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

Socialism has been tested out more times and in more variations than probably any other social system. It has been implemented in every continent, every culture, every stage of economic development. It has always led to disaster, to the extent it has been implemented. If you’re lucky, your country gets off with a mere economic crisis, as in Greece. At the worst, your country is in for decades of living hell.

Robert Tracinski

Douglas Carswell ends his political career

Guido quotes ex-UKIPer Douglas Carswell, who is stepping down as an MP, and who will, he says, be voting Conservative in the general election:

It is sometimes said that all political careers end in failure. It doesn’t feel like that to me today. I have stood for Parliament five times, won four times, and helped win the referendum last June. Job done. I’m delighted.

Lucky man.

Unless: Carswell’s political career has not, despite his present protestations, actually ended, and his actual political career is yet to end. In failure.

Guido’s early commenters say that the Conservatives wouldn’t let Carswell back in, i.e. let him fight a seat for them, and that the UKIPpers are all fed up with him, in short that his career is even now ending in the very failure that he says he does not feel. But I think it altogether likely that Carswell is telling the truth. Carswell switched to UKIP at just the moment when UKIP itself was migrating towards being a slightly nicer National Front. Remember when UKIP used to be rather libertarian? The way Carswell still is? I do.

But I also agree with Carswell that getting out of the EU was far more important than whatever other policies UKIP says it has. A rat, say those commenters, leaving a sinking ship. I partly agree. UKIP is indeed sinking. It had just one important policy and that is now happening. UKIP agrees with itself about nothing else, and is already disintegrating. You would only vote UKIP now to make quite sure that Britain does indeed leave the EU. But once Britain really has left the EU, UKIP will become a mere echo of a very remarkable but now passing moment in British political history. Oh, the remains of UKIP will stagger on for a few years. Political parties in decline always take for ever to vanish completely. But already, British voters are asking: What is UKIP now for? What does voting UKIP now mean? And they are getting about twenty different answers, depending on which UKIPer they ask, which is the functional equivalent of no answer at all.

LATER: I just listened to that entire conversation, linked to above (here it is again), between Carswell and Mark Littlewood of the IEA. The biggest news in it, for me, is that, following Brexit, Carswell’s next target is the fiat money banking system. I wish him well. I hope that effort does not end in failure. A man of his talent and his connections could make a big difference.

Yuval Noah Harari on how the knowledge economy reduces war

In this earlier posting about a book I had been reading, I talked about how reading can turn sort of knowledge into knowledge of a more solid sort. The author says something which you already sort of knew, but as soon as he says it, you know it much better. Often such knowledge consisted of things you already knew about separately, but you hadn’t connected them in your mind.

Recently this happened to me again. Like many others, I have lately been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. And I soon learned that Harari, like Steven Pinker, has noticed that the world has been becoming a lot less warlike.

I already agree with Harari that a major reason for this reduction in warfare is nuclear weapons. On page 17 of my paperback edition of Home Deus, he says this:

Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide, and therefore forced the most powerful nations on earth to find alternative and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. …

Quite so. But next comes this thought, which I had not, until now, put together in my mind:

… Simultaneously, the global economy has been transformed from a material-based economy into a knowledge-based economy. Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. And whereas you can conquer oil fields through war, you cannot acquire knowledge that way. Hence as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and war became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world – such as the Middle East and Central Africa – where the economies are still old-fashioned material-based economies.

I knew that war is diminishing, in fact I have written blog postings about what a big change that is for humanity. And I knew that the knowledge economy is now becoming a bigger deal than the mere possession of agricultural or resource-rich land. Who now does not? But call me dumb, as maybe some tactless commenters will, but I had never – or never very clearly (only “sort of”) – made the causal connection between these two things. Taken together, the rise of the knowledge economy and the arrival of nuclear weapons, themselves a consequence of recently acquired knowledge, amount to a transformation in the cost-to-benefit ratio of war. It used to be that war incurred some costs, heavy costs if you did badly, but if you did well, war might yield handsome gains. Not any more, except when it comes to places still stuck in the logic of quarrelling over physical resources.

