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

“The alarmism is the goal. The goal is the alarmism.”

Michael Shellenberger, as interviewed by Jordan Peterson. He is talking about the fearmongering of much of the contemporary Green movement, and what drives it. I really hope that a pushback is coming when the public fully wake up to what’s involved.

A review of the new James Bond film that I thoroughly agree with – SPOILER ALERT

Well, at last the new James Bond film has hit cinemas on both sides of the Atlantic. There may be countries where it is not yet on release, but it’s been out long enough I think for a commentary that contains spoilers to be published. If you don’t want to see this before seeing the film, then don’t linger here. Repeat: CONTAINS SPOILERS!

I recall back in 2006 when Casino Royale came out, and here was my review back then, all 15 (gulp) years ago. I watched the film along with a few other conspirators, such as Perry de Havilland, if I recall. I generally liked it – I think Daniel Craig did a great job, and elements of the original novel were kept in, while added to for a modern audience. The subsequent films never quite lived up to the first one, in my view, although I read a lot about how great Skyfall was, but I disagree (I think the whole sentiment of the film was gloomier than the glummest John Le Carre story, but without the caustic LC wit.) But even so, Daniel Craig has, so I read, delivered Bond to a “new generation”. And the franchise of Eon-produced Bond films is almost 60 years old. Even if you don’t equate longevity with greatness, that’s pretty damned impressive.

I have seen a lot of commentary from those who claim No Time to Die is somehow a great film, but a few are very upset, even angry. I have very mixed views on it, but the more I think about it, the more I think this is a bad film, made my people who have fallen prey to shitty ideas, and who make the crucial error of conflating moral seriousness with being miserable. In fact, this error is not remarked about enough. You can be a baddass super-hero, and take what you do very seriously, while having a smile on your face and enjoy life at the same time. Think Zorro, think the Scarlet Pimpernel, etc. Everything now has to be full of angst, of “self-loathing” and be “gritty” (one of the most tediously over-used epithets in culture today).

Let’s start with one of the biggest initial reasons people got wary about this film. The Nomi character, the “new 007”, as played by Lashana Lynch, is every bit as passive-aggressive at first as the trailers suggested, but in fact the “wokeness” of the film, and of her part in it, isn’t nearly as bad as I feared. She comes across as one-dimensional; there is no real development of her character. You cannot warm to her and want to take her side. In a way, this is what happens when film-makers try to make films more supposedly progressive but in fact let themselves down. A pity.

The action scenes in general are very well done. Say whatever one likes about these films, but the production quality remains outstandingly good. Some of the fight scenes are great. The locations are generally good and we get a bit more time in this film to sample the atmosphere (Jamaica, Cuba, etc) than in earlier Craig efforts. The early Connery films were so good is that you felt you were really travelling with him to places such as the Caribbean or Turkey, or in the case of the George Lazenby film (which is arguably one of the best ever), Switzerland.

There is a little bit more humour here, even though Craig remains the Grumpy Bond. The rapport he has with Jeffrey Wright, playing Felix Leiter, is nice. Supporting cast members such as Ralph Fiennes as M are good as well. The chap playing Q has quite a lot to do; he has a nice, sharp sense of humour as well.

But the central features of this film in terms of plot and how the film ends, mean that NTTD represents something very bad, and I fear that Barbara Broccoli and the others may have taken the series off a cliff, and I am queasy about what comes next. I have tagged this post under “culture wars”, because I cannot help but see NTTD as yet another instance of what might be called the Cancel Culture. Bond, as baddass Alpha male, suave and in control, dispenser of smart-alec quips as he crushes the evil guys, is dead.

Anyway, here is an example of how cheesed off people are. I saw this on Facebook. The article is written by a chap called “Charles”. I have taken out a few paragraphs, but here goes:

Bond films got popular being FUN movies celebrating triumph — not being deep serious heavy tragedies evoking misery. For decades, JB film fans went for thrilling entertainment which leaves them feeling good — not for painful adult psychological realism which leaves them feeling bad. [Yes, I know about OHMSS: one movie, 52 years ago.] After decades of this continuity, the fans naturally expect a Bond film to be exciting optimistic escapism.

It seems to me that the whole team responsible for the NTTD story doesn’t understand the core reasons why Bond films have been so popular for 59 years (or perhaps they presume to push the fans to change their preferences).

Wanting Bond movies to be just enjoyable entertainment — showing the thrill of surviving danger, loving the joy of living in the moment, celebrating courageous victory over evil — is a perfectly respectable adult mentality. Not every adult movie has to induce the emotions of tragic misery. Let other movies (not Bond) do that.

