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

“In the past few decades, digital pornography has been blamed for—well, pick a noun and add the word sex. It’s been named as a culprit for both sex addiction and sex abstinence. It’s been blamed for poor sex education, rampant sexual violence, and rising sexual dysfunction. Pornography is practically the Swiss Army knife of social calamity.”

Derek Thompson, The Atlantic.

Reminds me of the old gag: Why was the Swiss military so optimistic about the outcome of a war?
Answer: Because they had a wine corkscrew in their knives.

Chinese tech, Five Eyes, and The British Establishment

The UK government led by Theresa May really is quite something, is it not?

Huawei is already embedded in Britain’s elite: in 2015 it appointed to head its UK board Lord Browne, the former chair of BP, who was ennobled by Tony Blair’s administration and served David Cameron too. At the same time, it appointed to its UK board as non-executive dierectors Dame Helen Alexander, formerly leader of the EU-loving Economist Group and Confederation of British Industry (now deceased), and Sir Andrew Cahn, a former civil servant who resigned from Cameron’s Trade and Investment Department in 2011 in order to chair Huawei’s new British advisory board.

May’s government is sacrificing national security, the special relationship, and Brexit in favour of Chinese money and EU integration.

The article is written by some chap called Bruce Newsome, and it makes a good deal of sense. Even if you are sceptical of some of his points about how accountable US intelligence operations are (not very, judging by what has been going on vis a vis Mr Trump) its contention that it makes more sense to trust the US rather than China seems correct to me. This current government is endangering the UK’s long-standing intelligence co-operation under the “Five Eyes” pact with the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. And it is being done by a government that failed to deliver on taking the UK out of the EU by 29 March, giving comfort to those who still dream of taking the UK more fully into a developing European state with its own military command structure, at odds, as it will inevitably be, with NATO.

The rollout of a 5-G network in the UK will, hopefully, bring major benefits to users, but you don’t need to watch a lot of scary thrillers to understand the risks in getting a firm involved that is so closely embedded with the Chinese state. (Sure, many Western firms are also embedded in their respective states, so it comes down to a judgement call on which states are less evil, and I think I know the answer to that).

Even those of an anarchist/minarchist turn of mind when it comes to intra-government intelligence sharing processes ought to worry that the UK seems keener to do deals with Chinese state-backed tech firms than protect an alliance that helped to win the Cold War. Such matters should not be discussed behind closed doors of government, but be out in the open.

As far as Theresa May is concerned, my contempt for this individual has gone from gale warning to hurricane-force levels, with no signs of improvement soon.

Environmentalism’s philosophical black hole

This below is from an essay that was produced in 1990 by US economist George Reisman. (I also have his immense tome, Capitalism, which is excellent.)

The idea of nature’s intrinsic value inexorably implies a desire to destroy man and his works because it implies a perception of man as the systematic destroyer of the good, and thus as the systematic doer of evil. Just as man perceives coyotes, wolves, and rattlesnakes as evil because they regularly destroy the cattle and sheep he values as sources of food and clothing, so on the premise of nature’s intrinsic value, the environmentalists view man as evil, because, in the pursuit of his well-being, man systematically destroys the wildlife, jungles, and rock formations that the environmentalists hold to be intrinsically valuable. Indeed, from the perspective of such alleged intrinsic values of nature, the degree of man’s alleged destructiveness and evil is directly in proportion to his loyalty to his essential nature. Man is the rational being. It is his application of his reason in the form of science, technology, and an industrial civilization that enables him to act on nature on the enormous scale on which he now does. Thus, it is his possession and use of reason — manifested in his technology and industry — for which he is hated.

