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

“When did you hear any public figure extol cheap energy as an agent of poverty alleviation? When did you hear any historian describe how coal, and later oil, liberated the mass of humanity from back-breaking drudgery and led to the elimination of slavery? For 10,000 years, the primary source of energy was human muscle-power, and emperors on every continent found ways to harness and exploit their fellows. But why bother with slaves when you can use a barrel of sticky black stuff to do the work of a hundred men – and without needing to be fed or housed? The reason no one says these things (other than Matt Ridley) is to be blunt, that it is unfashionable. The high-status view is that we are brutalising Gaia, that politicians are in hock to Big Oil, and that we all ought to learn to get by with less – a view that is especially easy to take if you spend the lockdown being paid to stay in your garden, and have no desire to go back to commuting.”

Dan Hannan

I remember reading TS Ashton’s book on the Industrial Revolution many years ago as an undergraduate, and it was emphatic that no serious civilisation lifts out of poverty without an Industrial Revolution. Even Karl Marx, wrong as he was on so much around economics, gave grudging respect to the IR in his Communist Manifesto. (Old Soviet propaganda posters would show pictures of rosy-cheeked workers in front of factories belching out smoke.)

38 comments to Samizdata quote of the day

  • David

    No politician has explained why Net Zero has to be done by 2030 other than muttering ‘climate crisis’ which seems to be a big lie that they all utter. Or why China/India get a free pass until 2050 and can build as many coal stations as they want. When do the serious protests against Net Zero start?

  • Philippe Hermkens

    Ayn RAND described it perfectly. Socialism has so abyssimal failures that nobody can support it anymore . With ecology, it is the goal. Famine and poverty are the aim.
    “The hatred of the good for being the good ” They want us destroyed, hungry and humble. So they could rule us in their insanity.
    Why ? Because they are intellectuals who know they are complete failures.
    They are worse than fascists or communists.

  • When do the serious protests against Net Zero start?

    When the lights go out. Just like 1974.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    In support of Matt Ridley, the link provided by Dan Hannan goes to Amazon USA. Which might be the wrong direction for a British author and a British audience.

    Amazon UK version:

    Anyway, recommended reading.
    Now then, how do we buy shares in his family’s coal mine?

  • Ridley was chairman of the UK bank Northern Rock from 2004 to 2007, during which period it experienced the first run on a British bank in 130 years. He resigned, and the bank was bailed out by the UK government; this led to its nationalisation.

    Hmmm. Press “X” to Doubt.

  • Stonyground

    The BBC have been running trailers for a programme called something like ‘Big Oil versus the World’. Our problem seems to be that great swathes of the population just have no idea how all the stuff that supports their cushy lifestyle is made and distributed. They have no idea what the consequences of Net Zero will actually be in reality, and seem determined to support it until that reality hits them in the face like a house brick.

  • As I say, when they’re shivering around a candle like some Dickensian Christmas card theme, with neither gas to warm them nor electricity for light or heat, then and only then will the consequences of NetZero (Marxism) come home to them.

    The bigger question is what will they do after that?

  • Stuart Noyes

    My mother was raised in the country. Her and her mother collected fallen wood to burn. That’s illegal now.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Stoneground, I wonder how many people have any idea of how many things, such as plastics, artificial fibres, paints, lubricants, etc, come from oil and the processes involved?

    What I worry is that the education system in much of the world simply doesn’t prepare the public to grasp any of this. Our culture doesn’t appear to encourage curiosity.

    What’s needed are ideas on how to change this. Suggestions welcome!

  • Rudolph Hucker

    @Johnathan Pearce
    I sympathise with your point of view, as most of us in the UK & USA are now living with an education system that has dumbed-down the crucial STEM subjects i.e. Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. Science of course means the proper sciences (Biology, Chemistry, Physics). Some might say that’s just in response to “market forces” and the lack of demand for STEM-qualified young people, as most of our old heavy industry has collapsed.

