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]

Conflation: a mistake… or a tactic?

There is an article by Mark Easton on the BBC site which is a classic example of ‘conflation’.

So if buying a dodgy laptop or some smuggled cigarettes were to be regarded as socially beyond the pale, then the black market would crumble.

If offered an implausibly cheap laptop by someone, should you buy it even though you know that odds are it is almost certainly stolen?

  • No, because the theft of private property is morally indefensible.

If offered implausibly cheap cartons of cigarettes by someone, should you buy them even though you know it is almost certainly smuggled in from a country that taxes them at a much lower rate than the UK?

  • Yes, because the theft of private property is morally indefensible, and that includes when governments do it. Odds are they were legally purchased in France.

So here we have an example of meta-context at work again… perhaps.

Mark Easton, writing on the website of the tax funded state broadcaster, conflates the theft of private property (selling a stolen laptop) with avoiding the taxation by the state (which is to say the state taking your money). Hell, chances are the cigarettes have been taxed (in France), just at a less rapacious rate. So all that is really happening is some enterprising soul is doing a bit of arbitrage.

There is nothing moral about obediently paying whatever your political masters demand of you, but it is most certainly immoral to knowingly purchase stolen property. But these are not the same things.

It is possible that such a notion that these are quite different (which is to say he is making a category error) never even crossed Mark Easton’s mind, given that within a statist meta-context, it is an unspoken and unexamined ‘given’ that moral relationships between the state and an individual are inverted.

But then as he writes for that tax funded bastion of intrusive regulatory statism, the BBC, who knows? For all I know this may be a conscious tactic, just another example of the “But think of the children…” method.

Think of it this way

If acquiescing to rapacious taxation and pervasive regulation of our lives were to be regarded as socially beyond the pale, then the black market would not be necessary in the first place.

Stick that in yer meta-context an’ smoke it, Mister Easton.

Interesting developments on the privacy front…

Two coms companies, Lavabit and Silent Circle, are working to make e-mail rather harder for the likes of the NSA to snoop on.

I would be interested to hear from our more tech savvy readers what they think of the proposals when they get more details.

Another huge step in the wrong direction

The Guardian is nothing if not dependably incoherent. They rightly decry their freedom of the press being threatened by politicians

… and then support the asinine Royal Charter that creates the tools for politicians, and anyone else, who wants the Press to STFU by making it harder for the Press to actually do their job.

I really hope many publication tell the state where to stick their ‘Royal Charter’. But then the history of these isles has many chapters featuring the struggle against state control of the media.

Trying to be the world’s tax collector is going to bite the US in the bum eventually

The Obama administration has performed the unique trick of alienating the majority of our most important allies, while at the same time causing America to be viewed as a patsy by its enemies…..The situation is bound to get worse now that the administration has taken the position that most financial institutions outside the United States are conspiring to help Americans and others avoid U.S. taxes and, thus, is attempting to require all of these foreign financial institutions to report to — and, in effect, become agents of — the Internal Revenue Service. A global revolt is brewing against the United States for being an international financial bully. The consequences of this revolt are likely to be extremely damaging and long-lasting to the nation

This is by Richard W Rahn, of the Cato Institute.

The United States has been threatening to criminally indict nonresident foreign bank executives for not complying with U.S. tax law, even in cases when the banks were not operating in this country or violating their own nation’s tax laws. This is causing great resentment, as one would expect. Each country has the right to its own tax and financial-privacy laws, whether the United States agrees or not.

Europe and most other countries prohibit capital punishment. What if other nations started indicting and imprisoning our federal or state government officials, including judges when they traveled outside of the country, for carrying out the death penalty? The point is, if the United States tries to enforce its laws on non-Americans working and living outside of the U.S. for acts that are not criminal in their home countries, it will put all Americans at risk if other countries start to retaliate, which is very likely, given the increased anger over U.S. actions.

And this:

The administration has the unmitigated gall to insult others by assuring foreign governments that all the sensitive financial information collected will be kept confidential. If the administration continues on this reckless and irresponsible course, the next president of the United States may well be forced to make an “apology” tour to most of the world’s countries for wrecking the world economy

I suppose it would be rather droll to watch the Light-bringer take to Air Force One to go on a tour grovelling to various nations for spying on them as well as putting the corrupt IRS in charge of the globe’s economy. But it isn’t going to happen under this administration, given the utter shamelessness of those involved in it. And yet those of us outside the US cannot afford to strike too many poses, since I have no doubt that given half a chance, countries in the EU, and the likes of Russia and China, would love to try to enforce extra-territorial legislation such as the US tax code if they could do so. America is not unique in this disastrous course; what is happening is that, given its still-large economic muscle, the US can do this. Most investment firms, for instance, will have some exposure to the US market to some degree and it is very hard to ignore the country. In some ways, though, the US drive, via legislation as described in the article, is a reflection in some ways of US weakness. The country is out of money, and is doing anything it can short of military invasion to get it (it could be argued that that country’s actions against Switzerland are bordering on force).

