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

Why I’m an engineer: I decided long long ago that I wanted to avoid any field where the measure of success was a subjective judgement by some authority.

– Samizdata commenter ams, explaining why I am happy I became an engineer (of sorts) even if I was not consciously doing it for that reason at the time.

Champagne lefties abandon money, need payment only in hugs

I found this article vastly entertaining.

Cole also treats us to an extra lesson in economics. Impossible.com is saving civilisation, if not the planet itself. Literally.

“[Earth] can’t accommodate us all if we all consume resources like the Americans or British of today. We would need three planet Earths to support us… Jointly using what we have, sharing, is one of our best chances for survival.”

This isn’t actually true. Technological advances mean we now use less stuff to make more. We no longer need to chop down trees or kill whales for their blubber (once a vital fuel in Victorian times). GDP has risen, while the amount of stuff needed to make it has remained static or even fallen as Diane Coyle explained here (£). You could try and argue we’ve exported dirty work to emerging economies … until you see the figures for manufacturing-heavy Germany, where as GDP grew, the amount of stuff consumed to make it fell too. Opening access to underutilised resources via platforms like Uber may well, Coyle writes, create greater efficiencies. But Cole’s objection appears to be that money changes hands, and money is the incentive that makes the platforms work.

Money and ownership both seem toxic to Lily Cole, but if our ancestors hadn’t invented credit, and property rights, then today we’d still be standing in fields pointing slack-jawed at aeroplanes. We’re the survivors of a “gift economy” that, fortunately, was abandoned centuries ago.

Money doesn’t change hands (much) at Impossible.com, which may account for its failure. The Mail on Sunday reported that Impossible.com despite your generous taxpayer’s contribution is now £400,000 in debt.

Debit? Pah, Champagne lefties require only hugs as payment and presumably offer the same in return if the hapless taxpayers wants their £200,000 back.

An encounter with a Bernie Sanders supporter

Someone I know on Facebook, who turns out to be a fan of Bernie Sanders, the socialist running for the Democrat nomination in the US, defended this man’s idea of jacking up capital gains taxes (on all those evil capitalist exploiters). I contested the wisdom of this, and got this response. I haven’t edited for typos:

Top-down economics don’t work at all. Give a rich person $1,000 they don’t need to spend it. Give $1,000 to a middle class or a poor person and they will spend it because they have to.

So, the argument is that the State is entitled to use the violence-backed power it has to seize the wealth of supposedly less “needy” people and give it to persons presumed more likely to spend it. The presumption that the State is entitled to loot the wealth of persons who don’t “need” it is taken as self-evident, so deep have collectivist assumptions soaked in. An appallingly large number of people subscribe to this assumption and often don’t encounter a contrary view.

This nonsense also inverts the insight that to consume a service/product first entails producing it, which requires saving for that purpose by forgoing immediate consumption (resources have time value, which is why interest rates exist). The richer person’s wealth doesn’t simply vanish if he/she does not immediately spend it – that money is invested, and added to other factors of production (labour, mainly), which increases living standards in the longer term.

On a final note, it is worth pointing out that under the current tax system in countries such as the US (in my view, far too complicated), the rich pay a disproportionately high share of the total, which rather buggers the point made by people like Sanders.

Resentment isn’t an argument

It is sometimes all too easy to fall into the ad hominem fallacy when you see a juicy target. The problem, however, is that if you are trying to change minds, appealing to prejudice and resentments either doesn’t work, or provokes revulsion. For example, in the Daily Mail there is an article by someone called Chris Deerin, entitled: “Pass the quinoa, comrade! Hypocrisy of the middle-class revolutionaries”.

Here is a taster:

Radical politics is a pursuit for the moneyed conscience, an indulgence for those who can afford to fight the good fight, who are feather-bedded enough to give their lives over to peripheral causes, doomed campaigns and utopian schemes. When you’re skint, funding the next meal or paying the leccy bill or covering the rent tends to be more of a priority than shouting slogans at students through a megaphone in Freedom Square.