    Other countries, of course, haven’t given up on STEM. I saw a brand-new MG car on my local High Street just yesterday. I was, for a moment, confused. Didn’t MG go bust a few years ago. Ah (light bulb moment), this must be one of the new Chinese MGs, built after they bought the remains of MG and moved it lock, stock and two smoking exhausts from the Midlands to China.

    How the Chinese must be laughing at these pathetic Westerners. They don’t even want to try and compete any more, and it’s so easy to grab their technology. e.g. Manchester Uni and graphene.

    What’s needed are ideas on how to change this.

    Move to India? That’s one of the countries now receiving more Russian oil and gas. Along with producing more of their own coal. And the technology transfer (like TATA owning Jaguar Land Rover).

    Meanwhile, some folks are confused by Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan …

    … apparently in defiance of Joe Biden and Chinese threats of military retaliation. Was Pelosi’s Taiwan visit a piece of theatre or was it for real?

    Nobody seems to believe that the US will protect Taiwan from China (as a nation state). What Pelosi (and her backers) would be willing to protect is Taiwan’s semiconductor industry. Otherwise Apple (et al) goes down the pan big-time.

    The Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company makes 90% of the world’s advanced semiconductors. It is by far the world’s largest semiconductor foundry. Without the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, that would mean companies like Apple, Qualcomm and many others could not function. That’s a lot of the American economy.

    Nice little industry you’ve got there, would be a shame if you and and your families end-up in some Chinese labour camp (nudge nudge). Do you fancy moving the senior people to California? Just in case the Chinese do invade. We can move the fabrication plants (or just rebuild them) somewhere like Singapore or India.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    John Galt, Ridley’s tenure at Northern Rock doesn’t mean his views on science and energy are mistaken. And that’s assuming he was responsible for the NR collapse, which I doubt. I covered that episode.

    Play the ball, not the man.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Even Karl Marx, wrong as he was on so much around economics, gave grudging respect to the IR in his Communist Manifesto.

    My understanding (possibly wrong) is that Marx inherited from Hegel the Aristotelian notion of the inevitability of Progress.

    Wasn’t Marx the first writer to introduce the concept of “Industrial Revolution”?

  • pete

    Karl Marx wasn’t being worked to an early death in a Manchester factory.

    His enthusiasm for industrial revolutions might have waned if he or any of his family had been subjected to such economic brutalism.

    The fortunate always have general theories about how society should advance but it always involves hardship for others, never themselves.

    The Greens are the latest manifestation of this phenomenon.

  • Zerren Yeoville

    Well, as the banner in one of the photos (the second one down) in Samizdata’s report of last year’s anti-lockdown protests put it, ‘YOU Are The Carbon They Want To Reduce.’

    As to ‘STEM’ focused education, some may have noticed that there appears to be a concerted effort to turn STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) into STEAM with the addition of Arts. Will it devalue the whole concept, we may well wonder?….

    Questioner: “So, how did you all get your first-class degrees, may I ask?”

    Science graduate: “I developed a promising new technique to combat pancreatic cancer by stimulating the Islets of Langerhans to increase hormone production.”

    Engineering graduate: “I designed a 600m-high viaduct to carry a six-lane motorway across a 2km-wide valley using 15% less metal in the structure than any previous design.”

    Arts graduate: “I glued four tampons to a seaside-gift-shop print of three kittens in a basket and called it ‘Searing Critique Of Consumer Capitalism #17.”

  • Bulldog Drummond

    His enthusiasm for industrial revolutions might have waned if he or any of his family had been subjected to such economic brutalism.

    One of the reasons the countryside emptied out during Industrial Revolution was that as shitty & grim as Victorian factories were, and how squalid cities where, rural life was even worse & certainly more precarious. Hard for us to imagine.