A small country behaving like this would be told, in so many words, to fuck off.

The wrong kind of wind

It was a breezy night last night in England, and because such times are rather rare in these islands we aren’t really organised for it. When the wind does blow a bit, there is damage. There are even deaths. Not funny.

But, this is funny. It’s a wind turbine in Devon, looking somewhat the worse for …. wind:


My thanks to commenter number one, on this posting at Bishop Hill today.

Adding the word ‘social’ as a prefix negates whatever follows…

British Prime Minister David Cameron said on Monday his government was likely to act to stop newspapers publishing what he called damaging leaks from former U.S. intelligence operative Edward Snowden unless they began to behave more responsibly.

“If they (newspapers) don’t demonstrate some social responsibility it will be very difficult for government to stand back and not to act,” Cameron told parliament, saying Britain’s Guardian newspaper had “gone on” to print damaging material after initially agreeing to destroy other sensitive data.

– from Reuters

So now it seems even the pretence that the likes of Cameron do not wish the UK to be a police state is felt unnecessary. I may dislike the Guardian for oh so many reasons but I hope they tell the state that they will indeed do the ‘responsible’ thing… which is to say they will continue to publish Snowden’s revelations. And for added kudos, they should invite Cameron to stick his ‘action’ somewhere dark and damp.

An Apple launch disaster and a new Apple HQ building

Regulars here will know my interest in the phenomenon of Custom Built Headquarters Syndrome.

So now, I can’t help suspecting that maybe what Roger Kimball says, about the disaster that is Apple’s latest version of something called iWork (says Kimball:

I’ve never seen a shoddier release. The fate of particular pieces of word processing and spreadsheet software may not much signify much in the world at large. But among the population of people who use and depend on it, there is grave unhappiness. Apple really messed up on this, and it is interesting if unedifying to ask what it portends about the giant company’s future.

…), and this new Apple HQ building that now has the go-ahead:


… are somehow connected.

It seems that Steve Jobs himself was responsible for setting this particular architectural wheel in motion.

Instapundit reckons Apple only did their shambolic software launch just now to make Obamacare look better, arf arf. But there is a more serious point to be made about this comparison. The difference between the public sector and the private sector is not that the private sector never screws up, as this Apple screw-up illustrates. And it is most certainly not that the public sector never builds itself dysfunctionally lavish buildings. The difference is that as and when the private sector screws up, it suffers. Money is lost. In this case, Apple market share is being lost even as I blog this. Apple will either sort this iWork mess out quick, or watch a lot of people move over to Microsoft.

If a custom built headquarters causes a private sector screw-up, as I surmise may just have happened to Apple, the building may then get sold on to other more capable people, or be partly rented out, to cut costs.

When the government screws up, taxpayers will foot the bill both for the screw-up and for all the money they then throw at it to unscrew the screw-up, and as likely as not the people who presided over the screw-up will end up with even bigger buildings to luxuriate in.

To escape Obamacare, your only hope is kayak.com. I watched the whole of that Saturday Night Live skit last night on Youtube, but now, Youtube refuses to play it to me, what with me not living in the USA. But trust me, it’s very funny. Will the BBC ever show it, I wonder?

The Time of the Folded Arms

Last Friday, the latest Brian’s Last Friday came and went, very satisfactorily. Thank you Preston Byrne. Turnout was encouraging and included a couple of new young faces.

Over the summer, it was a bit of an effort rounding up a sufficiency of attenders. In the summer, people are doing other things, outside, away. But I have other thoughts about why this enterprise has been a bit of a struggle to get cranked up again, which is that new (even revived (maybe especially revived)) enterprises do tend to be a bit of a struggle.

Sometimes a new enterprise will catch fire immediately, in a good way I mean. But most require a period of, as it were, rubbing sticks together. Even overnight success seldom happens overnight.

Quite aside from all the particular difficulties associated with your particular enterprise, there is, when you start something new, another process that cuts in, which is that although all the human targets whom you want to be paying attention may want you and your new thing to do well, they will also fear that you and it won’t do well and that you will give up on it and very soon be enthusing about something else entirely, or about nothing at all. So, meanwhile, the best thing for them to do about your new thing, to begin with, is to ignore it.

