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

“There is no winner to the victimhood Olympics,”

Vivek Ramaswamy, interviewed here by Texan Congressman Dan Crenshaw.

Ramaswamy has founded a new investment business, Strive, that, shockingly, focuses more on building returns for investors than engaging in political positions. He is the author also of Woke Inc, an indictment of ideas that are hostile to free enterprise taking root in the boardroom. More power to this chap, I say.

HSBC’s internal cancel culture

A few days ago, HSBC (which is listed in London and Hong Kong) suspended Stuart Kirk, head of responsible investing at the lender, because of how he scorned efforts by regulators to exaggerate the financial and market impact of Man-made global warming. He gave a presentation, “Why investors need not worry about climate risk”, and this seems to have ruffled a few feathers at the bank. (Here is a link to his presentation.)

As the Wall Street Journal comments:

“Unsubstantiated, shrill, partisan, self-serving, apocalyptic warnings are ALWAYS wrong,” one of his slides noted. He highlighted sky-is-falling quotes from banking potentates such as Mark Carney, the former Bank of England Governor, who recently said the damage from climate change will dwarf the current pain from rising prices. Tell that to the working folks dealing with 8% inflation.

But then of course scoring virtue points about climate change is so much easier than not printing lots of money and trying to control inflation, I suppose.

By the way, I love Mr Kirk’s business title, “head of responsible investing”. As opposed to what, “head of irresponsible investing”, or “lazy investing” or “immoral investing”?

There appears to have been quite a bit of pushback, and I am thinking of ordering some popcorn. Standard Chartered chief Bill Winters is reported to have said that all should be free to “speak their mind” on environmental issues, even if executives disagree with them. (Standard Chartered, which is listed in the UK, makes much of its money in places such as Asia.)

And here’s another point: both HSBC and Standard Chartered, given the importance of Asia to their earnings, in 2020 backed Beijing’s imposition of a national security law in Hong Kong, designed to crush democratic opposition to moves around ending Hong Kong’s independence in legal terms under the agreement signed with the UK. Both these banks make much of their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials. Where does their defence of China’s bullying of Hong Kong leave their “social” or “governance” credentials, may I ask?

ESG is now a corporate religion in the industry that I report on. It is impossible to seriously criticise it, it seems, without endangering one’s career. That said, I think the hypocrisies and cognitive dissonance involved is showing strains. HSBC may regret suspending a man for telling what is essentially the truth. He is right that there is a lot of self-serving nonsense around ESG and that some people are making a fat living out of it. I hope Mr Kirk, if he is forced out, sues the pants off the bank.

The aforementioned WSJ article notes:

If climate change poses such an enormous economic threat, Mr. Kirk asked, why did asset prices surge as doomsday warnings increased? Either climate risk is negligible, climate risk is already in the prices, or all investors are wrong, he said. If you believe the latter, then you don’t believe in markets and shouldn’t be regulating them.

Credit to Mr. Kirk for exposing the hubris of the regulatory climate emperors even as his superiors shrink in fear.

How not to convince people

I am an atheist – I don’t even seek any cover in the “foxhole” of agnosticism, or pull the “religion isn’t true but it keeps the plebs in line” sort of argument that I have sometimes come across. Full disclosure: I am a confirmed Anglican but fell away over the years, primarily because I could not engage with the idea of belief via faith. I know a lot of people who are religious, if not noisily so. I respect them and love many of them, and vice versa. It really is as simple as that.

Occasionally I come across the phenomenon of the “noisy atheist”, and am reminded what an unlovely creature that is. On my Facebook page, I follow a few groups such as one dedicated to Second World War allied pilots (I am an aviation history geek. Bite me.) Recently, a Canadian pilot, who flew Spitfires in the war, died at the tremendous age of 100. I wrote something along the lines of “Rest in Peace and blue skies to the brave gentleman.” All of a sudden, when I woke up the following day, I noticed that my comment and that of many other people had elicited comments from a person who wrote words to the effect of “religion is crap – grow up” or “your beliefs are a piece of shit”. The person has his own FB page on the subject of military history and makes a big point of his being an atheist. So it is probably not a Russian bot, although one never knows.

What to make of this other than the fact that some people are sociopaths, or just plain unpleasant and in need of some direct lessons in manners? Well, what it proves to me is that if you firmly hold to the idea that belief in a Supreme, omniscient god is nonsense, then it is absolutely fine to express that view, but not in a way that is so rude, or by injecting your views into the conversations of others, and ignoring context completely. Ironically for this digital yob, he has achieved the opposite effect in anyone whom he might have tried to convert, by associating unbelief with rudeness and crassness.