  • Johnathan Pearce (London)

    Pete, Bulldog Drummond has already given what I think is a strong response, but I’d add that the long hours and drudgery of working in a factory was still better than no work at all, and further, that as returns to capital increased and more goods and services got made, so did real wages, and over time, workers began to put together friendly societies, savings schemes, and the rest. Pre-industrial civilisation was fine for a small sliver of aristocrats and a few merchants. For everyone else, you were a good harvest away from mass starvation. In the early days of the IR, it was fashionable for “romantic” writers and artists, such as Wordsworth, Southey and Ruskin to denounce industry as dirty and cruel, failing to understand the direction of travel.

    Marx was an awful individual in many ways, and his theory of exploitation based on a dud theory of labour value that could not explain resource allocation, prices and co-ordination, and he failed to really understand entrepreneurship and risk taking as genuinely important drivers of wealth. But he did intuit that the rise of industry was a generally positive development, even if he was characteristically rude about peasants and the “idiocy of rural life”. He also grasped that with industry, it meant that a lot of women could, for the first time, start to earn money outside the home, and grasped that this would have momentous consequences.

    This collection of essays, edited by FA Hayek, is also good at debunking many of the claims that capitalism immiserated people who would, in some parallel history, have lived a joyous life of rural pleasure, indolence and fun.

  • Paul Marks

    The United States Senate has just passed another “Climate” orgy of government spending, taxes and regulations. This will further undermine the American economy – which is already in recession.

    They did this KNOWING that the People’s Republic of China will just carry on increasing C02 emissions. The PRC has even formally left the talks – they have made it absolutely obvious that they are going to carry on producing vastly more C02 than the United States (let alone the United Kingdom – which produces 1% of world C02 emissions).

    This campaign in the West has nothing really to do with reducing world C02 emissions – which will carry on increasing.

    This campaign in the West is about replacing the West (in manufacturing and military strength – for military strength depends, in the end, on manufacturing strength) with the People’s Republic of China Communist Party dictatorship.

    “That is paranoid” – what other conclusion is consistent with the facts?

    When all the facts lead to a “paranoid” conclusion – that conclusion is not paranoid.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Karl Marx wasn’t being worked to an early death in a Manchester factory. His enthusiasm for industrial revolutions might have waned if he or any of his family had been subjected to such economic brutalism.

    Sure, factory work was hard, no denying that. But not as hard and badly paid as agricultural work. Otherwise why would so many people have moved? It was true 200 years ago, and it’s still true. Agricultural work was seasonal, temporary, and at the whim of the weather (good or bad, and no pay if bad). For many, factory work was a comparative heaven (more regular work, indoors, dry and better paid).

    The famous saying “From Hell, Hull and Halifax – From all these three, Good Lord, deliver us” wasn’t about life in Halifax factories, although it could have been about life expectancy in Hull’s fishing industry. Men living past 40 was considered unusual. The saying was more about Yorkshire Justice.

    At Halifax, the law so sharp doth deal,
    That whoso more than 13 pence doth steal;
    They have a gyn that wondrous, quick and well,
    Sends thieves all headless unto Heaven or Hell.

  • Paul Marks

    No Snorri – Aristotle did not believe that progress was inevitable. Indeed it was part of Hegel’s (concealed) attack on Aristotle that Aristotle had no real theory of change. However, Hegel’s own theory , thesis, anti thesis, synthesis – and a “stage theory” of history, is deeply problematic.

    Did Karl Marx invent the idea of an industrial revolution? That seems very unlikely – as Karl Marx was born in 1818 and did not really write anything till the 1840s.

    It was obvious that the mass production of factories (the developments that started in the mid 1700s) had produced a very different economic system long before the 1840s.

    Although it is true that the number of industrial workers did not outnumber the number agricultural workers in England and Wales till the Census of 1851.

    It was not that people were “driven off the land” (as mythology would have it) – it is that the extra people (the extra births who in previous ages have starved to death) went to work in factories and other industrial enterprises.

