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]

Don’t you know it’s an EMERGENCY?

“Scottish government to declare national housing emergency”, reports the BBC.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, sorry Humza Yousaf, sorry John Swinney wanted a turn at the podium.

Declaring an emergency is a signal to government that the current situation is not working and there needs to be intervention.

The councils cited issues ranging from pressure on homelessness services, rising property prices and high levels of temporary accommodation.

By declaring an emergency, the Scottish government is formally recognising the housing problem and calling for cuts to its capital budget to be reversed.

However, there are no practical effects that automatically happen due to a declaration being made.

The one declaration they will not make is the one that would have an effect; the one reversing the stupid thing they did that brought about this “emergency” in the first place.

As Kevin Davidson-Hall says in this article, “The Past and Present of Scottish Rent Controls”,

I have some news for the Scottish Government. “Bah! Humbug!” Rent controls simply do not work.

UK data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) released on 17 April 2024 reveals the largest increase in average rents since 2015, was in Scotland. Rents which have had a cap since September 2022, have increased more than in any other country in the United Kingdom.

ONS figures show that during the year to March 2024, average monthly rents in Scotland went up by more than in England, which went up by 9.1%, while Scottish rents rose by 10.5% to £947pcm. This is proof enough for me that rent control in Scotland has had the opposite effect from what the Scottish Government said was intended.

If you must deal with them, they must deal with you

“Labour council to let staff ignore people they find annoying”, reports the Telegraph. To be fair to Oxford city council, the Telegraph headline and the first line are clickbait designed to (pleasurably) annoy its readers:

A council that drew a backlash for banning meat and dairy products

Misleadingly phrased and irrelevant. The “ban” only applies to meat and dairy products being served at council events.

will allow its staff to refuse contact with people they find irritating.

Relevant, but still misleadingly phrased. Most of the behaviours that the council says might cause its staff to refuse contact with a citizen are worse than “irritating”:

Oxford city council has introduced a policy to manage citizens it describes as “abusive, persistent and/or vexatious”.

The “vexatious behaviour policy” outlines how staff and councillors should deal with people who make complaints or inquiries in a way that is “manifestly unjustified”, “inappropriate” or “intimidating”.

Guidelines include limiting how often they can contact the council or meeting them face to face with a witness.

The council has more of a point than I first thought. It does have the responsibility to protect its staff from an intolerable working environment or actual violence. No organisation can give infinite time to complainers, even when the complaints are reasonable and the complainers polite. The courts have the concept of the “vexatious litigant” for this reason. I note from the mention of witnesses that the council does not seem to intend to cut people off entirely. It could also hold meetings with citizens it deems threatening by video. Perhaps it does say it will do that and the Telegraph did not report it because it sounded too reasonable.

That said, the quip that instantly came to my mind and yours is no mere joke: Oxford city council does not permit the citizens of Oxford to ignore it. It takes their money by force and frequently fails to properly provide those services that are meant be its side of the coerced bargain. It vexes them with its little obsessions about food and rainbows. Until they allowed to say, “Your demands annoy me, Oxford city council, and I will henceforth ignore you”, Oxford city council is obliged to continue to respond in some way to the complaints of everyone over whom it claims authority.

Samizdata quote of the day – the WHO’s plan for public-health tyranny

Particularly troubling are the provisions that commit WHO member states to developing behavioural-science measures (a euphemism for ‘nudge’ tactics and propaganda) and countering ‘misinformation and disinformation’ (meaning increased censorship). Given the extent of state-led propaganda and censorship during the last pandemic, would it not be more appropriate to strengthen protections for scientific debate and free speech instead?

Molly Kingsley

Pssst, wanna used car?

Some good stuff in the Telegraph today. “The electric car carnage has only just begun”, writes Matthew Lynn.

As with so much of the legislation passed during the last five years, setting a quota for the percentage of EVs companies had to sell probably seemed like a good idea at the time. Manufacturers now have to ensure that 22pc of the cars they shift off the forecourt are battery powered, rising steadily to 80pc by the end of this decade, and 100pc by 2035. If they don’t hit their quota, the senior executives will get ten years hard labour in Siberia (well, actually it is a fine of up to £15,000 per vehicle, but it nonetheless feels extremely draconian). Like Soviet planners in the 1950s, the architects of this legislation presumably assumed that all you had to do was set a target and everything would fall into place.

The trouble is, quotas don’t work any better in Britain than they did in communist Russia. EVs have some serious problems: the range is not good enough, we have not built enough charging points to power them, the repair bills are expensive, the insurance ruinous, and second hand prices are plummeting. Once all raw materials and transport costs are factored in, they may not be much better for the environment.

Yet the masterminds foisting this legislation on businesses don’t appear to have given much thought to what will happen if the quota isn’t met. Now Ford, one of the biggest auto giants in the world, and still a major manufacturer in Europe, has provided an answer. “We can’t push EVs into the market against demand,” said Martin Sander, the General Manager of Ford Model eEurope, at a conference this week. “We’re not going to pay penalties… The only alternative is to take our shipments of [engine] vehicles to the UK down and sell these vehicles somewhere else.”

