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Samizdata quote of the day – Britain’s unilateral disarmament

What I love about this new encryption law is how much easier it will be for foreign governments to spy on British citizens and enterprises now that Britain has unilaterally disarmed.

– Perry Metzger

23 comments to Samizdata quote of the day – Britain’s unilateral disarmament

  • Paul Marks

    Fashions seize British governance – “policy”.

    No one seems to know where these “policies” come from – but elected politicians are told “this is policy” (as if that means it is Divine tablets coming down from the mountain), there is no possibility of not following “policy” and no elected politician (if asked privately) can remember helping create “policies”.

    I fear many other nations are the same or similar.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Paul: I have been thinking for some time that when the United States went from the much maligned “spoils” system, where new elected officials appointed new people to civil service jobs, to the career civil service system, it made a serious mistake, creating a permanent interest group with an excessive influence over policy decisions. I’m tempted to add this to federal income tax and popular election of senators as one of the changes for the worse that really ought to be reversed.

    I find myself reminded of the Catholic Church’s decision to count Donatism as a heresy, which ensured the control of Christianity by a self-perpetuating priestly hierarchy . . .

  • Steven R

    The mistake the US made wasn’t creating a civil servant to replace the spoils system. The mistake was Congress creating agencies with carte blanche to create whatever policies and procedures and rules and regulations they see fit without any real oversight. Since those agencies are under the Executive branch, it essentially shifted all the power to the White House and a bunch of court cases up to and including Chevron said that was perfectly fine.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Steven R: I’m not convinced. Consider, for example, the position Elon Musk would be in at Twitter if he were legally prevented from discharging the current employees or bringing in new ones to replace them. Changing the policy direction would be significantly harder.

  • bobby b

    Let’s add public employee unionization to that mix of “when it all headed south.” Created a vast new lobby OBO that deep-state system. Never should have happened.

  • Snorri Godhi

    Since those agencies are under the Executive branch, it essentially shifted all the power to the White House

    I beg to disagree: those agencies have assumed most of the legislative AND executive power. They are no longer under the executive power: they are (most of) the executive power. As a consequence, the White House has lost some power.

  • bobby b

    The good news in admin law is that the current Court has been limiting Chevron deference from the wild-west idea that “if Congress didn’t say specifically that you can not do it, then you can do it” to the more reasonable “you can do it if you can point to where Congress said you can do it.”

    To the EPA’s chagrin, of course.

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b – the unionisation (by an Executive Order by President Kennedy) was indeed a mess – it added union rules on top of Civil Service rules, if the bureaucracy do not like a President (hello Donald John Trump) that President finds themselves almost powerless.

    Snorri – yes, as Chief Justice Hewart pointed out as long ago as 1929 (“The New Despotism”) Parliament was being undermined by officials making rules with the force-of-law under vague “Enbabling Acts” (delegated legislation).

    Wiliam H. Stoddard and Steven R.

    Ww are often told that the “modern state” (i.a. all these agencies, departments and so on) would be impossible without a professional bureaucracy – and I agree, but (like yourselves) I am AGAINST the modern state.

    Senator Roscoe Conkling, the leader of the opposition to the creation of a Civil Service in the United States, was not the corrupt Space Monster he is portrayed as. Senator Conkling was a limited government person – who feared a professional bureaucracy would be used to create a government that tried to control the lives of ordinary people.

    And Senator Conkling was correct about that – as he was correct about most things.

  • Bobby, not a fan of the whole “unenumerated rights” things? Or am I misunderstanding you?

  • bobby b

    PdH: More properly, not a fan of unenumerated agency powers. Scalia buttboy to the core. 😉

    (I might be misunderstanding you. I’m referring to, Chevron deference deals with how much deference courts must give to agency rulings and regs. Courts used to say that admin agencies could free-wheel so long as they didn’t go against Congress’s specific orders and pronouncements. Now, agencies need to point to where Congress meant to grant an agency power. “They never said we couldn’t call a puddle a waterway” got shot down, along with some CO2 regulating because Congress never said regulate CO2.

