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]

Remind me again why Sarah Palin is considered to be stupid

Here are her comments, via Big Government, on the issue of the “sequester” (or for those not following this story closely, the automatic spending cuts that will kick in if Congress/White House cannot get their acts together and actually produce a credible line on public spending and debt):

Palin said if Americans cannot “stomach modest cuts that would lower federal spending by a mere 0.3% per year out of a current federal budget of $3.6 trillion, then we might as well signal to the whole world that we have no serious intention of dealing with our debt problem.”

“If we are going to wet our proverbial pants over 0.3% in annual spending cuts when we’re running up trillion dollar annual deficits, then we’re done,” Palin wrote on Tuesday. “Put a fork in us. We’re finished.”

No, she is just a dumb hick from the Wild West who hasn’t studied her Keynes enough. As we know, great minds in academia suggest that what the world needs to do is print more money, rack up more debt, and in time, all will be well. Worrying about the debt is just so, well, suburban, darling.

3D printing an entire car

Several months ago I instructed the internet to tell me about anything concerning 3D printing, but I usually now file the resulting emails under: to be looked at later if at all. People saying they have worked out how to make ever more intricate and ever more tasteless and 70s-ish napkin rings no longer excite me that much. Okay, I get it. The technique works. But come on. A napkin ring? That takes four hours to get made? (That’s how long the damn video goes on for! Although I now learn from another video at the same site that the process may have got stuck after an hour. So, how long does it actually take to 3D print this napkin ring? Don’t tell me. I really do not care.)

I earlier here pondered, and quickly discarded, the idea that 3D printing would be arriving in our homes some time quite soon. What 3D printing really is is better stuff-making, by the people who already make stuff.

So it was that this link – which does not concern brightly coloured napkin rings, but on the contrary is to a story (here is the original Wired version) about an enterprise that has used 3D printing to make the body of a car – really did get my attention. This car body is just as strong as a regular steel car body but much lighter, and hence much more fuel efficient. Oh sure, it’ll still be years before most cars are made this way, but this surely is the future starting to reveal itself, to those of us beyond the circle of specialists who are already paying close attention to such developments. As was noted in one of the comments on my earlier 3D printing here (that’s the link again), car makers (Mercedes was singled out for our attention) already use 3D printing, to make small but important car parts. So it won’t be a huge leap for them to use 3D printing to make rather bigger car parts, until hey presto, they’re 3D printing entire cars!

The comments on that earlier posting were very informative. But nobody, except me in the original posting, discussed the possibility that 3D printing could shift the balance of manufacturing power somewhat back from the getting-rich world to the already-rich world. This is an idea you now hear quite a lot. Thinking about that idea some more, I think that 3D printing may be less of a macro-economic game changer that at first it looked, to me, like being. The idea, in other words, resembles the idea of a 3D printer in every home. After all, here is yet another manufacturing method, devised and developed in the richest and cleverest places, but then, surely, easily unleashable in any place, and in particular in places that are merely getting richer and getting cleverer. Does that change the game? It sounds like the game as usual to me. Which could be why nobody else thought the idea worth commenting on. But maybe I am getting that wrong.

The Unauthorized Autobiography of Kim Jong Il

For fans of Juche (and who reading this blog wouldn’t be a fan of Juche), Michael Malice‎, a libertarian who is a professional ghostwriter, has a new kickstarter project: “Kim Jong Il: The Unauthorized Autobiography”, as taken almost entirely from North Korean propaganda pamphlets.

“Kim Jong Il: The Unauthorized Autobiography” Kickstarter Page

Samizdata quote of the day

We are in danger of replacing one brand of narrow-mindedness with another. Increasingly, the courts are being dragged into disputes between people who hold different opinions in what is really an attempt to close down debate on particular subjects. This is the very antithesis of free speech and unless there is an attempt to stir up hatred and violence, the fact that some people may dislike or object to what others say should not be a matter for the law, or for official censorship.

Philip Johnston

Where I differ is that “an attempt to stir up hatred and violence” are two very different things. One can hate a person without also wishing to see violence done to them. There are people in this world towards whom feeling hatred is entirely reasonable. Can someone give me a good reason for not publicly suggesting that any reasonable person should hate Kim Jong-un?

Michael Jennings on how actual globalisation really works (and two exceptions to the rule)

Michael Jennings’ talk about globalisation at my home last Friday was both fascinating and entertaining.

It’s tempting for a blogger to assume that because he has said all his stuff several times over, in about a hundred blog postings, that everyone who cares about it now gets it. But a talk that pulls a lot of it together actually tells even his most regular readers a great deal that they probably didn’t previously get. So it was last Friday.

