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]

Spanish practices

Taxi drivers in Madrid are on strike over “unfair competition” from online ride-sharing services such as Uber and Cabify, reports El Pais. In English. On the internet.

Discuss.

‘…If there are not… …great private fortresses… …to which you can flee from the State, …’ . And then the Patreon/Mastercard question….

The words of economist and philosopher Anthony de Jasay, in a long interview on YT. The full quote, as I transcribe it:

‘…The State can starve you if it has sufficient power over the economy. If there are not (as Schumpeter put it) great private fortresses in the economy to which you can flee from the State, when all these private fortresses are demolished, then you are utterly delivered to the State….’.

. He also said

‘…the State can starve you if it has sufficient power over jobs, over the economy, because it can decide that you will not get a job…’

But with the Patreon and Mastercard blacklisting of certain ‘right wing’ voices on YT, such as the brave Robert Spencer and where no state appears to have done anything, we have a situation where private companies are choosing to end contracts with individuals on what can only sensibly be termed political grounds. This might be the thin end of a very broad wedge. In a cashless society, it could make like very difficult indeed for certain individuals.

Now a libertarian might say that this is unfortunate but simply the choice of a business whether or not it wishes to do business with any particular person, and is not a matter for any form of legal regulation. Furthermore, if there is a breach of contract (e.g. a bogus justification for not processing payments), then damages are limited to the losses that flow from the breach and would cease at the point at which the contract could lawfully have been ended.

A counter argument might be that if it is to do this, a business (assuming that we are talking about the legal fiction of a body corporate) which seeks to refuse custom on political grounds (rather than on grounds of breaching the law), then it should be open about its aims, and be specifically empowered to pick and choose customers in its terms of service and in its company rules. So if Mastercard advertise to me that I can use my card for payment, without qualification, then it has fraudulently mis-represented to me what it will do since in an objective reality, making payment to Mr Robert Spencer, (pbuh) is perfectly innocuous, and my custom has been obtained by deceit, and Mastercard has in fact a general obligation to process payments made by me to whomever I choose, except where an illegality issue arises, where it need not advertise the fact.

And of course, a company does nothing, it has the legal fiction of a corporate personality, whereby it is supposedly liable for its acts, not always those who work for it. But if those who work for a company are not acting in its best interests, but in the interest of their own malevolence, can that company claim against them? Should the ‘veil of incorporation’ be pierced?

And what sort of a weapon might that be in certain judicial circuits in the United States, or other jurisdictions, where ‘social justice’ might be deemed a requisite corporate objective?

So, what would those who tend towards libertarianism, and some around here may be 0.999 (recurring) in the direction, others not so close to being an integer, say could or should be done about the situation, if anything?

And does the State (from its own pov) need to do anything more to restrict the internet if there is a ‘private’ solution to undesirable speech on the internet?

A couple of surprises in the Human Freedom Index for 2018

The Cato Institute has published its Human Freedom Index for 2018.

The jurisdictions that took the top 10 places, in order, were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark (tied in 6th place), Ireland and the United Kingdom (tied in 8th place), and Finland, Norway, and Taiwan (tied in 10th place). Selected countries rank as follows: Germany (13), the United States and Sweden (17), Republic of Korea (27), Japan (31), France and Chile (32), Italy (34), South Africa (63), Mexico (75), Kenya (82), Indonesia (85), Argentina and Turkey (tied in 107th place), India and Malaysia (tied in 110th place), United Arab Emirates (117), Russia (119), Nigeria (132), China (135), Pakistan (140), Zimbabwe (143), Saudi Arabia (146), Iran (153), Egypt (156), Iraq (159), Venezuela (161), and Syria (162).

The positions of Venezuela and Syria were about as surprising as a [insert your preferred metaphor of complete unsurprisingness here], but I did not expect to see Canada listed as more free than the United Kingdom and the United States as less free.

Samizdata quote of the day

This is an amazing piece. To censor China’s internet, the censors have to be taught the real version of Chinese history so that they know what to block.

Mike Bird comments on this piece in the New York Times.

Things politicians should say more often

Similarly to the sentiment expressed by Cowperthwaite, the outgoing Governor of California Jerry Brown has said:

You know what a governor is on an engine? The governor prevents the engine from getting out of control. Well, that is what the governor has to do in state government.

He also said:

The Democratic constituencies want more money and more laws. I take a different view. We have too many damn laws. The coercive power of the state should be invoked sparingly.

