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]

The debt ceiling should be cut not raised

A few years back, I proposed an alternative budget for the UK. IIRC, it involved cutting taxes by a quarter, spending by a third. Even assuming no increase in economic growth (that would boost sales tax revenue), this would have created a massive budget surplus that could have cut the UK national debt by over 10%.

I opposed default then for what I still think were good reasons: first, many private individuals and institutions bought bonds in good faith; but second, because the UK nearly had to surrender to Nazi Germany in 1940, and had refused to confront Hitler when war was still not necessary partly because of the consequences of a partial default on war bonds from the First World War. In essence, appeasement was the necessary policy of 1930s British governments because they could not expect to borrow so had to pay in gold and whatever the British public could be persuade/forced to raise (yes I know pacifism was big too, but the financial imperative meant that it was the only option).

Whether we take an interventionist view or not, the re-militarization of the Rhineland in 1936 was the moment when, without firing a shot, Hitler could have been stopped.

What does this have to with events in Europe and the USA today? In short, I think the financial situation is so dire, and the political solutions on offer so inadequate, that default is now the only credible outcome. I therefore conclude that it needs to happen very soon, rather than after wasting more resources on more “bail-outs.”

We will just have to take our chances that no one decides to, invade the Falklands, or grab Gibraltar, or build nuclear weapons and give them to terrorists, or blow up US embassies. I explain why below. → Continue reading: The debt ceiling should be cut not raised

Open letter to Richard Glover on the tattooing of people one disagrees with

Surely it’s time for climate-change deniers to have their opinions forcibly tattooed on their bodies.

Not necessarily on the forehead; I’m a reasonable man. Just something along their arm or across their chest so their grandchildren could say, ”Really? You were one of the ones who tried to stop the world doing something? And why exactly was that, granddad?”

Dear Mr Glover,

I once lived next door to a lady who was tattooed at Auschwitz. I was outraged, as I suppose you intended, by your glib call for people who think differently than you do to be tattooed. But the outrage came from the smug assumptions you made. I bet you feel very “radical chic” after writing your article, a bit like the gay people who wear Che Guevara T-shirts, not realising that he used to enjoy killing people for being gay.

You want to tattoo me for doubting the claims of such people as Michael Mann, the fabricator of the “hockey stick” graph, which among other lies, denied the existence of the European medieval warm period and the mini ice age of the 16th and 17th centuries. I note that the hockey stick has quietly been abandoned as a model by the UN Climate Change campaign’s official documents. Does that mean the tattoo could be lasered off when what you think is true today, turns out to be inaccurate or plain wrong? I hope that at the very least you might say sorry and offer to pay for the tattoo’s removal. But as they say, Socialism means never having to say ‘Sorry.’

David Evans worked for what is now the Australian Department of Climate Change from 1999 to 2005, and part-time 2008 to 2010. Should he be persecuted for writing this?

I have changed my mind more than once about what to do about global threats to the environment. I have never taken a payment from an energy company and would welcome viable clean energy, but the carbon dioxide scare is as bogus as propaganda movies that depicted people like my former neighbour as rats spreading the plague across Europe. For one thing, I find it extremely unlikely that fluctuations in the Sun’s radiation has less influence on the Earth’s climate than humans do. I’m open to persuasion that I’m wrong about sun spots, but not by threats of torture or death.

If your ideology requires the extermination – or at least for now – the branding of all who opposes you, one might wonder just what principles you stand for. It is shameful that a reporter would advocate the terrorising of people based on their opinions. That does not seem compatible with freedom of thought, or of expression.

Once you get your police state, what are the odds that an opinion YOU hold will be deemed thoughtcrime and you get branded for holding “unhelpful” opinions on homosexuality, torturing prisoners, freedom of religion, or abortion rights? And what sort of person thinks that tyranny is fine provided that the “right” people are being tortured and killed? I usually take the view that any call to expand government power should be met with caution, even for causes I might privately support.

My concern is not the profits of oil firms but that environmentalism, as a political ideology, threatens the principle of science as an arena for competing ideas to be tested without prejudice, when its advocates demand the silencing of critics.

