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.

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There should be no law to forbid people parading in paramilitary uniforms


The Black Lives Matter paramilitary-style march in Brixton has had a lot of coverage, including videos of protestors yelling at police and calling them “terrorists”. Only three arrests were made despite the widespread “threatening, abusive or insulting” behaviour being clear public order offences…

That tiny arrest number is even more surprising when taking into account photos of dozens of men wearing matching para-military outfits with face coverings and branded stab vests reading “FF Force” (Forever Family).

In 1936, a new public order act was introduced to counter the rise of Oswald Mosley’s fascist Black Shirts, banning political uniforms

Guido goes on to quote chapter and verse from the 1936 law, and asks, as many are asking, why it was not enforced.

I would like to step back a moment. “Forever Family” do come across as sinister. I think their resemblance to Mosley’s Fascists should be pointed out often and loudly. But wearing an anti-stab vest is not the same as stabbing someone. Who did they hurt by marching in columns? They looked threatening in a general way, but who specifically did they threaten? Let them march. Let them disfigure the London scene wearing whatever outfits they like. Let them discredit their cause and discredit the media’s whitewashing of it. I will go further and say that Mosley’s followers should have been allowed to march in uniform as well. Not to riot, not to beat people up, just to swank around in pretendy uniforms and look like the silly asses they were.

OK, that ship has sailed. This law has been on the books for more than eighty years. I am conscious that when I ask whether one should support the equal application of a bad law I am merely repeating the question Niall Kilmartin asked more eloquently in this post from last year, “The equal oppression of the laws”. Don’t blame me for copying him, blame him for asking a good question that is widely applicable.

Thomas Sowell quote of the day

In 1960, he worked as an economist with the Labor Department. His task was to study the sugar industry in Puerto Rico, where the department enforced a minimum-wage law. Upon discovering that unemployment was rising with each increase in the minimum wage, Sowell wondered whether the law was causing the rise—as standard economic theory would predict. His coworkers had a different take: unemployment was rising because a hurricane had destroyed crops. Eventually, Sowell came up with a way to decide between the competing theories: “What we need,” he told his coworkers excitedly, “are statistics on the amount of sugarcane standing in the field before the hurricanes came through Puerto Rico.” He was met with a “stunned silence,” and his idea was dismissed out of hand. After all, administering the minimum-wage law “employed a significant fraction of all the people who worked there.”

This was not an isolated experience.

Coleman Hughes’ article on Sowell has much information that I knew and much that I didn’t. I’m unsurprised to learn that Sowell has even more admirers than I guessed …

[Stephen] Pinker, a Harvard psychologist and leading public intellectual, named Sowell the most underrated writer in history. [Kayne] West, for his part, tweeted out a handful of Sowell quotes to millions of followers in 2018.

… or that the woke whites who pretend they care about respect for blacks are the ones doing the underrating:

Like others with similar views on race, Sowell has encountered countless smears, though the usual avenues of attack—accusations of racism, privilege, and all the rest—have not been available. Someone should have told Aidan Byrne, who reviewed one of Sowell’s books for the London School of Economics blog. Doubtless convinced that he was delivering a devastating blow, Byrne quipped: “easy for a rich white man to say.”

Aidan’s review has been updated to remove that line (credit to ‘Blog Admin’ who properly notes its former presence at the end of the article).

How not to oppose the Scottish hate crime bill

The Courier‘s Jenny Hjul is on the right side. She knows the Hate Crime Bill (Scotland) needs to be opposed:

JENNY HJUL: SNP’s hated hate crime bill would outlaw all controversial debate… it has to be stopped

The SNP’s Hate Crime Bill seems to have created a rare consensus in Scotland, with just about everybody agreeing that it is at best naïve and at worst plain dangerous.

She leads with the point of principle:

The Justice Minister, Humza Yousaf, said the Scottish Government was aiming for zero tolerance of hate crime, which is increasing in Scotland. The problem with his new law, however, is that in trying to make bad people nicer it will also potentially make good people villains.