I do not know very much about Governor Brown’s policies or actions. He improved California’s finances and turned a large deficit into a large surplus. He had a habit of vetoing bills, and complained in the NYT article that “almost all of the bills that I have vetoed have been reintroduced”, but I do not know if a veto rate of 16% is high enough. In any case these are the sorts of thing I want to hear more of.

In the USA the role of the state seems to be discussed more widely than it is here in the UK, where mostly the criticism of the government is that it should “do more”. In British politics the recent counter-example of Jacob Rees-Mogg springs to mind:

I don’t think it is the job of the government to tell me how much sugar to eat.

I would welcome more examples. From anywhere.

Hunting lions can help the species: a vegetarian conservationist speaks

I was impressed to see CNN publish something as unpalatable to their core audience as this:

Ending trophy hunting could actually be worse for endangered species

Amy Dickman is the founder and director of Tanzania’s Ruaha Carnivore Project, part of Oxford University’s WildCRU. She has worked in African conservation for over 20 years. All views expressed belong to the author.

I am a lifelong animal lover and vegetarian for whom the idea of killing animals for fun is repellent, and have committed my career to African wildlife conservation.

You might, therefore, expect that I would have been thrilled with Donald Trump’s suggestion — influenced apparently by media and animal rights pressures — that he could decide against the US importation of trophy-hunted elephants (and possibly other species such as lions).

However, I am fearful that impulsive and emotional responses to trophy hunting — no matter how well-meaning — could in fact intensify the decline of species such as lions.

[…]

People may find it very strange that there can be any positive aspect to hunting threatened species — surely any additional mortality heaped on a declining species must unquestionably be a bad thing?

The reality is more complicated. Of course, if trophy hunting is the main reason for the decline in an area’s lion population, then stopping it is entirely justified and desirable.

However, in most places, this is not the case. And if trophy hunting diminishes those other threats — by protecting habitat, preventing poaching or acting as a buffer between parks and human populations — then overall the threatened species could be better off.

Who gave them the power to do this?

Watchdog bans ‘harmful’ gender stereotypes in adverts

Are we watching ignorant armies clash by (saturday and) night?

When the Tea Partiers were called ignorant racist deplorables back in Obama’s day, they knew it was not true, even if some of them could not well articulate that knowledge in the face of “I’m with the media, screw you” PC questioning. They knew they left demo sites cleaner than when they arrived. They knew that illegal immigration was, well, illegal. They knew that, if they liked their doctor, they’d not been able to keep their doctor. And they knew that the statist solutions Obama loved have a very poor record (see e.g. Socialism, Experience of).

When the Brexitters were called islamophobic little-englanders ignorant of basic economics in the modern age, they had very good reason to think it was not true, even if some of them could not well articulate that knowledge in the face of a “we know best” media and establishment. They knew the UK economy had functioned outside the EU well within living memory. They knew their distaste at Rotherham was not a mere phobia. They could see many predictions of Project Fear were so wild as to discredit it. And they knew that taking back control was itself a benefit (see e.g. Liberty, Value of).

Now we have the yellow vests (Gilets Jaunes) in France. They have a lot of grievances, but the spark that lit their explosion was Macron’s eco-tax, to save the planet from Anthropogenic Global Warming.

Now, I know AGW is pseudo-science.

– I’m confident we’ll do OK after Brexit, but I know the notorious hockey stick was made when ‘scientists’ – deceitful, but also too ignorant of statistics to understand what they were doing – fitted their data like a policeman fitting-up a suspect (take the recalcitrant dataset into a dark room with some statistical tools; when you emerge, the dataset is moaning, “OK, OK, I confirm the hypothesis – just don’t separate my principal components again and I’ll say anything!!!”).

– I suspect the Brexit-day Calais traffic jam may be hardly worse than the jam the yellow-vests caused at the French-Italian border, but I know those scientists saw the post-fit line dipping back down to the pre-fit level (like an intimidated witness trying to drop a hint), yet refused even to think about what it was trying to tell them and instead (in the sole manipulation where they understood exactly what they were doing) scaled the graph to hide the decline.

What I don’t know is whether the Gilets Jaunes know this. I have bits of paper from known-name universities and later employments that credential me to talk about statistics, science, etc. The Gilets Jaunes don’t, so I can believe they are not well able to articulate it when faced with the arrogance of “we’re the experts”. However, they may have noticed how often we’ve passed some deadline to save the planet. They may sense that Macron is just another intellectual-without-intellect whose belief in AGW is clueless and self-serving. The Gilets Jaunes resentment that the price of saving the planet is always paid by them, never their ‘betters’, may lead them to ask why the oh-so-articulate eco-warriors don’t act like they believe it.

