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]

Samizdata quote of the day – understatement of the week

West Yorkshire Police must now justify the officers’ actions in terms of lawful arrest and proportional force. Failure to do so would significantly undermine public trust, especially among people with autism and other disabilities.

Robert Jessel

Unless there is far more to this story than meets the eye, if they cannot justify their actions, at the very least some Plod need to lose their jobs and ideally face prosecution.

A film explaining the monetary system, from The Cobden Centre

The good folk at The Cobden Centre have put together a very good documentary to explain how the fiat money system works, and has some suggestions as to what to do about it. At the instigation of the Sage of Kettering, (full disclosure, his cousin made it), here it is.

I have watched it and it is very good. Ex Nihilo: The Truth about Money. My only quibble is that it repeatedly refers to banks creating money out of thin air, but there is some substance to ‘thin air’, which, after all, can sustain respiration and hold up aircraft.

Samizdata quote of the day – the first freedom

We say “freedom of speech.” That’s not really what it is.

It’s freedom of thought.

People who can’t say openly what they think for too long are forced into a shadow world. Either they give up the right to have their own view of the world and accept into what society or the government tells them. Or they keep their own views but no longer admit them aloud – and spend more and more time and energy gaslighting themselves.

Note that I am not using the words truth or lie in this analysis.

That omission is deliberate.

It doesn’t actually matter whether the speech is right or wrong, objectively true or false. Indeed, the First Amendment makes no reference to the truth or falsity of the speech it protects. Plenty of people have strange ideas. If I think aliens are real but can’t say so, I have lost some essential part of myself.

Alex Berenson

Samizdata quote of the day – assault the surveillance state

Two unanticipated events in 2016 completely shocked our ruling class: the election of Trump in the U.S. and the Brexit vote in the U.K. Our elites did not respond by examining the disconnect between their core assumptions and the will of the people. Instead they decided that, sure, democracy is all fine and well, but naturally, democracy must be protected from these unruly people.

After all, the people often don’t know what’s good for them. So those who know better must acquire the capacity to monitor and control the will of the people if we are to ‘defend democracy’. The means for doing this in the digital age, our ruling class divined, is by monitoring populations’ behaviors and shaping their thinking by controlling the flow of information online. The idea of censorship once again became chic.

Aaron Kheriaty

Samizdata quote of the day – the unknown unknowns

We do not know what AI will be useful for. We do not know what it can actually do, what we want done, better than other ways of doing that thing (OK, other than writing C grade essays at GCSE level). We also do not know what might be a problem with what AI can do. We don’t know the benefits, we don’t know the risks.

We face, that is, radical uncertainty. So it’s impossible for us to plan anything. For planning assumes that we have an idea of the cost/benefit analysis so that we can say do that, don’t do t’other. And if we are radically uncertain then we can’t do that, can we?

Tim Worstall

Corporatist social credit includes kin punishment, naturally

“Relatives of Nigel Farage have also been refused bank accounts, former Ukip leader reveals”, reports Gordon Rayner at the Telegraph.

Relatives and associates of Nigel Farage have been refused bank accounts after being designated as politically exposed persons, or PEPs, the former Ukip leader has disclosed.

Mr Farage said someone close to him had been the subject of a “very nasty” account closure in the past fortnight and that others had been told they could not open accounts.

He said Coutts’s decision to close his personal and business accounts had left him “screwed” because he has been turned down as a customer by 10 other banks after having to tick a box saying he has been refused an account elsewhere.

Mr Farage has also dismissed as “a fable” claims by Coutts’s parent company NatWest that he was offered personal and business accounts with NatWest after being “exited” by the private bank.

After being told his accounts were being closed and convinced the decision was politically motivated, Mr Farage submitted subject access requests to Coutts and two companies which send them press cuttings and other information on customers, Lexis Nexus and Refinitiv.

As a result of their responses, Mr Farage discovered that a number of family members and associates, thought to be more than 10, were designated by the bank as PEPs, some of whom have now found it difficult to obtain banking facilities.

None of this would be a problem if there were anything like a free market in banks. Given the public anger on this issue, it would be a great opportunity for a proudly non-woke new bank to establish itself. Unfortunately, as Johnathan Pearce pointed out in this post, “And we wonder why normal people avoid going into front-line politics”, there is nothing like a free market in banks.

