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]

EU plunders Google

Google worked with others to make software for phones. They did not have to do this, and nobody had to use their software. People just found it useful enough that they agreed to use Google’s software with certain conditions attached that they found agreeable. The EU, under the guise of arbitrary rules limiting voluntary interactions, is going to plunder 5 billion Euros from Google.

A friend on Facebook writes, “No! Fuck off fuck off fuck off! This money will get pissed away and squandered (probably on drink by Jean-Claude Juncker) […] their view seems to be: ‘If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidise it.'” (I think Ronald Reagan would agree with that last part.)

The CEO of Google points out that Android has created more choice, not less.

Food science vs government

Terence Kealey has a policy analysis on the Cato Institute entitled Why Does the Federal Government Issue Damaging Dietary Guidelines? Lessons from Thomas Jefferson to Today. I found this from a comment by ‘Bloke in North Dorset’ from Tim Worstall’s blog.

It is a very good document. It begins with a history lesson on government food advice. In 1953 people were having heart attacks so the government had to Do Something about it. Ancel Keys said it was caused by eating too much fat. But science is never that easy.

As Yerushalmy and Hilleboe pointed out at the 1955 WHO seminar, and as they expanded in their 1957 paper, the data thus suggested the citizens of poor countries (who largely ate vegetables, including starchy vegetables such as maize/corn, rice, and potatoes) didn’t die much of heart disease (but they were vulnerable to other diseases); while the citizens of rich countries (who ate a lot of meat, which includes much fat) died largely of heart disease (but were protected from other causes of death).

The document explains how understanding gradually increased but that even today the relationships are not fully understood. Adding government to the debate was not helpful.

On being challenged on the incompleteness of the science, Senator McGovern said “Senators do not have the luxury that the research scientist does of waiting until every last shred of evidence is in,” which is the opposite of the truth: research scientists are at leisure — and are perhaps even obligated — to explore every possible hypothesis, but senators should not issue advice until every last shred of evidence is in, because they may otherwise issue misleading or even dangerous advice. As they did in 1977.

In fact the government advice was out of date for 60 years:

Although by 1955, within two years of originally proposing it, Keys had abandoned the dietary cholesterol hypothesis, for another 60 years the federal government continued to warn against consuming cholesterol-rich foods. It was only in 2015 that its Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee classified high-cholesterol foods such as eggs, shrimp, and lobster as safe to eat: “cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for overconsumption.”

This 60-year delay shows how asymmetrical the official science of nutrition can be: a federal agency can label a foodstuff dangerous based on a suggestion, yet demand the most rigorous proof before reversing its advice.

This is the sort of thing that comes from applying the precautionary principle. But taking precautions turns out to be risky action.

To Mark Hegsted’s question in his introductory statement to the Goals — “What are the risks associated with eating less meat, less fat, less saturated fat, less cholesterol?” — we can now reply that if, in consequence, people were to follow his advice and eat more carbohydrates and more trans fats in compensation, the risks are of precipitating early death from atherosclerosis. Irony of ironies.

The document describes multiple causes of the disconnect between the real understanding and the public policy. Scientists are not perfect:

The popular view is that scientists are falsifiers, but in practice they are generally verifiers, and they will use statistics to extract data that support their hypotheses. Keys, for example, was not a dishonest man, he was merely a typical scientist who had formulated a theory, which — by using poor statistics — he was able over the course of a long career and many publications to appear to verify.

And the government makes things worse:

Governments may be institutionally incapable of providing disinterested advice for at least four reasons. First, the scientists themselves may be divided, and by choosing one argument over another, the government may be making a mistake. Second, by abusing the precautionary principle, the government may be biasing its advice away from objectivity to risk-avoidance long before all the actual risks have been calculated. Third, because of public pressure, it may offer premature advice. And fourth, its advice will be distorted by lobbying.

I imagine that much of the story described here, at least the science history part, is well understood in retrospect and uncontroversial. Its lessons might be applied elsewhere. What currently controversial science suffers from poor statistics and is being distorted by government involvement, I wonder?

Branding as a service

In discussions about the necessity of regulations to protect consumers, I have argued that brands can fulfill the same role. In order to maintain a good reputation they need to provide reliability of service. For small businesses, branding can be licensed or franchised. If your small business injures customers it will lose the right to use the brand. All these things can happen through voluntary interactions.

This happens all the time. Owners of burger restaurants use the McDonald’s brand. People who want to drive people around for money use the Uber brand.

So I find it perplexing that lawyers are arguing that paying for the right to use branding can turn a person into an employee.

