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 “body positivity” edition

“I’m not entirely sure what loving one’s body might mean, beyond the obvious off-colour jokes. But apparently, it’s something that one is supposed to proclaim as an accomplishment, a credential of progressivism. I have, however, noted that it tends to be announced by people whose declared triumph in this matter is not altogether convincing, and whose basis for doing so is generally much slimmer than they are.”

David Thompson. As a take-down of nonsense, this article is brutal.

Samizdata quote of the day – Andrew Jackson’s political legacy edition

“After Butler, America has suddenly become a more Jacksonian nation. The shadow of Old Hickory looms larger than ever, and Donald Trump stands taller as his undisputed heir.”

Walter Russell Mead, WSJ ($)

For those unfamiliar with the extraordinary politician and general, Andrew Jackson, check out this link for some biographies and studies.

It’s how people react to attacks that defines them

Some people are just too “clever by half” or lack a basic level of human empathy, despite playing the moral outrage card. I saw this comment on my Facebook page. To spare the guy (who is in the US) embarrassment, and as his comments were not meant to be fully public, I will not name him, and I suspect he’s not alone in taking this sort of line:

“I’m sick and tired of everybody valorizing Donald Trump in the wake of the assassination attempt yesterday. Somebody tried to kill him and he got an injury to his face. How does that make him more virtuous? How does that make him somehow more qualified to be president? How does that make Biden LESS qualified to be president? Is it even possible to make either of them less qualified to be president? The fact that you endured an assassination attempt simply means you are the passive recipient of somebody else’s misconduct. It does not make you more virtuous or more heroic.”

The penultimate sentence contains the seeds of this writer’s error (such as his words “passive recipient”), and a key point is that, in the writer’s way of thinking, Trump/other shooter victim should only be viewed as a victim. But the writer missed the point, and here is what I wrote in response:

“It’s how a person reacts to an attack that counts. In fact, it’s about when people refuse to play the `victim card’ and behave in a particular way that’s important. It comes down to how composed and calm a person can be in times of stress. In all walks of life, we admire people who display those traits…And I think Mr Trump handled himself well after being shot and realizing that a shooter was trying to kill him. If you can’t give a person credit for that, then that’s odd.”

I would go beyond what I said to this person on FB by making a broader point. Today, we live in an age when it is often widely held among supposed intellectuals, scientists and the like that we don’t have free will, and that we are, in varying ways, the consequences of internal and external forces we cannot understand or control. As a result, it is – as the writer I responded to claims – no cause for praise in how anyone reacts to said forces.

To have free will is, according to this point of view, an illusion, albeit perhaps a necessary one for mental health and maybe also an aspect of biological evolution. (The latter has the risk of being a “just-so” story explanation.) But if free will is nothing more than a handy, surface appearance, then it is hard to see how it has much value, much cash value, from evolutionary terms. After all, knowing you are not the author of your actions might, for some people, be comforting, rather than a nightmare. And think of how certain well-known writers, such as Sam Harris, argue that free will is an illusion and that, for example, criminals are ill, primarily, rather than wicked. The flipside of this is that a person who shows courage, either physical or mental, gets no praise because, on the determinist view, he had no choice in the matter. Everything, including the words I type right now, I had no choice over. None. We are all in the Matrix.

But this is self-contradictory. If determinism is true and judgement is pre-determined, how can we know the truth of determinism if we had no choice but to do so anyway? I think we know from introspection that the sense that we are making a choice to focus our minds or not, to set the course of how we want to think about something (or not), is real as anything is in the universe from an empirical sense. To think is to choose; thinking and volition are intertwined so much as to be one and the same. If introspection is an illusion, then so is sight, smell, taste, hearing, etc. But oddly, determinists rarely in my experience challenge these senses’ validity in conveying reality.

Back to Mr Trump’s way of reacting to the would-be assassin and others like him: I think that Mr Trump, whatever else one can say about him, had the kind of character, a character that for better or worse he has developed, to want to assert himself in the face of danger. That’s not always smart or fashionable in these weird times, but it is there. There is a sort of Andrew Jackson-style baddass mind-set that came to the fore on Saturday.

(Here are some excellent places to look if you want to understand, as I do, why I think free will is real. See this book, by Christian List, for example, or this or this one by Alfred Mele. And finally this, by Lee Pierson and Monroe Trout, for those who want to burrow deep into the evolutionary argument.)

Addendum: The writer is also denouncing the idea that Mr Trump being shot is somehow proof of his virtue. However, I doubt anyone thinks that. Of course, Mr Trump does threaten the agendas of a lot of people, foreign and domestic, but that is not the nub of my point here, although I am sure commenters will want to mention these issues.

