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

“When your political system can be thrown into hysteria by something as predictable as the death of an octogenarian with advanced cancer, there’s something wrong with your political system. And when your judicial system can be redirected by such an event, there’s something wrong with your judicial system, too.”

Glenn Reynolds, “Mr Instapundit”, and US law prof.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Fall is almost here in California. So we know the annual script. A few ostracized voices will again warn in vain of the need to remove millions of dead trees withered from the 2013–14 drought and subsequent infestations, clean up tinderbox hillsides, and beef up the fire services. They will all be ignored as right-wing nuts or worse. Environmentalists will sneer that the new forestry sees fires as medicinal and natural, and global warming as inevitable because of “climate deniers.” Late-summer fires will then consume our foothills, mountains, and forests. Long-dead trees from the drought will explode and send their pitch bombs to shower the forest with flames. Lives, livelihoods, homes, and cabins will be lost — the lamentable collateral damage of our green future. Billions of dollars will go up in smoke. The billowing haze and ash will cloud and pollute the state for weeks if not months. Tens of thousands will be evacuated and their lives disrupted — and those are the lucky.”

Victor Davis Hanson.

Samizdata quote of the day

“According to this theory of leadership, convictions don’t count for much: politics is a science, and leaders are little more than vectors, conveying carefully calibrated versions of externally-validated truths to the masses in order to secure maximum support and compliance. Reports from the cabinet subgrouping in charge of Covid policy suggest that the new ‘rule of six’ was chosen instead of eight not for epidemiological reasons, but for purposes of “messaging clarity”. It was thought that, since the number six was already out there, it should be retained for simplicity’s sake; eight would only complicate things. And so the lives of England’s 55 million citizens are to be drastically altered “for the foreseeable future” according to the principles of campaign science.”

Freddie Sayers.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Western governments may have strong words for the Russian president, but we’ve been here before. Every time a Russian opposition figure is assassinated, from journalist Anna Politkovskaya to MI6 informer Alexander Litvinenko to politician Boris Nemtsov, there is a chorus of international outrage and demands for action to rein in Putin. Yet little is done, as world leaders don’t want to jeopardise their business dealings with Russia – or face more hostile acts by the Kremlin – and Putin emerges emboldened. A few months after the Salisbury attack, for instance, Russia hosted the World Cup, and opposition activist Petr Verzilov was poisoned after running onto the pitch during the final wearing a police uniform.”

Sarah Hurst

I suppose you could say that Mr Putin has almost “normalised” the idea that when dealing with political opponents or any sort of perceived threat, the approach favoured is to kill them, lie about it, smirk a bit, and go back to undermining whatever particular nearby country or cause happens to be in play. And then hold a soccer tournament. Rinse, repeat.

The culture wars, ctd

“Speaking personally, I am getting a little fed up with the shoe-horning of George Floyd into every aspect of our lives. The Minnesotan policeman accused of killing him is currently in prison awaiting trial for murder. Literally nobody on earth is defending his actions. So it is slightly galling that anyone, at the BBC or anywhere else, should try to present his killing as some sort of Murder on the Orient Express effort involving every white person on earth.”

Douglas Murray.

He, yours truly and many other people are fed up with all this. But for today’s Maoist culture warriors, even seemingly small things, such as the words accompanying “Land of Hope and Glory”, are worth crushing into silence, if their acts achieve the end of demoralising and destroying what they hate. (Check out this Elgar CD for the actual music.)

Ironically, the song Rule Britannia includes the line “Britons never, never shall be slaves”. That enrages some, for whom the object of their drooling political philosophy is to enslave humanity. Their hatred of such tunes is in fact a form of psychological projection and on a massive scale. They see evil imperialism in a desire not to submit to rulers.

This isn’t going to stop unless and until the structures that today’s Gramscian Left have captured – many universities, tax-funded arts bodies, the BBC, etc, must have their funds cut off, their staff fired, and the organisations forced to subsist on whatever private stipends they can obtain.