One final thought. If anyone attempts to tattoo or brand me or anyone else for their non-conformist opinions, anywhere in the world, I shall hold you personally responsible and to be an accomplice of evil men. If you call for people to be harmed, even in jest, you cannot hide from responsibility when your call gets acted on.

Kind regards,

Antoine Clarke

What happens if there’s a tie in 2012?

In 2012 there will be a US presidential election using a new distribution of the electoral college. This will use the population data of the current US census. After last night’s elections, there has been a dramatic change in what happens if the Democrat and Republican candidates end up with a tie (for example 269 votes each).

Short answer is that, assuming the politicians stick to their party, the Republicans win the presidency, but the Senate would pick a Democrat for Vice President. Details at my election blog.

[Update: correction made from comments, thanks Lone Ranger!]

“We used to dream of living in a corridor!”

[with apologies to the Four Yorkshiremen]

A fantasy writer produced this:

But there’s a dark side as well. We know about the real world of the era steampunk is riffing off. And the picture is not good. If the past is another country, you really wouldn’t want to emigrate there. Life was mostly unpleasant, brutish, and short; the legal status of women in the UK or US was lower than it is in Iran today: politics was by any modern standard horribly corrupt and dominated by authoritarian psychopaths and inbred hereditary aristocrats: it was a priest-ridden era that had barely climbed out of the age of witch-burning, and bigotry and discrimination were ever popular sports: for most of the population starvation was an ever-present threat. I could continue at length. It’s the world that bequeathed us the adjective “Dickensian”, that gave us a fully worked example of the evils of a libertarian minarchist state, and that provoked Marx to write his great consolatory fantasy epic, The Communist Manifesto. It’s the world that gave birth to the horrors of the Modern, and to the mass movements that built pyramids of skulls to mark the triumph of the will. It was a vile, oppressive, poverty-stricken and debased world and we should shed no tears for its passing (or the passing of that which came next).

Oh really? Try this from the Old Bailey’s website:

From approximately three-quarters of a million people in 1760, London continued a strong pattern of growth through the last four decades of the eighteenth century. In 1801, when the first reliable modern census was taken, greater London recorded 1,096,784 souls; rising to a little over 1.4 million inhabitants by 1815. No single decade in this period witnessed less than robust population growth.
In part this urban bloat resulted from a marked decline in infant mortality brought about by better hygiene and childrearing practices, and a changing disease pattern. By the 1840s children born in the capital were three times less likely to die in childhood than those born in the 1730s.

How many divisions has Pope Ron Paul got?

“The Pope? How many divisions has he got?” Joseph Stalin is reported to have said dismissively. And we all know how that turned out.

Ron Paul, the “Dr No” of US politics for his habit of being the only member of the House of Representatives to vote against some measure to increase federal government spending, debt or power, could witness the repeat of such a peaceful realignment.

Tim Evans, writing on the Cobden Centre’s blog, has found that a Google search for “Ron Paul” will find over 28.8 million entries, whereas one for “Karl Marx” will generate a mere 6.26 million. As he concludes: “it is true that these things take a long time to play through, but as a sociologist I am excited by the long-term cultural, political and economic impact of these sorts of numbers” for the cause of a free world.

Presumably, a rise in online interest about Ron Paul, relative to Karl Marx, should translate into tangible results at some point. The election of Scott Brown the Republican challenger in the recent Massachusetts special election to replace Senator Edward Kennedy, was also preceded by a similar gap between the Google ratings of the various political parties’ candidates.

The battle over Google and Bing search engines

Google – Scott Brown has been mentioned 53,200,000 times on Google, while Martha Coakley has been mentioned 50,600 times on Google, the appointed Senator Paul Kirk has more mentions than the current Democrat candidate for that seat!

Bing – Scott Brown has been mentioned 52,800,000 times on Bing, while Martha Coakley has been mentioned 219,000 times on Bing…

It seems that Congressman Paul could put together more divisions than the cause of Marxism. Seems like a cheerful note to end the week.

Samizdata double quote of the day

In Scott Brown we have an irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, teabagging supporter of violence against woman.

Keith Olbermann, MSNBC host.

To which Mark Steyn responded, under the heading “Homophobic Nude Teabaggers on the March”:

That’s certainly why I’m supporting him. But who knew there were so many of us?