The basic point was that “globalisation”, far from being a great big steam-roller that flattens every individual local culture into ubiquitous uniformity, is actually a complex process, in which the supposed steam-roller is confronted by local forces that are often at least as powerful as the steam-roller and which oblige the steam-roller to behave very differently in each different spot. The result is not a simpler and duller world, but a far more complex and interesting and abundant one. In any given place, globalisation means that there will be far more to choose from, and each place, by shaping how globalisation happens locally, retains its individuality. It even becomes more individual and unusual, because of the extra layer of complexity and interestingness brought to it by foreign influences, locally modified.

The particular example of globalised uniformity that people who have only visited a tiny few of the most famous Western cities regularly cite is fast food chains. But taste in food, whatever the food’s velocity, varies a lot from place to place, and if Mcdonald’s ever had a plan to impose total dietary uniformity upon the world, any such plan has long been abandoned. The simple McDonald’s hamburger mutates into any number of local variations for any number of local reasons, not the least of which is that in quite a few places ham is forbidden, never mind not liked. What and how people eat varied hugely from country to country in the past, and it still does.

Michael’s style was of the anecdotal, feel-free-to-interrupt sort, so different listeners will remember different little illustrative stories among the many he told. My two favourites both concerned exceptions to the general point that Michael was making, exceptions which, with their oddity and rarity, prove the rule, as the rather odd saying goes. Because, both concerned global forces so overwhelming and irresistible in the force that they bring to bear on particular places that the quirks of that particular place really are powerless to resist.

→ Continue reading: Michael Jennings on how actual globalisation really works (and two exceptions to the rule)

Thinking about children, their safety and liberty

Over at the CATO Institute, there is an excellent discussion of a topic that often divides libertarians as much as it does anyone else: children, their safety, and liberty. It looks interesting.

We want none of that messy individualism around here

“The North Korean government has issued haircut guidance for its citizens and chosen 28 hairstyles it deems “appropriate” for members of the single-party state. According to the WantChina Times, photos of the 28 haircuts recommended by the totalitarian regime (pictured below) have been issued to salons around the country. The cuts were chosen for being comfortable and resistant to Western influences.”

Via The Register.



Samizdata quote of the day

“I had spent most of my life in a world where the Soviet Union had been destroyed. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, we felt that we had finally defeated global Marxism. Ronald Reagan and the United States had taken down the single largest depository of communism on the planet, and we’d done it without firing a direct shot. The whole world could see that communism didn’t work – its failure was on display for the entire globe to look at and say, So much for that. At least that was what we thought.”

Andrew Breitbart, Righteous Indignation: Excuse Me While I Save The World, page 105.

The British ruling class are no longer good sports

The typical member of the British ruling class of yesteryear was complacent, arrogant, and a hypocrite. However his public school had at least imbued him with one particular virtue, or, failing that, had imbued him with the desire to appear to have that one virtue, which does well enough for most purposes. He wanted to be seen as a good sport. A chap who played the game. A chap who would not shoot a sitting duck or a grouse out of season, and who would never hit anyone who by reason of sex, age, or any other cause, could not hit back.

We have dispensed with all that foolishness now.

It is contempt of court for a juror ever to describe the deliberations of the jury of which he or she was a member. Thus the members of the jury held up to public scorn (“…a fundamental deficit in understanding … in 30 years of criminal trials I have never come across this at this stage, never”) by Mr Justice Sweeney for asking stupid questions cannot defend themselves.

Not playing the game, sir, not playing the game at all.

Related: Sexual and financial privacy and the bully pulpit.

Samizdata quote of the day

Taxing already acquired property drastically alters the relationship between citizen and state: we become leaseholders, rather than freeholders, with accumulated taxes over long periods of time eventually “returning” our wealth to the state. It breaches a key principle that has made this country great: the gradual expansion of property ownership and the democratisation of wealth. We need more of this, not less. A wealth tax – like the old window taxes, levied because it was too hard to assess people’s income – is a sign of failure: we can’t raise enough by taxing current economic activity, so we tax again the already taxed fruits of past activity. It is a pre-modern, obsolete concept. Wealth taxes also violate a state’s original mission, to protect the life, liberty and property of citizens.

Allister Heath

Although it is an excellent article, I strongly disagree with Heath’s use of the term ‘democratisation of wealth’ rather than, perhaps, ‘widening’ or even ‘diffusion’.

