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

“What all of this points to is a new kind of protest. There is a new generation for whom protesting is largely indistinguishable from a music festival. It has the same vibe, the same style, and the same constituency: the non-working classes, who define themselves through culture rather than labour, and who see themselves as having more in common with global technocratic institutions like the EU than they do with some of the people who live in their own towns (but on the other side of the tracks). If this is radicalism – which it isn’t – then it is passive radicalism. It is an entirely contradictory phenomenon, where on the one hand protesters are telling us actual Nazism is making a comeback, but on the other hand they’re not going to do anything about it except chill out in Trafalgar Square and post to Instagram a photo of them and their friends holding a ‘FUCK TRUMP’ placard.”

Brendan O’Neill

I avoided all this dreck by spending the weekend in South Devon, drinking local beer, swimming in the sea and walking on the hills above, with no internet access, no TV (which meant not watching the World Cup final). Heaven.

Samizdata quote of the day

A few weeks ago in central London, I watched a group of protestors holding aloft anarchist signs as they demanded greater government spending. They seemed almost as confused as the fellow who tweeted me his denunciations of globalisation the other day – using a mobile device made in Korea and software written in California.

Douglas Carswell, Rebel, page 295.

Samizdata quote of the day

Recent acts of manly valour have all come from men from traditional cultures where they’ve never heard of sexual politics. We recently watched online as Mamoudou Gassama, an illegal migrant from Mali, scaled a tower block in a Paris suburb to save a child about to fall to his death. ‘Luckily, there was someone who was physically fit and who had the courage to go and get the child,’ a firefighter told a French news agency. We can’t call them firemen, although that is what they were. No French man or woman came forward to save the child. In 2015 a migrant from Tunisia rescued two children from a burning building near Paris.

Jane Kelly

You have to wonder when, not if, Obama is arrested

This story, via that well-known extreme rightwing news outlet, Associated Press (sarcasm alert) ought, given the enormity of what is stated, surely lead to former President Barack Obama having his collar felt by the Feds. But he won’t of course because he was “hope and change”:

WASHINGTON (AP) — After striking an elusive nuclear deal with Iran, the Obama administration found itself in a quandary in early 2016: Iran had been promised access to its long-frozen overseas reserves, including $5.7 billion stuck in an Omani bank.

To spend it, Iran wanted to convert the money into U.S. dollars and then euros, but top U.S. officials had repeatedly promised Congress that Iran would never gain access to America’s financial system.

Those assurances notwithstanding, the Obama administration secretly issued a license to let Iran sidestep U.S. sanctions for the brief moment required to convert the funds through an American bank, an investigation by Senate Republicans released Wednesday showed. The plan failed when two U.S. banks refused to participate.

Yet two years later, the revelation is re-igniting the bitter debate over the nuclear deal and whether former President Barack Obama was too eager to grant concessions to Tehran.

All those friends of mine on the libertarian side who rightly get annoyed by Donald Trump will, I trust, be equally oxidised about what the Obama administration has got up to. The situation is shocking because, in recent years, dozens of foreign banks have been punished by US authorities for breaching sanctions against countries including Iran. The most egregious breach was by French banking group BNP Paribas, paying a fine to the US totaling $8.9 billion. (One wonders if President Macron of France will lobby Donald Trump to refund some of this cash to France, if the previous administration was crapping on its own rules about sanctions.)

Here is Ben Shapiro going into the increasingly unhinged one-sided media coverage of US public affairs.

Back to the original article, it seems important to me that it is AP, not just a blog or some YouTube commentator, that has spelled out in devastating detail the dishonesty of the Obama administration over Iran. I recall (yes, I am that old), how White House shenanigans over Iran (the 1986 Iran-Contra scandal) nearly brought down Ronald Reagan and led to multiple hearings, firings and resignations. Obama may now hope that, as a former POTUS, he can relax, do his netflix thing, play golf, give socialist speeches for big bucks, and occasionally vent on how terrible it is that Biff is reversing some of his policies.

