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]

Entitlement

Jack White sings:

Every time that I’m doing what I want to,
Somebody comes and tells me it’s wrong.
Whenever I’m doing
Just as I please
Somebody cuts me down to my knees.

The song seems to be an ode to those who just want to be left alone, and a critique of those who think they are owed something by others. The quote marks are on the lyrics sheet with my LP, and are important.

“Stop what you’re doing
And get back in line!”
I hear this from people all the time.
“If we can’t be happy
Then you can’t be too!”
I’m tired of being told what to do.

It is a good song.

Papers, Please

I recently played the computer game, Papers, Please. It is set in a fictional dictatorship that looks like the USSR. You play a man who is assigned by lottery the job of border agent.

At the start of each work day you are shown newpaper headlines which affect the border rules. A shortage of jobs might lead to a requirement for foreigners traveling for work to have a work permit, for example. There is a long queue and travelers come to your desk one by one. There is some dialog ranging from “hello” to an elaborate sob story. You look at the papers presented and make sure all the rules are followed, then decide whether to stamp then entry visa with “APPROVED” or “DENIED”. You get paid according to the number of people you check through the border in a limited amount of time and you can get fined if you fail to follow the rules properly. At the end of each work day you are presented with bills and must check off which ones to pay. You must always pay rent, but must choose whether to buy heat, food or medicine. You are also shown whether your wife, son, uncle and mother-in-law are cold, hungry or ill. You might decide, for example, to buy medicine for your son instead of food for your mother-in-law.

All this is presented in a point-and-click, drag-and-drop, retro-style indie-game interface with a distinctly Soviet look and sound design.

Tension comes from trying to work quickly without making any mistakes. It’s easy enough to check that the passport has not expired and the work visa is valid, but not notice that the name on the work visa does not match the name on the passport. Rules get increasingly more complicated as the game progresses with more documentation being required and more information to check.

The game also gives you some moral agency. One man with valid papers says his wife is in the queue, but there is a minor discrepancy with her papers. Do you separate the couple, or take pity on them? Another woman says she will be killed if she is sent back home. Another begs you not to allow a certain man through as he is planning to sell her into prostitution. You can break the rules about twice per day and get away with it, but any more and you will get fined. Breaking the rules on purpose increases the risk of being fined for making a mistake.

All this means that while you might start with good intentions, before long you are weighing the lives of your family against the plight of the travelers. On my first play-through I sent various travelers to their doom to save my ill son, but ended up in jail when I decided to deny access to the pimp whose papers were valid, got fined, and could not afford the rent.

It’s a fun game and has an interesting lesson about how people are compromised by inhumane systems.

See also: Papers, Please cosplay and the short film.

Other ways of providing health care

Whenever I have attempted to discuss health care, I am always told about how the US health system fails people. I am sure that this is some combination of untrue (my own experience of US health care was walking in unannounced, paying $100 and being seen and fixed straight away) and unfair. US health care is not wholly private or even very free-market at all, and suffers a high level of regulation. But I do not understand enough about the details.

I occasionally hear good things about other health care systems, such as Australia’s method of having people pay and then possibly having the government refund them. While I can understand that it will be hard to convince people that anarcho-capitalist health care is best, it is interesting in the UK that no changes to the structure of health care at all will be considered. Private companies must not be allowed to make a profit! Such profit can only be gained from killing patients.

However the IEA have recently made an interesting strategic decision to counter-attack the knee-jerk reaction that the only alternative to the NHS is US-style health-care. What if the NHS and the US system are both weird and there are other sane and functional systems in the world? Kate Andrews has appeared on the BBC pointing this out. Guido covered it. Kate Andrews wrote a piece for the Spectator. All this is to publicise the IEA report Universal healthcare without the NHS.

One thing they keep pointing out is that the NHS ranks in the bottom third of the world’s health care systems in terms of outcomes. That will need a lot of repeating if anyone still thinks it is the envy of the world.

It is also, perhaps, a much more effective strategy than attempting to convince people of the benefits of free markets up front. “Let us try to learn something from nice country X” does not require breaking down as many mental barriers as “please abandon a lifetime of carefully cultivated opinions about the unfairness of capitalism”.

Progress

A hundred and fifty years ago it took twenty-five men to all day to harvest and thresh a ton of grain. With a modern combine harvester, a single person can do it in six minutes. In other words, it contributed to a 2,500-fold productivity increase.

– Johan Norberg writing in Progress: Ten Reasons to Look Forward to the Future.

Container Ship Youtuber

Youtuber JeffHK works on container ships and his channel is very useful when one’s children ask questions about how stuff gets moved around the world, not to mention just fascinating in general.

