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

We also want to increase supply, though, and being able to sell in Houston for $99 something bought for $9.99 in Beaumont (again, just to invent an example) might well get a few boats carrying loads in – although quite possibly not from Beaumont. Thus, by allowing prices to rise, we’ve at least potentially increased supply.

Our price system, operating without constraint, is thus achieving the two things we desire, a curtailing of demand through rationing to only truly important uses, and a rise in supply.

“But,” goes the cry, “this isn’t fair!”

Indeed it isn’t, and ain’t that a shame, fairness not being a notable feature of this universe we’re struggling to inhabit. All we can do is the best we can. Which is, again, why I insist that there should be variable prices, why there should be no laws against price-gouging. Because this really is a disaster, there really are significant shortages in Houston right now, we really do want to solve them. Which means that we should be using all of the tools at our disposal.

Tim Worstall

Samizdata quote of the day

There is some debate as to whether we can conceivably talk about the ‘alt-left’. Does the term have any meaning? Is it but a sly invention of the alt-right in order to reduce its opponents to a level moral footing – as if to say ‘you’re no better than us’?

The term certainly enrages those on the activist left, who regard themselves as championing the poor, marginalised, women and ethnic minorities against the behemoths of ravaging neoliberalist economics and white privilege. There could be no possible moral equivalence between such noble characters and the creepy, brutal voices of neo-Nazism, elitism and white nationalism. Surely?

Surely indeed. Events this summer suggest that the term ‘alt-left’ is justified – that is to say, if the prefix ‘alt’ denotes sulky, rancorous, childish thuggery. This is the year that some sections of the left lost all pretence to holding the moral high ground. The alt-left has become ideologically fanatic, with its lust for instability now clear to behold.

The most obvious manifestation of its evolution into a febrile cult is its new mania for iconoclasm. Remember at the beginning of the 2000s, when we were horrified at the Taliban for blowing up ancient statues? Yet 16th-century-style statue-smashing has become mainstream in the US, as the alt-left has cultivated a craze for pulling down inanimate representations of people.

Patrick West

On the idle hill of summer (1917 style)

On the idle hill of summer,
Sleepy with the flow of streams,
Far I hear the steady drummer
Drumming like a noise in dreams

A. E. Housman

Now, in 1917 you might not be able to hear the drums but you might – depending on the proximity between your ear and the ground – be able to hear the drumfire:

The Times 24 August 1917 p9. Right click for full article.

Just in case you were wondering 24 June was in the “lull” between the Battle of Messines and the Third Battle of Ypres or Passchendaele as it is better known.

Automated truck trial

I have written before about automated cars. Today the British government announced that it will allow a trial of automated lorries on motorways to go ahead next year. The idea here is that a human drives one lorry, and automated ones follow close behind, saving the cost of extra drivers and reducing air resistance.

The Automobile Association complains about it.

A platoon of just three HGVs can obscure road signs from drivers in the outside lanes and potentially make access to entries or exits difficult for other drivers. On the new motorways, without hard shoulders, lay-bys are every 1.5 miles. A driver in trouble may encounter difficulties trying to get into a lay-by if it is blocked by a platoon of trucks going past.

I think they are overstating the problem because there are already convoys of human driven lorries on motorways. It is already a good idea not to drive alongside them for any distance. Something I do see as a problem is reported matter-of-factly by the Telegraph:

The Government has provided £8.1 million funding towards the trials, which will initially take place on a test track before being carried out on motorways.

I left this comment on the Telegraph’s news article:

If some private company was spending their own money I would have no complaint. If it is a good idea, people will do it and they will invest their own money in it. I have no idea why the government thinks it is a good idea to hand out free money to anyone who goes begging with the right story.

As for the idea itself, I can imagine it working. The lorries can drive just inches apart so unlike others I think slipstreaming will work and there is little risk of cars getting in between the lorries. Someone asked about trailers and a powered trailer may also work but I can also easily imagine that some electronics would be cheaper than a heavy mechanical coupling.

The real test of the idea is whether someone can make a profit at it with their own money (third party liability included). It is the government subsidy that is causing the controversy here.

On dismissing questions about democracy with cliches

I’m more than a little sick of people quoting Churchill (and generally mangling the quotation badly) in discussions about democracy as though his famous remark on the topic was a substitute for clear thinking.

Blithely saying “yes, it’s the worst form of government… except for all the others! hahaha!” doesn’t really lend any new information or depth to a discussion about legal systems, decision making and institutions.

Indeed, bringing up the quotation seems to often be a way of de facto avoiding meaningful in-depth discourse rather than a way to illuminate discourse. Perhaps I’m excessively caricaturing here, but one almost imagines the subtext as: “Ha, ha, yes, isn’t it funny and uncomfortable that this goddess I worship, Democracy, is such a fickle and awful violator of my trust. In fact, so deep is my devotion to Her in spite of Her terrible behavior, and so uncomfortable is this realization that my devotion may be misplaced, that I’d rather not have this discussion at all. So, how about the baseball playoffs?”