She deftly follows up with the practical point that the proposed Scottish bill is wider in scope than the equivalent law in England and Wales:

If passed, the bill will criminalise those judged to have spoken abusively or offensively, and could imprison them for up to seven years. It goes further than similar laws in England and Wales, where intent has to be established for a person to be criminalised for their behaviour.

Later in the article Ms Hjul points out that Nicola Sturgeon’s proposed new law is opposed by experts, including those who might be expected to have some personal sympathy with her:

Alistair Bonnington, former honorary professor of law at Glasgow University – and Nicola Sturgeon’s one-time lecturer – slammed the legislation as “daft” as well as naïve.

“This is yet another example of the SNP’s failure to understand fundamental principles of Scots law,” he said this week, referencing other instances of “stupidity”, such as the Named Persons legislation and the “outstandingly idiotic” law forbidding sectarian singing at football matches, which was later rescinded.

“Fundamental human rights freedoms, such as free speech, are not understood or respected by the Scottish government,” he said.

Finally Ms Hjul correctly observes that the bill is so hated that even sworn enemies have come together to denounce it, and furthermore that the police, often suspiciously keen on the sort of policing that can be done in comfort via a screen, do not fancy enforcing this one at all:

Among those who agree with him are the Law Society of Scotland, the Catholic Church – which fears the bill would criminalise possession of the Bible, the National Secular Society, and the Scottish Police Federation, which warned that the legislation would see officers policing speech.

But Ms Hjul undoes much of the good work she has done by the following ill-judged foray:

Perhaps the SNP’s Hate Crime Bill might have achieved more support if it had sought to target a specific Scottish problem: the spreaders of hate in its own movement, for example.

If it could stifle once and for all the most toxic elements of Scottish nationalism and make stirring up hatred of unionists a crime, it might not be a complete waste of time. But that is a political perspective.

I have no doubt she did not literally mean that the Hate Crimes Bill would be acceptable if only it also targeted hate among Scottish Nationalists. It was probably meant as an exasperated joke. The trouble is that those two sentences turn off those she most needs to convince: people who usually support the Scottish National Party but are troubled by this and other authoritarian measures the SNP have put forward. It is this group who Sturgeon’s government are most likely to listen to.

Things that make you go “Mmmm…”

Whilst I would hardly describe Sweden as a bastion of civil liberty, when one looks at the place in 2020, the justification for a great many things in a great many other nations starts to look increasingly hard to credit.

Samizdata quote of the day

One might imagine that civil liberties organisations would have something to say about the authoritarian groupthink creeping from the leftist fringes of British politics. But amidst the predictable statements in support of Black Lives Matter it seems Liberty’s central campaign is the possible infringement of rights posed by facial recognition software, rather than the real and present threat to livelihoods and liberty of those with heterodox opinions. Indeed, earlier this year Liberty, Amnesty International UK and Human Rights Watch signed a joint statement arguing that ‘dehumanising discussions and ‘debates’ lead to human rights abuses.’ One wonders how an organisation like Liberty, which claims to ‘challenge injustice, defend freedom and campaign to make sure everyone in the UK is treated fairly’ can fulfil these laudable aims without free and open debate.

Josephine Bartosch

Masks, pollution and implied consent

I occasionally follow the Institute of Economic Affairs’ weekly videoed chats about issues of the day, and obviously the IEA, as fronted by Mark Littlewood (he now sports a sort of “bovver boy” haircut associated with football gangs circa 1980 – the lockdown hairdo!), spends a good deal of its time on the pandemic. I thought the latest discussions were particularly interesting, and certainly did not lead to an echo-chamber of jolly agreement. In fact things got quite fiery when Sam Bowman, formerly of the Adam Smith Institute and now in public affairs, got going at 1.21:44.

