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]

The assumption of equality of outcome

The legitimacy of altering social institutions to achieve greater equality of material condition is, though often assumed, rarely argued for. Writers note that in a given country the wealthiest n percent of the population holds more than that percentage of the wealth, and the poorest n percent holds less; that to get to the wealth of the top n percent from the poorest, one must look at the bottom p per cent (where p is vastly greater than n), and so forth. They then proceed immediately to discuss how this might be altered.

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (page 232).

By coincidence, a classic example of “the rich are gobbling up all the wealth and something must be done about it” mind-set was in perfect view in this Guardian article yesterday.

While I browsed for a few minutes in Hatchards, the bookshop, yesterday, I came across this book by Daniel Halliday, which attacks the right of people to bequeath their property to heirs, friends, etc. So in other words, the author thinks your wealth isn’t yours to give away. It is rare for such attacks on the right to transfer property to be stated so baldly. I might see if I can grab a review copy and read it, and maybe Fisk it later. (The book has already been reviewed from a fairly benign point of view in the Financial Times, here.)

Facebook isn’t a monopoly and doesn’t need an anti-trust hit or regulation

I have been a user of Facebook for about a decade now and, to some degree, have grown weary of it. To some extent I have become worn down by the constant flow of outrage and venting on its pages from friends and acquaintances, and have started to see more signs of this sort of behaviour myself. I think Facebook is starting to become toxic, so I decided yesterday to go on a Facebook sabbatical, and do old fashioned stuff like read books, tend to my terrace garden and get out and about a lot more instead. And I suspect I’m not unique.

These thoughts of mine come up because there is mounting pressure, it seems, for lawmakers in Washington DC or other places to “do something” about Facebook following revelations about the use/misuse of users’ private data. My brief take on this is that anyone using Facebook should assume as a starting point that they are on a public forum, and exercise due care and attention. (I don’t use its messenger function and prefer Whatsapp instead, or indeed, good old email.) And no-one is forcing me to use Facebook. It may be inconvenient in some ways to give it the cold shoulder, but no more.

With that in mind I reject this sort of argument, in the Wall Street Journal, which ought to know better:

Facebook Inc.’s climb to the pinnacle of business success was nurtured by a grand policy experiment: that a light regulatory touch would turbocharge innovation and make consumers wealthier and happier. Companies who mistreated their customers would succumb to competitors, or be punished with rules already on the books.

The events of the last few months suggest the experiment may have run its course. It has left Facebook effectively an unregulated monopoly and despite founder Mark Zuckerberg’s latest apologies, the company has little economic incentive to change its ways. Its business is to sell its users’ attention to advertisers and thus it must keep pushing the boundaries on privacy, while the paucity of competition limits the consequences if it goes too far. If policy makers want to change that calculus—a big if—they will either have to enact tougher regulation, or use antitrust authority to nurture more competition.

There is no need to re-run the mistaken anti-trust wars against the Standard Oils or Microsofts of the past (both largely unjustified). Facebook will, unless it changes significantly in my view, be threatened most effectively by competition, as has been the case down the decades. The cycle is always the same: we are told that a firm is “too big” or a monopolist and that something must be done about it; and about the same time, new competitors and business models are taking form so that by the time the government action occurs, the new business models are already pushing into the field. This is the classic “creative destruction” of the free market and I don’t expect the situation with Facebook to be any different from earlier business episodes.

One final thought: the complaints about Facebook, a social media platform that was born in US higher education dorm-rooms, has all the trappings of a classic “First World” problem. In Syria, North Korea or Venezuela, I doubt very much that the locals’ main concerns are about people saying mean things on Facebook.

Here is a good take on the issue by Robert Tracinski.

1918: Everyone’s a statist

Much as I accept that the First World War was ghastly I believe it had to be fought. However, as I have followed events in “real time” as it were, I have had to reluctantly accept that to fight the war required a substantial increase in the size of the state. Conscription, rationing and a Ministry of Munitions, for instance, were essential. Even so, some extensions of state power are simply baffling:

The Times 30 March 1918 p2


Huh?

It gets worse. While most people were busying themselves fighting the war, statists were making plans…

The Times 15 March 1918 p12


I love that phrase in the linked article about not liking coercion. I also note that no attempt is made to explain why state provision would be better than the private-sector alternative. It is simply assumed.

There was a lot of this sort of thing going on. While the cat is away the mice shall play, so to speak. One of the committees that sprang up around this time had a rather surprising member:

The Times 4 April 1918 p3


Many will know that Ernest Benn was Tony Benn’s uncle. Many will also know that he was one of the founders of the Society of Individual Freedom. The Society of Individual Freedom spawned a youth wing which came to be known as the Libertarian Alliance and the Libertarian Alliance to a large extent was responsible for Samizdata. As it happens Benn was, at this time, in his statist phase. He would soon learn.

