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]

How to end poverty

A new article by Max Roser, founder of Our World in Data, spells out exactly how to end poverty.

I calculated that at a minimum the world economy needs to increase five-fold for global poverty to substantially decline. This is in a scenario in which the world would also achieve a massive reduction in inequality: inequality between all the world’s countries would disappear entirely in this scenario. It should therefore be seen as a calculation of the minimum necessary growth for an end of poverty.

Anyone arguing that economic growth is in any way bad, or needs to be reduced, is saying that they have enough and they do not care about anyone else.

Insulin in the USA

Insulin is expensive in the USA. “The average list price of one unit of insulin in the US is $98.70, compared to $12 in Canada and $7.52 in the UK.”

Then why do not people simply buy it from wherever it is cheaper? Because it is illegal to import it. Why is it not made more cheaply by competitors? Because the FDA have not approved this. President Biden claims to want to lower insulin costs but continues to support state violence that restricts access to medication.

Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe on YouTube

Incoming from Dominic Frisby:

The YouTube premiere of our feature documentary Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe will take place this Sunday evening at 7pm and you are invited to join. I hope you can make it. If you can’t fear not, the film will remain on YouTube thereafter, so you’ll still be able to watch. We’ll leave it on there until some broadcaster with deep pockets wants to broadcast it.

See also my previous post about this.

Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe

On Monday night I attended a screening of Dominic Frisby’s film Adam Smith: Father of the Fringe at the IEA.

It is a documentary about how the government-subsidised Edinburgh Festival was usurped by amateurs who just turned up, organised their own venues and ticketing, and put on their own shows. The fringe festival was, and remains, a triumph of the free market. This is in spite of many of the performers being somewhat left-leaning. In the film, one comedian being interviewed points out that doing comedy for a living is very entrepreneurial, and that during the 80s most comedians were mocking Thatcher whilst doing exactly what she wanted.

It is a funny, entertaining and informative film. Dominic Frisby tells a good story. During the Q and A afterwards, one young questioner said that he was worried about his generation because they all seemed to think socialism was the right way. He thought that films like this might go some way to convincing them otherwise. There proceeded some discussion about how a good story is often more persuasive than facts and logic. Dominic pointed out that most people saw themselves as wanting to be nice, and the prevailing view was that anyone not on the left was unkind and uncaring. Clearly some better marketing is needed.

The counterpoint, demonstrated here, is that the state subsidised organisations are slow, curmudgeonly and favour the distinguished and established elites. The free market is for amateurs and small groups who experiment, fail, and provide much desired diversity of choice, interesting niche products and discovery of exciting new innovations. The film gives examples of all this happening at the fringe. During the Q and A, comparisons were made to YouTubers, who similarly provide diverse opinions and information on niche topics, as compared to the mainstream media who offer a narrow selection of often poorly researched information. It seems to me that the distinction between big and small organisations in general is relevant. Big companies who hold apparently unassailable apparent monopolies in some sector are regularly usurped by nimble startups despite the former’s capture of state favour.

After the event I chatted with the director of the film, Alex Webster. He had pointed out that cheap equipment was one of the things helping those YouTubers. It turned out we both own the same camera: the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K Pro. It is a relatively cheap device that can capture video with cinematic quality good enough for a Hollywood feature film. Blackmagic Design are making film-making cheap not just with cameras but with the editing, compositing and colour-grading software Davinci Resolve which anyone can download for free. This is one of the ways that young people with little money can develop their skills in film-making, and that small, independent, innovative, niche film-makers can afford to make their films.

Perhaps there is a chance that fringe-like dynamics might come to the aid of those who have the desire and ability to improve the marketing of the idea of freedom by telling some compelling stories about it.

The Life of Brian Transcribed

On Friday September 3rd, an event was held at the headquarters of the Institute of Economic Affairs in Lord North Street, London, in honour of our own Brian Micklethwait. This event was announced previously on this blog.

Brian was in attendance along with a large packed room of his friends, and many nice (and, importantly, true) things were said about him, which I think he greatly enjoyed.

