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]

More thoughts on what the virus might bring about

Dr Stephen Davies of the Institute of Economic Affairs likes to make various political/economic predictions, such as on Facebook, and he claims much of our political landscape has changed in ways that shred traditional markers on the map, saying that much of the argument now is no longer between those who want a Big State or a Small One, but about culture and identity. I like and agree with a lot of what he says, but I also think that the recent crisis, and the shock of what it says about the powers of the State, might – I hope – jolt people into realising that we libertarians, banging on about autonomy, property rights and so on, aren’t as irrelevant as is fashionable to claim. The Big State/Small State difference still counts for a lot. This argument should be made. Free societies, as we can point out, are often better at stepping up to change and emergencies than states often are. Not everyone worships at the altar of socialised medicine. And boy, have we learned the value of free press and scrutiny, if only by seeing what happens in China, when those things don’t exist.

Consider, even Formula 1 motor racing, that symbol of toxic masculine love of going very fast in noisy cars, is using its technical skills to meet the pandemic challenge. Libertarians should point out how entrepreneurial gusto, not the clunky hand of Whitehall, is what needs to be celebrated. And we certainly need to challenge the narrative of how marvellous China has been in locking things down. Turns out that it has been a shitshow.

Dr Davies has given a list of trends and forces he thinks will accelerate and turn as a result, and some of his predictions make me alarmed, others less so. Here are some of my own predictions. Dear readers: do add your own.

Here goes:

A big push to divert supply chains from China; more diversification around this. Maybe some pullback from just-in-time inventory but I don’t expect a total shift – the losses in efficiency and living standards are too big.

Less business travel and some tourism via air; more requirements that passengers carry medical data with them. Airport security to increasingly entail “medical security” and there will be demands that airports are more hygienic with cleaner air systems.

Continued “re-shoring” of some manufacturing. It is happening already because making stuff locally is getting easier with modern tech.

There will be pressure to monetise the enormous amounts of public debt. We could have a Japan-style stagnation lasting for two decades. Not sure if we get hyperinflation. Expect more commentary about gold, the need for hard money, etc.

Far more telecommuting and remote working. Some central business districts will have to adjust; some skyscrapers will struggle to fill up.

Suburbs and cars are back: who wants to live in a cramped city and rely on unhealthy, crammed public transport if you can live in a nice house, work from home and have a garden? The anti-car lobby has lost – people are glad they have cars. Issue: will the planning system free up to allow lots more homes with gardens etc to be built? I hope so.

The “woke” agenda is losing a lot of steam. It was happening already. Even remote learning will dent traditional educational attendance and power structures. That is a good thing.

The European Union and other transnational organisations, including the World Health Organisation, have been useless, and it turns out in the WHO’s case, all too cozy to China over Taiwan.
Some red tape will be rolled back; if people are going to have to put up with more nannying and state control in some areas they will want liberalisation elsewhere. Look at how some regulations have been canned to deal with the crisis. That could become permanent.

The actions of UK and other police in this pandemic have caused very bad publicity for the cops. It was bad already. It is getting worse.

Scientists who claim to have all the answers and claim the science is “settled” will encounter even more resistance. In a funny way this virus is bad news for the dark Greens. Extinction Rebellion’s vision of life has been rammed down people’s throats these past few weeks.

Attacks on Big Tech and demands for anti-trust will wane. The internet has had a good crisis. It kept us going.

The value of people with vocational skills, earned without vast sums of student debt, will appreciate; the education “bubble” of arts grads with high debt/lower salary will burst. This will also hurt the “woke” culture and the nonsense of what’s been happening on our campuses. Identity politics is not going away without a fight, however.

Classical liberals/libertarians haven’t really woken up fully to how much the victories of the 80s, 90s and even some of the Noughties have been compromised, sometimes by sheer complacency. We need to wake up, to do more of the intellectual heavy lifting. I hope the present situation galvanises more thought, activism and writing.

Celebrity culture looks to be on the back foot. It may return, but the Hollyweird culture is in really serious trouble. Crappy remakes of films, Weinstein, etc, etc.

People might actually be healthier: all that focusing on taking a daily walk, eating at home, thinking about “underlying health conditions”, might have a positive effect. It is a wake-up call.

Mainstream religions might get a revival. I wonder how many atheists have, sort of, prayed recently.

Public sports events, though, will attract sell-out crowds. Imagine if you are a rugby, cricket or football fan and denied the ability to see your teams and in the case of Liverpool, for example, robbed of the ability to be the unchallenged winner of its season. Those fans will be desperate to go back.

Nigel Farage says ‘Say No to House Arrest’ – and a perspective on Red China

A video blog from Nigel, asking questions in his usual style about the lockdown and what it is for, police behaviour, and posing some questions about the UK’s relations with China. Then a China Uncensored video giving a view on the Red China ‘cure’ for coronavirus. He also has a good word for Stephen Kinnock going to see his Dad on his Old Man’s birthday.

