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

O Lord our God arise

Scatter her enemies

And make them fall

Confound their politics

Frustrate their knavish tricks

On Thee our hopes we fix

God save us all

– the little-used second verse of the National Anthem, quoted in a 2015 Independent article entitled “God Save the Queen lyrics: The troubling words of the National Anthem that are being ignored”.

To be clear, this is not the verse dating from 1745 containing the line “Rebellious Scots to crush”. That was never official anyway. I just thought the lines about politics and knavish tricks somehow seemed appropriate to our current situation.

Nissan, Brexit and the state of journalism

Guido Fawkes has a smart observation about the recent announcement by Japanese carmaker Nissan that it will not produce a new model from its plant in the UK’s Northeast. This has produced a storm, with people claiming that this shows the UK’s move towards independence from Brussels is a mistake, and that all those thick Northerners who voted for Brexit were misled, and will suffer, etc, etc.

However, there’s a big fat problem with this “a pox on Brexit” narrative. If moving out of the snug embrace of the EU and its Single Market is such a dumb idea, only to be entertained by fools or knaves, etc, why hasn’t Nissan relocated to France, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands, or some of the other benighted states of the EU, rather than produce the new models in far-away Japan?

Guido also mentions EU emission standards and other issues as a factor for the firm pulling out. Of course, it may be that one reason why not a single other EU state appeals to the folks in Tokyo is the high labour costs and restrictions of doing business in these places (imagine Italy, for instance!), but if that’s true, then the Single Market’s alleged charms aren’t enough to outweigh the Big Government features of the EU’s constituent members. The EU is, in this sense, stagnating under the weight of its own bureaucracy.

Guido asks why Sky News and others haven’t asked the kind of questions asked here, but that misses how for much of the UK media, to ask these questions assumes a level of objectivity and understanding of business that simply isn’t encouraged in journalists today. (I should know, as I have been a financial reporter, but being a crazed libertarian I just about avoided the infection when I was being trained.) Most UK journalists regard business with suspicion and tend to tilt left politically, in my experience. So points about regulation and red tape encouraging a firm to move from A to B just don’t compute. As a result, the questions aren’t asked. (Just imagine, if you will, how the average Western journalist would react to a book such as this, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins of the Ayn Rand Institute, defending banking and modern finance. You just know what the response will be.)

A few months ago, a US-based commodities and derivatives business, ICE, decided to pull certain futures contracts out of London and back to Chicago, because the costs of complying with EU regulations known as MiFID II were so great they outweighed the benefits of being in the Single Market. As the regulatory process gets worse (I see zero desire to reverse it), the presumed desirability for non-EU countries to be involved will wane. This is a point that we cannot expect the likes of the BBC, or Financial Times, Economist or most of the rest to grasp. And part of the reason is the mindset of the journalists who work for these entities.

Thomas Piketty gets the Theodore Dalrymple treatment

In Britain, as in other countries, more than a quarter of the income tax is paid by 1 per cent of the population. But this is not enough for the Professor, irrespective of whether increasing the rate would increase the take (the purpose of tax being primarily symbolic). He would like capital to be taxed too, from above the not very high limit of $900,000. This would increase both equality and efficiency, according to the Professor, in so far as the money raised would then be redistributed and invested productively by the philosopher-kings of whom the professor is so notable an example.

All this is to be done in the name of what Piketty calls solidarity. ‘If Europe wants to restore solidarity with its citizens it must show concrete evidence that it is capable of establishing cooperation’: that is, it must raise taxes on the prosperous. Overlooking the question of what Europe actually is, or how it is to be defined (I suspect that the Professor thinks it is not continent or a civilisation, but a bureaucracy), this seems to me the kind of solidarity that only someone suffering from autism could dream up, solidarity equalling taxation administered by politicians, bureaucrats and intellectual advisers.

Theodore Dalrymple.

Spanish practices

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


Samizdata quote of the day

Before solving a problem, it is necessary to identify it. Few political leaders or journalists or other public figures are willing to state the obvious fact that the main source of anti-Semitism in Europe today is not among the usual suspects on the far right but the red-green alliance, where the primeval Jew hatred of Muslim immigrants is excused away by the anti-Zionist cosmopolitanism of the secular left.

– From a piece by James Kirchick, in the Tablet, entitled What the EU Survey Reveals about European Anti-Semitism.