It’s not that they hope that your thing will die when only a few weeks or months old, merely that they need to be sure that it probably won’t, and that if it does die it does so quickly and without fuss, like a very early rather than a later abortion. They need to know that you are serious about it, before they start contributing, even with such a small thing as showing up for a meeting every month or three. They need to know that you are irrationally committed to the venture, before, rationally, they join in. (Similar processes apply, I note, in the way that animal mating behaviour evolves. Often only what looks like a crazy amount of investment in display will attract commitment. Much of commerce also consists of seemingly excessive displays and commitments.)

Sometimes people put all of the above in the form of the claim that it takes time for your target consumers, attenders, investors, whatever, to hear about your new project or product. That’s often true, of course, but that’s not quite it. What really takes time is for them to start taking it seriously.

With many enterprises, the key question is: Are you willing to do all the work yourself? And to go on doing it? For an irrationally long time? Unless it’s yes across that board, others will fear to join in, because they will fear that they will be depended upon. If they even suspect that the plan is to dump most of the work onto them, as soon as they start joining in in numbers, then they’ll never join in the first place.

I call it the Time of the Folded Arms.

Oh yes, Brian’s Last Fridays. He’s doing them again, is he? Yes I think I heard. Mmm. Ask me about that in a year’s time, if it’s still happening.

All enterprises involve more effort, to start with, than you might think, even tiny enterprises like these meetings of mine. And since my meetings are so tiny, and so twentieth century, might I not soon reckon that the not-so-tiny effort involved in making them work well is excessive, and give up? I have to show that this isn’t so, for success to materialise.

Luckily, I had a very good speaker to kick things off in January, who pulled in a crowd big enough to crowd my small living room. And luckily, a core group of already quite regular attenders straight away found the meetings appealing, although happily it has never been exactly the same people every time. So, it has never been embarrassing. But there have times when I feared that it was about to be. For one particular evening, I called in some favours to ensure non-embarrassment. It turned out that I needn’t have worried about that night either, but I did.

By such means do I demonstrate my irrational commitment to success.

See also this posting from a while back, which proclaims that, following an entirely rational Brian’s Last Friday on November 29th, there will, somewhat irrationally, be another one on December 27th.

As we have been saying here for years…

Christopher Booker writes in The Telegraph:

What on earth was in David Cameron’s head when, amid raucous Commons exchanges on our soaring energy bills, he shouted at Ed Miliband, “we need to roll back the green charges” that the Labour leader “put in place when he was energy secretary”? Mr Cameron must have known that he and his party cheered every single one of the green charges introduced by Mr Miliband when he was energy and climate change secretary. Along with George Osborne, William Hague and most of his present Cabinet, Cameron happily voted for Mr Miliband’s Climate Change Act, committing us all to paying up to £18billion every year until 2050; in fact, the Tories wanted to go even further

So are the likes of David Davis plotting to remove the catastrophic Cameron? And if Nigel Farage is not intending to make hay out of this I would be very surprised. But then regular readers of Samizdata has long known we regard Cameron’s Tories, the LibDems and Labour as pretty much interchangeable.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Never in human history has the general health of most ordinary people been better than it is now. But paradoxically, there can scarcely ever have been a time when health care has been a more difficult political problem for the governments of advanced countries than it is now. These two apparently contradictory facts are not unconnected. It is precisely because of the stupendous advances in the treatment of disease that the role of government has become so contentious. With the scope for life-prolonging medical intervention now virtually limitless – and thus spending on it being potentially limitless as well – there are moral and practical questions about its availability and distribution which every democratic society has to address.”

Janet Daley.

As she explains, the lessons that ought to come out of the UK’s nationalised, socialist model of healthcare ought to give pause anywhere to reformers trying to impose a similar system. Which naturally leads her to look at the disaster of the Affordable Care Act. (US economics blogger and long-distance athlete Charles Steele has smart observations on this.) And the Marginal Revolution blog has an interesting perspective on the IT disaster of the ACA.

Tangentially, a rather fine novel, called Nobel Vision, was published a few years ago in which the lurch towards socialist-style healthcare was part of the plot. (The Ayn Rand influence is pretty clear on the author, it seems.)

Samizdata quote of the day

If we had state regulation of the press, the BBC would be free to carry on recycling its establishment clichés. But newspapers would find themselves having to answer to the same sort of grandees that preside over the BBC. Is that really what we want to see?

Douglas Carswell

Saturday night strangeness – Hitler before his Downfall

The bloke who posted this describes it as,’The same scene everyone knows, except it is from a film called “Hitler: The Last Ten Days” starring Alec Guinness.’ Presumably both this film and Der Untergang followed Traudl Junge’s diaries quite closely for this scene.