The doctrine of intrinsic value is itself only a rationalization for a preexisting hatred of man. It is invoked not because one attaches any actual value to what is alleged to have intrinsic value, but simply to serve as a pretext for denying values to man. For example, caribou feed upon vegetation, wolves eat caribou, and microbes attack wolves. Each of these, the vegetation, the caribou, the wolves, and the microbes, is alleged by the environmentalists to possess intrinsic value. Yet absolutely no course of action is indicated for man. Should man act to protect the intrinsic value of the vegetation from destruction by the caribou? Should he act to protect the intrinsic value of the caribou from destruction by the wolves? Should he act to protect the intrinsic value of the wolves from destruction by the microbes? Even though each of these alleged intrinsic values is at stake, man is not called upon to do anything. When does the doctrine of intrinsic value serve as a guide to what man should do? Only when man comes to attach value to something. Then it is invoked to deny him the value he seeks. For example, the intrinsic value of the vegetation et al. is invoked as a guide to man’s action only when there is something man wants, such as oil, and then, as in the case of Northern Alaska, its invocation serves to stop him from having it. In other words, the doctrine of intrinsic value is nothing but a doctrine of the negation of human values. It is pure nihilism.

A reason why this essay is evergreen (geddit?) is because its philosophical assault on environmentalism is one that is all too rarely crafted. Most critiques are a mixture of making fun of protestors or contesting specific claims they make, not the wider set of assumptions on which environmentalism rests. Consider the antics of campaigners making a nuisance of themselves in central London in recent days. Most responses have been: The campaigners are smug, middle-class berks (while true, is not an argument); they are disrupting lives of ordinary people (true, but is not a refutation of their claims about the Earth); their conduct is not a good way to raise awareness about the plight of the Earth (that’s debatable) and that they are alienating people (true, but again, does not say their arguments are bunk per se).

Free marketeers can, by logic, be alarmed by Man-made global warming, or be more sanguine or neutral as Matt Ridley is and so on, so even those who generally go with the classical liberal flow can worry about such issues on the facts of the case. It is true that there is a lot of overlap between those who fear AGW and who want the State to control our lives more, whether via population control, banning products and energy use, etc, but that’s by no means a given. (There are, by the way, genuinely liberal ways of thinking about conservation, pollution, externalities of human behaviour, etc.)

I think the environmentalist movement has been allowed to claim the philosophical high ground by default because by and large, we bipeds with our out-sized brains and reversible thumbs have allowed it to happen. It is rare to read a Reisman-type attack on this mindset (sharp-eyed readers will note from his language that he is an Ayn Rand fan). Another example of a more comprehensive critique of such anti-humanism comes from Robert Zubrin in his book Merchants of Despair (see a Reason review of his ideas here).

The core of the problem, as Reisman frames it, is that environmentalists commit the sin of making a contradiction: They applaud being at one with nature, and therefore are fine with animals eating other animals and of their adapting to environments through the long march of evolution over masses of time, but they are not happy when Man lives according to his nature, by re-arranging the environment to suit his needs because of how Man, unlike animals that we know of, has a rational faculty able to grasp concepts and think ahead. The Greens say: everything apart from Man can live as it does, but Man is somehow different, a sort of unique creature. That seems, well, unnatural. We even get echoes of this mindset when you read of people saying why they want to help the Earth by not breeding. (Mind you, the sort of people who choose not to breed for such reasons are probably doing Mankind a favour by not spreading their DNA.) Any other creature does not think “I won’t have kids to save the Earth”.

The contradictory mess that is environmental ideology is all of a piece with it being, in many respects, a secular religion. The people blocking traffic in London may not think they are religious in the way that, say, the builders of Notre Dame did all those centuries ago, but they are in similar company. At least church architects had something tangible to show for their devotion. With today’s Greens, all we are likely to ever get is litter.

Corporate social responsibility – is it socialism by the back door?

“When I hear businessmen speak eloquently about the `social responsibilities of business in a free-enterprise system,’ I am reminded of the wonderful line about the Frenchman who discovered at the age of 70 that he had been speaking prose all his life. The businessmen believe that they are defending free enterprise when they declaim that business is not concerned `merely’ with profit but also with promoting desirable `social’ ends; that business has a “social conscience” and takes seriously its responsibilities for providing employment, eliminating discrimination, avoiding pollution and whatever else may be the catchwords of the contemporary crop of reformers. In fact they are–or would be if they or anyone else took them seriously – preaching pure and unadulterated socialism. Businessmen who talk this way are unwitting puppets of the intellectual forces that have been undermining the basis of a free society these past decades.”

