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]

Gun re-legalisation may mean less crime but it does not mean no crime

In my perusal of The Times from a hundred years ago I frequently come across examples of gun crime. Here’s one from 30 September 1912 involving a spree shooting in a hotel:


And here’s another from the same edition involving the murder of a woman in a cab:


If anything this one, from the 18th inst. involving striking dockers, is even more disturbing:


This is at a time when Britons could own guns more or less without restriction. Oddly enough, to the modern mind, there are no great calls for gun control. The recently-passed Sullivan Act in New York seems to be regarded by most Britons as simply ridiculous.

In 1912, the murder rate in Britain was about half the rate it is now (see Part VI). This is particularly surprising given the subsequent advances in medicine which means that many people who, in 1912 would have ended up dead, today do not. Or, maybe, the National Health Service is even worse than we thought.

What a silly spectacle football has become in the UK

So to summarise the case for the prosecution: Chelsea’s allegation was not credible; it was not supported by credible evidence; the sole piece of evidence provided was directly contradicted by numerous other credible sources; no attempt was made to resolve the issues informally; the allegations were briefed to the press before they were formally submitted to the FA; one allegation briefed to the press was withdrawn before even being submitted to the FA; the referee who was the subjected of the complaint had allegedly been insulted, abused and threatened by the complainant before the charge was submitted to the FA; he had been the subject of allegations by the club that he had been responsible for them losing the match and that club has a recent record of making unfounded allegations against match officials. Mark Clattenburg had his entire livelihood – indeed his liberty – put at risk. Chelsea on the other hand will suffer no points deduction or fine or any other sanction. In fact, they are not even prepared to part with so much as any apology. The law, Chelsea football club and English football are an ass.

Dan Hodges. (This in the Daily Telegraph so some non-UK residents might not be able to read the whole piece.) Essentially, what happened was that after a match between Chelsea and Manchester Utd, Chelsea players alleged – on the basis of what appears to be weak hearsay evidence – that the ref had used racist abuse. At the very start, I find it astonishing that hearsay evidence could be even considered grounds for a complaint. (As hardline defender of free speech I regard “hate-speech” laws as a joke anyway.)

China’s alternative to eminent domain

In China, the government wanted to build a road where there were some flats. Instead of evicting the residents, they lured them away with money. But for one couple the money was not enough, so the rest of the building was knocked down and the road was built anyway. The couple who refused to move now live in the middle of the road.

The article does not mention whether they still have water and electricity, but it does give some other examples of similar situations where utilities were disconnected.

This is China, so it is likely that there is more going on than meets the eye. But on the face of it no property rights have been violated. The land the road sits on was bought fair and square. This situation demonstrates that compulsory purchase and eminent domain are not necessary to solve the problem of recalcitrant landowners: if all your neighbours sell it is likely that your property is about to lose value and you would be wise to sell also.

Democracy: mother of tyranny or innocent bystander? I record a podcast

I, like lots of people from around these parts, am not a democrat. It seems to me that as the franchise has been extended – especially to people who aren’t paying the bills – so, freedom has been lost.

But Douglas Carswell MP, begs to differ. I recently interviewed him for Cobden Centre Radio about his new book The End of Politics and the Birth of iDemocracy. One of his central claims is that we shouldn’t be blaming democracy.

Now, I appreciate there will be people out there thinking: “Well, he would say that wouldn’t he?” Which, of course, is true – it would not be in the interest of any politician to say that he was about to take away the vote from, say, 47% of his electorate.

But that doesn’t mean he is wrong.

To save you the trouble of reading the book or listening to the podcast (although I would be delighted if you did – it’s one of my better ones) this is the short version of Carswell’s argument: the United States was a democracy long before that state started to expand. The state only started to expand after the invention of what Carswell calls “unequal taxation” – taxes that only some people pay. Ergo, don’t blame democracy.

So, has he got a point?

Samizdata quote of the day

German asparagus in season. Heaven.

– Michael Portillo samples the cuisine of Germany in his latest European Railway Journey.

I am greatly enjoying this show, and am recording it. I am finding it to be a wonderfully relaxing and entertaining way to soak up a mass of historic trivia, such as (this week – just as one for-instance) how Eau de Cologne got started. I also learned about that upside down railway that I have seen so many pictures of but have never pinned down to a particular place.

And not so trivia, because Portillo is focussing particularly on the period just before World War 1. Europe’s last golden age, in other words. Railways were not just for tourists, they were for canon cannon fodder.

This week, Portillo was wearing a rather spectacular pink jacket, of a sort that he would never have risked when being a politician.

More scientific enquiry

This is more like it! Via Tim Worstall, may I direct the natural philosophers among you to study some exciting new research from xkcd, wisest of the sages of the internet:

“Is it possible to build a jetpack using downward firing machine guns?”

Milton Friedman on big business and big government

Following the Rothbard talk I mentioned yesterday, here is another performance by a dead great guy, in this case Milton Friedman, supplied by Sam Bowman at the ASI blog.

What a shame, as Rothbard so regularly noted, that Friedman didn’t include banking in his list of big businesses that the government should not be giving money and power to.

I say dead. Thanks to their books, but now especially thanks to video and audio, and to the internet that now allows us all to choose what video and audio we will pay attention to, these great men live on.

Samizdata quote of the day

I never argue. It’s other people who argue with me.

Roger Hewland, proprietor of Gramex, Lower Marsh, London. Overheard by me, this afternoon.

Rothbard dishes the dirt on Keynes

In a posting at Libertarian Home, Richard Carey quotes the late, great Murray Rothbard criticising Keynes. (And while I’m linking to Carey, see also this recent piece about libertarianism by Carey, which is very fine.)