Disliking the infliction of prolonged misery into a Bond movie doesn’t mean the unhappy fan is immature, or wants to see Bond be some offensive example of pathologies (contrary to sneering assumptions by some fans). If some fans object to seeing JB movies delivering a doom & gloom fest, that doesn’t mean they want JB movies to be an Austin Powers clown cartoon. Between these two extremes, there is a good middle zone of exciting adult stories which celebrate brave triumph.

Barbara Broccoli and M.G. Wilson are stewards of a global legacy of good will and inspiring imagination, enduring 59 years. As stewards of the Bond film legacy, they seem to be either indifferent or incompetent. It seems they let Daniel Craig make his last JB movie become whatever he wanted it to be, for his own personal gratification as an actor, disregarding how it violates reasonable expectations of the fans. DC’s agenda to make JB realistic, complex, deep, etc. was incompatible with the history of Bond movie popularity. [He says he’s “too serious” and “moody”.] They let him impose his sensibility (and serious artistic ambitions) onto NTTD so much that the story violates the abiding concept of the franchise.

In a recurring adventure series, killing off the hero shows that the storytellers have run out of good ideas or that they have lost their confidence that they can write an effective story in which the hero is victorious. Killing Bond in NTTD reminds me of the first Mission Impossible movie, in which the leader of the good guys (Jim Phelps) is a traitor who kills most of the team. That kind of plotting choice is a cheap stunt — hoping to stun the betrayed viewer into thinking that the plotting was impressively daring or inventive. Nope, it’s just a violation of the covenant between the storytelling team and the fans of those characters.

Bond’s death in NTTD was so contrived. The story could’ve been easily rewritten for him to survive and triumph again. For those who say ‘But he had to die, because of X’ — That ‘X’ part could’ve been easily rewritten otherwise.
Bond didn’t just die; he seemed to quit trying to survive; choosing a kind of passive suicide. That’s one reason why his death felt so demoralizing to some viewers.

Now I see that the warning for how this movie would go wrong was in the selection of the most recent two theme songs (for SPECTRE & NTTD). The previous song portrayed Bond as a fragile needy crybaby, and the new song conveys total emotional defeat and surrender — both songs utterly wrong for Bond films, which celebrate victory, joy, survival, pleasure, etc.

Samizdata quote of the day

“For years, the people of this country have been corralled towards a future that they cannot see and cannot understand. But the energy crisis this winter will reveal what politicians and eco-activists have kept hidden – that in a Net Zero future you will be poorer and colder.”

– Dr Benny Peiser, Director, Net Zero Watch.

Net Zero Watch is a new group run by the Global Warming Policy Forum, and it has its own website. I intend to visit it regularly.

Legal immunity – the vaccine twist on an old debate

In the rarified circles of classical liberal/libertarian debate, I come across debates about whether companies could or should enjoy statutory limited liability (protecting beneficial owners of said from being sued for their wealth if there is an issue.) Like intellectual property rights (patents, copyrights, trademarks, etc) this is a fraught area creating fierce debate among people who normally agree on a great deal.

LL laws protect people who have beneficial ownership from losing everything short of the clothes they stand in. Another, perhaps related limitation of exposure, however, stems from emergency situations, such as the pandemic. I think this is an issue that eventually is going to bite.

Consider the way that the drug manufacturers who developed and sold COVID-19 vaccines, such as Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca, were last year granted exemption from liabilities by the governments of various countries, such as the UK.

The companies, perhaps understandably given the relative speed with which they were approved to distribute the vaccines, and the urgency of the situation, wanted an assurance they wouldn’t be sued. So they got those protections. The attitude at the time seemed to be that we were in a sort of war. Consider this WW2 example: Rolls Royce did not want to be sued by people if its Merlin engines in the Spitfire, Mosquito and other aircraft went wrong. Makers of radar equipment and all the rest of it did not want to be sued. So possibly the thinking last year was the same about vaccines. The threats of class-action lawsuits would kill innovation stone dead.

As the months, and now years, go by, the balance I think is going to shift, particularly if the severity of the virus in terms of its lethality is shown to have declined not just because of vaccines but down to development of immunity in populations, and other factors. In that case, is it really credible that makers of vaccines, and distributors of said, can escape the constraints of normal commercial/criminal liability?

After all, we have seen how, in the US, the Sackler family – owners of the Purdue Pharma business – have been hit by mass lawsuits over opioids. Although it won immunity to further lawsuits, as reported here.

Forgive me, gentle readers, if these comments appear disjointed. I was chatting to an investment banker about all this, and he agreed that the immunity these manufacturers have carved out should not be open-ended. At the very least, lawmakers, if they are doing their job, and want to build trust in vaccines and so on, ought to consider how to address this issue. For some people, the immunity of these firms might be a reason why they refuse to take the vaccine. The Law of Unintended Consequences.