Milton Friedman

If you want to wind up a certain kind of activist in the realms of modern investment, one of the quickest ways to get their pulse rate up is to quote the late Chicago economist above about what he thought was the sole responsibility of business owners. He stated that this was to maximise shareholder value. Period. To do anything else is tantamount to an act of theft:

“In a free-enterprise, private-property system, a corporate executive is an employee of the owners of the business. He has direct responsibility to his employers. That responsibility is to conduct the business in accordance with their desires, which generally will be to make as much money as possible while conforming to their basic rules of the society, both those embodied in law and those embodied in ethical custom. Of course, in some cases his employers may have a different objective. A group of persons might establish a corporation for an eleemosynary purpose – for example, a hospital or a school. The manager of such a corporation will not have money profit as his objectives but the rendering of certain services.”

This seems fair enough to me and stated with Friedman’s admirable clarity. The key is that the purpose of the firm is set by the folk who created it and those who own it. If it meets customers’ needs it will thrive, and if it doesn’t, it goes out of business. If you and I, dear reader, found a business to sell chocolate ice cream, at what point do we suddenly become “responsible” in some sense to “society” or “the environment” or “God” in how we run things unless we have expressly chosen to make those considerations part of our business mission?

It is crucial to be clear on this point. If a group of individuals band together to create a corporation that expressly states that it shall distribute 30 per cent of profits to a specific charity/cause, or that it will source its supplies from a particular group on ethical grounds, or hire as equal a balance of men and women as possible, regardless of other considerations, then anyone who becomes, say, a shareholder in that business cannot complain if things go wrong. And in fact there are more and more cases of firms that go out of their way to brandish their ethical principles, with varying levels of credibility or cant. Also it turns out that firms which are run by honest people, publish transparent accounts and don’t treat staff like crap tend, according to some metrics, to outperform their peers over the long term (see a study claiming this here). As Adam Smith might have noted, if people pursue their rational self-interest it tends to be the case that dealing with decent, honest people tends to work out better than dealing with shysters.

In my present working life I am bombarded with press releases and material from investment firms talking about the wonders of environmental, social and governance-related (ESG) investing, and also what is called “impact” investing (putting money to work to achieve a specific result, both financial and non-financial). To the extent that fund managers use their market muscle to achieve these goals in a free market rather than bring in the State to do their bidding, that’s all fine by me. After all, why should not, say, a libertarian fund management firm be able to state that it will refuse to invest in any business that knowingly produces services/products that threaten privacy and expand the reach of the state, such as firms that act as contractors to certain governments? (How about Classical Liberal Wealth Management Inc?) In other words, in this view the purpose of a firm or other legal entity is to enable the wishes of its creators to be brought about, whether making a profit, advancing world peace, spreading the ideas of Ludwig von Mises or whatever.

There will be investment funds that will want to focus on holding stakes in firms, be they listed, or unquoted, that focus 100 per cent on becoming more valuable and profitable no matter what else it does, because those investment funds’ clients expect and hope to fund a decent retirement, for example. In an ageing population, beset by growing strains on public finances, it is going to be difficult sometimes to square some of the supposed high-minded desires of corporate social responsibility activists with the desires of millions to have something to live on in old age. The point is that balancing those things must ultimately be the investors’ decision, not that of a government.

