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]

Daily Telegraph columnist has tantrum about North Sea oilfield

Say what you like about the Daily Telegraph, which generally tilts centre-right in its politics and economics (particularly with incisive writers such as Allister Heath and Matthew Lynn), it does not seem to enforce orthodoxy. While the leader column and Heath have both applauded the UK government’s decision to permit oil drilling in the large Rosebank field in the North Sea – and mocked the fulminations of the critics, there were fulminations in the DT’s business section. An example comes from Ben Marlow, a columnist whose portrait glares out, Medusa-like, at a foolish and fallen world.

Marlow describes the timing of the announcement as “comically bad” and immediately shows his climate alarmism colours by noting that the announcement came a day after the International Energy Agency had warned that any new oil and gas infrastructure was incompatible with the Paris Climate Agreements of limiting global warming to 1.5 C. The new oil field is expected to produce as much as 500 million barrels of oil over its lifetime. Marlow goes on to state that bringing this oil field into production will do “none of the things that ministers and its cheerleaders claim”, and went on to berate the Conservatives for their alleged failure to cover the UK in solar panels and windfarms. And he went on to attack the government for sowing “confusion” among carmakers by putting back the ban on new internal combustion cars by 5 years to 2035. Further, he mocked the idea that producing more oil has any real benefits to the UK, saying that the oil goes into the world market. He does, rightly, criticise UK governments past and present for being weak on nuclear energy, but overall, Marlow’s column is a noisy example of green tantrum-throwing in an otherwise relatively sane newspaper. I wonder what his employers make of him?

So let’s examine Marlow’s central point, that the opening of this oilfield is a blow to the environment and won’t fix anything for the UK. Well, he ignores that some oil/gas fields will and have come out of production as the oil and gas gets too expensive to extract, reducing the commercial case for it, so if this is replaced by newer fields, that doesn’t necessarily increase the total amount of oil and gas in production. And even if it does, he’s assuming a straight-line link between increased C02 emissions, and increases in the average temperature of the planet. From my reading, there is a law of diminishing returns in nature, as in economics. Every extra ton of C02 produces less of a warming impact than the preceding one. Further, there is global “greening” to consider – although there’s a law of diminishing returns on that when it comes to the link with carbon emissions, I suspect, too.

And considering that he’s a business correspondent and editor, Marlow seems curiously uninterested in how, for example, developing this big oil field will generate export earnings for the UK, and a lot of tax revenue for the government. (On the latter point, this isn’t an argument that I know classical liberals would want to make much of.) The UK has to import a lot of stuff, such as natural gas from the Middle East and so on. Exports are what we need for imports. If the UK’s balance of payments improves, it benefits us in the ability to import more of what we want. As for the government, more revenues give it more ability to encourage R&D and the like in areas such as modular nuclear power plants, etc. Even for those who aren’t carbon fuel catastrophists, we can acknowledge that if we want to shift towards nuclear fission and fusion, and potentially as yet undiscovered sources, that requires a ton of wealth.

Marlow’s mockery of the UK’s supposed tardiness over wind and solar is again a reminder that the battery storage issue just doesn’t register. Without storage, the intermittency problem with wind/sun energy is a killer. (The writer Alex Epstein and others have made this point.) Marlow, and others who share his views, really have no excuses to not directly address this point and explain how they’d handle it.

A final point: The huge budget overruns and delays on the HS2 rail project from London to the North are surely another reminder to journalists who talk a big game about “infrastructure” that the UK’s record of delivering things on time, and on budget, is appalling. Rishi Sunak, whatever else he is, is not an idiot. He knows that the 2030 mark for banning sales of new ICE vehicles was and is insane. All he needs to do to win that cigar from this blog is to reverse the policy completely. Then stand back and watch Mr Marlow’s head explode.

