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]

New, improved formula European Union!

Thomas Piketty and a bunch of other Europeans have published “Our manifesto to save Europe from itself”.

Our proposals are based on the creation of a budget for democratisation that would be debated and voted on by a new, sovereign European assembly. This will at last enable Europe to equip itself with a public institution capable of dealing with crises in Europe immediately and of producing a set of fundamental public goods and services in the framework of a lasting and solidarity-based economy. The promise made at the treaty of Rome of “harmonisation of living and working conditions” will finally become meaningful.

Are you inspired yet?

The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed

Had Samizdata or the internet existed on this day in 1933, Presidential Proclamation 2065 would undoubtedly have been Quote of the Day, and probably Quote of the Year as well.

Prohibition of alcohol in the US only lasted thirteen years. Of course that was time enough to give the Mafia their start, corrupt thousands of policemen and judges, and turn millions of previously law-abiding Americans into criminals, but in retrospect I stand in awe at how quickly the America of eighty-five years ago acknowledged and corrected its mistake.

Pity the same was not true of the ongoing and equally disastrous prohibition of drugs.

The unsung genius of the yellow vest

Whatever one thinks about the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests/riots in France – and I happen to know that they are the result of a deal made between a French green activist wishing to see more protests about what the government was doing to combat climate change and a particularly literal minded demon – the choice of the yellow Hi-Vis waistcoat or vest as a symbol of the protests was inspired. As every schoolboy knows, St David told the Britons to wear leeks in their caps to distinguish friend from foe in their battles with the Saxons. In many struggles since then some item snatched up in haste from whatever was lying around in order to improvise a uniform has duly become an icon of that cause. Here are some reasons why the gilet jaune is destined to join that illustrious list:

One: Protesters want to be seen. Hi-vis vests make people highly visible. This is one of those linkages that manages to be both obvious and surprising at the same time. Why did no one think of this before?

Two, anyone driving a car in France has got one in the boot anyway because a 2008 law says they must. Might as well put the thing to use.

Three, and this is the one I love, it turns a symbol of compliance into a symbol of defiance. Cop pulls you over. Cop saunters up to the car. “Is monsieur carrying a gilet de haute visibilité as required by law?” “Why of course, officer. I always carry my yellow vest. One never knows when one might need it.”

In a way this is admirable

The Guardian‘s Matthew d’Ancona is at least honest about his opinion of Brexit voters:

“Let’s be honest about what’s really driving Brexit: bigotry”.

And why might that be?

“Dublin’s landlords would rather put their properties on Airbnb than rent to local families,” wails the strapline to an article by John Harris in the Guardian called “30,000 empty homes and nowhere to live: inside Dublin’s housing crisis”.

To give him credit John Harris has never been one to do all his reporting from a swivel chair in Kings Cross. He was one of the few Guardian writers to foresee a Leave victory in the EU referendum, having co-authored with John Domokos a well-regarded series of video and written reports from some of the most depressed parts of the UK. Now he is talking to people struggling to find somewhere to live in Dublin. Here is how he describes the situation:

For want of a flat with a secure tenancy, the two of them have lived here for almost two years, in what the Irish government calls a “hub”…

*

I pay £95 for a single night’s stay (including a £43 “cleaning fee”), which highlights why whoever owns it has decided to rent it out in this way. The same move has been made by scores of other landlords: in August 2018, there were reckoned to be 3,165 entire properties listed on Airbnb in Dublin, compared with only 1,329 available for long-term rent.

*

The city is smattered with key boxes for Airbnb apartments. A stock line among activists demanding action from the government gets to the heart of all this: in 21st-century Dublin, they say, homeless families stay in hotels, and tourists stay in houses.

*

To make things even more difficult, her landlord then decided to sell up, which forced her to suddenly confront a private-rented housing market in which the monthly rent for anything similar was well over €1,500 (£1,300).

*

I am sure this is all honestly reported. But I think Mr Harris might be failing to see what is in front of his nose. All else being equal, most landlords prefer long term tenants to short term ones. A nice steady sum arriving in the bank every month makes for an easy life – and for a relationship of mutual trust to grow between landlord and tenant. In contrast. short term lets carry many risks: that the tenants will not look after the place, having little incentive to do so; that they will get into arrears with the rent or skip without paying it, and, most obviously, that the property will sometimes be vacant and earning you no money.

When most of the landlords in a place are seen to flee the predictability of the long term market for the uncertainty of short term lets, or even more perversely for the sheer unrelenting work involved in “turning over” a property every few days for each new AirBnB customer, there is usually a two word explanation. I did not see those two words anywhere in Mr Harris’s article, though this sentence came close:

Central Dublin – along with 20 other areas of the country – is now classified as a “rent pressure zone”, which caps annual rent increases at 4%, but politicians and activists claim this gets nowhere near tackling the causes of skyrocketing housing costs.

