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]

We don’t need state planning to recover from the bug – we need the opposite

“Though you can’t move for pundits and politicians demanding more public spending, the big lesson of the postwar recoveries is that with robust consumer and investor confidence there is negligible need for government stimulus. History, not abstract theory, shows that the best way to boost growth after a ‘wartime’ period such as the pandemic is for the state to take a step back. This is particularly true with unemployment, which is undoubtedly a top priority, given the millions who have been furloughed or laid off in the last year. There will be countless calls for schemes and subsidies to support various groups. But we should take our cue here from post-war America, where household spending and private investment were the key ingredients for getting people back into work. Ministers should also be hard-headed about withdrawing support from companies which are no longer viable, especially once restrictions are removed. Overall, the lesson of the postwar recoveries is a simple one: with robust consumer and investor confidence, there is negligible need for government stimulus. The best way to repair the damage is not through schemes, subsidies and special treatment, but by getting out of the way and giving markets the flexibility they need.”

Jethro Elsden

We are going to get a lot of folk claiming that recovering from COVID-19 justifies a bigger state. We see this sort of commentary from the likes of former UK policy advisor Nick Timothy, who constantly talks about how Tory MPs must shed their suspicion of “industrial strategy” (translation: getting politicians and bureaucrats to support sectors they favour and predict what will be hot and what will not). Given the UK’s sorry history in this regard, it is hard to have to summon breath to point to the foolishness of this.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The glacial pace at which we’re being handed back our liberties is a stark contrast to the terrifying speed at which they were taken away. The deprivations of the last year have been so many and various that it’s difficult to remember what happened when, but having to cancel Christmas plans with just five days’ notice isn’t something many families will soon forget.”

Alys Denby

Samizdata quote of the day

“Delivering the vaccine to the highest risk groups will dramatically reduce the impact on our health. We have already seen in Israel the number of infections falling, especially among the vaccinated, as well as significantly fewer serious illnesses and deaths. Once the UK has reached the stage where those most at risk have received both doses of the vaccine the argument for keeping all of us locked up disappears. We have struggled through a year more difficult than most of us could have ever imagined, and we owe an enormous debt to those who have struggled to keep others safe. Young people have lost jobs and livelihoods – not to protect themselves but to protect their loved ones, their colleagues, and complete strangers. Many will be left with fewer job prospects, fewer friends, more debt, and developing mental health concerns as a result of their sacrifice, and the least we can do to repay them is to not lock them up for a moment longer than necessary. The government needs to return our liberty to all of us, not just those who have been vaccinated.”

Emma Revell

Samizdata quote of the day

“There are so many serious problems raised by the nationalisation of medicine that we cannot mention even all the more important ones. But there is one the gravity of which the public has scarcely yet perceived and which is likely to be of the greatest importance. This is the inevitable transformation of doctors, who have been members of a free profession primarily responsible to their patients, into paid servants of the state, officials who are necessarily subject to instruction by authority and who must be released from the duty of secrecy so far as authority is concerned. The most dangerous aspect of the new development may well prove to be that, at a time when the increase in medical knowledge tends to confer more and more power over the minds of men to those who possess it, they should be made dependent on a unified organisation under single direction and be guided by the same reasons of state that generally govern policy.”

– FA Hayek, The Constitution Of Liberty, page 300. First published in the UK in 1960.

Dud war analogies

I saw this comment on Facebook from a friend and I quote this in full because it sums up so much for me about what is at stake and what the issues are. My friend here is absolutely not a “covid denier”, or one of those who thinks vaccines are the works of the Devil/the Bald Bloke from Davos who is channeling Ernst Blofeld, whatever.

(My friend responded to a comment from a person who says lockdowns are parallel to wartime measures brought about by extreme circumstances, in which bottom-up solutions aren’t going to work. The comment got a fair amount of pushback, not least around the problems that all wartime measures have around mission creep, corruption of certain agencies, etc.)