Nurses supping with a long spoon

Helen Evans, who runs Nurses for Reform, a campaigning organisation dedicated to free-market options for healthcare in the UK, got to meet Conservative Party leader David Cameron a couple of weeks ago. The Daily Mirror [here, here and here] and the Daily Telegraph found out about the meeting and offered their own take on it.

Broadly, I agree that the proposals are in the right direction, although I have concerns about some of the tactics suggested and their formulation, which I deal with later. The bit that was not previously familiar to me was the idea that a barrier to entry should be at least lowered, by amending local planning rules to make it easier to open a new healthcare facility. I’m told the Conservative Party already favours this for schools, so the extension to clinics should not be difficult.

Having read the briefing document presented to the Leader of the Opposition, I disagree with one element of the strategy being proposed, specifically this passage: “the [National Health Service] NHS should be renamed the National Health SYSTEM and that under its auspices patients should benefit from a universal right to independent hospital care and treatment.”

A “universal right” is something that a government could be justified in declaring war to defend, like “freedom from slavery” or freedom from the use of confessions extracted under torture in criminal trials. It could certainly be a pretext for new taxes, a new bureaucracy, more regulations, and the restriction of other “non-universal” rights. Sadly, this call for declaring that privately-provided healthcare is a right could become the very instrument for imposing regulations (such as US Medicare-style price controls, or French-style government control on where doctors can practise [link in French]) that violate patient and physician freedom. To give a specific example: could a private clinic be fined for not providing 24-hour accident and emergency access? I would expect a government agency to do just that. Meanwhile, of course, government facilities which operate “in the public interest” would be excused.

A second concern comes in a later paragraph: “health censorship must be outlawed and patients must be empowered with greater access to information.” Outlawed? Must be empowered? By what agency, regulation, funded by what taxes or levies, with what powers of inspection and control?

These may seem like quibbles, but the law of intended consequences suggests that the wording of reforms can be as important as their spirit. Consider the US Constitution’s First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Does it say that Congress cannot give money to the Food and Drug Administration to hunt down anyone making claims about the alleged benefits to cancer patients of drinking grapefruit juice? No it does not. It means it, I think, but can I prove it to the US Supreme Court? Probably not.

It might be more boring to do, but the best way to remove censorship would be to revoke the clauses of those laws and regulations that allow it. As for “empowerment,” if this comes from the government it will mean a Department of Truth in Advertising demand for a quarterly report from all private providers as to how they inform the public, with fines for not reaching a wide enough audience.

On the positive side, Nurses for Reform finds that the ownership by a government department of most of the UK’s hospitals is a potential conflict of interest. There is the temptation to hide problems, to restrict information about alternative (often newer) treatments, the cozy relationship between the government employees in the NHS and those of the Department of Health who are supposed to watch them.

Dr Evans is therefore absolutely right to suggest the immediate transfer of ownership of NHS hospitals out of “public ownership,” and she is also correct that the “Secretary of State for Health must no longer have any say over when or where hospitals are built, opened or closed.”

On the issue of advertising, or freedom to communicate with the public in general, the major benefit would be that people could get an idea of which were the better brands (either cheapest, or best quality, or best balance between the two). If we think of how Aldi and Lidl can co-exist with ASDA, Tesco, Sainsbury, Waitrose and independent grocers, we can see how variety of branding can lead to beneficial competition: new treatments, more options and probably less queues.

Personally, I see no point whatsoever in delaying the reform of NHS funding: it merely prolongs unnecessary suffering and provides more opportunities for opponents of change to mobilise, like Gorbachev’s “perestroika” versus the liquidation of the soviet system. Having little expectation of any progress under a new Conservative Party government this coming year, it would be a pleasant surprise if Dr Evans’ proposals came to fruition. But at least no one can now claim that the case was not made.

[UPDATE: corrected link for Daily Telegraph article]

“We want less!”

My favourite banner [registration required] from the Washington DC protest last Saturday which did not happen, judging by many media outlets, was a few “tens of thousands” of right-wing protesters, according to the Washington Post, but drew rather a bigger crowd, according to the Daily Mail, than the new Messiah’s botched swearing in ceremony.

What I would like to know is when “we want less” became an extremist position?