The issue becomes more problematic when government steps in. Firms that claim CSR is good for the shareholder in the long run may simply be rationalising what they have to do anyway by force of law. Investor pressure to save the earth as well as make money may be misguided in some ways, but at least it is not coercion. But things take a different turn when the state intrudes. An article here by Quinn Connelly makes this point well:

“Empirically speaking, the market has moved against Friedman’s philosophy. The largest firms in America and Britain spend more than $15 billion a year on CSR, and new research suggests this spending may create monetary value for companies. As The Economist concludes, “even if you accept Friedman’s premise and regard CSR policies as a waste of shareholders’ money, things may not be absolutely clear-cut.” Indeed, they may not be, but not for the aforementioned reasons. In the current environment, it may be rational for companies to adopt CSR policies in order to contend with regulatory and competitive pressure; however, this says little about the inherent value of the policies themselves, or the principles behind them. In fact, a cynic might point to the increase in CSR spending as an indicator of reverse regulatory capture, or merely as an exercise in public relations.”

To sum up, ideas such as ESG investing or corporate social responsibility can in some ways sit alongside an entirely free market view of the world, but I am wary. In a recent phone call, one advocate of these ideas talked about how “we are in an era of late-stage capitalism”. I pointed out to this person that such a term has been used as long as capitalism has been a word. The phone call did not go well.

Book Review: Capitalism In America by Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge

Capitalism in America: A History. By Alan Greenspan and Adrian Wooldridge.

I recently read this book, published a few months ago, and it is written by a senior journalist who is political editor of the Economist, and former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan. Given their respective occupations, I had a rough idea of their broad ideology (a general predisposition towards free markets, private property and limited government) and on the whole I enjoyed reading this book a great deal.

Their core thesis is that America has been as successful as it has been because it allows a great deal of “creative destruction” – new technologies and business models disrupt and replace older ones, causing pain for specific groups but big benefits for the wider population over time. America is so big, and people have traditionally been so willing to move around to find work, that the “creative” side wins over the “destructive”. They observe the back-and-forth process of how there have been periods of intense growth and upward progress, such as the post-Civil War boom, the rise of the great business tycoons such as the Rockefellers, and then the push-back of anti-trust and the Progressive Era, William Jennings Bryan and his “cross of gold” hysteria. We get the Roaring 20s, and ooops! the Great Depression, followed by WW2 and the post-war boom; the troubles of the late 60s, then 70s; the Reagan era, supply side tax cuts and the dotcom boom. For a while, people are diagnosed with something called “affluenza”. And finally, the 2008 crash happens and there’s all the angst over declining productivity and worries about skyrocketing debt.

The most impressive thing about this book in my view is the way an enormous amount of information, some of it arcane, is conveyed into a fast-paced narrative. This book is written very well and packed with anecdotes and even a bit of sly humour. There are some standouts: the book gives a marvelous account of the agricultural technologies and innovations that turned the Great Plains into the breadbasket of the world; its understanding of business models and mass production techniques is first class. It largely absolves the likes of Rockefeller, Carnegie and the rest of the “robber baron” tag and suggests that much anti-trust doctrine is bunk. Later, in discussing the present controversies over Facebook and other “Big Techs”, it is similarly sceptical about whether state bust-ups of such entities is a good idea.

The book points out how, by the late 19th Century, the US government was so small relative to today’s that the largest department of the Federal government was the Post Office. It generally praises the idea of the Gold Standard – Wooldridge and Greenspan are pretty rough on Bryan and others who think that printing money is a solution to economic problems. They are also pretty harsh on F D Roosevelt, pointing out that during the 1930s, unemployment averaged in the double-digit percentages, and that much of the New Deal was, on its stated terms, a failure. They give Roosevelt stick for his vindictive acts and foolish interventionism – they realise that his genius, if we can use that word, was inventing a myth about himself and in telling people that he was going to make sure everything was OK.

Needless to say, the narrative gets more awkward when it covers the period when Greenspan, a man who in his youth was an acolyte of Ayn Rand and an advocate of gold-backed money, became Fed chairman. The book argues (page 385) that critics cannot prove that the 2008 financial crisis can be blamed on loose monetary policy. Well, how jolly convenient! They say that the Fed’s ability to set interest rates, and influence borrowing costs for those with mortgages, etc, was largely restricted by the global “savings glut”. (I will come to this a bit later.) To a great extent, they blame the 2008 disaster on government-subsidised/supported sub-prime mortgages, excess confidence by bankers in risk models and the sheer complexity of financial products, such as in the derivatives markets. All these criticisms of the financial system prior to the collapse of Lehman Bros. in September 2008 look valid but there is also a problem.

