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]

“A resumption of normal service”

The Telegraph has a scoop. This might not go down too well in the working class areas:

Exclusive: Philip Hammond tells business chiefs MPs will stop no-deal Brexit

Philip Hammond told business leaders that the “threat” of a no-deal Brexit could be taken “off the table” within days and potentially lead to Article 50 “rescinded”, a leaked recording of a conference call reveals.

The Chancellor set out how a backbench Bill could effectively be used to stop any prospect of no deal. He suggested that ministers may even back the plan when asked for an “assurance” by the head of Tesco that the Government would not oppose the motion.

He claimed next week’s Bill, which could force the Government to extend Article 50, was likely to win support and act as the “ultimate backstop” against a no-deal Brexit, as a “large majority in the Commons is opposed to no deal under any circumstances”.

A recording of the call, passed to The Daily Telegraph, recounts how the Chancellor, Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, and Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, spent nearly an hour talking to the leaders of 330 leading firms.

They included the heads of Siemens, Amazon, Scottish Power, Tesco and BP, all of whom warned against no deal.

The disclosure reveals the close nature of the relationship between the Treasury and some of Britain’s biggest businesses, and how they appear to be working in tandem to block a hard Brexit. It will also add to suspicions that Mr Hammond has been orchestrating attempts to soften Brexit.

Mr Hammond assured the business leaders that the Government would stop spending money on no-deal preparations “as soon as we know we are not going there” and give businesses “a resumption of normal service”.

So the Chancellor of the Exchequer sees himself as serving the heads of Siemens, Amazon, Scottish Power, BP and Tesco, among others. Perhaps I am reading too much into one ill-chosen word, but that is not a good look. If he had not used that word it would still not be a good look. The whole conversation, the whole meeting, reeks of the sort of black-tie cronyism that gives capitalism a bad name.

Meanwhile, back in the batcave…

As described by Paul Canning in “Venezuela: the Left’s giant forgetting”, Jeremy Corbyn prudently deleted a slew of pro-Chavez and Maduro content from his website in 2016. The same pattern was followed by others on the Shadow Front Bench who had once described themselves passionate defenders of the Venezuelan Revolution but who have now rediscovered the advice their mothers gave them about how if you can’t say anything nice, say nothing.

However one of Mr Corbyn’s most devoted allies, Chris Williamson MP, still has nice things to say about the Maduro regime. I must praise him for his rare honesty – the “Deleted by the PC media” tag this post bears applies to his leader, but not to him.

The Spectator‘s “Steerpike” writes,

Chris Williamson on the joys of Venezuela

Venezuela is a country in crisis: inflation hit one million per cent last year and GDP has plummeted by half since 2013. Those who dare stand up to president Nicolás Maduro risk finding themselves locked up – or worse. Many have opted to leave: three million migrants and refugees have fled the country in the last few years. But ever the optimist about the joys of socialism, Labour MP Chris Williamson has managed to find some good news about Venezuela – the country’s social housing programme is ‘on track

Here’s the tweet itself.

What do you think will happen after May loses her vote tomorrow?

As lose it she will, the only question is by how much. The Guardian reports,

May faces crushing Brexit defeat despite last-minute plea to MPs

Theresa May appears to be on course for a crushing defeat in the House of Commons as Britain’s bitterly divided MPs prepare to give their verdict on her Brexit deal in the “meaningful vote” on Tuesday.

With Downing Street all but resigned to losing by a significant margin, Guardian analysis pointed to a majority of more than 200 MPs against the prime minister.

Labour sources said that unless May made major unexpected concessions, any substantial margin against her would lead Jeremy Corbyn to call for a vote of no confidence in the government – perhaps as soon as Tuesday night. But since Conservative MPs are unlikely to offer Corbyn the backing he would need to win a no-confidence vote, he would then come under intense pressure to swing Labour’s weight behind a second referendum.

As usual in these prediction threads, I am not asking what you think should happen, I am asking what you think will happen.

Edit 15/01/19: May lost by even more than expected, 202-432. Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a motion of no confidence in the government, to be voted on tomorrow. May will survive it. Vince Cable says the defeat is beyond what anyone imagined and it is the beginning of the end of Brexit. Boris Johnson says the result gives Theresa May a “massive mandate” to go back to Brussels. In other words everyone says that what happened today proves whatever they were saying yesterday.

“The power is with us”

Greg Hands, a Conservative MP and former Chief Secretary to the Treasury (until he did what Boris had promised to do but ducked out of, and resigned from the Government in protest at plans to expand Heathrow airport), writes in the Evening Standard,

This week I found myself in dispute with the chief official of the European Union, Martin Selmayr, Jean-Claude Juncker’s right-hand man, nicknamed the “monster”. It’s good practice in the UK civil service for senior officials not to give interviews, but Selmayr gave one to his local paper.