The missing two words were, of course, “rent control”. I don’t know Dublin. I don’t know its housing laws. But as soon as I saw that line “For want of a flat with a secure tenancy” I knew that rent control was at the bottom of this story. And so it proved. It took me only a few keystrokes to find this report by Fiona Reddan in the Irish Times:

Will rent controls start to work in 2018?

That was written in January. It is now December. Judging from Mr Harris’s description, it looks like rent controls in Dublin “worked” exactly as rent controls usually do. If he had happened to read Ms Reddan’s prescient article from eleven months ago (I suppose it would be asking too much for him to have read Henry Hazlitt’s even more prescient words on rent control, written with reference to New York in 1961 but eerily applicable to Dublin in 2018), he might have had a somewhat better idea as to why the 4% cap on rent increases fails to tackle the causes of the crisis, as he sees it. Answer: it is one of the causes. Ms Reddan writes,

If you’re wondering why the much-vaunted rent controls, first introduced this time last year, are having so little impact on stalling price growth, consider this investor’s tale.

He had a house rented out close to Dublin that was bringing in €1,300 a month – far below the market rates, which were more than €1,800. Stymied by the rent controls, which limit rent increases to 4 per cent a year (and 2 per cent a year for tenancies in place before the end of 2016), when his tenants left he was looking only at marginal increases in his rent.

So what did he do? Sold this property and bought the one next door. Previously owner occupied, it wasn’t subject to rent controls, which meant that he could slap a new, higher rate of €1,900 on it. The difference in rent quickly covered his legal and stamp duty costs.

Acceptance

“Haters are not going to hate here,” asserts a young lady speaking for Scotland in this Scottish government video called “Your hate is not welcome here, Yours Scotland”. “That’s why if we see anything we’re calling the police,” says another virtuously. The philosophy of the whole is explained by the young man at 0:46: “We believe in acceptance.”

Always wait for the police

“Police need public support to arrest violent offenders”, says Ken Marsh, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, effectively the trade union for London police officers.

[Marsh] spoke out after video footage appearing to show two officers locked in a violent struggle as they tried to make an arrest was shared thousands of times on social media.

The footage, taken in south London on Saturday, appeared to show a male officer being dragged around in the road as he tries to stop a suspect in a white tracksuit running away.

A second man, wearing a grey tracksuit, seems to take a run-up before aiming a flying kick at a female officer, who then lies dazed in the road clutching her head, feet away from a passing bus. She appeared to have tried to use incapacitant spray on the pair but to no effect.

A member of the public wearing a motorcycle helmet helped the male officer in the struggle, but several cars went past without stopping.

“Are we now in a society where, if we think we can’t detain somebody, we just let them go? It’s just not worth it,” said Marsh, who represents thousands of police officers in the capital.

Yes. Yes we are. And if anyone wonders how we got to this pass in which the public do not step in to help police officers when the latter attempt to restrain lawbreakers, try repeating Mr Marsh’s question without the implication that “we” refers only to the police:

“Are we now in a society where, if we think we can’t detain somebody, we just let them go? It’s just not worth it,” said the public.

This state of affairs was a long time a-growing. Though I do not know Ken Marsh’s own views upon this issue, how many times have prominent police officers and other figures of authority deprecated, failed to support, actively condemned, arrested or otherwise punished members of the public who “took the law into their own hands” – or even just looked like they might? That last link takes you to a post from 2011 by Perry de Havilland in which a female victim of crime got “quite the life lesson” about police priorities. That lesson will not only have been taken in by her.

Longtime Samizdata readers might recall a little ditty I made in 2007 about a celebrated interview between the radio host Jeremy Vine and Tony McNulty MP, then a Home Office minister. Here is the BBC’s transcription:

Jeremy Vine: You see something happening in the street. Do you step in?

Tony McNulty: I think the general line must be to get in touch with the authorities straight and make sure that if things are as bad as you paint the police will be there as quickly as they can.

Jeremy: You see a young man looking aggressive, shouting at an old woman, what do you do? You retreat and ring the police?

Tony McNulty: I think you should in the first instance. It may well be the simply shouting at them, blowing your horn or whatever else deters them and they go away.

Jeremy: He’s now hitting her and the police haven’t come, what do you do then?

Tony McNulty: The same the same, you must always …

Jeremy: Still wait?

Tony McNulty: Get back to the police, try some distractive activities whatever else.

Jeremy: What jump up and down?

Tony McNulty: But I would say you know sometimes that that may well work.

Even if someone is being battered right in front of you, you must always wait for the police. That was the advice of a Minister of the Crown. Having drilled us in passivity for at least ten years (in fact much longer; that example is only one of many I could have cited), why would anyone expect ordinary citizens to suddenly rediscover the duty to defend a victim of assault just because that victim is a police officer?

