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

“So much of our popular culture depends on the loudly proclaimed pose of being “rebels,” of being outside the mainstream, of being “transgressive”—while repeating clichés that have become deadly boring through decades of repetition. It reminds me of a brilliant little bit in The Onion: “Purchase of Jeans Ushers Man into Exclusive, Ultra-Cool Subculture of Jeans-Wearing Americans.” They all want to be nonconformists just like everyone else.”

Robert Tracinski

On political ignorance

A commenter over at the Guido Fawkes blog, with the joyful name of “Rasta Pickles”, comments on the notion that the UK electorate is too thick to figure out the complexities of Brexit, and that such complex matters should be left to a political class that has done such a tremendous job down the years. He or she notes a flaw in this “argument”:

“99.9% of the UK electorate have no idea what they’re voting for every time they vote in a council election; they regard local elections as a popularity poll on what’s happening in Westminster. Your local Labour/Tory council might well be planning on a compulsory purchase order on your house and those around you in order to build a new mega-PoundLand store and you’d still have people voting for them out of sheer ignorance.”

Even so, there are libertarians/classical liberals who point out that democracy, unless hedged with checks and balances, isn’t compatible with liberty and can be harmful to it. Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of The Rational Voter is a good read, as is this recent effort by Jason Brennan. But my problem with the arguments they make is that what, realistically, can they propose other than the sort of return to oligarchy of “smart people” that, as history tends to show, descends into corruption pretty damn quick?

Sticking it to Ken Loach

Comedy might not be Loach’s forte. But there is splendid unintentional humour in this class warrior standing up at a dinner sponsored by large corporations to denounce the Government that pays him so handsomely to keep churning out his Marxist drivel.

Harry Phibbs

Taking banks from the stock market doesn’t make them more prudent

Below is an interesting riposte to the idea, entertained even by pro-market folk such as Kevin Dowd in a recent study of the 2008 banking crash, that a way to make banks more prudent in lending and savings policy would include weakening limited liability of the shareholders and even removing, in whole or in part, banks from listed markets, returning them to more like partnerships, so that we come back to some purer, saner age. It is not quite so simple. The article is from Tim Worstall:

But we can go one level deeper into this as well. It’s common enough to hear that the crash of 2008 was all about the quite despicable idea of shareholder capitalism. That the hunger for profits among the capitalists is what drove us all off the cliff. This is not so. Just as many, if not more, building societies went bust in the crash as did banks. The Derbyshire Building Society, Chesham, Cheshire, Barnsley, Scarborough….

Capitalists have a use. As shareholders, they provide the capital. And if things go kaboom then it’s they who lose their money. Plus, in the case of a banking organisation, what tends to drive it off the cliff is not the capitalist lust for profits: it’s bad banking.

In the US, meanwhile, Donald Trump has won some free market points – for now – by promising to reform, and hopefully roll back, the monstrosity that is the Dodd-Frank legislation of 2011.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

“The really big point is that far from being a tumultuous, cacophonic, unstable, firecracker of a polity, Brexit Britain is starting to feel like a relative island of calm, more at ease with itself than it has been for many years, led by a sort of 1950s Prime Minister, who is nearly 20 points ahead in the polls. The spotlight of worry has swivelled round elsewhere, to Greece, France and to the United States. If Brexit is a revolution, it is so far turning out to be a very British and incremental one, lacking in violence or upset. More tea, vicar?”

George Trefgarne

Indeed. What has struck me about some on the Remain side, for example, is that they have been coming across as a bid mad, unpleasant or utopian, not the other side. It is pretty hard to portray the likes of David Davis, for example, as fire-eating radicals when the eurozone, for example, is and remains an economic clusterfuck of Old Testament proportions.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Ministers are regularly put under pressure for not spending enough. It is very rare to hear Ministers under pressure for spending too much, for presiding over government waste, for failing to find cheaper and better ways of doing things. There is nearly always an automatic assumption that spending a lot in any specific part of the public sector is good, and spending more is even better. There is little probing behind the slogans to find out what the real numbers are, and to ask why in some cases so much is spent to so little good effect.”

– Former minister, and Conservative MP, John Redwood. He is talking about the different biases of the BBC. His point about how BBC journalists and programmes routinely take a pro-public spending line in questions to government ministers, lobbyists and the like is very true. Watch any regular news show, either national or regional, and note those times when a minister is given a hard time for spending too much, or spending on X or Y at all. They don’t happen very often.