Samizdata quote of the day – a terrible US political establishment edition

A conclusion is hard to escape: America suffers from an incompetent leadership class. Its problem isn’t ruthlessness but softness, its inability to deal with the world without a media that constantly lies to make it feel better about itself.

Holman W Jenkins, Jnr.

What we are learning is that much of what Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds sometimes calls the “gentry class” is just not that good, competent, honest, or insightful. And more and more people have noticed.

What drives Russia

Mark Champion, at Bloomberg ($) nicely skewers the solipsism of those who imagine that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was “provoked” and therefore partly the fault of the West.

Russia is hardly the first empire to resist the loss of long-held colonies, so there’s nothing unique about its attempt. But few would suggest the Hapsburg, Ottoman, British or French empires had a right to hold on to, let alone restore, their imperial claims, or that the desire to do so was “provoked,” or that the world would be better off had they been able to cling on.

Understanding Putin’s outlook is key to grasping that the “neutrality” and “demilitarization” he demands of Russia’s neighbors is not his end goal. It is a prerequisite for rebuilding Russia’s state-civilization and Moscow’s status as the beating heart of a great power. Every peace proposal for Ukraine needs to keep that fact front and center. And if a once and future President Trump wants to play the role of mediator, by all means. But he should start by reading the Kremlin’s new college textbook.

He has a lot on his plate in the next few months, but Sir Keir Starmer, the new UK prime minister (gulp) will need to grasp this point, along with many others.

The sort of people contesting the White House should make you want small government

JD Tuccille articulates, brilliantly, one of the main reasons I am a classical liberal who belives in limited, constrained and small government:

But it’s easier to reconcile a fading, honesty-challenged presidential candidate with a desire for “a smaller government providing fewer services” than it is to credibly claim that an even more badly eroded politician and his unethical minions are exactly the sort of folks you want presiding over an all-powerful state. Frankly, a healthy cynicism about the competency and the decency of government officials is a credible response to what was on display on Thursday evening when Biden spent 90-plus minutes demonstrating that he and his supporters had been lying about his mental and physical fitness to not only run for a second term, but to carry out the duties of office right now.

The idea of an all-powerful, benevolent Daddy federal state is a lot harder to sustain if it appears the head of it is not playing with a full deck of cards, or even knows he’s in a casino.

And if Trump’s comparatively less-bad performance still didn’t fill you with confidence that he’s a person you want presiding over a bigger, more activist government, that’s the appropriate take, too. He didn’t face-plant like his opponent, but the former president gave us every reason to believe that, under his control, a smaller, less-involved government is preferable for reasons ideological, practical, and involving self-preservation.

Exactly. Let’s not forget that the size of the federal debt did not shrink under Mr Trump. And he’s no Calvin Coolidge. Alas.

The final paragraph is right on the money:

The belief that government should do more, provide more, and embrace us all in a warm and nurturing embrace requires an enormous leap of faith. At the least, those exercising such vast power must be wise and well-intentioned. As last week’s debate reminded us, that’s a wildly unrealistic assumption.

It appears too few in the commentariat seem to join the dots between the “aren’t the presidential candidates/political classes awful?” with “and perhaps we should constrain government and make it do less” sort of viewpoint.

I wonder how much the Founders thought about the problems of an ageing president who was losing his mind, of an opponent such as Trump, and other sort of characters, when they composed the architecture of the republic, with its checks, balances and principles. But at times like these, all the abuse that gets thrown at the Founders (some of them kept slaves, etc) needs to be put in context, and that people should be grateful for their wisdom and understanding of the need for government to be restrained. We could use a bit of that mindset around the world.

Nigel Farage’s Ukraine war views and the blame game

“However, the implication that a country seeking a Western-focused future can be construed as having brought its fate upon itself because of the assailant’s paranoia is an odd argument to be advanced by a champion of national sovereignty. The Russian bear may well have been poked, but history has taught us that despotic dictators cannot be appeased.”

An editorial in the Daily Telegraph (£) today. The author is bemused by Reform leader Nigel Farage’s continued assertion that someone (NATO/EU/West/insert as desired) are to blame for encouraging Putin to invade a sovereign nation state. As the leader writer observes later on, it seems rather curious that a champion of national sovereignty, as Mr Farage claims to be, should regard Ukraine as little more than buffer defence terrain for Russia, and that its own diplomatic ambitions as a nation should be dismissed. I find it more than a little odd, and it is one of the reasons I won’t vote Reform on 4 July.