A British politician calling for liberty, there is one.

And from China Uncensored, (a Taiwanese-backed channel I believe), a contrast on the American media’s soft touch on China with what has been going on.

Samizdata quote of the day

Is it possible to end this free 30-day trial of Communism early?

Hector Drummond

Samizdata quote of the day

Resistance to sending bad news up the chain is typical of any authoritarian regime.

Stephen Green

Is Italy heading for a (Terror-)Famine? Spanish press report

The ‘conservative’ Spanish newspaper/site abc.es. has a report about the food situation in Italy (in Spanish) which indicates the following, something our media seems to ignore, per my translation:

‘Increasing woe in Italy due to the coronavirus: almost 3,000,000 people need food aid’

There’s a 10% uplift there, as the report gives a breakdown with more details.

In Campania more than 530,000 people need food, almost 9% of the region’s population. More than 364,000 in Sicily, almost 283,000 in Calabria. Even Lazio has more than 263,000 people in need. One analysis says around 2,700,000 people need food aid.

There is much discussion of raids on pharmacies and supermarkets, with police guarding them. This might be Southern politicians screaming for ‘pork’. Or perhaps the economy collapses when the State imposes lockdowns.

The Italian State has responded (to the problem it created)

Urgent response of the government

On Saturday night, the government responded urgently to this cry of alarm from the whole South of Italy, where there is a grave risk which some have called a ‘Social Bomb’ or ‘A Social Powderkeg’ which could explode if urgent solutions aren’t found.

The Prime Minister announced on Saturday night aid of 4,300,000,000 euros for families (Mr Ed. What type of family?) and another 400,000,000 euros in vouchers “to help the citizenry who have no money to buy basic necessities”

Or is this about something else? This paragraph caught my eye:

The challenge of the black economy

The ex-president of the National Anticorruption Authority, Raffaele Cantone, a prestigious Napolitan magistrate, has indicated that the true challenge is the black economy, with thousands of people who are now helpless: «It’s about the existence –says Cantone– of a parallel economy which everyone knows about, which some, and not only Southerners, exploit and many others tolerate, hypocritically pretending that they can’t see it.»

And how long here before our food supply chains might disintegrate, when people have to laboriously shop 2 meters apart, queueing to get in, queueing to pay, as the capacity of the shops to serve customers is throttled, whether or not the products are limited or in short supply. Is there any modelling of how long this can go on, never mind if it should at all?

Discussion point

Now that the idea of “herd immunity” has been attacked, even though it seems lots of scientists seem to support the idea, does that mean it now makes sense to challenge claims that “the science is settled” on a particular topic? Just thought I’d ask.

Melanie Phillips on why she left the Left – and in particular on antisemitism

Just now, a lot of people have a lot of time on their hands, and might therefore be open to the idea of watching and listening to a talking head for the best part of an hour. Accordingly, I now recommend this video interview, which I myself have just watched for the first time. Steve Edginton of the Sun newspaper asks a few short questions. Melanie Phillips supplies some much longer answers.

At the end of the interview, Phillips mentions a couple of relevant books she has written. These are her novel, The Legacy, and her memoir about how she used to work for the Guardian, Guardian Angel: My Journey from Leftism to Sanity.

A lot of us also now have more time for books. For actually reading them, I mean.

Melanie Phillips did this interview a few days ago. I wrote this Samizdata posting about Labour antisemitism in May 2018. I deduced what I did from the distant din of battles which I was not personally part of. Phillips tells the same story from direct personal experience, along with several other closely related stories.

Like I say: highly recommended.

Derbyshire police droning on

Drones are fun. I understand that. But people do need to use them responsibly.

The BBC reports: Coronavirus: Peak District drone police criticised for ‘lockdown shaming’

Derbyshire Police filmed people in pairs rambling in the Curbar Edge area of the beauty spot on Wednesday.

In pairs. Not mobs, pairs.

Officers said travelling to remote areas for exercise did not count as “essential travel” as permitted under government lockdown rules.

But travelling to remote areas and flying your drones there, that’s essential.

UK civil liberties group Big Brother Watch branded the move “sinister” and “counter-productive”.

The 90-second clip, shot by the force’s drone unit, showed people walking their dogs and taking photos.

It said “the message is still not getting through” about stopping the spread of coronavirus, despite government guidance and several police posts.

One Twitter user called it “the worst kind of nanny policing” while others pointed out that the walkers were away from crowds.

Here is the tweet in question. I am glad there was some pushback. This response from “miroirdufou” was polite but effective:

Hi. Please explain (in terms of epidemiology) exactly what harm these people are doing, taking quiet exercise away from crowds, in small numbers? And if they’re doing no harm, leave them alone?