Atheism is the absence of belief, rather than a positive belief in X or Y. (To go further, atheism is the view that the idea of god is incoherent and therefore existence of gods cannot be true. A thing cannot be beyond nature and above it, as a god is, because nature is all of existence and to be outside it makes no sense. (That is my understanding of what atheism is, properly defined.)

There are, in my experience, a great variety of atheists, such as by their political beliefs and for some, belief in political or other ideologies fills a sort of philosophical hole. For other atheists, the lack of belief in a God creates no such “gap” – they have a coherent philosophy of life requiring no props of any kind. That is where I stand. Some atheists can be socialists/collectivists, others on the libertarian, classical liberal/Objectivist end of the spectrum, others traditional conservatives and so on. Some can be agreeable, philosophical and rounded as human beings. Some, alas, are just plain bloody awful. It seems to me that I have encountered the latter.

Anyway, I share these musings to reflect on etiquette and how social media has given opportunities to encounter humans at their best and their worst. On a positive end point, I have met a lot of good people via social media, in terms of actual friends whom I meet for real.

Samizdata quote of the day

“A majority of Americans want companies to stay out of politics. They want to have a separate space for where they shop, where they work, and where they invest from the places where they cast their ballots or engage in their political debates.”

Vivek Ramaswamy, a young businessman and author of Woke Inc. He is critical of the current trend of firms, and asset managers such as BlackRock, seemingly putting non-financial goals before those to do with actually earning a return for investors.

This ghastly “Conservative” government – a continuing series

The UK government wants, among other things set out in its Parliamentary legislative agenda, to regulate football as an industry. The country that invented association football, known as soccer in certain barbarian regions, more than a century ago, is now to have it regulated by the State. Some form of quasi-autonomous non-governmental body, aka Quango, will be set up to oversee the sport. I am sure there will be keen interest in the sort of worthies who will be nominated to run this body. No doubt all the warnings in the past about how regulators can be “captured” by the entities being regulated will be ignored, as ignored as all the other lessons about the dangers of putting the State in charge of such matters.

It is all utterly pointless: the process is in train. Take the aforementioned linked article by the BBC – all the complaints are that the legislation to bring about a regulator isn’t happening fast enough, or is wide enough in scope. The idea that no such State regulator is needed, and that such a move represents a further assault on the autonomous institutions of civil society, is completely absent. Football leagues and associations are effectively gutted from within. What next: a State regulator for bridge, arm-wrestling and golf?

A mark of so-called “conservatives” is that the importance of autonomous institutions, of the dangers of regulatory “mission creep”, are part of their thinking. (This publication from the Institute of Economic Affairs gives a good summary of why State regulation of such activity is a mistake.)

The administration led by Mr Johnson is not remotely conservative in any profound sense. Of course, dear reader, you knew that. What I offer here is merely further evidence confirming it, and why the drift towards “bread and circus” politics, with a mix of oafish authortarianism, neglect of real reform, and fecklessness on energy and spending, is going to continue.

Bad times.

Update: I have thought about my grumpy words above – and don’t apologise for them – and wondered if there is more that needs saying. To play Devil’s Advocate, advocates of a football regulator would argue, perhaps, that the game is big business; further, it affects cities’ economic welfare quite a bit now. Lots of foreigners with interesting tax and financial affairs play here. As we have seen recently with Chelsea being forced to part ways with Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, some of the ownership of football today is murky, to say the least. And football also has a bearing on health, public order (misbehaviour of fans is, sadly, still a thing). So for all these reasons we need a regulator. But I disagree. First, we already have anti-money laundering/KYC laws to check the financial bona fides of people/firms that want to buy clubs. The laws already exist – the job is to enforce them. Employment contracts, tax, etc, are matters for the existing body of laws in a country. Crowd control is a matter where clubs can agree to work with law enforcement, for a fee.

Given the foregoing, I don’t understand what a regulator will do that could not be done already. If people are worried about corrupt practices, or clubs cheating the rules on buying players, then however annoying this is, these aren’t matters for a regulator, but where relevant, for law authorities.

It is hard to avoid concluding that this regulator will end up being gamed (sorry for that pun) by the industry it is designed to oversee, and will be a focus for the usual political types aiming to appeal to the “Man on the street” by taking postures over football.

