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]

Where there’s smoke…

An awful lot of people don’t like smoking. Given the passion a number of my friends show for putting themselves into early graves, I put up with the practice for social reasons. And I certainly believe that businessmen and women should be free to have establishments where their customers can escape from the risk of fumigation.

However, things are never that simple. People want to ban smoking simpliciter. Depriving businessmen and women of the choice of letting smokers in, or perhaps having a business at all. And this is precisely the reason 400 publicans in County Kerry say they’re willing to go to jail rather than enforce a ban on smoking in pubs proposed by the Irish Government (coming soon to a European Community near you!).

Tracking down a solution

Layman’s Logic has a brief summary of some of the issues surrounding RFID tags (radio transmitters in products), which soon may be in most goods in large stores. One issue is quite how kooky a number of the opponents of the tags are. Another is persistent rumours Euro bills with have tags in in the future. Another is what to do about them:

“[W]hat I need to know is how to kill the tags when I get them. I don’t care that people can see what I’m buying when I use cards – they can see that anyway if they can access credit info, and they want to track stock. Not a problem. On the other hand, I would like to know how to kill the tags the moment I’ve bought something to avoid any nasty privacy surprises. Fortunately, Slashdot seem to have identified a few possibilities

And now, a reason for real paranoia

Whilst The Philosophical Cowboy may indeed be too paranoid about this, there are also 100% legitimate civil liberties issues involved, even without the slippery slope concerns:

Iain Murray has more on an on-going natural justice train-wreck: basically, the government has found it can’t define abuse precisely enough for legislative purposes, so, in the words of the head of the Family Planning association, they’re going to criminalise

“behaviour [ defined so broadly that it] could include common petting activities such as kissing and touching, through to full sexual intercourse…. This kind of sexual exploration is completely normal and an important part of adolescent development. If the bill is passed without any amendments, such activity could carry a prison sentence of up to five years.””. I.e. any “sexual activity” by anyone under 16, even with their peers, is illegal.

“”The criminal law has a very poor record for influencing consenting sexual behaviour,” she said. “The bill devalues true abuse from desired sexual activity by failing to distinguish the two.”

The Home Office accepted Ms Weyman’s interpretation of the bill, but said there was no plan to change it.”

Now, as I say, I’m not normally paranoid. But this strikes me as a gift to a regime, sorry, government (“regime” came automatically, I’m not sure why) that wants to suppress dissent. A law that would automatically criminalise the normal behaviour of a government’s opponents (as well, of course, of its own offspring) is an open invitation to abuse.

Perhaps jury nullification (a refusal to convict) might save kids maliciously prosecuted because of who their parents were, but any offenses sent to judge-only courts (coming to a mistrial near you soon….) would presumably lead to convictions, even with minimal sentences. And then a life-sentence of a “sex offender” registration.

Who’d oppose a government when they have a perfectly legal means to destroy your children’s lives? What an incredibly stupid (and pernicious) idea.

Another bad reason to tax me more

This post by The Philosophical Cowboy isn’t exactly on the standard issues of White Rose, but does have a civil liberties fringe – basically, it appears we might be in for a resurgance of arguments for high taxes, based on alleged “negative externalities” of earning more money.

The solution? A 30% marginal tax rate to penalise the “pollution” involved, and a 30% additional tax to, well, just encourage people to take time off.

It’s worth reading for more background, and (a lot more objections), but I think this is the key objection that can be raised, and should be if this idea gets more circulation:

“But the main issue is a moral one. Let us stipulate that there are negative externalities from me working an extra 10 hours a week – I make X number of people feel bad, and I also substitute some leisure time I’d probably have rather not given up. So what?

Lots of rights have the potential for negative externalities. Without even being nasty, my use of my right to free speech can see myriads of your pleasing illusions shattered, destroying your happiness. I can act in innumberable ways that can make you uncomfortable or unhappy – I have a moral obligation to be a good neighbour, but the right not to (within obvious limits); I can drive you out of business by building a better mousetrap; my less reputable mates can date your daughter or woo away your significant other; I can advocate political positions you consider reprehensible (just ask me). And whilst I probably wouldn’t do most of those, I pretty much have the right to, and the government doesn’t get to stop me just because it would make you sad.

So why do you get to take 30% of my income just because me exercising my right to work as and where I can find useful things to do, just because it makes you want to work harder? There are certain “negative externalities” that shouldn’t be compared to things like pumping oil into a river, noise next door, etc – they’re not even the same ball game.

I think it’s fair to say (correct me if I’m wrong) you get to complain about a negative externality if it reduces the value of your property or that you extract from some right of yours. But just because me working harder can cause you to value your leisure less, doesn’t mean you should tax me – after all, on that rational, Martin Luther should have been hit with a 90% tax to pay for the Protestant work ethic…”

Private brother is watching you

I’m afraid I don’t have a link for this – the FT’s web-site wouldn’t let me find the story. One of their columnists suggested a way to beat spam: this is roughly the gist:

Each ISP identifies mail addressed to more than, say, 100 receipients. An employee retained for the purpose glances at the mail, and accepts or rejects the mail. This should be relatively easy, as most spam is readily spotted, compared to mailing list entries, etc.

The employee reviews, say, 1 a minute, for 7 hours a day, stopping 60 * 7 * 100 = 42,000 pieces of spam a day. Over a 200 day working year, and at a salary of say £20,000, that works out at about a quarter of a penny per spam stopped.

The author went on to suggest given the global volume of spam, only a couple of people would be needed to stop it all. This seems fallacious, as EACH ISP would need to employee their own blockers.

I think most people reading this site would see the implications for privacy – ISPs would (perhaps be legally required to) read any mail sent to large numbers of individuals. This is not something I’d look forward to.

Hopefully, the idea will die the death of a thousand rapidly knocked up columns, but it’s worrying that privacy didn’t even strike the writer (or his editor) as an issue. Particularly as, once the proposal had been brought in, there would be a natural pressure to reduce the number of receipients that “triggered” checking. Spammers would drop the size of their mailings, and so the checkers would have to look at an ever higher proportion of mails to have any effect.