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

“So promoting wealth creation – at home and abroad – means changing the climate of opinion so that politicians and bureaucrats who argue for measures that damage business and economic competitiveness are less likely to succeed. In short, we need to campaign for capitalism. To promote profit. To fight for free trade. To remind, indeed to educate our citizens about the facts of economic life. The message is simple – you cannot win the battle against red tape unless you win the intellectual and cultural battle for open markets.”

David Cameron MP

Samizdata quote of the day

“We must have faith in the social and economic benefits of the free market. A real programme for prosperity will progressively remove the barriers to wealth creation in Britain today. We need to open ourselves to risk and treat adults like adults. The stock of regulations must be reduced: we should trust people to make their own mistakes and learn from them. And the flow of new regulation from the EU must also be reduced: our aim should be to take back control of employment and social regulation…

“We must reduce and simplify taxes so we can take on with confidence the long term challenge of competing with China and India for jobs. This means not only proper control of public spending, but also a thoughtful and long-term strategy for tax reduction.”

David Cameron MP

Samizdata quote of the day

In an interview for the New York Daily News in 1997, the actor and entertainer Clint Eastwood explained how the world would change if politicians adopted a flat tax:

“All of a sudden, what do you have? You have the whole tax system run by a little old lady on a home computer, doing the work of all these thousands of bureaucrats and accountants. Passing that would be amazing, wouldn’t it?”

Go ahead, Gordon. Make our day.

Matthew Elliott

The European Social Model is dead! Long live the European Social Model!

Gordon Brown has written an excellent article in today’s Financial Times explaining why the old European Social Model is a relic of the past. He says that a new European Social Model needs to be created, one which is centred around free trade and flexible labour markets. He says that globalization is a race to the top and Europe has to be part of that race. Mr Brown’s comments follow a speech given by Peter Mandelson earlier in the week in which Mandelson mocked the French economy. Mandelson said the French government was engaged in a futile effort to build an economic “Maginot Line”.

It is great to have figures so associated with the Labour Party saying such good stuff, especially while the British have the Presidency of European Union.

Is regional television dying?

Some people lament the loss of the old regional television brands in the UK. In the old days, we had a choice of three channels. The privately-operated channel, ITV, was made up about 15 regional companies working together as a network – companies like Yorkshire Television, Thames, and Tyne Tees Television. Since the mid-90s, there has been a move towards a single ITV company. All the mainland English ITV regions are now simply known as “ITV1”.

What did these regional brands mean? They meant that before national programming like Coronation Street and The Bill, you got told you were in Yorkshire or wherever. Big deal. Lest anyone get the idea that ITV was once some haven for regional programming, it should be noted that ITV has always been criticized for too little regional programming. For example, in the 1960s and 1970s, ATV (later Central Television) kept on getting its knuckles wrapped from the regulator for its regional output being too poor.

The reality is that with fifteen different companies making up ITV, the channel was unfocussed and bloated. That was fine in the analogue world of a handful of channels, but ITV execs knew that ITV has always been a popular, national channel. They realized that in a multichannel world – competing with global players – it needed to be a lean machine with a single, strong channel identity.

Regional programming is still done by ITV – regulation has always required that. But it may be that national television stations are not a good environment from which to do regional programming. Arbitrarily cutting up the country into a dozen or so regions makes it difficult to do meaningful community programming. Regional programming has always been about ticking boxes, rather than about democratized bottom-up community programme-making.

But the digital age has brought with it more than just competition for ITV. It has massively cut the cost of distributing moving pictures. The ten year old who two decades ago would dream of having his own TV station can now borrow his dad’s £200 camcorder and put a programme up on the web or on a peer-to-peer network for his friends to watch. The digital world that has pulled regional ITV branding from our screens gives us the technology for real, bottom-up local television. Because such programming is not a box-ticking exercise, the programmes are likely to be far more meaningful for local communities than ITV has ever been.

And it is not just on the internet that we are seeing more local TV. In June 1999, Six TV was launched in Oxford bringing local television. In October 1999, c9tv started broadcasting in the North West of Northern Ireland. Technology – like digital editing – is making low-cost broadcasting a reality.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I do not really think the House of Commons is ‘My Cup of Tea’, I am too much of an individualist, and also, too self-centred and set in my ways. Enough if I remain a mute, just adequate back-bencher, but frankly most of the problems that so excite ‘the Hon. Members’ leave me quite cold and indifferent.”

– Sir Henry “Chips” Channon in his diary entry for December 5th 1935.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The Government uses a false dichotomy that liberty and security have to be traded off against each other. But you can indeed have both life and liberty. The freedom to express yourself short of inciting violence does not threaten security but bolsters it: I want to know exactly who my enemies are by reading their freely spoken words. And when they cross the line and incite people to terrorism, I want the Government to do the one thing with my tax money of which I approve: protect me from these nutters by throwing them in jail or out of the country.”

– Perry de Havilland writing in today’s Times of London.