Sam’s argument is, I hope I summarise fairly, something like this: Government experts now conclude that wearing masks in shops and other places is a good idea, even though it is annoying that they have changed their minds a lot and this has not helped public trust. Wearing masks cannot be left up to private discretion and choice; it is a response to a very serious menace, and wearing masks is more about protecting others than oneself. As Britons often lack any civic sense and the “negative externality” of not wearing a mask is potentially deadly, fines for non-compliance with the rules are acceptable, because experts say it is necessary, given what we know about how people can catch this virus. So stop being a bunch of anarchists, and do what you are told!

Okay, maybe I simplify but not by a lot. Sam talked about the “negative externalities” of human behaviour, such as coughing over others when you have an illness, or playing v. loud music late at night, etc. Translation: he means pollution.

And where I thought the discussion took an interesting turn was when Mark Littlewood, defending his stance, asked Sam where one draws the line about human actions that might affect others in a negative way? Isn’t there a “slippery slope” here – should the State, in its wisdom, coerce the benighted public to wear masks/other whenever there is a flu season or some other scare about health, etc? None of the other panelists gave what I thought was a very good answer to this, particularly for anyone coming to this discussion from a cold start. At one point, when responding to Mark L’s point about how all kinds of behaviour can negatively affect others, Sam replied that murder obviously harms people, and that is why we punish it. At this stage I rubbed my eyes – no-one consents to murder, by definition, but one might, for instance, consent to moving into a neighbourhood where people play music late at night if one knows that in advance.

This is the guts of the matter. This IEA discussion was flawed – albeit stimulating – because the issue of “implied consent” wasn’t really fully aired here. A shame because that is where it could have gone. Also, not enough was done to stress the importance of several property rights to handling issues, since a person entering a building is giving his implied consent to the rules of the place. This also speaks to the need for a “bottom-up” set of solutions to problems, rather than a requirement for a top-down approach.

There can be, of course, an issue of a “tragedy of the commons” problem where there aren’t walls or fences to keep a virus from harming A or B. It is for this reason alone that a State might have some justification to enforce pollution-minimising actions (like wearing a mask) but always with the proviso that such actions should be strictly limited by time, and second, that where possible people should be encouraged to do the sensible thing, and not endlessly nagged with contradictory advice, often doing so by wild exaggeration.

One feature of Sam’s comments I object to is where he said that there is no sense in trying to distinguish between the mask-wearing rules as they apply for vulnerable people with underlying health conditions, such as the elderly, and everyone else. But without some ability to distinguish between young adults and the elderly, we are faced with an indiscriminate and open-ended lockdown/enforced mask regime. Given the economic costs of the situation, this seems to ignore the cost/benefit issue. Sam rightly said that even younger people who get coronavirus suffer. But the death rate for the older population is of a magnitude higher, and to ignore that and demand everyone is treated the same is bizarre.

Another thing: there should be a burden of proof on those who demand coercive laws to deal with such alleged externalities, and not on those who resist or who are sceptical. That presumption of liberty, in my view, was shockingly absent in Bowman’s account and the others on this segment of the IEAs’ show did not really make that point. Perhaps what this also shows is that even in classical liberal think-tank land, understanding of the proper meaning of liberty is uneven.

For as we have seen, the apocalyptic predictions about COVID-19 and the drastic measures to contain it have undermined a great deal of public trust in the advice given to governments, and the actions taken by them. As even Sam Bowman acknowledged, this trust deficit is a big problem and being arguably made worse by policies that look more like arse-covering than the public welfare.

Everyone’s a winner

The Times reports,

A civil servant who was branded a racist for claiming that it always rained in Wales has been awarded more than £240,000 at an employment tribunal.

Anne Giwa-Amu won her race and age discrimination case after being mocked for complaining about the cold, wet weather, which a colleague referred to as her regular “weather reports”, and accused of stealing ice cream.

Reading the Times account, it does seem that Ms Giwa-Amu was bullied by her colleagues:

The tribunal was told that Ms Giwa-Amu felt Ms [Daisy] Cartwright was trivialising discrimination by calling her racist for moaning about the weather.

