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

These are the facts. George W Bush left behind a set of books that were not so much unbalanced as vertiginous. At the end of 2008, US debt was $9.9 trillion, or 69.7 per cent of GDP, and the ballooning deficit was $683 billion. Since then, all the key indicators have worsened markedly. By the end of this year, gross debt is forecast to reach $16.3 trillion (the number to which Letterman was alluding), more than 100 per cent of GDP, or a rise of two thirds under Obama. The annual deficit is close to $1.5 trillion, 10 per cent of GDP. Worse still, according to official forecasts, US debt is on course to hit $20 trillion by 2016.

Jeff Randall

When no one wants to buy your product, rent seek off your competition!

David Leigh thinks that broadband needs to be taxed to keep him in his job at The Guardian:

A £2-a-month levy on broadband could save our newspapers. Proceeds could be distributed based on UK online readership and reinvested to protect great journalism

In case you do not know (and why should you in this age of a multiplicity of news sources?), The Guardian is a very pro-statist dead tree newspaper. I was going to explain what I thought of this notion but I will instead just quote the first commenter I saw who replied, someone calling themselves ‘romandavid’:

A £2-a-month levy on automobiles could save our horse and cart business.

Quite. Moreover I have looked over some articles by David Leigh and it is unclear where this ‘great journalism’ is that so desperately needs protection. It is bad enough we have to pay for the crap on the BBC whether we watch it or not.

Telling the unvarnished truth about government “aid”

“It is easier to search for your own solutions to your own problems than to those of others. Most of the recent success stories are countries that not get a lot of foreign aid and did not spend a lot of time in IMF programs, two of the indicators of the recent indicator of the White Man’s burden…Most of the recent disasters are just the opposite – tons of foreign aid and much time spent in IMF constraints. This of course involves some reverse causality….the disasters were getting IMF assistance and foreign aid because they were disasters, while the IMF and the donors bypassed success stories because those countries didn’t need the help. This does not prove that foreign assistance causes disaster, but it does show that outlandish success is very much possible without Western tutelage, while repeated treatments don’t seem to stem the tide of disaster in the failures. Most of the recent success in the world economy is happening in Eastern and southern Asia, not as a result of some global plan to end poverty but for homegrown reasons.”

The White Man’s Burden, pages 345-346, by William Easterly (2006).

Easterly is a US-based economics professor and has been a senior economist at the World Bank, as well as a columnist and regular commentator. His book, which despite the title is anything but a piece of Western triumphalism, is an example of a man who is prepared to discard ideas, however seemingly noble, if the results don’t stack up. And it is a book that ought to be compulsory reading for Britain’s coalition government as it continues to pour billions into overseas aid, despite the questionable results and even more questionable assumptions behind it.

For far too long, the late writer and economist, Peter Bauer, was, like John the Baptist, a “voice crying in the wilderness” when it came to government aid programmes. Let’s hope more people wake up to the nonsense that a lot of so-called “aid” actually is.

Arguments about drone-killing

I have been paying almost zero attention to President Obama’s campaign of robotised aerial execution, beyond noting that it has been happening. I didn’t know if this drone-killing was doing good, or harm, or what, besides the potential harm of causing governments maybe later to incline towards drone-killing or drone-harassing their domestic enemies, when foreign enemies have run out or have negotiated a truce. I still don’t know what I think about drone-killing, but recent Islamo-American dramas made me wonder slightly more than usual.

I was raised by an Anglo-Saxon trial lawyer (himself the son of another Anglo-Saxon trial lawyer) and by the daughter of yet another Anglo-Saxon trial lawyer. Barristers, we call these creatures over here. This was the mental and conversational equivalent of being raised by wolves. My father was eloquent enough to present very good arguments. My mother was eloquent enough to stop him ever pulling rank to win such arguments. We all had our turn.

Which may be why I understand things best by watching people argue about them. Only when there is disagreement do the experts feel the need to try to persuade the humans of their own rightness and of the other experts’ wrongness, and thus to speak in clear English rather than in very unclear Expert. And only then do I have much of a chance of getting a handle on things.

Today, the indispensable Instapundit pointed me towards just the sort of drone-killing arguments I had been keeping about a quarter of any eye out for.

Robert Wright, commenting on an article by Micah Zenko, concludes thus:

If this is a strategy for eliminating terrorists, what would a strategy for creating them look like?

