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

Let’s not kid ourselves, because the end of money, as we know it, really means the beginning of the transactional surveillance State, which makes this a serious debate about the boundaries of State power and the dignity of an individual.

Unfortunately, the real world extends beyond Wolman’s polite corner of Oregon.

There are activists and dissidents in hostile regions paying for Internet blogs, food supplies, and safe harbor. There are payments being made to border guards on a daily basis to flee a murderous government somewhere. There are women selling baskets and blankets at street markets to feed their hungry families. There are cancer patients buying weed from a friend if their state doesn’t accommodate medical marijuana. And even before and after the Third Reich, persecuted peoples have always needed a way to protect and transfer what little remained of their wealth.

The persistent war on cash has more to do with moralistic society than it does with civil society as Wolman claims. With ultimate tracking capabilities, how does Wolman decide when a government’s “right” becomes a wrong? Does he defend the victimless crime laws against online gambling and consensual sex for money between adults? Does he defend confiscation of private sector wealth when a socialistic regime runs out of funds? Does he defend an orchestrated payments blockade against whistleblower site Wikileaks? Does he defend brutal government law enforcement measures in Syria and Gaddafi’s Libya?

Anonymity and civil society do mix — it is omnipotent violent government and civil society that do not mix.

Jon Matonis

David Puttnam moves towards a better democracy

The film maker and Labour nobleman, David Puttnam, has written this article: Press regulation: the royal charter deal is a move towards a better democracy. He says,

I believe there is a need to totally re-evaluate the way we look at the relationship between the media and democracy. Over the past decade or so, a great deal of thinking has developed around the notion of “a duty of care” – as it relates to a number of aspects of civil society. This has principally focused on obvious areas, such as our empathetic response to the elderly and infirm, to children and young people, to our service personnel. It has seldom, if ever, extended to equally important arguments around the fragility of democracy itself: to the notion that honesty, accuracy and impartiality are fundamental to the process of building and embedding informed, participatory societies. I believe our developing concept of a duty of care should be extended to “a care” for our shared but fragile democratic values.

If “duty of care” really were nothing but a “notion”, this would still be mildly sinister. But “duty of care” is not just a notion, it is a legal notion. He wants to make it possible to sue a writer for threatening democratic values. Specifically, he wants to make it a tort.

Do you think that I exaggerate; that this proposed “duty” was no more than Puttnam advocating a moral course of action and perhaps using the legal phrase as a metaphor? Then read the next paragraph. In it, he makes it clear he is indeed thinking of legal penalties for failing to fulfil this “duty”:

After all, the absence of a duty of care within many professions can amount to accusations of negligence, and that being the case, are we really comfortable with the thought that we are being, in effect, negligent in regard to the long-term health of our own democracies, and the values that underpin them?

Baron David Puttnam is very comfortable with the thought that he and those like him will be able to suppress views that promote values he does not like.

UPDATE: A just comment from Laird:

It strikes me that Puttnam should be the first to be sued under his proposed law. After all, the ability to offer and discuss unpopular and controversial ideas is the epitome of “democratic values”. His proposal is clearly negligent, even threatening, toward those values, and is itself grossly negligent toward the long-term health of the democracy he purports to champion. That way lies fascism.

The Olympic legacy

But with the greatest respect, West Ham aren’t my football club. So why am paying to give them a brand new football stadium? OK, £25 million may not even add up to the GDP of Cyprus in this crazy world. But that’s still a fair chunk of change. And what are we getting for it? Some people are arguing that this is an important part of securing the fabled “Olympic Legacy”. But is this really what the late Baron de Coubertin had in mind? Half a dozen long balls aimed at Andy Carroll, and some lusty renditions of ”Oh Christian Dailly, You are the love of my life, Oh Christian Dailly, I’ll let you s**g my wife”.

Dan Hodges.

Samizdata quote of the day has already been taken but I couldn’t not share this one.

There is more:

Or, if the crude economics are too unpalatable, look at the whole thing through a footballing prism. If I was Peter Hill-Wood I’d be spitting blood. A club like Arsenal risks its entire future on moving to a state-of-the-art new stadium, pays the price on the pitch, and then watches as one of its local rivals walks into England’s second stadium for the princely cost of £15 million, plus £2 million rent a year.

The state has played an indirect role in the footballing world – such as policing, although the cost of policing grounds is shared by the clubs – and football has, mostly, been out of the state’s hands. The only time that its regulatory influence really tightened was after the various disasters, such as Heysel and Hillsborough, in which large numbers of fans were killed and regulations were changed to make grounds all-seater.

One commentator on the Hodges posting says this, though: ….” it is worth pointing out that West Ham will be paying £2m per year rent on the 99 year lease (not sure if that is inflation linked) and that there is a considerable cost in maintaining an empty stadium”.

Well quite. West Ham is going to have to pay a fair amount to use this ground, so it is not getting the site for free, which at times is the impression gained by the original article. Even so, given that compulsory purchase laws were used originally to clear the Olympic site – and some businesses never recovered – it is worth pointing out that one beneficiary is a privately owned football club which already has a ground of its own. It amounts to a transfer of valuable land and resources to a group of businessmen.


