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]

Matt Ridley speaks with authority to Julia Hartley-Brewer

Yes, I’ve been watching and listening to this conversation, between climate anti-alarmist and all-round rational optimist Matt Ridley and broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer. If you like hearing things talked about as well as merely written about, I recommend this conversation, which lasts just under an hour.

Today here seems to be the day for denouncing Extinction Rebellion, and Ridley does that very persuasively. But there is a lot more. I’m just hearing Ridley say that climate change policies now kill far more people than climate change. … Now he’s talking about how much greener the earth is becoming. The idea that we need to be planting trees to make the earth greener is absurd.

My one mild disagreement with Ridley came about a third of the way in, when he says that science never involves arguments from authority. I know what he means. But, arguments from authority abound in the wider debate about climate science. Ridley makes sure to strip away the authority of whichever climate catastrophist he talks about. And he also makes sure to speak in a suitably measured manner himself, thereby enhancing his own authority.

For the truth is that people like Ridley have proved very authoritative. Many of the idiot children of the governing classes seem really to believe that climate catastrophe is imminent. Many more of the governing classes like climate catastrophe, because it is a fine excuse for them to do more governing. But people generally seem to remain unconvinced in their millions.

Certainly today’s foolishness from Extinction Rebellion, in the form of people climbing onto electric trains, really does seem to have been an own goal, as Natalie explained. Screwing with public transport really does undermine any authority these people may now have.

And just as we can all see these Extinction Rebels doing their rebelling, and especially when it looks very silly, we can also listen to the likes of Matt Ridley saying what he has to say. For all the biases and bullying of Facebook, Twitter and the rest of them, they can’t silence all of us anti-alarmists, all the time. And the difference between hearing some anti-alarmism, every so often, and never hearing any anti-alarmism at all from one decade to the next, is, when it comes to shaping public opinion, all the difference. The climate alarmist camp has spread a lot of climate alarmism in the last few years. But millions remain stubbornly skeptical, this being an important strand in the rising tide of what is called “populism”. (“Populism” means popular opinions that the people who don’t attach sneer quotes to the word populism don’t like.) Given how much governing class plugging climate extremism gets, it’s amazing how little it is talked about when elections come around.

Like Ridley, I am an optimist, not only about the state of humanity in general, but about the possibility that the foolishness now being spread by Extinction Rebellion may soon find itself in retreat.

LATER: Several people have also recommended to me this interview, which lasts a mere ten minutes.

What did Trump just do in Syria?

The New York Times is scathing about President Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria and let the Turks invade:

President Trump’s acquiescence to Turkey’s move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week’s time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State.

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the words of a senior American diplomat — likely will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

That sounds very bad to me. I support two entities in the Middle East (and am deeply suspicious of all other entities): Israel, and the Kurds. Has Trump just shafted the Kurds? If the above is right, it would seem so.

I seem vaguely to recall being told that “the Kurds” come in two varieties. There are the Bad Kurds who are Marxist idiots, and who are fighting Turkey (also bad) rather idiotically. And then there are the Good Kurds, further east, who are fighting other religious fundamentalists and who are far more sensible. That could be drivel, either because it was drivel to start with or because I have remembered it all wrong and turned it into drivel. But if not drivel, might something like that have a bearing on what Trump has just done? Or on what he thinks he has done?

My earlier posting re the Kurds was an exercise in libertarian fundamentalism. Now I am asking about the rights and wrongs of an actual foreign policy decision, in an imperfect world, but a world capable of being made horribly worse. It’s one thing to regret a bad situation, caused by previous bad decisions made earlier, by others. It’s quite another to make that situation far worse, with yet another bad decision, to just turn the clock back, come what may, in circumstances where it actually can’t be turned back. “You wouldn’t start from here? Welcome to the world, Mr President. Here is where you now are and you must play the ball where it now lies, rather than from where you say you would have landed it.” Etcetera.

To put all this another way, is Trump as “impulsive” as his critics have long been saying? Until now, he has impressed me a lot. His “impulses” have seemed, on the whole, rather smart. He has, as we often like to say here, at least been making all the right enemies. But as of now, this Syria decision seems dumb. So, is the NYT just doing fake news, again? If not, can what Trump just did be persuasively defended?

Comments please.