This story, as Zenko and Wright tell it, reminds me of the classic counter-terrorism movie The Battle of Algiers. In this movie, the French soldiers spend almost the entire movie winning, by torturing and then killing all their enemies. And then in the final seconds of the movie, they lose. More enemies, enraged by the injustices suffered by their predecessors and clever enough to avoid suffering the same fate as them, have sprung forth out of nowhere. Hearts and minds are not, said this movie, won merely by the most hostile ones being blown to pieces. You have to win the argument.

The good news is that England did achieve total domination over Afghanistan, just two days ago. But, alas, this was only at twenty overs each way cricket.

LATER: Cricket? Sorry I mentioned it.

Samizdata quote of the day

Together with other central banks, the ECB is flooding the market, posing the question not only about how the ECB will get its money back, but also how the excess liquidity created can be absorbed globally. It can’t be solved by pressing a button. If the global economy stabilises, the potential for inflation has grown enormously

Jürgen Stark

What will be the next Big Tyranny Excuse for the catastrophiliacs?

Catastrophiliac. I like it. I found this word, which is new to me, in comment number one (“Mailman”) on this at Bishop Hill.

I like it because, as I keep on saying, climate change on its own is not the issue. The issue is catastrophic climate change, of the sort that would-be global tyrants think is a good excuse for global tyranny.

But there is now no getting away from it. The catastrophiliacs are now on the run. Just how completely they are on the run, and just how quickly this fact will become obvious to all, even to most of the catastrophiliacs themselves, are of course matters for much debate, but the direction of argumentative tide is now clear, even to the less dense catastrophiliacs. Regular people and regular politicians more and more now think that C(atastrophic) A(nthropogenic) G(lobal) W(arming) is at best an embarrassment and, in ever more such regular minds, a total crock, a fraud, a hoax. Only the “climate scientists” and their pathetic would-be globally tyrannical fans are still yammering on about it.

It’s not that CAGW and all its related rackets have entirely ceased from doing the world any harm. Far from it. But, to use a commercial analogy, CAGW is now what a business strategist would call a “mature product”, a cash cow, a product whose days are numbered. Attention now needs to switch to the products that might succeed CAGW when CAGW finally runs out of puff.

So, next question, what will be the next Big Tyranny Excuse from the would-be global tyrants for the global tyranny that they yearn for? I believe it will not be anything to do with “the environment”. We anti-global tyranny people have now become just too good at arguing against all that stuff.

No, it will be something totally different, and when they finally arrive at it, it will be quite a surprise.

Meanwhile, the Darwinian process of kite-flying (please excuse the mangling of those metaphors) will now get seriously under way, to identify the next Big Tyranny Excuse. This new BTE will have to be something catastrophic, something that is plausibly arguable as the fault of “capitalism” (which rules out things like asteroid strikes or the sun misbehaving dramatically), something which suggests a plausible, pleasingly tyrannical, and actually doable – but only just doable, provided we all drop everything (especially our guard against tyranny) and act now!!! – correction mechanism, and too intellectually complicated to be obvious nonsense.

They will need to discover or establish a whole new academic anti-discipline to base their nonsense on. But what will that be?

Once upon a time it was theology. Then it was economics, as mangled by Marx and then by Keynes. Just lately it has been “the environment”. (Arguably it never stopped being theology, more loosely defined.) What next? Any offers?

Olympic records sealed for fifteen years, apparently.

Here is the thing.

15 years works fine for the politicians. In 15 years time, they will have either been voted out of office, or they will be Robert Menzies, Franklin D Roosevelt or Otto von Bismarck. Either way, it will not matter.

Consider, though, the situation of the regular, young ambitious bureaucrat. The London 2012 Olympics came along. It was a short term assignment, but if you were 22 in 2008 that did not matter that much as you had few long term commitments. So, you decided to do stuff for the London 2012 Olympics.

If you were really smart, or really avaricious (or both), you figured out that there is a permanent, extremely well paid career (with virtually no accountability) running the Summer Olympics (wherever it is that they are held) for the next several decades, and went for that. If you were not quite so smart (or if you had delusions of patriotism) you decided on a British public service career instead. The time at which you may be reaching the peak of your career (department head, or possibly the place a little below that where you do the actual work) will be in about 15 to 20 years. This is the moment at which you will not want the facts about the sheer level of waste and excess that went on at the London 2012 Olympics to become clear.

So, my guess. In 15 years, it is still going to be very hard to find out what the 2012 Olympics cost, and who exactly spent the money, and what it was spent on.