In front of colleagues, Ms Cartwright also repeatedly accused Ms Giwa-Amu of stealing ice cream. The tribunal found that while this may have started as a joke, Ms Cartwright carried on bullying Ms Giwa-Amu after others asked her to stop.

Ms Cartwright also sprayed deodorant near Ms Giwa-Amu, knowing that she hated it, and span around on a chair while sitting next to her to try to make her feel sick.

Another co-worker, Robert Lewis, “humiliated” Ms Giwa-Amu, the tribunal was told, when he accidentally touched her bottom. He said, in front of a large group: “I touched [Anne]’s bum. I touched her bum.” Ms Giwa-Amu said that the experience was horrible and that she felt Mr Lewis was laughing about how unpleasant he found it to have touched her.

The full Times story is behind a paywall, but this report in Personnel Today tells the same story.

But fear not, it all worked out OK for everyone in the end.

Mr Lewis is still an administrative officer at the Caerphilly office. Ms Cartwright was promoted to a job in another part of the civil service.

As for Ms Giwa-Amu, Personnel Today says she joined the Department of Work and Pensions in February 2017. The Times says she went on sick leave in March 2017 and never returned to work. At an Administrative Officer’s salary it would have taken around ten years to earn the quarter of a million pounds she was awarded.

So, everyone wins. Except for one group of people who are financially involved but whose interests can safely be ignored.

The State’s lament: ‘A substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened;’

Thus went the UK government’s discussion paper on increasing social distancing on 22nd March 2020.

The perceived level of personal threat needs to be increased among those who are complacent, using hard-hitting emotional messaging. To be effective this must also empower people by making clear the actions they can take to reduce the threat.

There were other considerations:

Hong Kong’s experience:

Having a good understanding of the risk has been found to be positively associated with adoption of COVID-19 social distancing measures in Hong Kong

And carrots:

6. Social approval: Social approval can be a powerful source of reward. Not only can this be provided directly by highlighting examples of good practice and providing strong social encouragement and approval in communications; members of the community can be encouraged to provide it to each other. This can have a beneficial spill-over effect of promoting social cohesion. Communication strategies should provide social approval for desired behaviours and promote social approval within the community.

And of course, coercion, along with ‘social disapproval’:

7. Compulsion: Experience with UK enforcement legislation such as compulsory seat belt use suggests that, with adequate preparation, rapid change can be achieved (16). Some other countries have introduced mandatory self-isolation on a wide scale without evidence of major public unrest and a large majority of the UK’s population appear to be supportive of more coercive measures. For example, 64% adults in Great Britain said they would support putting London under a ‘lock down’ (17). However, data from Italy and South Korea suggest that for aggressive protective measures to be effective, special attention should be devoted to those population groups that are more at risk (18). In addition, communities need to be engaged to minimise risk of negative effects. Consideration should be given to enacting legislation, with community involvement, to compel key social distancing measures.

8. Social disapproval: Social disapproval from one’s community can play an important role in preventing anti-social behaviour or discouraging failure to enact pro-social behaviour (15). However, this needs to be carefully managed to avoid victimisation, scapegoating and misdirected criticism. It needs to be accompanied by clear messaging and promotion of strong collective identity. Consideration should be given to use of social disapproval but with a strong caveat around unwanted negative consequences.

So, for us rats in the lab, we can see the experimental parameters. I can’t find the words ‘rights‘, ‘freedom‘, ‘free‘ or ‘liberty‘ anywhere in this document. I can see this, my emphasis in bold, with the lie about people being ‘asked’:

9. Community resourcing: People are being asked to give up valued activities and access to resources for an extended period. These need to be compensated for by ensuring that people have access to opportunities for social contact and rewarding activities that can be undertaken in the home, and to resources such as food. Adequately resourced community infrastructure and mobilisation needs to be developed rapidly and with coverage across all communities (6, 15).