Socialism is socialism until it turns nasty (because if it’s nasty it can’t be socialism)

Via Instapundit, a tweet:

Rand Paul: “Well if you vote for a Socialist, you might get Socialism”.

Ana Navarro: “Maduro is not a Socialist. He’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.”

But Maduro is – or certainly was – a socialist. And, he’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.

As Instapundit might say, Kristian Niemietz smiles.

Earlier this year, Niemietz did one of my last Friday of the month talks, on the subject of his recent book about how socialists think and act – “it’s socialism”, “it’s not socialism” – every time, time after time. Read the book for a ton of patiently assembled chapter-and-verse details along these lines.

The point Niemietz made that I especially liked was how socialists simultaneously define socialism by its processes, and by its outcomes. So, socialism begins with socialist processes – stealing the property of property owners, goodies for the poor, fixing prices in accordance with a central plan, taking over corporations and replacing capable corporate managers with party hacks, monopolising the media, and so on – therefore it’s obviously socialism. But then it turns nasty – far worse poverty than before, violent repression, corruption, savage inequality, and so on – therefore, equally obviously, it can’t be socialism. That we critics of socialism had predicted exactly these outcomes from these processes doesn’t register. Only the obvious non-socialism of what had earlier and equally obviously been socialism registers.

I sort of knew all this, of course I did. But Niemietz explained it better – “socialism also defined by its outcomes” – than I’ve ever heard it explained before. Or then again, maybe I just got there myself, and he merely said for me the thought I had arrived at. (What you hear best is that which you are best prepared to hear.)

Samizdata quote of the day

Y’all need to remember that heteronormative whiteness is the discursive cultural mechanism by which an oppressive hegemonic discourse of phallogocentrism serves to delegitimise a black/homoexclusive modality and reinscribes a proxi-fascist rearticulation of power structures.

Titania McGrath

That’s the entire Tweet, but the replies are worth a look too. This one is my favourite so far.

A suggested compromise for helping the Kurds

Should American soldiers be fighting on the side of the Kurds, against Turkey? Yes!!!? No!!!? (Instapundit ruminations here.)

I suggest a compromise. All those Americans, and all those from anywhere, who think that there should be foreign soldiers fighting alongside the Kurds, against Turkey, should either (a) go there themselves and fight, or (b) themselves pay for other Kurd-supporting military enthusiasts to do the same. I’m too old for (a) and was in any case a rubbish fighter even when young. But for (b) I’d be willing to contribute, if persuaded that it is helping and isn’t a scam.


South Park says sorry

Yes, South Park grovels:

Some background here:

After the “Band in China” episode mocked Hollywood for shaping its content to please the Chinese government, Beijing has responded by deleting all clips, episodes and discussions of the Comedy Central show.

South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably saw this coming, and to their credit, simply didn’t care.

From the point of view of the Chinese government there are far too many people now paying quite close attention to them, whom they do not control. The people presiding over Communist despotisms are always touted as strategic geniuses, but I sense a change in the world. Or then again, it could just be that I attended an excellent talk about Hong Kong last night, and will be attending another talk about Hong Kong on Wednesday, at the ASI. That link may not last, so I note here that a lady called Denise Ho will be speaking.

That second link is to a report in the Guardian, which it makes a nice change for us here to be agreeing with, assuming most of us do. The Chinese government is now making enemies all across the political spectrum. They will surely “win” this battle in Hong Kong, one way or another. But are they now stuck in a Cold War that they might end up losing? Could well be. As the above non-apology from these South Park guys illustrates, to say nothing of events in Hong Kong, things are not now going entirely to their script.

Also, now that masks are no longer allowed in Hong Kong, how about a new hair-do?

Samizdata quote of the day

If you want to preserve a building, buy it.

Stephen Green, in a short Instapundit post, linking to this piece about an attempt to preserve a “Tom’s Diner” whose owner wants to demolish it.

Stephen Davies on the Wealth Explosion (1): How Europe was and was not exceptional

About two hundred and forty years ago, the human species began to experience a wealth explosion. Poor people, who had been living and dying on the edge of starvation for millennia, began to get less poor, and slightly richer people started to become even richer, and much more numerous. Every graph measuring human comfort, wealth, progress, length of life, and so on, switched – historically, in the blink of an eye – from being a nearly horizontal line to being a nearly vertical line. This wealth explosion began in North West Europe, and quickly spread to other parts of Europe and to the USA. Now, poor people everywhere are getting less poor in unprecedentedly vast numbers. It’s a different world, and for just about everyone, a hugely better one.

