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Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe

On Monday night I attended a screening of Dominic Frisby’s film Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe at the IEA.

It is a documentary about how the government-subsidised Edinburgh Festival was usurped by amateurs who just turned up, organised their own venues and ticketing, and put on their own shows. The fringe festival was, and remains, a triumph of the free market. This is in spite of many of the performers being somewhat left-leaning. In the film, one comedian being interviewed points out that doing comedy for a living is very entrepreneurial, and that during the 80s most comedians were mocking Thatcher whilst doing exactly what she wanted.

It is a funny, entertaining and informative film. Dominic Frisby tells a good story. During the Q and A afterwards, one young questioner said that he was worried about his generation because they all seemed to think socialism was the right way. He thought that films like this might go some way to convincing them otherwise. There proceeded some discussion about how a good story is often more persuasive than facts and logic. Dominic pointed out that most people saw themselves as wanting to be nice, and the prevailing view was that anyone not on the left was unkind and uncaring. Clearly some better marketing is needed.

The counterpoint, demonstrated here, is that the state subsidised organisations are slow, curmudgeonly and favour the distinguished and established elites. The free market is for amateurs and small groups who experiment, fail, and provide much desired diversity of choice, interesting niche products and discovery of exciting new innovations. The film gives examples of all this happening at the fringe. During the Q and A, comparisons were made to YouTubers, who similarly provide diverse opinions and information on niche topics, as compared to the mainstream media who offer a narrow selection of often poorly researched information. It seems to me that the distinction between big and small organisations in general is relevant. Big companies who hold apparently unassailable apparent monopolies in some sector are regularly usurped by nimble startups despite the former’s capture of state favour.

After the event I chatted with the director of the film, Alex Webster. He had pointed out that cheap equipment was one of the things helping those YouTubers. It turned out we both own the same camera: the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro. It is a relatively cheap device that can capture video with cinematic quality good enough for a Hollywood feature film. Blackmagic Design are making film-making cheap not just with cameras but with the editing, compositing and colour-grading software Davinci Resolve which anyone can download for free. This is one of the ways that young people with little money can develop their skills in film-making, and that small, independent, innovative, niche film-makers can afford to make their films.

Perhaps there is a chance that fringe-like dynamics might come to the aid of those who have the desire and ability to improve the marketing of the idea of freedom by telling some compelling stories about it.

26 comments to Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe

  • Lee Moore

    a good story is often more persuasive than facts and logic.

    Absolutely. Also a good joke. I thought this was worth about twice the whole Conservative Party campaign in 2019. Shame not many people saw it.


    Fortunately for the forces of light, the lefty-woke takeover of almost all channels of broadcast humour is not as damaging as it might be, since they’re mostly hectoring rather than making jokes that one might actually laugh at.

  • bobby b

    “Shame not many people saw it.”

    Or, having seen it, could translate it? 😉

  • Lee Moore

    You’d have to have experienced Theresa May and pals pretending to implement Brexit between 2016-19. The joke is a parody thereof.

  • Bobby, the overwhelming majority of the public in the UK would have been able to translate it – as you can see from the audience hilarity. As Theresa May was the Tory prime minister (I’m sure you can translate TINO), the laughter probably included many Labour voters even over and above those Boris would rake in from the ‘red wall’ in late 2019, and I suspect that in April 2019 (when this was done IIUC), many who voted remain in 2016 (but were not full-blown remoaners) would have found it pretty funny.

    A comparable US parody could perhaps exploit the Seattle “votes count even if written on napkins” rule to have the group of 11 quite unable to discover ‘officially’ what the group majority opinion was in the first place.

  • Bobby b

    My problem is more basic than mere context. I can do Cajun. I can do Georgia Cracker. I can do Spanglish. I can’t do . . . whatever he was speaking. Neither could my Closed Caption. 🙂

  • Lee Moore

    Obviously, bobby, you need to be practising your British accent comprehension skills. See ya Cajun, raise ya Rab C Nesbitt :


  • bobby b

    More to the OP point: Had some conversations with some people recently who do the rather fringy craftsman/artisan life in a nomadic manner. They were extolling being able to decide for themselves how much time and effort to put into their works and with whom to exchange efforts and products, their ability to set their own prices in such exchange, and their ability to ramp up efforts when and if they decided they wanted a higher return.