With thanks to the relentlessly anti-anti-Semitic Mick Hartley.

Although, “cosmopolitanism” is hardly the right word to describe the left these days.

Fake antiquity in Belgium

I encountered this photo, of a brand new building in Belgium, at the Twitter feed of something called Architectural Revival.

Right now this photo has pride of place there, but just to be sure, this is the Tweet in question. There are several more photos to be seen there of similarly brand-new-but-looking-old buildings, also in Belgium.

So, let all of us who are that way inclined have a comment bunfight about what architecture is the best, ancient, or modern, or fake-ancient.

Personally I favour all three styles, and like it when they are in close proximity to one another. Modernity, unrelieved by either genuine or fake antiquity can get very dreary. But genuine antiquity everywhere can feel rather dispiriting too, because it can feel like you are living or working in a gigantic museum rather than in a place with a future, as well as a mere past. Paris sometimes feels a bit like this to me, especially compared to London which absolutely does not.

To be a bit more precise, I like skyscrapers, whether fake-antique (as they originally were in Chicago and New York) or modern, as in the City of London and nearby spots now. But nearer to the ground I like antiquity to remain, and I would favour more fake-antiquity, especially for many smaller buildings that don’t reach for the sky, than is the case in London now.

Above and beyond my mere tastes, or yours, I favour freedom of choice, in architecture as in all such lifestyle decisions. If you want to build a pretend Scottish Baronial Castle on your plot of land, good luck to you. I think if that was the rule rather than merely something that used to happen if you were rich a hundred and fifty years ago, architecture would be much more fun to look at, and in general, much better.

For more concerning such arguments, see this recent piece by Roger Scruton.

Episcopal (related) quote of the last Millennium

One of the main targets of (Bishop of Lincoln) Robert Grosseteste‘s (c. 1175 – 9 October 1253) criticism was the Papacy, which he believed was levying over-harsh taxation in England and appointing inappropriate men to benefices in the Church.

Another quote:

“Those rascal Romans….. he hated like the poison of a serpent. He was wont to say that if he should commit the charge of souls to them, he should be acting like Satan. Wherefore he often threw down with contempt the letters sealed with the papal bulls and openly refused to listen to such commands.”

Thus say English Heritage of Bishop Grossteste (Big Head) of Lincoln, in a display in the former Bishop’s Palace in Lincoln. The Bishop was never canonised, perhaps because he was too holy. He was no fan of Rome, as English Heritage note, in their exhibition in his former palace.

A Protestant before the term was coined, and surely a model for our current political class in the light of current ‘difficulties’ from over the water.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The idea that it is not possible to leave the EU seems to be the most dangerous affront to democracy. They are saying not only that it was wrong for the public to vote to leave, but also that it cannot be done and therefore the democratic vote was meaningless.”

Richard Tombs, historian, University of Cambridge.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The unwarranted gloom about the UK and the exaggerated respect for the EU are not new. Many of those who now say that Britain must stay as closely aligned to the EU as possible predicted disaster when the pound left the exchange rate mechanism in 1992; prophesied a decade later that Britain would rue the day that Gordon Brown gave the single currency a wide berth; and said with the utmost confidence in 2016 that a vote for Brexit would lead to an immediate and deep recession and a massive increase in unemployment. None of these things happened.”

Larry Elliott, writing in – yes – the Guardian. Even if you don’t share his left-leaning, Keynesian economics, much of what he says he about the EU debate is spot-on. He is right, for example, to remind folk of just how lousy the forecasts of various EU pushers down the years have been, and continue to be. The shamelessness is, well, shameful.

If France could quit NATO without permission, why can’t Britain leave the EU?

Author’s note: I gave a talk at one of Brian Micklethwait’s end-of-month Fridays on the Brexit process and why and how libertarians should think about it. This is a sort of distillation of my views, with added material from events of this week. Thanks again to Brian for giving me a chance to hash this out in a congenial atmosphere, along with the likes of Patrick Crozier, also of this parish.)

I haven’t anything particularly original to add to the immediate furore about Mrs May’s plan but thought I would set out a few thoughts here, particularly as people on the pro-liberty side of the fence are often divided on the Brexit question. (Yes, there are libertarian Remainers, and may the Lord have mercy on their souls.)

