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]

Priestcraft

To the priests of ancient Egypt, the complexity of their writing system was an advantage. To be one of the few who understood the mystery of writing made a priest a powerful and valuable man.

This article, “The EU: Authoritarianism Through Complexity”, is by George Friedman who used to be chairman of Stratfor and now is chairman of a body called Geopolitical Futures.

Reading it made me think that the old term “priestcraft” might be due a revival:

The British team consists of well-educated and experienced civil servants. In claiming that this team is not up to the task of understanding the complexities of EU processes and regulations, the EU has made the strongest case possible against itself. If these people can’t readily grasp the principles binding Britain to the EU, then how can mere citizens understand them? And if the principles are beyond the grasp of the public, how can the public trust the institutions? We are not dealing here with the complex rules that allow France to violate rules on deficits but on the fundamental principles of the European Union and the rights and obligations – political, economic and moral – of citizens. If the EU operating system is too complex to be grasped by British negotiators, then who can grasp it?

The EU’s answer to this is that the Maastricht treaty, a long and complex document, can best be grasped by experts, particularly by those experts who make their living by being Maastricht treaty experts. These experts and the complex political entities that manage them don’t think they have done a bad job managing the European Union. In spite of the nearly decadelong economic catastrophe in Southern Europe, they are content with their work. In their minds, the fault generally lies with Southern Europe, not the EU; the upheaval in Europe triggered by EU-imposed immigration rules had to do with racist citizens, not the EU’s ineptness; and Brexit had to do with the inability of the British public to understand the benefits of the EU, not the fact that the benefits were unclear and the rules incomprehensible. The institutionalized self-satisfaction of the EU apparatus creates a mindset in which the member publics must live up to the EU’s expectations rather than the other way around.

The EU has become an authoritarian regime insisting that it is the defender of liberal democracy. There are many ways to strip people and governments of their self-determination. The way the EU has chosen is to create institutions whose mode of operation is opaque and whose authority cannot be easily understood. Under those circumstances, the claim to undefined authority exercised in an opaque manner becomes de facto authoritarianism – an authoritarianism built on complexity. It is a complexity so powerful that the British negotiating team is deemed to be unable to grasp the rules.

Of more than local interest

I imagine that for many Samizdata readers, the daily diet of gossip and snark and tittle tattle that dominates the output of Guido Fawkes is not to their taste, even if they do entirely see the point of it, and are glad that it happens.

But every so often, Guido does a posting that is of much more than local appeal, which would connect to a far wider audience, provided only that they are alerted to its existence.

So, allow me to alert you to this posting, which features the maiden speech of Kemi Badenoch, Conservative MP for Saffron Walden. Guido describes this maiden speech as his favourite of the 2017 intake by far.

I especially liked the Woody Allen reference. But basically, I liked it all. Her website is here.

If more British Conservative Party people were capable of talking or even thinking like this, I’d seriously consider joining them.

As long as you took no pleasure in it, my son

There is an old Irish story – used by Connor Cruise O’Brien in an old speech – about a priest with a very forgiving attitude whenever a young Irish man confessed to straying from the path of virtue with an equally-willing young Irish woman. “As long as you took no pleasure in it, my son” was his gentle substitute for penance. The same might be said of Judge Watson’s attitude to the US travel ban: saintly Obama – though he banned Syrian immigrants for longer – took care to sound like a man who took no pleasure in it, whereas despicable Trump never made the same effort. For much the same reason, Churchill was kept out of the UK government till WWII was actually declared: the ‘happy warrior’ might love peace, might hate Hitler for compelling war, but he never sounded nearly miserable enough about accepting its necessity or having to wage it.

It’s admirable when people admit truths unwelcome to their point of view. Even in such honesty, however, there can be a lingering need to virtue signal – and this matters because it means their instincts are still giving them wrong answers about ‘what to do’.

Dr. Cheryl Benard has realised there’s a problem with Europe’s (especially Austria’s) migrant (especially Afghan) crime-wave (h/t instapundit). Since many others are still in total denial, she deserves credit for this (belated, IIUC) realisation. However she found it necessary to tell us:

This is not an article that has been fun for me to write.