But I do wonder. What powers, exactly, exist to bring a former Prez. to book for what appear to be lies on an epic scale, on matters affecting national security? OK, I do doubt that it could happen against the first non-white man to be elected to the office, but if there is any justice in this world, Obama should be contemplating life behind bars or at least, being made to sweat under intense questioning. The man is a snake and yet far too many intelligent people treat him as a sort of secular saint. It is nauseating.

A shoddy book criticising free markets

Whatever your views on free market principles, it is clearly dishonest to imply that those who support tax cuts, lower government spending and greater economic freedom do so in the belief that some wealth will belatedly “trickle down” to the poorest in society or because they view entrenching wealth amongst the privileged as an end in itself. Free marketeers would instead argue that allowing people to pursue all the opportunities they can through free exchange, with the minimal amount of government interference, will lead to generalised wealth creation. The virtue of cutting taxes is not that it benefits the rich, but that it benefits everyone.

Madeline Grant

The author is commenting on what appears to be a shoddy misrepresentation of the ideas of persons such as the late FA Hayek. Interestingly, one of the writers of the book in question, Angela Eagle, had attempted to run against current hard left Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. But it appears Eagle’s understanding of the classical position is terrible and her opposition to such freedoms as we enjoy seems clear. So the question I ask is that if Eagle and her allies are the “moderates”, then in what ways can they possibly be any better than Corbyn, apart from perhaps being less indulgent to anti-semites and certain other thugs?

Samizdata quote of the day

“Often people who do not wish to bear risks feel entitled to rewards from those who do and win; yet these same people do not feel obligated to help out by sharing the losses of those who bear risks and lose. For example, croupiers at gambling casinos expect to be well-tipped by big winners, but they do not expect to be asked to help bear some of the losses of the losers. The case for such asymmetrical sharing is even weaker for businesses where success not a random matter. Why do some feel they may stand back to see whose ventures turn out well (by hindsight determine who has survived the risks and run profitably) and then claim a share of the success; though they do not feel they must bear the losses if things turn out poorly, or feel that if they wish to share in the profits or the control of the enterprise, they should invest and run the risks also?”

Robert Nozick: Anarchy, State, and Utopia, page 256. I suppose one answer to the question the late Prof. Nozick poses is that some people are parasites, and desire the unearned, and that socialist doctrines give their parasitism a gloss of intellectual credibility.

I have been re-reading this early 1970s book, seen at the time as a classic and which still holds up well.

The assumption of equality of outcome

The legitimacy of altering social institutions to achieve greater equality of material condition is, though often assumed, rarely argued for. Writers note that in a given country the wealthiest n percent of the population holds more than that percentage of the wealth, and the poorest n percent holds less; that to get to the wealth of the top n percent from the poorest, one must look at the bottom p per cent (where p is vastly greater than n), and so forth. They then proceed immediately to discuss how this might be altered.

Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (page 232).

By coincidence, a classic example of “the rich are gobbling up all the wealth and something must be done about it” mind-set was in perfect view in this Guardian article yesterday.

While I browsed for a few minutes in Hatchards, the bookshop, yesterday, I came across this book by Daniel Halliday, which attacks the right of people to bequeath their property to heirs, friends, etc. So in other words, the author thinks your wealth isn’t yours to give away. It is rare for such attacks on the right to transfer property to be stated so baldly. I might see if I can grab a review copy and read it, and maybe Fisk it later. (The book has already been reviewed from a fairly benign point of view in the Financial Times, here.)

Facebook isn’t a monopoly and doesn’t need an anti-trust hit or regulation

I have been a user of Facebook for about a decade now and, to some degree, have grown weary of it. To some extent I have become worn down by the constant flow of outrage and venting on its pages from friends and acquaintances, and have started to see more signs of this sort of behaviour myself. I think Facebook is starting to become toxic, so I decided yesterday to go on a Facebook sabbatical, and do old fashioned stuff like read books, tend to my terrace garden and get out and about a lot more instead. And I suspect I’m not unique.

These thoughts of mine come up because there is mounting pressure, it seems, for lawmakers in Washington DC or other places to “do something” about Facebook following revelations about the use/misuse of users’ private data. My brief take on this is that anyone using Facebook should assume as a starting point that they are on a public forum, and exercise due care and attention. (I don’t use its messenger function and prefer Whatsapp instead, or indeed, good old email.) And no-one is forcing me to use Facebook. It may be inconvenient in some ways to give it the cold shoulder, but no more.

