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]

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.

Free Carlos Ghosn

In other low probability news, Carlos Ghosn has escaped from house arrest in Japan, possibly in a cello double bass case.

Mr Ghosn strikes quite the Randian hero. Grandson of a Lebanese entrepreneur living in Brazil with a Nigerian mother, he moved to France to study and then moved his way up the ranks in Michelin tyre factories. After 3 years there he was a plant manager. After 18 years he was CEO of Michelin North America. Then he went to work at post-privatisation Renault and made it profitable. He took on roles at Nissan, too, an by 2005 he was CEO of both Renault and Nissan. In 2016 he became chairman of Mitsubishi too.

Maybe he upset someone at Nissan because they reported him to the Japanese government for under-reporting his compensation to the Japanese government. Now he is “suspected of masterminding a long-running scheme to mislead financial authorities”, the worst possible crime in the view of authorities but considered not at all immoral in these parts. He has also generally been attracting the ire of people who do not like it when other people earn a lot of money.

“In 2016, Emmanuel Macron, the French president, who was at the time the finance minister, pressured Renault into reducing Mr. Ghosn’s compensation.”

I mean, what the fuck? Fuck off Macron.

“His own pay far outstripped those of his counterparts in Japan — he earned four times the pay of Toyota’s chairman in 2017 — and he was unrepentant.”

That is definitely Randian hero territory. They want you to repent. But never repent! It will not help you.

Ghosn says it was all plot and treason by Nissan executives who did not want him to integrate Nissan, Mitsubishi and Renault. One problem is that once Japanese authorities decide to prosecute, they nearly always get a conviction. Running away was probably his only option.

But it is hard to escape from the World Government. Interpol want him, Turkish authorities arrested pilots who helped him escape, and now the Lebanese authorities are hauling him in front of judges. It remains to be seen how helpful they will be. There is no extradition deal between Lebanon and Japan.

Crowd-funded cyber-policing

In what I like to describe as anarcho-capitalism in action, the pseudonymous Jim Browning is investigating, reverse-hacking, harassing and disrupting people engaging in tech-support fraud. His work is made possible by YouTube advertising revenues and Patreon donations.

Just a few days ago, with help from YouTuber Karl Rock who makes videos about life in India, he was able to shut down a call centre that was robo-dialling people and convincing them to pay for non-existent security software. Typically, they then call back a few months later and perform a refund scam, which involves offering a refund, pretending to refund too much money, and fooling people into returning the difference.

In his softly-spoken way Browning is also performing the service of educating people about how these scams operate so that they might better avoid falling foul of them.

It is not just him: there has emerged a network of people who are working in various ways to disrupt this sort of crime. BobRTC is a way for people to phone up the fraudsters and waste their time. Scammerblaster is a group of people who take reports of phone numbers being used for fraud and use a network of servers to bombard them with enough calls to render the number inoperative.

All this can be more effective than state policing. Indian authorities can be slow to act on reports of crimes where the only victims are in foreign countries. Jim Browning speaks of one occasion where he was listening in to a call where the American victim had been sent to buy gift cards so he called the local police who were not interested in taking action because the crime had not yet taken place.

Nonetheless state authorities do sometimes take action when they are sufficiently embarrassed, as in the case of a call centre raided after it was featured in a Canadian TV programme.

Blogging is now so much easier

Artificial intelligence, or at least the kinds of algorithms that are, perhaps erroneously, so named, has many useful applications that will doubtless generate much wealth, freeing us from mundane tasks. As with anything, there are risks. Private criminals will of course find ways to use any technology. But, as a libertarian, I think it is more interesting to consider how it might be used by the state.

It’s not too early to ask whether the US, or the West in general, is at risk of being run by a totalitarian technocracy. Many people are alarmed by the emergence of a Silicon Valley elite that is becoming richer and more powerful than even the great industrial powers of the 20th century. Others believe that, rather than a threat, this kind of tech innovation is an opportunity to create a better world.

I am an optimist about humanity. I believe that technology can be used to create the means of self-organisation and freedom. So why should we care about a new wave of technology that, if used

The first paragraph above was hastily typed by me. The next two paragraphs (ending in a truncated sentence) were generated using Talk to Transformer, a web interface to an instance of OpenAI’s GPT-2 language model. The model you can play with on the web site is larger than the one that was released back in February. It can generate much longer tracts of coherent text, but I think this instance of it is limited to conserve computing resources.

Its output is rather uncanny, but it can follow the style of its input and stay on topic. By trying different opening sentences or paragraphs, I have made it write stories, newspaper articles and Amazon reviews. At times it looks suspiciously like it is copying directly from whatever material it was trained with (presumably text scraped from the web). However I tried Googling some of its output and could not find anything identical. At the very least, details are changed, such as when I gave it the text, “Who do you think you are? Lewis Hamilton?” and it generated a newspaper interview with Nico Rosberg talking about how proud he is to be a female racing driver.

Have fun with it, but do remember to get some work done.

Update: It seems you can ask it questions by prepending your question with “Q:”. For example:

Q: who is Perry de Havilland?

Perry de Havilland was an American aviation pioneer who worked on both aircraft design and aeronautics research. He was instrumental in developing both the Bristol Blenheim and the North American F-86 Sabre jet aircraft.

Samizdata quote of the day

These people who live a vigorous life to 70, 80, 90 years of age—when I look at what those people “do,” almost all of it is what I classify as play. It’s not meaningful work. They’re riding motorcycles; they’re hiking. Which can all have value—don’t get me wrong. But if it’s the main thing in your life? Ummm, that’s not probably a meaningful life.

— Ezekiel Emanuel, chair of the University of Pennsylvania’s department of medical ethics and health policy and “a chief architect of Obamacare”.

Spaced Out review

Found on the 8-12 shelf, Space Case by Stuart Gibbs is a science fiction adventure story set on a realistic moon base in which its twelve-year-old protagonist helps to solve a murder mystery. Its sequel, Spaced Out, is about a missing person mystery. A relatable protagonist, some science fiction with proper science, a location with opportunity for adventure and an engaging mystery: these ought to be great ingredients for a book my son could enjoy.

The first problem, however, is that the protagonist is very negative about living on the moon. It would be possible to complain a bit about the poor food and the lack of space while also being excited and in awe of the achievement of living on the moon. But no, there is no upside. Even the boredom is only relieved by terrible events, leading the protagonist to yearn for boredom once more. And he’s not an inspiring chap who faces his challenges head on, with aplomb. He mostly moans about things or is scared. Instead of being relieved to get out of the micrometeorite storm alive, after the discovery of a hole in the top layers of his suit, the author dwells on his fear and dislike of returning outside even when the threat of incoming meteorites disappears.

Minor spoiler in the next paragraph…

→ Continue reading: Spaced Out review