Well, who would! Who would find it fun to write about vicious assaults on women, pensioners, etc. Precisely because that is so very obvious, it is not the reason she wrote that sentence. She would have skipped it in a reversed-context article about Austrians attacking Afghan immigrants. So I’m very grateful for her information, and the evidence that denial is cracking, but I notice when her conclusions are:

– statistically inattentive:

why is this current cohort of Afghans making its mark as sexual predators . . . and inept, stupid ones at that?

‘inept and stupid’ Afghani sexual predators will appear to be a higher percentage of immigrant perpetrators than they truly are. The Rotherham gang were not Afghans.

– politically correct:

… these young men are “ours.” They grew up during the years in which we [the U.S.] were the dominant influence and paymaster in Afghan society. Since 2001, we have spent billions on an Afghan school system that we like to cite as one of our greatest accomplishments. .. And here, now, are our “graduates,” rampaging across Europe like the worst sort of feral beasts.

If that school system took its political tone from the US educational system, then the result is hardly surprising. However, numerous US military personnel report seeing the problem in Afghanistan long before “our graduates” got out of school – and the New York Times agreed, even as it blamed them for fighting the Taliban instead.

Members of the relevant diaspora communities must make very clear to the refugees that they do not approve of and will not assist them

but the article itself explains some of the reasons why they do not and will not.

“Look at the phone in your hand – you can thank the state for that”

The title of the piece by Rutger Bregman in today’s Guardian describes its main thrust well:

And just look at us now! Moore’s law clearly is the golden rule of private innovation, unbridled capitalism, and the invisible hand driving us to ever lofty heights. There’s no other explanation – right? Not quite.

For years, Moore’s law has been almost single-handedly upheld by a Dutch company – one that made it big thanks to massive subsidisation by the Dutch government. No, this is not a joke: the fundamental force behind the internet, the modern computer and the driverless car is a government beneficiary from “socialist” Holland.

and

Radical innovation, Mazzucato reveals, almost always starts with the government. Take the iPhone, the epitome of modern technological progress. Literally every single sliver of technology that makes the iPhone a smartphone instead of a stupidphone – internet, GPS, touchscreen, battery, hard drive, voice recognition – was developed by researchers on the government payroll.

Why, then, do nearly all the innovative companies of our times come from the US? The answer is simple. Because it is home to the biggest venture capitalist in the world: the government of the United States of America.

These days there is a widespread political belief that governments should only step in when markets “fail”. Yet, as Mazzucato convincingly demonstrates, government can actually generate whole new markets. Silicon Valley, if you look back, started out as subsidy central. “The true secret of the success of Silicon Valley, or of the bio- and nanotechnology sectors,” Mazzucato points out, “is that venture investors surfed on a big wave of government investments.”

Even the Guardian commentariat were not having that. The current most recommended comment comes from “Jabr”:

Whatever reasonable insights this article has (none of which are anything we haven’t heard before many times), they pale into insignificance compared to the one central and glaring fallacy, dishonesty, hypocrisy and absurdity at its core (and it’s remarkable that the writer seems oblivious to it): the writer is left wing. The specific branch of state activity where much US government innovation comes from is the federal armed forces of the United States, which every leftist hates more than anything. GPS wasn’t originally developed so we could find our way to the nearest organic kumquat shop – it was developed so that Uncle Sam could kill people more efficiently.

Thank goodness that leftists weren’t in charge of government investment decision-making at the time, because none of that investment would’ve been made and none of this technology would now exist – they’d have spent it on diversity coordinators and other progressive nonsense. Clicking on the writer’s profile, it says “The Case for a Universal Basic Income, Open Borders and a 15-hour Workweek.” So there we have it. I rest my case. That’s what society would’ve looked like, had the writer had his way – not a society which invested billions into military technology, but one which actively promotes indolence.

I would guess that most readers here will be closer to Jabr’s view than to Mr Bregman’s, but will not agree with either. But enough of my guesses as to what you think, what do you think?

