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]

Milton Friedman on how imposing equality makes inequality worse

I have long believed the thing that Milton Friedman is quoted saying in this bit of graphics:

And I am pretty sure that I first clarified this idea in my head at around the time when I first heard Milton Friedman saying this, and that this was not coincidence.

I screen-copied the above graphic from this video, which is Jonathan Haidt giving a talk about Socialism and Human Nature. It lasts just under half an hour, and I recommend it. The above Friedman quote comes near the end, at 23m 05s.

The world is so full of nonsense that particular bits of nonsense often get neglected by the people who ought to be pointing them out, because these people are so busy with other bits of nonsense.

The particular bit of nonsense that Milton Friedman and I are not here neglecting is the claim that equality can be achieved by the forceful redistribution of resources, and the more of that the better. Not only is such “egalitarianism” tyrannical, which makes it bad by my preferred standards and by Milton Friedman’s preferred standards, because it is tyrannical. It is also fails by its own standards, hence the sneer quotes. It doesn’t achieve equality. On the contrary, it rearranges inequality in a way that makes the inequality worse.

The very act of imposing equality requires that the imposing “egalitarians” be unequally powerful and lavishly rewarded for their brutal efforts, compared to the wretches upon whom they are imposing the equality. Name one purportedly egalitarian regime where they actually have achieved any serious reduction of inequality. You can’t, because there has never been one.

This is clearly the case in hell-holes like Cuba and Venezuela, where the masses languish in poverty, where the bosses live like kings and where the henchmen of the bosses get more or less lavishly preferential treatment (because if they didn’t they stop henching). But I include in the above assertion (that equality cannot be successfully imposed) the relatively genteel cruelties of the British welfare state, and other welfare states like it around the world. Have these relatively benign socialisms got rid of any poverty, any cruelty, any inequality? Well, some, to begin with. But they have then unleashed far worse and bigger doses of poverty and inequality. If the long-term purpose of the British welfare state had been to make poverty and inequality far more permanent and far harder to eradicate, it would have done almost nothing differently to what it has done.

Any critic of socialism who says something like: “the result of socialism is equality of misery” is being seduced by a nice sounding phrase into not thinking about what he is saying, and into conceding far too much. Here is no less a personage than Winston Churchill, who loved fine phrases to distraction, saying something a lot like this, among other and truer things, which perhaps explains why so many British Conservatives of my vintage still say things like this.

A libertarian world, just as Milton Friedman says, is the least unequal world that can be contrived. I’m not going to argue that point in detail. I merely assert it, to clarify that I regard myself and Milton Friedman as egalitarians of the best sort, as better at egalitarianism than the socialists, as egalitarians of the rough-and-ready, best-we-can-do sort, without any sneer quotes.

Not much blogging today

Sorry for the lack of blogging. Blame Tim Newman 😀

Samizdata quote of the day

The anti-austerity narrative has taken on a life of its own. For large sections of the Left, “anti-austeritarianism” is no longer about a response to a recession. It has become a mindset in its own right. Its central tenet is that there is no such thing as economic constraints – there are only political choices. It is never “necessary” to cut spending on anything. It is always a deliberate choice. In this way, the anti-austerity mindset has really become an anti-economics mindset.

Kristian Niemietz

Samizdata quote of the day

Stop hiring white cis men (except as needed to get/retain people who are not white cis men) until the problem goes away. If you think this is a bad or un-serious idea, your sexism/racism/transphobia is showing.

Piper, as published on the “inclusion/exclusion” blog of the American Mathematical Society.

Reasons for leaving the EU and some random thoughts on Theresa May’s brand of conservatism

A report presented to the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets gave an inclination of how the EU intends to spend European taxpayers’ money in 2018 and 2019. Among the planned expenditures is a stunning €6.18 million (£5.3 million) for furniture. One can only speculate as to what sort of furniture would cost the EU so much over the course of a single year. Even this sum, however, is dwarfed by the amount the EU intends to spend on a communications campaign which they claim will “explain the purpose of the [European] Union and the [European] Parliament to the citizens’ ahead of European Parliament elections in 2019”. So that’s €33.3 million (£28.6 million) on an EU PR campaign. In total, it will be €25 million (£21.5 million) next year, and another €8.33 million (£7.1 million) in May 2019, all aimed at boosting the European project through these elections.

CapX.

Of course, countries that aren’t members of transnational (“tranzi”) organisations are just as capable of blowing millions or more of their citizens’ wealth on such foolishness, but it does seem that with tranzi organisations, there is a greater momentum for this nonsense, because the chains of accountability involved tend to be weaker. And never forget good old-fashioned empire building: the EU, as I like to remind my Remainer friends, is at root a political project and that those who consider it to be a Good Things don’t scruple that hard about what is needed to spread The Word. I have, in my capacity as a journalist down the years, been to my fair share of EU gabfests, and I have always been struck by just how many media “aides” and so on there are in attendance. I recently went to Malta for such an event, and there were enough EU officials running the thing to make up three football teams. This is where the money goes. Just because someone as florid as Nigel Farage denounces EU waste and spending doesn’t make his comments any less true. And getting away from this circus, it seems to me, is a prize worth taking.