On a perhaps more positive tack, the fact that vaccines were rolled out and approved with such speed does suggest that when the heat is on, bureaucracy can be removed as much as possible. And this begs the question about how much regulatory protection and how much bureaucracy to oversee it is really necessary.

Samizdata unintended ironic quote of the day

“China is serious about building a cleaner, fairer, and sustainable society.”

As you know, I get press releases, and this one, from the Swiss private bank and investment manager, Vontobel, was too good not to let go without sharing.

Further comment from me is superfluous. Reading that comment, considering how the CCP operates and what it does, has left me dumbstruck.

A press release worth sharing

I got this today from the Global Warming Policy Forum, a group that I guess can be best called a global warming sceptics group. It is based in the UK. Here is its press release today. It responds to reports that the UK is dangerously vulnerable to cuts in energy supplies and rocketing prices. Winter this year could be interesting. If the UK has power cuts and serious hits to supplies this year and into next, will the government double down on trying to produce energy from wind and happy thoughts, or realise that a mix of nuclear, some fossil fuels and limited renewables are the way to go? Can any major Western political leader withstand the likely wailing from the establishment media and call bullshit on Net Zero and the anti-carbon cult? Can you imagine any such figure advocating that people read Alex Epstein or Michael Schellenberger, for instance? It is worth noting that the last time the UK had power cuts, during the early 70s, we had a Tory government as led by Edward Heath (who took the UK into the EEC). Then, the coal industry was locked in a brutal industrial dispute with the unions. The three-day week, blackouts and all the rest were big reasons for why Heath was kicked out and eventually replaced by Margaret Thatcher. A basic requirement of a government is to keep the lights on, or at least not stop people from keeping them on. Boris Johnson doesn’t want to be the next Heath, does he?

Here is the GWPF press release:

The GWPF has consistently warned that Britain’s unilateral climate policies under both Labour and Conservative administrations were creating an insecure and expensive energy sector that would ultimately fail due to consumer costs and collapsing security of supply.

These warnings are now fully vindicated. Over-reliance on renewables and interconnectors and a failure to maintain a diverse portfolio of energy supply and electricity generation has resulted in a fragile, weather-dependent British system that is critically vulnerable to pan-European low wind conditions, interconnector failure, and high regional gas prices.

Income support subsidies to renewable energy investors currently total about £10 billion a year, and are still rising, while grid management costs have increased six-fold (to just under £2 billion a year) since the early 2000s when renewables were first introduced in significant quantities.

In spite of this large and growing cost burden, renewables do not protect the consumer effectively against fluctuations in gas prices, since wind and solar are both critically reliant on gas to guarantee security of supply. The UK’s apparent diversity of supply is an illusion. The current energy cost and supply crisis is the result of decades of ill-considered climate policy which has prioritised costly emissions reductions technologies while neglecting the consumer interest, security of supply and macro-economic impact.

The severity of the current crisis merits emergency measures, not only to protect consumers and the economy, but also to avoid the crisis from turning into social disaster as winter approaches.

The GWPF is calling on the Government to:

1. Suspend all green levies on energy bills, funding subsidies temporarily out of taxation, but acting firmly to cancel these subsidies in the near term.

2. Cancel constraint payments, and compel wind and solar generators to pay for their own balancing costs, thus incentivising them to self-dispatch only when economic.

3. Remove all fiscal and other disincentives to oil and gas exploration, including shale gas, to increase domestic production levels.

4. Suspend carbon taxation on coal and gas generation in order to provide consumer relief and ensure security of supply.

5. Re-open recently closed gas storage facilities and support new storage projects.

6. Suspend all further policy initiatives directed towards the Net Zero target, including the Carbon Budgets, the heat pump targets, and the overly ambitious timetable for the ban on petrol and diesel engines, until the UK energy sector has been stabilised.

7. Facilitate the acceleration of building and deploying Small Modular Reactors for both electricity and heat.

I wrote to my MP, and she wrote back

A few days ago I did something I am not used to doing, which is I wrote to my MP, who is Nickie Aiken (she is MP for Cities of London and Westminster). I have met her several times; personally, I like her and she has been helpful on several local issues. I wrote about the rise in National Insurance Contributions, taking the UK total tax burden to levels not seen in 70 years.