A problem to overcome, the authors say, is how rising entitlement spending (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) has “crowded out” private savings and that, over a period of time, savings as a share of total GDP has declined. Coupled with this, and with rising regulation (which they rightly attack) has been less overall capital investment, leading to lower productivity growth. When people talk about “stagnant” wages, it is sub-par productivity that is largely to blame.

Okay, so low savings are a problem. If it is true that insufficient private sector savings is a problem to be fixed, how come the “glut” of savings in the years leading up to 2008 was a problem? If Chinese/other savers were pouring genuine savings (not central bank confetti) into the West, and investing in real capital, then why would this be an issue (other than a dislike of the origins of the savings)? When do we know that there is a “glut” of savings if, in other parts of the narrative, Greenspan/Wooldridge say there are insufficient savings because of a state “crowding out” effect? Of course, had Fed interest rates been higher than they were, yield-hungry Chinese savers might have put even money into the US, but then again it might have chilled the housing market enough to halt some of the damage.

Such points aside, Capitalism In America is a good study of some of the big shifts in the US economy since the Republic was born.

It seems young adults are not as keen on socialism as some might fear

An interesting item on the Guido Fawkes blog:

The polling reveals that UK citizens overwhelmingly agree that “competition allows for better prices for consumers”, “competition between companies allows for more choice for consumers”, and “competition encourages innovation and economic growth” storming ahead of the other large EU countries Germany, France, and Italy in each of those categories.

A point worth making that goes way beyond current political fights is that it has become something of a cliche that young adults, in particular, are so annoyed at the lack of affordable housing, or worthless higher education qualifications + debt, that they are all hot for the 1970s tribute band routine of Corbyn in the UK or, for that matter, Bernie Sanders in the US. The media (and often the conservative bits of it) appears obsessed with running stories about the latest dumb statements of someone such as Alexandre Ocasio Cortez, the young Congresswoman in the US, or surveys about how young adults all want socialism. But from my admittedly impressionistic stance, I am not seeing an upsurge in enthusiasm for state control, rationing of resources, bureaucracy, etc. A poll conducted by Gallup in 2005 showed how lots of young US males wanted to start their own business. A more recent study from 2016 shows that a large number of Millennials, that generation which a Gen X-er like me likes to poke fun at, want to create their own firms.

It seems to me that any half-intelligent politician (that’s going to be a small population sample, ed.) should tap into this and stop pandering to the idea that the “young” all have a crush on Big Government. What I suspect is going on is that they dislike Bigness per se, not always coherently (Big Business is downright good if the bigness comes from superior performance rather than political favours), and want lots of choices and options in their lives. So smart policy, including around issues such as civil liberties, should play to that. It depresses me how our current political class seems so keen, for example, on regulating the internet and the like, because this is exactly the sort of issue that young adults, given their distrust not just of business but very big techs such as Facebook (even though they use it) get fired up about. One would think, therefore, that tapping this distrust makes sense.

After all, even if you have decidedly mixed views about a character such as Julian Assange, the Wikileaks man who was arrested in the UK yesterday, it is hard not to notice that a lot of people admired how he poked the establishment (well, at least that is what he claimed), in the eye. We are living at a time when there is a lot of dislike of established ways of doing things and this is something that thoughtful libertarians must embrace.

Related thoughts from the Institute of Economic Affairs.

The State is not your friend, ctd

According to this report by Techcrunch, the technology publication, a bi-partisan agreement in Congress (usually a bad sign) means that a tech solution enabling taxpayers to prepare their annual returns for no charge has been blocked. The tax preparations industry, which is huge, has objected.