The obesity of the State and its consequences

In his book, After America (published in 2011, which already seems a loooong time ago), Mark Steyn wrote this:

“Any visitor from the Fifties would soon discover, in a bleak comment on the limits of predictive fiction, our brains didn’t get bigger. But our butts did. If DC Comics had gone with the `Super-Ass of Jimmy Olsen,’ they’d have been up there with Nostradamus. `Our culture’s sedentary character – our strong preference for watching over doing, for virtual over real action – seems closely related to our changing body shape,’ wrote the Harvard historian Niall Ferguson. `We now consume significantly more fats and carbohydrates than we actually need. According to the standard measure of obesity, the body-mass index, the percentage of Americans classified as obese nearly doubled, from 12 percent to 21 per cent, between 1991 and 2001. Nearly two-thirds of all American men are officially considered overweight, and nearly three-quarters of those between 45 and 64. Only Western Samoans and Kuwaitis are fatter.’ We are our own walking (or waddling) metaphor from consumption unmoored from production.”


“Our `changing physical shape’ (in Ferguson’s words) seems an almost literal rebuke to the notion of republican self-government. Never mind the constitution, where are our checks and balances?”
Mark Steyn, After America, pages 225-6.

Steyn is connecting two things: a government/central bank policy mix that focuses on consumption, rather than production, and ties policy to that, including welfare policy (ideas such as Univeral Basic Income, etc). Also, the risk-adverse, Precautionary Principle of our time seems to go against humans being adventurous, taking calculated risks, getting up and going places, etc. For example, he notes how young adults today can go through their teens and early 20s without having a job. When, as I did, you worked on Saturdays and during the summer holidays (paper rounds, working on farms, in shops, etc) there were various consequences – all good – including the fact that you had to be physically active. (Glenn Reynolds writes in a similar vein on why teenagers should work before going to college.) Now, the idea of young people working is treated as being on the same plane as evil Victorian mill owners out of a Dickens novel. But Steyn is also making the point about production – and a very anti-Keynesian point. As the “Austrian” school notes (as in George Reisman’s book Capitalism), to consume, you have to produce and that means accumulate capital (physical capital, and mental capital, such as skills and habits). So much present policy seems to work against accumulating capital (taxes, regulations, inflation, the general demonisation of wealthy people, etc). And we print or have printed money to fill the gap. So our economy becomes zombified on ultra-low rates, and like someone who hasn’t taken a regular walk, lifted weights or performed physical work, we get bloated and sick.

Much of what Steyn wrote 12 years ago was accurate, and many of his predictions hold true. I think where the book is a bit off is that he thinks the threat from fundamentalist Islam was the biggest threat to the US while he did not write lot about China, although China does figure in this book quite a bit, to be fair. And the idea of Russia running amok in Ukraine or wherever, while he hints at this risk, it does not really figure all that much. I am quibbling, though. This is a book that holds up well. Its conclusion – that we have to shrink the State, remains as valuable as ever.

Right, off to the gym.

The “fatal conceit” of Western environmental policy, ctd

“The key insight driving the environmental movement historically was that complex natural systems must be treated with respect. Crude interventions, however well-intentioned, can make things worse. Removing an apex predator can change a whole ecosystem. A flood-control dam that eliminates natural wetlands can make floods more dangerous. Attuned to the costs of unanticipated consequences, environmentalists urged caution and restraint by policy makers and advocated letting nature take its course.”

“Today’s green activists have largely forgotten these truths. The consequences are visible all around, and the payback has only begun. Ham-fisted, poorly thought-out green policies, too often designed by self-interested renewable-energy lobbyists, will exact economic and political costs even as their effects on emissions continue to disappoint. The most likely result, sadly, is that the political temperature over climate interventions will keep rising even as green climate policies fall short.”

Walter Russell Mead, Wall Street Journal ($). When I read these paragraphs, I was reminded of the F.A. Hayek publication, The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism. For what we have here is a conceit that the top-down approach can be brought to bear on containing CO2 emissions and forcing billions to adopt new energy sources, by force if necessary. What this approach misses is how rules can be gamed. For another part of WRM’s article is that Western policy is, intentionally or otherwise, transferring manufacturing power on a gigantic scale to China, and to a regime that doesn’t really give a brass farthing for climate, human welfare or liberty.