With that in mind I reject this sort of argument, in the Wall Street Journal, which ought to know better:

Facebook Inc.’s climb to the pinnacle of business success was nurtured by a grand policy experiment: that a light regulatory touch would turbocharge innovation and make consumers wealthier and happier. Companies who mistreated their customers would succumb to competitors, or be punished with rules already on the books.

The events of the last few months suggest the experiment may have run its course. It has left Facebook effectively an unregulated monopoly and despite founder Mark Zuckerberg’s latest apologies, the company has little economic incentive to change its ways. Its business is to sell its users’ attention to advertisers and thus it must keep pushing the boundaries on privacy, while the paucity of competition limits the consequences if it goes too far. If policy makers want to change that calculus—a big if—they will either have to enact tougher regulation, or use antitrust authority to nurture more competition.

There is no need to re-run the mistaken anti-trust wars against the Standard Oils or Microsofts of the past (both largely unjustified). Facebook will, unless it changes significantly in my view, be threatened most effectively by competition, as has been the case down the decades. The cycle is always the same: we are told that a firm is “too big” or a monopolist and that something must be done about it; and about the same time, new competitors and business models are taking form so that by the time the government action occurs, the new business models are already pushing into the field. This is the classic “creative destruction” of the free market and I don’t expect the situation with Facebook to be any different from earlier business episodes.

One final thought: the complaints about Facebook, a social media platform that was born in US higher education dorm-rooms, has all the trappings of a classic “First World” problem. In Syria, North Korea or Venezuela, I doubt very much that the locals’ main concerns are about people saying mean things on Facebook.

Here is a good take on the issue by Robert Tracinski.

Gender gaps

Julian Jessop, at the Institute of Economic Affairs’ blog:

Few can have failed to notice that UK companies with 250 or more employees are now obliged to report specific figures about their ‘gender pay gap’. Supporters argue that the data are helping to expose the disadvantages that many women face in the workplace. In my view, though, the system is failing.

For a start, the data are frequently misunderstood and misrepresented. Variations in hourly wages or bonuses between men and women are often interpreted – wrongly – as evidence of different pay for the same work. This sort of discrimination would, of course, be illegal. It would presumably be uneconomic too; if women were indeed willing to do the same work for less money, they would surely be over-represented in the highest paying jobs.

Readers in the UK will also have noted an increase in volume of news stories about the so-called gender gap in pay and overall remuneration as it affects women. I am not dismissing concerns about this as fabricated or an example of Leftist mischief-making against the market economy, although I am sure such criticisms would be valid. But as Jessop says, there is a basic problem with the approach that many critics take in assuming that the State should “do something” about it, or that the simple fact of group A earning, on average, less/more than B is ipso facto proof of some wrong being committed. (I urge people to read the whole article; one of the most silly sleights of hands of those trying to make out that there is a major issue is to lump part-time and full-time jobs together.)

The great Thomas Sowell, debunker of many woolly ideas, has dealt with the gender gap issue, as the linked Youtube clip shows.

The US-based economist Tyler Cowen has argued that the gender gap will eventually close and it seems, largely for reasons unconnected to interference by the State.

It seems the Atlantic Monthly doesn’t want diversity after all

I’ve spent my entire adult life in an academic and media environment that put a premium on shocking the conservative conscience. Advocate for the most barbaric abortion practices? Fine. Celebrate an artist who dips a crucifix in urine? Cool. Decry 9/11 first responders as “not human” because of white supremacy? Intriguing. But the marketplace of ideas isn’t for the faint of heart, and good conservatives learn to simultaneously defend the culture of free speech while also fighting hard to build a culture of virtue and respect.

David French, writing about former National Review writer Kevin D Williamson, who committed the heinous crime several years ago in a podcast (Mad Dogs and Englishmen) of saying something nasty about abortions. (Whether he was right on this issue is not the issue here; the point is that the Atlantic Monthly hired a guy on the conservative side of the political spectrum, including one who has attacked the alt-right, the excesses of Trump, etc, but to no avail.) And this is the rub: no matter how subtle, nuanced or intelligent you are, if you offend against the prevailing social justice agenda, or offend someone, that’s it. Kaput, goodbye, exit followed by a large bear. The AM has now fired Williamson. That was quick.

