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 – the “cannot be bothered” edition

“For so many people to resile from what would once have been their natural responsibilities is an unprecedented social phenomenon and no one in public life appears to know what to do about it. The thing they agree on is that it is not a simple problem of management. It is damaging the country’s economy in catastrophic ways and it has moral dimensions that few politicians would dare to confront. In other words, it requires just the sort of large visionary message that has gone out of fashion.”

Janet Daley, Sunday Telegraph (£), 18 February.

Samizdata quote of the day – weaponising Net Zero against the West edition

“Net zero has turned into a Chinese weapon aimed right at the heart of Western competitiveness. If we don’t wake up and recognise soon that we have to figure out a better way of combating climate change our industries are about to get wiped out.”

Matthew Lynn, Daily Telegraph (£).

Samizdata quote of the day – the horror of Mao’s dictatorship edition

“If I were prosecuting Mao, I’d further cover my bases by pointing out that he gave explicit orders to literally enslave hundreds of millions, then invoke the felony murder rule. However you slice it, Mao was a monster – and it’s high time for China to tear down his remaining posters and replace them with monuments to his victims.”

Bryan Caplan, EconLog.

His article refers to a new study of the terrible famine, wrought by collectivisation of the Chinese economy. Communists tend to be very, very bad at farming. Property rights, incentives, etc – they just don’t get it.

Until such time as China takes a full, objective reckoning of the monster that Mao was, I don’t see much that is benign about that nation, even though this isn’t meant to be a sweeping statement about all Chinese people, of course.

Samizdata quote of the day – people don’t want freedom edition

“Most voters don’t want tax cuts. They don’t want personal responsibility. They don’t want limited government. Britain was already in a dirigiste mood going into the lockdown. But, since coming out of it, it has been downright authoritarian.”

Daniel Hannan.

Let’s just defund the UN and leave it immediately

Hidden deep below the headquarters of the United Nations’ aid agency for Palestinians here is a Hamas complex with rows of computer servers that Israel’s armed forces say served as an important communications center and intelligence hub for the Islamist militant group.

Wall Street Journal. ($)

Part of a warren of tunnels and subterranean chambers carved from the Gaza Strip’s sandy soil, the compound below the United Nations Relief and Works Agency buildings in Gaza City appears to have run on electricity drawn from the U.N.’s power supply, Israeli officials said.

A Wall Street Journal reporter and journalists from other news organizations visited the site this past week in a trip organized by Israel’s military. A tunnel also appeared to pass beneath a U.N.-run school near the headquarters.

The location of a Hamas military installation under important U.N. facilities is evidence, Israeli officials say, of Hamas’s widespread use of sensitive civilian infrastructure as shields to protect its militant activities. Tunnel complexes have also been found near or under some of Gaza’s largest hospitals.

Someone kindly explain to me the utility, at any level, of the United Nations. Take all the time you need.

Samizdata quote of the day – our business “class” edition

“Both Adam Smith and Joseph Schumpeter were much more realistic than Marx about the bourgeoisie’s political wisdom. Smith regarded capitalists as short-term actors who never gathered together other than to hatch a conspiracy against the public. Schumpeter regarded them as idiot savants who might be brilliant at building businesses but who were frequently fools when it came to dealing with politics. It’s not clear who can save us from the world of trouble that seems to be brewing. But anybody who is counting on the business elite to fill that role is making a dangerous mistake.”

Adrian Wooldridge. Bloomberg ($)

Samizdata quote of the day – the demise of ESG/DEI edition

“In the UK, the Financial Reporting Council has just opted against including ESG requirements in the UK Corporate Governance Code — these were to have increased the role of audit committees in overseeing ESG and expanding diversity and inclusion. BlackRock Inc. Chief Executive Officer Larry Fink rarely mentions ESG any more. Elon Musk reckons that “DEI must DIE.” Bill Ackman (whose money matters) has called DEI the “root cause” of the sharp rise in anti-semitism at US universities. Donald Trump has promised to cancel all DEI initiatives across the federal government. The courts have already called a halt to race-based affirmative action at US universities, and last year the Attorney Generals of 13 US states wrote to Fortune 100 CEOs to let them know they would face serious legal consequences if they were to treat people `differently because of the color of their skin.'”

Merryn Somerset Webb. She argues that much of the driving force is not just the absurdities of much environmental and “diversity” policies, but the brute fact of rising interest rates. Companies’ balance sheets and cost control issues are taking more urgency. ESG/DEI or whatever other piece of fashionable stuff is a lot harder to justify when capital is no longer “free”.

I trust and hope that interest rates remain around current levels for many more months to come, so as to force firms to compete harder for capital, to put it to genuinely profitable uses, reward long-term saving and habits of thrift and competence, and other generally good things.

As an aside, I can recommend The Price of Time, by Edward Chancellor, which demonstrated the great harms caused by artificially low interest rates over the centuries.

Samizdata quote of the day – possible signs of change at Davos edition

“There were no marches for Adam Smith or posters of Milton Friedman at Davos this year, but the applause for the combative defense of free markets by Argentina’s new libertarian President Javier Milei was more than polite. Citing the contrast between ages of stagnation and the miracle of accelerating progress in the modern era, Mr. Milei reminded his audience that `far from being the cause of our problems, free-trade capitalism as an economic system is the only instrument we have to end hunger, poverty and extreme poverty across our planet’.”