Sometimes the sheer brazenness of lobbying in the political systems of the world befuddles even a long-term observer of such things such as me. We should not be surprised, really. There is a large industry of people who help others navigate the reefs and shoals of taxes, and one suspects many of them fear things such as simpler, lower and flatter taxes because if people can file a return on a single sheet of A4 paper, or its internet equivalent, then much of this sector is, to put it in non-technical terms, fucked.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The dangerous and sectarian practice of prescriptive racialism is an outgrowth of an insistence that we think of people not as individuals but as representatives of groups — we speak of “the Arab experience” as if it were a uniform phenomenon. In a world in which groups are considered more important than people, it was inevitable that we would forfeit the ability to think in terms of unique human beings, each of whom may fall into several categories, but who are ultimately self-made characters. We should remember that the important features of an individual are what they choose to be and not the identities they happen to have inherited.”

Mohamed Ali, writing in the excellent platform, Quillette.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The irony of Europhiles is that they replace one form of nationalism with another: “country first”, is out, but “Europe first” is in.”

Nathan Pinkoski. He analyses a recent speech by French president Emmanuel Macron that deserves far more scrutiny than it is getting.

The Trump conspiracy that, er, wasn’t

As a purely journalistic failure, however, WMD was a pimple compared to Russiagate. The sheer scale of the errors and exaggerations this time around dwarfs the last mess. Worse, it’s led to most journalists accepting a radical change in mission. We’ve become sides-choosers, obliterating the concept of the press as an independent institution whose primary role is sorting fact and fiction.

A part of a long article on something called “Hate Inc.”, produced by a chap called Matt Taibbi.

I recommend the entire article.

Here’s another paragraph:

We had the sense to eventually look inward a little in the WMD affair, which is the only reason we escaped that episode with any audience left. Is the press even capable of that kind of self-awareness now? WMD damaged our reputation. If we don’t turn things around, this story will destroy it.

Much of the US and indeed Western media (the BBC here, for example) has been dying to see hard evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. That has not been obtained, and the reason is that it did not exist. So much of the MSM and the liberal-left establishment has been in denial about why Mr Trump was elected to the White House, as it is in denial about the UK referendum result to leave the EU. (In the latter case, much of the media/political establishment is trying its best to stop it from happening and may succeed in the short term, at terrible cost to the UK).

I am not a Trump fan and his protectionism is something I abhor. But as some of my libertarian friends have said, the fact that he has got so many on the socialist side of the fence to go stark, raving mad, to have exposed their arrogance and sense of entitlement, is a public service by Mr Trump not just to the US, but the wider world. When I occasionally point this out to people who go into automatic “Isn’t Trump awful?” mode, I often get funny looks, or the occasional glint of awareness.

As an aside, it is pretty clear that on the basis of dodgy evidence, the former Obama presidency illegally spied on the Trump campaign. Such has been the deification of Mr Obama (he still gets warm words in the UK, for instance), that he is likely to get away with it. Or so he hopes. A lot of people in his circle will be sweating a bit if, as I hope, the Democrats fail to retake the White House in 2020. It would be amusing to see this vain, poor ex-president have his collar felt by the FBI, even if he got away with it.

At present, the Democrats remain in a state of denial, and that party’s drift to the Left makes its winning power ever less likely, although you never can tell. In my gut I just cannot see the US going for what Elizabeth Warren, AOC and the rest of them, even old Joe Biden, have to sell.

A final point I have is that these episodes remind us that it is high time the US presidency was not invested with the importance it now has, and to achieve such a happy diminished state requires a serious rollback to the size of the federal government. To have a less imperial presidency, you need smaller government. The cult of the presidency, as it were, can only be dealt with if the cult of government in general is pushed back.

Has higher education had its Bernie Madoff moment?

A big story is developing about claims that financiers, Hollywood celebs and others engaged in criminal fraud to enable their children to get into posh Ivy League universities and other such places.