Better yet, Carey also supplies, as a mere comment added later to the Rothbard posting, a recording of a talk by Rothbard, in which Rothbard also lays into Keynes, way back in April 1989. The talk begins with these words:

First of all I want to launch a pre-emptive strike against any critics who might accuse this talk of being ad hominem. The ad hominem fallacy is that instead of attacking the doctrine of a person you attack the person, and that is fallacious because that doesn’t refute the argument. I’ve never been in favour of that. I’ve always been in favour of refuting the doctrine and then going on to attack the person.

And the talk ends (and yes I did listen also to everything in between) with these words.

To sum up Keynes: arrogant, sadistic, power besotted bully, a deliberate and systemic liar, intellectually irresponsible, an opponent of principle, in favour of short-term hedonism and a nihilistic opponent of bourgeois morality in all of its areas, a hater of thrift and savings, someone who wanted to liquidate and exterminate the creditor class, an imperialist, an anti-semite and a fascist. Outside of that, I guess he was a great guy.

Good knockabout stuff, then, and I greatly enjoyed it, despite the occasional pauses where Rothbard rootles around in his papers for his next bit of dirt. The performance lasts about forty minutes.

But be clear that this is Rothbard in attack dog mode, not Rothbard the magisterial expounder of Austrianism. He surveys Keynes’s career and character, and he does whatever is the opposite of cherry picking. With regard to Keynes’s “will to power” and general belligerence towards anyone he disapproved of, I got more than a whiff of the feeling that it takes one to know one, so to speak. Rothbard had plenty of will to power himself, even if he never got a fraction as much of it as Keynes had from the start. In addition to his great theoretical works, Rothbard spent much of his life flailing about trying to build rather unconvincing political alliances, so that he could get some power, but it never worked.

But give Rothbard time. Keynes wielded huge power in the short run, the short run being, as Rothard explains, the thing that Keynes cared about far more than he did about the long run. But I think it is at least reasonable to hope that in the longer run, say in about a hundred years time, Rothbard may be held in far higher esteem than Keynes. For Keynes also did more than his fair share of flailing, in his failed attempts at serious thinking about economics. If, in the long run, Keynes eventually becomes famous only for being utterly wrong, it would be the perfect posthumous punishment for him.

If, on the other hand, Keynes is still held in high esteem in centuries to come, then heaven help the human species. We are in for very bad times.

Besides which, I think that Rothbard is basically spot on, not only about the character and career of Keynes, but about the need for at least some of us to get nasty about such things. One of the signs that the Cold War was ending was when anti-Marxists started getting serious about what an immoral piece of shit Karl Marx was. Marx did not “mean well”. He yearned for social catastrophe of a sort that he knew would kill millions. He was not just wrong in the intellectual sense, he was wrong morally. He promised his Grand Theory of Everything, failed to produce it, but pretended for the rest of his life that he had produced it. This was not just a great mistake and a great folly. It was morally wrong, because intellectually corrupt. It was a Big Lie.

Similar things can be said of Keynes, and Rothbard says them. Good for him.

World Television Day

In recognition of the increasing impact television has on decision-making by bringing world attention to conflicts and threats to peace and security and its potential role in sharpening the focus on other major issues, including economic and social issues, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 21 November as World Television Day (through resolution 51/205 of 17 December 1996).

Clearly someone does not have enough real work to do.

Deciding scientific questions the modern way

The Guardian wished to host a debate on the question ‘Is there a gay gene?’

In the spirit of modern scientific enquiry, the experts to whom the newspaper turned in order to examine this question were Julie Bindel, a freelance journalist and political activist, and Paul Burston a journalist and author of the novel The Gay Divorcee.

I have little knowledge and no very strong opinion on the question. We will find out one day and I suspect the answer will be complex. No strong opinion, but I was gripped by their debate. Not because of their insights into genetics, obviously. Their examination of their own memories and feelings as gay people, though unable to provide an answer to the question of whether there is a gene for homsexuality, did at least provide two “survey responses”, so to speak, to the broad question of whether homosexuality is inborn or acquired, a question which might well be partly answerable by self examination by homosexuals. Correction, one survey response. Julie Bindel just said that people cannot remember being babies. I did not see the relevance of this.

She also seemed to resent any attempt to have the question she was there to debate researched by anyone who might actually be able to answer it, judging by the scare quotes she put around “cause” and “condition” in the second paragraph of her article. (‘And despite the obsession of some scientists to find a “cause” for our “condition”…‘) She felt all that was her gig, I suppose.

No, what really fascinated me about this debate was the the assumption shared by both that the way to determine what is true is to decide which hypothesis best advances their political goals. Even that was interpreted in a narrow, tactical sense, and in a shape determined by their opponents. Bindel writes,

So when people say “If being gay was a choice then why would we choose to live a life where oppression, violence and discrimination are inevitabilities?”, I say to them so is being a feminist in countries where sexism exists, but they still exist and persevere. It is about wanting to be part of creating a better world.

Some gay people might feel that finding a gay gene might diminish prevalent homophobia, but this is naive. Racism has not diminished because we know that blackness or whiteness is genetic.

Burston counters:

What concerns me is that, all too often, people who claim that homosexuality is a choice are the same people who stand in the way of lesbian and gay equality. If it’s a choice, they argue, then we only have ourselves to blame.

Proof by Aspiration. Disproof by Bad Company. Ms Bindel and Mr Burston may oppose each other, but both have understood the spirit of the age.

Samizdata quote of the day

Many people are ignorant of many things. This is not surprising and entirely forgivable, given how much knowledge there is to be had, and how much of it is highly specialized. What is less forgivable is how people feel free to spout off and propose things without the slightest idea of the complexities they are dealing with. The French revolutionaries blithely imagined they could create a whole new society with its own rules, just by thinking it up. They ended with a bloodbath in a pigsty.

Madsen Pirie