    The unenumerated rights clause was really meant as a political savings clause when the Bill of Rights – the amendments – were passed. Old legal maxim is, if you list a bunch of specific things but leave out this other one, that’s evidence that you don’t mean to include that other thing. Some people didn’t want the BoRs because listing those specific things – guns, speech, etc. – might imply that other natural rights were thus foreclosed. So they added the UR clause to make that clear, to get the votes for the amendments.)

    I do like to lecture, don’t I?

  • Kirk

    Steven R said:

    The mistake the US made wasn’t creating a civil servant to replace the spoils system. The mistake was Congress creating agencies with carte blanche to create whatever policies and procedures and rules and regulations they see fit without any real oversight. Since those agencies are under the Executive branch, it essentially shifted all the power to the White House and a bunch of court cases up to and including Chevron said that was perfectly fine.

    I’ve got a far more cynical take on the whole thing, and that’s based on an observation I’ve made about most American institutions. We don’t do “institutional” at all well, period.

    Look at US unions, for example: They’re extortion rackets, pure and simple. You will never, ever find an American union that is concerned about the well-being of the company it parasitizes, or the customers who support it. In Germany, many unions take a proprietary view of their company, and ruthlessly police their own as if they were a medieval guild. In the US, you screw up as an employee and cost the company billions of dollars? The union will fight to keep you on the job; in at least some of the examples I saw firsthand in Germany, the union is going to take the view that you’re costing them money that could have gone to ensure they kept their jobs, and they’ll blackball your ass in a heartbeat.

    The US just doesn’t do that kind of crap very well. At. All. If you implemented German-style health care, then if you want it to work, you’d best import a bunch of Germans to run it, and make sure that the clientele was also German. That model simply ain’t going to work with Americans.

    I’ve got no idea why this is, but you can observe it in many places. We don’t do these sorts of organizations at all well, and I would speculate that that’s because of our cult of individualism that may lead to everyone looking at the organization as a handy thing to loot to one’s own benefit. That’s just speculation, but I’ll be damned if I’ve ever seen a US organizational culture that was actually workable and effective over the long haul. They’re all essentially self-corrupting, which is why I’d prefer to leave most functions in the hands of private enterprise; then, when those fail and become corrupted, it doesn’t bloody matter, because there will be someone else who isn’t incompetent and venal to come along and fulfill that function in short order.

  • Snorri Godhi

    On a personal note, i have found the video from reason.com that first made me aware of the arbitrary power of government bureaucracy.

    About a month later, i re-read chapter 5 of The Road to Serfdom, which made me accept that what the video says is true, and not limited to the US.

  • Paul Marks

    Kirk – in the middle of superhero shows for children, an actor playing the President will point at a pen in a case on the wall and say “this is the pen with which President Roosevelt signed the National Labor Relations Act”.

    For those who do not know this 1935 Act was an imitation of the British Acts of 1875 and 1906, it essentially put unions above the law of contract (and-so-on) and institutionalised MASS UNEMPLOYMENT (which is what forced “Collective Bargaining” naturally leads to – see W.H. Hutt “The Strike Threat System” and how it depends on government preventing employers from dismissing people who refuse to work), thankfully the, demented, 1935 Act (normally called the Wagner Act – after the New York politician who pushed it), was partly (partly) counter balanced by the Taft Act of the 1940s – otherwise the United States would have had permanent mass unemployment.

    No television show would celebrate the Taft Act – but shows that parents would not think are anything to do with politics will celebrate the Wagner Act.

    That is not an isolated example – the culture (dominated by a few vast corporations) is institutionally leftist, and fanatically dedicated to indoctrinating the young with Collectivist ideas.

    We in the West really do have far left Collectivism pushed by “Capitalist Big Business” as well as by the government (and private) education system.

    The most well known private school in Britain, Eton College (the heart of the establishment), fired a teacher for expressing non Woke opinions on biology.

    Yes things are that bad.

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b and Snorri.

    Yes – the regulations are arbitrary and have the effect of destroying independent business enterprises and small property owners. Along with Credit Money (yes an old obsession of mine) the regulations help concentrate the economy in a few hands.