My letter suggested that there was no point putting new money into the NHS, a state monopoly, without reforms, and that NI ought to be blended with income tax, given that “insurance” is a misnomer and that this would give people a clearer idea of how much the State takes. I commended efforts by former Cabinet Minister Peter Lilley to her on how to use private insurance and other methods to increase availability of residential care and doing so in a way that was fair. My letter avoided the usual libertarian fire-eating exercises we can get into. I was polite and constructive. I think others who want to contact MPs should adopt the same approach, if only to make them aware of how we think. These things do add up. MPs can count, particularly those in marginal seats.

She replied. I don’t know if her reply – which was quite lengthy – was one that she has sent to other constituents and some sort of pro forma thing. If she wrote it to me personally then that speaks most well of her to take the time to do so. I think it is okay for me to republish it here because this letter was sent by a supporter of a government and defending what is now official, public policy. Remember, this is a “moderate”, fairly middle-of-the-road MP, and I think pretty typical of most of her party.

Here goes:

During the summer recess, I spent a week looking after my father who is living with advanced Alzheimer’s while my mother had a respite holiday. I experienced what millions of people up and down the country live with day in day out, month after month caring for their loved ones in similar circumstances and I pay tribute to every single one of them. Equally I am in awe of our care professionals working in care homes and those who provide care services in people’s homes. I believe the covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the outstanding service they all provide for which I am grateful.

It is this recent experience as well as having been a Council Leader where 40% of the local authority’s budget was spent on adult social services, has led me to accept that if we are to reform social care and ensure that all those in need receive the dignified care they all deserve then extra funding is required. I believe that such a levy as proposed would have been necessary even before the pandemic. However, now with the nation’s finances in the position they currently are, with the Government having spent over £400bn keeping the economy and businesses afloat, raising further revenue is now a must.

I therefore accepted the arguments both the Prime Minister and the Health & Social Care Secretary have made in their reasons why they are proposing the new levy. During the Prime Minister’s statement in the Commons this week I sought assurances that, through the health and social care levy, money raised will go to fund local authorities who are on the front line of providing social care. I am firmly of the view that not all the money raised should go to the NHS but to councils too. As I understand the situation, in total £36 billion will be invested in the health and care system over the next three years to ensure it has the long term resource it needs.

Having looked at the proposals I note that the 1.25% proposed levy means someone working full time on National Living Wage earning £16,216 would pay around £1.50 per week. With such investments patients will benefit from the biggest catch-up programme in the NHS’s history, so people no longer face excessive waits for treatment. This will provide an extra 9 million checks, scans, and operations; and increase NHS capacity to 110 per cent of its pre-pandemic levels by 2023-24.

I appreciate that some people highlighted that the young will be burdened more than the older generations when it comes to the levy and that this is a tax on low paid workers. I note that the highest-earning 14 per cent in the country will pay over half the levy, and the Government has also announced an equivalent increase in dividend tax rates and the suspension of the pension triple lock which would have seen an 8.8% increase in the state pension next year which I agree would be unfair at this time. Instead it will rise by 2.5% or inflation

As a Conservative I believe in a low tax economy. I also believe in financial responsibility and following the pandemic I do feel that we are not in the same position as a country that we were pre-pandemic thus it is right to raise funds in order to support the NHS deal with the immense backlog of waiting lists and also take the necessary and fair steps necessary to give our health and care services the backing and funding they need in order to recover from the effects of the pandemic and ensure the health and wellbeing of residents here in the Two Cities.

Draw your own conclusions on where politics is headed in this country.

Samizdata quote of the day

“When Boris Yeltsin visited a Houston supermarket in 1989, the sheer choice of goods and services on offer compared to stores in Soviet Russia shocked him. `Even the Politburo doesn’t have this choice. Not even Mr. Gorbachev,’ he said. Faced with this new, striking reality of American living standards, he began to recognise the massive costs of the communist economic system on the Russian people. Before seeing it with his own eyes, though, Yeltsin was none the wiser. To echo the movie The Matrix again, his supermarket visit was a ‘red pill’ moment – it allowed him to escape the constructed reality of Soviet communism and experience a real, alternative world.”

Ryan Bourne.

Widening college enrollment gap between men and women

From the Wall Street Journal:

At the close of the 2020-21 academic year, women made up 59.5% of college students, an all-time high, and men 40.5 per cent, according to enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse, a nonprofit research group. U.S. colleges and universities had 1.5 million fewer students compared with five years ago, and men accounted for 71 per cent of the decline. This education gap, which holds at both two- and four-year colleges, has been slowly widening for 40 years. The divergence increases at graduation: After six years of college, 65 per cent of women in the U.S. who started a four-year university in 2012 received diplomas by 2018 compared with 59 per cent of men during the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Assuming that there is some connection between having a higher education qualification and pay (that connection is not by any means set in stone) then if this trend continues, not only will it eliminate any alleged “pay gap” to the detriment of women, but push it another way. Of course, it might be that some US men have worked out that college in many ways is a waste of their time, a cesspit of wokery and pointless diversions, and they’d be better off learning code, or industrial welding, or something that doesn’t saddle them with big debts.

