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]

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.

Some riotous graffiti in London

Yesterday, as daylight was ending, I encountered this item of graffiti:

In case – what with the rather unhelpful lighting and this blog’s preference for making photos smaller – you can’t read that, it says:

FRENCH RIOTS GET RESULTS! U LOT ARE INSTAGRAM ZZZOMBIES.

The above transcript has the added advantage that if anyone sees this same proclamation and types the words of it into the www, there’s a good chance they’ll get sent here.

This message is (or perhaps now: was) to be seen on the bridge where the top end of Tottenham Court Road goes north over Euston Road and turns itself into Hampstead Road.

I’m not sure what to make of it. He (it probably is a he) has a point, I suppose, if by results you include the riot police getting a pay rise. Riots do sometimes get results, but only in rather particular circumstances, I think. Things like a very weak and unpopular government, and preferably also a dithery and indecisive one; and like: a symbolic issue of great potency, and like: the absence of any other means to express discontent.

But, my prejudice is that the sprayer of the above message is a hell of a lot more interested in rioting, for the sheer hell of it, than he is in what the results of any particular riot might be. “I riot therefore I am” is what this says to me. Or, to adapt that old Marlon Brando line: “What are you rioting against?” “Whaddaya got?”

Personally, I prefer taking photos.

Melvyn Bragg on England’s verbal twins

Whenever I learn of a book about the history of the English language, then provided the price is not too steep, I tend to buy it. Only this month, I bought another such book. Although short, as promised, this one looks like being very good.

You may recall learning about how some Normans conquered the English speaking rulers of England in the eleventh century. 1066 and all that. You may even know something of the bit of the story of English that most fascinates me, which is when, in the late fourteenth century, English, in England, conquered Norman French as the language of those ruling England.

That I like wallowing in this story is why, when I was today looking for something to read while answering nature’s call, I noticed in and picked out from my large and disorganised book collection The Adventure of English by Melvyn Bragg, to rediscover what he had said about this particular moment in the history of English.

→ Continue reading: Melvyn Bragg on England’s verbal twins

Samizdata quote of the day

“Thatcher had to see off the fury of miners fighting pit closures, a dispute that dragged on for a year but which failed to mobilise other industries or the public at large. Macron is confronted by a nationwide rebellion that unites people of different regions, classes, occupations and political allegiances. While protestors rampaged through Paris last Saturday there was also violent unrest in Toulouse, Bordeaux, Calais, Marseille, Narbonne, Nantes and many towns. This week, more than 100 high schools have been blockaded by pupils who, emboldened by the gilets jaunes, have relaunched their springtime protest movement against educational reform. Farmers, lorry drivers, construction workers and ambulance staff are also threatening to go yellow.”

“It has been said that the gilets jaunes movement is to Emmanuel Macron what the miners’ strike was to Margaret Thatcher in the mid-1980s. Not in the slightest. While the comparison might please Macron — who, from the moment he was elected, has staked his reputation on his determination not only to reform his country’s economic model but also to stand firm when the inevitable backlash erupted — it hides the fact that what the French President faces is far more serious.”  

Gavin Mortimer, Spectator (£).

The unsung genius of the yellow vest

Whatever one thinks about the gilets jaunes (yellow vests) protests/riots in France – and I happen to know that they are the result of a deal made between a French green activist wishing to see more protests about what the government was doing to combat climate change and a particularly literal minded demon – the choice of the yellow Hi-Vis waistcoat or vest as a symbol of the protests was inspired. As every schoolboy knows, St David told the Britons to wear leeks in their caps to distinguish friend from foe in their battles with the Saxons. In many struggles since then some item snatched up in haste from whatever was lying around in order to improvise a uniform has duly become an icon of that cause. Here are some reasons why the gilet jaune is destined to join that illustrious list:

One: Protesters want to be seen. Hi-vis vests make people highly visible. This is one of those linkages that manages to be both obvious and surprising at the same time. Why did no one think of this before?

Two, anyone driving a car in France has got one in the boot anyway because a 2008 law says they must. Might as well put the thing to use.