Samizdata quote of the day

So far Voyager 1 has ‘left the Solar System’ by passing through the termination shock three times, the heliopause twice, and once each through the heliosheath, heliosphere, heliodrome, auroral discontinuity, Heaviside layer, trans-Neptunian panic zone, magnetogap, US Census Bureau Solar System statistical boundary, Kuiper gauntlet, Oort void, and crystal sphere holding the fixed stars.

– A rather marvellous alt-text from Randall Monroe of xkcd. Can we just give the guy the Nobel Prize for Literature right now? And possibly also the prize for Peace (assuming he has the bad taste to want it)?

Doubly-illegal acts

I have to confess, as an ignorant inhabitant of North America, that I don’t really understand the current press scandal in the U.K., and I was hoping that perhaps someone could enlighten me.

As I understand it, a number of members of the press committed crimes in the course of gathering material for stories — that is, they committed acts that were already illegal, and which already carried substantial penalties.

It would therefore seem that preventing such acts in the future would require nothing more than diligently enforcing existing law.

I’m therefore curious as to what purpose is articulated for ending freedom of expression in the U.K.

Is it claimed that the laws were not being enforced before on the powerful? Then surely the new restrictions on freedom will be selectively enforced as well, with only the weak being stifled. (That is, of course, universal — the powerful never need permission to do anything. Freedom is a protection for the weak, the strong need no protection.)

Is it claimed that performing criminal acts was somehow insufficiently illegal? Is it claimed that the existing laws against criminal conspiracies are not already broad, vague and all-encompassing?

All too frequently, when it is discovered that merely making acts illegal is insufficient to prevent them from happening, rather than trying to see to it that existing law is enforced, the craven panderers to the outraged (by which I mean our supposedly elected masters) simply propose to make a crime doubly illegal, triply illegal, or quadruply illegal, as though multiplying the number of ways in which some act is forbidden is a magically all-potent and riskless remedy.

Anyway, to return to my original question: as someone who (for once) lives in a sane country, that is to say a place where there is a near-absolute protection for freedom of speech and the press which is beyond being destroyed for the political expediency of the moment, and who is not immersed in the discussion of the bout of temporary insanity now gripping your island in the Atlantic, might I ask what the point claimed here is? What is the putative purpose of making things that were illegal before even more illegal? Is there one, or is this just an exercise in appeasing a bunch of outspoken members of the professionally offended classes?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Last time I remember over-reaching legislation being similarly rushed, we ended up with the Terrorism Act Section 44 which started out as preventing terrorism and ended up as random stop-and-search powers being exercised by the Met on any motorist they felt like bothering.”

– Alec Muffett, in a rather depressing summary of his thoughts about the meeting that he, other members of the Open Rights Group, and other civil liberties groups had with Hacked Off last night. Read the whole thing. (This is a subsequent post to the one that was linked to earlier).

Fire burn and housing bubble

In other news, it would appear that the “Conservative” party believes that the housing market in the U.K. is insufficiently distorted and in danger of reverting to market principles. To prevent that, the new budget contains provisions to assure that there will be malinvestment, bank bailouts, and direct state losses from mortgage defaults for years to come.

I confess to being impressed. It is normal for politicians to fail to learn from history, but here they’ve managed to forget even 2008. Well done, gentlemen, well done!

Chancellor extends home-buying schemes

Tell #HackedOff to Blog Off!

There is a very interesting article over on dropsafe about several people meeting with #HackedOff this evening regarding the Leveson Royal Charter… ie state regulation of the news in Britain.

To say Alec was not impressed would be a masterly understatement:

There’s a reason that I don’t like politics and prefer coding. Coding is clean. Politics at this level is not compromise, and it’s not about other peoples’ compromises either; it’s more like trying to waft the farts of other peoples’ compromises in a general direction which you hope will be least offensive to people you care about but who will definitely be impacted.

This will not end well.

The thingie below was kindly sent to me by Guido Fawkes.

Sign the petition and tell them to Blog Off!

Samizdata quote of the day

“Bent British newspaper hacks are indeed a curse. Nobody anywhere in the world thinks Britain’s tabloid press does a good job. But the slimiest, most gin-sodden Fleet Street hack who ever lived isn’t as dangerous to Britain as the bland, responsible, respectable people who decided to set up a government-backed press board. Britain can thrive in the 21st century, but it will surely fail if the British people allow their brain dead but well groomed establishment free rein.”

From The American Interest.

The eroding liberty of the UK is getting noticed.

Reflections on the Cyprus disaster

This article from John Phelan, at The Commentator, is worth reading:

Functioning banks certainly are a key part of a modern financial system but why should the same be said of the toxic zombies who are blundering round the current financial landscape?

And how did these rotten banks get so big in the first place? It’s because governments and central banks prop them up. Bad banks rarely go out of business, they just lumber on, soaking up and destroying more wealth. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan were bailed out five times in the 20 years before 2008.