This is not useful. Turning away from a problem that makes you uncomfortable doesn’t fix the problem, it just perpetuates it. I recognize most people don’t agree with my view of the necessity, morality or efficacy of having a state, but even among those of you with the mainstream position on that topic, there is a lot of legitimate, and even important, discussion to be had here.

For example, there is always a central question about goals versus methods. That is to say: is the point to have as good a set of laws and as well managed a legal system as possible, with voting being used as a tool to try to achieve that, or is the notion that the maximally faithful expression of the general will is in itself the goal?

If it is the latter, of course, one must accept the idea that at intervals “the people” will vote for censorship, suppression of minorities, genocide, and even worse. If it is the former, then voting is a decision making process, and one must ask, really ask, if it is truly so important that one make sure that every last person, no matter how uninterested, uninformed, or frankly stupid, should get their input into the decisions being made?

As just one more of many example of this: the drafters of the U.S. constitution (and we know this because we have their writings) feared the very sort of Imperial Presidency we’ve developed. They wanted a very limited Presidency, and they wanted the President to be elected quite indirectly. Indeed, at the start of the U.S.’s experiment in government, the Electoral College was a meaningful body, and the Electoral College members were often chosen by state legislatures and not even directly by the people. This was specifically intended to impede the potential for large, ignorant mobs to have too much of a hand in the selection of the President.

Now, if your goal is to give “the people” as much say as possible in the selection of the President, well, this probably seems like a bad thing, and indeed, the electoral college would seem like an institution to be subverted or defanged to the greatest extent possible. If, on the other hand, you are trying to make sure that on average the decision made is reasonable (though perhaps not a particularly imaginative or interesting one) and that extreme decisions (especially extremely bad ones) are very unusual to impossible, this choice makes considerably more sense.

When people whip out the old “democracy is terrible except for everything else!” chestnut, and wink at you, what they’re ultimately doing is impeding thinking about this sort of thing, and certainly impeding having a meaningful discussion about the available points in the design space for institutions. Don’t be one of the people who quotes it as a substitute for having a real conversation.

(BTW, as an aside, most people get the original Churchill quotation badly mangled. It was:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

That comes from a speech before the House of Commons on November 11, 1947. You will note that he’s far less glib than the average person misquoting him.)

Another Daily Telegraph quote for Guido

The only time I ever read anything in the Daily Telegraph nowadays is when Guido Fawkes quotes some particularly ridiculous thing in it, and has a good old sneer.

Well, just in case Guido missed it, here is another choice item of ridicule-worthy Daily Telegraphy, spotted earlier today by 6k:

Expect the GCSE pass rate to dip some more.

Marc Sidwell on Trump’s appearance of authenticity (plus me on Rees-Mogg and Corbyn)

The original version of the quoted sentence that follows concerned sincerity rather than authenticity, but here is how Marc Sidwell recycles it, in his book about Trump called called How To Win Like Trump (which as of now you can download for free):

If you can fake authenticity, you’ve got it made.

The above slight-mis-quote appears at the beginning of the part of Sidwell’s book entitled “Secret Five: Appear Authentic”. Appear Authentic, not Be Authentic.

The reason I here re-quote this slight-mis-quote is to emphasise that although Marc Sidwell’s book is an admiring attempt to explain How Trump Did It, he by no means swallows the Trump myth whole. Rather does he analyse, among much else, how this Trump myth was created, and then swallowed whole and spread by an amazing number of Americans, including an amazing proportion of Trump’s enemies. After all: “Blurts out every piece of crap that enters his ridiculous looking head” is but a rude way of saying: “Here’s a guy who says what he thinks and means what he says”, “Here’s a guy who’s authentic”. I am learning a lot, some of which I had long suspected, and am enjoying this book very much. If you hate Trump, you probably wouldn’t enjoy this book nearly so much, but you would surely learn a lot.

Sidwell continues:

We live at a time where politicians and spokespersons of all kinds have been scripted to death. Message management, jargon and political correctness have left official speech bloodless. Our leaders have lost their own voices. They read out statements that sound inhuman and often mean almost nothing. Ritual phrases are repeated more like prayers than in an attempt to inform or start a conversation.

Ah yes, “start a conversation”. That phrase began life as a way of actually saying something, but now it sounds to me like just another of those “ritual phases” (typically now used to excuse the incoherence and/or non-existence of anything actually being said) that died the death several years ago. What Trump does with his brilliantly “authentic” tweets is start slanging matches from which he emerges the winner, as Sidwell himself well explains. (See in particular his stuff about Trump’s participation in the world of televised wrestling.)