Three, and this is the one I love, it turns a symbol of compliance into a symbol of defiance. Cop pulls you over. Cop saunters up to the car. “Is monsieur carrying a gilet de haute visibilité as required by law?” “Why of course, officer. I always carry my yellow vest. One never knows when one might need it.”

Could it really be that the Maginot Line was a good idea?

I was always taught that the Maginot Line was a military white elephant – colossally expensive and easily by-passed. But this guy begs to differ – kinda sorta. Short version: it would have worked if it hadn’t been for those flibbertygibbet Belgians! Even so he doesn’t address the question of how Germany would have been brought to heel by means of an entirely defensive strategy.

I love this sort of challenge to the narrative and I understand that Samizdata’s own Bertrand Maginot will be joining me. For once.

Atlas shrugs as Sark faces the shocking truth about price controls

The island of Sark, a small, remote Channel Island, with a population somewhere around 500, part of the Duchy of Normandy and the Bailiwick of Guernsey, but almost entirely autonomous, noted for not having any cars, having been one the last feudal jurisdictions in the World and having had very low taxes, is currently in crisis over its electricity supply. The problem can be summed up in two words ‘price control’. Sark is taking on the appearance of a small, cooler, oil-free Venezuela (or perhaps a preview of Corbyn’s – or even May’s- UK in 2022). It even has the example of France, home of ‘égalité‘, the guillotine and generally poor economic ideas (and some excellent ones), a few miles away over the choppy Channel.

It will no doubt not surprise almost all our readers that Sark, having in recent years had democracy foisted on it, has got a legislature (28-strong) that seems to think that it has solutions to problems. The islanders have also found that as the price of electricity has risen in recent years, and as people have not been happy with the sole supplier to the Island, they have been generating their own power. Falling demand has led to higher unit costs for the supplier, which creates a vicious circle.

Enter the Commissioner established and authorised, nay, required, under the The Control of Electricity Prices (Sark) Law, 2016 to look into the price of electricity and to set a ‘fair and reasonable price’.

Looking at his powers more closely we see that they are in fact, nothing short of miraculous, under Section 13:

Determination of fair and reasonable price.
13. (1) Following completion of an investigation under this Law, the Commissioner shall, determine whether a price which is charged by a regulated electricity supplier for the supply of electricity is, or is not, fair and reasonable.

(2) In determining whether a price is, or is not, fair and reasonable the Commissioner shall take all material considerations into account, including without limitation the following matters –
(a) the cost of generating and distributing the supply of electricity, including the cost of –
(i) acquisition and maintenance of any plant and equipment,
(ii) fuel and other consumables, and
(iii) labour, required to generate the supply,
(b) the replacement cost of any plant and equipment required to generate and distribute the supply,
(c) the quality and reliability of the supply of electricity and the economy and efficiency with which the supply of electricity is generated and distributed,
(d) the margin of profit obtained by the regulated electricity supplier,
(e) the margin of profit obtained by such other electricity suppliers, generating and distributing a supply of electricity in similar circumstances in such other islands or territories, as the Commissioner thinks fit,
(f) the entitlement of the regulated electricity supplier to receive such reasonable return, as the Commissioner thinks fit, on the value of assets (including plant and equipment and working capital) operated or used by the supplier for the purpose of generating and distributing the supply, and
(g) any representations made in response to a request given under section 14, or otherwise.

Funnily enough, he is not expressly directed to consider the laws of economics, or supply and demand. You can see where this is going I am sure. So why can’t the fools on Sark? How many thousand of years and examples will it take? Here we have the closest thing to a laboratory for economics, 500 or so ‘lab mice’, and yet we already know how it ends. Here is his consultation paper.

So cutting to the chase, a price control has been issued, and the Island’s sole electricity provider intends to close on 30th November 2018, as they are losing £20,000 a month supplying power at the ‘fair and reasonable‘ (and that’s official) price. May I introduce here, the Managing Director of the Sark Electricity Company Ltd, Mr Atlas Shrugger (I jest), his name is… Mr Gordon-Brown (David being his first name), and his company wishes to challenge the commissioner’s decision.

SEL was to mount a legal battle against the commissioner move this December.