Perry de Havilland wrote back when Russia invaded Ukraine that there is, on the Right as much as much of the Left, a curious desire to make things like wars to be always matters that are about us, which in a way also denies moral agency and choice to actors in many countries around the world. This is a reflexive thing, and ironically, often held by people who claim to hold hard-headed realist views on foreign policy, and yet there is a sort of naivete to it, in my view.

One reason why it costs a lot to have a bank account

Eye-catching data from this article, by Nicolai Heering, on UK anti-money laudering regulations (AMLR) in the UK:

About 170,000 individuals are being debanked in the UK every year due to the AMLR. By comparison, only some 1,000 individuals are actually convicted of money laundering. Thus, the remaining 169,000 individuals are done a very serious injustice as being without a bank account has profoundly negative consequences for most people.


How can that be resolved? The electorate needs to understand the scale of the costs of AMLR compliance: that they themselves are ultimately paying those costs, that the AMLR have little to commend them by way of crime-reducing results, and that the AMLR are causing vast numbers of innocent people to be debanked every year. Only then are the politicians likely to sit up and listen.

The article refers to this study from the Institute of Economic Affairs about money laundering controls, debanking, and the perverse consequences of forms of regulation.

Part of the problem, in my view, is that because banks are not purely free enterprise institutions, but are umbilically linked to the central bank as a lender of last resort, and hedged around and protected by all manner of rules, they are almost obliged to treat clients poorly. There is nothing resembling client confidentiality. Under AML rules, bank staff are required, on pain of serious penalties, to report supposedly suspicious transactions. It means that in many cases that people are obliged to prove they aren’t doing anything wrong. And add to that the cookie-cutter approach embedded in a lot of modern “regtech” software, it is easy to see how you can end up with stories of tens of thousands of innocent people “de-banked” for no good reason.

The story last summer of how Reform leader Nigel Farage (he wasn’t leader then, but a GB News presenter) was de-banked by Coutts, (see my related thoughts here) and how evidence surfaced that he was ousted in part because the bank appeared to dislike his views, and also because of possible issues with his being a Politically Exposed Person, hasn’t vanished. There remain serious issues about how banks treat clients. And with a Labour government likely days away from achieving office, I doubt some of the more outrageous examples of “debanking” will be dealt with. As ever, the current Conservative government appears to have missed an opportunity to take decisive action.

Samizdata quote of the day – inflation should not be a surprise edition

“It is true that taxes and prices have risen. But this did not happen in a vacuum. For much of 2020 and a chunk of 2021, we paid people to stay home, and printed money with wild abandon. What the hell did we think would be the consequences?”

Doug Hannan.

Samizdata quote of the day – AI edition

“When sweeping, idealistic dreams trickle down into sales and marketing channels, AI’s potential uses become unclear. Framing AI as a general-purpose Swiss Army knife for productivity inevitably leads to paralysis for its end users: Where do you even start with a technology that can do everything?”

Parmy Olsen, Bloomberg ($)

Along with others, Olsen is freaked out by the skyrocketing ascent of chip-maker Nvidia’s stock price.

Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour resembles a 60s tribute act

Lord (David) Frost is in suitably scornful form this morning in the Daily Telegraph (£). He takes aim at the idea, set out in yesterday’s Labour manifesto, that economic growth can be lifted from its torpor by a mass of councils, committees, agencies and the like, all directed from Whitehall but working, somehow or other, in “partnership” with private sector firms. As he notes, Starmer and the rest of them have learned all the wrong lessons from lockdowns, and in fact they liked the lockdowns precisely because of the ability to order the public around, to mark their movements and somehow command innovations (vaccines) by clapping one’s hands together. The headline of the article is excellent:

Lockdown is the inspiration behind Labour’s ‘plan’ for growth.


The truth is, of course, that don’t get growth just by saying that you want it, by spending money, or by getting bureaucrats to draw up plans. You get growth by allowing people and companies to invest, spend and invent, as they see fit; by letting them keep what they have earned; and, as far as possible, by staying out of the way.