Mr Hands speaks German at home and could read it.

In it, he boasted about how good the Withdrawal Agreement was for the EU, and how bad for Britain.

The point is expanded a few paragraphs on:

In other reports, Selmayr told EU sherpas: “The power is with us.” Senior colleagues are also reported to have said: “They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls… the EU retains its leverage” and even, “to use a Christmas theme, we want all parties and factions in the British Parliament to feel the bleak midwinter”.

I put together 17 examples of Selmayr and his colleagues boasting how good the Withdrawal Agreement is for the EU, and how bad for Britain. Selmayr took to Twitter to claim my account was “false”, but every single quote came from reputable media outlets.

Mr Hands is almost certainly referring to this article for Conservative Home:

Greg Hands: “The power is with us.” The two EU officials who want to punish Britain, crafted the deal – and claim they are winning.

If one needs one’s sinews stiffened and blood summoned up it is worth a read.

Mock the anointed at your peril

Then:

Laws protecting a nobleman’s “honor” illustrate the importance which the noble attached to his person. Preservation of honor (i.e., reputation) was a serious matter, essential to ensure that society would respect noble rank. Honor was a distinguishing mark which set nobles apart from commoners, since townsmen and peasants were not thought to possess it. Offences against honor included insulting the noble personally, charging him with a crime, or calling into question his own or his mother’s legitimate birth. If the antagonist could not prove his charges, he was punished at law. According to King Casimir III’s statute for Little Poland, a person who impugned the honor of a noble had to pay a fine and retract his insult in court, repeating “with a dog’s voice” the words: “I lied like a dog in what I said.”

– from East Central Europe in the Middle Ages, 1000-1500 by Jean W Sedlar.

Now:

Portland State University Says Hoax ‘Grievance Studies’ Experiment Violated Research Ethics

Peter Boghossian, a professor of philosophy best known for his involvement in the “grievance studies” hoax papers, is now in trouble with Portland State University’s Institutional Review Board (IRB), which has accused him of violating its policies regarding the ethical treatment of human test subjects in the course of his experiment.

“Your efforts to conduct human subjects research at PSU without a submitted nor approved protocol is a clear violation of the policies of your employer,” wrote PSU Vice President Mike McLellan in an email to Boghossian, according to Areo.

This charge makes Boghossian sound like Dr. Frankenstein. But the “human subjects” in question are the peer reviewers and journal editors who accepted Boghossian’s hoax papers for publication. Their reputations may have suffered as a result of being duped—and they were indeed unwitting participants in the experiment—but their physical well-being was not compromised. Moreover, it may not have been obvious to Boghossian and his co-conspirators that research conducted outside his field, bearing no formal connection to Portland State University, was still subject to IRB approval.

Nevertheless, the professor could face sanctions for his conduct, including possible termination.

– Robby Soave, writing for Reason magazine.

Samizdata quote of the day

Generally the better educated are more prone to irrational political opinions and political hysteria than the worse educated far from power. Why? In the field of political opinion they are more driven by fashion, a gang mentality, and the desire to pose about moral and political questions all of which exacerbate cognitive biases, encourage groupthink, and reduce accuracy. Those on average incomes are less likely to express political views to send signals; political views are much less important for signalling to one’s immediate in-group when you are on 20k a year. The former tend to see such questions in more general and abstract terms, and are more insulated from immediate worries about money. The latter tend to see such questions in more concrete and specific terms and ask ‘how does this affect me?’.

– Dominic Cummings, On the referendum #21: Branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’

Two stars from the Guardian

Here’s Lucy Mangan’s review of Brexit: The Uncivil War:

Brexit: The Uncivil War review – superficial, irresponsible TV

In an era besieged by misinformation, it was the duty of the makers of this Cumberbatch referendum drama not to add to the chaos. They did not succeed

And here’s the “inflatable boy” joke from the Vicar of Dibley.

Update: Four stars from the Times. The review by Carol Midgley is paywalled, but here it is without the boring bits:

Brexit without the boring bits is a blast

… James Graham’s drama was rollickingly good entertainment, in a heart-sinking “oh, but this is still our real-life car crash” kind of way.

It wasn’t really the story of the Leave and Remain campaigns, it was the story of DC — that’s Dominic Cummings, not David Cameron, who didn’t even merit a part, so boring and irrelevant did Graham consider him to be. Cummings, I imagine, will be pretty flattered by his portrayal, brilliantly done by Benedict Cumberbatch, save maybe for the balding forehead he donned to play him and the fact that Craig Oliver (Rory Kinnear) called him “an egotist with a wrecking ball” and a “f***ing arsehole”.