So, as regards global warming, I’m ready to credit the Gilets Jaunes with having a better ratio of sense to selfishness than the eco-EUrocrats. I’m just amused by the fact that the very issue where I myself can most claim to know, not merely think, that a particular group of populists is right, is also the very issue where I have the weakest evidence of that group themselves knowing or caring that they are not merely fighting their corner but are also correct about the issue.

Always wait for the police

“Police need public support to arrest violent offenders”, says Ken Marsh, the chairman of the Metropolitan Police Federation, effectively the trade union for London police officers.

[Marsh] spoke out after video footage appearing to show two officers locked in a violent struggle as they tried to make an arrest was shared thousands of times on social media.

The footage, taken in south London on Saturday, appeared to show a male officer being dragged around in the road as he tries to stop a suspect in a white tracksuit running away.

A second man, wearing a grey tracksuit, seems to take a run-up before aiming a flying kick at a female officer, who then lies dazed in the road clutching her head, feet away from a passing bus. She appeared to have tried to use incapacitant spray on the pair but to no effect.

A member of the public wearing a motorcycle helmet helped the male officer in the struggle, but several cars went past without stopping.

“Are we now in a society where, if we think we can’t detain somebody, we just let them go? It’s just not worth it,” said Marsh, who represents thousands of police officers in the capital.

Yes. Yes we are. And if anyone wonders how we got to this pass in which the public do not step in to help police officers when the latter attempt to restrain lawbreakers, try repeating Mr Marsh’s question without the implication that “we” refers only to the police:

“Are we now in a society where, if we think we can’t detain somebody, we just let them go? It’s just not worth it,” said the public.

This state of affairs was a long time a-growing. Though I do not know Ken Marsh’s own views upon this issue, how many times have prominent police officers and other figures of authority deprecated, failed to support, actively condemned, arrested or otherwise punished members of the public who “took the law into their own hands” – or even just looked like they might? That last link takes you to a post from 2011 by Perry de Havilland in which a female victim of crime got “quite the life lesson” about police priorities. That lesson will not only have been taken in by her.

Longtime Samizdata readers might recall a little ditty I made in 2007 about a celebrated interview between the radio host Jeremy Vine and Tony McNulty MP, then a Home Office minister. Here is the BBC’s transcription:

Jeremy Vine: You see something happening in the street. Do you step in?

Tony McNulty: I think the general line must be to get in touch with the authorities straight and make sure that if things are as bad as you paint the police will be there as quickly as they can.

Jeremy: You see a young man looking aggressive, shouting at an old woman, what do you do? You retreat and ring the police?

Tony McNulty: I think you should in the first instance. It may well be the simply shouting at them, blowing your horn or whatever else deters them and they go away.

Jeremy: He’s now hitting her and the police haven’t come, what do you do then?

Tony McNulty: The same the same, you must always …

Jeremy: Still wait?

Tony McNulty: Get back to the police, try some distractive activities whatever else.

Jeremy: What jump up and down?

Tony McNulty: But I would say you know sometimes that that may well work.

Even if someone is being battered right in front of you, you must always wait for the police. That was the advice of a Minister of the Crown. Having drilled us in passivity for at least ten years (in fact much longer; that example is only one of many I could have cited), why would anyone expect ordinary citizens to suddenly rediscover the duty to defend a victim of assault just because that victim is a police officer?

Update: Here is some more recent advice from the police themselves: “Taking the law into your own hands – a warning from Derbyshire police”

That article does at least acknowledge that it is possible to make a citizen’s arrest and – mirabile dictu – records that Judge Jonathan Bennett awarded £400 from the Derbyshire High Sheriff’s fund to a man who made a citizen’s arrest of a burglar in recognition of “public spirited behaviour”. But note the response of the only police officer quoted:

Sergeant Graham Summers, of Derbyshire police, said: “We would never encourage anyone to take the law into their own hands by carrying out a citizen’s arrest. Instead, we would urge people to call us on 101 for non-emergencies, or 999 in an emergency.”

Atlas shrugs as Sark faces the shocking truth about price controls

The island of Sark, a small, remote Channel Island, with a population somewhere around 500, part of the Duchy of Normandy and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, but almost entirely autonomous, noted for not having any cars, having been one the last feudal jurisdictions in the World and having had very low taxes, is currently in crisis over its electricity supply. The problem can be summed up in two words ‘price control’. Sark is taking on the appearance of a small, cooler, oil-free Venezuela (or perhaps a preview of Corbyn’s – or even May’s- UK in 2022). It even has the example of France, home of ‘égalité‘, the guillotine and generally poor economic ideas (and some excellent ones), a few miles away over the choppy Channel.