October snowfall in London

Snow in London last night. The BBC news report I just watched (having come home past the BBC’s television studios which were covered in the white stuff) mentioned it on the East coast of England, but no mention of it in London.

For those not familiar with London weather, the last time I can find when snow was even claimed here this early in the autumn was 1974. One eyewitness suggested it was really hailstones. I don’t remember. All I know is that today, October 28 2008 is the earliest proper winter that I can record.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. Only a few weeks ago, we were hearing that South Africa had snow, and not just that, but of the very late variety (South of the Equator, this time of year should be warming). But don’t worry, we must have a flexible view of reality: when it gets hot, it’s warming; when it gets cold, it’s warming; and when it seems to stay the same, it’s warming twice as fast.

Does global warming predict the weather right now? Only in the sense that Nostradamus predicted the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in the 1985 edition, and the fall of the Shah of Iran in the 1980 edition.

What does predict the weather we’re having is the sunspot cycle and we can now add some idea of what reduced solar wind does. [Hat tip, Instapundit]

Here’s a somewhat better forecast of the end of 2008’s weather than anything cooked up by the “capitalism causes tsunamis” crowd. Farmer’s Almanac? Maybe astrology is more scientific than the ecofascists.

Chris Tame, two years on

On March 18th, it will be two years since the untimely death from cancer of Chris Tame, founder of the Libertarian Alliance, bibiophile, and sceptic about many things, including the time spent (wasted?) on party politics. There is a plan to commemorate the academic approach which Chris always thought was a key to winning the battle of ideas against collectivism of all shades, with the Inaugural Chris R. Tame Memorial Lecture, at the National Liberal Club, in London on Tuesday at 6.30pm.

The speaker is Professor David Myddelton, from Cranfield University. The title of the lecture is: “How to Cure Government Obesity,” which sounds like the sort of obesity we really ought to panic about.

Admission is free BUT ONLY if you contact Tim Evans, the LA’s president, by email: ———-. Numbers are limited and there are some drinks afterwards. I expect a recording will be made and linked to on either the LA blog or website. I shall certainly be there.

I especially miss the wicked sense of humour and the fact that my office is above an Amnesty International second-hand bookshop. It’s the sort of place Chris would have spent five minutes scanning ALL the shelves – even sport, in case a Tae-Kwondo manual showed up! Then he would have chatted for an hour with the Socialist or Liberal volunteers in the shop, discussing what he termed “the rape of the libraries” and (sincerely) pushing against climate change on progressive humanist grounds.

Liveblogging OH/RI/TX/VT

I am live-blogging the primaries over at my election blog. My prediction: the Hildebeast will not die. This is good for John McCain as the chances of more dirt getting dug up and thrown at the two Democrats is getting ever greater.

Also, the obvious ticket of a year ago: Clinton/Obama or even Obama/Clinton, looks somewhat hard to pull off now.

Not quite junk mail

I do not normally like receiving emails selling me products, but I thought I would have to make an exception for this:

Dear Antoine,

Virgin Galactic is delighted to announce a new destination… space. Climb to 360,000ft. at a cruising speed of almost three times the speed of sound, in unprecedented levels of safety and comfort. See our beautiful planet from 63 miles up and experience the magic of weightlessness.

Redeem 200,000 miles to receive 10% off the cost of a spaceflight, that’s an incredible $20,000 saving!* Join our future astronauts and book your place in history.

I look forward to the Nigerian version:

“My name is Mr.Moses Odiaka. I work in the credit and accounts department of Union Bank of NigeriaPlc,Lagos, Nigeria. I write you in respect of a foreign customer with a Virgin Galactica ticket. His name is Engineer Manfred Becker. He was among those who died in a plane crash here in Nigeria during the reign of late General Sani Abacha.

Since the demise of this our customer, Engineer Manfred Becker, who was an oil merchant/contractor, I have kept a close watch of the deposit records and accounts and since then nobody has come to claim the airmiles in this a/c as next of kin to the late Engineer. He had only 18.5mllion air miles in his a/c and the a/c is coded. It is only an insider that could produce the code or password of the deposit particulars. As it stands now,there is nobody in that position to produce the needed information other than my very self considering my position in the bank.”