A video recording was made of the event but something went wrong with the sound recording. For the Brian Micklethwait Archive I have started to transcribe what can be heard of the speeches and comments made. There are some gaps but you can get a good idea of what was said in the formal speeches and afterwards when the microphone was passed around for people to speak. The work is incomplete and ongoing, but I might as well share what I have so far.

My requests:

  • If you can fill in any gaps or correct any mistakes in my transcriptions, please comment here or contact brianmicklethwaitarchive@gmail.com .
  • If you were unable to attend, or did attend but ran out of time to make their comments, or otherwise have more to say about Brian, please comment here or contact brianmicklethwaitarchive@gmail.com . I think Brian will enjoy reading them.

Lorry driver shortage

In the news cycle of late: lorry driver shortage threatens empty supermarket shelves.

One product so affected is apparently bottled water. I can say I have been having trouble buying the particular brand of bottled soft water I put in my coffee machine to avoid having to descale it so often.

The Road Haulage Association wrote to the Prime Minister with five causes of the shortage: covid, Brexit, retiring drivers, a driving test shortage and IR35. The first two are causing foreign drivers to return to their home countries, not to return, they say. The last two I imagine are exacerbating the first three. If you make lorry driving pay less and cost more (whether obvious monetary costs or by increasing bureaucratic hurdles) it stands to reason that supply will diminish. To get supply back to the same level, you will have to pay more. In macroeconomic terms: taxes and regulations reduce economic growth. This is how that looks in real world terms.

IR35 is particularly egregious. A driver recruitment agency writes:

The effect of the IR35 reform is to force agency workers who previously operated as Ltd Companies to pay more tax and their agencies or end clients to pay Employer NI Contributions. If we were to keep the drivers’ net income the same, it would result in an increase in employment costs of 25% to the agency.

Maybe they are exaggerating their own costs, but the exact number does not matter too much. More tax is being collected from the employment of lorry drivers: that is the point of the IR35 regulation. One way or another it will be paid for by people directly and indirectly using the services of lorry drivers. Someone might argue that prior to IR35, the haulage industry was immorally getting away without paying enough tax, but that someone must now accept the increased costs of certain goods, including to poorer people for whom such goods are a more significant portion of their income.

Increased barriers to immigration are also said to play a part here. It is undoubtedly true that increased immigration drives down wages as it increases supply, which is to say it drives down the cost of hiring lorry drivers, and drives down costs to everyone who is indirectly using their services. Quite possibly the remaining lorry drivers are happy about this shortage (although I do suspect that any thus increased earnings are just going towards the now higher taxes). Also happy are the people who want everyone to have higher wages and use terms such as “living wage”, even if (as I suspect) those people also want more freedom of movement without wanting any reduction in wages that comes with it.

In the long term, more immigration should not mean lower wages: there is no lump of labour; if there are more people then there is more work to be done. On the contrary, denser concentrations of people create efficiencies that decrease costs, which makes things cheaper, which is the same thing as increasing wages. But dynamics are often overlooked. If you suddenly reduce the supply of lorry drivers you are going to suddenly increase the price of them. All of the other effects take time. And some of those effects will be cost-cutting innovations that reduce the need for lorry drivers. So watch out, lorry drivers.

I am a computer programmer. There was a time when there were suddenly many computer programmers arriving from Europe. My wages did not go down. The increased supply of programmers meant that more projects were started, there were more interesting things to work on, more interesting people to work on them with, and in general much more opportunity. Now it is becoming harder to hire programmers. I suspect if this continues, a lot of projects will happen in places where it is not so hard to hire programmers. My wages will not go up. The equivalent problem for the lorry drivers might be that as things get more expensive, people buy less things. Everything gets less interesting. That is how economic decline looks and it will not be good for the remaining lorry drivers in the end.

I have my doubts about whether the shortage will become a real crisis. So far, supply chain crises as a result of Brexit and covid have proved remarkably short-lived, and supply chains remarkably robust. Some new equilibrium will be found. But relative costs do change, and the people who want higher taxes, more regulation, higher wages or less immigration, ought to have the downsides of their demands pointed out to them.

How to win the libertarian argument

The converting-Libertarian-Alliance-pamphlets-to-HTML phase of the Brian Micklethwait Archive project continues.