Reasons for leaving the EU and some random thoughts on Theresa May’s brand of conservatism

A report presented to the European Parliament’s Committee on Budgets gave an inclination of how the EU intends to spend European taxpayers’ money in 2018 and 2019. Among the planned expenditures is a stunning €6.18 million (£5.3 million) for furniture. One can only speculate as to what sort of furniture would cost the EU so much over the course of a single year. Even this sum, however, is dwarfed by the amount the EU intends to spend on a communications campaign which they claim will “explain the purpose of the [European] Union and the [European] Parliament to the citizens’ ahead of European Parliament elections in 2019”. So that’s €33.3 million (£28.6 million) on an EU PR campaign. In total, it will be €25 million (£21.5 million) next year, and another €8.33 million (£7.1 million) in May 2019, all aimed at boosting the European project through these elections.

CapX.

Of course, countries that aren’t members of transnational (“tranzi”) organisations are just as capable of blowing millions or more of their citizens’ wealth on such foolishness, but it does seem that with tranzi organisations, there is a greater momentum for this nonsense, because the chains of accountability involved tend to be weaker. And never forget good old-fashioned empire building: the EU, as I like to remind my Remainer friends, is at root a political project and that those who consider it to be a Good Things don’t scruple that hard about what is needed to spread The Word. I have, in my capacity as a journalist down the years, been to my fair share of EU gabfests, and I have always been struck by just how many media “aides” and so on there are in attendance. I recently went to Malta for such an event, and there were enough EU officials running the thing to make up three football teams. This is where the money goes. Just because someone as florid as Nigel Farage denounces EU waste and spending doesn’t make his comments any less true. And getting away from this circus, it seems to me, is a prize worth taking.

Right now people are debating the pros and cons of what Britain is doing. Britain does, I hope, have a chance to use its departure from the EU as an opportunity not just to break free from EU cost and regulatory nonsense, but to consign plenty of homegrown foolishness to the garbage can. And it is therefore all the more depressing that an authortarian centrist such as UK Prime Minister Theresa May seems determined to march the country down into a dirigiste dead end, if only for reasons of narrow party advantage, although there is a chilling thought that this fan of Joe Chamberlain, god help us, actually means it.

If access to the Single Market (aka customs union) is so important, then exporters should pay a fee

This a few months’ old, but I thought of this excellent point on the issue of Single Market access, made by Tim Worstall, when reading some bleatings from Remainers on the subject:

“We could in fact argue that a payment into the EU budget in return for Single Market access is illegal state aid. And thus not allowed under the usual rules of trade with the EU. Because it is state aid. Exporters will face tariffs if the payment is not made. The payment thus benefits exporters. But the payment is made by taxpayers, this is thus aid from taxpayers to exporters. It’s a subsidy for exports – something that isn’t allowed.”

And:

A reasonable guess at the amount the EU would demand for continued Single Market access is £8 billion a year or so. Around and about the current nett contribution and not far off the correct multiple they charge to the far smaller economies of Switzerland and Norway. And recall again, this is what they demand be paid by taxpayers to grant that profitable privilege to exporters.

What we should therefore do is charge that £8 billion to the exporters. This has two useful effects. Firstly, the charge for the privilege now falls precisely and exactly upon those who profit from the privilege. This is where costs are supposed to go, to those who gain the benefits.

And then this:

The crucial point is that the benefits, as far as the UK is concerned, of Single Market access lie with those making the exports. Thus those making the exports should be those paying the cost of Single Market access. If those who benefit think it not worth the cost then no one should be paying such bribesillegal state aid access fees. And simply by applying the costs, correctly, to those who benefit we find out which is the truth.

It’s very difficult indeed, nay impossible, to see the down side of this suggestion. If exporters want Single Market access then exporters can pay for it, not taxpayers. If they won’t pay it then it’s not worth it, is it?

Worstall rightly says that this sort of idea is politically difficult, precisely because it is so logical.

There is another issue. The Single Market, as envisaged by the late Margaret Thatcher, may have been about trade and economics, but as far as much of the EU political class is concerned, it was part of a wider architecture of a European superstate – hence the way debate is linked to its access being tied up with free movement. Even so, as Worstall says, if access to this market really is so important, and denial of entry is going to be “catastrophic” (to quote an excitable Facebook acquaintance of mine), then exporters should not mind paying a fee. It would be no different to, say, paying an annual membership fee, or “tithe” (Worstall’s neat term) to be a member of the London Stock Exchange, or some other market, such as the Tattersalls bloodstock market, etc.