Walter Russell Mead, WSJ ($)

A couple more from the paywalled article:

His words resonated because, as one heard in panel after panel, the empirical foundations of the fashionable statist view appear to be crumbling. For now at least, the China miracle seems to be over. Beijing isn’t only suffering one economic shock after another. Its worst problems—demographic decline, a property bubble, overinvestment in manufacturing, and fear of arbitrary state actions against both foreign and domestic businesses—are the result of government planning gone wrong. As China doubles down on repression, its economic problems get worse.

Fifteen years after the financial crisis, meanwhile, tightly regulated Europe has fallen behind the U.S. Using chained 2015 dollars to minimize the effect of currency fluctuations, total European Union gross domestic product in 2008 was 81% that of the U.S. In 2022 it was 73%, hardly an argument for the European way.

The final point is a good one. These days, only the more ardent fans of the Brussels machine really claim that EU membership has had, or could have, a transformational impact on economic growth. That argument, to the extent it made sense, is a dead letter.

The Potemkin politics of the UK

As the Samizdata quote of the day has been taken already by an excellent candidate, I thought I would add this quote for your delectation and discussion:

Public consultations have been sold as a way of increasing transparency and the quality of government. In reality they have often become Potemkin exercises where the Government is able to signal that it is doing something without actually doing it; or, worse, a policy colonisation process by a self-selecting public-sector clique of lobbyists, charities, and interest groups.

Fred De Fossard, head of the British Prosperity Unit at the Legatum Institute.

The way that these consultations are handled, often to give ministers the “right” answers and cover for what they wanted to do anyway, also speaks to how, as the writer notes, much of the supposed opportunities from being outside the EU are not being embraced.

With the Conservative Party so far behind in the polls, one might assume ministers would utilise the sovereignty of Parliament in what time they have left to do a few popular things, and legislate for the views of Tory supporters. There is still no sign of this happening; indeed quite the opposite, if the legislative agenda in the recent King’s Speech is any guide.

And there’s this zinger of a point:

The Government seems intent on eroding democracy further, by handing more powers to arms-length bodies, so the state will get even bigger, but less accountable. The Competition and Markets Authority is soon to be given new powers to regulate the digital economy; a brand-new regulator will oversee English football, despite the country boasting the most successful footballing economy in the world.

Needless to say, as or when we get a Labour government, I expect little change on this issue of “arms-length” bodies taking key decisions and arrogating more power for themselves. The fiasco of the Post Office and the wrongful convictions of hundreds of people might put a dent in this, but I am not optimistic.

These are deep-rooted problems, and for all that I am concerned about the direction of politics in the UK right now, I don’t see the Conservative Party as providing any sort of solution. My thoughts are increasingly mutinous.

The author concludes:

If British conservatism has a future, it must stop government-by-stakeholder, re-democratise the state, and end our recent experiment in the banal tyranny of process.

Samizdata quote of the day – dull UK “satire” edition

“Banksy is a billboard, promoting a product, and a set of ideas, that are as ubiquitous as Coca-Cola and as dangerous as Greggs. We need a new set of discordant voices, able to articulate ideas that challenge the consensus view of the new Establishment of the Banksies and Cold War Steves. Voices from neither the left nor the right, but coming from a place of originality, united by a desire to reveal the ludicrousness, and moral bankruptcy, of those who refuse to see it in themselves. And perhaps, in 2024, the most subversive voices would be offering us hope, not despair.”

David James, CapX.

For non-British readers, Greggs is a purveyor of meat pies and other marvellously unhealthy food.

Samizdata quote of the day – NHS exodus edition

“If the NHS is so wonderful, why do its staff keep threatening to emigrate?”

Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph (£).

As an aside, while a lot of media and political commentary these days is about immigration, the emigration of talented people from the UK is likely to be a problem that becomes more significant, with potentially political effects. I am just about old enough to remember the “Brain Drain” that was a Thing in the 70s.

Samizdata quote of the day – end of easy corporate choices edition

“In recent years, businesses have been shaped by the beguiling mantra of ‘win-win’. When confronted with any difficult choice – sustainability or efficiency? excellence or equity? stakeholders or shareholders? – their chieftains have kidded themselves into thinking that you can have both. Sustainability leads to efficiency in the long term; equity is the best way of securing excellence; pleasing all the stakeholders leads to higher share prices. This will be the year that finally brings an end to the idea that you can have your cake and eat it. Companies will have to make tough decisions that they’ve been putting off as long as possible. Consumers will no longer wear the idea that, say, the green transition is cost free.

“Win-win was an affordable luxury in an era of free money and rampant virtue signalling. But higher interest rates will make both companies and consumers more cost conscious. And virtue signalling is far from cost free, as several chief executive officers have discovered. Companies will tell their young recruits to put their noses to the grindstone rather than working from home. The yoga classes and pizza parties will be cancelled. The Business Roundtable will soft pedal the talk of stakeholder capitalism.”

Adrian Wooldridge. He is writing in Bloomberg ($), a business news and information service that at times seems to have bought into sometimes fashionable ideas, but the need to make a profit tends to keep that in check.