‘Democracy’ is entirely about a state legitimising its use of the means of collective coercion. It is only about ‘wealth’ to the extent that the primary use of the means of collective coercion are to confiscate wealth at gunpoint for assorted pretexts, under the legitimising notion that there is a democratic mandate to do demand-money-with-menaces in any particular instance.

Neal Asher

It is by no means necessary for my enjoyment of art that the artist has vaguely sensible political views, but it helps. Looking for a science fiction novel to read, discovering that the latest Alastair Reynolds was something to do with global warming, I instead took Amazon up on one of its recommendations and tried Neal Asher, who has a blog, and at the time had recently written this:

So, Cameron is a nannying statist who wants to stick a minimum price on alcohol per unit. What on Earth is he thinking? Does he think that this will result in fewer pavement pizzas and fat slags crying in the gutter on a Saturday night? Does he think there’ll be less violence on the streets after chucking out time on a Friday and less chaos in A & E over the weekend? If he does think that then he’s an idiot because the people responsible for that drink in bars where the price is already way above his damned 45p a unit.

He has also written favourably about fracking.

The novel I chose was The Departure, the first of the Owner trilogy. If anything it had too much action for my taste. If Alastair Reynolds writes film noir, Neal Asher writes Bruce Willis and explosions. The science is sensible enough: there are no exotic physics and the technologies discussed are robots, giant space stations and brain-computer interfaces. The politics is very interesting. Asher seems to have perceived a slippery slope and extrapolated in the extreme. Something like the EU has, thanks to a complacent populace, taken over the whole planet. This is the Committee and it has long since stopped pretending to be democratic and gone outwardly Orwellian. Cigarettes are illegal; armed robots are used to control rioting crowds; selfish, individualistic dissidents are taken away for readjustment by pain inducer; and clever scientists are allowed to do research useful to the state but are considered a risk and kept under scrutiny or even lock and key. The protagonist is one such scientist who sets out to get revenge.

The action includes novel ways of killing people, fantastic feats of computer hacking to fool officials who trust their computers rather too much, zero-gee small arms combat and lots of expensive things getting destroyed. Interspersed is plenty of discussion of the political situation that has lead to all this.

Statism gets a good kicking. Government is described as the biggest killer on the planet. A Committee member is scorned for her belief in “knowledge-based societal planning”. Fiat currency is scorned when the protagonist uses gold to make a purchase. There is a subtle reference to the purpose of practical politics as described by H L Mencken. In a history of NASA, the agency is described as “moribund under its stifling level of bureaucracy”. One chapter opens with a description of how people obtain things forbidden by the state:

The greater the power and extent of the state, the more room there is for corruption. The more inept state services and industries become, the more pies it takes its huge cut from and the more regulation it imposes, the greater the call for black markets.

Politicians are described as using global crises as an excuse to extend their power globally. The slippery slope is described:

Make the process slow enough to sit below immediate perception and they will grow accustomed to their enslavement; they even might not realize they are wearing any chains at all.

My biggest criticism is that the theme of overpopulation runs strongly through the book. There are food, housing and other resource shortages, and while it is acknowledged that the Committee members are doing very well for themselves, this is very much in a zero sum sense. At one point the protagonist wonders about “the mindless, ever-breeding swarm” governed by the Committee. In a discussion of how government waste prevented development of technology, he claims that the only technology needed was birth control.

The author understands that technology and people can overcome resource shortages. In a sub-plot on Mars, the colony has hydroponics which are somehow not applied on Earth, though robotic farming is. The colony has problems as a result of events back on Earth and the administrators plan to cull the population but the author understands that people create wealth:

Yes, they had problems over food, air and water production and usage and, yes, by killing off many personnel these could be eked out, but they would still eventually run out and those few remaining here would die. Better by far to apply all those useful minds to their present problems, since brainpower was all that could save them.

It is obvious that centralisation and misallocation of resources is enough to cause all of the economic problems described in the book. But none of the characters seem to connect these dots and I am not sure why. I am worried the author has not either. Perhaps the rest of the trilogy will make things clear.

Samizdata quote of the day

The belief that a sound monetary system can once again be attained without making substantial changes in economic policy is a serious error. What is needed first and foremost is to renounce all inflationist fallacies. This renunciation cannot last, however, if it is not firmly grounded on a full and complete divorce of ideology from all imperialist, militarist, protectionist, statist, and socialist ideas.

– Ludwig von Mises in Stabilization of the Monetary Unit— From the Viewpoint of Theory, Introduction, VIII: The Ideological Meaning of Reform, final paragraph. Quoted by Thorsten Polleit, at the end of his article Fiat Money and Collective Corruption.

I am about to attend a Mises Circle discussion of Polleit’s article this evening, at the IEA.