In effect, Ford will limit its sales of cars in the UK. If you had your eye on a new model, forget it. You will have to put your name on a waiting list, just as East Germans had to wait years for a Trabant. Heck, we may even see a black market in off-the-books Transit vans. Ford is the first to spell it out in public, but we can be confident all the other manufacturers are thinking the same thing. They can’t absorb huge fines. The only alternative is to limit the sales of petrol cars.

Alan Dershowitz: “all Americans should be appalled at this selective prosecution”

“Trump’s trial is a stupendous legal catastrophe”, writes Alan Dershowitz in the Telegraph.

I have been teaching, practising and writing about criminal law for 60 years. In all those years, I have never seen or heard of a case in which the defendant has been criminally prosecuted for failing to disclose the payment of what prosecutors call “hush money”. Alexander Hamilton paid hush money to cover up an affair with a married woman. Many others have paid hush money since. If the legislature wanted to criminalise such conduct they could easily enact the statute prohibiting the payment of hush money or requiring its disclosure. They have declined to do so.

Prosecutors cannot simply make up new crimes by jerry-rigging a concoction of existing crimes, some of which are barred by the statute of limitations others of which are beyond the jurisdiction of state prosecutors.

and

If the defendant were not Donald Trump and the venue were not Manhattan, this ought to be a slam dunk win for the defendant. Indeed, this extraordinarily weak case would never have been bought.

I am not a Trump political supporter. I voted for Joe Biden in the last election and I have an open mind about the coming election. But I want it to be fair. Whoever loses the election should not be able to complain about election interference by the weaponisation of the criminal justice system for partisan advantage.

All Americans, regardless of political affiliation, should be appalled at this selective prosecution.

I am curious as to whether Professor Dershowitz’s article will be appearing in any of the American papers as well as in the Telegraph. It is very common for British papers to reprint articles about American affairs, but a quick Google showed no sign of this one other than in the Telegraph itself. One would think an emeritus professor at Harvard Law School would have American newspapers queuing up to publish his views on one of the top U.S. legal stories of the day. Maybe the layers of editors and fact-checkers for which the American media are famed are just taking their time on this one.

Samizdata quote of the day – Eastern Europe is showing Britain up on Free Speech

Scruton gave a lecture on Wittgenstein to a private circle of intellectuals. He was quick to notice, however, that “they were far more interested in the fact that I was visiting at all”, rather than deliberations on the rather impenetrable Austrian thinker. The sense of togetherness was, according to the recollection of a Czech dissident, “the most important morale booster for us”.

It wasn’t just intellectuals who were in peril. The country, Scruton discovered, contained a sophisticated network of secret agents and snitches. Denunciation was prolific and social scrutiny omnipresent. No one, including the most inconsequential citizens, could feel safe from the Big Brother of the state and social pressure of their peers. The Czech author and playwright Václav Havel made this atmosphere famous when describing the deliberations of a greengrocer, who had to place a pro-regime slogan on display in his shop to avoid being denounced or judged unfavourably by his neighbours.

It is 2024, and in many ways the positions of Britain and Czechoslovakia (now Czechia) have reversed. It is now in Prague where freedom of speech and thought is tolerated, and it is in Britain where it is under assault – sometimes on the social level, but increasingly on the legal level as the recent legislation in Scotland shows. True, people seldom go to prison for expressing their opinions – like Havel did in Czechoslovakia – but lives have been destroyed nonetheless. Sackings, cancellations and character assassinations have proliferated in the country that was once hailed as the cradle of liberalism.

Štěpán Hobza

A bastion undermined

“Little by little, the Government is seizing control of our great universities”, writes James Tooley in the Telegraph.

Fifty years ago this week, Lord Hailsham laid the foundation stone for the University of Buckingham. Even back in the 1970s, eminent scholars feared the increasing encroachment of the state on higher education, with deleterious consequences for academic freedom if it was allowed to continue. If a university could be created that did not receive government funding, they argued, then it could escape the need for state regulations. Buckingham was born as a beacon for independence, a bastion of free speech and freedom of thought.

Fast forward 50 years. Our founders would be shocked to see the all-encompassing regulations emerging from the Office for Students (OfS), the higher education regulator in England which took over university regulation in 2018. There are 25 sets of regulations covering an enormous range of topics, including its current major foci, equality of opportunity and quality.

Thank goodness that the University of Buckingham is exempt from this interference! Wait a minute, it’s not:

A private university like Buckingham, which doesn’t receive any direct government funding, has to satisfy all but three of these 25 sets of regulations – known as “Conditions of Registration” – even though ostensibly the regulations are to ensure taxpayer value for money. If a university is found to be in breach of any of these conditions, then the OfS has a variety of sanctions at its disposal, including removal of a university’s title and status, even if these were awarded through a venerable Royal Charter.