Meanwhile, the BBC has once again achieved the opposite of its intentions.

An Australian farce

The following article comes from a senior British academic and friend who has asked for his name not to be published. From my point of view (Jonathan Pearce) everything in this article, in terms of what I know about the cant of so much contemporary bank PR spin, this article rings 100 per cent true.

Western businesses like Australia’s ANZ have toyed with Chinese communism so much they have put themselves on an inevitable road to ruin. As a new Cold War between the West and China’s increasingly despotic and brittle communist regime comes into ever sharper view, one of Australia’s major banking groups has emerged as the world’s exemplar of what not to do when it comes to strategy and reputation.

The Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) has long been mired in scandal and rumour. Predictably, it is currently facing court battles concerning share price fixing and cartel accusations.

However, under the leadership of CEO Shayne Elliott and the bank’s Chair David Gonski things have become so toxic that some observers are detecting unprecedented levels of incompetence.

Unable or unwilling to execute a coherent strategy, Elliott and his team have wasted several years honing a quintessentially woke public relations veneer in an attempt to disguise the bank’s massive involvement in totalitarian China.While publicly talking the talk of ‘diversity and inclusion’, ANZ’s leadership have made sure the bank is walking the walk of the CCP.

As China stamps on people’s freedoms at home, in Hong Kong, and further afield (not to mention its use of concentration camps and the forced sterilisation of minorities), ANZ has not only been left with oceans of increasingly questionable investments in China but it has also been exposed for having worked alongside China in its information warfare assaults on western free speech.

Shamefully, ANZ even fed the career of one of its own employees, the US citizen and star trader Bogac Ozdemir, to a Chinese disinformation operation because he dared to speak out against the Chinese Communist Party.

Similarly, while ANZ is headquartered in Melbourne, Australia, the bank’s leadership has placed the organisation’s key data centre in the Chinese city of Chengdu.

Despite Chinese cyber-attacks on Australia and the recent expulsion by China of US diplomats from Chengdu, this is the city that Elliott chose as the location for ANZ’s main data ‘hub’ – therein putting at risk vast amounts of their customers’ personal information (not to mention all manner of emails and other communications).

Indeed, so far reaching has ANZ’s involvement and exposure to China been that Brussel’s EU Reporter recently likened the bank to running “the risk of becoming a twenty-first century Krupps or IG Farben”.

Strategically, ANZ is caught between the spokes of an unsustainable strategy on China, an overheating mortgage market in Australia, and a US-led west determined to face down the CCP and its proxies.

While most observers now expect Elliott’s contract with the bank will not be renewed in October, one insider in Melbourne goes so far as to say “he is toast,” adding, “Gonski’s exposure to China is so big he will have to go too.”

Truly, if ever you wanted to see a western business toy with totalitarianism, and in so doing place itself on a road of economic and reputational ruin, then this is it.

Devoid of morality, coherence and basic common sense, the failings of ANZ are so great they should make an entertaining MBA case study for years to come.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be funny.

Samizdata quote of the day

Progressive mythology always demands a socialist valhalla; a nation to be idealised and held up as an inspiration. For years, Scandinavia, and particularly Sweden, played this role. The stereotype was never entirely accurate; Scandinavian social democracy is a far cry from full-throated socialism, yet it remained influential. In the face of the pandemic, however, the tables have turned; now it is the libertarian Right who are lining up to applaud Swedish exceptionalism, while progressives liken their controversial strategy to a form of eugenics. With Sweden consigned to the naughty step, the Left needs a new country to fetishise, and they have alighted on New Zealand.

Madeline Grant.

Samizdata quote of the day

“It’s extraordinary that a state that struggles to provide essential services like public health and education somehow thinks it can be the vanguard of a new technological revolution. British ARPA is destined to fail because it is built on a fundamental myth: that state-funding for scientific research magically turns into marketable innovations and economic growth.”