Right now people are debating the pros and cons of what Britain is doing. Britain does, I hope, have a chance to use its departure from the EU as an opportunity not just to break free from EU cost and regulatory nonsense, but to consign plenty of homegrown foolishness to the garbage can. And it is therefore all the more depressing that an authortarian centrist such as UK Prime Minister Theresa May seems determined to march the country down into a dirigiste dead end, if only for reasons of narrow party advantage, although there is a chilling thought that this fan of Joe Chamberlain, god help us, actually means it.

Young One Rick explains why Labour is doing so badly

One of my most favourite analyses of the politics of public spending comes from Rick (gloriously played by the much missed Rick Mayall), in the classic TV sitcom The Young Ones:

“I mean, it’s no wonder the country is in such a state. I don’t know why they don’t just be honest and hand the whole place over to Oxfam. Nothing but scroungers and horrid old people and workshy layabouts all wandering around clutching their Giros and trying to get something for nothing. Oh yes, the Post Office seems to be very good at handing out other people’s money, doesn’t it? No wonder my grant’s so small. …”

At the moment lots of British expert political commentators seem baffled as to why Labour is so crushingly unpopular, despite so many of its individual policies being so very popular. But it’s not rocket science. If you are wanting to get more goodies from the government, the last thing you want is all the other damn scroungers to be queueing up for their goodies, as likely as not ahead of you in the queue. What Labour Leader Corbyn is promising is that there will be goodies for all, and worse, he seems to mean this, and to believe that this is possible, or at least possible enough for him to give such a policy a serious try. But that’s no bloody use. That way, the goodies will run out, and there will then be no goodies for you, no matter what the promise was. What you want is goodies for yourself and for those in your own quite small category of scroungers, paid for by all the other scroungers having to go without.

The EU Fairy

Shot 1: An office, somewhere in Europe. Well-dressed yet approachable EUROPEAN PEOPLE of diverse race and gender TALK SERIOUSLY.

Back in 2015 the organisation Européens Sans Frontières (Europeans Without Borders) sponsored a competition to make a short film to raise public awareness of the issue of migration in Europe. The European Commission was involved in financing it somehow, though I am not clear whether it was funding just this film or the Européens Sans Frontières organization as a whole.

Shot 2: A studio full of keen, passionate young EUROPEAN FILM STUDENTS, hipster but not too hipster, you know what I mean, are doing FILM THINGS.

The film that won the competition was called “Eurodame, Help!”

It’s the weirdest thing since Captain Euro, not the new ironic Captain Euro, the original “yes, they actually did think this was a good idea” Captain Euro.

Anyway, back to Eurodame. On April 26th the film appeared on YouTube.

Shot 3: a EUROPEAN TECHNOLOGICAL PERSON clicks a mouse and sits back with a SIGH of SATISFACTION, conscious of a job well done.

Then the plot goes off the rails. Jack Montgomery of Breitbart London found the film on YouTube and posted about it today: Fairy Godmother’ Brings Migrants to Europe on a Flying Carpet in EU-Backed Cartoon. Oh dear. This is not going to end well.

Here it is direct from the creators: EURODAME, HELP!

As well as the French original, they also made versions in several languages, including Arabic.

Questions abound. Why is the entrance to Europe guarded by one rude man in short sleeves and a baseball cap? Why does the Euro-fairy need glasses? Who is the Obi-wan Kenobi bloke with the flying carpet? How is he different from the evil people-smuggler? How does the portrayal of Eastern Europeans contribute to intra-EU solidarity?

That really is an issue, you know. Here is an excerpt from the official script:

Shot 14:
The carpet arrives in an Eastern European country where they meet a hostile crowd.
The shopkeeper:
– There are refugees here, also seeking asylum.
The crowd:
– Immigrants!
The shopkeeper:
– But it’s their right!
The crowd shouting:
– No refugees here!

Shot 15:
The carpet resumes its course to the compass and turns west (W).

Shot 16:
The carpet arrives in a Western country. Eurodame is there to greet them.
Eurodame: – Welcome to our home!
The shopkeeper invites them to step down from the carpet. He smiles.
An eager crowd takes care of them, gives them food and clothing.

Shot 17:
Eurodame shows them into a nice house.

Why are the comments still on?

Who was the audience meant to be?

What on earth were they trying to achieve?