Well it may well be the case that much radical politics today is the occupation of the middle class. But the error that Deerin is making here is that while some middle class supporters of socialism, environmentalism and the rest of it may well be hypocritical wankers who should be boiled in oil (or whatever else Daily Mail readers presumably favour as a punishment) that doesn’t mean that socialism, environmentalism, etc, are therefore wrong. To show that, you have to make the case: you need to debunk the disasters socialism creates (including massive environmental problems, as shown in Soviet Russia), and take on the assumptions of environmentalism (such as how a lot of Greens ignore economic substitution and embrace Malthusian myths, as well as endorse forms of naturalistic fallacies and a false view of nature, etc). Saying that “Greens are posh arseholes” backfires if it turns out that some of what Greens might say is true. And does this also mean that a working class person is also a hypocrite if he or she later espouses capitalism and is a class traitor?  The trouble with the ad hominem tactic is that works in both directions.

In the current political scene, I have, for example, seen a lot of this resentment-as-argument tactic being used, such as among some of the pro-Trump folk in the US (taking shots at “the Establishment, ignoring that Trump is part of it, in a way), and among the pro-Sanders people attacking Wall Street (in a blanket attack on anyone in finance). We get it in the UK (resentment at the Cameroonians for being posh, rather than for their actual views.)

Samizdata quote of the day

Russia’s main problem is that no one smart or rich wants to live there. Their talent has been drained for 80 years. Their chief export now is herpes and orphans.

– Commenter ‘Solidar’ on an article over on Reuters called ‘Do you suffer from Russophobia? The Kremlin thinks you might‘.

Samizdata quote of the day

The problem of poverty is not a shortage of experts; it’s a shortage of rights.

– On December 6th 2015, William Easterly gave the most recent Hayek Memorial Lecture, on the subject of “The Tyranny of Experts: Foreign Aid versus Freedom for the World’s Poor”.

Just after 13 minutes and 40 seconds into his lecture, Easterly said the above words, twice.

“White privileged hegemony has not been disrupted here …”

I liked one of the comments on this piece, which reports on a piece of feminist glaciology.

Take it away, commenter “Schacar Mevsky”.

Employing whiteness theory, I hypothesize that the authors are attracted to the glacier because it is white, especially at the “peaks” of the mountains, while the brown run off is down “low.” White privileged hegemony has not been disrupted here but infects the study from start to finish. The authors try to mask this by cultural appropriation of terms like “postcolonial analysis” and “feminist glaciology,” but they manifestly privilege phallocentric Western techno thinking. They construct binary, deontological “evidence,” having failed to consider that the glacier they are raping with their instruments is sacred to the Peruvian indigenous peoples, who have sacrificed 16-year old girls to it for millennia because its water “contains its sacred powers” (p. 95). Where, finally, in this allegedly subversive study are the Discourses of the Diasporic Imaginary of the marginalized? The authors privilege the glacier as an “icon.” But what about the Discourses of the iceberg? Of the lowly snowball? Of the ever-maligned piss hole in the snow?

This notion might attract non-comedic attention from academia. Maybe it already has.

The above mockery makes a bit too much sense to be five star academic bullshit, but the guy should stick at it. What he gets so right is the way that these idiots quite quickly reach the stage of trying to out-idiot each other. And by the way, in case you are wondering, “Diasporic Imaginary” is not a misspelling of “Diasporic Imagery”, or some such slightly less confusing thing. This is a reference to actual academic discourse.

Those piss holes in the snow take me back a few decades. I do love a bit of Michael Caine discourse.

Just how bad and how widespread is the kind of nonsense that is lampooned in the above comment? Are all academies in the Anglo-Saxon world as intellectually deranged as some parts of some of them clearly are? Or is it merely that Anglo-Saxony is huge and contains lots of academies, and so if you look for any particular sort of academic insanity you will find it?

Garry Kasparov on the collapse of the Soviet Union

On the 70th anniversary of Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, and the 63rd anniversary of Stalin’s death, the 80th birthday of the Spitfire, I post Mr Bill Kristol’s long (c. 80 minutes) and informative interview with Garry Kasparov, the noted former World Chess Champion, focusing on the collapse of the Soviet Union, with some vignettes on his own life, starting off in Baku, the fifth city of the USSR. As Mr Kasparov likes to tell Americans, he grew up in the Deep South close to Georgia, but around 1,500 miles from Moscow. One should remember that Mr Kasparov makes Muhammed Ali at his prime seem rather diffident.

