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]

Even Blair sometimes gets it right

There is a certain kind of right-wing pundit whose hatred for British Prime Minister Tony Blair is so great that, even when the man takes a stand worth supporting, such as Blair’s brave backing of Bush over the case for deposing Saddam, the rightwinger will always find some way of qualifying his support with a kind of low-tempo sneer. Sadly, Tory MP and Spectator magazine editor Boris Johnson just cannot quite bring himself to resist a barb or two in Tony Blair’s direction over this issue.

Of course, Johnson does have a valid point. If we are able and willing to oust Saddam who poses a threat to the West due to the alleged acquisition of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), then why not move to oust the brutal Zimbabwe dictator, Robert Mugabe, who has unleashed violence and mayhem against holders of British passports in that afflicted country? A fair point, but Mugabe is at least not yet attempting to get WMDs, at least as far as we know.

And on another point, Johnson omits to mention that Blair’s strong support for Bush, in contrast to that of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, is another sign that Blair is backing the Anglosphere horse rather than the Euro-federal one. And for Boris Johnson, a so-called eurosceptic, that should be cause for celebration. Or maybe Johnson is not quite such a skeptic as he makes out.

Rights and nonsense

Libertarians differ about many things and one such area is whether so-called ‘natural rights’ exist or whether, to borrow the phrase of 18th century utilitarian thinker Jeremy Bentham, they are so much “nonsense on stilts”. Just to be clear from the start, I think natural rights, where they spring from an understanding of human beings as creatures possessed of free will, who need freedom from coercion to thrive, make some sense. However, given the difficulties involved, natural rights for me must be strictly and narrowly applied otherwise the idea rapidly disintegrates.

Over the past 100 years or so, the natural rights doctrine has been progressively (sic) hijacked by collectivists of various stripes who have turned what is essentially a set of prohibitions against the initiation of force against persons and property into a series of claims, which require the use of extensive coercion for such ‘rights’ to be realised. As an example of how this use of ‘rights’ degrades an originally-useful concept, step forward the assemblage of clowns, brutes and hangers-on at the current Earth Summit in South Africa.

It ought to be obvious, but sadly is not, that providing something like the ‘right’ to healthcare begs the question of whether some person or persons have a corresponding duty to become doctors, nurses or hospital staff; does a ‘right’ to AIDS drugs mean people should be forced to become scientists and forced to invent such drugs and then supply them free of charge? Of course, put like that, the entire modern rights-talk collapses. But the contradictions of such talk are rarely remarked on. Sadly, questioning such ‘rights’ has become almost a taboo subject among the chattering classes.

From Buck Rogers to Big Bucks

It has been noted before by bloggers such as Rand Simberg that liberty-loving folk are often fascinated by space exploration and science fiction. There are various reasons for this. Folk who are interested in entrepreneurship and enterprise can relate to those interested in discovering new worlds and ways of doing things. And moving into space offers the opportunity of leaving statist, stagnant societies behind.

So, if you are depressed by the current wrangles over what to do about Iraq or outbreaks of mass idiocy in the South African Earth Summit, then may I recommend a book written just over two years ago by top-notch space scientist and pro-Mars exploration advocate Robert Zubrin. Although some of the science is quite tough for the layman, he convincingly lays out how space exploration is both doable and necessary. If we want to continue advancing as a civilisation, we cannot afford to assume that Earth will be our only habitat. He is a bit too dismissive, in my opinion, of how commerce could be a driver of exploration, but overall this is one of the best books on the subject I have come across in years.

Well worth the money.

Dr. Robert Zubrin
1999 NSS Conference, Houston TX
(photo D.Amon)

A great moment in capitalism

This development of shopping technology is surely another wonderful example of the benefits of big, vulgar free enterprise. For anyone who ever tried to buy a snack from a late-night store to find the premises shut, this monster gadget could save the day.

With friends like these…

Some of the more perceptive anti-war bloggers like Jim Henley must despair when certain opponents of possible U.S. action against Iraq turn out to be little better than odious apologists for Saddam’s regime. An example of this breed is former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark, who has been touring Iraq warning that a strike against Iraq would constitute a huge violation of international law.

Watching Britain’s Channel Four television news show last night, we were treated to an interview with this gentleman, and it had the effect of hardening my conviction that Saddam’s regime has to go. How come? Well, when asked about the reported use of chemical weapons against Kurdish villagers in the 1980s, Clark dismissed it out of hand. When asked if he thought weapons inspectors should be let into Iraq to verify whether weapons of mass destruction were being stockpiled and manufactured, he dismissed the notion, saying such inspections could never work. He claimed – without citing hard evidence – that WMDs hardly exist in Iraq and that Saddam has no desire to build them. And of course he repeated the line that economic sanctions against Iraq have led to the deaths of millions, though he declined to cite clear evidence or reflect on the fact that if Iraq is so poor, it is odd that it can afford to offer financial rewards to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

There are perfectly honorable reasons for opposing war with Iraq, such as concerns about the aftermath of such a war, the possibility of igniting further trouble down the line, and the fact that Iraq, may not be the prime mover behind the 9/11 attacks. But when supposedly eminent folk seek to portray Saddam as some kind of misunderstood old gent who simply is the victim of hostile forces and events, then one has to smell a rat. With friends like Ramsey Clark, Saddam hardly needs enemies.