Update: If you want to read the 40-page dossier that Coutts compiled on Farage that he obtained via a Subject Access Request, Guido Fawkes has it up on his site without a paywall: READ IN FULL: THE 40-PAGE COUTTS DOSSIER DEFENDING DE-BANKING “RACIST” FARAGE

Another update: Nigel Farage receives apology from Coutts after bank account row. That report from Sky News does not impress. It says, ‘Mr Farage claimed to have a 40-page document that proved Coutts “exited” him because he was regarded as “xenophobic and racist” and a former “fascist”‘ as if there were some doubt as to the document’s existence. Then it says, ‘the chief executive of the Natwest Group, Alison Rose, has apologised for “deeply inappropriate comments” made about him in documents prepared for the company’s wealth committee’, seemingly unaware that the documents prepared for the company’s wealth committee formed part of the same aforementioned 40-page dossier. When NatWest’s own chief executive has acknowledged that the document is genuine, you would think that Sky News could accept it too.

A Lamborghini tractor at the gates of Downing Street

“If we don’t learn from the Dutch eco quagmire we might end up with Farmer Clarkson as PM”, warns the Times.

Jeremy Clarkson is a bit too much of a Remainer for my political tastes, but we could do a lot worse. But Robert Colvile’s article is not really about Britain’s most famous petrolhead. It is about the slow but relentless growth in the scope of a law for which nobody voted, Council Directive 92/43/EEC on the Conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora, a.k.a. the “EU Habitats Directive”.

This was designed to protect and restore rare species and conservation sites. One thing they needed protecting from was nitrogen pollution.

In November 2018 the European Court of Justice ruled (after a referral from the Netherlands) that any “plans or projects” near such sites were permissible only if there was “no reasonable scientific doubt as to the lack of adverse effects”.

In other words, before you could build a house or spread fertiliser on a field, you had to prove it would not increase nitrogen emissions. Which you couldn’t.

This ruling — known as the “Dutch case” — triggered the nutrient neutrality crisis, which is blocking an estimated 145,000 new homes in England.

But in the Netherlands the results were even more dramatic. The country’s highest court quickly suspended 18,000 construction projects and ordered drastic cuts in nitrogen emissions. Given that 46 per cent came from cow dung, MPs proposed halving the number of cattle. Which led to outraged farmers blockading roads with tractors, and the formation of a new party, the Farmer-Citizen Movement. Which is now well ahead in the polls.

As the article points out, Brexit has not prized the UK loose from these laws, although it has made it less inconceivable that one day we might be.

Above all, this story illustrates the dangers of the precautionary principle at the heart of EU law, and in particular our interpretation of it. This principle holds that before you do anything, it must be proved to be absolutely safe.

In the nitrogen ruling, the language about “no reasonable scientific doubt” set an extraordinarily high bar. One that drove Natural England to unilaterally halt the construction of 145,000 desperately needed houses across 74 council areas, because there was a risk of nitrogen from flushed lavatories running into rivers — even though planning permission had already been granted, and the homes would be responsible for only a fraction of local pollution.

What’s striking is the absolute nature of such decisions. There is no evaluation of trade-offs, no way to argue that, yes, we need to protect rivers, but also to build homes and fill bellies with crops. The Economist notes that the Netherlands’ environmental rules have imposed “wide-ranging restrictions on new economic activity”. Same here.

For many Brexit campaigners, the hostility to innovation embedded in the precautionary principle — for nitrogen emissions, read gene-editing, or AI — was a key justification for leaving. But the poison has entered our bloodstream.

In which I praise an article by Simon Jenkins praising the SNP

“Scottish politicians have the courage to decriminalise drugs, but Westminster is too timid to let them” – Simon Jenkins, writing in the Guardian.

Returning from Htrae, I have to say that the SNP’s courage was the courage of desperation. Scotland has had the highest rate of drugs death in Europe for years.

While it seems likely that the problem in many countries is worse than official figures suggest, Scotland’s drug-related death rate is by far the highest.

It is more than three and a half times that of England and Wales.

It is said that when it comes to addiction to alcohol or drugs, sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can recover. I think this can be true of legislators’ attempts to find a solution for drug addition as much as for drug addiction itself. The Scottish National Party has not seen the light, it has merely run out of other options. And given that the SNP’s longstanding stance on alcohol contradicts its new position on drugs, they’ll probably make etizolam compulsory the day they raise the minimum price of alcohol to infinity.

Nonetheless, I think this is a good move on the part of the Scottish Government. I do not think it will solve Scotland’s drug problem. I do not think anything will solve Scotland’s drug problem, or humanity’s drug problem. I merely think it will work less badly than the strategy of prohibition, which Scotland and the UK as a whole has been trying for my entire lifetime without success.

Samizdata quote of the day – Doublethink

The July 4 ruling that the federal government must not demand censorship by social media companies is a major setback in the war on disinformation, reports the New York Times yesterday. The reason, says The Times, is that the Trump-appointed judge and other Republicans have fallen prey to a conspiracy theory that a Censorship Industrial Complex exists.