Samizdata quote of the day

The EU is quite clear however that it stands as the champion of democracy, just not the kind of democracy that involves people voting. No, for the EU democracy means compliance with the EU’s standards and rules – any departure indicates a drift towards un-democracy that must be checked by sanctions and punishments, even if people voted for it. The EU’s democratic principles, you understand, trump stuff like elections and voting; they are a purer form of democracy, crafted by unelected officials and demagogues free from popular approval. And yes, there are many in Brussels who actually believe all that.

Raedwald

An Englishman’s home

A 78-year-old man was arrested after he stabbed a burglar in his house. He was arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm. The burglar died and the man was then arrested on suspicion of murder. Later he was released on bail.

I can not find much to disagree with in Godfrey Bloom‘s assessment of the matter (though I know little of his views on other subjects), nor Karren Brady writing in The Sun (though I don’t agree with other things she has written there).

This exchange on Guido’s site sums up most of the possible arguments about this:

Happy Day (quoting Godfrey Bloom): What other country in the world would have arrested a 78 year old pensioner for defending his wife and defending his house in the middle of the night?

Greenacres: A civilized one. A man died, Police did a cursory investigation and released the suspect without charge at the earliest opportunity. The outcome is a tragedy for the pensioner and i’d do exactly the same as him if the situation was reversed but the circumstances of any death have to be investigated.

thinktheunthinkableuk: Investigate…yes. Question him……….yes. Get a statement…..yes. But was there any need to “arrest” him? Or lead him away in handcuffs? Or detain him in police custody for 2 days?

I would extend extreme benefit of the doubt to anyone in this situation. As Brady writes, he should have been “offered a cup of tea and a comforting arm around his shoulders” above all else. I think it should be possible to determine what happened in this sort of situation without arresting anyone.

The report on this incident in the Metro lists three other cases that may be worth further study.

Samizdata quote of the day

The key point though is that overall wealth inequality just isn’t rising. In fact, wealth inequality is low by historical standards. Looking at the wealth share of the top 10 per cent and top one per cent, it peaked around 1914, and then fell substantially through to the 1970s. Though there is some academic dispute about movements since then, the consensus is that it has either risen very modestly or remained essentially stable since the 1980s.

In other words, levels of wealth inequality are neither unprecedented nor exploding. In fact, they’d look a whole lot lower if implicit wealth entitlements, such as the state pension and healthcare promises by government, were included.

Ryan Bourne

Gender gaps

Julian Jessop, at the Institute of Economic Affairs’ blog:

Few can have failed to notice that UK companies with 250 or more employees are now obliged to report specific figures about their ‘gender pay gap’. Supporters argue that the data are helping to expose the disadvantages that many women face in the workplace. In my view, though, the system is failing.

For a start, the data are frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. Variations in hourly wages or bonuses between men and women are often interpreted – wrongly – as evidence of different pay for the same work. This sort of discrimination would, of course, be illegal. It would presumably be uneconomic too; if women were indeed willing to do the same work for less money, they would surely be over-represented in the highest paying jobs.

Readers in the UK will also have noted an increase in volume of news stories about the so-called gender gap in pay and overall remuneration as it affects women. I am not dismissing concerns about this as fabricated or an example of Leftist mischief-making against the market economy, although I am sure such criticisms would be valid. But as Jessop says, there is a basic problem with the approach that many critics take in assuming that the State should “do something” about it, or that the simple fact of group A earning, on average, less/more than B is ipso facto proof of some wrong being committed. (I urge people to read the whole article; one of the most silly sleights of hands of those trying to make out that there is a major issue is to lump part-time and full-time jobs together.)

The great Thomas Sowell, debunker of many woolly ideas, has dealt with the gender gap issue, as the linked Youtube clip shows.

The US-based economist Tyler Cowen has argued that the gender gap will eventually close and it seems, largely for reasons unconnected to interference by the State.

If you cross the river Halys, you will destroy a mighty empire!

Twitter’s CEO and its co-founder urge other left-wingers to consider a recent article explaining “Why there’s no bipartisan way forward at this juncture in our history — one side must win”. It’s a long read – but almost any excerpt indicates which side the author is sure both should and will win. Trump…

“has alienated most of America and certainly all the growing political constituencies of the 21st century. He is turning the Republican brand toxic for millennials, women, Latinos, people of color, college-educated people, urban centers, the tech industry, and the economic powerhouses of the coasts, to name a few.

For a long time, Republicans have been able to hide their vile inner selves…

through a sophisticated series of veils, invoking cultural voodoo that fools a large enough number of Americans to stay in the game.

It is therefore almost a relief to the author that

Donald Trump has laid waste to that sophistication

so that it’s now obvious to all – or almost all – that

The Republican Party is all about rule by and for billionaires at the expense of working people.