Free movement of capital undermines the case for free trade?

An argument I have come up against recently, in this apocalyptic book by James Rickards, is that free trade, as classically defended by David Ricardo with his famous Law of Comparative Advantage, only works in theory because the freedom to move capital and factors of production around means the “playing field” of the market is never “fair”, hence tariffs/other controls are just to re-set the game. Straight off, this sounds bunk to me, not least because free movement of capital is part of what capitalism (clue is in the word) is all about. Capital, both in its physical and human form, goes to places where it can earn the highest rate of return. This is how, to summarise massively, we got from the caves to the skyscraper. If a businessman cannot use his capital where it works most effectively, it would render much investment pointless.

And if it is wrong for capital to move around because it somehow undermines some sort of “fair” trade, then this applies not just to between nations, but inside them, too. Ah, but I hear the Trumpistas cry, what about those evil currency manipulators gaming the system in their favour? The answer is that if the Chinese or others want to send us cheap stuff, made even more dastardly cheaper by currency manipulation, it means consumers don’t have to earn so much to buy imports. True, in the short-term it means that some jobs will be lost because of the cheap imports, but then again the pay packages of millions of consumers stretch a bit further. The pain of the affected industries is easy to see and makes for great TV and campaign spots for a Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders (whose views on trade are identical); the costs to consumers from protectionism is not easy to visualise. Also, if China, for example, sells or “dumps” cheap steel on the world market, manufacturers in the West who use steel will see their costs fall. It is worth nothing that when in the early Noughties George W. Bush slapped tariffs on steel, it “saved” some US steelmaker jobs, but cost many jobs in sectors where steel is a factor of production.

Finally, here are more thoughts on the idea that free capital movement somehow dents the case for trade trade, via Gene Callahan over a decade ago:

An honest advocate of free trade must admit that there will often be people who are made worse off, at least in the short run, by the freedom to trade internationally. But the same is true of trade within the borders of a country: If you open a restaurant near to and better than mine, my business will suffer.

It might be pleasant to live in a world of unlimited resources, where everyone who wanted to run a restaurant could do so without having to compete for customers’ scarce dollars. But since we don’t, the fact that my situation might worsen because of your business activities is an unavoidable consequence of the freedom to buy from and sell to whomever one wishes. If we try to prevent all such unpleasant outcomes, we will eliminate the market economy and regress to a hand-to-mouth existence.

 

Samizdata quote of the day

“Economies are dynamic, complex systems. They are most strong and productive over time when they are free to adapt to new realities, circumstances and changing patterns of supply and demand. Was UK mining truly protected by overt government decisions to buy domestic coal in the late 1970s or early 1980s? Or was that protection merely insulating the industry from the competition of cheap natural gas, meaning that when the protection was withdrawn, the industry collapsed?”

Ryan Bourne.

Part of the Western media are driven to madness by Trump

Rich Lowry, no great fan of Trump, writes what I think is a very astute column on the antics of parts of the media concerning recent “stories” about the man:

For all that Trump complains about negative press coverage, he wants to be locked in a relationship of mutual antagonism with the media. It behooves those journalists who aren’t partisans and reflexive Trump haters to avoid getting caught up in this dynamic. If they genuinely want to be public-spirited checks on Trump, they shouldn’t be more bitterly adversarial, but more responsible and fair.

This means taking a deep breath and not treating every Trump tweet as a major news story. It means covering Trump more as a “normal” president rather than as a constant clear and present danger to the ­republic. It means going out of the way to focus on substance rather than the controversy of the hour. It means a dose of modesty about how the media has lost the public’s trust, in part because of its bias and self-importance. None of this is a particularly tall order. Yet it’s unlikely to happen, even if it was encouraging that so many reporters opposed BuzzFeed’s decision. The press and Trump will continue to be at war, although only one party to the hostilities truly knows what he is ­doing, and it shows.

Sense can break out from unlikely quarters. This article by Piers Morgan, focusing on the absurd treatment of Trump, is right on target. Parts of the media, at any rate, does understand the self-inflicted mistakes the media is making, and that this must stop.

What Obama wrought

It is nearly over. Obama has a few more days in the Oval Office, and then he is off, for what we cannot yet tell.