    Take the example that bobby b gave – people being told they do not need to pay the rent to their landlords, because they are not going to be evicted.

    That will not hurt vast entities such as BlackRock – they can absorb the losses and then sell the properties (or, more likely, BUY more properties – concentrate land and homes in a few corporate and government hands) when they are allowed to evict the tenants. But it totally cripples small property owners.

    The Constitution of the United States says (Article One, Section Ten) that no State may pass any ex post facto law (i.e. no regulation that changes an existing contract – or makes some action criminal when it was not criminal at the time it was done) or “Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts”.

    No “Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts”.

    It is right there in Article One, Section Ten – no “Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts”.

    But the judges just wiped their backsides with the Constitution of the United States (and the State Constitution as well) – as they so often do.

    “But Covid….” plagues far more severe than Covid 19 were common when the Constitution of the United States was passed, and when the Constitution of Minnesota was passed.

    “Covid” makes no difference at all to contracts, such as a rental contract, or to legal safeguards against voter fraud (no mass mail-in ballots – mass mail-in ballots make it impossible to check to see of the votes are really from who they are supposed to be from, and mass mail-in ballots are INTENDED to have that effect).

    But judges are often God-damned-liars – and rule in flat contradiction to both the Constitution and the written laws (election laws and other laws).

    This is one of the things that makes the “Administrative State” – i.e. arbitrary power in the hands of officials and “scientific experts” (such as the Collectivist fanatics who make up “SAGE” in the United Kingdom – and just about every other public body as well) possible.

  • Paul Marks

    Snorri – things have got a lot worse even in our own life times.

    Take a Federal Act of Congress from the 1950s and compare it with one passed today.

    The words today will be much vaguer than they were in the 1950s – basically demanding that officials (and “scientific experts”) “interpret” them – because otherwise they are meaningless.

    And the length of the Act is vastly longer now – an Act of Congress in the 1950s tended to be a few paged long and passed after detailed debate, today an Act of Congress will be hundreds (or thousands) of pages long – and most members of Congress will have only seen the Bill a few hours before they “have to” pass it.

    “You must pass this, even though you have no idea what is in it, because otherwise the government will collapse – the poor will stave, the old will die of cold and sickness” and-so-on. Because, especially since the 1960s (although the process started in the 1930s) many people (most people?) are now dependent on the government for their food, their medical care, and-so-on. What was once a population of independent citizens is now, in large part, a population of dependents – and “if you do not pass this Bill, even though you do not know what is in the Bill, these people will starve to death”.

    If this is democracy then I am Alexander the Great.

  • Paul Marks

    For those who do not know.

    “regulate interstate commerce” meant ensure commerce was regular over State lines, i.e. free trade over States lines in the United States. It did NOT mean the Federal Government controlling every aspect of human life.

    Even as late as 1935 the Supreme Court ruled, nine Justices to zero (yes the “liberal” Justices as well) that the Federal bureaucracy did NOT have the power to tell people what they could produce and how they should or should not sell it.

    It was not till Supreme Court judgements during World War II (yes recently as that) that the Federal Government gained this arbitrary and despotic power (even if the trade did not cross a State line – say a farmer grew food and sold it on his farm) – and even in the 1950s this power was used sparingly, as if the Federal Government was not used to being able to do anything it felt like doing.

    “But Paul – Prohibition”.

    Prohibition was passed by a specific Constitutional Amendment (which was later repealed) otherwise Federal Prohibition would have been Unconstitutional.

    Those who denounce “Fascism” normally do not know what the word means – and would be astonished to learn that there was an effort to establish Mussolini style Fascism in the United States from 1933 to 1935 (see above for the Supreme Court striking it down) – and that a whole series of later interventions are de facto establishing a Corporate State (i.e. – Fascism) in our time – it is not complete yet, but it is well under way.