What caused this wealth explosion? And why did it first erupt where it did, in Europe?

For some time now I have been getting to grips with a new book by Stephen Davies entitled The Wealth Explosion: The Nature and Origins of Modernity.

The central and most striking arguments in this book concern how Europe was – and just as significantly, was not – exceptional, as a potential detonator of this wealth explosion.

Clearly there was something exceptional about Europe, or the wealth explosion that we all now enjoy would not have started here. And equally clearly, all the positive ingredients needed for the explosion had to be present here for it to start happening. But the mere presence of all these positive ingredients, says Davies, is not what made Europe exceptional. Until Europe started exploding economically at the end of the eighteenth century, it had been, globally speaking, an economic and cultural backwater. All of these ingredients – demographic, economic, social, institutional, intellectual, spiritual – had been present, in greater strength and for far longer, in other parts of the world, most notably in China. The economic and cultural centre of the world, at least until the late eighteenth century, was not Europe but rather the lands around the Indian Ocean. So, why did the wealth explosion not happen there?

The answer that Davies supplies in The Wealth Explosion is that Europe was exceptional in being the only one of the world’s great civilisations that was not, at the historical moment when it mattered, politically unified. No European “hegemon” emerged in the centuries just before the wealth explosion got started, in the way that single imperial regimes had emerged to dominate Russia, the Middle East and India, and as had long been in successive imperial command in China.

This was the decisive negative ingredient that Europe possessed but which was lacking elsewhere, and this was what made the difference. The wealth explosion got seriously explosive in Europe because, when it started and from then on, nobody in Europe was powerful enough or motivated enough to stop it. On the contrary, the rulers of Europe never stopped competing with one another, and were therefore strongly incentivised to keep their wealth explosion going, despite all the upheaval that it caused. Economic stasis, and cultural stagnation of the sort that would have stopped the wealth explosion, was not, for the various contending rulers of Europe, an option. They needed guns, guns which had to keep on getting better. They needed money, to pay for the guns, and for the ever increasing numbers of people needed to develop, fire and later to carry the guns into battle. They needed the wealth explosion, no matter how much it was empowering new classes of citizen producers and citizen warriors. So, they let it happen. They even encouraged it. At which point the only way not to be beaten by the wealth explosion was to join it. And there we have it: the modern world.

The above is my best shot at summarising what I think is the most important line of argument in The Wealth Explosion. I had intended to write a single, quite long, mostly glowing review of this book. And I tried, I really tried. But the task defeated me (especially the “quite” long bit). Despite its small size for such a subject (only 248 pages) The Wealth Explosion contains so many interesting ideas besides those summarised above, so much pertinent historical detail, and so many judgements based on the voluminous writings and discoveries of other historians, that I found it impossible to say everything that I wanted to say about it in one blog posting, while remaining confident that anyone at all would want to wade through all that I had written. So, I abandoned the attempt to say everything, and instead decided to make a start by merely saying something. I now intend that there will be several more postings here about The Wealth Explosion (in the manner of these recent postings here by Patrick Crozier about Ulster).

That’s the plan anyway. I’ll end this first posting about The Wealth Explosion by saying that, although I don’t now want to elaborate on why I find the central argument of this book, as outlined above, to be so persuasive, I do find it to be very persuasive, and the book in general to be fascinating. And since the historical event in question is arguably the biggest single fact that there is about the world that we now live in, that makes this a very good book indeed. How do you write an excellent work of grand historical theory? You ask important questions and you supply convincing answers. You support these answers with many other interesting and closely related truths, and with reports of relevant debates among and with your fellow historians. This is what I think Stephen Davies has done.

Meanwhile, to learn more about The Wealth Explosion, read the review of it that Ananya Chowdhury did manage to write, for the Adam Smith Institute blog. Or, read what Stephen Davies himself wrote about his book and its conclusions, for CapX. Or, if you like it when people are good at talking to camera as well as good at writing (Stephen Davies is very good at both), listen to what Davies said to the Cato Institute about his book, as recorded in this video.