Samizdata quote of the day

“If you decided to stop working for the better part of two years, and to maintain your income solely through borrowing, you’d end up worse off. Almost everyone understands that on a personal level. But we struggle to extend the logic to the nation. During the lockdowns, the Government paid people not to produce things, and funded the difference by printing money. A decline in the production of real-world goods and services, combined with an increase in the number of pounds and pence in circulation, would mean inflation even without the Ukrainian conflict. Yet commentators and MPs who opposed every loosening of restrictions (including Starmer) now talk about the cost of living crisis as if it were some wanton act of ministerial sadism.”

Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph (£)

The problem in my view is that on economics, or indeed on certain other topics where people need to understand cause and effect, the education system in this country, and indeed much of our culture, is against an understanding of cause/effect beyond the concrete experiences of daily life. People seem unable to think in terms of concepts. The question is whether there are sufficient people to point these links out between rising prices, poverty, and a policy of “work for nothing” paid for by printing money. Much hinges on making the case.

Samizdata quote of the day

“It says a great deal about the impotence of the European Union’s response to the Ukraine crisis that Poland should have emerged as the bloc’s most effective cheerleader in confronting the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. It was only a few months ago that Brussels was seeking to demonise Poland as a rogue state over accusations that it was violating the EU’s democratic agenda. This led the European Court of Justice to rule in favour of denying Warsaw access to more than 75 billion euros in funds. Today, with Poland taking the lead role in condemning Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, the EU’s attempts to humiliate the Poles appear ill-judged, to say the least.”

Con Coughlin, Daily Telegraph (£)

People can collaborate in free markets too

The author of this Reuters article on the German jobs market plainly hasn’t heard of Linkedin, or jobs advertising, or even old-style labour exchanges where people can go to find out where vacancies are and retrain. Time for a good old fisking:

Germany’s industrial heavyweights are teaming up to retrain workers in areas such as software and logistics to fill a growing skills gap and avoid layoffs among workers of all ages as the economy shifts to clean energy and online shopping.

There is nothing wrong with firms exchanging ideas with one another to fix an issue. (Although ironically, government “anti-trust” laws might work against that.) It is worth noting, of course, that losses of jobs in areas such as petrol-driven cars are partly caused by government policy itself, such as the Net Zero decarbonization efforts that, depending on your point of view, are necessary or barking insane.

More than 36 major companies, ranging from auto suppliers such as Continental (CONG.DE) and Bosch (ROBG.UL) to industrial firms BASF (BASFn.DE) and Siemens (SIEGn.DE), have agreed to coordinate on redundancies at one firm and vacancies at another, training workers to move directly from job to job.

Right.

The scheme underscores Germany’s long-term social market economy model, which gives more influence to labour unions as opposed to free-market capitalism focused on maximizing profits.

Does it? I mean, I assume German firms want to pursue a profit. They’re not charities.

The costs of the initiative will be shared by the companies involved on a case-by-case basis. So if a factory closes, a dialogue will begin on what to do with its workers and then involve another company which may be seeking new skills.

Again, this seems like rational self-interest to me. There’s no objection I see to firms liaising with one another, and forming pacts about dealing with the need for skilled people. The key is that the State keeps its nose out of it. Also, if firms try and steer staff who might lose a job to another firm, that needs to be weighed against whether and how the employee might want their lives to go. The tone of the article seems to be that what is needed is a sort of hand-holding paternalism, but that creates a vicious circle where employees lose the desire to manage their working careers in a proactive way.

A study by think-tank Ifo Institute warned that 100,000 jobs linked to the internal combustion engine could be lost by 2025 if carmakers failed to transition fast enough to electric vehicles and retrain workers.

Forcing an entire industry to abandon a reliable, effective technology used for a century and switch to an arguably less reliable, and more costly one. Yep, there are going to be consequences. It also doesn’t help that German government policy in the past 20 years on energy has been almost calculated to harm its manufacturing base in the long run.

Engineering, metalwork and logistics are among the sectors seeking high numbers of people in Germany, alongside care work, catering and sales.The demand for skilled workers is coming from overseas companies too, highlighted by Tesla’s (TSLA.O) decision to build its European electric vehicle and battery plant in the state of Brandenburg, where it will create 12,000 new jobs.

Good news, so long as the jobs are financially viable.

Ariane Reinhart, board member responsible for human resources (HR) at Continental and chief spokesperson of the [jobs] business-led initiative, was quoted as saying: “Leaving it to the free market is not enough – it would not be what’s best for workers, or the economy.”

Wrong. For a start, none of the ideas about firms collaborating to move workers with desired skills around could not happen in a free market without state interference. Employers (I am one) know that finding talented staff is one of the most important issues there is, and in an open economy, there are all kinds of ways people with skills in demand can find jobs. Further, it is hardly a mystery to employees that they should keep on top of new skills to make themselves more desirable and increase what they earn. That’s the “free market”. The author of this article might want to reflect that it was the free market economy, and not some sort of top-down socialism, that helped propel West Germany after 1945 into being one of the richest economies on earth. By 1960 or thereabouts, that country had matched the UK in terms output per head.