Even so, the male/female college attendance gap in the US, and quite possibly in a few other nations, appears to be one of those stories that very clearly pushes against a standard narrative of how the cards are stacked in favour of we toxic males and that therefore this needs to be fixed in some way. In my day job, I routinely get lots of emails from banks, wealth managers and other firms going on about the wonders of diversity, etc, and rarely, if ever, is this college attendance point brought up. I have raised it once or twice with people, and it gets a sort of muffled response, if at all.

A few more paragraphs from the WSJ article, which is behind a paywall:

Over the course of their working lives, American college graduates earn more than a million dollars beyond those with only a high-school diploma, and a university diploma is required for many jobs as well as most professions, technical work and positions of influence.

Yet skyrocketing education costs have made college more risky today than for past generations, potentially saddling graduates in lower-paying careers—as well as those who drop out—with student loans they can’t repay.

Social science researchers cite distractions and obstacles to education that weigh more on boys and young men, including videogames, pornography, increased fatherlessness and cases of overdiagnosis of boyhood restlessness and related medications.

Men in interviews around the U.S. said they quit school or didn’t enroll because they didn’t see enough value in a college degree for all the effort and expense required to earn one. Many said they wanted to make money after high school.

Samizdata quote of the day

“President Biden’s tax plans might soon make Europe look like a capitalist heaven by comparison. He wants to raise the long-term capital-gains tax from just below 24% to above 43%. Switzerland has no such tax. In Britain, inventor of the welfare state, it is 20% and in Germany 26%. On income tax, the U.S. may soon top the scale. Mr. Biden wants a top marginal income-tax rate of just below 40%. Add state and local income taxes, like California’s 13.3% for top earners, and wealthy U.S. taxpayers could pay more than their European counterparts.”

Josef Joffe, Wall Street Journal ($)

I have been covering this news story about the tax proposals in my regular day job in the banking and wealth management/media sector. Joe Biden, who has been having such a shit-show lately over Afghanistan, is equally terrible over tax and the economy, and also a bit two-faced. This is a man who, let it not be forgotten, was a senator for Delaware for many years. Delaware is a bit like a mini-“Switzerland”, one of those states that is favoured by corporations and creators of trusts (South Dakota, New Hampshire, Nevada and Alaska are similar).

The US is going to have to familiarise itself with the “Laffer Curve” all over again.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Politicians have spent trillions of dollars subsidizing renewable energy with no effect on climate. Nuclear power, which would sharply reduce CO2, is taboo among the greens. Innovation in developing low-cost natural gas, which substitutes for coal, may have done more than any government policy to reduce U.S. emissions. Yet President Biden wants to crush the gas industry with regulation. The IPCC report doesn’t justify putting the U.S. economy into the hands of government. A sensible climate policy will continue to monitor trends, while allowing a free economy to find solutions and build the wealth that will allow for adaptation and amelioration if the worst happens. This lacks the drama of the Apocalypse, but it will better serve the world.”

Wall Street Journal, responding to the latest IPCC report on global warming (aka climate change).

Social credit in the UK

“There’s a reason that Her Majesty’s government can now afford, politically speaking, to experiment with policies that are native to stratified east Asian states. It’s the very same reason why the Democratic Party here in the States can attempt to spend multiple trillions of dollars during just six months of unified government without any obvious public dismay. Catastrophes are accelerants of government expansion, and the pandemic will go down in history as one in a series of quantum leaps into a more statist world — a world in which governments feel increasingly emboldened to attempt the previously unthinkable.”

Cameron Hilditch, writing in National Review. Quick observation: there would, from a free market sort of view, be nothing necessarily wrong if an insurance company, for example, varies its premiums on clients who have proof that they, for example, keep fit, eat a healthy diet and so on. But that is a transaction freely entered into, and subject to the competition of a market place. Social credit systems on the Chinese model are not like this, however. There is no choice, no opportunity to opt out.

If I got a pound every time someone went on about Boris Johnson’s damned “libertarian instincts”, I’d be a resident of Monaco by now. We left the EU to get out of a form of creeping statism, and we get this. At least, I suppose, we can eventually vote the current government, led by this albino circus act, out of office, but for things to improve, there has be a shift in the culture in the UK – and elsewhere – of what is acceptable and and about the importance of liberty and autonomy.