Whereas before…

The Republican Party for the past 40 years has mastered using dog whistles to gin up racial divides to get their white voters to the polls.

now…

Trump just disposes of niceties and flatly encourages white nationalists, bans Muslims, walls off Mexicans, and calls out “shithole” countries.

I confess to some doubts about this – after all, not one Mexican has been walled off yet, and I have the impression that few muslims have in any sense been banned – but the author brooks no denial. And speaking of denial,

“The Republican Party is the party of climate change denial. Trump is the denier-in-chief, but there are 180 climate science deniers in the current Congress (142 in the House and 38 in the Senate), and none of them are Democrats. More than 59 percent of Republicans in the House and 73 percent of Republicans in the Senate deny the scientific consensus that climate change is happening, that human activity is the main cause, and that it is a serious threat.

If only I could trust the author’s counting ability – but since believers in his “scientific consensus” are believers in a statistical method that can extract hockey sticks from random noise, can I feel sure that the numbers of sceptics are growing as fast as he says?

The essence of Trump is that there’s…

No beating around that bush for the sake of appearances — Trump burned the bush down.

If only this were wholly true – but for once I’ll agree with the author: there is truth in it. The alternate realities of Scott Adams were never so vivid to me than at the moment I read these assertions of how Trump exposes the right while thinking that the very words I was reading showed how the Trump phenomenon exposes the left.

The author explains his simple and foolproof plan:

The way forward is on the path California blazed about 15 years ago. … reconfigure the political landscape and shift a supermajority of citizens — and by extension their elected officials — under the Democratic Party’s big tent. The natural continuum of more progressive to more moderate solutions then got worked out within the context of the only remaining functioning party. … Make no mistake: A reckoning with not just Trump, but conservatism, is coming.

In short, the author and friends have both a duty to reject all compromise and, now that Trump has exposed their enemies’ true nature, a 98.2% chance of winning this war they plan to hot up (or better – he doesn’t actually quote a percentage); after all, it worked in California. What could go wrong, since…

This is a civil war that can be won without firing a shot.

As Reagan once said, “It takes two to tango.” By contrast, a certain Adolf is merely the most infamous of many who have shown that it only takes one to start a war. Political correctness is all about ‘inclusion’ – except when it’s all about excluding more and more people for *isms and *phobias ever more broadly defined. If PC follows this advice to make US politics explicitly a conflict that “only one side must win”, then I predict that the prophecy will prove correct – but possibly also Delphic.

Samizdata quote of the day

Lady Thatcher’s observation encapsulates the main change in public discourse that I noticed when I returned to these islands in 2011, after nearly twenty years away. The English pride in rationality and the traditional “stiff upper lip” approach to emotion has vanished to the extent that I experience living here now as akin to being on some dreadful afternoon TV show. All media presenters are more or less Jeremy Kyle or, at best, Ellen Degeneres. Whereas as a young law student I was trained that “hard cases make bad law” and that legislation should be made in a detached spirit, not driven by the passions of those close to the problem, I now hear every day the ludicrous assertion that only victims can truly hope to understand issues and that it’s ridiculous to believe that a calm, rational analysis by a detached person, “privileged” by not being in a given group of victims could lead to the right outcome.

Tom Paine

Samizdata quote of the day

I am not worried as much about ‘surveillance capitalism’ as ‘surveillance government’. The former is only a problem because it is one backdoor away from the latter. I don’t use Google or Facebook, but sadly I can’t stop ‘using’ my government.

Perry de Havilland

Samizdata quote of the day

From this laborious work, and from all my other efforts in this field, I have drawn the conclusion that the evidence for social constructionism is a mirage in the desert. It does not exist. Most people in the humanities – including those who are able to express their opinions freely without fear of being fired – presuppose that gender roles are social constructs, and that the results obtained by natural scientists are determined by their social and political environment. Thousands of pages of academic ‘research’ express such notions, and thousands of university students are taught that this is how things are. But it is all hot air. The whole scenario is reminiscent of The Emperor’s New Clothes – nobody listens to the little boy who alone has the courage to point out that the Emperor is naked.

Much of this material – and Judith Butler’s obscurantism, in particular – functions like a Latin liturgy. It is not meant to be understood. About 600 years ago, the clergy in England supposedly existed to combat evil and make the world a better place. The sermons were in Latin, and the Bible was only available in Latin, so laypeople had no means of verifying what the clergy told them about religious doctrine. When a number of idealists translated the Bible into English so that common people could read and understand it, the idea – in principle, anyway – was that this would give more people direct access to God’s word. But instead of embracing this opportunity, the clergy fought all attempts at translation. And when the Bible became available in a language that people understood, the clergy burned the English translations, and those who distributed them were caught and executed. Given the choice of either supporting the wider dissemination of God’s word or preserving their own power and authority, they chose the latter.

