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

“I keep telling you fellows I don’t like to do this sort of thing.  I can think of nothing more boring, for the American public, than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens…  I don’t think the people want to be listening to a Roosevelt, sounding as if he were one of the Apostles, or the partisan yipping of a Truman.”

– Former President Eisenhower, via PowerLine. That whole paragraph is deadly.

It is hard to imagine a less narcissistic POTUS than “Ike”. It is often the way with those who have boasted genuine achievements. As for the current occupant of the White House…

Government minister wants British firms to be charities, apparently

This is the headline from today’s Daily Telegraph:

Training and employing British workers is more important than a firm generating profit, business minister Matthew Hancock has indicated.

In the article, the wretched individual goes on to state that his comments should not be seen in the same light as Gordon Brown’s infamous nonsense in favour of “British jobs for British workers”. Well, it certainly looks to anyone with a grasp of language that this man is stating that national origins should count for a lot in hiring, and goes to the extent of saying that choosing a Brit is more of a factor in hiring than whether that person will increase the prosperity of a firm, which is normally why people get hired in a free market.

Ah, I mentioned the term “free market”. Silly me.

Here is some background from his website:

Matthew John David Hancock grew up in Cheshire. He attended Farndon County Primary School, West Cheshire College and The King’s School, Chester. He studied Philosophy, Politics and Economics at Exeter College, Oxford, and gained a Master’s Degree in Economics from the University of Cambridge.

So he read economics, and thinks he knows better than commercial organisations as to whom they should hire.

Matthew’s first job was with his family computer software business.  Later, he worked for five years as an economist at the Bank of England and in 2005 moved to work for the then Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Blow me down – the man had a stint in the private sector! But that did not last long and soon enough, he was working for the Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, which is now run by a Canadian governor, so presumably he disapproves of his government’s own decision to take a chance on hiring a foreigner.

This man represents a safe-ish seat in West Suffolk, which is near where I come from originally; he loves horse racing and in many ways I am sure he is a splendid chap, a bit of a Tory “knight of the shires”, as he hopes. But the thudding ignorance of his claim that firms should hire Britons first rather than take the “easy option” of hiring foreigners ignores the reasons why firms are doing this. I assume he realises that firms hire foreigners not just because of costs, but due to issues such as behaviour, character, work-ethic, and so on.

We should of course recall that the Tory party – as it used to be called – was the more protectionist force in the past – as demonstrated by the ruckus caused when Sir Robert Peel scrapped the Corn Laws in the 1840s, triggering a split in his party, and at the early part of the 20th, the attempt to re-impose tariffs caused a similar uproar. On immigration, the position has altered over the years: during Maggie’s time in office, and after, Tories were sometimes (unevenly) quite keen to stress how welcoming the UK is to certain people from overseas, not surprisingly perhaps given that several members of the Cabinet and parliamentary party were the descendants of immigrants (Nigel Lawson and Michael Portillo). It is a shame to see zero-sum thinking return to the party under the patrician, “nudging”, government-knows-best approach of David Cameron.

I hope businessmen give this minister a sharp kick in the shins. Better still, it would be no great loss to see his department closed down.

How charities used to raise money

Here’s the situation. It’s 1913 and the owners of the Crystal Palace need to sell it. Lord Plymouth has agreed to temporarily save it for the nation by ponying up the asking price (£230,000 in 1913 money – £46m in today’s if you convert to and from gold.) The deal is that if a fund can pay him back then the Palace will be “saved for the nation” and if not it will be saved for the builders.

The City of London and the nearest councils to the Palace have agreed to pay for half of it. Now, it is up to the general public and The Times. And this is how they are going to get people to cough up: the subscription list.

The Times, 2 July 1913 page9

The Times, 2 July 1913 page9

It’s rather clever. Whether you think preserving the Crystal Palace is a good idea or not, if your peers do, you’d better pay something. And it had better be a reasonable amount or else they’ll think you’re a skinflint. This is a very common way of raising money. My mother tells me that this is how they used to raise money for her local church. One wonders why the technique fell into disuse.