However, a review of the company’s financial affairs by its independent auditors found that although the company could withstand the temporary £20,000 loss per month caused by a new 52p price for electricity, SEL could not afford to mount the legal case at the same time.

Back in December, the tariff was set at 69p per unit.

‘We have already suffered through a 40% decline in consumption caused by Sark’s economic collapse and we cannot cut our costs any further,’ said SEL managing director David Gordon-Brown.

‘A 25% price cut for a company that has already lost £65,000 this year is obviously unmanageable.

‘Attempting to operate the company under these conditions would be a breach of my responsibilities as a company director.’

He said if Chief Pleas wanted the company to continue providing power, it would have to provide for the cost of fighting the commissioner order.

‘We cannot operate the company at a loss over £20,000 a month under the new pricing scheme nor can we find the money necessary to fund the legal fight.’

He added that if Chief Pleas did not come to the table as a financial backer in time, it would be required to shut down, leaving the island without water or electricity.

This, I understand, is because the cost of a legal challenge (in this tiny island) to the Regulator would be in the region of £250,000, and Mr Gordon-Brown has asked the Chief Pleas (the Parliament of Sark) to fund a legal challenge to the body established by the Parliament, as obviously, his company can’t afford that sort of money. Can anyone else see the obvious short-cut here, the one that doesn’t involve legal fees?

Mr Gordon-Brown was reported last December as saying:

David Gordon-Brown, the manager of Sark Electricity, says the recommendation by the island’s first electricity regular to reduce electricity prices tells “a story of betrayal”.
For the past eight years the people of Sark have been betrayed by a committee of incomers with so little understanding of Sark that they expect Electricity Prices here to be comparable to their experience in the UK.

Now the Company has been betrayed by a commissioner with so little understanding of Sark that he expects the costs of producing electricity here to be comparable to his experience in the UK.

The commissioner is doubtless a dedicated and decent chap, committed to fulfilling his statutory duty, he is only following the law and only giving orders, safe, as it happens, in his home in Long Buckby, Northamptonshire, England.

But has the Commissioner considered economies of scale, transportation costs, economic law and reality? Does he have to?

The situation now is that the Electricity Company is shutting down on 30th November 2018, and they supply water.

I have to say that all those who voted for those who voted in this law, and those who voted it in and implement it, are quite simply, fully deserving of their adumbrated trip back to the Stone Age. I would propose evacuating from Sark all those who opposed it, or were too young (or insane) to know better (i.e. under 16), and leaving the rest to enjoy their new, low prices. To keep us safe from contamination, we should establish an an air and sea blockade, and air-drop a copy of Bastiat’s writings so that they may learn the error of their ways. Socialism (or price fixing) is just slow-motion cannibalism. It looks like Sark is heading that way, by choice. But as the BBC reported, they did have this terrible problem:

In August 2018, Sark Electricity was forced to lower its price by 14p to 52p per kilowatt hour (kw/h) after the island’s electricity price commissioner found the cost “neither fair nor reasonable”.
Despite the reduction, Sark residents still pay significantly more than the 17p per kw/h in nearby Guernsey or the UK the average of 14p.

Meanwhile over in Jersey, the press speculate about the evacuation of the island.

Asked if there was a real possibility of people having to leave Sark, Mr Raymond -(deputy chairman of Sark’s Policy and Finance Committee)- replied: ‘Not if we can get our contingency plans in place.

‘They are in the development stage at the moment so I can’t give out too much detail, but it will involve consolidating around certain centres – making sure there are certain buildings that have power so people can congregate there. It really is a war-time mentality. Do you really expect people to be living like this in the 21st century?’

Yes, I do, because if they are socialist dickheads implementing their plans, they will eventually get what is coming to them, good and hard.

Let’s save time and outlaw humour entirely

This video clip (which has English subtitles once you eliminate the advertisement at the bottom) shows the left wing French politician Jean-Luc Mélenchon behaving unpleasantly.

I know. The jokes write themselves. But I was a little surprised to see a man often called “The French Jeremy Corbyn” display such un-PC (and to be fair to Mr Corbyn, un-JC) contempt for a journalist, particularly a female journalist, merely for speaking with a less prestigious regional accent. Reuters has an account of the exchange here, and this is a slightly longer version of the video with some French subtitles that shows the build up to Mélenchon losing his temper with Veronique Gaurel, the journalist in question. His claim that he does not understand her question does not convince. It looks a lot more like he understood it all too well and was desperately casting around for any excuse not to answer it.