The Decline and Fall of John Gray

British academic John Gray, based at the London School of Economics, is well-known in Samizdata circles as the former ‘Thatcherite’ professor, author of interesting books about FA Hayek and John Stuart Mill who in the late 1980s turned sharply away from classical liberalism and embraced the doom-and-gloom agenda with the fervour of the convert. His depressing prose can be occasionally seen in such idiotarian enclaves as the New Statesman and the Guardian. OK, it’s a shame to lose a potentially good guy to the Forces of Lunacy, but such is life.

But even I did not realise that the chap has pretty much decided that the planet would be better off if we all dropped dead. Really. His pessimism has attained heroic proportions. Check out this superb piece of Fisking of the guy by leftist writer Helene Guldberg. It surely points to something pretty chilling about what some folk who use the Green banner really believe in.

Update: link and attribution now corrected

Deathly investing

Investment with a twist – invest in sin! Well, that is the sales pitch of a new breed of investment fund which deliberately chooses to wager money on sectors like tobacco or booze, according to a diverting article in the European edition of today’s Wall Street Journal (link requires registration). This makes a lot of sense. It seems to me that there must be a potentially big politically incorrect investor client base out there dying, so to speak, to invest in “naughty” areas of the economy. My favourite fund is called the Tombstone Fund, which claims to invest in the “death-care industry”.

Here’s a key paragraph:

According to Mutuals.com research, the five-year return for alcohol stocks that fit its criteria was nearly 63 percent, compared with 11.8 percent for the overall S&P 500 index through to June 30. For the same period, tobacco stocks were up 7.8 percent, gaming and casino stocks soared 116 percent and aerospace and defense stocks gained almost 25 percent.


State owned media despises icons of liberty

If you like shooting guns for sport then it follows, as a matter of unalterable logic in today’s world, that you must be a nutter, a psycho, clearly not the kind of person to invite to dinner parties and definitely not in tune with today’s world. Well, that at least is the message given out by our ‘splendidly objective’ state-owned broadcaster, the British Broadcasting Corporation.

In an excellent article in this week’s edition of the Spectator, Michael Yardley shows how Britons’ recent success in shooting competitions at the Commonwealth Games were blanked by the BBC.

I particularly liked this paragraph:

“Shooting by law-abiding individuals remains an icon of liberty and thus a target for destruction by the apparatichiks of the nanny state. Shooters understand what political correctness is about: the empowerment of the central state by means of the disempowerment of the individual. Accept the idea that the individual is not to be trusted, that there is a need for wardens of thought in a world without sharp edges or real risk, and the battle for freedom is lost. You might, meanwhile, like to take up shooting just because it is fun.”

Well, on the latter point, I am doing just that. I am off to Las Vegas in September to attend a Front Sight course, in what promises to be three days of excellent handgun shooting practice. It is such a shame that this noble sport cannot be practised in the UK.

The God Bacchus goes high-tech

This story will gladden the hearts of lovers of the fruitful vine anywhere. Maybe I can use this technology when I jet off to California’s wine-growing region for my holiday at the end of September.

Wisdom from Springfield

Watching an episode of the Simpson’s last night was great fun, even though it was a repeat. The womenfolk of Springfield are up in arms after a drunken St. Patrick’s Day, and demand a ban on booze. They confront the hapless Mayor, and demand to know why he defends liberal drinking laws:

Well, it tastes great; makes women look more attractive and makes men invulnerable to criticism.”


Breaking the fear barrier

One of the issues we Samizdatistas come up against a lot is how to sell the libertarian product in an often hostile climate. Chatting to some pleasant and mildly leftist characters recently, it struck me that one of the biggest hurdles we face is simply this – fear.

How many times have you tried to make the sales pitch only to get a reply on lines like this – “Yes, but what about if poor people starve if there is no Welfare State?” or “What happens if every adult can have a gun?” or “What happens if we let anyone buy hard drugs?”

Very soon it becomes apparent that a lot of decent, pretty smart people are put off the libertarian credo because it seems, well, downright scary. There are several reasons for this. Decades of socialism in the West have, I think, left people deeply ingrained with the idea that the only thing preventing the world from going to utter hell is those nice folk in the government. Our state-run education system plays a part in this, as does much of our popular culture: watch any soap opera or hospital drama and see what I mean.

There are several ways we can get over the ‘fear hurdle’. Notwithstanding the recent stock market rout after the dotcom bubble went pop, I am certain that the rise of a shareholding culture and the growing wealth of the middle class is helping to foster a less fearful, more individualistic culture. I also reckon that things like home schooling can have the same effect in encouraging kids to grow up as independent-minded adults. And the sheer bloody awfulness of much of our state-run services, such as the British National Health Services, must surely reach a point where people no longer grip on to the state like a Nanny but appreciate things can be run differently away from the State.

Maybe I am a naive optimist, but if there is any point to being a libertarian activist, then breaking the fear barrier is surely a worthwhile goal.

Tom knows no fear… as witnessed by his close proximity to the saturnine Andrew Dodge

End the dividend tax

Free marketeers in the U.S. are currently arguing in convincing terms that taxes on equity dividend payments should be scrapped. This, they argue, would end many of the pressures to inflate corporate accounts and the kind of shenanigans currently roiling the financial markets around the world. It is an interesting point, and made in great detail by blogger and economics writer Brink Lindsey.

Lindsey points out that the current problems in the financial system are a result of government intervention, such as restrictions on hostile takeovers, rather than laissez faire. Hostile takeovers, as he explains, actually keep management on their toes and can prevent, rather than cause, the kind of abuses that happened at Enron.

So perhaps we need more Gordon Gekkos and fewer Harvey Pitt’s (head of the U.S. SEC). Not an argument one is likely to read in the New York Times.