The necessary funds were secured in slightly less than a fortnight and the Crystal Palace continued to stand in Crystal Palace until it was wrecked by fire in 1936.

Samizdata quote of the day

The other thing that really got me thinking was seeing the sort of people that would appear on television, proselyting about the coming tragedy that it would imminently become too late to prevent. Whether from charities, pressure groups or the UN, I knew I had heard their strident and political use of language, and their determination to be part of the Great Crusade to Save the World before. These were the CND campaigners, class war agitators and useful fools for communism in a new guise. I suddenly realised that after the end of the Cold War, rather than slinking off in embarrassed fashion to do something useful, they had latched onto a new cause. The suggested remedies I heard them espouse were always socialist in approach, requiring the installation of supra-national bodies, always taking a top-down approach and furiously spending other peoples’ money. They were clearly eager participants in an endless bureaucratic jamboree.

Now don’t get me wrong: a scientific theory is correct or not regardless of who supports it. But recognising the most vocal proponents of CAGW for what they were set alarm bells ringing, and made me want to investigate further…

Jonathan Abbott writes on WUWT about his personal path to C(atastrophic) A(nthropogenic) G(lobal) W(arming) skepticism.

Aside from the slightly odd word “proselyting” … snap.

A few commenters here have expressed boredom about this whole climate thing, and a lot of people certainly are very bored indeed with the climate alarmists. But when you consider how much power and money are still being diverted into arrangements based on climate alarmism being true, by people for whom the science still seems to be settled like it was 1999, it would surely be a big mistake to stop discussing these matters now. This would be the equivalent, during the Cold War (an earlier huge argument to which Abbott rightly compares the climate debate), of reading someone like Von Mises explaining in about 1950 that communism is economically irrational and hence in the long run doomed, and saying, right, we can forget about that then. Communism still had many decades of damage to do. And it didn’t just fall. It was also pushed. Climate alarmism is the same now. The damage it will do has, arguably, only just begun. Just how much damage climate alarmism ends up doing depends on how much it continues to be challenged.

Might we actually be winning?

In his ‘Seen Elsewhere’ section, top right, Guido is today linking to a piece entitled An Anarcho-Capitalist Defence of the Royal Family. Sounds like fun, and it is.

For me, the most amazing bit is not any bit in this piece, but the bit at the bottom where it says who wrote it:

Christina Annesley is a 21 year old anarcho-capitalist and the founder of Leeds Liberty League. She has a BA in History from the University of Leeds and is currently writing a dystopian fantasy novel.

There are just so many things that are great about that.

David Botsford, RIP

A few days ago, while I was on holiday in Santorini – one of the Greek islands – I was contacted to be told that one of my oldest friends, David Botsford, had died. He was only 49 years old.

David, a graduate of King’s College, London, is someone I first got to know back in 1988, when he was working at the time for an outfit called Outlaw Films. David was part of that libertarian circle of friends in London that I hung out with (Brian Micklethwait, Antoine Clarke, Tim Evans, Chris Tame and Kevin Macfarlane, among others) in that time. David was not the most high-profile libertarian activist, maybe, but he was certainly one of the most prolific, and insightful, in terms of the material he produced.

In the early 1990s, David decided on a change of career: he entered the field of psychology, and studied fields such as hypnotherapy, using his skills to treat people who wanted to give up smoking, beat stress or eating disorders. Shortly thereafter he went to the US – he held a dual British-US passport – and worked for a while in Los Angeles. He returned to the UK a few years later to develop his work in the UK, and spent a long time living in the Notting Hill area. I spent many happy hours in his company – David seemed to know just about every cool restaurant in the area and, given his interests, he also had a wide circle of friends. (One of them invited me – to his perhaps regret – to play in his cricket team). David was a stage performer. On one memorable night, he gave a stage hypnotism performance in deepest Soho and he also performed such acts in the US, such as Las Vegas, and gave talks to various groups and appeared on television.