Did you catch how he imitated her? Mr Mélenchon has shown a haughtiness that pokes a hole in his claim to represent the ordinary people of France against the elite. There has been an outpouring of support for Ms Gaurel, with many saying that his outburst was a reaction to her doing her job well and asking him a pointed question that remains unanswered. He will lose votes. That should be punishment enough.

But it never is enough for some people. France 24 reports,

French MP seeks ban on ‘glottophobia’ after Mélanchon mocks journalist’s accent

A French member of parliament has proposed that mockery of accents be outlawed, after an irate politician derided a journalist’s southwestern pronunciation before asking if anyone had a question in “understandable French”.

Laetitia Avia of President Emmanuel Macron’s ruling party said she was proposing a bill that would classify such mockery with other forms of prohibited discrimination such as on grounds of sex or race.

At this point we in the Anglosphere might be tempted to laugh in a smug way and say those Frenchies might submit to the abolition of a tradition of laughing at other people’s funny accents that goes back millennia, but we will never say goodbye to our ‘Allo ‘Allo!

Don’t count on it. How often have you laughed about the latest daft PC proposal from an obscure intellectual, a student union, or a minor politician, home-grown or foreign like Laetitia Avia – only to find five years later that it is a law you must obey?

The special costume shop

Things had been very boring in the rue de la Fête. Mr Benalla thought, “I think it is a good day to visit the special costume shop.” Inside the shop, as if by magic, the shopkeeper appeared.

“Good morning sir,” he said. “Which costume would you like to try today?”

“That one with the visor, please,” said Mr Benalla. And he took the outfit into the fitting room. Inside the room, Mr Benalla changed into the outfit and then looked at himself in the mirror. “It looks a bit like a riot cop’s costume,” he thought. “Is that cool or what?” Then he went through the door – not the door back to the shop but the second door that could lead to an adventure!

*

So to prevent the immense coercive power of the state from being abused, said Hayek, we need to restrict its use to enforcing a strictly limited list of duties that we all accept and understand. Setting limits on how the state’s monopoly of force can be used at least spares us from arbitrary or growing coercion by other people who happen to be in authority.

Friedrich Hayek: The ideas and influence of the Libertarian Economist by Eamonn Butler

*

For those poor souls who did not grow up with tales of Mr Benn, this post refers to the extra-curricular activities of Alexandre Benalla, formerly a senior security officer for President Macron of France:

Emmanuel Macron faces the biggest crisis of his presidency over the growing scandal of one of his closest security officials who was filmed being allowed by police to violently assault a young man and woman at the edge of a Paris demonstration while illegally dressed as an officer.

That the French riot police beat people up is not news. That they allow well-connected civilians to put on a spare uniform and join in the fun was surprising. Then again, as George Atkisson says below, “The whole point of being well-connected and exempt from everyday rules is precisely to be allowed to indulge in one’s extra-legal whims without consequences.”

Ça ira toujours

Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Les aristocrates à la lanterne!

That is the famous song sung by the female revolutionaries storming the gates of Versailles in this clip from a 1953 film called “Si Versailles M’Etait Conté” (If Versailles Told me its Story).

Neither the voice of Edith Piaf at the head of the mob nor the glorious technicolor in the film can suppress the thought that “Les aristocrates à la lanterne!” (The aristocrats to the lamp-posts!) is a murderous sentiment. If that was the song of the Revolution, it is hardly surprising that it soon became the Terror.

Only those were not the words sung at the time of the Revolution. The film is peddling a myth. Today I learned, first that the words “ça ira, ça ira” do not mean “Thus it will go, thus it will go” as I had thought but “It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine”, secondly that they were originally said by Benjamin Franklin to express his confidence that the American Revolution would work out OK, and thirdly that the original words of the song are revolutionary but not murderous.