True, the political adviser was presented as unhinged (at one point he literally lay in the road with an ear to the ground), with sneering contempt for politicians. But he was also seen running rings intellectually around MPs and old-guard Brexiteers, basically delivering the Leave victory through vision and data mining to tap invisible voters. Oh and putting that £350 million for the NHS claim on the side of the bus. It wasn’t true but, hey, who cares in “war”, eh? It was he, evidently, who devised the “Take Back Control” slogan, inserting the word “back” after reading a parenting book next to his sleeping pregnant wife (this feels unlikely).

And did you notice that in neither Leave’s nor Remain’s campaign was there a single mention of the EU divorce bill or the Irish border? This was an accurate (and painful to many) reminder that while Leave bent the rules, Remain was complacent, lacklustre and fatally out of touch with a forgotten demographic.

If you want the non-fiction TV version, this talk by the real Dominic Cummings is it. And this post from Cummings’ own blog, later turned into a Spectator article, was probably the inspiration for the whole drama: On the referendum #21: Branching histories of the 2016 referendum and ‘the frogs before the storm’

A couple of surprises in the Human Freedom Index for 2018

The Cato Institute has published its Human Freedom Index for 2018.

The jurisdictions that took the top 10 places, in order, were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark (tied in 6th place), Ireland and the United Kingdom (tied in 8th place), and Finland, Norway, and Taiwan (tied in 10th place). Selected countries rank as follows: Germany (13), the United States and Sweden (17), Republic of Korea (27), Japan (31), France and Chile (32), Italy (34), South Africa (63), Mexico (75), Kenya (82), Indonesia (85), Argentina and Turkey (tied in 107th place), India and Malaysia (tied in 110th place), United Arab Emirates (117), Russia (119), Nigeria (132), China (135), Pakistan (140), Zimbabwe (143), Saudi Arabia (146), Iran (153), Egypt (156), Iraq (159), Venezuela (161), and Syria (162).

The positions of Venezuela and Syria were about as surprising as a [insert your preferred metaphor of complete unsurprisingness here], but I did not expect to see Canada listed as more free than the United Kingdom and the United States as less free.

This should not have been a surprise to anyone paying attention

Now there’s an all purpose headline. I could have used it for a dozen posts, but the particular unsurprising event I choose to talk about today is this:

Collapse of ethical lenders stokes fears over credit access

Ethical lenders that have been touted as alternatives to high-cost firms such as Wonga and BrightHouse are going out of business at the fastest rate in years, fuelling concerns that less well-off customers are in danger of losing access to credit.

Eight credit unions across the UK have collapsed in 2018, affecting 14,000 customers with more than £25m in savings, according to an analysis of data from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Meanwhile some of the most successful remaining groups are being forced to cut back on lending.

The figures mark the worst year since at least 2010, as the sector battles against rising regulatory and technology costs.

Credit unions provide savings and loan products for members, with loan rates capped at 3 per cent per month.

The Financial Conduct Authority and the government have been cracking down on high-cost sectors such as payday lending and rent-to-own retailers that are seen to take advantage of vulnerable customers, and have repeatedly encouraged unions as a more affordable alternative.

Tim Worstall has been going on about this for years. Anybody that lends to the poor – be it Wonga or the Church of England – is either going to have to charge hefty fees in proportion to the sums lent or lose money. There are two reasons for this. One, any sort of lending has to cover administrative costs. Whoever answers the phone and fills in the form and makes the decision has to be paid. The cost in staff time to approve a loan of a hundred pounds might be less than the cost of paying someone to approve a loan of a hundred thousand pounds, but it is not a thousand times less. Two, you have to cover the losses caused by those borrowers who default. Where does the money to do that come from? That’s right, the borrowers who don’t default. And, um, how can I put it tactfully… the sort of borrowers who need to turn to a payday loan company or a credit union are exactly those who are most likely to default because they are “running on empty” when it comes to money.

If a well-meaning government decrees that loan rates should be capped at three per cent per month, then the amount of money needed to cover the lender’s losses ain’t coming in. Soon the law-abiding lenders must leave the lending business, sending the poor who need money quickly into the hands of the loan sharks, people whose debt collection operation tends to be done via steel-capped boots. But never mind that, at least nasty payday lenders have been stopped from making a profit from poverty.

This new thing we have instead of respect for the elderly

Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, says the Book of Leviticus, alongside other injunctions about such matters as how to sprinkle of the blood of the sin offering upon the side of the altar that even Leave voters might concede do not go so well on an inspirational poster.