Mrs May’s “deal” is awful, in my view, and my former editor, Allister Heath, says what needed to be said yesterday in a typically trenchant Daily Telegraph column. To paraphrase (the DT is behind a paywall), he notes that, for example, members of NATO are free to leave without having to get permission from the others first, whereas under this “deal”, the UK would have to ask Brussels’ permission to leave the Customs Union. (In the 1960s, De Gaulle took France out of NATO in certain respects at the height of the Cold War, let it be noted.)

In all walks of life, people can and do end agreements – they get divorced, change jobs, leave membership organisations of all kinds. I even cancelled a gym membership once – I don’t recall asking any civil servant’s consent. And the world continues to turn. Only the EU, it seems, wants to lock the UK into an indefinite arrangement, like a form of involuntary servitude. The only way that such a deal would ever be overturned is by extra-legal means (yes, and that might even include military action). The fact that the EU demands such terms from a country that is making very few other changes to its post-EU situation and paying £39 billion for the privilege, is so evidently unjust that one wonders if there is a secret agenda for the UK to crash out. (I sometimes wonder if this is what is going on, but then remember the more obvious reason which is that Mrs May, who supported Remain, does not and did not want Brexit to happen, other than superficially, such as getting blue passports and being meaner to immigrants, as part of her generally authortarian mindset.)

The oddity about our situation is that while the EU moves on towards becoming ever more centralised – assuming the euro-zone doesn’t crack up under its contradictions – the new technologies and ideas shaking up business and creating our future are going to come from free, open economies, where the State is relatively small, taxes are low and flat, regulations are strict but not wide, and where entrepreneurship and grit are prized qualities. The EU, by contrast, trundles on, poisoning national politics, stirring up ugly populism, and lining the pockets of a group of people who are so convinced of their own virtue that they express open contempt for democracy. We forget, for instance, how the EU recently helped to stamp out seccession of Catalonia from the rest of Spain. The Scottish independence folk who think Brussels is their friend should take note.

My dislike of these forms of bullying and obduracy are in general the reasons I voted for Brexit over two years ago. This was never going to be a clean or easy process – there’s too much invested psychologically in this project of an EU state for its architects to give up easily. For some on the Remain side, this goes deeper than “market access” or the ability to hire a Polish cleaner without fuss. It’s about virtue, modernity, of being part of the progressive side of history.

For those on the Brexit side like me who hew to classical liberal ideas on society, in the tradition ranging from John Locke all the way through to Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, it is also important to acknowledge that some on the Brexit side are as collectivist, and fans of Big Government, as some Remainers appear to be, while some on the Remain side hold broadly liberal views and genuinely worry that Brexit will mean the return of socialism and protectionism. Those worries should be taken seriously.

Brexit does not have to involve any diminution of a drive towards a freer society – ultimately, what will make the difference are the values of the people who make up a political construct. To those libertarian Remainers who – rightly – object to the idiocies that we Brits are capable of inflicting on ourselves (and the list is long) I make this point: it is a damn sight easier to chuck out a national government than it is to chuck out a whole political class from 28 separate countries, with different languages and political traditions. And that, for me, is the most important argument of all.

Blasphemy laws return to Europe

Guido Fawkes reports:

ECHR: Defaming Muhammad beyond “Permissible limits” of “objective debate”

and comments,

The Austrian court found that “by making the statements the applicant had suggested that Muhammad was not a worthy subject of worship”. The ECHR has now agreed that this is a crime which trumps a person’s right to free speech. On the same day that Ireland is finally voting to take blasphemy laws out of its constitution, the ECHR seems determined to put them back in…

Calling all Samizdata-reading lawyers! Is this as bad for free speech as it sounds, or are there complicating factors? How specific to Austria is it?

Note that the ECHR (European Court of Human Rights) is not the “supreme court of the EU”, that would be the European Court of Justice (ECJ). We will probably stay in the ECHR when we leave the EU.

Finally, what’s with “… he was not a worthy subject of worship”? Muslims strenuously deny that they worship Muhammad; worship is for God alone. At first I thought this might be a sloppy paraphrase by Guido, but those very words do appear several times in the original judgement.

You had me worried there for a moment, CERN!

We girls do get ourselves in a tizzy sometimes. Even me, and I’m an unusual girl, being into boy things like science. As a sixth former my dream was to become an astronaut, or, failing that (edit: or in addition to that), a particle physicist who would unlock the secrets of the universe at CERN. Those dreams weren’t so crazy, either. I did go to Oxford to study physics, and I did make some use of my degree in parts of my subsequent career. I never made it to CERN but I know people who did. For these reasons I have a motherly concern for the future of science, with particle physics being particularly close to my heart. When my old college and the Oxford Department of Physics send me their respective begging newsletters I throw them both away but I never fail to commit the physics one to the depths of the recycling bin in a respectful manner.