(Try finding out what the Sydney 2000 Olympics actually cost. As the years have gone by, the reluctance of the people involved to give out actual information has got stronger rather than weaker).

Alternative samizdata quote of the day

“I would like to die on Mars… Just not on impact.

– Elon Musk

More on the “fast and furious” scandal and the bias of the MSM

Charles Steele is a blogger I like to follow and he links to some terrific coverage of the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scandal. What surprises me – although I should not be surprised – is how this has just not registered much in the mainstream press, but then considering how much of the MSM is covering for Barack Obama, there is no surprise, really.

On the other hand, if Mitt Romney – who is hardly my idea of a great candidate – makes a correct (sort of) comment to the effect that a large number of people who receive subsidies from the state are unlikely to vote for him, the MSM goes berserk. Colleagues in my office in London were remarking how stupid and nasty MR obviously is. When I quietly pointed out that he merely touched on how hard it is to reform entitlements when almost half the country is receiving them in some shape or form, it produced a few furrowed brows. In their mindset, only a Republican commits “gaffes”; if Obama calls the the Falkland Islands the Maldives, for instance, or gives an execrable speech at the expense of entrepreneurs, it is laughed off. “Everyone is human, we all make mistakes, you got him out of context” etc.

Update: I love this piss-take of the MSM via Andrew Klavan.

“Romney is caught on tape saying that nearly half the country is on government assistance and will vote for Obama to keep the dole coming. In related news, a video is unearthed of Pythagoras saying that the square of the hypotenuse of the right triangle is equal to the sum of the square of the two adjacent sides.”

Samizdata quote of the day

As a young and naive man, I “knew” what was right and voted accordingly. As I grew older and more sophisticated, I discovered such things as tactical voting and a perceived duty to support the election of the least-worst option with the best chance of victory, regardless of how slim the differences might be.

Now, middle-aged and faced with the consequences of those decades of “enlightened pragmatism”, I once again find myself voting my conscience, while turning a deaf ear to the blandishments of the machine. I have a vague notion that this sounds like some Buddhist proverb, or something.

– Samizdata commenter ‘the other rob’, who seems to be on a roll lately.

Property rights and native American Indians

From one of my daily reads, the excellent Tim Sandefur. He ‘s knocking down a piece of nonsense on land rights from the hopeless Matthew Yglesias:

It’s typical of the left to argue that all property rights are somehow tainted by past injustices and therefore that government can redistribute to whatever groups wield sufficient political power to demand a share of the spoils. Of course, that is a non sequitur; past injustices do not justify new ones, against people who did not commit the original wrong. It’s true that, as Twain said, there’s not a foot of land that has not been stolen and restolen countless times. But isn’t this good reason to stop stealing what belongs to people? Instead of institutionalizing as social policy into the indefinite future a system that deprives people of their earnings, their belongings, and their substance, to serve priorities that others consider more important? The American Indian suffered terrible abuses, and stands today as an object lesson in what happens when government is given too much power to seize and redistribute property. Yet Yglesias praises that state of affairs and urges its repetition! That really is outrageous.

Absolutely. When debating collectivists over issues such as property ownership, I sometimes come up against the “but the original owners of land stole it” line, except that even if true, it seems absurd to suggest that every subsequent transaction, however free of coercion, is somehow tainted in some way. So a caveman beat up his neighbour and took a patch of territory – that hardly means I am not the legitimate owner of my small apartment in Pimlico.

Update: Related thoughts from Bryan Caplan. It includes an example of Murray Rothbard at his very best.

Charlie Hebdo takes the flak

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published cartoons mocking the Islamic prophet Mohammed. The magazine’s website is at CharlieHebdo.fr. It was very slow to load when I tried it, and although I did eventually find the front page I could not see the actual caricatures.

My opinion has not changed since I contributed a “Mohammed emoticon” (((:~(> to Everybody Draw Mohammed Day. I said then and I say now,

I take no pleasure from violating other people’s taboos. It is not polite and I wish to be polite. In ordinary circumstances if I want to do something that will annoy others I am willing to put up with moderate inconvenience in order to do it out of their sight. These are not ordinary circumstances. People are being threatened, harassed and sometimes murdered by fanatical Muslims for exercising free speech. The media and academia, fearless defenders of free speech so long as there was nothing to fear, have by and large caved in. So maybe it is time for ordinary people to step up. Lots of them. Spread the risk.

Obviously Charlie Hebdo itself stands proud where most other newspapers and magazines in the Western world cringe. If other journals had been as brave no one would have to be that brave.