When I add something new, I also add a news update post about it. These usually briefly describe what the update is with, perhaps, a quote. Today’s update about How to Win the Libertarian Argument contains some of Brian’s most important and useful wisdom: how to spread libertarianism by arguing (and not necessarily by winning arguments). I could not choose which quote to use, so there are a lot of them. I’ll repost them here.

When was the last time you *won* an argument, right there in front of you? When was the last time someone said to you: “By heavens! You’re right about this, and I’ve been wrong about it all of my life, until you took the trouble to straighten me out. How can I possibly thank you? Let me, as a pitifully small token of my infinite gratitude, kiss your shoes.”? Not recently, I would guess.

The article covers the importance of politeness:

The *right* way to be an extremist is to say what you think and why, while absolutely *not* assuming that the person you are talking to has any sort of obligation to think likewise, and if anything while making it clear that you rather expect him not to. You think what you think, and he thinks what he thinks. And if he hasn’t told you already what he does think, then an obviously polite next step would be to ask him to talk about that. The two of you can then try to pin down more precisely how you disagree, assuming you do. It is possible to be an extremist without deviating from good manners, and that is how.

By merely proving that libertarianism and decency can cohere in the same personality, you will be a walking advertisement for the cause, as I might not be.

And it covers how to sell your ideas:

First announce your product, and try to spin out the conversation about it. You do this by finding out what your audience wants, and you try to explain, if you can, why your product will supply this. In the case of El Salvador, find out what the man thinks is now wrong with El Salvador and explain how your ideas might improve things, and why his ideas might only be making things worse.

It offers the sort of wisdom that people on Twitter could do with hearing:

No matter how “extreme” is the opinion I may read in a pamphlet or magazine, I am never, so to speak, at its mercy. I can stop reading it at any moment, and so in the meantime I need not feel threatened or even discomforted by it.

The world is full of people with wildly different views about the philosophical foundations of life, of the universe and of everything, yet on the whole they get along peacefully enough. Where there are major breaches of the peace, these are just as likely to be between peoples with near identical views on “the fundamentals” as between people without such philosophical affinities.

And there are descriptions of the ways in which people change their minds.

The notion that one can “convince” somebody of the truth of libertarianism with one mere “argument” is rooted in a false model of how people think about political matters. Political thought is rooted not merely in “facts” but in contrasting “world views” or “models” of how the world is and how it ought to be improved.

For some anti-libertarians it comes as a shattering revelation to learn that there actually are real live libertarians, and that we mean what we say. Until then they had assumed that people only believed in capitalism for the sake of their dividends. The mere *existence* of a sincere libertarian might for such a person be the decisive, conversion-inducing “fact”.

Do keep an eye on the updates, or follow the Twitter feed if you are so minded. I have been managing about two per week so far.

The Brian Micklethwait Archive

Our very own Brian has written an awful lot over the years; his writings have influenced, encouraged and advised many of us Samizdatistas and other libertarians. When I heard that he was trying to find his old writings and get them in order, I had a think about how I could help, and so began the Brian Micklethwait Archive.

The idea is first of all to put a lot of old writing in a more convenient, easy to find, search, quote and refer-to location. Some writings exist only as PDFs which do not render well on mobile devices and do not work well with the rest of the internet. That part to do with fixing that has got started already. The next idea is to find all the places Brian has scattered his work, such as his many defunct blogs, and make sure that it stays online and is easy to navigate. Then there are other things such as podcasts to be organised and catalogued, and a database of quotes to build.

Why go to all this trouble? The writings and ideas are valuable. Brian himself has argued for the value of repetition: old audiences need reminding and new audiences need a chance to discover things for the first time. An archive does not have to be a musty museum, seldom-visited: its contents can be blogged and tweeted about and memed for eternity. And it gives me something useful to do: my creativity has not been flowing in the direction of blogging lately, so here is a way I can help the cause of liberty.

And you can help too, by commenting here or otherwise pointing me in the direction of particular bits of Brianalia that I ought to get to sooner rather than later. Or keep an eye on that site or its Twitter account and read and tell people about it.

