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]

So, when does the Brexit dividend arrive then?

This is a slightly altered version of a comment I left on a Brexit page on Facebook as prompted by this article about IMF forecasts and related issues at Reuters:

The most ardent Brexit supporters have to take this sort of analysis on board because it is relentless in much of the media, and not without reason. Some of those who backed exit from the EU for freedom reasons wanted the liberalising impact of less red tape, a reduction in the burden of the State, and a more intelligent government approach to areas where the State inevitably gets involved, including R&D spending, infrastructure, education, etc. Nearly all of the drivers of long-term wealth creation are home-grown, and cannot be blamed on the EU, or attributed to it. Long before we even thought of a referendum, the UK’s productivity and investment levels were poor, from 2009 to 2019, by past and contemporary standards. (The referendum was held in 2016 and we only actually left four years later.)

The petulance of the EU in trying to harm the UK for the sin of leaving was probably inevitable and forseeable, and there is a need for whoever is in Westminster and Whitehall to slash the burdens on business and the individual to balance this out, as well as hammer out genuinely good FTAs with countries that broadly share our values and market systems. A mutual recognition of standards approach to the EU, when it comes to EU-destined exports to the bloc, should be possible in time although it may take a while for the EU to avoid the “cutting off the nose to spite the face” stance of the past few years. The UK remains an important trade partner, given our net importation of manufactured goods from the continent.

Samizdata quote of the day – corporation version

“Unlike government, a corporation has no legal authority to force anyone to do anything. It can’t tax you, arrest you, or conscript you. It can’t force you to work for it. It can’t force you to invest in it. It can’t force you to buy its products. Bakan, however, says corporations “determine what we eat, what we watch, what we wear, where we work, and what we do.” No, they don’t. They make us offers, which we can accept or refuse. But those offers give us countless options to improve our lives—options we wouldn’t have otherwise. Far from a threat, the earned economic power of corporations brings us great benefits.

People interact with corporations voluntarily. If a corporation sells a shoddy product, people can refrain from buying it. If it sets prices they regard as too high, they can negotiate or look for a better deal. If it pays low wages or lays off employees, they can work elsewhere or start their own business. If people think Google and Facebook collect too much personal data while failing to properly safeguard it, they can use other platforms or services. Bottom line: If you don’t like a corporation, you can avoid it. You do not have this choice with government, though. Ignore the IRS, and fines, penalties, or prison await you. You can opt out of Google and Facebook, but you can’t opt out of the surveillance dragnet of the NSA.”

Michael Dahlen, The Objective Standard.

The truth about private fire brigades

Long ago – I think it was at primary school – I was told that in the dark days of freedom there were private fire brigades owned by insurance companies. You paid the insurance company a premium and if your house caught fire they would send their fire brigade to put it out. They knew you had paid because you put a marker on your property bearing the insurance company’s logo.

However, if your house caught fire and you had another company’s marker, or weren’t insured at all they would just stand there and let your house burn down. And that [missing step here possibly involving magic] is why we have state-owned fire brigades.

Since becoming a libertarian I have both believed this version of events and taken the view that it was probably the best arrangement available. It probably ensured the best fire-fighting at the lowest cost.

But is that true? A couple of years ago, the YouTuber, Tom Scott, repeated this story and much more recently someone commented that there was a minor discrepancy in the video. So, Scott decided to investigate. Or rather he decided to get someone else to investigate. It turned out that what generations of us have been taught is untrue. Brigades fought any fire that they found. This was partly because a fire at an uninsured property might spread to an insured one and partly because there were government rewards for showing up.

Scott, to his credit, has stopped promoting the old video and issued a correction.

I looked at his researcher’s work and found that far from there being dozens of fire brigades in London when the state took charge there was, in fact, only one. They’d all merged.

Private fire brigades fought fires at uninsured properties – even this one.

Samizdata quote of the day – Swiss ski resort and health spa edition

“Precisely how and where `free-market fundamentalism’ has run amuck remains a mystery. After all, we live in a world in which most governments in developed nations routinely control 40 per cent or more of their nation’s GDP.”

Samuel Gregg, Spectator (maybe behind paywall). Gregg is the author of The Next American Economy: Nation, State, and Markets In An Uncertain World (2022) and is Distinguished Fellow in Political Economy at the American Institute for Economic Research.

Full disclosure: As a young newswire journalist in the 1990s, I went to the WEF in Davos three times (in one of them, I met Nelson Mandela, as one does). The whole event, held in a Swiss mountain resort once made famous by Thomas Mann while he underwent treatment for turberculosis, rather resembles the lair of Ernst Blofeld in Ian Fleming’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. In fact, Schwab is very, er, Spectre-like, although I did not see a white cat.

There is, of course, the pro-free market Mont Pelerin Society, so even the good guys cannot resist the allure of the mountains.