Samizdata quote of the day

The key to the intricate and massive system of thought created by Karl Marx is at bottom a simple one: Karl Marx was a communist

– Murray Rothbard (via Mises Economics Blog)

Give me the empirical evidence

In the debate on software patents, the defenders of patents use moral and theoretical arguments, but avoid using data or facts. Different people are good at making different types of arguments. I am a believer in the division of labour. So not everyone will use empirically-rooted arguments. But it seems a bit odd to me that I cannot find anyone who writes things like:

Because Microsoft did not have a patent on the graphical user interface, it made a decision not to invest in operating systems, but because it had a patent on X it increased R&D in that area by 582%.

Instead, the supporters of software patents concentrate on theoretical arguments. As an example, take this article by a patent lawyer writing about software:

In a market where inventions cannot be protected in order to yield a return on the invested resources, very few would be prepared to make those investments available.

I like theoretical arguments, and the argument in the paragraph above is a perfectly reasonable position to have. But if patents really do have a beneficial effect in software, shouldn’t someone somewhere be able to give us some figures to back up that idea? Where is the empirical evidence?


About a year and a half ago, Terence Kealey gave a talk at a Hobart Lunch at the Institute of Economic Affairs arguing that a world without patents would be more innovative. Dr Kealey is a biochemist who is Vice-Chancellor of the University of Buckingham and the author of The Scientific Laws of Economic Research.

It was one of the most interesting events I have been to at the IEA, and the audience was very much split which made for an entertaining Q&A session. I disagreed with Dr Kealey at the lunch, but I recognized there was something to what he said. The lunch was something of a life-changing experience because I have subsequently moved towards his position, though I’m not there yet.

One of the most difficult aspects of thinking about a world with less or no patent protection is that it is so hard to imagine. When thinking about a Britain with a denationalized National Health Service, you can visit mainland Europe or America and see how systems work in other developed countries. Country comparisons aren’t so easily available when it comes to patents.

But one market – that of software – clearly shows that fast innovation can occur without patents, at least in the area of software. If software patents had existed in the US from day one, and if there had been a culture of patenting everything, we might live in a very different world today. We might sit in front of our computers today and see this:

Windows 2005 in an alternative universe

And people would pronounce in public: “Thank goodness that we have software patents. Just as property rights in physical property enables economic development, software patents enable software development.” And they would post articles to that effect on the internet, known in this alternative reality as The Microsoft Network, which might look like this:

The Microsoft Network

And everyone would be thankful that we have a system that clearly and undeniably promotes innovation.

Dr Razeen Sally on Paul Wolfowitz

“Paul Wolfowitz’s nomination to lead the World Bank could turn out to be the right and inspired choice, following on the heels of John Bolton’s nomination as US ambassador to the UN. Both are political realists who appreciate the power of the USA to provide the global Pax and promote a liberal international economic order. Both are sceptics of international organisations and have no time for global-governance chatter. Now Mr Wolfowitz should marry his political realism with economic liberalism. The World Bank should promote markets and economic freedom in the developing world, but with more modest, pared-down means and ends. It should emphasise information-sharing, the exchange of ideas, policy surveillance and technical assistance. But its power of the purse through project and programme lending should be overhauled and kept within strict limits. And global-governance fantasists should be told where to get off.”

– Dr Razeen Sally of the London School of Economics in the report 2005 and Beyond: The Future of Trade, Development & International Institutions (PDF)

Chinese: please enter this market

“Cough, cough, cough,” I spluttered down the telephone in shock when told the price. Markets are, in general, excellent at making things cost less – so effective that we are sometimes encouraged by campaigners to pay extra. So what was it that made me aghast at its high price? It was something called an ISDN mixer.

A few days ago I was in a BBC studio late at night once again. I really like doing radio, but at the same time I would prefer to be doing evening and late-night radio from home with a mug of tea. The problem is that, understandably, the BBC does not like you doing interviews down an ordinary phone line because of the poor sound quality. So while at the BBC, I got a pen and jotted down the make of the ISDN mixer being used.

What’s with this ISDN mixer I am talking about? Apparently ISDN calls are not good quality on their own: I am told you need this ISDN mixer thing which has something called a “g722 audio codec”, and it is this codec which makes the call quality broadcast standard. And do you know how much one of these ISDN mixers cost? The make the Beeb uses is £1679 + VAT, excluding microphone and headphones, but I found another make (used by an impressive range of charities and trade unions) which costs a few hundred less. Still, it seems remarkably pricey for what is essentially a box with a few buttons and a printed circuit board.

I am writing this for two reasons. One, it is possible that an enlightened reader will post a comment explaining that what I need is called an XYZ and costs $79 at Wal-Mart. The second reason is to make the point that markets are a process, not an end state. The high price is not market failure (inasmuch as I do not think there is justification for the government to start making the things), but I do think lots of Chinese companies ought to enter the ISDN mixer market. Let’s hope.