Update: Here is some more recent advice from the police themselves: “Taking the law into your own hands – a warning from Derbyshire police”

That article does at least acknowledge that it is possible to make a citizen’s arrest and – mirabile dictu – records that Judge Jonathan Bennett awarded £400 from the Derbyshire High Sheriff’s fund to a man who made a citizen’s arrest of a burglar in recognition of “public spirited behaviour”. But note the response of the only police officer quoted:

Sergeant Graham Summers, of Derbyshire police, said: “We would never encourage anyone to take the law into their own hands by carrying out a citizen’s arrest. Instead, we would urge people to call us on 101 for non-emergencies, or 999 in an emergency.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg crosses the Rubicon

Things are lively in Westminster tonight. According to the Guardian Theresa May has secured the backing of the Cabinet for a Brexit deal. And according to Guido Fawkes, Jacob Rees-Mogg has finally made his move against Theresa May. After saying that he had initially supported Mrs May’s efforts to negotiate Brexit, the Mogster now takes a different view:

Unfortunately the proposals for a UK/EU agreement released today do not match up to those early expectations. For four key reasons.

1. The proposed agreement will see the UK hand over £39 billion to the EU for little or nothing in return. The prospect of an agreed free trade agreement is as far away today as it always has been. The 15 page political declaration is neither binding nor clear in its intentions. If it aims to put in place the Chequers proposal it is neither workable nor respectful of the referendum result.

Next comes some side-of-the-bus stuff about nurses, just to remind us that JRM is only the “Member for the Eighteenth Century” in his manners. He is thoroughly twentieth century when it comes to Our NHS. The letter continues,

2. The proposed agreement would treat Northern Ireland differently than the rest of the UK. This is unacceptable to Unionists particularly in Northern Ireland, and Scotland where the SNP will seek to demand similar internal UK borders to weaken the Union.

A funny way of putting it, but presumably he means that Scotland would seek to be more deeply in the EU.

3. This agreement will lock us into an EU customs union and EU laws. This will prevent us pursuing a UK trade policy based around our priorities and economy. Without the ability to regulate

That word again

our own economy and form our own trade agreements we will lose out on the opportunities that Brexit affords us.

That was a key point.

4. Agreeing to be subject to the rules of an EU Customs Union, in contravention of the 2017 Conservative manifesto, without any votes or influence is profoundly undemocratic. This is compounded by the lack of any ability for the UK to unilaterally escape, making the UK a permanent rule taker.

Personally, though I do object to being subject to the rules of an EU Customs Union, I do not object because of a lack of democracy. However he has a good point about being locked in.

Cutting to the chase,

For these reasons I can not support the proposed agreement in Parliament and would hope that Conservative MPs would do likewise.

Yours

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP.

Whaddya think?

He whose payments system pays the piper calls the tune

Paypal stops handling payments for Tommy Robinson, reports the BBC.

As usual, I will defend the right of Paypal to exclude whomsoever it wishes. But I find something ominous about the fact that the company refuses to say exactly what Mr Robinson has done to violate its terms of use, and also about the fact that it seems likely that it has taken this step because a lot of people signed a petition telling it to:

Paypal has told former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson it will no longer process payments on his behalf, the BBC understands.

The payments network is believed to have told Mr Robinson he had violated its terms and conditions.

It said Paypal could not be used to promote hate, violence or discrimination.

Online petitions calling on finance firms to sever links with him have gained thousands of signatures.

In a statement, Paypal said it could not comment on individual customers but added that it regularly reviewed accounts to ensure their use aligned with its acceptable use policy.

“PayPal connects buyers and sellers.” When it so chooses.

Which is as it should be. But if it makes enough choices like this one I can see the day coming when I might choose another payments provider.

A bonfire of the freedoms

It is traditional at this time of year to burn Guy Fawkes in effigy. My Catholic family never had a problem with doing that. Fawkes was a terrorist before the name was invented. But for variety’s sake, effigies of many public figures other than Fawkes have been put on the bonfire over the years. The town of Lewes is particularly known for its vigorous celebrations:

In 2001 effigies of Osama bin Laden were burned by the Cliffe, Commercial Square and Lewes Borough bonfire societies, causing the Lewes Bonfire to receive more press attention than usual, being featured on the front page of some national newspapers, as did the Firle Bonfire Society’s 2003 choice of a gypsy caravan. In 2014 police investigated complaints about plans to burn two effigies of Alex Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland, and one model was subsequently withdrawn from the event. In 2015 effigies of David Cameron with a pig, Jeremy Clarkson and Sepp Blatter were burned.

I don’t have much of a problem with that, either. All those mentioned chose to be public figures, apart from the pig.