Matthew Lesh

The UK’s financial services sector is not capitalism

For a variety of reasons, the sector that is sometimes dubbed “The City” (or for that matter, “Wall Street”) has not much connection to capitalism these days. Sure, financial institutions still channel money to borrowers who may include businesses that are investing it in some way. But given how central banks act as lenders of last resort, print money without limit, it seems, and interfere with the capital buffers and dealings with firms to the extent they do, this hardly counts as a free market. Obtaining a banking licence, for example, is not straightforward. The way that central banks and regulators can prop up established institutions, and interfere with their internal workings, is a clear case of the “mixed economy” at best. (Here is a good book on the subject and why claims that problems in financial markets were down to de-regulation are unfounded.)

The latest example of how financial services are increasingly being absorbed into the maw of the State comes from the Financial Conduct Authority. Its new boss wants to block appointments of directors at firms if they are too white or male. Unless a firm names sufficient numbers of women and members of ethnic minorities to sit on boards, the appointees currently in play might be blocked. Whether the persons being blocked are more competent or experienced will be secondary to their gender or colour if the choice comes right down the wire. (No-one wants to admit that this is what will happen.)

It is true that a preponderance of people of Group A or B can occupy certain roles and that this is not necessarily anything about bias as such. There are feedback/network effects when it comes to people being selected as directors or some other role. A knows B, who has been chummy with C, and C recommends D for a directorship at Filthy Lucre & Sons, and so it goes, and while there are still interviews and qualifications to think about, it is easy to see how a lot of people who go for certain jobs come from the same sort of pool. We see this in politics, even sport. (A schoolteacher might seek out black kids because he or she assumes they are great at athletics, and so over time a disproportionate number of black students are track and field athletes, etc).

And even when people try hard as possible to make their choices of talent more diverse, it is not always easy to do if the pipeline of talent is not there. Firms need to have directors, etc – so if there is a talent shortage created by a pro-diversity policy that could hamper corporate governance and add yet another competitive disadvantage. It is actually time-consuming and potentially costly to find certain talent – which is why City firms pay retainer fees to headhunter firms to find people (I know a bit about how this market works). Believe me, firms are desperate to recruit a more “diverse” management base – but they also have to locate the best they can find. And if the judgement call is about who is going to make the business better, that judgement should rest with the people who own the firm, not some civil servant ticking off some sort of virtue box.

Another point: when talking of “diversity”, such comments from the likes of the FCA invariably focus on gender and race. But rarely do you hear about diversity of experience, philosophy and background. Arguably what the City and other clusters of business need is to avoid group-think and stifling consensus. Imagine hiring a director who is a genuine liberal, who thinks that a lot of modern “corporate social responsibility” policy is a waste of time and so much fashionable cant? That firms’ primary duty is to build shareholder value, rather than push some sort of agenda? Ask yourselves how much chance this person might have of getting a seat on a board if his or her views are widely known? I don’t actually have to ask because you know the answer.

It might have escaped the notice of the FCA and other policymakers, but the UK and the rest of the world is trying to recover from one of the worst calamities in recent human business history – the lock-downs – and therefore adding hurdles towards recovery and rebuilding of business might not be a great idea.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The country’s myriad cancelers emit the odor not of sanctity but of sanctimony, and of something more ominous: the whiff of a society decomposing.”

Lance Morrow, in the Wall Street Journal ($), writing about McCarthyism, and parallels (and differences) with the situation today.

Masks, pollution and implied consent

I occasionally follow the Institute of Economic Affairs’ weekly videoed chats about issues of the day, and obviously the IEA, as fronted by Mark Littlewood (he now sports a sort of “bovver boy” haircut associated with football gangs circa 1980 – the lockdown hairdo!), spends a good deal of its time on the pandemic. I thought the latest discussions were particularly interesting, and certainly did not lead to an echo-chamber of jolly agreement. In fact things got quite fiery when Sam Bowman, formerly of the Adam Smith Institute and now in public affairs, got going at 1.21:44.