To repeat an important point: there is no reason why firms could not and would not collaborate, if their self-interest coincided, in figuring out how people with desirable skills could be moved from place to place. What the author of this article cannot or will not address is whether firms in the article are not just doing what they might do anyway? Why did this question not get asked? Why just accept, at face value, that this sort of collaboration is some wonderful example of a less market-based system? After all, I can log on to the internet and find jobs, homes, flights, hotels, courses for training in new skills, etc, without anyone from government or some official entity holding my hand. Amazing, isn’t it, this “free market” of ours.

Samizdata quote of the day

We need successful people in frontline politics. Indeed, there should be more of them. I’d take Sunak any day over a person filled with resentment and spite who imagines Westminster to be a forum to carry out revenge attacks on anyone who has been successful in life.

Douglas Murray, writing about UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak. He has been getting heat over how his wife, who is an Indian citizen, is very rich via her family, and who has benefited from the entirely legal status known as being a resident non-domicile. Whatever else I might write about Sunak (his tax rises, such as for National Insurance Contributions, are indefensible), attacking a legal tax status of a spouse because the spouse is “rich” is nothing more than a mob baying over someone who has more than they have. It is ugly for various reasons. If Brexit is to to succeed, being a country full of resentful socialists is unlikely to work.

Samizdata quote of the day

“As long as life sustenance remains the ultimate goal of individuals, they are likely to assign a higher valuation to present goods versus the future goods and no central bank interest rate manipulation is likely to change this. Any attempt by central bank policy makers to overrule this fact is going to undermine the process of wealth formation and lower individual’s living standards. It is not going to help economic growth if the central bank artificially lowers interest rates whilst individuals did not allocate an adequate amount of savings to support the expansion of capital goods investments. It is not possible to replace savings with more money and the artificial lowering of the interest rate. It is not possible to generate something out of nothing. Likewise, by raising interest rates the central bank cannot undo the damage from the previous easy interest rate stance.”

Dr Frank Shostak, writing at the Cobden Centre website. (Thanks to Paul Marks for the pointer.)

Maybe there’s benefit in having a useless POTUS, but dangers too

The US has a leadership vacuum, at least in terms of the White House.

After four years of a bitter war with Donald Trump, much of the US media establishment has returned to its old deferential approach now that one of their own is back in the White House. To them, the appearance of normality, the fake return to mainstream codes of behaviour, the fact that Ivy Leaguers are back in charge at Treasury and State, matters far more than the reality, which is that the president isn’t really presiding and that America’s constitution is once again in deep crisis.”

Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph.

What is worth noting is that even if Biden was mentally sharp, his comments and opinions have been notable for their crassness and foolishness. He is also a plagiarist. And that was when he was younger. I fear that far too many reporters and others covering politics are desperately trying to now play down what an empty shell he is.

(By contrast, the actor Bruce Willis has had to end his acting career because of a cognitive decline problem, and I find it very sad to see the star of Die Hard and other films retire. But he’s had to be honest, and that is brave of him.)

I suppose the issue is whether all this matters very much. To some extent, the fact that Biden is too far gone to make lots of decisions might not be a bad thing. The problem is that his policy ideas, even if they are not going to be enacted, are still terrible, such as on the plan to impose some sort of “wealth tax”. Sooner or later, one of his dumb ideas could actually have very bad consequences for The Republic.

And meanwhile, in the back of everyone’s minds, is the thought “God, imagine Kamala Harris dealing direct with Xi and Putin.”

So my question to the commenters here is this: what is to be done? There are another two and a bit years to run under this man. What’s the realistic chance he will make it?

Samizdata quote of the day

“The old truths remain unchanged: The free world isn’t free because it is rich — it is rich because it is free. Freedom is not only a moral good but also a practical one: Because we have a system that enables us to fail quickly and fail cheaply, we can try many different approaches to social and material problems, throwing everything we have at them and seeing what works. Authoritarian societies, in contrast, have trouble adapting to fluid conditions, often discomfited by problems that cannot be solved with bayonets. One by one, Americans and Germans and Englishmen aren’t any more intelligent than Russians or Chinese or Saudis, but the institutions of free societies — from the free press to competitive elections — enable free people to rally and deploy their collective intelligence in a way that is difficult or impossible in unfree societies.”

Kevin D Williamson