Beyond the salacious details about such a story – and you can imagine how this plays to the “poor ordinary folk outraged by rich people doing Bad Stuff” sort of narrative – is the issue of what the likes of Instapundit’s Glenn Reynolds has called the education bubble. With credentialism in the workplace rising, demand for college/university degrees expanding, and fuelling rising student debt, higher tuition fees and yes, more debt, the higher ed. industry is exhibiting the kind of distortions and potential for fraud that we saw in the period leading up to the financial crack-up of 2008. Remember the Bernie Madoff Ponzi fraud scam? The hedge fund that wasn’t was able to scam people at a time when asset prices were rising everywhere and getting into the juiciest hedge funds was the name of the game, rather like getting into the poshest schools was seen as important to people today. By preying on insecurity, vanity, status and worries that being outside meant failure, Madoff defrauded people out of billions of dollars. The parallels with what is going on in higher ed. are quite close.

On a related point, I recently read US academic Bryan Caplan’s book, The Case Against Education: Why The Education System is a Waste of Time and Money. I might not go as far as agreeing with the totality of his ideas, but it seems to me that when people are allegedly committing crimes to get kids into a university, and where the kind of “snowflake” issues are turning some of these places into echo chambers for the Hard Left, it is time for radical change.

Due process of law is just so 19th Century

As some in the US will know there have been moves to ensure that when a university/college student (usually male) is accused of rape or some other form of sexual assault, the matter must be handled by a court of law, not simply for the accused to be put in front of some sort of academic panel and, without even hearing from an accuser or with a chance to challenge the version of events, can be expelled, and hence ruined for life. (Here are comments from a while ago from Tim Worstall.)

UK journalist and documentary-maker Louis Theroux thinks that when a person is acquitted by a court of law, that’s not the end of the matter. Perhaps he is a bit fuzzy on his understanding of the law of libel. When I trained as a reporter, I distinctly remember that articles about a person who was acquitted of sex assault must never imply that somehow the verdict was, you know, not the end of the matter and that X or Y was probably a bit dodgy, to be shunned and avoided, etc. (In reality, of course, social ostracism is still a factor and people who are thought of as “having got away with it” might find their lives get more difficult. To some extent that’s inevitable.)

Anyway, here he writes:

“There are two different standards. There’s a criminal standard in which you go to prison, but just because you haven’t been found guilty of a crime doesn’t mean that you haven’t done anything wrong – that you haven’t made someone very uncomfortable and possible committed a gross violation.”

Theroux says that just because a person has been acquitted by a jury does not mean there aren’t problems. Well, up to a point. The reason we have juries, due process, burdens of proof, etc, is because it is considered better to avoid innocent people being wrongly accused of crimes, even if it means a criminal goes free. Given how emotions can and do run high, risks of mistrials are large. (This is arguably even more so when public figures are implicated.)

The fact that universities and other entities hold less onerous tests of guilt than courts is not something to celebrate and at the very least, a student who joins a university should be made aware that they could be accused of bad conduct, expelled, and so on, even if their case does not go to court. That’s unlikely to encourage people to go to these places, particularly in the current climate where men are presumed to be “toxic”. (It is worth adding that recruits to the armed forces can go to a court martial that holds slightly different standards to a civilian court, at least under the English Common Law, and that recruits are to some extent waiving due process protections by signing the dotted line. Maybe a student should be asked to do the same.)

Theroux takes what I think is a rather odd turn in arguing that maybe sex assault/rape should not be such serious offences so it would be okay to bypass the courts and still get the perpetrators. I think I have got that right:

“If you define rape very, very narrowly – as it was, someone being dragged behind a bush – it kind of gives license to anyone who sexually assaults someone in a way that’s not as bad as that to sort of say ‘Well, I’m not a rapist’.

One of the signs that we live in mad times is the way that the bar is being lowered, it seems, as far as accusations of ill conduct are concerned and over how traditional checks and balances over this are being eroded. The erosion is being called for in plain sight. And scarily, there appears to be relatively little objection to this.