Mr Kasparov is half-Jewish, half-Armenian, but culturally Russian. He talks about his early life, his Jewish father died when he was 7, he grew up believing in the Soviet system right into the mid-1980s, he thought that socialism’s ills were not due to ‘the rotten nature of socialism‘, but were a problem of implementation. He had been introduced, by his paternal uncle, to non-Soviet Jewish literature from the local Jewish intelligentsia so he got some insight into ‘the other side of the story‘, but it took time before he realised that the problem was the system.

For the talented under socialism, there were very few options, you could not go into law (perhaps a good thing?), into business, into politics (as opposed to the Party) a whole range of careers that Westerners might regard as options were not available under the Soviet system, but sport, ballet and chess were options for ambitious parents eager for their children to do well (they hadn’t quite abolished that). He also points out that chess was never part of the Soviet education system, they had no interest improving education, but only in finding talent, ultimately for propaganda purposes.

He was privileged to go abroad (and to Paris) at the age of 13 for a chess tournament, he had to be approved and recommended by a Party Committee even at that age, and he was the only person in his circle who had gone to a capitalist country (yes, I know). He read Solzhenitsyn in 1981, (when outside the USSR) and said his name was like Voldemort, everyone knew of him, but he was he who must not be named. He talks about how he managed to grope his way away from support for socialism and the Party, and discussions with his die-hard Communist grandfather, baffled by the jamming of Radio Liberty, and how the regime became less ‘vibrant‘, and the panic induced by the election of Ronald Reagan after the ‘malleable’ (my word) Jimmy Carter. Funny how looking back, it’s almost as if the Left in the West did everything that Moscow asked 😉

At one point in 1985, Steve Jobs went to Moscow to talk to the Soviet Academy of Sciences, a rather unproductive use of both’s time.

He talks about the coming of Gorbachev, who was utterly indifferent to the anti-Armenian pogroms in Baku, Azerbaijan in what became the dying days of the USSR, and the SDI being what drove Gorbachev to negotiate a bad deal at Reykjavik.

He says that it is vital for Russia to have a Nuremburg Tribunal on the crimes of communism.

At 1 hour 9′ 9″ he talks about Soviet Nukes and the Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal, 2,000 warheads, bigger than France, China and UK combined, and the betrayal of the guarantees of Budapest in 1994.

If you take a look at his Facebook page, there are some choice quotes from him, e.g. this from 1st March 2016:

I’m enjoying the irony of American Sanders supporters lecturing me, a former Soviet citizen, on the glories of Socialism and what it really means! Socialism sounds great in speech soundbites and on Facebook, but please keep it there. In practice, it corrodes not only the economy but the human spirit itself, and the ambition and achievement that made modern capitalism possible and brought billions of people out of poverty. Talking about Socialism is a huge luxury, a luxury that was paid for by the successes of capitalism. Income inequality is a huge problem, absolutely. But the idea that the solution is more government, more regulation, more debt, and less risk is dangerously absurd.

And this over a cartoon of the Bern wearing a hat with the slogan “Make America Greece again

A Bernie Sanders hat to compete with Trump’s! Needed to prepare for another great Socialist triumph like Greece and Venezuela.

And there’s no chess theory in there, not a single opinion on the King’s Indian Defence, Sämisch variation.

The state and its delusions of indispensability

Lord Mandelson sneered at Brexit supporters this week for failing to understand the complexities of modern trade and how leaving the EU would trigger years of renegotiations that would leave us with a far worse deal than we have inside the EU. Alas Lord Mandelson is a victim of the mandarin-centric fallacy that trade only happens after governments have arranged it in the best interests of their citizens.

Patrick Minford. Sadly the article is behind the Times pay wall but I am sure you get where this is going.

Samizdata quote of the day

Claims of dire consequences by business executives are particularly unreliable. In 1999, Adair Turner, then director general of the Confederation of Business and Industry supported Britain joining the euro. Now the number crunchers torture the data to show that British productivity could decline precipitously. This is economic nonsense.

