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]

Legal immunity – the vaccine twist on an old debate

In the rarified circles of classical liberal/libertarian debate, I come across debates about whether companies could or should enjoy statutory limited liability (protecting beneficial owners of said from being sued for their wealth if there is an issue.) Like intellectual property rights (patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc) this is a fraught area creating fierce debate among people who normally agree on a great deal.

LL laws protect people who have beneficial ownership from losing everything short of the clothes they stand in. Another, perhaps related limitation of exposure, however, stems from emergency situations, such as the pandemic. I think this is an issue that eventually is going to bite.

Consider the way that the drug manufacturers who developed and sold COVID-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca, were last year granted exemption from liabilities by the governments of various countries, such as the UK.

The companies, perhaps understandably given the relative speed with which they were approved to distribute the vaccines, and the urgency of the situation, wanted an assurance they wouldn’t be sued. So they got those protections. The attitude at the time seemed to be that we were in a sort of war. Consider this WW2 example: Rolls Royce did not want to be sued by people if its Merlin engines in the Spitfire, Mosquito and other aircraft went wrong. Makers of radar equipment and all the rest of it did not want to be sued. So possibly the thinking last year was the same about vaccines. The threats of class-action lawsuits would kill innovation stone dead.

As the months, and now years, go by, the balance I think is going to shift, particularly if the severity of the virus in terms of its lethality is shown to have declined not just because of vaccines but down to development of immunity in populations, and other factors. In that case, is it really credible that makers of vaccines, and distributors of said, can escape the constraints of normal commercial/criminal liability?

After all, we have seen how, in the US, the Sackler family – owners of the Purdue Pharma business – have been hit by mass lawsuits over opioids. Although it won immunity to further lawsuits, as reported here.

Forgive me, gentle readers, if these comments appear disjointed. I was chatting to an investment banker about all this, and he agreed that the immunity these manufacturers have carved out should not be open-ended. At the very least, lawmakers, if they are doing their job, and want to build trust in vaccines and so on, ought to consider how to address this issue. For some people, the immunity of these firms might be a reason why they refuse to take the vaccine. The Law of Unintended Consequences.

On a perhaps more positive tack, the fact that vaccines were rolled out and approved with such speed does suggest that when the heat is on, bureaucracy can be removed as much as possible. And this begs the question about how much regulatory protection and how much bureaucracy to oversee it is really necessary.

“Some estimates suggest that we may be down to as few as 20 mating pairs on the backbenches.”

We interrupt our scheduled programming to bring you an appeal from Robert Hutton speaking on behalf of the Born Left Foundation.

We all like to visit a Labour Party conference, marvelling at the magnificent lefties as they stalk the platform, calling for card votes and denouncing the government or each other. But have you ever thought that their roars of anger may really be cries of pain?

Matt Ridley on UK’s centrally planned economy

Samizdata unintended ironic quote of the day

“China is serious about building a cleaner, fairer, and sustainable society.”

As you know, I get press releases, and this one, from the Swiss private bank and investment manager, Vontobel, was too good not to let go without sharing.

Further comment from me is superfluous. Reading that comment, considering how the CCP operates and what it does, has left me dumbstruck.

Preventing the truth

prevent, (verb) from latin prevene (pre vene): (literal meaning) to go before; (in modern usage) to hinder, to obstruct, to block, …

If you count yet again a stack of ballots, some valid but others not, what number do you get? The same as before, of course.

I foresaw from the moment the Arizona audit was scheduled that the first trivial task of the auditors would be merely to count all the ballots and observe the same 10,000-odd lead for Biden as before – after all, they could hardly count the votes that went missing before reaching the count in the first place*. The point of the audit was to see whether any of the ballots that were counted were demonstrably unsafe.

The media likewise foresaw these things. And both I and the media foresaw that even after all the vigorous non-cooperation of Maricopa county election officials and others, the auditors might still find more than 10,000 unsafe ballots (several times more in the event). So I foresaw the media would have a story prepared for dismissing this. (As David Burge remarked, modern journalism is about covering important stories – “with a pillow; till they stop moving”.)

What I did not foresee with quite the crystal clarity that it has this morning, is that their prepared story would be to treat the utterly predictable fact of the combined safe and unsafe ballots totalling to the same numbers as before as news. And I feel slow for not foreseeing how inevitably they would do that. After all, if your long-prepared headline is “Arizona audit confirms Biden win”, what else could you write beneath it?