As cannot be said too often, the Single Market is a customs union, surrounded by tariff and non-tariff walls that, for example, have significant costs on consumers. To be a member of such a protected zone ought to be a privilege that those who wish for its membership should pay for, and that payment should not come from the general taxpayer.

Worstall’s logic is impeccable.

 

Folk are saner on the Continent, apparently

If you think a lot of TV and live comedy shows have got tired recently, then I think this fellow, a columnist at Bloomberg, could stir things up a bit, albeit without realising it:

Voters in the major continental nations may get angry and disappointed — say, with French President Francois Hollande’s feckless leadership or with the recent inflow of refugees from the Middle East — but they don’t get desperate enough to vote in a Donald Trump or to inflict Brexit-style turmoil on their countries.

Leonid Bershidsky

Absolutely, Mr Bershidsky, voters in France, for example, continue to elect people who preside over the grandeur, nay, the stability, of double-digit unemployment, of all those jolly car-burning festivals that so enliven the outskirts of Paris or Marseilles. And they vote for the sort of structures that will admit a country such as Greece, or for that matter, Italy, into a single currency predicated on economic fundamentals that are for the fairies.

But hey, they don’t vote to leave a transnational progressive union with centralising intent, and they don’t vote for property developers from Queen’s. So I guess Europe’s okay then.

Where the hell does Bloomberg find these people?

A new recruit for the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America!

France.

That is, if French presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon wins the coming election. I would still call that unlikely, but he is rising in the polls. In case you’re wondering, Our France would qualify as part of Our America because of its overseas departments French Guiana and the French Antilles. Although I am not sure that the present members of ALBA – principally Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Ecuador – will greet these parts of France Overseas with unmixed joy.

Quoting the article from Le Figaro linked to above:

The document [Mélenchon’s manifesto] proposes to leave the treaties of alliance that France belongs to now, like NATO on the military plane, or the WTO and the CETA on the economic level. Proposal 62 calls for the establishment of an alternative system and, for example, to join structures of “regional cooperation”, “in a process of ecological, social and human progress”. The program cites the ALBA (Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of our America) launched by Hugo Chavez and his allies as early as 2004. The links between the late South American president and the candidate are of long standing, and the latter never misses an opportunity to tell the story of their meeting. But the reference to the Bolivarian model has not yet been updated with regard to the drift of the regime of Maduro and the resulting economic collapse.

There is more on this story from Libération: What is the Bolivarian Alliance that Mélenchon wants to join?

That story links to a video showing a TV studio discussion in which an interviewer brought up Mr Mélenchon’s proposed change of direction for France with his spokesperson, Clémentine Autain, who “was obviously unaware of this point of her candidate’s program” – and could hardly keep a straight face when told about it.

As ever, the translations are a joint project between my French O-Level and Messieurs Google et Bing. Corrections are welcome.

Italy keeps up its traditional ways

…of backwardness, protectionism and cronyism. Sorry, Italy, I love you in so many ways but this is just Third World:

The International Business Times reports, “Italy court bans Uber across the country over unfair competition for traditional taxis”

An Italian court banned the Uber app across the country on Friday ruling that it contributed unfair competition to traditional taxis. In a court ruling, a Rome judge upheld a complaint filed by Italy’s major traditional taxi associations, preventing Uber from using its Black, Lux, Suv, XL, Select and Van services from operating within the country.

Samizdata quote of the day

The problem is that a lot of data suggests that countries with more robust welfare states tend to have stronger far-right movements. Providing white voters with higher levels of economic security does not tamp down their anxieties about race and immigration — or, more precisely, it doesn’t do it powerfully enough. For some, it frees them to worry less about what it’s in their wallet and more about who may be moving into their neighbourhoods or competing with them for jobs.

Zack Beauchamp, Vox.