Ashoka Mody

Indeed and it is comical how many end-to-end lurid scare stories Reuters has been running on Britain capsizing if the vote is in favour of Brexit. It is at times like that it becomes clear who is on the payroll of whom 😉

Try not lying

Another story from Der Spiegel International caught my eye: Lying Press? Germans Lose Faith in the Fourth Estate. It says it is by “Spiegel staff”. Someone would rather not put their name to this.

This comment from a reader calling themselves “wildberry” summed it up well:

“How can a woman who has been reading SPIEGEL, Süddeutsche Zeitung and Badische Neueste Nachrichten for years hit upon the idea that the journalists writing for these publications are trying to manipulate her, their reader?” This sentence encapsulates the problem. This air of injured innocence betrays the utter refusal of the journalists and their employers to understand why they are mistrusted and seen no longer as telling the truth to the world and holding the establishment to account. Instead they are more and more regarded as no more trustworthy than this same establishment. In fact, as with the latest example of (at best) partial and belated attempts to confront reality, they are seen as culpable, partial, and biased. That they cannot understand their own shortcomings and their own unconscious bias is at the root of the problem. When the press is seen, not as having a slight political preference – that has ever been the case and is widely accepted and understood, but as being complicit in the deliberate twisting of news-facts, one has to recognise that newspapers have dug their own graves and cannot complain when no-one believes them any more.

Another one, this time from “Pryor Oak”:

I am amazed that Der Spiegel is suddenly allowing readers to post comments. That is a step in the correct direction to earn trust in the media. Regarding the events in Cologne on New Years Eve, the Chief of Police issued a press release on January 1, 2016, stating that it was a “peaceful New Year’s Eve”. Only after Germans posted eyewitness accounts on Twitter, Facebook and international media that people learned the truth. This event created a distrust of the German media, police and government because it appeared that these institutions wanted to create a wall of silence regarding crimes committed by migrants against German citizens.

Here are two posts from the Samizdata back catalogue with a similar theme: If you do not want to see the BNP vindicated, try not proving them right and Politically correct evasiveness fails on its own terms. And just to show that this isn’t me jumping on the latest bandwagon, here’s a depressingly similar Biased BBC post from ten years ago: Two Beaches.

In the latter Samizdata post I asked (without, it must be said, any serious doubts as to the answer) the British press how it thought the strategy of silence and euphemism about the Muslim identity of the perpetrators of the crimes for which Rotherham is now world famous was succeeding. The same strategy was tried again in Germany with the same result. If the press of either country actually cares about diminishing the hostility between Muslims and non-Muslims it needs to try a new strategy. Try not lying.

Kofi Annan says it is time to legalize drugs

Somehow I did not expect this from the former Secretary General of the United Nations:

Lift the ban! Kofi Annan on Why It’s Time To Legalize Drugs

In my experience, good public policy is best shaped by the dispassionate analysis of what in practice has worked, or not. Policy based on common assumptions and popular sentiments can become a recipe for mistaken prescriptions and misguided interventions.

Nowhere is this divorce between rhetoric and reality more evident than in the formulation of global drug policies, where too often emotions and ideology rather than evidence have prevailed.

Take the case of the medical use of cannabis. By looking carefully at the evidence from the United States, we now know that legalizing the use of cannabis for medical purposes has not, as opponents argued, led to an increase in its use by teenagers. By contrast, there has been a near tripling of American deaths from heroin overdoses between 2010 and 2013, even though the law and its severe punishments remain unchanged.

This year, between April 19 and 21, the United Nations General Assembly will hold a special session on drugs and the world will have a chance to change course. As we approach that event, we need to ask ourselves if we are on the right policy path. More specifically, how do we deal with what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime has called the “unintended consequences” of the policies of the last 50 years, which have helped, among other things, to create a vast, international criminal market in drugs that fuels violence, corruption and instability? Just think of the 16,000 murders in Mexico in 2013, many of which are directly linked to drug trafficking.

Der Spiegel

The tone is condescending (“popular sentiments can become a recipe for mistaken prescriptions and misguided interventions”) and gently repressive (“The steps taken successfully to reduce tobacco consumption … show what can be achieved.”). Mr Annan makes no reference to questions of personal liberty. All the same, when the world’s former top tranzi starts talking this way it may be that, for the War on Drugs, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.*

*With the slight difference from Churchill’s time that in this case the good outcome is surrender.