What a time to be alive.

The Royal Society of Arts succumbs to the Dark Greens

My wife is a fellow – she finds it useful to work there occasionally and attend events – at the Royal Society of Arts. I know Anton Howes, the RSA’s in-house historian (his writings on the Industrial Revolution are excellent, and he’s known to groups like the Adam Smith Institute).

(Here is Anton’s substack

In issue three, 2023, in what the RSA calls “The Planet Issue” of its quarterly magazine, are articles asserting how serious the climate “emergency” is, and in one article, (the print edition, I cannot find the web version, which makes me wonder why not) it has a piece by Tom Hardy, entitled “Tropes of Deception”.

Hardy is a member of Extinction Rebellion and co-founded of MP Watch, a constituency network “monitoring climate denial in parliament and MPs’ commitment to net zero”.

Hardy’s RSA article refers to the Global Warming Policy Foundation (involving the likes of Benny Peiser and Conservative MP Steve Baker, among others) and other supposedly nefarious “Tufton Street” organisations. As Hardy writes: “Their agenda: to deny the scientific reality of climate change at the behest of those vested interests whose bottom line requires a repudiation of net zero and renewable energy technology.” (So that’s a “no” for nuclear power then, or an endorsement?)

In what I think is the most unpleasant part of the article, Hardy refers to the “Editor’s Code of Practice” of the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPOS) and refers to what the GWPF does, and how its reports are used by journalists. Hardy also writes about “cherry picking details from authentic research”. (Coming from a deep Green, this claim of cherry picking is a bit rich, given some Greens have admitted to mistaken alarmism.) Hardy suggests that IPSO would, if he had his way, drop the hammer on journalists quoting alarmist sceptic organisations without, at least, lots of disclaimers.

The whole piece, which includes swipes at the Daily Telegraph’s business journalist Ben Marlow, and the writer Matt Ridley, finishes with the line that IPSO must be “empowered” and be “free of political interference” (translation: the wrong kind of interference, as he defines it) and be a “priority of the next government”. (How very reassuring.) Hardy does not state what this might mean precisely, but one might reasonably infer that he wants to squash the ability of journalists to source anything other than alarmist content around human-caused global warming, or face some sort of consequence to their careers and publications.

What’s striking is Hardy assumes the case around a climate emergency is beyond any scientific doubt, that debate is over, that any attempt to challenge alarmism must be squashed, including by using so-called guardians of press “independence” to punish journalists that are naughty or foolish enough to cite sources such as the GWPF. This is a religious mindset, of the very worst kind. And it is being laid out in the elegant surroundings of the Royal Society of Arts.

I suppose there are several things that might have prompted Hardy to take this line, and for someone at the RSA to be complacent enough to print him. Hardy’s possibly worried that the deep Greens are losing public support. Hardy’s right to be concerned. For starters, as has occurred over the anger at London mayor Khan’s extension of the ULEZ rules on cars, regulations in the name of Net Zero are causing real political anger. The antics of Extinction Rebellion, Just Stop Oil, Greta Thunberg and others are also riling a population that has had enough with relentless nagging, taxes and rules. This isn’t just a UK issue. Look at Dutch farmers, for example.

There’s also the transparent bias that is alienating important parts of the electorate: if we get a hot summer, then the UN, for example, talks about “global boiling”, but goes mute when a snowstorm halts windmills in Texas, for example. The public aren’t stupid, and they can see the imbalance.

There’s also the whole COVID-19 aftermath and its impact on those claiming to follow “The science” (the definite article is a red flag). That episode has weakened trust in official organisations’ pronouncements on science, particularly given the dishonesty about masks, and the attempts – which eventually ended – to halt questions about China’s culpability and the role of a lab In Wuhan.

