes and dislikes in architecture are very much a personal matter. One man’s masterpiece is another’s mediocrity or worse. But I liked the idea of the Aqua Tower when I encountered it five years ago, and judging by the photos I’ve seen, I would like the reality of it now, if I were to see it in the flesh.

It is truly remarkable how similar the photos of this building are to the imaginary pictures of it when it was first announced, which is not always how it is, to put it mildly.

Says this:

Aqua certainly succeeds in making a strong visual statement, but what makes the statement noteworthy … is the simplicity and economy of the main vehicle of expression: the curvy and varied projection of the buildings concrete floor slabs. Aqua does not rely on expensive cladding materials or subject its occupants to impractical interior spaces for the honor of architectural aesthetic.

The floor slabs are a necessary part of the 82-story building’s structure and Studio Gang manipulated them to simultaneously enhance sightlines of major Chicago sites from the balconies (increases function) and give the building exterior an innovative form (increases beauty). The glass-skinned walls of the condo and hotel units behind the balcony edges are rectangular and therefore economical and functional.

Which is a more detailed version of what I said in 2007:

What I admire about this building is that, under the cute decoration, it is a bog standard, structurally and economically completely logical tower.

I also learned, here, that the Aqua Tower is the tallest building in the world designed by a woman. Her name is Jeanne Gang. Meanwhile, the men have not stopped trying to outdo each other. You suspect that with that building, we are back with “impractical interior spaces for the honor of architectural aesthetic”. And speaking of impractical interior spaces, at any rate towards the top, here in London, the Shard is nearly done, and is looking very good, or so I think.

I entirely realise that this latest phase in the history of architecture has been fuelled by silly money. But when you consider what else this money has also been spent on, I say thank heavens we at least have some good looking stuff to show for all the agony.

Samizdata additional quote of the day

[Greek government policy is] known as ‘drinking your way back to sobriety’.

The deficit spending the Greek government wants to do is almost-entirely suppressive or neutral to GDP – it is spending by government, for government, on government. The population is shrinking, their internal revenue picture is already dreadful and only getting worse (because they have the worst ratio of producers to consumers of tax funding in the civilized world, and getting worser) and the only way any government of Greece can survive and keep the mayhem in the streets down to acceptable levels is to restore the drunken-sailor approach to public spending that got them into trouble in the first place. This means 14 monthly pension checks a year, retirement at 50 for workers in hazardous trades like hairdressing, and all the other 1,001 ways they managed to bankrupt themselves already.

– Serial commenter llamas

Samizdata quote of the day

The Greek electorate is in denial. It rejects austerity, but insists on keeping the euro. All the main parties duly parroted what voters wanted to hear, making for a fantasy election, a make-believe election, a fingers-in-my-ears-I-can’t-hear-you election. The only list which was honest about the necessary cuts – a coalition of three liberal parties – failed to gain a single seat.

Daniel Hannan

Greg Egan on scarcity of computing power

The following extract from Permutation City by Greg Egan covers several topics of interest to Samizdatistas and the commentariat. The “Copies” are fully conscious computer simulations of people who have had their brains scanned. The first speaker, Durham, is a biological human trying to persuade the Copy, Thomas, that in the long term he is in danger of being switched off, even though the computer he runs on is private property, by governments claiming the moral high ground.

‘…The privileged class of Copies will grow larger, more powerful — and more threatening to the vast majority of people, who still won’t be able to join them. The costs will come down, but not drastically – just enough to meet some of the explosion in demand from the executive class, once they throw off their qualms, en masse. Even in secular Europe, there’s a deeply ingrained prejudice that says dying is the responsible, the moral thing to do. There’s a Death Ethic – and the first substantial segment of the population abandoning it will trigger a huge backlash. A small enough elite of giga-rich Copies is accepted as a freak show; tycoons can get away with anything, they’re not expected to act like ordinary people. But just wait until the numbers go up by a factor of ten.’

Thomas had heard it all before. ‘We may be unpopular for a while. I can live with that. But you know, even now we’re vilified far less than people who strive for organic hyper-longevity — transplants, cellular rejuvenation, whatever — because at least we’re no longer pushing up the cost of health care, competing for the use of overburdened medical facilities. Nor are we consuming natural resources at anything like the rate we did when we were alive. If the technology improves sufficiently, the environmental impact of the wealthiest Copy could end up being less than that of the most ascetic living human. Who’ll have the high moral ground then? We’ll be the most ecologically sound people on the planet.’

Durham smiled. The puppet. ‘Sure — and it could lead to some nice ironies if it ever came true. But even low environmental impact might not seem so saintly, when the same computing power could be used to save tens of thousands of lives through weather control.’

‘Operation Butterfly has inconvenienced some of my fellow Copies very slightly. And myself not at all.’

‘Operation Butterfly is only the beginning. Crisis management, for a tiny part of the planet. Imagine how much computing power it would take to render sub-Saharan Africa free from drought.’

‘Why should I imagine that, when the most modest schemes are still unproven? And even if weather control turns out to be viable, more supercomputers can always be built. It doesn’t have to be a matter of Copies versus flood victims.’

‘There’s a limited supply of computing power right now, isn’t there? Of course it will grow – but the demand, from Copies, and for weather control, is almost certain to grow faster. Long before we get to your deathless utopia, we’ll hit a bottleneck — and I believe that will bring on a time when Copies are declared illegal. Worldwide. If they’ve been granted human rights, those rights will be taken away. Trusts and foundations will have their assets confiscated. Supercomputers will be heavily policed. Scanners – and scan files – will be destroyed. It may be forty years before any of this happens – or it may be sooner. Either way, you need to be prepared.’