Jolyon Maugham, a barrister, said that there was an “unresolvable tension” between Uber’s claimed status as a intermediary and the fact that it has built a brand so powerful that it has entered our lexicon. “Uber is trying to enjoy the legal benefits of being a broker on the one hand, and establish themselves as a massive customer-facing brand,” says Mr Maugham, who is taking action against Uber to establish that it should be paying VAT.

There may well be legal technicalities around this, but the idea that there is any tension between being a broker and having a customer-facing brand is bizarre. For one thing I recently bought car insurance from a well-known broker and would have to look at the paperwork to see who the insurer is; it is of little consequence to me.

The Independent has some more details about a related court case involving a company who introduce people to plumbers.

Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, hailed the judgment as “one of the biggest decisions ever made by the courts on workers’ rights”.

“If you wear the uniform, if you drive the branded vehicle, if you only work for one business, you are employed. That means you are entitled to the appropriate protections and adjustments which go with the job, to enable you to work safely and productively. Everyone has the right to a healthy working environment, and to that end businesses need to recognise their duties to their workers.”

Alternatively, millions of people will be poorer because the state is arbitrarily limiting the types of business model and voluntary interaction it will allow; preventing innovation.

In an amusing Twitter thread, Aemilius Josephus points out to Jolyon Maugham, “self-employed barristers market under shared brands by being in chambers”.

Ejecting people from restaurants

The Whitehouse press secretary was required to leave a restaurant because the restaurant owner did not like her views. This seems like a perfectly civilised and non-violent way of objecting to views or actions. A restaurant owner should be free to require people to leave for any reason; the restaurant is private property.

The Guardian article quotes Walter Shaub‘s tweet:

There’s no ethics rule against Sarah Sanders fans being cartoonish hypocrites in defending merchants discriminating against gay people but howling when a merchant rejects a human rights violator based on her involvement in harming babies & children. Ridicule will have to suffice.

The Guardian article does not mention the obvious response:

Conservatives aren’t arguing the restaurant didn’t have the right. Not asking for the government to step in and force the restaurant to serve her. Not going to the Supreme Court either. Let the free market decide.

It is surprising how often it is necessary to spell out the difference between not liking something and wanting the state to intervene to stop it.

EU votes yes to copyright reform

The EU, or at least 15 out of a committee of 25 MEPs, has voted yes to the link tax, censorship machines and meme banning bill, previously written about here by Natalie Solent. There is still a possibility it could be blocked. From The Next Web:

However, there is a way to change that. Plenary is the European Parliament’s tool to bring matters out of committee and put up for a vote in the Parliament itself, i.e. have all 751 MEPs vote instead of only 25. But there needs to be enough support in Parliament for this to happen, so opposers have already started campaigning for a plenary session.

Julia Reda is saying that this new vote could happen on 4th July. The Save Your Internet campaign site has information and is urging people to write to their MEPs.

Not enough people to exploit too much

Thanks to Brexit fruit is going to be left to rot in the fields. How can we cope without a reliable supply of cheap foreign labour and zero-hours contracts to cover the seasonal summer work? All this will push the cost onto society in the form of more expensive grocery bills.

Meanwhile, those evil Capitalists at Amazon are exploiting cheap labour and forcing people to work zero-hours contracts to cover the seasonal winter work, pushing the cost onto society in the form of tax credits.

Globalisation in reverse

I clicked on a link to an article about food marketing failures and came upon a notice that due to GDPR, the publisher just could not be bothered dealing with people from Europe for now. It turns out the even the Los Angeles Times thinks people from Europe are too much of a pain in the ass to talk to.

If they can not cope, what chance does a small US-based pizza restaurant with an online ordering system have, having been told that they have to comply with GDPR in case any customers from the EU visit?

Things look set to get even worse for the Internet within the EU. But it is not just the EU. Amazon will stop shipping things to Australia because of a global sales tax. Trump seems very keen on tariffs. The UK does not appear to be in any hurry to turn into a small-state unilateral-free-trading nation after Brexit. In fact we are likely to have to choose between outright full-steam-ahead socialism and slowly-boiled-frog socialism at the next election.

Governments really do like their borders. As Guy Herbert says: The nation state is still our biggest problem.

Pig cruelty

Some farm employees kicked pigs and stabbed them with pitchforks. An organisation called Animal Equity who do undercover investigations with the aim of reducing cruelty to farm animals used hidden cameras to capture the evidence. They gave it to the press, who confronted the farm, who fired the employees.

Helen Browning, who owns an organic pig farm in Wiltshire, insists that consumers need to know more about where their meat is coming from so that customers can make informed choices in supermarkets.