The modern meaning of prevent makes amusingly unfortunate the over-literal translation of the old prayer, “O Lord, prevent us in all our doings”, as if Jesus’ job, like that of a modern mask Karen, was to rush around spotting anyone planning to have fun, so as to stop them before fun could even start. When it comes to our joyless media, however, I think we need to be better at preventing them (old sense – and then modern if, as so often, their plan is to lie, cheat and steal their way into power over us).

P.S. (FYI, Internet Health Warning)
* Within a short time of the asterisked link above first appearing a couple of weeks ago, attempts to reach it became apt to raise a maximum severity “This website appears to be trying to steal your data” warning. I feel sure the ‘Behind the Black’ website itself was not – but who knows, it could be some behind-the-scenes black-op was trying to steal the data of those who linked to that post, or someone wanted to discourage people from reading it. The warning no longer appears, so the black-op is over, or has improved its ability to run silently, or it was just another of those never-to-be-explained events the web throws up from time-to-time.

All the other links in my post above have always behaved normally for me.

On Friendship

One of the first things I was told on being diagnosed with lung cancer was ‘you are going to need your friends’. That was said to me by the doctor who diagnosed me and the point is that it was true. I now have a small but superb group of close friends.

Neither by nature nor by nurture I haven’t been good at friendship. My parents, like many parents, thought they were doing a good job raising me then, particularly better than many of my contemporaries.

They did not believe in extravagant entertainment, they believed there were more important things in life. They told me that and I thought that was true. As a result I considered myself as a superior person. Why couldn’t others see that? But others didn’t see and said so and made my life a misery.

Like all parents they had the virtues of their vices and vices of their virtues. Swings and roundabouts, all the money they didn’t spend on extravagant entertainment, a quarter of that is mine, which makes my life easier.

As the years went by I realised my contemporaries were much better at running their lives than I was. At some point I had to ask the question – if I am so superior why am I so miserable? Clearly, I am not running my life as well as I thought I was.

As the years went by, I also realised they knew about friendship and I didn’t. And now I realise that my parents didn’t tell me how to do friendship. I had to work it out for myself. I was in my 20s when my attitude enabled me to meet people as friends.

There are two kinds of friends – there are people who enjoy the same things as you do and there are people with whom it goes deeper than that. You help them. And the view I arrived at was rooted in economics which I was getting to grips with at the time. My method of making friends, which seemed to have worked, has been based on easily done favours but for people on the receiving end these have been a major source of comfort.

The trick is not to go crazy or part with resources you can’t afford when helping people but if you got the resources you could spare and they would benefit from, then go ahead.

It’s a lot like early stages of a trade when you are looking to make a deal where you’d be willing to pay more and they’d be willing to sell for less, so both parties gain.

And then forget about it, assume you don’t have any rights and see how things go. Spend the effort noticing what other things you could do.

This didn’t come naturally to me, it was like a fear of life and working out how to live.

This is not objective knowledge, just a set of rules that I arrived at and it would appear that they worked for me. Am I the only libertarian that has gone through this sort of process? I suspect not. Which is why I am writing this.

You are often a good teacher of things you had to struggle to work out. All the best sports coaches are the ones to whom it didn’t come naturally. Contrast the football coach, Jack Charlton, and his more naturally gifted brother, Bobby Charlton. So much so it’s rather rare that brilliant sportsmen become good coaches.

The ones who have had to struggle and discover the process for themselves, explicitly and self-consciously, when faced with a problem can pass that knowledge on. This is what I did.

If someone’s a natural, the problem somehow solves itself in their head and they don’t really have a process of getting there. Then they face a challenge of having to explain how they did it.

Because I had to think about how to make friends, maybe these thoughts and other recollections like them will be useful for some.

The Little Octobrists prepare for their future role

“Schools are accused of ‘brainwashing’ students as children as young as 12 take part in mock trial of Tory MP Richard Drax for ‘benefitting from slavery’ because of his ancestors.”

Steal Labour’s clothes, look like Labour

Britain’s electricity supply is in peril. On Monday (20 Sep) the Financial Times reported,

Peter McGirr wanted to modernise the British consumer energy market when he founded Green three years ago, building a customer base of more than 250,000 households. Now, with the sector in meltdown, he says it is “incredibly unlikely” the Newcastle-based supplier will survive until Christmas without government intervention.

Five smaller suppliers have collapsed in the past six weeks, with four or five more expected to join them in the next 10 days as the industry is battered by unprecedented surges in wholesale electricity and gas prices.

Observers are predicting as few as 10 suppliers will make it through the winter, implying 40 could go bust. Some executives have privately suggested the sector could go back to a big four, five or six companies.

