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]

What if the Berlin Wall hadn’t come down?

I have always been interested in the What If? question that consists of asking how the world would have been different had the Berlin Wall not fallen and had the USSR just blundered onwards indefinitely, still being the USSR.

That’s a question that has long intrigued me, ever since the Wall in question actually did fall. As you can tell from how I phrase the question, I am damn near certain that the world would have been a far grimmer place than it now is, had that horrible structure not been trashed or turned into souvenir fragments. But, beyond noting with approval the way that various eastern European former Soviet possessions have become much freer and less poor, I have never taken the time to think through the details of this feeling. How might western public opinion have developed, had the Wall remained? How would the world as a whole have been different?

So, I was very interested to learn yesterday about an IEA event, which I have already signed up to attend, to be held at the end of this month:

This month sees the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, ushering in dramatic change across East and West Germany. But even now, East Germany still lags behind the West and the legacy of socialism has been hard to overcome.

So what would have happened if the wall hadn’t come down?

On Thursday 28th November, the IEA is delighted to host an intriguing discussion on that very premise. Professor Syed Kamall will chair the conversation with our own Head of Political Economy Dr. Kristian Niemietz, and historians Roger Moorhouse and Giles Udy.

Rather than just bang on with more guess-answers, I will keep this posting brief and await comments from others.

In particular, are there any ways in which the fall of the Berlin Wall has made the world worse? I’m not talking about how it has embarrassed Communists and (a tribe I particularly despise) anti-anti-Communists … like that’s a bad thing. Those are just two of many features. I’m talking about how life for regular people around the world, and perhaps also in Russia itself, may actually, in some weird knock-on effect ways, have been made worse. I can’t think of any obvious ways that anything like that has happened, but maybe someone else can.

Discussion point: the term “stakeholder”

There are certain words that get bandied about that say more about the politics and philosophy of those who utter them than about whatever might be the actual meaning of the word. Examples such as “sustainability” (translation: get rid of carbon fuels) and “neo-liberal” (mix of free markets and some central bank/State intervention, boo, hiss!) spring to mind. But arguably one of the worst offenders is “stakeholder”. In my view it usually means some group of people who consider themselves affected by the operations of a private group, such as a firm, and who interact with it, but who do not own property of said group, and who demand control/rights over that group/firm above and beyond any contracts they may have signed. For instance, in the great wodges of press releases I receive from advocates of corporate social responsibility the term “stakeholder” comes up. A lot.

So a question for you folks. Does the term have any value at all or is it simply a term to describe groups of persons who want free stuff and should be more accurately described in less, er, flattering ways?

Socialism is socialism until it turns nasty (because if it’s nasty it can’t be socialism)

Via Instapundit, a tweet:

Rand Paul: “Well if you vote for a Socialist, you might get Socialism”.

Ana Navarro: “Maduro is not a Socialist. He’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.”

But Maduro is – or certainly was – a socialist. And, he’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.

As Instapundit might say, Kristian Niemietz smiles.

Earlier this year, Niemietz did one of my last Friday of the month talks, on the subject of his recent book about how socialists think and act – “it’s socialism”, “it’s not socialism” – every time, time after time. Read the book for a ton of patiently assembled chapter-and-verse details along these lines.

The point Niemietz made that I especially liked was how socialists simultaneously define socialism by its processes, and by its outcomes. So, socialism begins with socialist processes – stealing the property of property owners, goodies for the poor, fixing prices in accordance with a central plan, taking over corporations and replacing capable corporate managers with party hacks, monopolising the media, and so on – therefore it’s obviously socialism. But then it turns nasty – far worse poverty than before, violent repression, corruption, savage inequality, and so on – therefore, equally obviously, it can’t be socialism. That we critics of socialism had predicted exactly these outcomes from these processes doesn’t register. Only the obvious non-socialism of what had earlier and equally obviously been socialism registers.

I sort of knew all this, of course I did. But Niemietz explained it better – “socialism also defined by its outcomes” – than I’ve ever heard it explained before. Or then again, maybe I just got there myself, and he merely said for me the thought I had arrived at. (What you hear best is that which you are best prepared to hear.)

The Way into the Planned Economy

If anyone can suddenly get a loan with a negative interest rate, then it is to be expected that the credit demand will get out of hand. To prevent this from happening, the ECB will have to resort to credit rationing: It determines in advance how many new loans it wishes to hand out, and then allocates this amount of credit. The credit market no longer decides who gets what and when and on what terms and conditions; those decisions are made by the ECB.

According to which criteria should loans be allocated? Should anyone who asks for credit get something? Should employment-intensive economic sectors be favored? Should the new loans only go to ‘the industries of the future’? Should weakening industries be supported with additional credit? Or should Southern Europe get more than Northern Europe? These questions already indicate that the planned economy is established through a policy of negative interest rates.

More than ever it will be the ECB that reigns over credit: It will effectively determine what will be financed and produced and where and when; it will determine who will be in a position to buy and consume on credit. As a central planning authority, the ECB — or the groups that greatly influence its decisions — determines everything: which industries will be promoted or suppressed; which economies are allowed to grow stronger than others; which national commercial banks are allowed to survive and which are not. Welcome to the planned economy in the Eurozone!