For a while after the EU referendum result was announced there was a trend among some particularly enraged Remain voters to be about as willing to honour the face of one of those senile, bigoted, gammony, UKIP-voting coffin-dodgers as to bring a young bullock without blemish to the door of the tabernacle and kill it before the LORD. I lost count of the number of times I read young activists claiming that “their future had been stolen from them” and arguing that since the old had fewer years of life left their votes should not count.

This trend has now receded, either because it finally dawned on them that in the coming Brexitocalypse we will all be counted old at thirty or because the United Nations Independent Expert told them to can it.

That must have hurt. The United Nations telling them, who had thought themselves free from blemish, that though they wist it not, yet are they ist. Yeah verily, they are guilty of an ism, and shall bear their iniquity.

And now everyone’s at it. Out: “We should ban old people from voting”. In: “Age is a protected characteristic”.

The UK is “completely and institutionally ageist”, according to the chief executive of Care England, the largest representative body for independent social care services in the UK.

Prof Martin Green, also the chair of the International Longevity Centre, said ageism in the UK was “a national scandal” that should be challenged in the courts.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) should, he added, “hang their heads in shame” over its failure to pursue as many ageism cases through the courts as other protected characteristics, such as racism or homophobia.

The people of the past thought that the old should be treated with respect because they could be presumed to have gained wisdom through experience. The only lens strong enough to let modern Britain see the elderly as worth being treated with respect is that “old age” has joined the official list of “protected characteristics”. Better than nothing, I suppose, but the image of how to treat old people as seen through the “anti-discrimination” lens is one that most of the old people I know would say is distorted. For instance Professor Green indignantly writes,

If you just flip the categories, you see how unacceptable ageism is. You hear those in the NHS say: ‘That person is too old for an operation’ but they’d never say they are ‘too black’ or ‘too gay’ for treatment.”

I have known many people who have had lifesaving operations in old age. Though I do not share in the national worship of the NHS, I am grateful that the skill of its doctors and surgeons has allowed friends and family of mine to enjoy more good years of life. But if you are going to have a taxpayer-funded health service, then, yes, at some point the NHS must say, as it does say, “That person is too old for an operation”. Eventually the law of diminishing returns cuts in. The amount that could conceivably be spent on medical treatment to give a very old person a few more months of life is almost infinite. Fine if they are paying from their own purse – though even then a time comes when a honest doctor would advise against further treatment – but not if they are competing for NHS resources against a three year old child needing an urgent operation.

A Poirot for our times

Sarah Phelps is the writer of The ABC Murders. This TV drama starring John Malkovitch is the BBC’s newest interpretation of the character Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective created by Agatha Christie. Here she is – Ms Phelps, not Mrs Christie – talking about her creation:

“For a long time Britain was caught up in the wave of righteous sentimentality and sympathy for poor little plucky Belgium. Then the times start to pinch. It’s the Thirties. There’s less to go around. People start to be cruel. They want someone to blame and it’s really easy to blame the people who arrived. So he’s being scrutinised now. People are asking questions. ‘You make us look like halfwits and you’ve got a foreign accent.’ English police for English crimes.”

Are there parallels with Brexit Britain? Of course there are.

“I really wanted to think about who we were in that decade and who we are right now. How have we gone from the optimism, the look-at-us-we’re-brilliant spirit of 2012, from celebrating this glorious, inclusive, generous country, to suddenly this place? How quickly something toxic can take hold! When we talk of the nationalism roaring across Europe in the Thirties, we forgive ourselves and think, ‘Well, that never happened here.’ It did, and the language was very much the same as the language that has been developing in our politics over the last four or five years.”

It will indeed be a Poirot for the second half of 2018 and the first three months of 2019.

Discussion point: what to do about drones being used to disrupt air travel?

According to the BBC, ‘persons of interest’ have been identified as responsible for flying the drone or drones that shut down Gatwick airport. As it gradually became clear that this was going on too long to be the work of careless hobbyists or malicious pranksters, the profile of the crime (it disrupted air travel but did not kill anyone) made me think that “climate justice” activists might be responsible. The BBC article says that is indeed one of the lines of enquiry being pursued. Still, let us be no more hasty to jump to conclusions or to blame every environmentalist in existence for the possible crimes of one of their number than we would like them to be next time someone loosely describable as “on our side” commits a crime.

The more urgent problem is that now whoever it was has demonstrated the method, anyone can copy it.

Technically and legally what can be done to stop a repetition? What should be done? What should not be? If you are one of those who have enjoyed flying drones in a responsible manner, or who is developing ways to use drones for emergency or commercial use, start work on your arguments now, because, trust me, the calls to BAN ALL DRONES NOW are going to be loud.