How did this happen to us? I know who to blame for setting the UK on this disastrous course. On Tuesday 24 September 2013, eight years ago tomorrow, the then Leader of the Labour party, Ed Miliband, gave his big speech to the Labour party conference in Brighton. One item was particularly popular:

“If we win the election 2015 the next Labour government will freeze gas and electricity prices until the start of 2017. Your bills will not rise. It will benefit millions of families and millions of businesses. That’s what I mean by a government that fights for you. That’s what I mean when I say Britain can do better than this.”

The response from the Tories was immediate and scathing:

As the Guardian reported,

Energy minister Greg Barker attacks Labour’s plan to cap energy prices

In response to Ed Miliband’s announcement, the energy minister says capping energy prices would have catastrophic consequences for investment in the UK

Figures from the gas industry chipped in:

The lights could go out if Labour introduces its 20-month freeze on energy prices, Ian Peters of British Gas said. “If we have no ability to control what we do in the retail prices” and wholesale prices suddenly go up within a single year “that will threaten energy security,” he said. Asked if that meant the lights would go out, he replied: “I think that is a risk.”

But Mr Miliband’s policy had equally vigorous defenders. On 25 September 2013, the day after Mr Miliband’s speech, Alex Andreou of the New Statesman thundered:

Ed Miliband’s critics think his energy pledge will make the lights go out. They are wrong

The critics were wrong. Ed Miliband is innocent OK! It was not his pledge that a Labour government would limit energy prices that has brought us so near to having the lights go out.

The Conservative manifesto of 2017 included energy price controls, duly introduced by Prime Minister Theresa May on 1st January 2019.

And here we are.

Sweden – “portal into the future” ?

The woke seek total victory and total defeat – which I long ago predicted they would get, albeit maybe delphically. But an interesting article in Unherd describes the latest state reached in Sweden’s dry-run of woke cancel culture as “an uneasy ceasefire”.

It started as all-out culture war.

With the benefit of hindsight, immigration now appears not as a question important in and of itself, but as a form of wedge corresponding to a very particular political moment of establishment fear and anger at parts of their own electorate.

But six years on,

While the deplorables are still mocked, there is no bite to it anymore. SD voters are no longer at risk of having their careers cancelled. In 2021, an unspoken attitude of ”don’t ask, don’t tell” prevails.

In the areas in Stockholm where most of the country’s journalists live, it is probably less awkward to openly admit to sympathising with SD on immigration than it is to proudly proclaim that Sweden is far from full and ought to take in at least a million more Afghans in the next couple of years.

How have the SD, the Swedish lovers of free speech, the heterodoxians like the article’s author, achieved this (I hear you begging me to say 🙂 )? Well, in large part at least, the article thinks they (we) haven’t. It is due to

the belated discovery that these consequences of immigration are in fact very real, and that methods of ”shaping the narrative” cannot really change material reality.

More critically, there is the realisation that nobody — certainly not middle class progressives — wants to live with those consequences at all.

It was not of course a belated discovery for Sweden’s “deplorables”, but I predict they will be treated as Edmund Burke was over two centuries ago. By the time the woke of his day were unable to avoid seeing that the French revolution was as unpleasant as Burke had predicted, they knew he was ‘already’ a enemy of it ‘anyway’ – so they dismissed him as just an accidentally-right stopped clock they could go on despising. Sweden’s deplorables will be called ‘stopped clocks’ by Sweden’s woke because they warned of danger beforehand, not after it became undeniable, just as Donald Trump is a ‘stopped clock’ to many who are falling out of love with Biden, but not with their own self-identity as clever, compassionate and politically far-sighted. The woke find forgiving deplorables for being deplorable very hard – but forgiving deplorables for being right when the woke are wrong is much harder.

Read the whole article – it will repay you.

The treason trials of 2021

The Mirror‘s columnist Susie Boniface*, who writes under the name “Fleet Street Fox”, would like to see them happen. She writes,

If you abandon your country to join ISIS, you can be stripped of citizenship. If you join a proscribed terror organisation, you face 10 years in jail. And if you talk about staging a coup, encourage birth defects, or lie about a lifesaving vaccine, you’re committing something terrifyingly close to murder, insurrection, and child abuse, yet go unpunished.

Spreading lies that damage the NHS, downgrade democracy, or cause child deformities is a crime against all that Britain is supposed to stand for, but it’s difficult to proscribe a loose affiliation of lunatics. Updating our laws to make the spreading of harmful conspiracy theories an act of treason, though, would mean that not only could the ringleaders be shut down, they also could be deradicalised, medicated and educated. They are terrorists, and should be treated as such.