(Yes, I am putting up a SQOTD from a lefty news service. If readers’ blood pressure rises, sorry. The article contains a few errors and arguments I don’t agree with, but I like to find signs, or glimmerings, of intelligence wherever I can. Maybe, just maybe it is dawning on some of the smarter souls in the Left that the identity politics game has been a catastrophe, and that some of the so-called solutions for our ills as advocated by socialists/Welfare Statists have been an abject failure. Politics/ideas are in ferment right now, and this article is a sort of suggestion of what the ferment is causing. I also commend the author for the amount of data here.)

I added this to the pushback in the comments:

Let’s consider: the article goes into considerable detail to point the fact that in those countries with high levels of Welfare State spending and the rest, support for the far right has increased often more than among those places with less of this, and the author concludes that one reason might be that citizens in those places feel their welfare frees them up to worry about non-economic issues, such as the allegedly malign impact of foreigners entering a country. That seems to be just as plausible a reading of the facts – and in some ways an original and perceptive one – as the standard line that high welfare has sucked in lots of foreign scroungers who have provoked a backlash. For a start, there is no clear evidence that immigrants in net terms consume more welfare than the indigenous population. Secondly, there is the point that the sort of people who want high welfare spending (paid for, they naively think, by other, richer people) tend to have a zero-sum, economically illiterate view of the world (hence their support for a Welfare State), and people who hold wrong-headed views about the State tend also to hold fearful views about immigrants “taking their jobs” or whatever. And the kind of folk who are turned on by the politics of identity tend, given their collectivist assumptions about life (bosses, workers, them, us, etc) to be the sort who like Big Government.

This article shows why it is no accident that Labour Party voters, who by and large aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, have switched to UKIP, or even further to the right, and why socialism often blends very easily with nationalism.

Like I said, what I hope (naively!) this article suggests is that there are people on the Left who are seeing this, and who realise there is a problem. At the very least, rather than simply criticise and pick holes, it is a good idea in my view to engage with these folk, to show where they are correct and draw them out. This is how intellectual shifts occur; smart advocates of liberal free markets and limited government should embrace anyone who seems honestly to be wrestling with what is going on.

 

On political ignorance

A commenter over at the Guido Fawkes blog, with the joyful name of “Rasta Pickles”, comments on the notion that the UK electorate is too thick to figure out the complexities of Brexit, and that such complex matters should be left to a political class that has done such a tremendous job down the years. He or she notes a flaw in this “argument”:

“99.9% of the UK electorate have no idea what they’re voting for every time they vote in a council election; they regard local elections as a popularity poll on what’s happening in Westminster. Your local Labour/Tory council might well be planning on a compulsory purchase order on your house and those around you in order to build a new mega-PoundLand store and you’d still have people voting for them out of sheer ignorance.”

Even so, there are libertarians/classical liberals who point out that democracy, unless hedged with checks and balances, isn’t compatible with liberty and can be harmful to it. Bryan Caplan’s The Myth of The Rational Voter is a good read, as is this recent effort by Jason Brennan. But my problem with the arguments they make is that what, realistically, can they propose other than the sort of return to oligarchy of “smart people” that, as history tends to show, descends into corruption pretty damn quick?

In Austria, perhaps they are only following orders….

Hitler lookalike arrested in Austria

A Hitler lookalike has been arrested in Austria on charges of glorifying the Nazi era, local officials say.
The 25-year-old man reportedly calls himself Harald Hitler.
The man, sporting a side parting and a trademark moustache, had been seen having his photograph taken outside the house in Braunau am Inn in which Adolf Hitler was born.
The lookalike had recently moved to the town on the German border, police spokesman David Furtner told the BBC.

Well if ever someone’s face didn’t fit… Best not be a Charlie Chaplin tribute act in Austria then, or go to a Sparks concert, that town ain’t big enough for the both of them.

What’s next, putting down cats with unfortunate colouring?

On a more serious note, how better to discredit freedom that to carry on like this? Perhaps that’s all socialists can think to do. Mocking a fool is better that locking a fool up. Hitler is, thanks to Downfall parodies (here’s one, oddly prescient on the EU referendum, about Gordon Brown’s fading Premiership), a laughing stock, and the one thing that discredits tyrants more than anything is being laughed at. After all, mass murder has not discredited any brand of socialism.