Anyway, here is my friend’s response:

The virus is far from severe enough to consider such collectivist war analogies. The virus is mostly at war with rather old and/or unhealthy people, who are largely only alive today because of our productive economy and liberty to innovate – both of which are now being squashed. We will have to wait and see how much liberty we will get back, and how much wealth has been sacrificed (redistributed).

Many elderly people are not too fond of being locked down either, spending perhaps their last Christmas alone, etc. Not to mention the financial, mental wellbeing of the more healthy citizens, or the physical wellbeing of those in the developing world (how many will die from the coming recession, lack of growth etc.?, do they count in this calculus?). And let’s not forget that the lockdowns are meant to solve problems in healthcare that the government has caused: ossified bureaucratic institutions, swamped with regulations, lack of competition and innovation, delayed testing, rationed IC capacity, massively delayed vaccines. The fact that the whole West is reacting like this and even many in the libertarian sphere accept this, is a sign that we are facing a much worse problem than Covid-19: collectivism run rampant.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The people of Crete unfortunately make more history than they can consume locally.”

Saki (aka Hector Munro). I just liked this quotation. Yes, it has nothing really to do with anything current, which for my mental balance is a blessing. If anyone needs a mental health break from the Zombie Apocalypse, I recommend all of Saki’s stories.

Time for a name change?

Although much of the focus in the UK political reporting is on Boris Johnson’s government (the UK has gone into “Tier 5”, which is basically a lockdown in plain language), it is worth remembering that throughout the COVID-19 affair, the leader of the Opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, and leader of the Labour Party, has called frequently for longer, earlier and more severe controls on the public, salved in his mind by calls also for even more gigantic amounts of debt (inoculated, he hopes, by central bank fairy dust). An example of such a call is here.

Sir Keir (he was named after Keir Hardie, first leader of the Labour Party) knows that he will not be held accountable by most voters for any of his calls, or maybe hopes that is the case and that when the next general election is called, this shitshow will be a memory, and his demands for lockdowns will not be held against him. Such are the dangers of our lockdown consensus among large swathes of chattering class opinion.

Even so, I think commentators who want to wind Sir Keir and his colleagues up, and scold and irritate their supporters, should start to refer to the Labour Party as the Lockdown Party on every occasion. It may be rude, even thought a bit juvenile. But we are past the time for being sweetly reasonable towards those who quite clearly want to use these powers and would do so again, possibly on even weaker pretexts than now. If Sir Keir has referred to the civil liberties issues of lockdowns, as Lord Sumption has done, I have missed it. And remember, Sir Keir is a lawyer by profession. One might think that some concern about the civil liberty aspects of lockdowns might be a matter he might address.

As for the Liberal Democrats, they might as well belong in a museum.

Anyway, back to the Labour Party. I think Lockdown Party sounds much better. This will be a more accurate reflection of its values. The party is not really interested in work any more – groups such as the teaching unions seem to positively recoil from it – and many of its members no doubt hope that in world of universal basic income, paid out of the profits of Big Techs in some sort of Brave New World, human labour will be irrelevant.

Let’s make the change, today!

Without the vaccine, what would countries have done?

(A repeat of a comment I posted to a Facebook page. I have added a fresh comment at the bottom of this article.)

A troubling thought for many is what would the present – and other – governments have done without a credible vaccine? (I leave aside the specifics of the Pfizer/Oxford etc outcomes for the moment.) Suppose nothing was on the horizon. What, to take the UK example, would Mr Johnson and his colleagues have done in this situation? Lockdowns for a further six months, then a pinch of liberty in mid-summer in time for Ascot, Wimbledon and Le Mans (in my case, beer in hand) before we go back to our manacled, shriveled existence? Another year? Two? Three? Maybe redefine lockdowns into some “reset” terminology so that going out to the pub is just accepted as a vanished custom?