10. Reducing inequity: Adherence to these measures is likely to be undermined by perceived inequity in their impact on different sections of the population, especially those who are already disadvantaged, e.g. those in rented accommodation and those working in precarious employment. Reducing costs of phone calls, data downloads etc. by ‘responsibility deals’ or government subsidies should be considered.

Just in case you don’t think that this is an experiment, there is a reference to methodology including this, but read the whole thing:

The criteria go under the acronym, APEASE (Acceptability, Practicability, Effectiveness, Affordability, Spill-over effects, Equity)

Edit: Just after Paul’s comment, a bit more has just come out, from 25th February 2020, about the risk of disorder, foreseeing a risk of PPE shortage on 25th February 2020, so they knew that they could be short long before they did anything about it:
The last paragraph says it all:

Promote a sense of collectivism: All messaging should reinforce a sense of community, that “we are all in this together.” This will avoid increasing tensions between different groups (including between responding agencies and the public); promote social norms around behaviours; and lead to self-policing within communities around important behaviours.

Discussion point: Don’t lock me down, baby

It seems that the Mekon might be about to be knocked off his levitating chair. Dominic Cummings is in trouble for breaking the lockdown. He joins the epidemiologist Professor Neil Ferguson, for whom the lockdown was no obstacle to pantsdown, in the list of those caught violating the quarantine they urged others to obey. Oh and let us not forget Scotland’s (former) Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, though I must admit I had.

Should Calderwood and Ferguson have resigned? Should Cummings resign now? Are there any principled reasons for differentiating between the three cases, by which I mean principles better than which political parties each of them are associated with?

Security against what?

“China proposes controversial Hong Kong security law”, reports the BBC:

China is proposing to introduce a new security law in Hong Kong that could ban sedition, secession and subversion.


Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which provides the territory certain freedoms not available on the mainland, does require its government to bring in a security law. It had tried to enact the so-called “sedition law” in 2003 but more than 500,000 people took to the streets and it was dropped.

I would have welcomed more information on this mysterious clause in the Basic Law that requires Hong Kong’s government “to bring in a security law”. On what timescale? Who is the judge as to whether a security law does or does not meet this mysterious requirement? Oh yes, and SECURITY FROM WHAT?

But that paragraph was a model of robust independent reporting compared to this one:

A mainland source told the South China Morning Post that Beijing had decided Hong Kong would not be able to pass its own security law and the NPC would have to take the responsibility.

That makes it sound as if Hong Kong’s parliamentarians were not clever enough to pass this law, or that they were dodging the “responsibility” of passing it the way a negligent father might dodge his maintenance payments. To be charitable, these are the words of a “mainland source”, that is, a man whose tongue is operated from a distance by a controller with a joystick, but why does the British Broadcasting Corporation let pass without challenge the Orwellian language of the Chinese Communist Party? We do not have to do that. We are not in the EU any more.

Samizdata quote of the day

To suppress free speech is a double wrong. It violates the rights of the hearer as well as those of the speaker.

– Frederick Douglass

Mick Hartley on the politics of the Lockdown

I at first thought that I’d just wait and see, and avoid opining about Cornonavirus until the whole ghastly episode was over and we were all back to the new normal, whatever that turned out to be. But, having waited, I am already now seeing. It is becoming ever clearer, as a few were loudly asserting from the get-go, that this bug is far more widespread, but far less likely to kill you even if you get it, than had at first been proclaimed. I do not care who Professor Ferguson is bonking, but I care very much about how wrong he has been, about so much, for so long, and yet how the governing classes around the world, including the British government, still chose to listen to him. (Is it known (comments anyone?) what Ferguson thinks about climate change? I bet he’s been a fanatical catastrophist about that also.)