His essays for libertarian publications on issues such as gun control, the arts, foreign policy and education stand the test of time. David was also a kind, generous and funny person to know and he was very dear to me and my wife. He will be greatly missed. Later this year, some of us who knew him intend to go to a restaurant and raise a glass or two in his memory.

Put the boot in, Guido!

When I read this

THE country’s top political blogger, Paul Staines – better known as Guido Fawkes – has threatened to sue Tory MP Claire Perry after she alleged he had “sponsored” a hack attack on her website.

… I was moved to say that this Perry is very much in favour of Guido using the courts to kick the living hell out of that Perry, the thuggish ‘Honourable’ member for Devizes.

Put the boot in, Guido!

Malinvestment in China

From the Wall Street Journal today:

A $91 billion industrial project here, mired in debt and unfulfilled promise, suggests part of the reason why China’s economy is wobbling – and why it will be hard to turn around.  The steel mill at the heart of Caofeidian, which is outside the city of Tangshan, about 225 kilometers (140 miles) southeast of Beijing, is losing money. Nearby, an office park planned to be finished in 2010 is a mass of steel frames and unfinished buildings. Work on a residential complex was halted last Christmas, after workers completed the concrete frames. There is even a Bridge to Nowhere: a six-lane span abandoned after 10 support pylons were erected.

“You only need to look around to see how things are going,” said Zhao Jianjun, a worker at a plant that hasn’t produced its steel-reinforced plastic pipes for months. “Look north, west, east,” he said, gesturing to empty buildings. Chen Gong, chairman of Beijing Anbound Information, a Chinese think tank, says Caofeidian shows the flaws of the Chinese economic-growth model, in which the government plans investment and companies are expected to follow suit, regardless of market conditions. Chinese local governments are “driven by the blind pursuit of GDP,” said Mr. Chen.

There are reasons why I have doubted much of this “China will overtake the US and dominate the world” stuff and the details referred to above are part of it, though goodness knows state-driven mal-investment is hardly the preserve of China. Far from it. But there has been enough evidence around to suggest that vast sums of money poured into Chinese projects of this type will not bear fruit. And there will be a reckoning.

Samizdata quote of the day

Commerce is real. … Aid is just a stop-gap. Commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism, takes more people out of poverty than aid, of course we know that.


Madsen Pirie concurs.

Hayek on economics prize

Appropriately enough, in a discussion about (Nobel laureate) Paul Krugman, someone mentioned a speech by (Nobel laureate) Hayek that he gave after winning the prize:

I do not yet feel equally reassured concerning my second cause of apprehension. It is that the Nobel Prize confers on an individual an authority which in economics no man ought to possess. This does not matter in the natural sciences. Here the influence exercised by an individual is chiefly an influence on his fellow experts; and they will soon cut him down to size if he exceeds his competence. But the influence of the economist that mainly matters is an influence over laymen: politicians, journalists, civil servants and the public generally.

There is no reason why a man who has made a distinctive contribution to economic science should be omni-competent on all problems of society – as the press tends to treat him till in the end he may himself be persuaded to believe. One is even made to feel it a public duty to pronounce on problems to which one may not have devoted special attention.

I am not sure that it is desirable to strengthen the influence of a few individual economists by such a ceremonial and eye-catching recognition of achievements, perhaps of the distant past. I am therefore almost inclined to suggest that you require from your laureates an oath of humility, a sort of hippocratic oath, never to exceed in public pronouncements the limits of their competence.

Or you ought at least, on conferring the prize, remind the recipient of the sage counsel of one of the great men in our subject, Alfred Marshall, who wrote:

“Students of social science, must fear popular approval: Evil is with them when all men speak well of them”.

This works for all kinds of lauded experts, not just in economics but in climate science, nutrition, psychology and education, for example.