Dominic Frisby needs another week to get the video up

I did the blogging equivalent of buying shares in Dominic Frisby quite a while ago now. More significantly, from Frisby’s point of view, Guido Fawkes has been boosting him, most recently by remembering this heartfelt ode to Nigel Farage. See also this other Brexit-related song by Frisby.

Now, it seems that another Frisby comic song is in the pipeline. Concerning this, Frisby tweets:

I’m now in the situation where I desperately don’t want Theresa May to resign because I have written a really funny song about it, and I need at least another week before I can get the video up.

Theresa, are you reading this? Of course you are. I know that you are planning to step down as Prime Minister any hour now, because you have been listening carefully to what people like this have been saying. But I urge you, Theresa, for the sake of your country’s Comedic Future (see above), to hang on in there for another week. Force yourself.

(Delingpole agrees.)

(This bloke, on the other hand …)

John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

One of the particular pleasures of twenty-first century life is that it is now easy to purchase interesting books which have been around for quite a while, cheaply and easily rather than expensively and complicatedly. I recently bought, from Amazon, We Now Know, by John Lewis Gaddis, which is about the Cold War and was published in the 1990s. I’ve been meaning to acquaint myself with this book ever since I first heard about it, which must have been well over a decade ago.

I have so far only skimmed We Now Know, but I have already encountered a rather striking passage, towards the end. (Skimming usually involves looking at the end, doesn’t it?)

The Cold War, says Gaddis, was not decided in the Third World, but rather in such places as Europe and Japan. And why, asks Gaddis (pp.286-7 – his italics in bold), did “Washington’s empire in those pivotal regions”, generate so much less friction that Moscow’s:

One answer may be that many people then saw the Cold War as a contest of good versus evil, even if historians since have rarely done so.

Let me focus here on a single significant case: it has to do with what happened in Germany immediately after the war as its citizens confronted their respective occupiers. What Stalin sought there, it now seems clear, was a communist regime in the east that would attract Germans in the west without requiring the use of force, something the Russians could ill afford given their own exhaustion and the Americans’ monopoly over the atomic bomb.

Obviously, this is not what he got. Germans first voted with their feet – fleeing to the west in huge numbers to avoid the Red Army – and then at the ballot box in ways that frustrated all of Stalin’s hopes. But this outcome was not fore-ordained. There were large numbers of communist party members throughout Germany at the end of the war, and their prestige – because of their opposition to the Nazis – had never been higher. Why did the Germans so overwhelmingly welcome the Americans and their allies, and fear the Russians?

→ Continue reading: John Lewis Gaddis on good versus evil in the Cold War

“Added impotence …”

Tweet of the day. That’s what Julia Hartley-Brewer says. She’s Tweeting about this Tweet:

Theresa May’s spokesman says the local election results “have given added impotence… I mean impetus,” to Brexit talks with Labour.

My position on Brexit is: I want it. As in: national legislative independence, no customs union, etc. I want Brexit in the way that the Brexit Party wants Brexit. As smooth as it can be but as unsmooth as it has to be.

But, my position on a Corbyn government is: I don’t want it. The second sentiment may well trump the first, for me, come the next general election. I don’t believe I’m the only one thinking like this. How odd that Corbyn and his pals, who have always wanted Britain out of the EU, may be the ones who end up keeping us in.

My hope is, if the Conservatives do now – to coin a phrase – succeed in failing to deliver the Brexit that they promised, that the Brexit Party will actually be a better bet than the Conservatives, come the next general election, to stop a Corbyn government. This because so many disappointed Labour Brexiters will be voting for the Brexit Party along with most of the formerly Conservative vote. So: No Corbyn government, actual Brexit. Two for two. I can hope.

Also: What if you are strongly pro-EU, but even more strongly anti-Corbyn. Might you also, in the circumstances just described, vote in a general election for the Brexit Party, if they looked like a better bet than the Conservatives to stop a Corbyn government? There presumably won’t be many such people, but maybe enough to make a difference.

Weird times.

Samizdata quote of the day

It is not without significance that the socialist Labour Day is celebrated in the Spring, at the time of planting and promise. It is full of hope of what might be achieved. By contrast, the capitalist Labor Day celebrated in America takes place on the first Monday of September, when the harvest is in and its actual achievements can be hailed.

Madsen Pirie of the Adam Smith Institute contrasts Britain’s Labour Day (today) with Labour Day in the USA.