A more respectable reason, besides me being dumb, why I had not made this rather obvious connection is that there has been another process that has masked the peaceful nature of knowledge-based economies, which is that when “knowledge” first arrives in a society, its first impact is not to cause peace to happen, but rather that particular sort of war that is so misleadingly categorised as “civil”, i.e. war of the worst sort. Look at sixteenth century Germany, seventeenth century Britain, eighteenth century France and twentieth century Russia and China. All were in those times cursed by newly “educated” generations who each fervently believed that they possessed knowledge, of why and how they should rule the world, but who were really themselves possessed by various sorts of ideological frenzy. So maybe I can be forgiven, as can others who took a while to see or who still do not see the connection between knowledge and peace. It’s because the connection between knowledge and peace takes a while to even happen, and at first it goes in the wrong direction rather than the right one. To put it another way, it takes quite a while for “knowledge” to shed its sneer quotes. To put it yet another way, there are experts and there are “experts”.


Finally, all those silly season, slow-news-week fashion commentary pieces, about how this or that colour that isn’t black and never will be is now “the new black”, can cease. Vantablack is the new black.

This new black has been contrived by a bunch of nano-techies working for something called Surrey Nanosystems. The point about Vantablack is that it is really black. They claim that Vantablack absorbs all but 0.036% of the light that strikes it. Normally, if you shine a torch at a black surface, you can see the light from the torch registering on the supposedly black surface, in other words being reflected rather than absorbed. But Vantablack just gobbles up all the light and continues to look totally black. You’ll be double-checking your torch to see if it is working. This is a godsend for space telescopers, and for the makers of very high-end cameras of all kinds.

The original target for Vantablack was the suitably money-no-object space telescope business. Space telescopes need to minimise – really minimise – the number of light particles that bounce about inside them in the wrong places and blur the resulting images, and Vantablack absorbs light particles to a unique degree.

But Vantablack also has potential applications in art and in the world of luxury design, which is why I first heard about Vantablack at Dezeen, the design website that I frequent. And then, quite recently, I encountered mention of Vantablack at David Thompson’s blog, in one of his lists of internetted oddities, and then at Instapundit (who feared it might be an April Fool prank). I imagine it has been much the same for all internetters with any interest in such things, large numbers of whom will by now have heard of this remarkable, newly invented-stroke-discovered material-stroke-paint, which is blacker than the blackest black ever not-seen before. The Vantablack story combines hot button highest-technology issues, like nano-tech (which was how they did it) and space exploration, with a visual outcome which is very bizarre, but the basic nature of which can be understood by almost anybody. An ideal combination for virality.

→ Continue reading: Vantablack

Tim Marshall on chaps and maps

History, goes the old rhyme, is about chaps, while geography is about maps. Tim Marshall’s book, Prisoners of Geography, is all about how these two matters are actually very hard to separate. What the chaps think and do, says Marshall, is profoundly influenced and often downright determined by the circumstances described in the maps.

When I bought this book, in a remainder shop, I did not know who else was reading it. I am fascinated by the impact of geography upon history, but is anyone else? Since buying the book I have learned that it is now a best-seller. This pleases me, because it is a very good book, and in particular a very unsentimental book.

Britain and Western Europe, and then the other parts of the world where English is the dominant language, have mostly been blessed with a degree of geographically conferred freedom of manoeuvre that is denied to the inhabitants of pretty much all other nations. That is why these places got rich first. And it also now means that we Euros and Anglos are able to believe, as a matter of practical political policy rather than merely as privately pious aspiration, in a wide range of idealistic things of very variable value – things like freedom, democracy, equality, human rights, freedom for women, “social justice”. and so on and so forth – things that geographically more constrained people can only, as yet, dream of, and which they often regard as more as a threat to their own ways of doing things than as any kind of promise.

Another book that Marshall refers to quite frequently in this book is Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel, which also offers a fundamentally geographical explanation for these facts. I share Marshall’s admiration for this book , and it heads the bibliographical list at the end of Prisoners of Geography, but this is an accident of spelling. I was also intrigued to see in that same list two works by Halford Mackinder, in particular Mackinder’s Democratic Ideals and Reality, a title which Marshall might have picked for his own book had it not already been taken.