As an editor, I used to pray for an official who could give good quote. And for the media, as much as many hated him, Trump’s unfiltered style was a godsend.

In other words:

… his public persona was authentic.

See also: Jacob Rees-Mogg, who I and quite a few other Brits now hope will be our next Prime Minister. This peculiar man resembles Trump in deviating, but in a very different direction, from the scripted-to-death style, in his case by being coherent and educated and patrician. When Rees-Mogg starts a sentence, he finishes it, and he does this in a manner which makes no attempt to hide the expensiveness and the well-connectedness of his education. Rees-Mogg is happily honest about his poshness in the same way that Trump is happily honest about being, as his son put it, a “blue-collar billionaire”.

Trouble is, see also: Jeremy Corbyn. Like Rees-Mogg, Corbyn also comes across as not-a-Blair-clone. He presents himself as exactly the sub-academic tyranny-worshipping junk Marxist that he is. I feel towards Corbyn the same amount of fear and detestation as Trump’s enemies feel towards Trump. This is because a terrifying proportion of Britain’s voters seem now to feel that, because Corbyn is unapologetically sincere in his desire to ruin my country, he is at least sincere, and therefore a good egg. But if what you say is wicked, then meaning it is not a virtue.

LATER, re Corbyn (my thanks to first commenter below Brian Swisher), the late and much missed Helen Samuely: “Well, at least he has principles”.


But telling the truth about our ancestors should not mean discounting everything they ever did, for if we do that for any person, including ourselves, we all have nothing to do but go home and weep. If we discount achievements because those who perform them are imperfect, there will be no achievements, only darkness. That creates a world of always tearing down and never building up, and the end of it is annihilation. In life is both great joy and great sorrow, and both deserve their due. That is what monuments are for.

Joy Pullmann.

As the author of the article states, while it is legitimate (if not always smart) for a legislature to remove a statue/monument for some reason (preferably to go in a museum so as to protect historical information), it certainly isn’t okay for criminals in the dead of night to smash them up for no other reason than they are, or claim to be (?) offended. Even in the case of say, the former Soviet Union, a decision to take down a statue of a mass-murderer such as Stalin, a totalitarian such as Lenin, etc should be done by the duly elected government of the day, if only to reinforce the fact that an emblem of totalitarian horror was being replaced by an elected, democratic authority. The symbolism of due process actually is as important as the monument being removed or installed. The process, in other words, is as important in some cases as the actual deed.

This being a broadly libertarian blog, it is also worth pointing out that if a statue/monument is in a public place, decisions about its upkeep, creation or removal are public decisions. This isn’t the case with private land, however. For example, if an eccentric millionaire landlord wanted to put up lots of statues of Lenin, say, or to take an example I’d favour, of all the US astronauts from the 50s and 60s onwards, that isn’t and shouldn’t be a public matter. If, say, a Confederate history buff who has a bunch of land near a road wanted to put up a whole rank of generals’ statues, there is no right of anyone to stop that.

When there is a public space, however, the decision is necessarily a public matter, and in a constitutional republic, it is bound to be the case that the choice of what goes up and what goes down might vary over time. The reasons can be good, or they can be silly, as is arguably the case now.

British, indeed world, politics is dominated by the idea of ‘Social Reform’ – and this is an idea which violates basic economic law

What is “Social Reform”? Social Reform is the idea that increasing government spending and/or regulations reduces poverty or other “social ills” (sickness and so on) and it is the idea that has dominated British thinking since the late 19th century. Liberal Party “Radical Joe” Chamberlain of Birmingham (so beloved by Prime Minister May) outlined his program of using government to improve life (the central idea of “Social Reform”) in 1865 – but Liberal Party Manchester had already taken over such things as the provision of water and gas and undertaken various other “Social Reforms” in the years after the Act of 1835 set up modern local government in the cities and towns, replacing the old “Closed Corporations” – apart from in the one-square-mile City of London that has kept its Closed Corporation to this day.

Conservative Party Prime Minister Disraeli made it compulsory for local government to do about 40 Social Reforms (i.e. perpetual government spending functions) in 1875 – whether local tax payers wanted this or not. And J.S. Mill stated in 1848 (in his “Principles of Political Economy”) that “everyone agreed” (by which Mr Mill meant that he and his friends agreed – no opponent counted as part of “everyone”) that local government should do X,Y, Z, to help the people. Liberal Party Prime Minister Gladstone agreed in 1870 that School Boards be set up in most of the country (some towns, such as the one I am sitting in, refused to have one – but were forced to have one some 20 years later) to build state schools on the Prussian model – although denying they would be like the Prussian schools. And Conservative Party Prime Minister Disraeli put unions above the Common Law in 1875 – by allowing “picketing” (obstruction) and giving the unions immunity from some claims of civil damage. This was part of the theory that wages and conditions of work should not be determined by the market (by supply and demand) but by “collective bargaining” – basically (as W.H. Hutt explained in the “Strike Threat System”) of “give us what we want – or we will not allow people to go in or our of your place of business, at least we will make it very difficult for them to do so”. Conservative Party Disraeli was a Social Reformer – he had no love for “capitalists” believing (or half believing) that they “exploited” people, and Liberal Party Mr J. S. Mill had much the same opinion (indeed a more radical one) – longing for the day when workers co-ops would replace the “capitalists”.