I left the following comment on a friend’s FB page, with some subsequent edits:

“A poor president on multiple levels. Trying to be generous, I am pleased he did not interfere with the expanding world of private space flight and certain other technologies that may affect lives for the better, but I am struggling to think of a very big positive development on his watch. He cannot even really claim credit for the economic recovery, since that has been largely a function of central bank money printing, the effects of which are uncertain; labour force participation has shrunk, which is one reason why the recovery hasn’t felt like one. The bailouts and stimulus package were, in my view, either a waste of money or a net drag on the economy. Debt levels remain scarily high. The fracking industrial movement took place despite, rather than because, of any policies he set out. He is hostile to entrepreneurs and the business ethic (“you did not build that”).

Race relations deteriorated on his watch, although not all of that can be laid at his door. The Solyndra fiasco highlighted the bubble around climate change fearmongering. The weaponisation of the IRS was an abuse of power, and Eric Holder’s tenure as Attorney General was littered with scandals, such as the Fast & Furious gun-running episode.

Mr Obama’s handling of foreign affairs has been inept, if not malevolent. He managed to alienate allies such as the UK, Poland and Israel, and was naive about enemies, especially Iran. The deal with Iran over nuclear issues is a joke. His intervention into the UK vote on Brexit, for example, saying that the UK would be put at the back of a queue in trade talks, was typical bullying, but also counterproductive. The decision to leave Iraq, come what may, was a mistake, although arguably, there was never a good time to do so. The horrendous procurement saga of the F-35 fighter suggests that some defence spending is as bloated as ever. The heavy use of drone strikes also did not square with a Nobel Peace Price image. 

He even managed to shock continental Europeans by not sending a high-placed official to the official mourning for the Paris massacre of 2015, raising questions over how seriously he takes Islamist terrorism, and his attempt to criticise anyone for suggesting that Islam has a problem shows an alarming naivete, at best.

His use of executive orders, and clear unwillingness to negotiate unless on his terms, sets a bad precedent, and opened the opportunity for Trump.

It should be acknowledged that Mr Obama has done a great deal to raise the profile of golf. There is a saying that we should be grateful that we don’t get all the government we pay for. So perhaps it is good that this man spent as much time he did hitting small white balls. He is, however, unlikely to make the US Ryder Cup team in the near future.”

Corbyn messes up, again

Labour leftists have never understood this basic fact: ordinary people don’t hate rich people. In fact they admire many of them. They don’t wince when they see a footballer and his WAG posing by the pool in Hello! — they think, ‘That looks like a nice life. Good on them.’ Corbyn bemoaned footballers’ pay as part of his proposal to enact a law preventing people from earning above a certain amount of money. Yes, a maximum wage. ‘I would like there to be some kind of high earnings cap,’ he said. It’s the worst idea a British political leader has had in years, and it reveals pretty much everything that is wrong with the left today.

First there’s the sheer authoritarianism of it. It will never come to pass, of course, because Corbyn’s footballer-bashing and bodged populism and general inability to connect with anyone outside of Momentum and the left Twittersphere means Labour won’t be darkening the door of Downing St for yonks. But that Corbyn is even flirting with the notion of putting a legal lid on what people can earn is pretty extraordinary. It would basically be a stricture against getting rich, a restriction on ambition, a state-enforced standard of living: you could be comfortable and middle-class, but not loaded. There’s a stinging moralism, too. Labourites complain about those on the right who look down on the ‘undeserving poor’, but what we have here is not all that different: a sneering at the undeserving rich, a prissy concern with the bank balances and lifestyles of those who’ve made a bomb.

Brendan O’Neill.

In the UK, the expression “made a bomb” means “make a lot of money”. Of course, Corbyn, who is thick, might think that it means making an explosive device. Given his associations, the idea of people “making a bomb” might appeal to this man, if not for the same reasons.

 

Daring to think big

“Disturb us, Lord, when we are too well pleased with ourselves,

When our dreams have come true because we have dreamed too little,

When we arrive safely because we sailed too close to the shore.”

“Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly, to venture on wider seas, where storms

Will show your mastery, where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.”

Excerpts from Drake’s prayer, 1577, written in Portsmouth as he began his circumnavigation of the globe. The quotation is given by John C. Hulsman, in “Brexit: Directions for Britain Outside the EU,” Institute of Economic Affairs, page 146. (The monograph was published shortly before the 23 June Referendum.) Here, by the way, is an item about Sir Francis Drake.