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]

The strange mental softness around the NHS

UK Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson has made much of how he would shower “our wonderful National Health Service” with money (from we lucky taxpayers and future generations, no doubt) in this election campaign. Cynics will say that he probably does not mean it all that much but such statements are the price one must pay for persuading wavering Labour voters into switching from the Red to the Blue team, etc.

But I wonder. There does seem to be a deeply rooted attachment to the NHS that goes beyond all logic and reason. A service created in the late 1940s, run as a monopoly (private healthcare in the UK is relatively small versus the NHS), paid for out of tax and delivered free at the point of use. Result: its services must be rationed. Some of its actions are pretty good, some far less so. I got treated for water on the knee last year and was dealt with reasonably well, although the diagnoses given were so wide and contradictory that in the end I learned more by surfing the internet and talking to some medically savvy friends. Many people’s experiences with NHS treatment vary from excellent to terrible. It does certain things very well, but in my view is poor at area such as tracking patients after their initial encounters to make sure they are keeping on a regime, etc. I think that the UK could and should move towards private healthcare provision for the bulk of the population, via a mix of healthcare accounts that one builds up over time (people will tend to draw from these funds more as they enter middle age), insurance (for large, catastrophic spending) and some public provision for those in serious poverty. The Soviet model that we operate under seems not just anachronistic, but dangerously resistant to innovation and change. (James Bartholomew had good thoughts on the NHS in this article.)

And yet the NHS is, as former UK finance minister Nigel Lawson once said, rather like a state religion, such as the Church of England. Criticise it at one’s peril. The other day on Facebook an acquaintance of mine, a senior nurse on a good salary, bleated about the hours she has to work. I pointed out that as a small business owner I have put in 60-plus hours a week, but accepted that as part of my choice to work in this way. The meltdown, and the sarcasm, that I received from this person’s friends was something to behold.

The NHS is, like the BBC, one of those institutions that seems to defy all logic, no matter what it does and how ropey its output is.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I came here to die with you. Or live with you. Dying ain’t so hard for men like you and me. It’s living that’s hard when all you’ve ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don’t live together–people live together. With governments, you don’t always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well, I’ve come here to give you either one or get either one from you. I came here like this so you’ll know my word of death is true, and my word of life is then true. The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche. And so will we. Now we’ll only hunt what we need to live on, same as the Comanche does. And every spring, when the grass turns green, and the Comanche moves north, you can rest here in peace, butcher some of our cattle, and jerk beef for the journey. The sign of the Comanche, that will be on our lodge. That’s my word of life.”

Josey Wales, played by Clint Eastwood in the movie, The Outlaw Josey Wales. Context: the film is based in the aftermath of the Civil War, and Wales is on the run and took refuge in Indian territory. I rather like the libertarian sentiments in part of this quote (such as his line about governments), and Clint Eastwood, by the way, has always struck me as one of the more intelligent men to have worked in Hollywood. His movies are famously delivered on time, and on budget.

The Outlaw Josey Wales is, in my view, his best Western. Terrific supporting performance from Chief Dan George.

Discussion point: the term “stakeholder”

There are certain words that get bandied about that say more about the politics and philosophy of those who utter them than about whatever might be the actual meaning of the word. Examples such as “sustainability” (translation: get rid of carbon fuels) and “neo-liberal” (mix of free markets and some central bank/State intervention, boo, hiss!) spring to mind. But arguably one of the worst offenders is “stakeholder”. In my view it usually means some group of people who consider themselves affected by the operations of a private group, such as a firm, and who interact with it, but who do not own property of said group, and who demand control/rights over that group/firm above and beyond any contracts they may have signed. For instance, in the great wodges of press releases I receive from advocates of corporate social responsibility the term “stakeholder” comes up. A lot.

So a question for you folks. Does the term have any value at all or is it simply a term to describe groups of persons who want free stuff and should be more accurately described in less, er, flattering ways?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Did you know that your dog owns your house, or rather some portion of it? If this is not immediately obvious to you, you will find it helpful to consider some aspects of the ethics and economics of redistribution.”