Take out the co-ordinators, and their converts could be deprogrammed. Which would leave the rest of us able to continue the important business of moving as far away as possible from the 14th century, and all its terrifying ignorance.

*In the early days of her “Fleet Street Fox” identity, Ms Boniface wanted to write anonymously. If that were still the case, I would not have said her real name even if I knew it. But since she outed herself in the pages of the Times back in 2013 and is quite happy to identify herself as being “Fleet Street Fox” on her personal website, her pseudonym is clearly now part of her brand rather than actually intended to keep her name secret.

A press release worth sharing

I got this today from the Global Warming Policy Forum, a group that I guess can be best called a global warming sceptics group. It is based in the UK. Here is its press release today. It responds to reports that the UK is dangerously vulnerable to cuts in energy supplies and rocketing prices. Winter this year could be interesting. If the UK has power cuts and serious hits to supplies this year and into next, will the government double down on trying to produce energy from wind and happy thoughts, or realise that a mix of nuclear, some fossil fuels and limited renewables are the way to go? Can any major Western political leader withstand the likely wailing from the establishment media and call bullshit on Net Zero and the anti-carbon cult? Can you imagine any such figure advocating that people read Alex Epstein or Michael Schellenberger, for instance? It is worth noting that the last time the UK had power cuts, during the early 70s, we had a Tory government as led by Edward Heath (who took the UK into the EEC). Then, the coal industry was locked in a brutal industrial dispute with the unions. The three-day week, blackouts and all the rest were big reasons for why Heath was kicked out and eventually replaced by Margaret Thatcher. A basic requirement of a government is to keep the lights on, or at least not stop people from keeping them on. Boris Johnson doesn’t want to be the next Heath, does he?

Here is the GWPF press release:

The GWPF has consistently warned that Britain’s unilateral climate policies under both Labour and Conservative administrations were creating an insecure and expensive energy sector that would ultimately fail due to consumer costs and collapsing security of supply.

These warnings are now fully vindicated. Over-reliance on renewables and interconnectors and a failure to maintain a diverse portfolio of energy supply and electricity generation has resulted in a fragile, weather-dependent British system that is critically vulnerable to pan-European low wind conditions, interconnector failure, and high regional gas prices.

Income support subsidies to renewable energy investors currently total about £10 billion a year, and are still rising, while grid management costs have increased six-fold (to just under £2 billion a year) since the early 2000s when renewables were first introduced in significant quantities.

In spite of this large and growing cost burden, renewables do not protect the consumer effectively against fluctuations in gas prices, since wind and solar are both critically reliant on gas to guarantee security of supply. The UK’s apparent diversity of supply is an illusion. The current energy cost and supply crisis is the result of decades of ill-considered climate policy which has prioritised costly emissions reductions technologies while neglecting the consumer interest, security of supply and macro-economic impact.

The severity of the current crisis merits emergency measures, not only to protect consumers and the economy, but also to avoid the crisis from turning into social disaster as winter approaches.

The GWPF is calling on the Government to:

1. Suspend all green levies on energy bills, funding subsidies temporarily out of taxation, but acting firmly to cancel these subsidies in the near term.

2. Cancel constraint payments, and compel wind and solar generators to pay for their own balancing costs, thus incentivising them to self-dispatch only when economic.

3. Remove all fiscal and other disincentives to oil and gas exploration, including shale gas, to increase domestic production levels.

4. Suspend carbon taxation on coal and gas generation in order to provide consumer relief and ensure security of supply.

5. Re-open recently closed gas storage facilities and support new storage projects.

6. Suspend all further policy initiatives directed towards the Net Zero target, including the Carbon Budgets, the heat pump targets, and the overly ambitious timetable for the ban on petrol and diesel engines, until the UK energy sector has been stabilised.

7. Facilitate the acceleration of building and deploying Small Modular Reactors for both electricity and heat.

The carers

I am not usually one for issuing trigger warnings, but this video of an unhappy two year old child is genuinely disturbing:

New York, where two-year-olds are forced to wear masks all day in nursery.

I have a single memory – a three second mental “video clip” of my brother’s fourth birthday – that I can confidently date as having happened before I was three. Humans do not seem to lay down recoverable memories of most of what happens to them before the age of four or so. Yet a child’s experiences in those early years have a profound effect on their later personality. That little boy will probably never remember that he tried again and again to push away the damp thing that made it hard to breathe but that his carers, with pitiless good cheer, always forced it back on. But he will have learned the lesson of the powerless. You are weak, they are strong. Crying and protesting do not help.

I am told that in Muslim societies where women must go fully veiled it is difficult to get the little girls into their coverings at first. But even they wait until the girls are at least five.