Since about 1870 the British state has grown – not just spending more money, but spending more money even as a proportion of the economy (leading to a rise in taxes over time). In the early 19th century the state, at least as a proportion of the economy shrank – since the 1870s it has grown. Also the early 19th century witnessed deregulation – the repeal of various restrictions and edicts. From the 1870s onwards there has been a massive increase in regulation – with the state seeking to control every aspect of life, much the like the last years of Queen Elizabeth the First when there was an orgy of statute passing, often quite demented statutes such as the “Statute of Artificers” which tried to make everyone follow the occupation of their parents, there were also attempts to tie people to the parish of their birth and other throwbacks to the late Roman Empire (the Emperor Diocletian and all that).

→ Continue reading: British, indeed world, politics is dominated by the idea of ‘Social Reform’ – and this is an idea which violates basic economic law

Samizdata quote of the day

In effect, Google is telling the world that unmoderated, no-holds-barred exchanges are not welcome in cyberspace. Playing censor, playing government – both made possible by Google’s market power, which, in its turn, makes it susceptible to government regulation.

Susceptible and even vulnerable as they might be, I don’t expect anti-trust proceedings anywhere in the world to put an end to Google’s and Apple’s dominance in certain markets. If I have hope – if never too much – it’s for new technology and know-how both to dislodge the oligopolies and defang government censorship.

The Dilettante’s Winterings

Samizdata quote of the day

Rarely has the hypocrisy of the West’s ostensible liberals and leftists been as violently exposed as it has been this week. Between Charlottesville and Barcelona, between their fury over the former and their embarrassment at the latter, we have gained a glimpse into today’s extraordinary double standards over extremists who loathe liberty, democracy and swathes of mankind. If the extremists are white and fond of the swastika, they’ll be roundly condemned, organised against, transformed into a focal point for the activities of a flagging left. But if they’re Muslims, if it’s a misogynistic, homophobic caliphate they want to build, if their targets are ‘kuffars’ rather than pinkos or black people, they will be frowned upon, of course, but never raged against. Never organised against. They will be treated more forgivingly, and explicitly so. It’s clear now: leftists only dislike certain kinds of neo-fascism.

Brendan O’Neill

Brexit: The argument from confusion and the argument from punitiveness

The EU is very complicated and confusing, which is a big reason for Brexit. But also very complicated and confusing, say the Remainers, is the process of Britain getting out of the EU. For that reason, they say, best to stay in. But I say that the more complicated and confusing it is to get Britain out, the more reason there is for Britain to get out. The more complicated getting out is, that means the more complicated the damn thing itself must be. The question becomes: Which is better? Complication for a year or three, while we extricate ourselves from this ghastly morass? Or: Complication for ever as we sink ever deeper into it? I say we should, you know, go with the result of the Referendum, and get out. Happily, that is now happening.

Lee Rotherham at CapX agrees:

In a sense, the Maastricht debate is still with us. But the coin has been flipped. Those now droning on about the complexities of a given aspect of the EU are the same people who accused Sir William Cash of being a “bore”. They are using the very same arguments about the extent and complexity of EU integration as its earlier critics. What they miss, of course, is their ironic vindication of the case against the EU.

Quite so.

Another Remainer argument which has a similar logical structure is that the EU, in addition to being diabolically complicated and confusing to get out of, on account of itself being diabolically complicated and confusing, is also determined to stop us Brits getting out easily. The only exit terms we will ever be able to extract from it will be crushingly punitive. Ergo, we should stay.

Britain’s exit deal may indeed prove costly to us. If EUrope lets us out easy, other rebellious bits of EUrope may also then try to leave.

But if such punitiveness happens, it will happen at the expense of EUropeans, who will find trading with Britain more costly, as well as at the expense of us Brits. And I say that the exact degree to which the rulers of the EU put the perpetuation of their own power ahead of the welfare of the people whom they will still rule, and ahead of the welfare of people generally, then to that exact degree they are a pack of megalomaniacs, of whom we Brits are well rid. The more punitively they are now behaving, the stronger is the case for us Brits to escape from their megalomaniac clutches, no matter what the short-term cost may be.