Anthony de Jasay, the political philosopher who died not long ago, and one of those intellectuals that many people will not have heard of. A marvellous writer. The essay from which these words come is a gem.

What’s going on with men’s magazines these days (not the naughty kind)?

Time and again multinationals and public companies turn out to be as happy as junior members of the Royal Family to sign up to an ideology which will come to eat them next. If anyone is in any doubt about this trend, they should look to the men’s magazine GQ – or what we should more properly describe as the former men’s magazine, GQ.

Douglas Murray.

By the way, a guy in the US called Brett McKay became so fed up with men’s magazines, because they were often about how to get “six-pack abs”, implausibly expensive gear and full of ads, that he decided to create his own website, Art of Manliness, which adopts a deliberately retro look. It’s actually pretty good, with plenty of podcasts to tune into. I get the impression it is pretty conservative (small c) politically and culturally, and has a slightly worrying admiration for that old monster, Teddy Roosevelt, but a lot of it contains content a lot more thoughtful than you will get out of a glossy at WH Smith. Here is an interview with McKay by the inimitable Mark Rippetoe, the “Starting Strength” strength training coach, who is based out of Wichita Falls, Texas.

By the way, Rippetoe is not very “woke”.

What airports tell us about a police state

Kevin D Williamson doesn’t hesitate to put the boot in:

With apologies to Margaret Atwood and a thousand other dystopian novelists, we do not have to theorize about what an American police state would look like, because we know what it looks like: the airport, that familiar totalitarian environment where Americans are disarmed, stripped of their privacy, divested of their freedom of speech, herded around like livestock, and bullied by bovine agents of “security” in a theatrical process that has an 85 percent failure rate because it isn’t designed as a security-screening protocol at all but as a jobs program for otherwise unemployable morons.

Now, when I hear the words “otherwise unemployable morons,” I think of Robert Francis O’Rourke and his sad little presidential campaign, which suffered a little setback on Tuesday night when the gentleman who advertises himself as “Beto” tried out some tough-guy shtick on Pete Buttigieg, who is, whatever else you can say about him, a veteran of the Afghanistan campaign, one who rightly pointed out that he doesn’t have to prove his “courage” to the idiot son of a well-connected El Paso political family who has done almost nothing with his life other than show himself a reasonably effective fundraiser in the family business.

O’Rourke is a cretin, and an ambitious cretin at that. And what are his ambitions? Turning America into the airport.

Samizdata limerick of the day

As seen on a person’s Facebook feed, in relation to those Extinction Rebellion characters as referenced in the post immediately below this one:

There once was an extinction rebellion
Led by a diminutive hellion
Who lives in a yurt
And is covered in dirt
With beliefs distinctly Orwellian.

Enjoy!

The Students For Fair Admissions Case

Lionel Shriver, writing in the Spectator:

For American schools, the sole purpose of turning ‘diversity’ into a crowning educational asset has been to disguise the affirmative action that these same universities once openly pursued and now can legally enforce only by calling the practice something else. Fifty years ago, the notion took hold in the US that racial equality would never evolve naturally, but had to be socially engineered by giving historically disadvantaged groups an active leg up, especially in higher education. Bald racial quotas and substantially lower admission standards for minorities became commonplace. Yet using racism to combat racism obviously doesn’t sit easily with the 1964 Civil Rights Act, so multiple previous cases of this nature have ended up in the Supreme Court — whose rulings on the matter have been, to use a technical jurisprudential term, a big mess.

She goes on to explain:

What makes the Students for Fair Admissions case different is that it’s not white high school students with excellent records objecting to being shafted. Asian applicants to Harvard with dazzling grades and perfect test scores, who play the violin, speak four languages, volunteer for the Big Brothers programme, captain the volleyball team, adopt rescue dogs and memorise the value of pi to 31.4 trillion digits have still received rejection letters in droves.