Here are a couple of extracts:

According to the precepts of the Gospel
Of the lawmaker everything shall be accomplished
The one who puts on airs shall be brought down
The one who is humble shall be elevated
The true catechism shall instruct us
And the awful fanaticism shall be snuffed out.

and

The aristocrat says, “Mea culpa!”
The clergy regrets its wealth,
The state, with justice, will get it.
Thanks to the careful Lafayette,
Everyone will calm down.

Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
By the torches of the august assembly,
Ah ! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
An armed people will always take care of themselves.
We’ll know right from wrong,
The citizen will support the Good.

Those were the words as first written by a former soldier turned street singer by the name of Ladré. It was not so much the song of the Revolution as the song of the Fête de la Fédération that took place a year later. This event was meant to be a symbol of national reconciliation. Wikipedia says:

At this relatively calm stage of the Revolution, many people considered the country’s period of political struggle to be over. This thinking was encouraged by counter-revolutionary monarchiens, and the first fête was designed with a role for King Louis XVI that would respect and maintain his royal status. The occasion passed peacefully and provided a powerful, but illusory, image of celebrating national unity after the divisive events of 1789–1790.

As we all know, that did not last. Unlike their American counterparts, the French revolutionaries had no intention of stopping just because they had achieved their ostensible aim. Ladré’s optimistic words about everyone calming down and the state “with justice” taking the wealth from repentant aristocrats and clergy were replaced by a new version of the “Ça ira” propagated by the sans-culottes:

Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
aristocrats to the lamp-post
Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
the aristocrats, we’ll hang them!
If we don’t hang them
We’ll break them
If we don’t break them
We’ll burn them
Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
aristocrats to the lamp-post
Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
the aristocrats, we’ll hang them!
We shall have no more nobles nor priests
Ah! It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine, It’ll be fine
Equality will reign everywhere

The hangings, the breakings and the burnings all came to pass, as they always do when Equality reigns. Thus it did go, but it was not fine.

How the Corn Laws and all that may not be all that

The story that I and most people here are familiar with is that in the 1840s Britain abolished the Corn Laws, became the pioneer in free trade and that this was a good thing.

John Nye begs to differ. In this Econtalk podcast (from, ahem, 10 years ago) he makes two points. Firstly, British tariffs were falling throughout the 19th Century and that the abolition of the Corn Laws was not particularly significant in that process. Secondly, French tariffs were by-and-large lower than those in Britain.

But surely Britain was much richer than France at this time? Yes it was, and according to Nye that was mainly due to it having fewer taxes and regulations. France even had internal tariffs as Samizdata’s own Antoine Clarke once pointed out.

So much as I don’t think Trump’s trade war is a good idea it is possible that it may not be as bad as all that.

A comment to a Guardian editorial about the French rail strike

The editorial itself is forgettable, but this comment by “Cavirac” astounded me:

Polls run in the left, centre and right newspapers show overwhelming support for Macron by the French public with regards to the changes he will make to SNCF.

People in the private sector (builders, electricians, plimbers etc.) now see their retirement age at 67. You need to have worked for 41 years to get a full state pension, tha’st six years more than in the UK.

The SNCF, EDF and La Poste workers can retire at 50 if their work is “physical” on a full pension and 55 if they are administrative staff.

Not only do they get to retire but they get loads of perks which are not taxed. EDF workers get a 80% discount on their electricity bills and after working for five years this discount is for life. SNCF get free European rail travel for themselves and direct family. La Post get a super Mutual insurance which allows them access to the best hospitals in France for free. The facteur (postman/woman) suffer very bad shoulder and elbow strain from leaning out of their vans delivering the post apparently and many need replacement elbow and shoulder joints.

EDF, La Poste and SNCF also own holiday villages all over France including some of the more prestigious holiday resorts where they benefit from all inclusive holidays as stupidly low prices, typically 150 Euros per week per person.

All this comes at a cost and is paid for by the tax payer and the users. It represents a big chunk of the current deficit for each of these institutions.

This is why the general public in France support Macron in this. Why should they have to work every hour god sends till they are 67 to get a shit pension when a guy who sweeps the station platform, because it is outside manual work, be able to retire at 50 on full pay and still keep his perks including cheap holidays etc?

Can any readers familiar with France tell me whether that is a fair presentation of the facts?