    Ireland tried to maintain a society of peasant plot farming in spite of rising population – parts of Ireland had an agricultural and industrial revolution, but most of it did NOT.

    This system of most people depending on peasant plot farming in Ireland led to utter horror in the late 1840s.

    That is the sort of horror that Bulldog Drummond is pointing to – about one person in three in Ireland either died or had to leave the country.

    The lack of modern farming and modern manufacturing in most of Ireland led to utter disaster. “Greens” please not.

    “No, no, no – it was lack of government welfare that led to disaster in Ireland”.

    Not so – as Ireland had welfare taxes from 1831 onwards, and in the late 1840s had the highest welfare (“Poor Law”) taxes on the planet. Indeed after the Act of 1846 areas of Ireland that were not bankrupt were forced to subsidise areas of Ireland that were bankrupt – so everywhere was dragged down.

    Far from following “laissez faire” policies in Ireland (as the lying “history” books and television programmes claim) – London actually used Ireland as a test-bed for various statist policies.

    National police force (1801), national system of state schools, welfare taxes on a national basis (with non bankrupt Poor Law Unions forced to subsidise bankrupt Poor Law Unions – thus dragging all areas down) .. all done in Ireland when it would have been very difficult to do these things in England, Scotland and Wales.

    For example, why was a system of state schools created in Ireland? It was created because an English aristocrat (the future Earl of Derby – who was not even a government minister at the time) wrote a letter in 1831 suggesting it as a good idea.

    Whatever one thinks of the policy – some powerful bloke writing a letter and it being carried out, with the Irish taxpayers having no say in the matter, is NOT the way policy should be made.

    Shades of the United Nations and World Economic Forum making policy on “Sustainable Development Goals” (“public control of land” and all) with ordinary taxpayers (ordinary voters) having no veto.

    Policy should NOT be made from above and imposed on the voters – that is not democracy.

  • Paul Marks

    Rudolph Hucker.

    The number of people working in farming in England and Wales (the first industrial countries) went UP during the industrial revolution.

    People were not really moving from farming to industry – it was the extra people (the extra births) who, in previous times would have died, who moved to the industrial towns.

    The industrial revolution saved their lives.

    Could wages and conditions of work been better? Yes, but NOT with state intervention. The high government spending, taxes and disruption of trade, caused by the wars of the period (first with the Americans – then decades of war with France) meant that wages were lower and conditions of work worse, than would otherwise have been the case.

    Things would have been less bad if government had managed to keep its spending and taxes down (and managed to keep trade more open) – but the wars made that impossible.

  • Martin

    Been a while since I read it for a college paper but George Boyer I believe pointed out that in his work on the historical context of the Communist Manifesto that Marx’s understanding of factory conditions was based largely on Engel’s work on Manchester.

    Manchester factories were pretty diabolical for the period and the working classes there in.a bad shape.In other cities like Birmingham and London, which had about as much industrialisation but generally more still smaller factories and workshops and less ‘satanic mills’, conditions were better. Had Marx and Engels studied those areas in good faith, their understanding of industrialisation and capitalism may have been richer and more accurate.

  • Stonyground

    Was agriculture forced to become more mechanised because the peasants were moving into factories? Or was the process enabled by industrialisation creating the ability to mass produce machinery? Farming is extremely industrialised now, there are massive machines to do pretty much every task. This work is often done by contractors who can presumably afford bigger machines than a single farmer would buy for his own use.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    @Paul Marks
    The number of people working in farming in England and Wales (the first industrial countries) went UP during the industrial revolution.

    Citation required.

    It might depend which phase of the industrial revolution you mean. Early phase maybe? Or maybe you’re thinking of the agricultural revolution that happened before the industrial revolution.

    The British Agricultural Revolution refers to the period of change from the traditional to modern farming systems in Britain that occurred between the mid-1600s and the late 1800s. Before the revolution, the open-field system of cultivation was used which caused cattle overgrazing, uncontrolled breeding, and spread of animal diseases. Mechanization and scientific principles were adopted, which led to increased productivity and efficiency.