Asians are doing too well and have to be stopped. They work too hard. They are too disciplined. They are too willing to make short-term sacrifices to reach long-term goals. They are too inclined to obey their parents. They stay up too late studying and get up too early to resume studying. Obviously it’s not fair.

The author goes on to point out what a clearly absurd situation this is. Asian-Americans remind us that culture counts, a point that economists such as Thomas Sowell have repeatedly pointed out.

One thought that occurs to me is that Asian-Americans who are denied entry for reasons of “positive discrimination” (towards African Americans, to be blunt about it) are increasingly likely to attend places more open to them, just as Jews, who fell foul of Harvard’s admissions prejudices for being “too focused on their studies” ended up forming institutions such as New York University (NYU), one of the greatest American universities. At the same time, this saga reminds me of the insight at which US economist Bryan Caplan arrived that much of the value of a university degree – in terms of the bump to earning power – from some places hinges around its “sheepskin” effect rather than because of the knowledge acquired by a student.

As an aside, I recall reading a few years ago this renowned book about the “Tiger Mom” phenomenon. And there is story about the rigour of mathematics education in Singapore.

The US lawsuit about Harvard admissions has gone to appeal and could end up in the Supreme Court. And that is where the debate is going to go full blast, because the ugly truth about “affirmative action” (aka, positive discrimination) will come out, and with it, the absurdity of the egalitarian idea itself. I remember a passage from Robert Nozick’s book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, where he pointed to the central fallacy of much egalitarian thinking, namely, the way that arguers for equality of starting points draw the false picture of athletes about to run in a race towards an end point. As the late Prof. Nozick argued, if life was like that, then anyone who came from a supportive, comfortable background would be forced to wear poor shoes or carry weights to give those from difficult backgrounds – such as those born in broken homes with no education stimulation – a “fair start”. (In real-life athletics, this desire for fairness explains the row about men who undergo sex-change operations and compete in women’s athletics events, benefiting from their higher testosterone levels. It also explains why drug abuse is a big deal in sports.)

But, as Prof Nozick said, life is not a race towards a fixed point. It is about people exchanging things with one another and transferring things/values to those whom they choose, such as parents encouraging children to read, or play a musical instrument, or play outside on their own and develop self confidence, etc. Only a person taking a zero-sum view of the world can object to such exchanges.

A final thought: there is no reason why a private organisation could not set out quotas or other, entirely arbitrary rules of admission. If it did so honestly, then it might for example have to say that “Hardworking Asian students from supportive homes might not get in because we have to ensure enough students from favoured group A and B who aren’t as capable and hardworking get a chance because of diversity”. Such a stance would, conveyed clearly, let everyone know that having a degree from such a place is compromised in such a way, and employers and others could judge such an institution accordingly.

Here is an article in the Wall Street Journal, saying that Asian-Americans are being treated as Jews were treated by US higher education more than half a century ago. (Behind paywall.)

Book Review: Dangerous Hero by Tom Bower

I recently read the book Dangerous Hero: Corbyn’s Ruthless Plot For Power, by renowned investigative journalist Tom Bower. Bower has also written books on various people such as Richard Branson, Rupert Murdoch, Robert Maxwell and Tony Blair, with varying degrees of deserved brutality. He now has turned his attention on the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition.

Much of the book is not quite the trove of astonishing revelations that it might have appeared to be, if only because I had realised quite some time ago what Corbyn is and stands for, and read about his involvement in, and support for, hard-Left causes for quite some time. I knew about his support for Hamas, his attendance at a funeral of a killer of Israeli athletes (he initially lied about it), his outreach to Sinn Fein IRA within days of the Brighton bombing of 1984 (I was a student living in Brighton at the time, and it was when the name “Corbyn” first entered my consciousness), his holiday-making in the Soviet satellite states and so on. I knew much of this, and assume that most political junkies who follow UK affairs had a reasonably solid grasp of all this gruesome detail.

