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

There was a time — and it really wasn’t that long ago — when if you were a financial firm, you had to have an office in Lower Manhattan, when film studios had to have offices in Los Angeles, and high-tech firms really needed to be in Silicon Valley. If Travis Brown’s big data set shows us anything it is that those days are done. You can build very fine automobiles in the United States, but if you aren’t already in Detroit, you’d be a fool to set up shop there. For the feckless governors of high-tax, big-government states with Governor Perry and Governor Scott breathing down their necks, the only question is which Rick they’re going to get rolled by.

Kevin Williamson

Samizdata quote of the day

The BBC seem to have (by and large) ignored this case of another bomber Lib Dem – just as they did the other bomber Lib Dem.

I wonder if they would largely ignore the case of a UKIP councillor who planted bombs?

– Paul Marks

Climate change policy: what do the models tell us?

Very little. A plethora of integrated assessment models (IAMs) have been constructed and used to estimate the social cost of carbon (SCC) and evaluate alternative abatement policies. These models have crucial flaws that make them close to useless as tools for policy analysis: certain inputs (e.g. the discount rate) are arbitrary, but have huge effects on the SCC estimates the models produce; the models’ descriptions of the impact of climate change are completely ad hoc, with no theoretical or empirical foundation; and the models can tell us nothing about the most important driver of the SCC, the possibility of a catastrophic climate outcome.  IAM-based analyses of climate policy create a perception of knowledge and precision, but that perception is illusory and misleading.

– Robert S Pindyck in a new paper. And this comes from someone who supports taxing carbon emissions.

Quoted by Robert Murphy, who’s very good on the sandy foundations of the climate economics holding sway in the IPCC and the US government – see also here and here.

Samizdata quote of the day

To put it another way, Law itself is a prison and the fewer people who ever see its bars, the better. That ‘not that many’ people can transform the lives of the rest of us by force of law is undoubtedly true. It happens all the time, but does not strike me as a thing to be happy about.

‘Tom Paine’

Samizdata quote of the day

The House of Lords is also talking shale gas this morning. The Economic Affairs Committee is discussing the economic impacts and, like their colleagues in the lower house, decided that the right people to speak to are a group of people who oppose economic development on principle (they took evidence from the experts a couple of weeks ago).

I have no objection to their lordships listening to Swampy et al, but the point has to be made again and again: where is the voice of the taxpayer and the consumer, the voice of those campaigning for economic development and jobs? What is it that members of both houses of Parliament have against ordinary people?

Bishop Hill

Samizdata quote of the day

Enjoyable as it is to read Huhne’s opinions on law, order, liberty and privacy, funny he never felt so strongly about the activities of our security services while he was in power and could actually do something about it.

Guido Fawkes

On when a statist country tries to buy stuff in supposedly less statist ones

There is some controversy at present about the moves by the UK government (and not just the UK, the government of little Malta is at it) to let Chinese-owned (ie, state-owned) businesses invest in the UK, buy shares of local firms, and the like. Iain Martin more or less says we should only let the Chinese do so if they accord equal freedoms to UK firms. At present, any non-domestic organisation wishing to do business in Mainland China (it is different in Hong Kong) is required to set up a joint venture with a local Chinese partner. In practice, it means making nice to the local, often corrupt, representatives of the Chinese communist party. The comment thread on Martin’s article contains its usual share of foreigner-hating buffoons but there are some intelligent observations as well.

A difficulty presents itself. First, the UK is already one in which the state owns a fairly large share of the economy, not just through the overtly public sector bit, but by national controls and regulations over all kinds of sectors, such as transport and energy. True, the UK is a democratic polity, but given the imperfections of democracy, and Britain’s membership of the EU, the accountability of politicians for what happens in the UK is, to say the least, limited. And so does it really make sense for Britons to get in a rage about sinister foreigners buying bits of the UK?  It is not as if we are operating in a world of unfettered capitalism. (Those who remember the late 80s when Japanese firms were buying Western assets will feel a sense of deja vu coming on when reading about another supposed menace from overseas.)

Then there are the exploits of what are called Sovereign Wealth Funds. Such funds, mostly run by energy-rich jurisdictions in the Middle East and Asia, are politically and legally opaque. We have seen how the heads of these large gobs of wealth have bought such “trophy assets” as football teams (Manchester City) and so on. State-owned EDF, the French energy conglomerate, is a big player in the UK energy market. (I note that one Samizdata commenter on a previous post about energy policy seems rather upset about this. The accursed French!.)

In fact, if we are going to ban investment into a jurisdiction such as the UK from entities deemed to be opaque, or the arms of oppressive regimes of various kinds, that is going to create quite a headache. These folks have a lot of the money. They may not, of course, have it forever. China’s property market is, shall we say, an unknown quantity. If the US fracking revolution continues, and the price of energy falls a bit, some of the prowess of the SWFs might decline. It might also be a smart idea if Western governments learned to live within their means rather than go begging for such sources of money to make up the deficit gaps, which is what is really going on here.

But then again, these issues might not be all that new. In the past, politicians of various hues have tried to reinstate protectionist controls on foreign trade by objecting to things such as “dumping”, for instance (evil foreigners selling us subsidised cheap stuff). If China wants to sell us cheap things, and we can save money by paying less for such things than we would otherwise, and invest/spend what we have saved on something else, I don’t really see the problem in that.