Why, for starters, did the modern industrial era that helped to create all that freedom of political manoeuvre for the world’s luckier people, having kicked off in Britain, then, after an imitative surge in Western Europe, then see its centre of gravity shift to the USA? Well, there are many reasons.

→ Continue reading: Tim Marshall on chaps and maps

What inflation now looks like

I like those elongated cakes with raisins in them referred to on the package as “finger madeleines with raisins”. A few days ago I purchased another stash of them, from the Afghan-run corner shop nearest to me.

They looked like this:

Sorry about the strange blue reflections of something blue in the transparent but shiny packaging, but it is important that you realise that this is a photo of these finger madeleines before I opened them.

Same sized package. Same price. But, six empty spaces where there used to be six finger madeleines. Twenty four finger madeleines instead of thirty finger madeleines.

We are seeing quite a lot of this in the UK just now. Soon the packages and/or the prices will change, but meanwhile, the quickest way to adapt in the short run is just to reduce the amount in the package.

Brexit is not proving to be an economic catastrophe, and I remain very optimistic about it in the longer run, that being why I voted for it. But it is proving something of a dislocation in the short run, if only because the sort of people whose job it was to foresee it mostly did not foresee it. I don’t blame them for this. I did not foresee Brexit either. I merely voted for it.

Jordan Peterson on identity politics

With blogging (as with life in general), there is often a tug-of-war between doing it soon, and doing it right. This posting is strictly a case of me doing it soon. And what I am doing soon is saying: watch this. It’s psychology academic Jordan Peterson, denouncing (the word “bloody” occurs quite a lot) the legal imposition upon Canada of identity politics (excused by, among others, some of his fellow academic psychologists), and all the chaos that this misuse of law is going to and is starting to cause.

The video goes on for the best part of two hours, and I have so far only watched twenty minutes of it. Like I say, doing it soon. But I already know that this is the kind of thing, and the kind of man, that many Samizdata-readers will want to see, and at the very least to learn about, perhaps by other and quicker means. The phrase “individual freedom” gets quite a few mentions, along with “bloody”, bloody being the word Peterson uses to describe the ideas which and the people who threaten individual freedom.

See also today’s QOTD here, which points towards the same intellectual territory and the same battles. Before posting this, I checked in the comments there, to see if anybody had made any mention of the above video, or of Jordan Peterson. Had they done so, I’d have had to write this differently. So far: not. I could have appended this link to that comment thread, but I reckon it deserves a bit more prominence.

David Thompson has more to say about this, as does his commentariat. My thanks to him, because this was how I found out about this video, and about this man.

A flying car that makes sense

The basic foolishness of flying cars is the idea that it makes sense to fly around with a huge car engine for turning the wheels of a car, as well as with the engine and the wings that do the flying, all in one gigantic and gigantically impractical conglomeration. Car engines are one thing, flying machines are another. You either have two entire engines, one to do each job properly. Or you somehow contrive for one engine to do both jobs, sort of how the Harrier Jump Jet gets the same engines to do both its jumping and its jetting. That works, after a very fuel inefficient fashion, for Harrier jump jets, because jumping and jetting are sufficiently similar for one engine to be able to do both jobs. But car engines and flying engines are very different.

But now here comes this Airbus idea, where, instead of flying the entire car, you fly just the box that the people sit in. When being flown, the box is carried by a flying machine. When being driven, the box is carried by a driving machine. Note that once our container is plucked away from its road-driving engine, that road-driving engine can still then drive itself intelligently, to a park, for instance. Or, it could make itself useful by carrying other human containers. Robots, unlike engines, can be very light, so having several in one contrivance, cooperating as needed, is entirely possible.

I always believed that only when robots fly the cars will flying cars become a real possibility, because only robots can fly well enough and with enough collective discipline. This, it seems to me, is how the robots will do it. This is what they will fly.

Flying cars and robot cars, in other words, are all about human shipping containers.