Greenpeace Aotearoa lives in hope

I am not being sarcastic when I say that I admire the way that Nick Young, writing for Greenpeace Aotearoa (the country formerly known as New Zealand), at least has the guts to admit that Sri Lanka’s ban on chemical fertiliser was a disaster. In a piece called “Sri Lanka’s fertiliser ban and why New Zealand can phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser”, he gives his reasons for supposing that despite Sri Lanka’s experience, it will work next time. He is enthusiastic, for instance, about the prospects for the Indian state of Sikkim which has also prohibited chemical fertilisers. He writes,

The key thing to note is that it wasn’t something that happened overnight. And it didn’t happen because Sikkim’s shoppers suddenly decided to buy organic food or because its farmers woke up one day and decided to switch to organic with no support. It happened because the Sikkim Government used policies, public investment and a transition plan to make it happen.

It is strange to me to see someone delight in the fact that the choices of shoppers or farmers, the ordinary people whose lives would be affected most, played no part in this change.

This Guardian article is five years old now, but I would bet that the problems it describes have not gone away: “Sikkim’s organic revolution at risk as local consumers fail to buy into project.” More recently, Pawan Chamling, who as the then Chief Minister of Sikkim did much to put the policy in place, said that the current Sikkim government “has put Sikkim’s organic mission on the back burner”. He writes,

The organic mission has been totally wiped out of the government’s vocabulary and State budget. Not a single penny has been allocated towards organic farming. Even more alarming is that chemical fertilisers are being brought into the state and are freely sold in the market.

Freely sold and freely bought. Farmers making their own decisions. How awful.

Despite everything, I have nothing against organic farming. But the way that Sikkim being “100% organic”, a source of pride and a key part of Sikkim’s identity according to Mr Chamling, withered as soon the government subsidies dried up suggests that the change was never, if you will forgive the metaphor, organic in the first place. It was imposed from the top down. It had no roots.

This is not satire. They believe that genocide and the collapse of human civilisation are imminent.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The evangelists for WFH and flexi-working keep telling us that it will create a happier, more productive workforce. But if that were true, then output per person should have soared over the last two years. Of course, it hasn’t. Instead, it has stagnated – and in many cases gone down. The UK’s miserable record on productivity is a long and complex story, but one certainty is that flexi-working won’t fix it.”

Matthew Lynn, taking aim at the whole “working from home” demands from certain quarters. (In many cases, the WFH phenomenon is a preoccupation of those in white-collar areas. One suspects that industrial welders, lorry drivers, supermarket inventory managers, farmers, lab technicians, car mechanics and power station maintenance workers don’t work from home. Mind you, my father, a farmer, likes to joke that he worked “from home”. It was a field.)

Say the bad spell backwards, that’ll work!

“Shoplifting isn’t the real crime, poverty is”, tweets Owen Jones.

The tweet links to this video excerpt from the Jeremy Vine Show, in which the host tries several times to get Mr Jones and the other panellists to give straight answers on whether it is wrong for shops to put anti-theft tags on commonly stolen goods. He doesn’t get any. The responses he does get are variations on two themes, firstly, the non-sequitur “Yes, it is wrong for shops to try and stop their goods being stolen because poverty is the bigger crime”, and secondly, “I don’t condone shoplifting, but here’s why I condone shoplifting.”

At 2:25 Mr Jones says, “The way to abolish shoplifting is to abolish the underlying cause, which is poverty and the cost of living crisis”.

So the answer was in front of our silly noses the whole time!

In future videos Mr Jones will tackle the shocking prevalence of “food deserts” and “health care deserts” in poor areas because so many supermarkets, corner shops and pharmacies have closed down.

Samizdata quote of the day – lazy lump edition

“Almost unbelievably, nearly a quarter of our working age population is reported to have some form of long-term illness or disability that in most cases prevents them from working. The numbers are more alarming still among younger cohorts, which theoretically should be the healthiest and most able to work. Among 16 to 24-year-olds, one in eight are being signed off with long term health conditions.”

Jeremy Warner, talking about the state of the UK economy. Let’s be blunt: a large chunk of the population in the UK are lazy, stupid and with all the ambition and zest for life of a lump of concrete. In the 21st Century, it seems frankly absurd that a quarter of the work-age population are ill or incapable of doing anything. It is a disgrace.

The Gods of the Copybook Headings – a continuing series

As Madeleine Grant in the Daily Telegraph (£) notes today, it is a bit rich for people who dislike the fiscal austerity measures of the UK government to focus on the “mini-budget” tax cuts (now mostly reversed) of the recent Liz Truss administration, or Russia’s attempted conquest of Ukraine. To ignore the costs of lockdowns and mass furlough schemes seems particularly convenient for those, like the Labour opposition as well as many in government, that seemed to be positively enthusiastic not just about lockdowns, but about the idea of shuttering society. (And of course the current Net Zero insanity sort of plays to this authortarian mindset that seems to have arisen lately.)