One of his videos lists the advantages of working at sea. Paying less tax is among them. He expresses amazement that the income tax rate in the UK can be as high as 45%.

I heard in the UK if you earn more than 151 thousand pounds a year you get taxed 45%. That’s crazy! That’s half of what you earned; your blood, sweat and tears going into someone else’s pocket.

Another video lists disadvantages. Among them: regulations.

Every year new regulations come into force and sailors, we have to fetch out money for endorsements on new certificates, new licenses, more paperwork, more checklists, new codes, new safety procedures, new environmental laws […] We are paying to get certified for what we have been doing for hundreds of years. It’s almost like the government or marine schools are milking us for money. There’s no end to that.

But never mind the politics. Don’t miss the Suez Canal timelapse, the container loading explanation, or the ship tour. The production is of a high quality with good editing and judicious use of drone footage.

Fox News vs. BBC impartiality

Fox News breached impartiality rules, says state censor Ofcom.

Ofcom’s ruling concluded there was “no reflection of the views of the UK government or any of the authorities or people criticised” and the presenter “did not challenge the views of his contributors; instead, he reinforced their views.”

Leaving aside the question of whether the state has a role in telling broadcasters what news they can broadcast (it does not), let me take a quick look at the front page of the BBC News website right now.

Here is my translation of the pertinent headlines (stories that are probably neutral I have marked in italics, and non-political stories I have omitted):

  • Big companies like Apple should pay more tax.
  • Tax avoidance is wrong.
  • Lewis Hamilton should pay more tax.
  • Bono should pay more tax.
  • Rich people should pay more tax.
  • The state should control who has guns.
  • Mugabe wants his wife to take over from him.
  • Plastic is bad and greedy people are destroying the planet with it because they are greedy.
  • Global warming is still really real and only states working with the UN can save us.
  • Trump is being mean to Turkish people.
  • Trump wants Japan to help defend against North Korea.
  • People were kidnapped in Nigeria.
  • A writer used politically incorrect language.
  • A woman who was rude to Trump got fired.
  • People who voted for Trump probably regret it.

No sign of anything other than a completely neutral world-view there. None at all.

Well-rounded education

The Foundation for Economic Education website is really rather good. Following links from Perry’s SQOTD about Venezuela, I hit upon an article questioning the idea that an education should be well-rounded. I have been skeptical of this idea since being forced to study things in secondary school that seemed like a waste of time.

…we need to get rid of the idea that all kids need to learn the same stuff in schools. I think a corollary is getting rid of the idea that kids need to be well-rounded, which is one of the reasons why we have so much standardized curriculum.

This is an attractive idea. Specialising is more productive. People who are not good at mathematics get can get by, especially now that there are tools and information online. The same goes for other areas of knowledge.

This concept of “agility” seems to be a good description of how people function in the real world:

Well-roundedness means being prepared for anything by knowing a diverse array of stuff; whatever the situation, there is a chance the person will know something about it. Agility is the ability to adapt to change, not because one knows diverse stuff, but because one knows how to learn what one needs in any situation. The well-rounded person isn’t stymied by math because they know a little math. The agile person isn’t stymied by math because when they confront a math challenge, they use whatever tools they can to figure out a workaround.

There are some things the article misses. Perhaps learning about a diverse array of things when young, thereby learning how to tackle diverse problems, is a good way to become “agile”. Perhaps sampling a diverse array of things when young is also a good way to figure out what it is you would like to specialise in. Perhaps the author has unduly conflated standardised curricula with learning diverse topics.

One of the problems with my state secondary school education was the rapid time division multiplexing of topics. I would have preferred to focus on one thing at a time. Not everyone is like this*, and supply of different types of education for different people (perhaps via some kind of “market”, who knows?) might be of value, and is separate from the idea of education on specialised topics.

(*) — Incidentally, many parents seem to worry about their children obsessing over one particular thing and not being “well-balanced”. But multiplexing of diverse interests can be done over a scale of months rather than hours. I think such obsessions usually turn out to be temporary and are best left to run their course, or else they will be long-lasting and productive. I hope so: my own children are currently specialising in computer game testing.

Automated truck trial

I have written before about automated cars. Today the British government announced that it will allow a trial of automated lorries on motorways to go ahead next year. The idea here is that a human drives one lorry, and automated ones follow close behind, saving the cost of extra drivers and reducing air resistance.

The Automobile Association complains about it.

A platoon of just three HGVs can obscure road signs from drivers in the outside lanes and potentially make access to entries or exits difficult for other drivers. On the new motorways, without hard shoulders, lay-bys are every 1.5 miles. A driver in trouble may encounter difficulties trying to get into a lay-by if it is blocked by a platoon of trucks going past.