Once you talk about containers rather than entire machines, you realise that these containers could perhaps also, in addition to being individually flown, be bulk flown in bulk carriers, over vast distances, for a fraction of the cost of driving, and if desired, a fraction of the time. All the nonsense of packing and unpacking, of clambering onto and extricating yourself from an airplane could then be dispensed with, as would all the ridiculousness of airports. All that can be handled by the robots, at their leisure. Also, at your destination, you’d be able to go on living in your own container. Multistory car parks would mutate into cheap hotels.

What all this illustrates, I think, is how very radically the robotising of transport, and of life generally, is going to change transport, and life generally. I don’t say that we will for certain see exactly the sort of human transport system that these Airbus envisagers envisage. Nothing is certain, when it comes to exactly how our new robot overlords will choose to go about their business. But this is the kind of change that the robots will surely bring. You can envisage, for instance, a world where we each own one or two human containers, while merely hiring whichever engines we need at any particular journey.

Might the same or a similar container shape then find itself being used for transporting other things besides humans? The possibilities are endless.

Or, maybe … not. The above ruminations are only that, ruminations. Please sprinkle words like “it seems to me” (there actually was one of those) and “surely” and “presumably” and “maybe” and “my guess would be”, for what you have just read is only me guessing, and what do I know? I am looking forward to the comments on this, because this is the kind of thing our often very tech-savvy commentariat is really good at commenting on.

Tim Harford on the power of bottom-up decision making (and on H. R. McMaster)

If you haven’t already partaken of this bit of video, then you really should. It lasts just under twenty minutes.

Tim Harford is speaking, in 2011, at some gathering of the clever and the smug, but it’s better than that. The name H. R. McMaster comes up several times, and this is, among other things, a very good quick way to learn why McMaster’s appointment by President Trump as his National Security Adviser might turn out to be such a very good one. It certainly explains why this appointment is already so very popular. You don’t have to believe that the USA rearranging matters in faraway countries is always or even ever a wise policy to get the points that Harford is making.

Harford also mentions, in passing, Hayek. From this, you may guess that this is a talk about decentralised decision making, and how on the spot knowledge, again and again, trumps the wisdom of the Central Committee or the High Command. If that is your guess, you would not be wrong.

The story that Harford tells reminds me of another transformation of policy that happened in China, and gave rise to what is now called the Chinese economic miracle. This miracle is now starting to look rather less miraculous, but it was still a massive improvement over what preceded it. That change too is usually attributed to a change of top leadership and of its top-down policies, but that policy also, I seem to recall reading, began at the bottom of the chain of command and in spite of the chain of command.

I even seem to recall having linked to stuff about that from here. Yes, here is that posting, about teeth of all things, and here is the article at Planet Money that the posting linked to. It’s the same story as Harford tells in the above-linked-to video.

Brexit has unified the Conservative Party and divided Labour

In a recent posting here, which I called How Brexit has unified the Conservative Party, and which I might have called (as I said in it (but never mind, I can use that title for this)) “Brexit has unified the Conservative Party and divided Labour”, I explained how Brexit had unified the Conservatives and had divided Labour.

Last night there was a vote in the House of Commons about whether Britain should proceed with what its voters had voted for.

Total number of Conservative MPs who voted against the bill, despite Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May commanding them to vote for it: 1.

Total number of Labour MPs who voted against the bill, despite Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn commanding them to vote for it: 47.

See what I mean.

The irony being that the demand that the House of Commons have its own vote on the matter has only served to highlight this Conservative Leave-inspired unanimity and Labour Remain-inspired division.

For how long will EUrope divide the political left in Britain? From where I sit, the longer the better.

An EU memory

Ever since digital photography became something I could afford, I have been wandering around London, digitally photographing it. I show a few of these photos here from time to time, and more frequently at my personal blog.

I have learned, as many photographers do, that the ephemeral is more likely to be significant than the fixed. Yet another picture of Big Ben to add to the billions of such pictures already taken is of zero interest. But something like this, on the other hand, becomes, I think, more interesting as time goes by:

That photo was taken in December 2003. Tony Blair, the man in the posters, was Prime Minister and still riding quite high, and Britain seemed doomed to EU-ness for ever.

The words on these posters help to confirm, for me, what a very wise decision we Brits made, narrowly yet decisively, to get out of this fatuous and delusional enterprise.