What is nonetheless striking about this book is the way it shows that Corbyn’s Marxism was quite possibly formed in a period when – never fully explained in his own accounts – he left Jamaica (in the late 60s) and had, so Bower speculates, gone to Cuba. Corbyn’s hatred of the UK, and the empire it created, is very much at the core of his political credo. Corbyn is incurious in some ways about enterprise – other than loathing it, and has tended to leave the details of how a socialist state will direct our lives to colleagues such as John McDonnell. What really floats Corbyn’s boat is his adversialism towards the UK and West as a whole. Any power and person whom he thinks has the ability to hurt the UK and the West as a whole gets his support, no matter how murderous or malevolent.

This anti-British, anti-Western stance is a coherent strand throughout. It explains Corbyn’s cozying up to Iran (and willingness to appear on Iranian TV and get paid for this) – because he hates Israel (a pro-Western, broadly free nation); it explains, even his anti-semitism (Bower is very clear about this; no sophistry about how Corbyn is anti-Zionist but not anti-semitic); it is the key to his hatred of the US and the UK. It shows why he has been a champion of the cause of a united Ireland, preferring to support the IRA, and attend the funerals of IRA operatives, rather than focus on the messier routes of democratic politics in Northern Ireland. And it also shows why he has more recently praised Venezuela, at least until its recent disasters, because that country was seen as being a pain in the bum for the US. To take another Latin American case, Corbyn was happy, it seems, for the Argentinian junta to invade the Falklands Islands, a UK territory, and never mind the democratic wishes of the island’s locals.

One of the most useful parts of the book was its account, told with moments of unintended humour, of Corbyn’s time as a Labour Party councillor in North London, and of how he worked to remove real/alleged enemies and take control. Bower also shows that while Corbyn obviously craved the approval and circle of senior hard-Left figures such as Tony Benn, he was no real intellectual himself and did not contribute original ideas. What Corbyn was very effective at – and Bower ruefully admits this – was being an organiser of protest. He also had a sort of rubber-ball quality – he seemed able to take all kinds of abuse and setbacks and kept ploughing on. He was and is also fairly immune to straightforward venality and corruption, one of his few positive traits. (That does not mean his views are less unpleasant, but as far as one can tell Corbyn was not motivated by money in the way that Tony Blair seems to have been.) It also seems that he is quite a red-blooded sort of bloke, but also not very easy to get on with for the long haul: three marriages as of the time of writing. Another nugget: One of his former wives said that she never saw him read a book during the time they were together.

It is sobering to think that Corbyn has learned nothing from the past half a century in any way that would affect his thinking away from socialism. The many disasters of socialist states have had no impact on his thinking. The end of the Berlin Wall is, one suspects, a grave sadness to him, and people around him, such as media advisor and unashamed Stalinist, Seamus Milne. This fixity of ideological purpose makes me think that socialism really is, for some, a secular religion. The Bower book contains the nugget that John McDonnell, now shadow Chancellor, once thought of going into the priesthood.

Now, a socialist might scoff and say that libertarians can become a bit dogmatic too (that is correct), but there’s a big difference: a market-based economy has, through the processes of bankruptcy and profit, a feedback system in which bad, mistaken ideas fail, and good ones succeed. With socialism, by contrast, failure (such as the misallocation of resources in Soviet Russia) is taken to mean that the State must do even more socialism, that “beatings will continue until morale improves”, so to speak. The free market is like a sort of constant Karl Popper-style testing of hypotheses (business ideas). Socialism does not have any sort of equivalent process.