Samizdata quote of the day – the toppling of the woke authoritarians

Wokeism. Climate extremism. Kindly authoritarianism. This is now the operating system of Western, ‘centrist’ politics. Take Joe Biden, America’s somnambulant president. At the 2020 election, even anti-woke liberals insisted this scion of the old Democratic establishment – a man so old he can’t even be slurred as a Boomer (he’s actually Silent Generation) – was the man to return America to normality, before the BLM riots and MAGA mania. ‘If you hate wokeness, you should vote for Joe Biden’, declared a piece in the Atlantic, arguing that Trump is to the culture war what kerosene is to a dumpster fire, fueling the woke extremes. That take has aged like milk. On his first day in office, Biden signed sweeping Executive Orders on ‘racial equity’ and gender ideology. He later tried to apportion Covid relief on the basis of race. He’s a Net Zero zealot. He has allowed the justice system to be weaponised against his opponents. He invited Dylan Mulvaney to the White House, FFS. Biden’s return to ‘normalcy’ has been so successful millions of Americans are starting to wonder if Donald Trump might actually be the saner choice.

Tom Slater

Samizdata quote of the day – What is the ECHR really for?

Take a look around you (you don’t have to live in the UK to play this trick, of course): does it strike you that you live in a country in which ‘freedom of speech, assembly, religion, privacy and much more’ are guaranteed? And does it strike you that those freedoms – ‘and much more’ – have been given greater protection since 1998, or less? It strikes me rather that they are becoming ever more contingent, and ever more subject to suspicion. And this is absolutely no accident; it is in part because when the HRA came into effect in the UK, it ushered in the notion that most rights are ‘qualified’ rather than absolute, meaning that that they can be constrained where ‘proportionate’ to the achievement of some legitimate aim of government. The result of this is that rights such as those to freedom of speech or assembly, which were once more or less absolute in the UK except where subject to clear constraint in the form of statutory or common law rules, are now in large part dependent on the whims of judges’ determinations about whether or not interference with the right in question would be legitimate and proportionate. (This is often framed, with respect to freedom of speech, around the rubric of what would be ‘acceptable in a democratic society’ to say – in the eyes, of course, of the judge.)

In summary, then, the idea that human rights law is a body of rules which are necessary to constrain the State, and that the ECHR and its incorporation into UK law by the HRA represented a new era of increased ‘dignity and respect’, is simply not true. What is rather true is that law will tend to follow politics, and indeed will be bent to serve political interests – and human rights law is no different.

David McGrogan

Guess how this German politician plans to revitalise diversity of opinion online

“Leading German politician calls for the state to issue “revocable social media licenses” for the privilege of commenting online”. The eponymous Eugyppius of Eugyppius: A Plague Chronicle describes how Mario Voigt, the head of the centre-right CDU in Thüringen, plans to protect democracy:

Stung by this failure [an uninspiring performance in a debate against an AfD politician called Björn Höcke], Voigt has set off to find other means of defending democracy. This week, in the Thüringen state parliament, he gave an amazing speech outlining a five-point plan to protect German democracy from that other great menace, the free and open internet:

So how do we protect democracy in the area of social media? There are five approaches:

Ideally, we should agree to ban bots and to make the use of fake profiles a criminal offence.

There is also the matter of requiring people to use their real names, because freedom of expression should not be hidden behind pseudonyms.

Then there’s the question of whether we should create revocable social media licences for every user, so that dangerous people have no place online.

We need to consider how we can regulate algorithms so that we can revitalise the diversity of opinions in social networks.

And we also have to improve media skills.

For all that Björn Höcke is supposed to be a “populist authoritarian” opposed to representative government, I’ve never heard him say anything this crazy. Voigt, meanwhile, is a leading politician for the officially “democratic” Christian Democratic Union (you know they are democratic because the word is in their name), and he’s actually dreaming of requiring Germans to obtain state-issued licenses for permission to post their thoughts to the internet.

I added the emphasis to show that the bit about diversity of opinion wasn’t just me or Eugyppius being sarcastic. Mario Voigt really did advocate for revocable social media licences to get those people he deems dangerous off the internet and in the next breath say that he wants the people still allowed to be on the internet to have a greater diversity of opinions.

The Occupy Paradox is back, this time at Northwestern U

“Which is it? Do you want to occupy the public space to express your dissent and invoke your absolute right to speak? Or do you want to beat on anyone who then exists in that same space and invokes their absolute right to document it?”

– a tweet from David Simon referring to a video posted by Logan Schiciano with the accompanying text “Unfortunately some protesters at Northwestern’s newly-formed encampment weren’t too thrilled with us reporting” in which a masked protester assaults the person filming them.

Remember the “Occupy” movement? The Occupy Paradox is this: “Upon what basis can an Occupy protest ask someone to leave?”

… because “This is private property” or any other version of “You have no right to be here” are open to some fairly obvious ripostes.
“We were here first” – “Er, not quite first. The actual owners of the space were there before you.”
“We are the 99%” – “We’re poorer than you, you middle class ****-ers”
“We represent the 99%” – “Who voted for you, then?”
“We are the official accredited Occupiers” – “We refuse to be defined by your oppressive structures, and hereby declare ourselves to be Occupying this Occupation!”

What should the government do?

Here is a good answer.