There are several points the GWPF might want to comment on, given the attacks on it in the pages of a body as supposedly prestigious, and “royal”, as the RSA. (I note, as above, that a web version of this article is unavailable.) First, the RSA is clearly all in for climate change alarmism; it is publishing incendiary and bullying material from hardline ideologues that use disruption of ordinary people’s lives to make a case; ER has shut down the publication of a newspaper it does not like; the RSA has, in this specific edition of the RSA magazine, not provided any opportunity for a different point of view to be aired. Where, for example, are the references to the views of Michael Shellenberger, Bjorn Lomborg, Roger Pielke, Alex Epstein, former Obama advisor Steven Koonin, and many more? I guess they’re all evil and just in it for the money.

Samizdata regulars are, I know, unsurprised by all this. The RSA has, like English Heritage, the British Museum (assuming it has anything left in it), the British Library, and countless other supposed bastions of education and learning, been given the Gramsci treatment (the “long march through the institutions”). There may be people who continue to enjoy the place, with its lovely 18th century architecture, agreeable surroundings and networking parties over a glass of bubbly. Alas, champagne appears one of the few compensations from a body that appears intent on foisting shrill agendas. It may still do some good, which is why people such as Anton Howes can work there, but one has to plough through a lot of crap to find it.

There are many reasons why, as a radical classical liberal chap, I focus a lot of my attention on this issue. Because what the likes of ER want is to suppress, even kill, human flourishing. They are prepared to call for coercion; they applaud the disruption of people’s lives, and have shown an utter contempt for a free press. They’re bullies, and are beginning to realise that people are fighting back.

Samizdata quote of the day – the bank sees all

“Banks have been put on the front line of defense against financial crime. That makes sense because they have the personal data and handle the money, but it takes a lot of work to check out clients’ sources of income and business relationships. To speed up the process and limit costs, banks have turned to third-party data firms and automated systems. The bureaucracy has been industrialized. It could be throwing up too many false positives, but it almost certainly is making it hard for individuals who get wrongly classified as risky to overturn those results. Once you’re in a database that is replicated and resold many times over, it can be an endless task to get yourself scrubbed from it. Politicians have made the most noise and got the regulator’s attention, but it seems likely to be others suffering bureaucratic nightmares. The FCA’s own data shows one in 10 British Muslims don’t have access to banking, compared with 2% of all UK adults. Regulators should look not only at banks’ policies for applying the rules, but also examine their systems for performing the job.”

Paul J Davies, columnist at Bloomberg ($). He makes excellent points about how banks, using tech services to keep on top of potential money launderers, have allowed their systems to run amok. The analogy here is the “no fly lists” that countries have for people suspected of terrorism, etc. If you get on these lists, and haven’t done anything wrong (such as if your name comes up as a “false positive”) it is a hellish job to get off them.

Samizdata quote of the day – problems can be profitable

“At least a few people seem finally to be catching on that the basic idea behind “homelessness” advocacy is to exploit an issue that brings forth great human empathy to generate vast taxpayer funds and then to not solve the problem. The spending continues and increases without limit. There is way too much money — for advocates — in `homelessness’ for the problem ever to get solved, or even to decrease materially.”

Francis Menton. The same could be said of a number of other problems, either real or imagined.

Samizdata quote of the day

…”once again the reintroduction of National Service is being mooted by think tanks, this time as a thinly veiled mechanism for enslaving the young. Leave aside the point that, far from bolstering conservative values, the diversity commissars of the Civil Service would turn it into the `national woke service’ from day one. Conscriptin is just about defensive as a way to maintain a military reserve; as a way to extract free labour for the state, it’s morally reprehensible. It’s also economically insane. The public sector is staggeringly unproductive. Labour that is unpaid is labour that is asking to be used in the most inefficient way possible, on jobs that would never be done if the work cost the minimum wage.”

Sam Ashworth-Hayes, Daily Telegraph (£). This is probably one of the best take-downs of the whole “put ’em in the Army and sort out the kids” trope that I have come across in a while.

