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]

The Depression hasn’t gone away you know

I know all of us on this side of the Atlantic are terribly excited about the latest Brexit/leadership crisis but – unbelievable as it may sound – there are even bigger fish to fry. A stock market crash is looming. Yes, I know I have said that every year since the 2008 financial crisis but this time it really, really, really might actually happen.

In this presentation – which sadly includes a little bit of advertising – Jesse Colombo outlines why he thinks a crash is imminent.

He whose payments system pays the piper calls the tune

Paypal stops handling payments for Tommy Robinson, reports the BBC.

As usual, I will defend the right of Paypal to exclude whomsoever it wishes. But I find something ominous about the fact that the company refuses to say exactly what Mr Robinson has done to violate its terms of use, and also about the fact that it seems likely that it has taken this step because a lot of people signed a petition telling it to:

Paypal has told former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson it will no longer process payments on his behalf, the BBC understands.

The payments network is believed to have told Mr Robinson he had violated its terms and conditions.

It said Paypal could not be used to promote hate, violence or discrimination.

Online petitions calling on finance firms to sever links with him have gained thousands of signatures.

In a statement, Paypal said it could not comment on individual customers but added that it regularly reviewed accounts to ensure their use aligned with its acceptable use policy.

“PayPal connects buyers and sellers.” When it so chooses.

Which is as it should be. But if it makes enough choices like this one I can see the day coming when I might choose another payments provider.

Samizdata quote of the day

From Don Boudreaux on his blog Cafe Hayek:

A protectionist is someone who believes that we humans reside in near-paradise.

As the protectionist views reality – and assuming that he believes all that he says and understands its implications – the only thing that is scarce in this near-paradise of ours are opportunities to toil and struggle. Everything else – each and every good and service that is and could ever possibly be desired by humans – is so abundant that our only challenge is to find work.

For the protectionist, complete and unalloyed paradise is Robinson Crusoe being stranded alone on a desert island with virtually no material possessions. If the protectionist were consistent, he would voluntarily strand himself in such utter isolation not only from his fellow human beings but from any goods and services other than those that he himself produces with his own hands.

The protectionist cannot understand why Robinson Crusoe might have wanted to be rescued from his desert island.

Defending the Billionaires

Nobody gets to the vast levels of wealth of someone like Bezos without being a gangster. Nobody.

Once again, someone is here to give voice to the voiceless: the poor, underrepresented billionaires who cannot defend themselves.

My disinterest in arguing with you could only be described as “sexual” in intensity. Go rant on your own blog.

          — A famous internet personality

Those are three choice quotes from an argument I got into on the popular blog of a popular San Franciscan. He was a shareholder and early employee of the first company to make a commercial web browser, became quite wealthy in the IPO, and then proceeded to buy a nightclub, and later a pizza parlor next to the nightclub. He also writes regularly, with undisguised loathing, of his distaste for wealthy people.

You can find the original argument using a search engine, but I do not care to direct people to it, and would prefer that you not look, and that if you do, that you leave it unmolested. There is no point in trying to educate those who do not wish to learn; it is generally a waste of time, and I don’t actually enjoy irritating people even if they are themselves less than perfectly civilized. The blog owner suggested I “[g]o rant on [my] own blog”, and so here I am.

The conversation that triggered the “ranting” which I reproduce below suggested, among other things, that the fact that Jeff Bezos is rich is evidence in itself that he’s a bad person, that it is impossible to get rich without foul means, etc. (In other words, it suggested the usual array of collectivist arguments for why envy of wealth should be a guide to political policy.)

The comments also implied that it is horrible that anyone would come to the defense of a wealthy entrepreneur, that one must be a terrible person to defend people who are so clearly not in need of defense. Let me, then, be that horrible person. I think that anyone who is slighted for no reason beyond bigotry and envy deserves defense — indeed, that such defense is necessary for a functioning society.

Here, then, are (lightly edited) my comments from the thread. I’ve separated the individual comments with horizontal rules. If you are a regular on this blog, you may accurately guess the content of my counterparty’s brief and non-substantive comments without reading them.


I always thought that envy was a vice, not a virtue, but I guess people are into reveling in it anyway.


I’ve found fairly few of the “Eat the Rich!” crowd who are actually virtuous, but boy do they do a good job getting angry with others for the “crime” of having earned more money. Such people also pretend it is a virtue to criticize business people for existing, and rich people for having their money, as though it was all a zero sum game, which of course it isn’t — the game isn’t even remotely zero sum. The world’s total supply of goods and services is not, after all, fixed, so it is not the case that one person having more means another has less.

Many of these adherents to the practice of vigorous public expression of thinly disguised envy are even fairly rich people themselves, even have businesses, but naturally they think of themselves as virtuous and anyone who has more money than them as being remarkably evil, or at least, so they proclaim in public. Somehow their own stores and restaurants and factories and the like aren’t evil, though, only other people’s are. (“I run a nice honest business, but he’s got more money than me, so he must be terribly, terribly bad” certainly reads a great deal like envy.)