During lockdown, the electorate was led to believe that we could borrow endlessly without consequence; that money-printing was nothing to worry about and someone else would foot the bill if necessary. The whole period didn’t just cross a Rubicon in what the state believed it would get away with, it irrevocably transformed how people viewed the state. There remains an odd amnesia about the the whole period; a reluctance to deal with the lockdown hangover. It’s as if nobody wants to hear that their lengthy furlough now has to be paid for, or that you can’t repeatedly switch a sophisticated 21st-century society on and off like a computer without disastrous, unpredictable consequences.”

And…”I can’t help noticing that many of those now railing against spending cuts are precisely the same people who shouted down anyone who warned of the economic consequences of lockdowns or questioned the severity of the measures at the time. Similarly, many MPs and pundits, having vociferously opposed “irresponsible” un-costed tax cuts, now condemn planned
spending cuts with equal vigour.”

It is absolutely vital that this point is hammered home. Classical liberals simply cannot let the narrative of “Ukraine/Truss caused our pain” BS to flourish, in the same way that “capitalism caused the 2008 financial crash” nonsense. Narratives matter. They must be countered, vigorously, and mocked at every opportunity. And it is also important to remind people that we have had 20 years of central bank money printing (remember, this stuff was going on way before the 2008 crash) to have created part of the condition for our plight today.

Update: Here is a link to Rudyard Kipling’s work of the title used on this posting.

Samizdata quote of the day

“I ended up as an activist in a very different place from where I started. I thought that if we just redistributed resources, then we could solve every problem. I now know that’s not true. There’s a funny moment when you realize that as an activist: The off-ramp out of extreme poverty is, ugh, commerce, it’s entrepreneurial capitalism. I spend a lot of time in countries all over Africa, and they’re like, Eh, we wouldn’t mind a little more globalization actually.”

Bono, the rock musician from U2. It would be quite amusing to see him say all this on stage the next time he is in front of the crowds at Glastonbury. Watch their heads explode. (I should add that he is far from going full classical liberal, but that’s not a bad start.) He is quoted at the Marginal Revolution blog, that took the quote from a paywalled New York Times page.

A theme park strategy

It is easy to understand why those who are not fully down with the whole Green alarmist agenda are annoyed at the fracking ban under Rishi Sunak’s new administration. (In reality, local authorities could and would still try and stop it, even if it was legal at the national level.)

A problem with the ban, though, is that it says something about the approach of the Sunak administration: it is in thrall to the Precautionary Principle. Don’t do anything if there is the slightest risk of harm to the environment or if it upsets some local people. And that means that on issues such as house building, new nuclear power plants, roads, Heathrow third runway or a “Boris island” in East London, or anything else, the risk is that nothing much gets done.

Lest anyone think this is a purely Tory issue, it isn’t. A Labour government is unlikely to be like the Attlee/Wilson ones where there was at least a sort of working class affinity with industry. Trade unionists used to be proud of how they worked in mines, factories and shipyards. They got dirt under their fingernails, and they wore this as a badge of pride. Today’s post-modernist Left bemoans developments such as the demise of steel production, but fails to join the dots between this and the deliberate raising of energy prices through “Green transition” policies. Also, much of the modern Left does not reside in the industrial sector, but is more about the public sector. So the problem is one of a wider cultural/philosophical aversion to making things or doing things that are in any way “dirty”.

Meanwhile, countries such as India and China, or Indonesia, suffer no such inhibitions. And we will import energy and other products from nations that are likely to enforce less stringent controls on pollution. And yet the likes of Starmer, and various commentators, will bemoan the demise of UK manufacturing. But if we refuse to build reliable, cheap energy (wind and solar don’t count, being weather-reliant), then our demise as an industrial power will continue. (Fossil Future, by Alex Epstein, is a must-read and corrective to current alarmist nonsense, not least because it addresses the philosophy of the Greens, and provides an alternative. Too few debunkers of Greens do this.)

A few days ago I went to Battersea Power Station, now fully refurbished and turned into a shopping mall and apartment block, with various offices and things like art galleries. I can admire the architecture, the lovely industrial-style touches and the gantries and machinery. But what strikes me as symbolic of modern Britain is that we have turned a power station into a shop, and when the wind doesn’t blow and sun doesn’t shine, and we haven’t enough baseload power, the building will go dark. That’s where decades of evasion and Green ideology have taken us.

We are turning into a theme park.

Update: Germany is keen to be a theme park too. Major chemicals manufacturers, unable to withstand surging energy costs, are moving out, according to this Reuters report