No longer great minds

What great minds have met and advanced human knowledge under the banner of the Royal Society. Christopher Wren, Robert Hooke, Newton, William Herschel, Charles Babbage, Darwin, Einstein, Hawking.

Now reduced to petty power grabs by encouraging politicians to meddle in minutiae.

“Platforms and regulators should limit streaming resolution and default to SD, the authors urged.”

Pathetic.

Samizdata quote of the day

I fear, however, that we are seeing a back-drop of indecision, buck-passing and even incompetence that will leave this generation more contemptuous of leadership and authority than any I can think of before.

— Alastair Stewart, ending his Spectator article about exam results on a hopeful note.

Refelections on wealth from City 17

Sometimes you do not quite appreciate a thing until you find you can not get it. In the game Half Life: Alyx (one of the best things you can do in virtual reality right now), the Earth is oppressed by totalitarian inter-dimensional rulers and the player must roam the deserted, alien biohazard-infested quarantined streets of City 17 as part of a resistance attempting to sabotage enemy super-weapons. Needless to say luxuries are hard to come by. It is all a bit close to the bone for a game that was in development for four years and released on March 23rd.

As Alyx, controlled by the player, has to make her way down a dark, slime-soaked, head-crab-infested passageway, she asks her friend Russ to talk about the past to provide some comfort. What was life like before the coro^H^H^H^H Combine? “Alyx, have you ever heard of a club sandwich?” Er, nope, not once.

Right. To make a club sandwich, you need to start with bread. Not from a bread line. From a bakery across the street, baked that day, okay? You add tomatoes, lettuce — not vegetable paste — fresh. Then you add bacon — that’s from an animal we used to call the pig. You toast the bread, and you put all that inside it.

You guys had all that? That’s insane.

It is! And I’m not done. Then you add a second sandwich on top of the first one. You put ham in it — also from a pig — and turkey, from an animal we used to call the “turkey,” and more tomato, more lettuce, and a bunch of other things I’m forgetting. It was six inches tall and weighed a pound and had a dozen ingredients from five different continents. It was the most impossible food item you could imagine in any age before ours.

Wow. That does sound pretty amazing. I am really going to appreciate my next club sandwich.

The Independent on Naomi Seibt

I had not heard of Naomi Seibt until my phone suggested I read an article about her in the Independent.

It quotes her thus:

Science is entirely based on intellectual humility and it is important that we keep questioning the narrative that it out there instead of promoting it, and these days climate change science really isn’t science at all. […] Climate change alarmism at its very core is a despicably anti-human ideology […] especially as a German, it is so rude to refer to someone as a climate denier because obviously there is a connection to the term ‘holocaust denier’, which carries a lot of weight in Germany. […] immense impact that the sun has on the climate in comparison to CO2 emissions. […] We must not make ourselves the victim of a tight tax corset…we must not deny ourselves, or the people from awfully poor third world countries access to cheap and reliable energy.” […] Rage and panic belong to our opponents […] Do not create an ideology out of something that a young girl has to say. Regardless of the political side she’s on.

All this seems fairly moderate. The Indy describes her thus:

gaining support from right-wing organisations, including Germany’s far-right party AfD party, and a think tank with links to The White House […] Her stance on the climate apparently caught the attention of The Heartland Institute, a US think tank based in Chicago, which has previously lobbied on behalf of tobacco firms, supports fracking and rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. […] The Heartland Institute’s support and promotion of Seibt has set alarm bells ringing. […] those remaining groups and individuals threatened by the weight of climate science appear to believe Ms Seibt is some sort of opposition figure who can inspire people through similar means […] But while Ms Thunberg is merely hammering home the science – that 97 per cent of peer-reviewed climate studies agree with the scientific consensus that manmade global warming is real – Ms Seibt appears to have more interest in ideology. […] Alongside her interest in climate denial, she has voiced concerns about immigration and feminism, and has previously spoken at events run by Germany’s far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) party. She has denied being a member of the far-right group, but previous reports suggest she is or has been a member of the party’s youth wing.

Deciding whose language sounds more ideological I leave as an exercise for the reader.