I should add straight away that the Atlantic Monthly is entitled, as a private firm, to hire and fire whom it wants, for whatever reason, though of course that magazine, given its left-liberal ethos, presumably supports state interference with property rights and voluntary contracts (such as support for affirmative action, etc). And people are equally free to ignore its output and read something else. But something about this affair, which may only interest the media in-crowd, tells us that there are now very severe limits to the breadth and tolerance of “liberals” in the West (and it remains a tragedy that that word has been so distorted as to mean the opposite of what it may have meant in the past). Also, it is useful to have media outlets where people of very different outlooks can gain access to ideas they might not otherwise encounter, if only to train their intellectual muscles in much the same way that I try and keep strong by lifting barbells in the gym. The Balkanisation of opinion gets worse.

Some readers will remember the case of John Derbyshire who wrote what in my view was a blatantly racist comment for a magazine and, as he was a columnist for National Review (ironically, as this was where Williamson used to work), was sacked by editor Rich Lowry. The Derbyshire piece was awful; Lowry was entitled to fire a columnist if he wanted to do so, but then again, it is important for some arguments to be aired, even if they are terrible, so that people get the practice of refuting them. (John Stuart Mill, the 19th Century liberal, argued that this is why censorship is so bad because people lose the habit of making good arguments.)

It is not even as if Williamson has been blocked or banned like an internet troll for the offence of filling comment threads with abusive remarks, threats, or hi-jacking discussions to promote some very different agenda. (The editors of this blog, and others, have had to kick out some nutters and abusive people over the years, just as I have blocked people from my social media feeds, in the same way that I would kick out a party guest who urinates on the floor.)

It is necessary to state that Williamson ultimately hasn’t had his freedom violated and he can and no doubt will get work somewhere else. In this age of blogs and new media outlets, it is harder than before to silence views, although some of the recent developments at Facebook etc suggest a worry that social media is becoming an intolerant echo chamber.

The editor of the Atlantic Monthly isn’t a tyrant, but speaking as a media person myself, I think he has made a serious mistake by losing a fine writer, even if I don’t always like what he writes (if Williamson has a fault he can come across as a bit of a snob). Also, in explaining the decision, I get the impression that the Atlantic Monthly has reinforced the notion I have that many so-called “feminists” today aren’t the doughty fighters for equality of old, but actually playing to the idea that women quiver with fear at the very mention of ideas they don’t like. Apparently, the very notion that Williamson was a columnist was traumatic to some women.

Samizdata quote of the day

If you’re a Labour MP, if you take Corbyn’s whip, if you sit behind him in the House of Commons, then you can roll your eyes when he speaks or tell us how distraught you are on Twitter all you like; it counts for nothing. Your arithmetical function is to combine with other Labour MPs in order to give Jeremy Corbyn a majority in Parliament. No amount of election leaflet drivel or chuntering on about “fighting Tory cuts to save my community/the NHS/insert name of local school here” can wash away the permanent stain of your complicity with wickedness. How such people sleep at night or meet their reflection’s eye is their own affair and not my problem, thank God. But as the repellent psychodrama of their monstrous party staggers on to its terrifying conclusion, I’d ask them, in the meantime, to shut up about how good they are, how nasty the Conservatives are, how kindness entails a vote for Labour. Tories don’t succour anti-Semitism, comrade. In my book, that makes them better than you.

Graeme Archer

Samizdata quote of the day

In Britain, the EU is often thought about as a single entity — and one that in the end will do whatever Germany says. But Angela Merkel is struggling to exert control over her own government, let alone the continent. Juncker and Barnier see an EU that does not take its orders from member states, but draws (or claims to draw) its own democratic legitimacy from the European Parliament. The EU member states have an interest in a good deal with Britain. But the European Commission — the apparatus in Brussels — has an interest in Britain being seen to be worse off after leaving the EU. The Commission would also receive 80 per cent of the tariff revenue from UK exports to the EU, making ‘no deal’ more appealing to Brussels than to member states.

– Editorial in the UK’s Spectator magazine (£).