That is why I was so worried when I read this report from the BBC:

Cern scientist Alessandro Strumia suspended after comments

A senior scientist who said physics “was invented and built by men” has been suspended with immediate effect from working with Cern.

Prof Alessandro Strumia, of Pisa University, made the comments during a presentation organised by the European nuclear research centre.

Cern issued a statement on Monday suspending Prof Strumia pending an investigation.

You can see why I was worried for a moment: there was no accusation of scientific misconduct by Professor Strumia. It seemed almost as if CERN were punishing unconventional political beliefs. But then all became clear. Why did I not see it before? Like true scientists, CERN proposed to investigate the Professor’s hypothesis. He has said, “People say that physics is sexist, physics is racist. I made some simple checks and discovered that it wasn’t, that it was becoming sexist against men and said so.” Obviously CERN would dispassionately examine the relevant data and draw conclusions as to how well it aligned to his hypothesis.

What a relie…

It stated that his presentation was “unacceptable”.

How do you know in advance whether it was acceptable or not, CERN? OK, I was being a sarcastic cow as per usual when I pretended to think that you ever had any plan to investigate whether what he said was true, but you haven’t even done your wretched little thoughtcrime investigation yet.

And so it goes on:

“Cern always strives to carry out its scientific mission in a peaceful and inclusive environment,” the statement reads, calling the presentation “contrary to the Cern Code of Conduct”.

The organisation said it was “unfortunate” the views of the scientist, who works at a collaborating university, “risks overshadowing the important message and achievements of the event”.

Prof Strumia, who regularly works at Cern, was speaking at a workshop in Geneva on gender and high energy physics.

He told his audience of young, predominantly female physicists that his results “proved” that “physics is not sexist against women. However the truth does not matter, because it is part of a political battle coming from outside”.

He produced a series of graphs which, he claimed, showed that women were hired over men whose research was cited more by other scientists in their publications, which is an indication of higher quality.

He also presented data that he claimed showed that male and female researchers were equally cited at the start of their careers but men scored progressively better as their careers progressed.

Carelessly, the BBC let us see a glimpse of a graph of one of his slides which did seem to kinda sorta suggest that… I will say no more. He may well be wrong. When scientists make confident pronouncements about matters outside their area of expertise they often make fools of themselves. But fair play to him, he did put the ball in his opponents’ court by publishing his data. In an older tradition of reporting this might have been the prompt for the BBC to provide an analysis of the figures. But the modern BBC prefers to outsource its analysis to semi-random people on Twitter. Some woman who must be listened to because her twitter handle is “DrSammie” tweets, “I don’t even have any rage left for the whole CERN sexism thing because, truth is, I’m not at all shocked or surprised knowing some of the attitudes of people I have met. It aint unique to any one scientific discipline.” I do hope she is able to find a new supply of rage soon; a modern female scientist must never be without rage.

Just to top it off, the BBC finishes by this charming little lie of omission. The article says:

In 2015, Nobel laureate Prof Tim Hunt resigned from his position at University College London after telling an audience of young female scientists at a conference in South Korea that the “trouble with girls” in labs was that “when you criticise them they cry”.

Way to go, BBC. Don’t let the readers know that the next words Hunt said were,

Now seriously, I’m impressed by the economic development of Korea. And women scientists played, without doubt an important role in it. Science needs women and you should do science despite all the obstacles, and despite monsters like me.”

Emphasis added. It was a joke. But it is not wise to joke against the dominant religion, as Sir Tim Hunt’s subsequent treatment demonstrated. Nor is it wise to put forward for discussion ideas contrary to that religion, as Professor Strumi’s treatment demonstrates. Perhaps it is a still too early to bring up Galileo Galilei’s dealings with the Holy Office. But when I read that the first reaction of some of the most prominent scientists in the world, endlessly lauded for their “scientific daring”, to new ideas from one of their number is to is to deem those ideas “unacceptable” – not “wrong for the following reasons” but unacceptable – I cannot help remembering that Galileo complained to Kepler that those who denounced him would not even look through his telescope.