For example, I have heard it said that “shielding” is not viable, because, er, reasons. Apparently, shielding only works with great test and trace and well, the less said about that the better. So if shielding is not viable – as the government and is defenders claim – a world without vaccines would be intolerably bleak. At some point in this scenario you might expect a significant upsurge in social protest, coinciding with rising inflation, failed government bond sales, a run on the pound, maybe calls for exchange controls and for more rationing. A repeat of the 1970s economic scenario, but without flared jeans and Roxy Music.

It is worth thinking about what would happen without a vaccine. I’d like to see a politician, particularly Mr Johnson, put on the spot about this. Because to be frank I don’t think he or his colleagues would have the foggiest notion.

(One person who thinks that regardless of policy, we are in this mess for almost two years or so is Stephen Davies, of the Institute of Economic Affairs. For all his radical classical liberalism, he has stated that the lockdown policy we have had on and off has been largely inevitable given the failings of track and trace and the initial failings to hit the virus early.)

I wonder what future generations may say?

People in years to come will speculate on the reasons why so many developed countries went for lockdowns, and on such a scale and for so long. The economic, social, cultural and psychological damage is so great that future generations will wonder at the insanity. There are going to be a lot of ruminations on this in future, so here are some brief thoughts from yours truly:

Technology reduced the costs to certain classes of lockdown: A lot of people, myself included, have been able to work from home and run a profitable business. Modern tech tools have enabled this to happen. It is fashionable to rag on Big Tech and all the gadgets we have, but they have been crucial. Before the internet, this would not have been so possible. And I suspect the government pre-internet could not have got away with long lockdowns. Infrastructure is important.

Central bank Quantitative Easing (creating money from thin air by buying assets): This has inoculated (geddit?) governments from the fiscal short-term consequences of lockdowns. UK debt now exceeds GDP for the first time since the end of WW2. Central bank fairy dust reduces the pain. Since the 2008 financial crash, much of the developed world has been on a morphine drip. It is addictive. Mainstream economists, even those who profess to support free markets, think this is okay. But at some point the wheels will come off.

The mainstream media: Much of the modern media is full of people who are college/university-educated, and have imbibed much of the Big Government/Precautionary Principle mindset. Nearly all of the MSM criticism of governments during the pandemic has been about them not being even more harsh. There are some dissenting voices, but generally quite marginal. This has created a climate in which governments operate.

There is a natural fund of goodwill (although it is eroding) towards most governments trying to cope. Several senior figures such as Mr Johnson got very ill. There is natural sympathy.

The role of social media platforms will be analysed in how views and panics spread. In fairness, I have seen a lot of examples of contrarian points of view, including some nutty stuff, so I am not so sure how big an “enabler” social media is.

Fear of death: although it is too glib to say that the decline of mainstream religious belief opens the doors to paranoia about death, since people with a secular, philosophical view of the world can face mortality, it clearly must be a factor. Again, preventing death, even if it means creating a living hell, seems a bargain a lot of people are willing to take.

Trust in vaccines: modern science appears to be quicker at coming up with cures and treatments, and we have the growing field of genetics etc to thank for this. A paradox of this is that it means people are even more cautious because they don’t want to put health at risk if there is a vaccine along the way.

Hong Kong as it was

Here is a long, very good article about Hong Kong as it developed after WW2 under relatively hands-off British rule. That is all fading away, very sadly, at least in terms of its civil liberties. Quite what the future holds for the jurisdiction, I don’t know.

Check out the photo in the middle of a Boeing 747 flying above the roof-tops. Makes the hair stand up from the back of your neck.

Samizdata quote of the day

”The only ways to control an epidemic effectively are by a vaccine or by a change in behaviour. Time and again, the scientists and health professionals have failed the government by ignoring the crucial role of incentives in changing behaviour. If the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail, and the only tool they have had is lockdown.”

Paul Omerod, writing about the UK government’s approach to taking advice during the plague.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The same people who are shutting down our economies are the same people who have yet to miss a paycheck.”

An anonymous comment I saw on the internet today. It nicely distills where we are at with the policy response to the virus.