    This, they told me, proved how much better benign socialism was than dog-eat-dog capitalism. (Yes, their words.) They wanted to decide their own fates, rather than follow some corporate directives. They knew their own worth, and demanded value for it instead of whatever the bosses had on offer.

    I almost started to explain the word “irony” to them, but decided to just nod and drink their mead quietly. It was very good mead.

  • Paul Marks


  • Paul Marks

    bobby b – I like mead.

    If leftists want to give me mead – I will also listen to their opinions, without contradicting them.

  • bobby b, I’m amazed – but then, I recall watching films set in the US deep south with my family. I never had any difficulty following them and was always astonished when everyone else in the room kept complaining they were incomprehensible. But the comic’s accent seems far easier to me than the old south – or the local Glasgow accent.

    (My from-memory summary will lose all the comedic skill of his telling.) The basic story is the comic answering a girl visiting him from abroad who asks “Why is everyone so angry about this Brexit thing?” He tells her “Imagine you’re in a Burger King with 10 friends. The question is asked – do you want to leave the Burger King? 6 of us raise hands to say ‘yes, we want to leave the Burger King’. So one of the people who did not want to leave the Burger King says “OK, I’ll get us a deal from the manager so we can leave”. “Can’t we just leave?” “No, no, we must have a deal.” “And this is a deal to leave, right?” “Oh yes, absolutely! I’ll get you a deal so we can leave.”

    So she goes off and she comes back two years later. She’s been pulling and pulling at the exit door marked ‘Push’ all this time and now she says she has the deal to leave the Burger King. “What’s the deal?” “We pay the manager 40 billion”. “And then we can leave?” “Yes – technically?” “What do you mean, technically?” “Well, we’ll still be physically in the Burger King – but if anyone asks if we’ve left, you’re allowed to reply ‘Yes’.”

    HTH – but (as I’m sure you can) believe me, it’s funnier the way he tells it.

  • bobby b

    Niall K: Thanks! I could get things up until he got a little excited and then it was Greek. (And you told it funnily.)

    I think it is easier to understand dialects when there are intermediate steps from your own daily speech to the unfamiliar one. But, there are no easy intermediate steps between what I speak and what that comic spoke. (Scot? Scots? Scotch? Scottish? Outer Qwghlmian ?)

  • Lee Moore

    Niall : I recall watching films set in the US deep south with my family. I never had any difficulty following them and was always astonished when everyone else in the room kept complaining they were incomprehensible

    I recall going on a tour of a preserved-as-was antebellum house in Vicksburg, about thirty years ago. The group was only about six people and the woman showing us round and explaining things was a refined educated lady of middle years, speaking in a conversational tone. But I couldn’t understand a word. Then after about five minutes, my ears retuned and she began to make perfect sense.

  • Lee Moore

    I feel slightly guilty at having accidentally hijacked Rab C Fisher’s excellent OP, so I’ll try to make a point on point.

    It seems to me that the commies have done well rhetorically to describe free markets as capitalism. “Capitalism” connotes hard faced top hatted factory owners, deploying huge amounts of capital who appear to do nothing themselves except deploy the capital. So nothing that anybody not already plutocratic could possibly identify with.

    Whereas in reality, capitalism as thus depicted is just one of a thousand manifestations of the free market at work. Even current plutocrats like Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos did not start their businesses with fat cigars already stuck into their faces. So somehow the distinction between free markets in general, aka liberty simpliciter, and particular manifestations of it that aren’t very popular and which can be dubbed “capitalism” needs to be drawn.

    Bill Gates is what one in a million people tinkering in their shed might become, if and only if, what they come up with is insanely useful to other people. The other 999,999 are not so successful financially, or in terms of use to the general public, but nevertheless are doing something worthwhile, and possibly fulfilling, by exercising their liberty.

  • Paul Marks

    Lee Moore.