    The agricultural revolution in Britain was instrumental in the developments that characterized the industrial revolution. The enclosure system had displaced people who subsequently moved into cities. A further increase in population provided labor for the industries. The agricultural revolution, which led to a greater abundance of food, had led to significant reductions in the prices of foodstuffs. The population thus had more disposable income to spend on industrial products. The need to sustain food production inspired more inventions in technology which facilitated the industrial revolution. During the agricultural period, the United Kingdom became economically prosperous and wealthy as farmers acquired capital to invest in industries and technology. The innovations in Agricultural revolution, coupled with improved infrastructure further fueled the industrial revolution.


    Or something else?

    England found the most trouble with providing food for its growing cities. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, most people were peasant farmers. By 1800, thirty-six percent was involved in agriculture, and by 1900 the number was less than seven percent. While England experienced this issue the most, other nations found a similar pattern to be true.

    New technologies and practices increased agriculture production and also reduced the need for farm workers. New laws (in England at least) changed the way that land was distributed among the population. The farmers who ended up with a larger amount of land ended up being more helpful in bringing “modern” practices. For example, they encouraged the use of new crops (turnips and potatoes). New breeds of cattle and sheep produced more meat; also these methods gave way to less disease among the animals. Horses replaced oxen to pull machines such as plows. The practice of using animal manure to fertile fields and using crop rotation methods because common. Farmers found that by changing which crops were grown yearly, the soil could faster recover its fertility. New drainage techniques allowed for swamps and marshes to be used for production as well.


  • Snorri Godhi

    A couple of remarks.

    First, i remember reading in The Economist, over 20 years ago, that human height went down in Britain in the early phase of the Industrial Revolution.

    Assuming that i remember correctly, does that mean that the IR was a Bad Thing? In short, no.

    People were moving to the cities to work in factories, not necessarily because living conditions were better in the cities: more likely, because the demand for agri.labor decreased (to produce a fixed amount of food: more agri.labor was probably needed because of an increased population — but a reduced percentage of this population could be profitably employed in the agri.sector).

    Why could more food be produced with less labor?
    First, because of crops from the New World, especially potatoes.
    Second, because of the Anglo-Dutch Agricultural Revolution.

    Mass unemployment of farmers was an undesirable, but short-term, effect of progress in agriculture.

    We could also go into the Enclosures and Clearances, but i do not feel qualified to comment of that.

  • bobby b

    “In short, no.”

    Good pun. 😉

  • Fraser Orr

    @Paul Marks
    The United States Senate has just passed another “Climate” orgy of government spending, taxes and regulations.

    The thing that most upsets me about this is the provision for 87,000 new IRS auditors. 87,000!!! I was reminded of that section in the declaration of Independence: reasons that the colonists had decided to separate from Great Britain, including this one:

    He has … sent hither Swarms of Officers to harrass our People, and eat out their Substance.

    Plus ça change…. The pigs are living in the farmhouse now.

  • Fred Z

    A long dead and erudite writer of science fiction, L. Sprague de Camp, (a lovely name) wrote a book called “The Ancient Engineers” wherein he postulated that the study of technical innovation correlated with advances in human success much more than the study of political history.

    He was right.

    Politicians drag us down more often than not, being mostly parasites.

  • Snorri Godhi

    L. Sprague de Camp […] postulated that the study of technical innovation correlated with advances in human success much more than the study of political history.

    The serious study of political history is needed to avoid having more political history and less technical innovation.

  • Tmitsss

    History shows us how quickly a country can return to slavery as the Germans did during their fossil fuel shortage of the first half of the 1940s.

  • Rudolph Hucker

    Good point.

    I think I’ve already remarked that Germany (of all European countries) should have remembered what happens when the whole country runs out of fuel.