Sam’s argument is, I hope I summarise fairly, something like this: Government experts now conclude that wearing masks in shops and other places is a good idea, even though it is annoying that they have changed their minds a lot and this has not helped public trust. Wearing masks cannot be left up to private discretion and choice; it is a response to a very serious menace, and wearing masks is more about protecting others than oneself. As Britons often lack any civic sense and the “negative externality” of not wearing a mask is potentially deadly, fines for non-compliance with the rules are acceptable, because experts say it is necessary, given what we know about how people can catch this virus. So stop being a bunch of anarchists, and do what you are told!

Okay, maybe I simplify but not by a lot. Sam talked about the “negative externalities” of human behaviour, such as coughing over others when you have an illness, or playing v. loud music late at night, etc. Translation: he means pollution.

And where I thought the discussion took an interesting turn was when Mark Littlewood, defending his stance, asked Sam where one draws the line about human actions that might affect others in a negative way? Isn’t there a “slippery slope” here – should the State, in its wisdom, coerce the benighted public to wear masks/other whenever there is a flu season or some other scare about health, etc? None of the other panelists gave what I thought was a very good answer to this, particularly for anyone coming to this discussion from a cold start. At one point, when responding to Mark L’s point about how all kinds of behaviour can negatively affect others, Sam replied that murder obviously harms people, and that is why we punish it. At this stage I rubbed my eyes – no-one consents to murder, by definition, but one might, for instance, consent to moving into a neighbourhood where people play music late at night if one knows that in advance.

This is the guts of the matter. This IEA discussion was flawed – albeit stimulating – because the issue of “implied consent” wasn’t really fully aired here. A shame because that is where it could have gone. Also, not enough was done to stress the importance of several property rights to handling issues, since a person entering a building is giving his implied consent to the rules of the place. This also speaks to the need for a “bottom-up” set of solutions to problems, rather than a requirement for a top-down approach.

There can be, of course, an issue of a “tragedy of the commons” problem where there aren’t walls or fences to keep a virus from harming A or B. It is for this reason alone that a State might have some justification to enforce pollution-minimising actions (like wearing a mask) but always with the proviso that such actions should be strictly limited by time, and second, that where possible people should be encouraged to do the sensible thing, and not endlessly nagged with contradictory advice, often doing so by wild exaggeration.

One feature of Sam’s comments I object to is where he said that there is no sense in trying to distinguish between the mask-wearing rules as they apply for vulnerable people with underlying health conditions, such as the elderly, and everyone else. But without some ability to distinguish between young adults and the elderly, we are faced with an indiscriminate and open-ended lockdown/enforced mask regime. Given the economic costs of the situation, this seems to ignore the cost/benefit issue. Sam rightly said that even younger people who get coronavirus suffer. But the death rate for the older population is of a magnitude higher, and to ignore that and demand everyone is treated the same is bizarre.

Another thing: there should be a burden of proof on those who demand coercive laws to deal with such alleged externalities, and not on those who resist or who are sceptical. That presumption of liberty, in my view, was shockingly absent in Bowman’s account and the others on this segment of the IEAs’ show did not really make that point. Perhaps what this also shows is that even in classical liberal think-tank land, understanding of the proper meaning of liberty is uneven.

For as we have seen, the apocalyptic predictions about COVID-19 and the drastic measures to contain it have undermined a great deal of public trust in the advice given to governments, and the actions taken by them. As even Sam Bowman acknowledged, this trust deficit is a big problem and being arguably made worse by policies that look more like arse-covering than the public welfare.