She said: “You can see if something is organic. Ours are organic pigs and you can sometimes see free range or outdoor bred, but actually nothing tells you about perhaps the less attractive side, so nothing will tell you if pigs have been in farrowing crates or kept indoors.

“Most of us buy free range eggs now because it’s clearly labelled whether they have been barn reared, they’ve been in cages or they’ve been free range. We need the same for pigs.”

Co-op is the largest supermarket chain to promise to stop using pork from pigs that have been kept inside their whole life in its own-brand products.

That will come into effect from July and is something that only Waitrose is currently committed to.

The British Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Michael Gove, said:

What are you talking to me for? This has nothing to do with the state. Everything is working as it should. People who care about the welfare of animals took it upon themselves to investigate and convince other people that this is a bad thing. The farm has received negative publicity and will suffer in the marketplace unless it mends its ways, which it has started to do by firing the employees involved. And food retailers have identified a demand for meat from animals that have been treated more kindly and are working towards meeting it. The market works.

Now go away. My department only has two part-time employees and we have some disputes over field boundaries to advise people about so we are very busy.

Oops, sorry, wrong universe. He actually said that he has pledged to restore the UK as a leader in animal welfare.

Samizdata movie spoiler quote of the day

This universe has finite resources, finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correcting.

Avengers: Infinity War spoilers below.

→ Continue reading: Samizdata movie spoiler quote of the day

Opposition to ID cards is out of date

Writing in CapX, Chris Deerin argues that opposition to ID cards is out of date. He seems to agree that they may solve problems including terrorism and mis-treatment of immigrants. He suggests that government would be better if we did not need to leave the house to talk to it; that democracy would be better if we could vote online. He suggests that because some people are horrified by Facebook’s sharing of data while others happily tell Facebook everything, that we should all be happy to tell the government everything.

He suggests that because people under the age of 25 enjoy the convenience and fun of online services from private companies, that they should also enjoy being forced to sign up to a single unified government database too.

Not many in that generation would choose to return to an era of privacy if it meant giving up the treasures of their online existence. It seems faintly ridiculous that in such a climate we are reluctant to allow the state to jump on board.

He suggests that because people voluntarily hand over information of their choosing to companies even though those companies sometimes make mistakes and leak information, that they are silly to be nervous of being forced to hand over whatever information the government wants to be stored on a centralised government database. As if it is just the same thing.

The entire article is nonsense that ignores the fundamental difference between the state and private individuals: that we do not interact with the state voluntarily.

An Englishman’s home

A 78-year-old man was arrested after he stabbed a burglar in his house. He was arrested on suspicion of grievous bodily harm. The burglar died and the man was then arrested on suspicion of murder. Later he was released on bail.

I can not find much to disagree with in Godfrey Bloom‘s assessment of the matter (though I know little of his views on other subjects), nor Karren Brady writing in The Sun (though I don’t agree with other things she has written there).

This exchange on Guido’s site sums up most of the possible arguments about this:

Happy Day (quoting Godfrey Bloom): What other country in the world would have arrested a 78 year old pensioner for defending his wife and defending his house in the middle of the night?

Greenacres: A civilized one. A man died, Police did a cursory investigation and released the suspect without charge at the earliest opportunity. The outcome is a tragedy for the pensioner and i’d do exactly the same as him if the situation was reversed but the circumstances of any death have to be investigated.

thinktheunthinkableuk: Investigate…yes. Question him……….yes. Get a statement…..yes. But was there any need to “arrest” him? Or lead him away in handcuffs? Or detain him in police custody for 2 days?

I would extend extreme benefit of the doubt to anyone in this situation. As Brady writes, he should have been “offered a cup of tea and a comforting arm around his shoulders” above all else. I think it should be possible to determine what happened in this sort of situation without arresting anyone.

The report on this incident in the Metro lists three other cases that may be worth further study.

Trade Wars: A Phantom Menace?

Bloomberg is the only TV news channel I can stomach watching in the UK; it is the only one that is not instinctively leftist. I suppose if you are trying to provide a service that people will pay for to help them make financial decisions, a better standard of truth is required.

This morning they were very excited about Donald Trump’s threats to impose tariffs, especially now that (relative) voice-of-reason Gary Cohn has announced his resignation. They reported that the EU is threatening to respond to Trump by cutting off EU consumers’ noses to spite Donald Trump’s face.

Perhaps if we are lucky post-Brexit Britain will be a refuge of sanity, free-trade, and economic growth amongst all this madness.

Or perhaps, as one commenter on Bloomberg suggested, it is all bluster and this is just Trump negotiation tactics and it will come to nothing.