A similar pattern of motivated self-interest is in evidence today (although opponents are no longer executed). Social constructionism has transformed the humanities departments of many universities into a kind of postmodern clerisy. In its own understanding, this clerical class strives to improve the world by insisting that all differences between groups of people are social constructs that testify to the unfairness of society. Society, therefore, can and must be reconstructed to dismantle these iniquities. But if wide-ranging social change is being demanded, then the basis for those demands needs to be firmly established first. Scholars ought to be labouring to prove the extent to which such differences are indeed social constructs and the extent to which disparities can be mitigated or dispelled by the radical reorganisation of social policy and even society itself. But this step in the process is simply absent. Instead, theorists make claims without bothering to substantiate them. Confronted with a choice between the disinterested pursuit of truth and understanding, or preserving their ideologies and positions of influence, they consistently opt for the latter.

And so, large swathes of the humanities and social sciences have been corrupted by ideology. Pockets of integrity remain but they are the minority, and they are only tolerated so long as they do not contradict the central planks of the accepted narrative. The unhappy result is that our universities are corroding, and our students will graduate with nothing more than the ability to further corrode the rest of society.

– The concluding paragraphs of Kåre Fog’s essay for Quillette, entitled Lost Down Social Constructionism’s Epistemic Rabbit-Hole

It seems the Atlantic Monthly doesn’t want diversity after all

I’ve spent my entire adult life in an academic and media environment that put a premium on shocking the conservative conscience. Advocate for the most barbaric abortion practices? Fine. Celebrate an artist who dips a crucifix in urine? Cool. Decry 9/11 first responders as “not human” because of white supremacy? Intriguing. But the marketplace of ideas isn’t for the faint of heart, and good conservatives learn to simultaneously defend the culture of free speech while also fighting hard to build a culture of virtue and respect.

David French, writing about former National Review writer Kevin D Williamson, who committed the heinous crime several years ago in a podcast (Mad Dogs and Englishmen) of saying something nasty about abortions. (Whether he was right on this issue is not the issue here; the point is that the Atlantic Monthly hired a guy on the conservative side of the political spectrum, including one who has attacked the alt-right, the excesses of Trump, etc, but to no avail.) And this is the rub: no matter how subtle, nuanced or intelligent you are, if you offend against the prevailing social justice agenda, or offend someone, that’s it. Kaput, goodbye, exit followed by a large bear. The AM has now fired Williamson. That was quick.

I should add straight away that the Atlantic Monthly is entitled, as a private firm, to hire and fire whom it wants, for whatever reason, though of course that magazine, given its left-liberal ethos, presumably supports state interference with property rights and voluntary contracts (such as support for affirmative action, etc). And people are equally free to ignore its output and read something else. But something about this affair, which may only interest the media in-crowd, tells us that there are now very severe limits to the breadth and tolerance of “liberals” in the West (and it remains a tragedy that that word has been so distorted as to mean the opposite of what it may have meant in the past). Also, it is useful to have media outlets where people of very different outlooks can gain access to ideas they might not otherwise encounter, if only to train their intellectual muscles in much the same way that I try and keep strong by lifting barbells in the gym. The Balkanisation of opinion gets worse.

Some readers will remember the case of John Derbyshire who wrote what in my view was a blatantly racist comment for a magazine and, as he was a columnist for National Review (ironically, as this was where Williamson used to work), was sacked by editor Rich Lowry. The Derbyshire piece was awful; Lowry was entitled to fire a columnist if he wanted to do so, but then again, it is important for some arguments to be aired, even if they are terrible, so that people get the practice of refuting them. (John Stuart Mill, the 19th Century liberal, argued that this is why censorship is so bad because people lose the habit of making good arguments.)

It is not even as if Williamson has been blocked or banned like an internet troll for the offence of filling comment threads with abusive remarks, threats, or hi-jacking discussions to promote some very different agenda. (The editors of this blog, and others, have had to kick out some nutters and abusive people over the years, just as I have blocked people from my social media feeds, in the same way that I would kick out a party guest who urinates on the floor.)

It is necessary to state that Williamson ultimately hasn’t had his freedom violated and he can and no doubt will get work somewhere else. In this age of blogs and new media outlets, it is harder than before to silence views, although some of the recent developments at Facebook etc suggest a worry that social media is becoming an intolerant echo chamber.

The editor of the Atlantic Monthly isn’t a tyrant, but speaking as a media person myself, I think he has made a serious mistake by losing a fine writer, even if I don’t always like what he writes (if Williamson has a fault he can come across as a bit of a snob). Also, in explaining the decision, I get the impression that the Atlantic Monthly has reinforced the notion I have that many so-called “feminists” today aren’t the doughty fighters for equality of old, but actually playing to the idea that women quiver with fear at the very mention of ideas they don’t like. Apparently, the very notion that Williamson was a columnist was traumatic to some women.