    History will also show us how quickly history can be repeated during the fossil fuel shortage of the first half of the 2020s.

  • Fred Z

    @Snorri – yes, but the study of politics must be how to prevent 99% of politics.

  • Indur Goklany

    At risk of being accused (rightly!) of self promotion, I recommend Humanity Unbound: How Fossil Fuels Saved Humanity from Nature and Nature from Humanity.

    Gist follows:

    For most of its existence, mankind’s well‐​being was dictated by disease, the elements and other natural factors, and the occasional conflict. Virtually everything it needed — food, fuel, clothing, medicine, transport, mechanical power — was the direct or indirect product of living nature.

    Good harvests reduced hunger, improved health, and increased life expectancy and population — until the next inevitable epidemic, crop failure, natural disaster, or conflict. These Malthusian checks ensured little or no sustained growth in population or well‐​being.

    Then mankind began to develop technologies to augment or displace living nature’s uncertain bounty. Gradually food supplies and nutrition improved and population, living standards, and human well‐​being advanced haltingly. The Industrial Revolution accelerated these trends. Mankind broke its Malthusian bonds. Growth became the norm. Population exploded, along with living standards and well‐​being.

    Technologies dependent on cheap fossil fuels enabled these improving trends. Nothing can be made, transported, or used without energy, and fossil fuels provide 80 percent of mankind’s energy and 60 percent of its food and clothing. Thus, absent fossil fuels, global cropland would have to increase by 150 percent to meet current food demand, but conversion of habitat to cropland is already the greatest threat to biodiversity. By lowering humanity’s reliance on living nature, fossil fuels not only saved humanity from nature’s whims, but nature from humanity’s demands.

    Key to these developments was that these technologies accelerated the generation of ideas that spawned even better technologies through, among other things, greater accumulation of human capital (via greater populations, time‐​expanding illumination, and time‐​saving machinery) and faster exchange of ideas and knowledge (via greater and faster trade and communications).

    Since this was written in 2010 (published in 2012), some of the figures in the foregoing need minor revision. Although fossil fuels still provides about 80% of global energy consumption, they also provide at least 62.5% of global food production including at least 48% from fossil-fuel-derived nitrogenous fertilizers, and an extra 167% of global cropland would be necessary to replace food production if we go NetZero. See: Reduction in global habitat loss from fossil-fuel-dependent increases in cropland productivity

  • The Industrial Revolution was based upon the use of cheap energy to substitute for low-productivity human labor, freeing them up for higher-productivity labor, which resulted in higher wages for workers. Making energy expensive reverses this process. Simply put, you can either have cheap energy and high wages, or expensive energy and low wages.

  • Elrod Penwhistle

    The greatest labor saving and productivity tool ever invented is a gallon of diesel fuel.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Fred Z: IIUC what you mean, i agree.

    Let me tell you a story: I studied Roman history in high school in Italy, and definitely did not get any libertarian message from it. I was surprised to learn*, much later, that the works of Roman historians inspired the Roundheads to revolt against absolute monarchy.

    * from the essay, A Third Concept of Liberty, by Quentin Skinner.

    (And thanks to Indur Goklany for the links.)

  • Indur Goklany

    John Galt — Matt Ridley may not have been the greatest bank executive in the world, but he has greater intellectual integrity than virtually any public intellectual dealing with innovation, technology and scientific matters. He has endured a lot of grief on global warming, yet he has not compromised his intellectual honesty. Moreover, his ideas on those matters are themselves quite ingenious, and he has a remarkable ability to synthesize those ideas for public consumption.
    I would no more expect him to be a great banker than I would expect a great cricketer to be a great chairman of the board for, say, a tea company (or a banker, for that matter).

  • David Bishop

    Bruce, pertinent indeed. Thank you for the introduction to Magatte Wade. She is very like Candace Owens in the US. Both are forcefully eloquent in their condemnation of so-called ‘progressives’, who are anything but.