Most dangerously, reports the Times, “The judge’s preliminary injunction is already having an impact. A previously scheduled meeting on threat identification on Thursday between State Department officials and social media executives was abruptly canceled…”

In other words, there’s no Censorship Industrial Complex — no conspiracy by the US government and social media companies to censor disfavored speech. At the same time, it’s a tragedy that the US government isn’t able to meet secretly with Facebook to censor disfavored speech. Got that?

Michael Shellenberger

UK’s absurdly misnamed Online Safety Bill is an abomination

In an open letter, 68 security and privacy researchers warned the draft legislation will profoundly undermine the essential security used to keep digital communications secure.

We note that in the event of the Online Safety Bill passing and an Ofcom order being issued, several international communication providers indicated that they will refuse to comply with such an order to compromise the security and privacy of their customers and would leave the UK market. This would leave UK residents in a vulnerable situation, having to adopt compromised and weak solutions for online interactions.

As independent information security and cryptography researchers, we build technologies that keep people safe online. It is in this capacity that we see the need to stress that the safety provided by these essential technologies is now under threat in the Online Safety Bill.

Free speech and privacy are under attack worldwide and particularly in the UK.

Samizdata quote of the day – the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history

One naturally wants to believe that an issue one is involved in is of world-historical importance. But as the judge himself wrote in the decision, “If the allegations made by Plaintiffs are true, the present case arguably involves the most massive attack against free speech in United States’ history.” That, my friends, is a strong claim, but as I have previously argued, an entirely accurate one.

Aaron Kheriaty

Meritocracy in America

Well, a day has gone after Independence Day, and I read this interesting article by Bloomberg ($) columnist Adrian Wooldridge about the recent SCOTUS ruling against affirmative action as it applies to higher education. The Court ruled, among other things, that such action violates the 14 Amendment. Wooldridge, who has written a book about meritocracy (he is for it), has these comments:

The most serious problem with affirmative action (and one that the court ignored) is that it is too little too late. The best way to address inequality of opportunity is at the high school level and earlier, rather than at college when most of the damage has already been done. Elite America needs to shift its focus to fixing the supply chain of talent.

The obvious way to start is to abolish affirmative action for the rich, which the court’s judgement leaves in place, despite a lot of tut-tutting, because it is based on class rather than race. Astonishingly, Harvard actively discriminates in favor of ALDCs—athletes, legacies, the Dean’s interest list and children of university employees. For one, that could cover the children of politicians and celebrities as well as people who might give the university lots of money. It also sweetens the pill of diversity for the people who administer it by discriminating in favor of the children of alumni and staff. ALDCs make up less than 5% of applicants to the university every year but 30% of freshmen.

Harvard’s “preferences for the children of donors, alumni, and faculty are no help to applicants who cannot boast their parents’ good fortune or trips to the alumni tent all their lives,” Justice Clarence Thomas acidly wrote in his opinion. ALDCs are also 67.8% white (11.4% are Asian American, 6% are Black and 5.6% are Hispanic). Other elite universities pursue similar policies.

A second method is to emphasize objective rather than subjective assessments of applicants. That means academic and objective tests such as the SATs as opposed to so-called holistic ones that take into account extracurricular activities, personal statements, and measures of potential rather achievement.

I agree with much of this but, being a classical liberal chap that I am, I am sort of opposed to any outside interference with how a private university conducts its admissions policy, period. (If such a place takes taxpayers’ money, or is even forced to do so, that’s a separate issue.) A broader point, maybe, is that in US higher education and to some degree in other Western nations, the “sheepskin effect” of having a degree from a smart university is more potent than the intellectual capital that any person may have accumulated from his or her studies. Bryan Caplan, the economics writer, has written a book where he unpacks the whole issue and argues that much of present higher education, at least in most subjects as taught today, rests on this effect, and is socially regressive to the extent that such places receive State (ie, taxpayer) funding. The issue becomes even more egregious when you have attempts, as in that of the Biden administration, to “forgive” the college loans of people who are, mostly, middle class (and disproportionately women, which plays to how we live in an increasingly “gynocentric social order”, as the “manosphere” writer Rollo Tomassi might put it. (The Supreme Court has ruled against Biden on student loans. It’s been a good week for that court.)

In my view, how Harvard, Yale, Oxford or any other place of higher learning structures its admissions is up to the people who run it. To break any dangerous hold these institutions may have is going to mean a, genuine school choice and a re-focus on excellence in schooling (and encouragement where possible of homeschooling); the closure of government education bureaucracies and the end of monopolies of teacher training certification, which is a crucial problem. We need far more people, from all different backgrounds, to be able to teach. That, in my view, is a big issue. Tinkering with Higher Ed. admissions may do some good, but it is, as Woodridge says, too late when a lot of damage has been done already.