Samizdata quote of the day

Noting the “unintended but disconcerting” link between nation-state activity and criminal activity, Smith adds that governments need “to consider the damage to civilians that comes from hoarding these vulnerabilities and the use of these exploits”. The “Digital Geneva Convention” Redmond recommends would therefore require governments “to report vulnerabilities to vendors, rather than stockpile, sell, or exploit them”.

Richard Chirgwin

Unintended? Not so sure about that.

What I dislike about targetted advertising

The Sun had a story recently (and I presume many other organs did too) about a pizza advert in Norway which changed its message according to who was looking at it. It spied on those who spied it, you might say. But the advert broke down, very visibly, and revealed its inner secrets to passers-by, many of whom immediately told the world about this advert via all those social media that media outlets like The Sun (and Samizdata come to that) now have to coexist with.

What I personally find depressing about adverts targetted at me personally is that I stop learning things. I already know what I like. What I get – or used to get – from adverts is a sense of what the world in general likes, or at least what someone willing to back his guess with money guesses it might like.

Advertising on television, for example, is currently telling me that I am not the only one suffering from itchy eyes, a bunged up nose, and such like. Hay fever symptoms, in other words. My television didn’t push all these adverts at me personally, because it heard me sniffing or saw the shape and colour of my face change or saw me putting my hands in my eyes, the way a cat does when it’s washing its face. All the people watching the TV show I was watching got the same adverts. I found this reassuring. I am not uniquely ill. I am somewhat ill, in the same way that thousands of others are somewhat ill. Nothing to worry about. It will soon pass.

TV adverts, as of now, tell me about who else is watching what I am watching. Adverts for baths with doors on them, for chair lifts, for over-fifties health insurance, tell me who we all are, watching this show. Lots of old woman adverts also tell me when I have wandered into that audience. Other shows have adverts attached for fizzy drinks, electronic gadgets, or short-term loans or on-line gambling dens. I find all this interesting and informative. It tells me not about me, but about the world I am living in. Often what I learn is rather depressing (as with those short-term loans and the gambling dens), but I do learn.

Advertising that is aimed directly at me annoys me not by threatening to know everything about me, and rat on me to the government or the CIA or whoever. Although I can well imagine that becoming a problem for me, it is not my problem with this stuff right now. No, what I object to now is the thought that I may soon be wandering through life in a cocoon that is constantly being rearranged in order to bounce back at me nothing but my own tastes and prejudices. It’s as if I will soon be walking around in my personal private Potemkin Village.

I already know what sort of stuff I like. The constant nagging from the www the buy whatever I was looking at yesterday is depressing to me, not because it spies on me, but because it isolates me. Not because others learn about me, but because I stop learning about others.

The fact that this Norwegian pizza advert was switched off once word got around about it tells me that I am not the only one in the world who finds this kind of targetted advertising in public places rather creepy and off-putting. But what exactly is it that people object to about such advertising? What you have just read is my little contribution to this latter discussion.

LATER: I originally wrote this piece with my personal blog in mind as its destination, and the mind-set of that blog is different from the mind-set that prevails here. Since this is Samizdata, let me clarify that the above is not a plea for the government regulation of targetted advertising, merely an expression by me of my dislike of it. There are plenty of other products and services which I also dislike, which I also don’t think the government should forbid or interfere with.

How not to be a victim of computer malware

[A slightly unusual topic for this blog, but I was assured by the powers that be that it was of interest.]

For my friends who don’t know much about computers:

I do computer security work professionally. People always ask in the wake of yet another internet attack “what should I do to protect myself.”

The advice is always the same. Do what computer professionals do. Don’t do what you imagine computer professionals do, because you’re probably wrong.

  1. Always run the latest version of the OS and software.
  2. When security updates appear for your operating system or software, apply them as soon as possible, meaning that day. Configure your system to automatically apply updates if possible.
  3. Back up your computer frequently. Since normal humans cannot remember to do that, get software and/or a service to do it for you.
  4. Don’t use the same password with two different services, period. Since you cannot remember hundreds of different passwords, use a password safe, and remember only the password for it.
  5. If a web site offers two factor authentication (that is, you can set it up so it both requires a password and a code your phone generates), turn that on.

Every professional security person does those things.

If you ignore my advice, you’re going to get screwed one day, period. You might still get screwed even if you do follow my advice because the world is dangerous, but I can guarantee you’ll get screwed if you don’t.

Every organization that got infected recently by the ransomware worm was ignoring (1) and (2). Their suffering was avoidable. Do you want to suffer like them? Those that forgot (3) are really suffering because they have no way to recover. Why do you want to suffer? Every day, people get badly, badly screwed because the password that they use everywhere gets stolen and it is de facto impossible to remember every place you use it. Why set yourself up to suffer?