I say delusional, because the defining quality of the EU, for me, was the way that it encouraged all manner of people to say and to think things that were nonsensical.


Where to start? The “us” doing the voting would be British voters, and yet these British voters would be deciding – deciding “on” – the future of the whole of EUrope. Which these voters plainly could not determine. All that this British decision “on” EUrope could ever amount to would be either a mere protest vote (or more likely: a vote in the EU’s favour) in our Parliament, or else an official and very expensive public opinion poll.

Yet such was the pervasive unreality of all thoughts concerning the EU, and Britain’s membership of it, that this poster was considered worth printing and worth sticking up.

You may be saying to yourself that this is only some permanently delusional left-wing splinter group, consisting of a combination of dysfunctional permanent students of nothing, and trainee MI5 agents, and you would almost certainly be right. Yet numerous votes and numerous referenda of exactly this delusional sort did actually happen in the EU, and continue to happen. Most recently, I believe, there was just such a vote in Italy, although I could be wrong about that and I don’t care if I am because it really did not and does not matter. Time and again, individual EUro-nations choose or are invited, in one way or another, to pass their mere judgement on this or that aspect of the EU as a whole, and there then follows: nothing.

I think it was the sheer bloody confusion that I most hated about the EU, caused by the fact that the EU is in no way a real community, merely a gaggle of communities brought together and ruled by another community. No “decision” was ever what it seemed. Even those decisions that we Brits often thought we were making entirely for ourselves had at least two faces to them, the public face, which concerned what seemed to be the actual decision, and the less obvious face, which concerned whether and how this decision assisted the EU in becoming more EU-ish. In the end, no amount of voice was worth a damn. Only the threat, and in due course the reality, of exit counted.

Thank goodness that this ghastly episode is, for Britain, now coming to its end. Thank goodness we recently had a big old vote, a vote that actually decided something that we Brits were able to decide for ourselves, following something resembling a single mega-argument in which all who wished to could participate, and could hear all the micro-arguments, for or against, that they wanted to hear. And thank goodness we decided to get shot of this great big confusion machine. No matter how much of a mess us leaving the EU turns out to be, this process cannot in my eyes rival the relentless mess that remaining in the EU would have condemned us to. It’s the difference between a mess that will eventually end, and a mess that would have gone on until the entire EU itself finally fell to pieces.

For the rest of the EU, the delusions and confusions persist.

Thoughts on an open letter to Trump

Instapundit just linked to something calling itself An open letter to Trump from the Press Corps. I clicked on the link, because I thought it might be a masterpiece of self-parody. It is.

No comments allowed on the open letter itself, but I clicked on the Instapundit comment thread, suspecting that there might be some entertaining and quite well crafted abuse to enjoy. Again, I was not disappointed.

An odd thing about this open letter is that it seems so lacking in the very knowledge which you might expect the “Editor in Chief and Publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review” to know quite a lot about, namely how the technological context of journalism has altered in recent years. He says to Trump: You need us to say nice things about you! You need us to get your messages across! But everything that Trump has said and done since he first got into his stride as a seemingly long-shot candidate has said, right back at them: “No, I don’t.”

It will be interesting to see if Trump’s current anti-social media heckling of his Obama-worshipping media opponents keeps happening. I suspect that he’ll start being more polite to them, but only if and when they start being more polite to him. But that could just be wishful thinking on my part.

More generally, one of the things I notice about effective people, including me at those times in my life when I have been effective, is that effective people often do things that they “can’t” do, but which actually, they can do, and which if they do do will serve their purposes very well. “You can’t do that” actually only means that until now you couldn’t do that. And it often also means: Now that you can do that and now that you are doing it, we want you to stop.

Until recently, no President of the USA could tweet back at his media critics, very quickly and cheaply and easily, without in any way having to beg from them any right to reply to their criticisms, and without irritating anyone else who isn’t interested. Now, the President can. The claim that he shouldn’t, because “proper Presidents don’t behave like that” needs him to be persuaded of this claim. But if ignoring this claim is a major reason for his effectiveness, why would he be persuaded?