I cannot resist parallels with where we were in 1964. The Conservatives, led at the time by Alec Douglas-Home (a much underestimated politician and a sharply intelligent man), appeared exhausted and “out of touch”. There was this whole thing about the “grass moors” – pictures of toffs shooting game birds on Scottish estates, and speaking in absurd public school accents. The times they were a changin’: the Beatles were exploding, George Best was transforming the world of football, Sean Connery was on the big screen doing battle against Spectre, and Peter Cook and Dudley Moore were making us laugh on TV; consumer goods were more accessible in our shops, and Labour sought to go for the “white heat of the technological revolution”. A lot of this was flim-flam, although some wasn’t. Harold Wilson, who smoked a pipe in public to appear more “sound”, apparently, did a lot of arguably good liberal things: censorship of literature more or less ended; the death penalty ended; homosexuality was decriminalised, divorce laws eased. Social conservatives may jib at this, but there was an aspect of genuine liberalism on parts of the Left that have vanished now in these “cancel culture” times. The downsides were still enormous: ugly buildings, the launch of the destruction of grammar schools and encouragement of egalitarian (and mostly bad) ideas in education. (This Dominic Sandbrook article gives a flavour.)

We know how things ended. In 1967, there was a serious run on the pound in the foreign exchange markets (the UK was still part of the Bretton Woods system, which was ultimately underpinned by the dollar and the $ was still linked, however tenuously, to gold); attempts to rein in trade unions failed; spending on welfare and health rose. Horrid tower blocks were built to replace older housing, to the questionable benefit of the country. There was a “Brain Drain” – sky-high taxes on the “rich” meant that anyone of note in music, film, entertainment, commerce and industry lived abroad.

By 1970 the wheels had come off. Wilson’s government appeared out of ideas, and its enthusiasm for central planning and control appeared as discredited as the Soviet Union. Throw in the turmoil abroad (Vietnam, end of Bretton Woods, the OPEC oil shock, racial and social mayhem in the US,) and things moved fast. Unfortunately, when the Tories were elected on a slim majority in 1970, a promise of radical reform under the horrible Edward Heath did not endure, and by 1974 the country was in deep trouble: strikes, power cuts, civil disorder, the nightmare of Northern Ireland. It wasn’t until 1979, with the election of Margaret Thatcher’s Conservatives, that matters improved. And for several years it was turbulent, and not a sure thing.

Consider the parallels, even beyond the confines of the Labour manifesto: We have seen a relentless assault on “the rich”; and taxes are rising on them, and there is in the background the threat of a wealth tax, encouraging people who can to get out. The Labour Party wants to impose value added tax on private schools, consolidating the power of unions who hate any form of choice in education. There’s likely to be a lot of house building (something I broadly support), but one has to ask about the likely quality and appearance of it. And to go back to Lord Frost’s point, there is an inability, a sort of complete mental block, to think of bottom-up solutions by individuals doing their own thing to anything. Every problem, in the Labour mind, starts with what government can do about it. I am reminded of the theme of that excellent book, “Seeing Like A State, How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed”, by James C Scott. I doubt that Keir Starmer or his likely future Chancellor and finance minister, Rachel Reeves, have read it.

The groundwork for this memory-holing of lessons from the past has been in evidence for some time. I think the 2008 financial crisis, and the way that a poisonous narrative was allowed to build around what caused it (evil bankers, deregulation, etc, when the causes were mostly about government), carries a lot of the blame for this.

There’s also just a dreadful complacency among those who just assumed that arguments for free enterprise had been won and we can focus more on gender pronouns or so on. (I have seen plenty of comments like this from “social conservatives” who have even told me, at times, that public debt “does not matter” because immigration is so much more important.) What has happened is that the classical liberalism tradition has gone soft. I was struck by how, for example, you can go into a bookshop such as Waterstones in the UK and almost every tome on politics and economics will be banging on about the alleged evils of neo-liberalism and how such ideas rule the world. If only. (A book, Free Lunch Thinking, by Tom Bergin of Reuters, is one of the more intelligent ones, but it is full of questionable conclusions, such as its attacks on the idea that incentives matter, and has been nicely and politely taken apart by Kristian Niemietz of the IEA.)

It is worth recounting all this to understand that while history never exactly repeats itself, it does rhyme. The 60s aren’t coming back as far as music, fashion and films are concerned (shame), but we are likely to get some of the other stuff.

Samizdata quote of the day – the need for an actual liberal party edition

“I am under no illusion that even the most passionate and articulate defence of classically liberal values would be an enormous vote winner. But in an election likely to return a Labour government who will, by their nature, proselytise about the good the state can do, and with a Conservative Party which has in recent years shown a frankly alarming tendency towards illiberalism, implementing sugar taxes and attempting to ban smoking forever. The country desperately needs a counterweight to slow our seemingly inevitable slide towards an ever expanding state. Even if the Tories don’t get completely annihilated at the ballot box they are likely to spend at least the next six months tearing themselves apart in a leadership election. The Lib Dems will be providing the real opposition for a while and they need to stand for something.”

Emma Revell, in CityAM.