We should remember that China needs the West to grow to sustain the value of what it wants to buy abroad. Ironically, one of the best ways to keep pushing China down the path to real capitalism rather than the odd hybrid it has now is to expose its people to doing as much business abroad as possible. So long as Western leaders play their hands intelligently and push for more penetration of China’s markets as part of that process, that surely is in everyone’s long term interests.

Preston Byrne on what is and is not the solution to the housing crisis

What is the solution to the housing crisis? Preston Byrne, author of an Adam Smith Institute Briefing Paper entitled Burning down the house, knows what it is not:

Government is not the solution to the housing crisis.

That being the subtitle of his Briefing Paper. In his penultimate paragraph, he expands on that thought:

… government is not the solution to the housing crisis: government is the housing crisis.

Byrne is giving my next Last Friday of the Month talk, on Friday 25th, in other words at the end of this coming week. His talk will be entitled “Mortgage Subsidies: Why They Didn’t Work in America and Won’t Work Here.”

I’m guessing that this, the italicised preamble at the top of this Briefing Paper, is a further clue to what he will be saying:

Help to Buy will not end the housing crisis. The government’s plans to increase liquidity in the housing market will do little to solve the UK’s long-run housing supply shortage – and do much to aggravate high housing prices while improperly using the state as a risk transfer mechanism. Liberalisation, not intervention, is the best long-term solution for the distorted British housing market.

So, not a bundle of laughs. But Byrne, an American who is now a London-based securities lawyer, is an engaging speaker, and I doubt it will be quite such a grim evening as the above quotes suggest. There is, after all, humour to be found in watching politicians carefully placing banana skins in front of themselves, and then running enthusiastically over them. Even if we’re the banana skins.

More Preston Byrne ASI verbiage here, on this and other subjects (see the links top right).

Samizdata quote of the day

Politicians never accuse you of ‘greed’ for wanting other people’s money, only for wanting to keep your own money

– Joseph Sobran

I think iDave has just lost the next general election

The current lead story for the Daily Telegraph highlights the mixture of hauteur, obduracy and paternalism of an administration which has enacted policies designed to force up energy bills (for those dubious CAGW reasons) and is now trying to advise the public on the results:

David Cameron believes that millions of people facing rising energy bills should consider “wrapping up warm” and wearing jumpers, Downing Street has said.

The comments are likely to provoke anger from people struggling to cope with the rising cost of living.

The last sentence belongs in the “no shit, Sherlock” category.

Heating bills are as high as they are in large part because energy is produced not, by and large, under unfettered laissez faire capitalism – as it should be – but in rigged and heavily taxed conditions. The details are complex, but as far as the UK goes, it has been a Conservative/Labour/Liberal Democrat consensus that certain types of energy (carbon-based) should be heavily taxed. Taxes are costs and as the simplest businessman will know, such costs will either manifest themselves in higher prices, or lower output of services/products, or weaker returns on investment, or some combination of all three. There are, of course, other reasons for high energy bills, such geopolitics and our reliance on sources of oil, for example, from the Middle East.

We have an electricity industry that is now very close to not being able to cope with a harsh winter, according to various press reports. The government, unable or unwilling to be honest with itself about the issue, or face up to the mounting evidence about the dubious science on which anti-carbon ideas are based, is reduced to lecturing the public about wearing more clothes.

The former US president, Jimmy Carter, is remembered for some lamentable things in American life (although in fairness he did at least appoint Paul Volcker to the Fed and some industries got deregulated under Carter’s term). And one thing this man is remembered for is how he wore a woolly jumper in the White House to save on heating bills. He wasn’t doing that out of frugal fiscal policy, which might have been admirable, but because of the-then energy crisis to which his own policies contributed. (Price controls, etc).

David Cameron had better realise that a repeat of an energy crunch in the next year or so (blackouts, freezing weather, people dying of cold), will finish him off and his style of politics for some time to come. As for the rest of us, the demise of his brand of  Toryism cannot come a moment too soon. A couple of years ago, when he and his finance minister were making nasty noises about the need to tax low-cost flights, I was reminded of that remark that the Duke of Wellington is said to have made about the-then new railways – he disliked trains as they encouraged the masses to move about. I cannot help but notice a certain parallel with how Cameron views the public – except that Wellington won a lot of battles.

Samizdata quote of the day

There was no hope once the politicians and media were fully on board with the “default” meme. There was never any possibility of a debt default. The government has plenty of money to cover debt service, which requires less than 10% of average monthly tax revenues. It could also have rolled over any bonds which came due. The only thing it could not have done was issue new debt in excess of the limit. True default was never a risk (not that it would have been the end of the world, anyway; the US has defaulted before). But when even the Wall Street Journal adopted that language (their article today about the congressional deal on “reopening” the government and increasing the debt ceiling began with “A potentially crippling U.S. debt default was averted late Wednesday…” there was no hope left. We all knew that the Republicans would cave. They always do. But they were not able to extract a single concession from Obama and Reid. Truly pitiful.

Coincidentally, this afternoon I attended a speech given by Robert Guest, US editor for The Economist magazine. Before launching into what was actually a rather interesting talk he treated us to a diatribe about the pending “default”, comparing the Congress to a bunch of petulant teenagers (OK, that’s actually not too far off the mark). Nothing he said was correct. Quelle surprise.

– Samizdata commenter ‘Laird’

The two things I HATED about the US government “shutdown” was…

… one day it would end, and not nearly enough of the government actually did shut down.