As to the question “who would attack me? No one is going to attack my computer, I’m unimportant”, the answer is that it isn’t individuals doing the attacks, it’s machines that are programmed to try to attack other machines by the hundreds of millions. You’re not being personally targeted, but that hardly matters when everyone on earth is being attacked. Your obscurity will not protect you. Even if you think there is nothing for the attacker to gain by taking over your machine, they’ll want it anyway, so they can set up a botnet to send spam from it, or use it to bring down other people’s web sites, or to take over yet more people’s machines.

And some corollaries:

1a. If your machine is too obsolete to run the latest OS, replace it. Quit being the jerk who won’t replace their eight or twelve year old computer and complains that the manufacturer “owes” you updates as you shake your fist at heaven. It isn’t even possible for them to support everything they ever made forever, let alone sane. Stop being that person.

1b. When Microsoft kept offering to give you Windows 10 for free, and you got angry at them for offering to give you a much more secure system FOR FREE, and when you got onto Facebook to post “stop bothering me, Microsoft, I don’t want to get a free, much more secure update to my buggy older OS”, you were the one who was being annoying and stupid, not Microsoft.

2a. When you get upset that the phone or computer that asked you to update is asking you to update, and you refuse to update because you find it “irritating”, what you’re basically saying is “I find it irritating that the manufacturer is trying to protect me from getting my machine taken over and all my work destroyed. I’ll show them, I’ll refuse so that some asshole in Kazakhstan can steal the contents of my bank account. That will teach Microsoft a thing or two!” Quit being an idiot. If someone pulled you out of the way of an oncoming car you wouldn’t get angry with them for it, so don’t get angry with the vendor for doing the equivalent for you.

3a. Backing up your computer can be done automatically. It isn’t even painful to get going. If you find this irritating to set up, imagine how irritating it will be to have none of your data after you have lost everything.

4a. No, your really clever password is not actually unguessable to a machine that can check tens of millions of passwords a second.

And finally, every once in a while, I hear from someone, generally an older person, that they’re just unable to keep up with new software and the like. “The new version looks different. I don’t want to update because the buttons might be in different places.” My advice, my sincere advice, is that if you can’t keep up with small changes like that, or if you can’t figure out how to use two factor authentication for your bank account and the like, get rid of your computer. It’s not safe for you to use one. Really. People still can live good lives without them. You can get the news by newspaper, you can talk to your grandchildren on the telephone. Not being able to keep up with this stuff is kind of like not being able to safely drive a car. If you’ve got a problem with your eyesight and can’t drive safely, the answer isn’t that you keep driving and kill people on the road, the answer is you stop driving.

Samizdata quote of the day

– Photoed by me last week in the window of a shop in the Burlington Arcade.

It sounds to me like something a gangster would say in an old black and white movie. He would then be proved wrong, by another gangster, with a machine gun.

That would certainly seem to be the era that these words were supposed to evoke. Because it turns out they are the title of a song, recently written, but featured in the 2013 movie of The Great Gatsby.

AntifArt

“He’s holding a sign that literally just says ‘the right to openly discuss ideas must be defended.’ Let that sink in.”

Paul Joseph Watson, who sent that tweet, is editor-at-large for Alex Jones’s conspiracy website Infowars. I doubt he and I have much in common. Nonetheless, I urge you to do what he says. Look at the brief film clip to which he links in that tweet and let what you see sink in.

Apparently it relates to events reported in the Hackney Citizen as follows: “VIDEO: Anti-fascists clash with lone counter-protester at LD50 Gallery”.

A protester, who declined to give his full name and, like many in the crowd, had his face covered, countered this viewpoint: “We don’t care about annoying liberal idiots or hard-right people that want to have free debate or whatever. We care about shutting down organizing spaces…there’s enough evidence to say that they’re organizing in this space. Any kind of fascist organizing causes a physical threat down the line.”

For what it’s worth, I cannot tell what the targets of the protest, the LD50 Gallery, are playing at, but it does seem as if more than just the Antifa might regard them with disquiet:

LD50 on Tottenham Road was targeted by anti-fascists in February after news emerged that it hosted a “Neoreaction conference” in 2016 featuring leading proponents of the so-called “alt right” movement.

Speakers at the event included Brett Stevens, who has previously praised Norwegian mass murderer Anders Breivik, saying “he chose to act where many of us write, think and dream”.

[..]

“Although it has attracted the most attention for its Neoreaction and Alt Right exhibits, LD50 represents a new brand of artist that combines trolling, provocation, surrealism and critical theory into ensconcing art experiences that raise more questions than offer answers.”

In what appears to be a veiled response to protests calling for the gallery’s closure, one of the artworks for the new show includes “six computer workstations where participants are encouraged to sit and work through the paper content and destroy it if they find it inappropriate, uninteresting or offensive”.

Actual neo-Nazis? Artists having one last scrape at the exhausted mine of art designed to épater la bourgeoisie? Who knows, perhaps actual believers in freedom of speech? It does not matter. As D.C. Miller, the man with the sign, said, “the right to openly discuss ideas must be defended.”