Bulgaria loses the Second Balkan War

I do not claim to be an expert on the Balkan Wars which were fought in 1912 and 1913. If I understand correctly, in the First Balkan War Turkey was almost completely thrown out of Europe while in the second Bulgaria embarked upon a war of conquest and ended up with rather less than she’d started with.

The Times 23 July 1913 p8

The Times 23 July 1913 p8

The significance of all this, as Eric Sass points out, lay in how it altered Russia’s relationship with Serbia. Russia, Serbia and Bulgaria were Slavic states. Russia, being the biggest, wanted to be the leader. Serbia and Bulgaria, being small wanted Russian protection. So, when a dispute rose over the borders between them the two small states submitted their dispute to the big one. When Bulgaria failed to get what she wanted she went to war.

Defeat led to Bulgaria allying herself with Austria-Hungary while Russia responded by allying herself ever more closely with Serbia. Hence, perhaps, the robustness of Russia’s response to Austria’s declaration of war against Serbia in 1914.


Update For a while now I’ve been in the habit of linking to the whole page rather than just the article. This has been to give readers the chance to see what else was making the news at the time and, perhaps, to find something just as bloggable. Well, it appears Simon Gibbs has done just that.

How developed economies make schools worse and encourage home education

Instpundit gleefully links to an article entitled (my reaction to this sentence was to see if SQotD was already taken – it was):

America’s best educated kids don’t go to school

Why? Well, partly of course it’s all the usual public sector stuff, about a big old nationalised industry getting worse and worse, no matter how much other people’s money they throw at it. Unions won’t allow bad teachers to be fired. Politicians won’t allow bad kids to be disciplined. And so on. Public sector education in the USA is a like a great big Detroit, spreading out across the entire country. All true.

But I think there’s another big force at work here. Another key sentence in this piece, aside from its title, is a quote from Walter Russell Mead:

Many parents these days have just as much education as teachers if not more.

A few years back, I did a spell of education blogging, and one of the big conclusions I reached was that countries where teaching was a much coveted career were at a fundamentally different stage in their development to ones where teaching was what you did when you couldn’t get a better job. Basically, in develop-ing countries, teaching was and is a great job. Everyone knows education will separate you from the pack of the dirt poor, but the jobs you’ll then get offered will still be pretty terrible, so a very appealing job is to be a teacher. But in a develop-ed country, where the economy has worked out how to make seriously good use of educated people, teaching is strictly a second best, if that. The result is this odd flip-flop. The more developed the country, the crappier its schools tended to be, at least compared to what you might have expected. Lavishly funded, crammed with textbooks and computers, but still a horrible disappointment.

To put all this another way, what I am saying is that the familiar slogan saying that Those Who Can Do and Those Who Can’t Teach applies with unequal force, depending on what else there is to do.

I recall reading, long ago, in a book by the late Peter Drucker (he was one of the first people I ever read who told it like it was about the public sector), about how computers had, for the first time in human history, created an abundance of well paid jobs for mathematicians. Given that the world now cries out for maths geeks, to do things like programme computers, analyse share prices, stop bridges collapsing, streamline cars, predict market share, sort out logistics in warehouses, and so on and so on and so on, it’s no wonder that maths teachers are on the whole not what they used to be. The same principle applies to education generally.

A hundred years ago, the typical American kid’s best chance of learning good stuff about the world was to go to a school and pay attention to the teachers there, who tended to be far better educated than his own parents. Now, increasingly, the same kid would do better to skip school and spend time with his now far better educated parents. (The big question now being: can those parents spare the time? Suggestion: a developed economy that is in an economic slump is especially good at encouraging home education.)

As commenters will surely explain, there are plenty of other influences that explain the current inexorable rise of home education, the fact that computers are now to be found in every home – now, in just about every hand – being another obvious fact about this story. But I do believe that the tendency, now as opposed to a century ago, of well educated people in rich countries only to want to be teachers if they are too mediocre to do any better is a big part of this story.