Thorsten Polleit

Samizdata quote of the day

“Extinction Rebellion is a menace to reason and progress. It is reliant on the politics of fear. It uses exaggeration and hyperbole and emotion to try to convince us that End Times are around the corner. It demonises as a ‘denier’ anyone who questions this depressing, anti-human script. And it campaigns, tirelessly, for less — less production, less consumption, less meat, less travel, less joy.”

Brendan O’Neill.

I looked at the folk of ER last night as I walked to a drinks reception at the gloriously pro-capitalist Adam Smith Institute. The ER people seemed to be mostly quite elderly. It is a gut feeling, but I don’t think they are connecting with more than a small sliver of public opinion.

Samizdata quote of the day

“Silicon Valley suffers from a classic case of Stockholm syndrome: Its leaders have developed sympathy for their government and social-justice captors.”

Andy Kessler, Wall Street Journal (behind paywall).

Ann and the Giant Credit Card

“The beauty of a Green New Deal is that it would pay for itself”, writes Ann Pettifor.

To raise the money for a green deal, governments would have to draw on their equivalent of a giant credit card, but would also be able to take advantage of investment by savers. Thankfully, the creation of millions of jobs will generate the income and tax revenues needed to repay any borrowing.

I loved the line about the giant credit card. It reads like a weird mutant “Guardian X CBeebies Story Timecrossover fic.

The trouble is that these days, so do both the Guardian and CBeebies Story Time.

Right to buy

John McDonnell, the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, thinks that housing is too expensive to buy, and that renting accommodation is too unpleasant: often poor quality, overcrowded and lacking long term security. His idea is to force landlords to sell their houses to their tenants at a government approved “reasonable” price.

This will all work out fine and there will be no unintended consequences.

Writing in CapX, Tim Worstall says everything about it than can reasonably be said. Meanwhile:

How we are saved from limiting ourselves

“First ads banned for contravening UK gender stereotyping rules”, reported the Guardian some days ago.

Two television ads, one featuring new dads bungling comically while looking after their babies and the other a woman sitting next to a pram, have become the first to be banned under new rules designed to reduce gender stereotyping.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banned the ads for Philadelphia cream cheese and Volkswagen, following complaints from the public that they perpetuated harmful stereotypes.

The new rules, introduced at the beginning of the year, ban the depiction of men and women engaged in gender-stereotypical activities to help stop “limiting how people see themselves and how others see them and the life decisions they take”.

… by limiting what they are permitted to see and making their life decisions for them.

What is Modern Monetary Theory?

I commend this to samizdata readers, one in a series by Tim Worstall apparently:

Modern Monetary Theory is, in one sense, just reality. In the other and more important discussion MMT is a simple ignorance of the original question being asked.

Hit the link, read the whole thing.

Water shortages solved

Today’s quote of the day was from a longer conversation about water, starting with the conventional wisdom that climate change will inevitably lead to global water shortages. It is not immediately obvious why this should be so, given that melting ice, for example, presumably leads to there being more non-frozen water about.

The impression from the mainstream media is that any water-related problem can be caused by climate change. Floods? Climate change. Drought? Climate change. A summary from NASA suggests that some places, the places that get plenty of rain, will get more rain: so much that it floods. And other more typically dry places will see more droughts. So there is not necessarily a contradiction. On the other hand it is not clear how reliable such predictions are.

Different climate models provide different answers about what will happen to rainfall where. You can almost pick the result you want for a particular place by picking which climate model you want to listen to. You can take the mean of all the model outputs but that only seems useful if they all broadly agree, and even then they could all be wrong. The question of the usefulness of climate models is a big topic. The way they are tuned seems to allow for a lot opportunity for bias to creep in. Also the resolution of GCMs is not high, and the resolution affects the results, especially for precipitation.

In any case, there is a practically unlimited supply of water in the oceans, it is simply a matter of energy to turn it into drinking water and transportation to get it where we need it. With photo-voltaic panels becoming cheaper and more efficient as solar generation capacity has been growing exponentially for the last 25 years, energy is cheap. For desalination there is not even an energy storage problem, since we can make water during the day and water is easy to store. The technology is effective, simple and cheap.

As for transportation, I have heard there is some new technology called an aqueduct.

So there are no technical difficulties, it is not particularly expensive, and with poverty on its way out there seems little to stop any water supply problems from being solved.

As Sir James Bevan, chief executive of the Environment Agency, put it, we will reach the “jaws of death – the point at which, unless we take action to change things, we will not have enough water to supply our needs”. It was ever thus. Luckily the action is not difficult.

Samizdata quote of the day

If private companies sold people water, they would regard high levels of demand as a market opportunity. When the government runs water systems, high levels of demand mean shortages. It’s insane. Instead of finding good ways to meet demand with technology, we get price distortion, rationing, and glum pronouncements about the sins of mankind.

– Perry Metzger, reacting to this drivel.