    I do not know about the origins of the wealth of Jeff Bezos (although his “Amazon” Corporation does much HARM – it supports some of the worst “causes” on the planet) – but Bill Gates got where he is due to family connections with IBM (his mother worked with a very high person in IBM in a certain charity – and the father of Mr Gates was involved in key associations that promote their members as well as their political and cultural agenda).

    Do not fall for the propaganda about his wealth being due to his hard work or individual genius at tinkering in his shed.

    Mr Gates spends hundreds of millions of Dollars on propaganda – both on his pet causes (all far left – Collectivist) and spreading a false image of the origins of his wealth. To use a technical and scientific term – Mr Gates is no good, and when I heard Dominic Cummings (formally the chief of staff of the Prime Minister) that he started to support a Covid 19 LOCKDOWN because “Bill Gates said….” – I knew all I needed to know abut the lockdown, and all I needed to know about Mr Cummings (someone who follows the political orders of Mr Gates is no good – just as Mr Gates is no good).

    As for the general point.

    Confusing this Credit Bubble monetary and financial system where the Cantillon Effect (named after Richard Cantillon) concentrates wealth in the hands of a tiny elite (at the expense of everyone else), with capitalism – is a tragic error.

    The present system can not be rationally defended and will inevitably collapse – to confuse it with free enterprise capitalism discredits free enterprise capitalism.

    It is true that even in the 19th century there was a lot of abuse – “money” created from nothing (by banker book keeping tricks) leading to boom-busts. But now it is not a matter of abuse on top of a basically sound system – now the system itself is the abuse.

    I repeat, this system of fiat money and credit bubble finance (concentrating wealth in the hands of a tiny, and totally corrupt, elite) can not be rationally defended and will inevitably collapse – to confuse the present system with free market capitalism would be a tragic error.

    It is no longer a matter of a basically sound system with a lot of abuse on top – now it is the system itself that is the abuse. It is a vast Credit Bubble – a total mess.

  • Stonyground

    The original Mr. Honda did quite well out of tinkering in his shed. He was fitting little war surplus engines into bicycles.

    I’ve been to the Edinburgh Fringe and found it to be good fun. We went around getting leafleted and then looked through the leaflets deciding what would be funny or interesting to see. One was for a one woman show about automated phone switchboards called The Sense Maker. This looks interesting says I, let’s go and see it. It was very original, clever and entertaining. What I didn’t know was that, toward the end of the performance, the woman would take all of her clothes off. I am then left trying to convince my wife that I did not know that this was going to happen. Looking back through the leaflet, in the small print that warns you about such things as ‘adult themes’ and ‘strong language’ was the word ‘nudity’ and that was the only clue.

  • Rob Fisher

    Lee Moore: thread hijacking is just something that happens here.

    Not calling it capitalism might indeed be a good marketing strategy. A friend’s teenage daughter recently proclaimed “we just need to get rid of capitalism”. I wasn’t sure where to start, but getting to the bottom of what she thinks capitalism is and pointing out the importance of the freedom of tinkerers in sheds might not be a bad place.

  • Sam Duncan

    Lee Moore: I’ve been saying that about “capitalism” for years.

    Also, what Paul said about Gates. IBM approached Microsoft in 1980 at the suggestion of his mother, who was working with its CEO at United Way. Even Gates himself initially thought this was more than he could handle, and advised it to get in touch with Digital Research about licencing CP/M-86 instead. The story from there gets murky (personally, I find it hard to believe that Gary Killdall was dumb enough to flub such an important deal; yes, CP/M eventually made it on to the PC, yes it was late, yes it was vastly more expensive than DOS, but who was pulling whose strings?), however the rest is history.

  • Philip Scott Thomas

    ..a good story is often more persuasive than facts and logic.

    Indeed. And sometimes a simple re-framing of an issue is enough to change minds. I was listening to a podcast last week, I forget now which one, where the guest told how little traction he got when talking about estate tax (inheritance tax, or IHT, in the UK). But when he re-framed it as “death tax” people took notice. The word “estate”, while legally accurate, conjured ideas of large properties of the wealthy. But “death tax” led them to ask, “What? Do you mean I get taxed simply for dying?”