Someone who has done a lot to persuade me to get off the fence like this is Mick Hartley. As I mentioned in passing at the end of this earlier posting here, Mick Hartley has been very good on the subject of the Lockdown. His typical posting on the subject has tended to consist of a big quote from someone else, often dragged out from behind a paywall, with a few comments from him topping and tailing his posting. But, in his piece on Saturday, entitled Lockdown politics, although there are links in it to the thoughts of others, Hartley writes for himself.

On the whole I’d say that the left is more supportive of the lockdown than the right. Yes I know, left vs right doesn’t mean so much any more, but it still means something. The left more supportive of the state, perhaps, vs the right more concerned about individual freedom. I haven’t looked, but I imagine somewhere in the Guardian comments someone has said that the right only want to get back to work because they want to make money and don’t care about people’s lives. And, seen this morning prominently displayed in a window: “Capitalism isn’t worth dying for”. …

Which is odd in a way, because the lockdown might be seen as a left-wing cause. Against the lockdown, that is.

It’s clear that the poor are having a much harder time than the middle classes at the moment: stuck in worse accommodation, with worse facilities, desperate for an end to this, and, for many, worried sick about their jobs and their future. We hear almost exclusively now from the middle classes – what books they should read, what films they should watch, and how to keep their kids active and up-to-the-minute with their education. These are the people, generally, who don’t have big financial worries, can work from home, and feel perhaps rather smug about how well they’re coping. But it’s obvious that there’s a whole mass of people that we never hear from … destitute, miserable people stuck in lousy over-crowded housing wondering how on earth they’re going to cope.

The longer the lockdown continues, the worse it’s going to be. …

And for what? Who are we protecting? Well, Covid-19 is deadly serious notably for the very old – not at all for the young – and especially for men. So, we’re protecting old men, at the expense of just about everybody else. …

Whatever happened to the attitude embodied in the slogan “women and children first”?

You might think this would resonate with the left, but it doesn’t seem to. …

Will Keir Starmer start pressing Boris on ending lockdown? I hope so. He should do, in the name of the people that Labour claims to represent. He did, to be fair, make some noises to that effect some weeks back, asking for the government to set out guidelines for the return of schools and getting businesses back to work. I haven’t seen much since. …

And then this:

… I hope he pushes it more, because I’m beginning to lose faith in Boris ever getting together the necessary determination.

Me too. Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Labour, it seems to me and to many others I’m sure, has mutated from once upon a time being the party speaking for the poor, often against the government, to being the party of government, even when they aren’t the politicians in titular charge of that government. These people are now “supportive of the state”, to quote Hartley, even when they’re not personally in charge of it. It’s the process of government, whoever is doing it, whatever it is doing, that they now seem to worship. It is, as similar people in earlier times used to say, the principle of the thing, the principle being that they’re in charge. Many decades ago, Labour spoke for, well, Labour. The workers, the toiling masses. Now they represent most determinedly only those who labour away only in Civil Service offices or their allies in the media, in academia, and in the bureaucratised top end of big business.

Anyone official and highly educated sounding who challenges whatever happens to be the prevailing supposed wisdom of this governing class, on Coronavirus or on anything else, must be scolded into irrelevance and preferably silenced. The governors must be obeyed, even if they’re wrong. In fact especially if they’re wrong, just as the soldiers of the past were expected to obey their orders, no matter what they thought of the orders or of the aristocratic asses who often gave them. Whether they were good orders was an argument that those giving orders could have amongst themselves, but that orders must be obeyed was a given. “Capitalism” isn’t worth dying for, but this new dispensation is, right or wrong.

Our new class of entitled asses, together with all those who have placed their bets for life on carrying out their orders or trying to profit from them, seems now to be the limit of the Labour Party’s electoral ambition. And who knows? The awful thing is that this class and its hangers-on could be enough, in the not too distant future, to get them back into direct command of the governmental process that they so adore.

Meanwhile I note, with a twinge of satisfaction amidst all the gloom, that the British politician speaking up most loudly for the right of workers, especially poorer workers, to get back to work is this excellent man. The sooner the campaign gets under way to replace Boris with him, the better.