This chicken has more freedom than anyone in Britain

A free chicken

Here is a free-range chicken in a layer flock at a site somewhere in Northamptonshire in the English Midlands. It roams free, it does not risk an unlimited fine for leaving its home without just cause, it can associate with chickens other than its flock, or any feathered or non-feathered friend. It does not have to queue to get into shops to buy basics, (nor did it ever), nor justify itself if it wishes to stroll around more than once a day. Although its parents were cooped up because of bird ‘flu a few years back, it knows only liberty. Mind you it doesn’t have the right to bear/bare arms, nor any right to free speech, nor protection against unreasonable searches or seizures. No one is going to ask it to self-incriminate, well, perhaps next week.

It is not required to keep itself 6 feet, 6 and three-quarter inches (or 2 metres) from other chickens not from its yard. It is not under sentence of death as it is not raised for meat. Welcome to the UK, where the chickens run free and there once was liberty. Do you think the concept might catch on?

Mind you, at least we are safer from the virus now, aren’t we.


Gordon Brown says world leaders should create temporary global government

Samizdata quote of the day

“President Trump can’t do right by some critics no matter what he does. For three years he’s been denounced as a reckless authoritarian, and now he’s attacked for not being authoritarian enough by refusing to commandeer American industry. The truth is that private industry is responding to the coronavirus without command and control by the federal government.”

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board. Unfortunately, no-one is likely to find a cure for Trump Derangement Syndrome this side of the heat death of the universe.

I have taken the liberty of adding this excellent comment by Ross Clark, in the Daily Telegraph today. He seems to be one of the saner voices out there:

The year 2020 has already brought many firsts: never before has the British population been confined to home, nor has a UK government previously offered to pay the wages of private sector staff. But here is another: it is the first time that Donald Trump has stood out as a rare voice of reason amid a cacophony of panic.

At any other time, and coming from anyone else’s mouth, the statement “We cannot let the cure be worse than the problem itself,” would hardly raise an eyebrow. It is surely a principle which ought to be baked into all government policy. But, no, it aroused instant condemnation from the President’s critics.

As for his hope that he could get the economy roaring again by Easter, it led to an eruption from senators who appear to be enjoying the global emergency, are who have no doubt sensed that coronavirus could be the black swan event that succeeds where impeachment failed.

Sure enough, Trump has not bathed himself in glory over coronavirus, foolishly calling it a ‘hoax’ at one point. But he is right to recognise that there is a balance to be struck between fighting the disease and maintaining a functioning economy. So far, much of the developed world has embarked on a course which pursues the former to the total exclusion of the latter.

Last week, our own government published a dossier of the modelling which has informed its policy on coronavirus. There was plenty of epidemiological evidence in there, yet not a single paper modelling the economic effects of a lockdown. It is merely assumed that what will almost certainly be a steeper decline in economic output than either the 2008/09 crisis or the Great Depression can be put right by oodles of public money, much of it printed by central banks.

I am sceptical: what is this crisis going to do to the entrepreneurial spirit of millions who invested time and their life savings to set up businesses only to find them forcibly closed by the government? It is going to take a long time to recover that.

The most foolish remark you hear made in these situations is “lives are too important for money”. As Trump quite rightly points out, unemployment will itself cost lives. So, too, will social isolation. There are 7.7 million Britons who live alone, many of them elderly. There will be a serious cost to life now that enforced confinement will reduce them to the point of invisibility.

In any other situation, the Left would be jumping up every five minutes to claim that poverty costs lives. How often have we heard this fanciful figure that Tory ‘austerity’ has cost 130,000 lives over the past decade? That is nothing compared with the toll we face from mass unemployment.

Philip Thomas, Professor of Risk Management at Bristol University, calculates – in a study which has yet to be peer-reviewed – that if a lockdown causes the economy to shrink by more than 6.4 percent then the recession will have cost more lives than coronavirus itself. I would say a 6.4 percent shrinkage in GDP is on the seriously optimistic side.

We don’t normally seem to have a problem balancing the needs of medicine with those of the economy. We could save lives by going into lockdown every winter – the US Centers for Disease Control estimates that seasonal flu kills between 300,000 and 650,000 people annually.

But we don’t because we know the economic havoc would be even worse. Covid-19 is a serious disease, and one to which we began this year with no resistance. But its most damaging effect has been to destroy our ability to make a trade-off between medicine and the economy.

A little thing you can do to help businesses struggling due to the quarantine

You could pay now for a session with a business such as a hairdresser, gym or restaurant that has been forced to shut during the quarantine, the voucher to be redeemed whenever the establishment re-opens. The appointment could be for your own use, or as a gift for someone else. It might be a way that someone who has been in isolation can thank whoever did their shopping, while helping the proprietors of the business get some cash coming in when they need it most.