The second lesson is that there really is no such thing as private property. In extremis the government considers itself entitled to any amount of your property it desires even if, as in the Cypriot case, it means revoking its own commitments to protect bank deposits.

But then this is the logical outcome of taxation. If you think that a shortage of government revenue can be solved by the government simply helping itself to someone else’s revenue you really can’t have a philosophical problem with this. If you believe in the 50p tax rate this is where you end up.

The last paragraph is particularly telling. It is good, in a grim sort of way, that people have been alarmed at the idea of governments grabbing savings. But what on earth do people think governments do already? Consider the central banks’ “quantitative easing” policies. Printing money benefits those who get the new money first against those who do not; savers lose out when a government “reflates” an economy. In the UK, for example, inflation – understated by government statistics – is in the low but significant single digits and over a relatively short period, will devastate savings due to the impact of compounding. The proposals from leftist politicians for a so-called “wealth tax” in the UK is merely another form of property rights confiscation, but then again, income taxes are a form of confiscation in that they confiscate the products of work. Confiscation is what governments with a monopoly on the use of physical force do. It is one of their defining characteristics.

Meanwhile, Detlev Schlichter has an interesting new item up about the Cypriot disaster. What is notable about it is that he does not adopt a lazily predictable “bash the eurozone” stance here.

In particular, Schlichter kicks against the assumption that what was proposed – taking a slice of deposits – is somehow uniquely evil:

I am a free market guy. I am in favor of laissez faire so I always like to see placards that read “Hands off”. One could see such placards at demonstrations in Cyprus yesterday: “Hands off Cyprus”. That is great. But be careful what you wish for. A proper hands-off policy means letting the chips fall where they may. That would certainly mean no bailout and thus total collapse of the Cypriot banking system and the Cypriot economy. Don’t forget that Cyprus and its banks and its depositors are still being bailed out with other people’s money here.

That is also what some of my libertarian friends don’t seem to get when they speak, as some of them did yesterday, of another incident of the ‘the state stealing from its citizens’ or of confiscating their property. As much sympathy as I usually have with these views, in this instance they are simply mistaken. If this were expropriation it would mean that the act of abstaining from this expropriation – of the expropriator simply doing nothing – would mean that the ‘victim’ keeps his property. But if the EU did nothing in this situation – “hands off”, laissez faire – it would mean that most depositors, including those under €100,000, got wiped out completely. The choice is not between keeping everything and paying a ‘levy’, but between paying a ‘levy’ and losing almost everything.



Samizdata quote of the day

States love a few Big Businesses but hate lots of small ones… in essence, if there are more people who actually matter in an industry than can fit around a dinner table with the appropriate Government Minister, then clearly that is a sector that cannot be controlled by the state. And that is intolerable.

And of course many Big Businesses also rather like those sort of relationships as a few large competitors with a similar size-to-brain ratio as themselves are much preferred to a whole bunch of innovative small folk who names they don’t even know and who might actually start doing things they did not expect to have to deal with.

– Perry de Havilland

What the new Fat Controller might now do

Mick Hartley, who has been watching North Korea closely for years, senses that things may be about to explode, sooner rather than later:

Under the departed Dear Leader, there was at least some measure of balance. The Songun military-first principle held sway then as now, of course, and the level of vitriolic rhetoric aimed at South Korea and the US and Japan was constant and unrelenting, but there was some sense of a cunning plan; of a canny political operator at work.

Now, though, with the new Fat Controller Kim Jong-Un, there’s a strong feeling that it’s all getting out of control. As a sign of his weakness and insecurity, and doubtless under all kinds of internal pressures, and in-fighting within the top brass which we don’t know about, he just keeps pressing the same buttons that worked for his father, but he has to press them harder and harder. Up with the militarisation; up with the vicious rhetoric; up with the provocations and the bluster. He doesn’t know what else to do. Now the whole country’s on a war footing, the economy – such as it was – is imploding, and maybe for the first time in the history of the DPRK there’s a sense that the suffering people may not be prepared to tolerate this increased hardship much longer.

The logic of his position, then, may force him into some reckless action. He’s backed himself into a corner. South Korea’s western islands are looking increasingly vulnerable. If he doesn’t do something he’s going to look weak, and all that hardship is going to look like it was all for nothing to the wretched populace. And, as the economy tanks, he has to do something sooner rather than later….

I recommend also reading Hartley’s earlier piece, linked back to there, which does indeed link in its turn to reports about the vulnerability of some South Korean islands, but which is itself a copy-and-paste posting about what China is preparing to do about all this. Preparing to invade North Korea, basically, and racing against time. As always, when states like China build railways (in fact when almost any state has ever built a railway), the thinking is not just economic; it is also military.

China was and remains content to sponsor a North Korea that is vicious and strong. But a North Korea that is vicious and weak, to the point of recklessness, is a serious threat to China’s interests.

It says everything about the state of life for regular people in North Korea that if and when the Chinese do invade, the Chinese may well be greeted as liberators rather than as another bunch of predators.