I think they are overstating the problem because there are already convoys of human driven lorries on motorways. It is already a good idea not to drive alongside them for any distance. Something I do see as a problem is reported matter-of-factly by the Telegraph:

The Government has provided £8.1 million funding towards the trials, which will initially take place on a test track before being carried out on motorways.

I left this comment on the Telegraph’s news article:

If some private company was spending their own money I would have no complaint. If it is a good idea, people will do it and they will invest their own money in it. I have no idea why the government thinks it is a good idea to hand out free money to anyone who goes begging with the right story.

As for the idea itself, I can imagine it working. The lorries can drive just inches apart so unlike others I think slipstreaming will work and there is little risk of cars getting in between the lorries. Someone asked about trailers and a powered trailer may also work but I can also easily imagine that some electronics would be cheaper than a heavy mechanical coupling.

The real test of the idea is whether someone can make a profit at it with their own money (third party liability included). It is the government subsidy that is causing the controversy here.

Uber drivers collude

Uber drivers are supposedly colluding to cause the Uber algorithm to increase fares by logging off en masse.

Dr Mareike Mohlmann, of Warwick Business School, said: “Drivers have developed practices to regain control, even gaming the system. It shows that the algorithmic management that Uber uses may not only be ethically questionable but may also hurt the company itself.”

It sounds like a fair game to me. Any driver who does not participate will have the advantage of being able to snap up passengers first. And higher prices will simply reduce demand. Only people willing to pay more will use the service.

The system works as designed, except that the interface is clunky. A better way might be to allow drivers to set their own prices.

Hammond’s Britain

I do not like British Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond.

I often hear it said that the UK is considering participating in unfair competition in regulation and tax. That is neither our plan nor our vision for the future.

Whose side is this man on? He considers it unfair on French people if British people are not sufficiently mugged when transporting goods across the border. At least we have an adversarial system and he can be opposed.

“The truth is that the British people will not believe the fake U-turn of a Tory chancellor in a French newspaper, while he is still going ahead with billions of pounds in corporation tax giveaways in this parliament, and refuses to rule out further cuts,” said shadow minister Peter Dowd.

Oh dear. I had rather hoped that Britain might end up more like Singapore or Hong Kong.

No place for hunting

British leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn does not like hunting. He is not happy that the owner of the football team he supports is financially involved with a TV channel that shows programmes about hunting.

As an Arsenal fan I’m disgusted that Stan Kroenke is involved in such a brutal, unethical and unnecessary activity. This is not sport. Kroenke should stick to football if he wants to be involved in sport. ‘Blood sport’ is a contradiction…

He did not add that all this was simply his opinion, that there is room for reasoned argument about the ethics of humans killing animals, that any state sanctions against humans killing animals amounted to favouring violence against humans over violence against animals, or that making programmes about a legal activity is a matter of freedom with which the state should not interfere. Instead he added, “there should be no place on television or anywhere else for it.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg

I do not agree with everything Jacob Rees-Mogg says, but he is saying some things that I am very happy to hear being said by a prominent British politician. He is saying them on the BBC, no less, and sometimes to audiences who applaud him on BBC Question Time.

On the subject of trade after Brexit, emphasis mine: “Trade will continue because the British people want to carry on buying German cars, and the Germans want to carry on using UK financial services, and that’s done by individuals not by states.”

On the subject of foreign aid, on Question Time, to applause:

Sponsoring the Ethiopian Spice Girls and the various other things where money has gone are not money well spent. And I think that should be done by, ladies and gentlemen, your private charity. All of you, I expect, give to charity and you can choose. It’s not for politicians to take your money in general taxation and give it to charitable causes.

He then goes on to point out that the best way to help developing nations is to trade with them, and that the EU is an impediment to that.

I have also seen him on more than one occasion make the point that there is a limit to how much money can be raised by taxation and that we are near to it.

Here he is in parliament talking in terms of limits to the role of the state, which is not a discussion that happens very prominently in the UK: “I don’t think it’s the job of the government to tell me how much sugar to give to my children. […] The tax system is not there to tell us how to live our lives.”

I know he very much annoys people on the left, and it helps that he is an engaging and entertaining speaker who I think has an ability to talk to ordinary people without pretence or condescension, something the Guardianista class fails at.

Update: I wrote this before I knew #MoggMentum was a hashtag, I swear! Delingpole makes one of the points I was trying to make, perhaps with better words: “Judging by their applause and cheers they were elated that, perhaps for the first time in Question Time’s recent history, a politician on the panel was prepared to talk to them straight, credit them with a degree of intelligence, and forebear from the usual virtue-signalling platitudes.”