It will no doubt not surprise almost all our readers that Sark, having in recent years had democracy foisted on it, has got a legislature (28-strong) that seems to think that it has solutions to problems. The islanders have also found that as the price of electricity has risen in recent years, and as people have not been happy with the sole supplier to the Island, they have been generating their own power. Falling demand has led to higher unit costs for the supplier, which creates a vicious circle.

Enter the Commissioner established and authorised, nay, required, under the The Control of Electricity Prices (Sark) Law, 2016 to look into the price of electricity and to set a ‘fair and reasonable price’.

Looking at his powers more closely we see that they are in fact, nothing short of miraculous, under Section 13:

Determination of fair and reasonable price.
13. (1) Following completion of an investigation under this Law, the Commissioner shall, determine whether a price which is charged by a regulated electricity supplier for the supply of electricity is, or is not, fair and reasonable.

(2) In determining whether a price is, or is not, fair and reasonable the Commissioner shall take all material considerations into account, including without limitation the following matters –
(a) the cost of generating and distributing the supply of electricity, including the cost of –
(i) acquisition and maintenance of any plant and equipment,
(ii) fuel and other consumables, and
(iii) labour, required to generate the supply,
(b) the replacement cost of any plant and equipment required to generate and distribute the supply,
(c) the quality and reliability of the supply of electricity and the economy and efficiency with which the supply of electricity is generated and distributed,
(d) the margin of profit obtained by the regulated electricity supplier,
(e) the margin of profit obtained by such other electricity suppliers, generating and distributing a supply of electricity in similar circumstances in such other islands or territories, as the Commissioner thinks fit,
(f) the entitlement of the regulated electricity supplier to receive such reasonable return, as the Commissioner thinks fit, on the value of assets (including plant and equipment and working capital) operated or used by the supplier for the purpose of generating and distributing the supply, and
(g) any representations made in response to a request given under section 14, or otherwise.

Funnily enough, he is not expressly directed to consider the laws of economics, or supply and demand. You can see where this is going I am sure. So why can’t the fools on Sark? How many thousand of years and examples will it take? Here we have the closest thing to a laboratory for economics, 500 or so ‘lab mice’, and yet we already know how it ends. Here is his consultation paper.

So cutting to the chase, a price control has been issued, and the Island’s sole electricity provider intends to close on 30th November 2018, as they are losing £20,000 a month supplying power at the ‘fair and reasonable‘ (and that’s official) price. May I introduce here, the Managing Director of the Sark Electricity Company Ltd, Mr Atlas Shrugger (I jest), his name is… Mr Gordon-Brown (David being his first name), and his company wishes to challenge the commissioner’s decision.

SEL was to mount a legal battle against the commissioner move this December.

However, a review of the company’s financial affairs by its independent auditors found that although the company could withstand the temporary £20,000 loss per month caused by a new 52p price for electricity, SEL could not afford to mount the legal case at the same time.

Back in December, the tariff was set at 69p per unit.

‘We have already suffered through a 40% decline in consumption caused by Sark’s economic collapse and we cannot cut our costs any further,’ said SEL managing director David Gordon-Brown.

‘A 25% price cut for a company that has already lost £65,000 this year is obviously unmanageable.

‘Attempting to operate the company under these conditions would be a breach of my responsibilities as a company director.’

He said if Chief Pleas wanted the company to continue providing power, it would have to provide for the cost of fighting the commissioner order.

‘We cannot operate the company at a loss over £20,000 a month under the new pricing scheme nor can we find the money necessary to fund the legal fight.’

He added that if Chief Pleas did not come to the table as a financial backer in time, it would be required to shut down, leaving the island without water or electricity.

This, I understand, is because the cost of a legal challenge (in this tiny island) to the Regulator would be in the region of £250,000, and Mr Gordon-Brown has asked the Chief Pleas (the Parliament of Sark) to fund a legal challenge to the body established by the Parliament, as obviously, his company can’t afford that sort of money. Can anyone else see the obvious short-cut here, the one that doesn’t involve legal fees?

Mr Gordon-Brown was reported last December as saying:

David Gordon-Brown, the manager of Sark Electricity, says the recommendation by the island’s first electricity regular to reduce electricity prices tells “a story of betrayal”.
For the past eight years the people of Sark have been betrayed by a committee of incomers with so little understanding of Sark that they expect Electricity Prices here to be comparable to their experience in the UK.