Samizdata quote of the day

“We often read critics of either ideological stripe bemoan the lack of originality in our art, our music, and most certainly, our movies. Old franchises suffer from Woke narratives smuggled into stories that should never have been revived. Nostalgia is the only thing that motivates moviegoers now because we really have no new stories to tell. We’re only entertained by ‘content creators’, influencers, and the next series to watch on Netflix, Hulu, Apple Plus, Paramount, Max, and Amazon Prime. But the Woke left and the TradCon right both suffer from the same affliction — a lack of imagination. That lack of imagination was caused by the death of allegory, metaphor, hyperbole, parable, myth, sarcasm, poetry, and the woodcraft to express it — all replaced by an autistic literalism needed to protect the egos of lazy, mediocre minds.”

Rollo Tomassi, a US-based writer and podcaster who talks about issues such as intersexual dynamics.

Samizdata quote of the day – universal basic income disaster version

“some stories stand out. The one that confuses me is the call for Britain to trial some form of ‘universal basic income.’ What exactly do people think we’ve been doing for the past two years?”

Sam Ashworth Hayes, in the Daily Telegraph (£).

Samizdata quote of the day – murderous nurse edition

“What strikes you when reading about any number of NHS scandals since then isn’t so much the systemic failures, it’s the instances of individual cruelty to patients. Bereaved parents repeatedly told the Ockenden report about a lack of compassion from staff and some even said they were told they were responsible for their own child’s death. All of this amounts to a sense that the health services continually privileges the institution over the needs of patients at the most vulnerable times of their lives. When you consider how utterly inhumane that is, it becomes easier to understand how the NHS could contain a monster like Letby.” (See here for details on the Ockenden saga.)

– Alys Denby, Editor, CapX, in a weekly letter to subscribers of that platform. Denby writes about Lucy Letby, a nurse convicted last week of murdering a number of babies in a NHS hospital.

Monsters can flourish in certain institutions, and it strikes me that those that are treated as near-sacred institutions provide cover for them. The NHS needs to be nuked from high orbit for various reasons, and these scandals surely add to the list.

Samizdata quote of the day – ESG hypocrisy edition

“Arms contractors get lumped in with tobacco, oil, alcohol and other so-called `sin stocks’ that are regarded as a threat to society. Yet, Ukraine’s predicament has shown that the biggest threat to Western freedom is Putin himself and without the West’s support for Kyiv, Russia may have been able to continue its imperial march beyond Ukrainian territory, further into Europe. City minister Andrew Griffith and defence procurement minister James Cartilidge have warned perfectly reasonably that the UK’s long-term security is being put at risk by the Square Mile’s growing aversion to defence stocks.”

Ben Marlow, Daily Telegraph (£)

Samizdata quote of the day – climate alarmism edition

“Really, think about this: A 4.6 billion-year-old planet with an 8000-mile diameter, with a molten core (heat, etc.), with an atmosphere that is only 50 miles/240,000ft thick (being rather generous), that orbits a star only 93 million miles away with 330,000 times the earth’s mass and that emits enough radiation to burn your naked ass in 30 minutes, is having its weather unalterably changed over the course of the next 5/10/15 years (whatever it is now) by the presence of a weak greenhouse gas, CO2, that happens to now be at its lowest level in damn near the entire history of the planet — a history punctuated by global glaciations while that weak greenhouse gas was far higher than it is now — and that also happens to be the basis of plant life (and therefore atmospheric oxygen), a gas whose greenhouse effect is dwarfed by that of water vapor (on a planet with a surface area that consists of 70% water), and that geologically is currently in an interglacial period. The models that generated this political bullshit have predicted nothing correctly — not sea level change, polar ice cover, or weather.”

Mark Rippetoe. Mr Rippetoe is a strength training coach, based in Wichita Falls, Texas, and a pioneering figure in what is called barbell weight training. (Full disclosure: I use his methods and have got results.) Here he is in full Texan “growl” mode here. He’s also, in my view, very funny and a real character. We need more like him.