What to explain how far Corbyn has come despite all this? Bower gives some idea about this. Corbyn is sly and enjoys letting others do the dirty work of knifing colleagues and betraying real/alleged enemies, and likes to appear above it all (he is not unique in this, of course), and play the part of the scruffy, dotty-but-endearing Leftie with his vegetable patch and penchant for photographing street furniture. It is striking how even the joke tag “Magic Marxist Grandpa” is almost an affectionate term, until you realise what Marxism will do. Corbyn shows you can get away with appalling, mistaken views if you speak softly, are bit of a “character” and have good manners (although he can lose his temper when confronted in some cases). And finally, there is Corbyn’s quality of patience. He’s been working away, waiting for his chance. In 2015, when the former Labour leader Ed Milliband stood down, the party’s leadership/voting rules allowed a person such as Corbyn to stand. People voted to let his name go on the ballot. It is proof that random events can really make a difference. (Ironically, it rather undermines the Marxist idea that we are propelled deterministically by economic forces and relations of production. Specific human acts can make a big difference.)

The book, however, for all its pace and verve, is unlikely to convert a lot of people away from Corbyn and what he stands for, although I suppose one or two people might be swayed. I do think that the anti-semitism must have rattled a few even more devoted fans, and his dithering over the EU issue is a delight to watch because Brexit is an issue that doesn’t fall into any obvious map that Corbyn has in his head.

An issue with this book is that Bower has no references or footnotes, a fact that Bower justifies by saying that so much of what he was told was off the record, and that he took legal advice to that effect. The problem with no references is that it is easy therefore for some people to attack the veracity of some of his details. Peter Oborne, who like some right-wingers has a sort of madly odd affection for Corbyn, on the grounds that he is “authenic” (I fail to see what is great about being an authentic nasty piece of work), has attacked the book’s accuracy. Bower hasn’t responded. I remember many years ago, when I wrote pamphlets for libertarian causes, that Brian Micklethwait and other old friends such as the late Chris Tame drummed into me the importance of references and sources, with lots of specific details, in the interests of good scholarship. If a book is going to drive a stake into the heart of Corbyn, I think it would have been more effective had it contained some explicit sources.


Dangerous Hero
is a gripping read – I went through it very fast – and it is gruesome, even chilling, reading. It is a well-paced, angrily written account of the life of a man who, let’s not forget, is still a potential prime minister of this country. As his IRA chums used to say, defenders of freedom have to be eternally vigilant, because for the likes of Corbyn, they need to be lucky just once.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Extinction Rebellion is a menace to reason and progress. It is reliant on the politics of fear. It uses exaggeration and hyperbole and emotion to try to convince us that End Times are around the corner. It demonises as a ‘denier’ anyone who questions this depressing, anti-human script. And it campaigns, tirelessly, for less — less production, less consumption, less meat, less travel, less joy.”

Brendan O’Neill.

I looked at the folk of ER last night as I walked to a drinks reception at the gloriously pro-capitalist Adam Smith Institute. The ER people seemed to be mostly quite elderly. It is a gut feeling, but I don’t think they are connecting with more than a small sliver of public opinion.

Tyler Cowen says Joker is an anti-egalitarian film

I read so many scathing — forgive me long and thorough and scathing — reviews of this one that I figured something had to be up. And indeed there is. However unpleasant and disturbing this movie may be, it is excellent along all major dimensions of cinematic quality, including drama, script, characterization, performances, cinematography, color, music, and more, not to mention embedded cinematic references. But here is the catch: it is the most anti-Leftist movie I have seen, ever. It quite explicitly portrays the egalitarian instinct as a kind of barbaric violent atavism, and it is pointedly critical of Antifa and related movements, showing them as representing a literal end of civilization. Only the wealthy are genteel and urbane and proper. On crime and law and order, it is right-wing in a 1970s “Death Wish” sort of way, though anti-gun too.

I really respect Tyler Cowen’s views, so I might give this a look. I suspect I am going to see this on my own because my wife probably will hate it. It’t not a date night film, if that does not sound patronising (although the missus loves thrillers).

If people want to comment, please no spoilers, merci!

Samizdata quote of the day

“Silicon Valley suffers from a classic case of Stockholm syndrome: Its leaders have developed sympathy for their government and social-justice captors.”

Andy Kessler, Wall Street Journal (behind paywall).