Canadian bank goes in for “struggle sessions”

As several commenters here note, a big feature of the current “woke” cultural revolution is how corporations have been actively going along with the drive towards “diversity” and “inclusion”. As I like to point out, free enterprise capitalism at most competitive is arguably the best way to drive out irrationalism and bigotry – an irrational firm that blocks the advance of men and women because of race etc is likely to lose money and be outperformed by firms not run in such a way.

Let me repeat: bigotry is a cost. (Check out this article about racism, the Jim Crow laws, and free markets.) Which is why it is wrong to claim that capitalism is somehow intrinsically racist.

Some of the actions that firms take to make their products, services and hiring polices more supposedly enlightened have, however, backfired if they contrast with actual reality. A case of about a year or so ago is Gillette, the brand of Proctor & Gamble, which decided that a way to connect with younger men was to denounce “toxic masculinity” and make out that many men are a bunch of loutish, beer-swilling boors who like barbecues. Seems like a winning, er, strategy. That was a case of a business that decided to trash its core audience – men. Great work, chaps!

Another, more recent example of how a commendable desire to avoid bigotry has tipped over into Maoist-sounding insanity comes from Royal Bank of Canada, Canada’s largest bank. I got a press release the other day. Here goes:

“At RBC, we acknowledge wide-spread systemic racism has disproportionately disadvantaged Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) for far too long, significantly impeding the ability of those communities to compete equally in opportunities for economic and social advancement.”

I like how the bank refers to “systemic racism” without a need for scare quotes. It uses the term without any sign that this is controversial or might be contentious. It refers to it as a fact.

But the kicker is in the following, and I suggest anyone who thinks of working for RBC and similar institutions, had better take note of this “struggle session”:

“The only way we can truly represent the communities we serve and harness the potential of our diversity is to grow the number of BIPOC leaders across our bank. We’re starting with enhancing our existing company-wide Unconscious Bias training, and making anti-racism and anti-bias training mandatory for all employees.”

In other words, everyone – whether they have been hauled before HR for a supposed misdeed or not – are going to be lectured about their “unconscious bias”, just to be sure there are no gremlins inside their heads. No more using “micro-aggressions” such as the term “colour-blind”, or too much reference to dodgy stuff such as “merit”, “professionalism”, or, god forbid, “boosting shareholder value”. (Running a bank to make a profit – how fucking evil would that be?)

And RBC is hardly going to be an exception. At more or less any large organisation, this is going to be the standard, not the exception. I wonder how many people who try to get a job there (and given the wreckage caused by the lockdowns, people may not be able to be choosy), will have hours of their lives wasted while some HR idiot asks them to talk about their “unconscious racism” rather than learning about how to deliver services and products, or come up with new ones.

Part of this will no doubt play to the fact that part of the contemporary higher education system is churning out people with degrees that have limited traction when it comes to building successful business, but might be absolutely perfect for jobs in HR. Expect further gains in demand for people working in “diversity and inclusion” but who can barely comprehend a balance sheet, a profit-and-loss account, or for that matter, compound interest.

One consequence of all this is that people with an ounce of self respect, if they think they must work for a large corporation for a while to learn skills and build contacts (which is what I did) will want to break free asap, and work for themselves, and run their own businesses. If corporate HR continues down a route of compulsory indoctrination about “critical race theory” and all the rest, no-one of real talent or enterprise will want to waste time there. And when the lousy shareholder performance shows itself, you can bet that those arguing for all this will not own the consequences. And they won’t be willing to confront the fact that a firm’s future is increasingly under pressure if it spends more on HR “resources” than R&D.

There is, of course, a more “pragmatic” reason why firms such as RBC and others are doing things such as this. They are covering their behinds, and fear (with some justification) what could happen to them if they don’t go along. Read that press release again, folks, and note that while it talks about hiring goals, there is no specific time-frame or reference to quotas (yet). Ryan Bourne has this measured article saying that some of this corporate “wokeness” might not even be all bad at all, and just how firms shift with the times. But even Bourne realises how some of this culture war stuff is getting dangerously out of hand.