  • William H. Stoddard

    Paul: It is worth noting that the federal income tax was only made legal by a specific constitutional amendment. Before that the only direct taxes the federal government was allowed to charge had to be proportionate to the populations of states, which amounted to making them head taxes—so many dollars per person. Unfortunately, that opened the door to the same kind of thinking you describe, and now we have people talking about a national wealth tax, which is NOT authorized by the constitution—and not seeming to notice that.

  • JohnK


    I have seen it argued that the prohibitionists supported the imposition of a national income tax because that would replace the lost revenue if alcohol were to be banned. If so, we can say that prohibition really was the worst policy failure in the history of the United States.

  • Steven R

    And the NLRA wouldn’t have even been necessary had employees demanded unions because their employers kept doing things like paying them in script instead of cash, not even pretending to care about safety, had impartial observers for things like weighing loads, having hired guns as “private security” that would shoot strikers and disappear union rabble rousers, make employees families live in subpar housing and go to company-owned churches, buy local government officials and sheriffs to crack down on union organizers, so on and so forth, and an American public that didn’t care about any of that so long as coal came out of the mines, wood came out of the forests, steel came out of the mills, and oil kept being pumped out of the ground.

    That said, once those protections were in place (you have to pay in cash and not script, OSHA, there is a right for employees to band together, etc.) the unions got what they wanted and had outlived their purpose. At that point it stopped being about the workers and became a way for union leadership to line their own pockets at employees’ expense and all they had to do was convince the employees that it was all for their own good.

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the one real flaw in capitalism is it requires people to be moral and far too many of them would rather put another penny in their bank account than treat their employees like human beings. Too many of them don’t and then complain about government overreach when the cry of voices become too loud to ignore and end up writing stuff like the NLRA or the Clean Air Act because companies just kept on polluting, and the like. They bring it on themselves.

  • Paul Marks

    William H. Stoddard – yes correct Sir, I believe it was the 16th Amendment.

    Steven R – no the National Labour Relations Act (the Wagner Act) was not “necessary”, it did great harm.

    Like most people you do not know how a Labour Market works (principles of economics – which are not properly taught) and your view of history is totally distorted – but NOT by any fault of yours. As for violence – it is not “private security” who planted explosives to murder people for the “crime” of going to work, or burned down office buildings containing human beings. None of this is your fault – as real economics and history are not taught, instead a totally distorted version of both subjects is taught.

    I am sorry if I have used harsh language – but things are as I have stated. Perhaps W.H. Hutt and others used more polite language than I have done – but they could explain things at book length, my comments are quite long enough as it is, I can not go on at book length. Again I apologise for any offense caused by my communicating like an old crow.

    As for pollution – it is, or should be, a tort. As it harms the air and water supplies of others. The Wenesleydale judgement in 19th century England that harming the air or water supplies of others was not a tort if “great undertakings” were under way, was a wrongly decided (very wrongly decided) legal case.

    By the way, C02 does not harm the air and water supplies of others – indeed it benefits others by increasing crop yiels it is, therefore, not a tort.

  • Steven R


    I realize that you are a subject matter expert on every single topic of discussion that comes along, and will gladly bloviate endlessly to reinforce the point, but you need to understand something: some of us actually know a thing or two about what we’re discussing. For me, US labor history isn’t something I’ve been barely exposed to. The West Virginia Mine Wars (a part of US labor history and the largest armed uprising since the Civil War) is an actual topic I have studied for years, both an an avid amateur and a graduate student. It was the topic of my master’s thesis, I’ve read every secondary source on the subject and have a file cabinet full of copied primary sources, so in this case I’m not going to argue with you, but I will direct you to a number of books that will open your eyes on what actually happened. Your local public library (or university library if they allow you to use it, their policy on non-students may differ from ours) may be able to get them via interlibrary loan or purchase them. Barring that, I suppose there are other, less than legal, ways to get them.

    Bloodletting in Appalachia by Howard B. Lee. (He was anti-union, so you’ll like him)
    Thunder in the Mountains by Lon Savage
    The Devil is Here in these Hills by James Green
    The Battle of Blair Mountain by Robert Shogan
    When Miners March by Bill Blizzard
    Gun Thugs, Rednecks, and Radicals by David Allan Corbin (this is an anthology of edited primary sources so start with the other first)
    On Dark and Bloody Ground by Anne Lawrence (the same kind of material as Corbin’s work)

    I can go on, but that ought to get you enough material to start.