Now the Company has been betrayed by a commissioner with so little understanding of Sark that he expects the costs of producing electricity here to be comparable to his experience in the UK.

The commissioner is doubtless a dedicated and decent chap, committed to fulfilling his statutory duty, he is only following the law and only giving orders, safe, as it happens, in his home in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, England.

But has the Commissioner considered economies of scale, transportation costs, economic law and reality? Does he have to?

The situation now is that the Electricity Company is shutting down on 30th November 2018, and they supply water.

I have to say that all those who voted for those who voted in this law, and those who voted it in and implement it, are quite simply, fully deserving of their adumbrated trip back to the Stone Age. I would propose evacuating from Sark all those who opposed it, or were too young (or insane) to know better (i.e. under 16), and leaving the rest to enjoy their new, low prices. To keep us safe from contamination, we should establish an an air and sea blockade, and air-drop a copy of Bastiat’s writings so that they may learn the error of their ways. Socialism (or price fixing) is just slow-motion cannibalism. It looks like Sark is heading that way, by choice. But as the BBC reported, they did have this terrible problem:

In August 2018, Sark Electricity was forced to lower its price by 14p to 52p per kilowatt hour (kw/h) after the island’s electricity price commissioner found the cost “neither fair nor reasonable”.
Despite the reduction, Sark residents still pay significantly more than the 17p per kw/h in nearby Guernsey or the UK the average of 14p.

Meanwhile over in Jersey, the press speculate about the evacuation of the island.

Asked if there was a real possibility of people having to leave Sark, Mr Raymond -(deputy chairman of Sark’s Policy and Finance Committee)- replied: ‘Not if we can get our contingency plans in place.

‘They are in the development stage at the moment so I can’t give out too much detail, but it will involve consolidating around certain centres – making sure there are certain buildings that have power so people can congregate there. It really is a war-time mentality. Do you really expect people to be living like this in the 21st century?’

Yes, I do, because if they are socialist dickheads implementing their plans, they will eventually get what is coming to them, good and hard.

Samizdata quote of the day

For instance, antifa groups have objected strongly to being lumped in with the Tommy Robinsons and Proud Boys of this world, whom they vehemently oppose. But they have no grounds to complain. The Guardian reports that these same activists welcomed PayPal’s ban on McInnes. They are all too comfortable with big corporates policing political activity, they just want other people to be policed.

Regardless of one’s political views, we should be as worried by PayPal’s decision to bar Tommy Robinson as its decision to bar antifa groups. We need to push back against PayPal’s attempts to clamp down on groups it considers to be hateful or intolerant, and we need to challenge those who want to outsource censorship to the tech giants.

Fraser Myers

Epik domain registrar against censorship

Much as Paypal has shown that it can stop providing services to customers for what appear to be political reasons, the domain name registrar GoDaddy stopped providing services to Gab, resulting in their web site disappearing from the internet.

Recently they found an alternative registrar, Epik, who have written a blog post about why they decided to accept Gab as a customer.

De-platforming a haven of free speech is not about left or right. Anyone who remembers studying civics is familiar with the concept of inalienable rights — rights that a worthy government can only protect but would have no moral authority to take away. The idea of Natural Law and Inalienable Rights dates back to Ancient Greece, if not before. Tolerance for competing views — including those protected by Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Press — is not an American concept even though the Founding Fathers of the United States built a prosperous nation around the concept.

Refusing service to a customer does not violate the non-aggression principle, but when you need a service provider to help you speak to people it is very useful to find one who thinks that freedom of speech is a good thing. Epik should be commended for their stance, and more importantly, their stance is a reason to use their services.

To make sure there are service providers who take your business, it is helpful if there are plenty to choose from and that at least some of them have friendly policies. For this it helps if there are low barriers to entry and minimal state interference in the policies of service providers. Points of centralisation can be a problem. About this, Epik say:

In the domain name world, we often talk about domain ownership. The reality is that we are mostly leasing domains from registries, who in turn is often regulated by a regulator ICANN. Recently I have been a vocal advocate for Forever domain registrations whereby a domain is free of ongoing expense. At the moment, this is possible through Epik though there is still more work to do to make this a risk-free industry norm. The danger of not proactively embracing digital sovereignty, in all its forms, is that the digital world will inevitably find a way to achieve it, with or without domain names.

Various government bodies are in charge of various parts of domain registration, depending on where you are in the world. Technology to decentralise this would be helpful. Perhaps something like Namecoin could be the answer, or perhaps there is another way yet.