  • Clovis Sangrail

    IIRC, capitalism is merely an economic system where the ownership of the “means of production” is in private hands. Thus it includes fascism (at least as described by Mussolini), as well as many other arrangements which we would not recognise as comprising “free markets”.

    For a practical analysis with significant amounts of humour, one might recommend P J O’Rourke’s “Eat the Rich”.

  • Sam Duncan

    But when he re-framed it as “death tax” people took notice.

    Of course. Why do you think they stopped calling it “Death Duty” in Britain?

  • Flubber

    FYI Bill Gates’S father is a hardcore deep state spook…

  • Fraser Orr

    FWIW, I lived in Edinburgh for five years (in Stockbridge above Bert’s Bar — which is now a posh wine bar ffs, more evidence that Scotland is going to hell…) and I always thought the Fringe WAS the festival…

    But this illustrates a point I have made here before. Libertarians seem obsessed with fixing things by changing government, which is an oxymoron on its face. If you want to make things better do something useful in the private sector. Better someone spouting Marxism while running a grocery store that feeds people, or a comedy show that entertains them, than a pure hearted politically flawless libertarian who wastes all their energy pursuing unachievable government reform.

    (The latter person is more likely to be fun drinking beer with than the others.)

  • The Pedant-General

    “and I always thought the Fringe WAS the festival…”

    To all intents and purposes it is. 🙂

    The “official” EIF has a tightly curated, shortish list of events. It’s a glossy ~20 page brochure with each event having half a page or so. They have the Usher Hall and some number of other large venues across the city.

    The Fringe has something close to the size and density of a telephone directory, with hundreds of listings on each page. It uses hundreds of venues. 2019 was upwards of 3 million bums on seats.

    If you lobbed a brick along the Mile, I reckon you would have <1% chance of hitting anyone who had even heard of the EIF, let alone attended one of its events.

    It really is the difference between the two systems. EIF invites performers/groups with a particular overarching creative theme in mind. The Fringe:
    – is a genuine marketplace matching anyone who wants to perform with anyone with a venue to fill
    – massively reduces "search" costs for punters – once you've got your performer and venue, they provide the infrastructure for punters to find and purchase tickets and – critically – place and read reviews so you make some kind of choice.

    We can now digress into the monopolistic implications of the Fringe's network effect…

  • Fraser Orr (November 25, 2021 at 5:24 am) and The Pedant-General (November 25, 2021 at 11:19 am), I grew up in Edinburgh and I was never intellectually confused about the difference between the Fringe and the Festival – nor I think would Edinburgh natives be if you asked them a sensible question about it. After all, “the Fringe” has to be the fringe of something. That said, I confirm your general point – all my life, the Fringe has dominated the Festival and whenever people speak colloquially, not pedantically, they do indeed conflate the Fringe and Festival.

    than a pure hearted politically flawless libertarian who wastes all their energy pursuing unachievable government reform

    If any such pure-hearted libertarians manage (doubtless along with many a less ‘pure’ shade of political opinion) to defeat a particularly future-destroying and horrifyingly-achievable government change, they may do good whether or not they ever achieve the reform which led them to be there in the first place.

  • Paul Marks

    Stonyground – yes Mr Honda was a capitalist.

    For example, when MITI (the supposedly all powerful Japanese government department covering trade and industry) told him to stick to motorcycles – he (very politely) told them to go away, and ignored their instructions.

    Someone like William “Bill” Gates is very different – and that was clear in Washington State politics long before he started to interfere in national and international politics.

    A vile person – really vile.

    As for his claims to not be a private landowner (he is the largest owner of land in the United States) because he holds the land for the good of the world.

    One of my deepest fears is that Mr Gates is NOT lying – and actually believes his own words.

    A maniac cutting off farm land (by buying it – with his Cantillon Effect wealth) and pushing us all into a World Economic Forum nightmare of totalitarianism.

    The best thing that could happen would be one of these great international conferences of governments and corporations (such as the “Davos” events) to somehow get teleported into the Sun.

    Of course, although Mr Gates is a college dropout, the education system is at the heart of all this evil – for it is the way that so many people (who go on to high positions in government and Credit Bubble business) get saturated in evil ideas and attitudes.