  • Paul Marks

    Steven R. – I apologise for messing up my last comment, I am very tired – I am a lot of the time now (as they old saying goes “it is not the end that is the problem, it is process of ending that is the problem” – the human condition is really annoying). I could not think of how to put what I wanted to say and it came out wrong.

    For example, Coal Minders in West Virginia (or anywhere else) can not (can not) improve their long term pay and conditions by Collective Bargaining – because that is not how economic law works (it is like trying to change the law of gravity by organising protests). But without a book length comment (which I might not even be able to write these days) it is hard to explain the economics of a labour market. They can improve short term pay and conditions by Collective Bargaining, at the price of higher unemployment, but not long term waged and conditions – indeed if they go down the Collective Bargaining road their long term pay and conditions will be worse than they otherwise would have been.

    As for Corporations – they did not use to exist, and perhaps (perhaps) they should not exist. But if the mines were owned by individuals or families (rather than Corporations) it would not make much difference to the supply and demand for various sorts of labour – and it is supply and demand for various forms of labour that should determine wages and conditions. A worker cooperative owned mine would find itself in much the same position.

    As for paying in script, rather than cash – I have no real objection to the 19th century British Acts that insisted that workers must be paid in cash. Even though this does not, in fact, improve their living standards.

    The Ford Motor Company paid in cash after Henry Ford found out that banks were charging to cash cheques – indeed it carried on paying in cash long after other companies stopped doing so (because workers all had bank accounts and they paid the wages straight into the bank accounts – it was more efficient to do that). I think this was because no one dared change the policy of Mr Ford – whilst he was still alive.

  • Paul Marks

    An example of the decline of democracy – how “policy” is not made the way that people think it is.

    The “Tax Payers Alliance” keeps complaining that Council Tax is going up by 4.9% – regardless of what political party (or parties) supposedly control the local council.

    But there is no mystery – first most Local Government spending is mandated by Central Government (that goes all the way back to the Disraeli Act of 1875 – but it has got a lot worse) and much of that spending is often in the hands of “trusts” over which local councillors do not even have the theoretical control that councillors have over Local Government Officers (I say “theoretical” control – as a local councillor who actually tried to give orders to Local Government Officers would find themselves punished). Councils do not decide, for example, whether to look after children or adults – they have to do that (by law) and as society is declining (the decline of the family, churches, independent fraternal orders and-so-on) more and more people are dependent on the state – and Trusts can go over millions of Pounds over budget without anyone having the legal power to do anything about it (the technical term is that such things as Children’s Social Care and Adult Social Care are “demand led services”)

    “But why 4.9%?”

    Because any more than 4.9% and there has to be a local referendum (which costs more money to organise than the increase in Council Tax would raise) and any less than 4.9% and the authority loses Central Government grant.

    So for local government entities (of this particular type) 4.9% increase it is.

    Do not mistake me…..

    The Democratic Process remains intact – there are elections, budget meetings, debates and-so-on

    Just as there were under the Emperor Augustus after he “reformed” the Roman Republic.

    It is just that, as with the “Republic” under Augustus and later Emperors – everyone knows, in advance, what the outcome will be.

    I am told that the Emperor Justinian got rid of the “elections” and so on – but that was over 500 years later. For half a Millennium the Roman Republic, at least theoretically, continued.

    “Tax harmonisation” is another thing – I am told it started in the Weimar Republic in the 1920s.

    Elections continued and budget debates and all the rest of it – but taxes were, basically, the same all over Germany. Sometimes wealthy areas will be taxed to provide stuff to poorer areas – this is a practice in places such as New Jersey, and in New Hampshire (after a demented judge decided that ever high Property Tax was a good idea – and the spineless population did not tar and feather the judge, as Americans once would have done).

    Officials and academics love all this, taxes (services, and regulations) “harmonised” and so on, – because democracy appears to continue, even though (in reality) it has been exterminated.