However I do have a problem with the nasty jerks (nothing to do with Lewes) who made a cardboard model of Grenfell Tower, the building that burned down in June 2017, killing 72 people, and put that on their bonfire. To laugh and joke about innocent people dying in agony is despicable. The proper response is scorn.

The actual response in the UK of 2018 was to send Plod round to scoop up a load of “gaffer tape and white tags” in a clear plastic bag and carry it away for detailed forensic analysis. Given that the six “suspects” voluntarily handed themselves in, why it is deemed necessary to search for their fingerprints on discarded pieces of cardboard is not clear, unless it is intended to feature in the first episode of the long-promised CSI South Norwood.

“Grenfell fire: When does causing offence become a crime?” asks the BBC.

I don’t know, when does it? It wasn’t a crime when I was growing up. How odd to think in Lewes and elsewhere a tradition of burning public figures in effigy grew up and persisted in the centuries since 1605, despite rulers who were quite happy to chop off an ear or two as a punishment for seditious libel. Now we have the Human Rights Act and everything, but jerks get arrested for burning a cardboard model.

My guess is that the police know perfectly well that even in these days of declining freedom, this example of causing offence still does not qualify as a crime. The performance of evidence bags solemnly being carried away in front of the TV cameras as if they had discovered the lair of a serial killer was not as pointless as it might seem at first. The process was the punishment.

Two discussion points inspired by Stephen Wolfram

The first one is straightforward. The internet threw me a talk by the computer scientist and businessman Stephen Wolfram today. It lasts three minutes 21 seconds and is called “How humans can communicate with aliens”.The subject is one that has so often been used as the basis for fiction that we sometimes forget that when you look up at night, what you see is real. There is a whole universe out there. It might have intelligences in it. Mr Wolfram contends that we might have been seeing evidence of intelligences all the time without realising it.

Do you think he is right? And assuming we can talk to them, should we?

Alien contact sounds wonderful at first but then becomes terrifying as you think more deeply. The second topic for discussion I want to put forward sounds terrifying at first but then becomes –

Well, you tell me what it becomes. There is a very strange final paragraph to Mr Wolfram’s Wikipedia page:

Personal analytics

The significance data has on the products Wolfram creates transfers into his own life. He has an extensive log of personal analytics, including emails received and sent, keystrokes made, meetings and events attended, phone calls, even physical movement dating back to the 1980s. He has stated “[personal analytics] can give us a whole new dimension to experiencing our lives”.

One of my recurring nightmares is that as spy devices get smaller and the computational power available to analyse what they learn gets bigger someone – or lots of someones – will be able to analyse my life in that sort of detail, down to every keystroke I make. It had never occurred to me to think of it as something I might like to do to myself.

Does anyone reading this do anything similar? Would you like to?

“Remain cheated for decades”

The Remain die-hards are much excited by the news that the Leave donor Arron Banks faces a criminal inquiry over his financial support for the Brexit campaign. “MPs call for Brexit process to be paused as NCA investigates £2.9m spent by leave campaign”, says the strapline to that Guardian article, as if David Lammy calling for the Brexit process to be paused were a new development and not something he has been doing since 25 June 2016.

I do not always agree with Peter J North, but when that one was bowled in his direction he batted it away for six:

Remain cheated for decades

Arron Banks has been referred to the National Crime Agency in respect of his alleged dodgy financial dealings. I don’t care. I have never met the man, and exchanged few words, most of them derogatory. My decision to vote to leave the EU is based on a long standing democratic principle and I was never going to vote any other way.

This evening I tweeted “I think I speak for virtually all leavers when I say Tony Blair and John Major did a million times more to influence my #Brexit vote than Arron Banks or Vote Leave”. It has some 1200 likes so I think I am in the right ballpark here. Most had never heard of Arron Banks until the referendum. I certainly hadn’t and my perceptions of the EU have been forged over two decades.

and

From the outset the leave movement was up against the entirety of the establishment be it academic, industry bosses, the legal profession, the state broadcaster and the Westminster machine – all of whom have been plied with junkets, goodies and treasure over a number of decades to buy their loyalty to the EU. It has made many sectors of civil society hopelessly dependent on it and if we are talking about foreign interference in UK democracy then the EU of itself is a culprit and we don’t hear similar wailing about one George Soros who has almost single handedly bankrolled the legacy remain campaign.

It is actually painful to have to select paragraphs to quote, because I want them all. One more:

As much as Brexit is about ending the rule of Brussels it is as much a yank ion the leash of our politicians to remind them who is boss. We have corrected their mistake. They now warn us that if there is no deal then we see a cascade of failure and the termination of all of our foreign relations. This is because they and they alone put all of our external relations and regulatory constructs into a single treaty framework and handed over the keys to Brussels. They are the ones who created that vulnerability in the belief that it would be irreversible just so long as they continued to deny us a say.