There are, of course, societies that do operate on a zero sum principle, and those are precisely the societies where most such upper class critics of other people earning money would find themselves imprisoned for having even the “modest” businesses they themselves own. Those societies are also generally desperate and poor. (Many such people were happily chirping about how great Hugo Chávez was and how wonderful Venezuela was, even past the point where it became obvious that starvation was growing in a country with the largest proven oil reserves in the world. I’ve heard few to no retractions from the former admirers, many even claim that the Bolivarian paradise Chávez was building has somehow been ruined by foreigners, but the mechanisms they propose for this are universally implausible.)

Anyway, I find it interesting that people complain about others for no better reason than that they earn some large amount of money per minute, as though this was in itself a reason to think they were somehow bad.

Again, envy is a really, really ugly emotion, and this reads as nothing more than the sort of envy we usually try to teach children not to indulge in, but it seems that at least at the moment, we have political movements (on both sides of the supposed political divide) who anchor their entire program in the basest possible human emotions: envy, fear of people unlike themselves, dehumanization of those judged to be members of outgroups, etc. This tendency appears both among the “build a wall and make Mexico pay for it!” types and among members of the “eat the rich!” crowd, though remarkably each believes that only the other exhibits such abhorrent beliefs.

I’m sure I’ll now be told that it’s different here, but everyone claims their own vices are not actually vices and that the people they mindlessly hate deserve it. No one ever admits there’s something wrong with their own views. No one ever admits to having base and unreasonable emotions, no one ever sees themselves as the bad guy. I know people who honestly believe Mexicans are going to destroy U.S. society by committing the horrible crime of crossing the border and working hard, I know people who honestly believe that landlords are evil for wanting to charge market rents. The arguments are all the same, the claims that I’m a bad person for pointing it out and that the arguer’s personal hatreds are different from other people’s hatreds are dull and basically inconsequentially distinct from those of others.


“Earned”, right. How about crimes like not paying taxes, which are only crimes if you’re poor?

Don’t you own a business? How do I know you paid your taxes? I mean, you say you have, but everyone says they have, right? Shouldn’t I be protesting your wealth? I mean, you’re wealthier than all but a small fraction of a percent of the US population, and by world standards, you’re in the top tiny fraction of a percent. Clearly if you were a decent person you would be giving all your worldly goods up — no one “needs” to own a nightclub and a restaurant and the rest, right?

Only, that argument would be as unreasonable as all the others being made, even if it’s no different in any respect from the one you’re making.

Really, though, it is a fantastic signifier of that. Nobody gets to the vast levels of wealth of someone like Bezos without being a gangster.

Jeff Bezos’s company ships something to me several times a week. I use his service because it is vastly easier for me to get decent products at a reasonable price that way than any other. In doing this, he’s done me a huge service. A new clock for my office wall arrived not very many hours ago, as did a book I couldn’t possibly have found at the local store. He’s probably saved me thousands of hours over the years hunting around on foot only to get worse products at a higher price. I’m glad to have paid him for the service of saving me that time and providing me with better merchandise. Over the years, I’ve paid him only a small fraction of what those many hours would have cost me in lost earnings — he captured only a tiny fraction of the value that I captured.

Because hundreds of millions of other people find his products and services useful, they voluntarily use them, and as a result he’s very very rich — but only because hundreds of millions of people want to use his firm’s services. I could choose to buy from all sorts of firms, but I don’t, because his does better by me than theirs along a variety of metrics. (For certain products, like computer parts, I use competitors services, because they’re better.)

So he got really rich doing what he does well. Not by “gangsterism”, which would imply using guns to use violence to get your way. Which is, by the way, what most people who think he doesn’t pay enough taxes would like — they would like their prejudices and hatreds to be enforced by the police. They would cheer if (say) they saw a cop beating Jeff Bezos up. In this, they’re not much different from the people who think any given group, from blacks to bankers, need to be kept down by the police more of the time. And it’s true, he’s more able to defend himself than the average black person who is victimized by racists, but it’s not true that the sentiment being displayed is any more savory. In the end, it’s the same desire to see people who are part of an outgroup physically harmed, mostly just for being members of the outgroup.

Anyway, though, I’m sure loads of other people could make precisely the same argument about other people, say people who own restaurants. “How did he get wealthy enough to buy a restaurant? Normal people who work stocking shelves don’t have that sort of money. He must be a gangster. He must have stolen it. These excuses about how he worked hard and his company IPOed are garbage — it was theft from other people that got him his money.”

The problem is, of course, that the argument is false. But it’s easily applied to people who own nightclubs, not just people who own internet department stores.

Anyway, I’ve heard this same argument thousands of times. In no case does it seem to amount to more than “I’m envious of the rich person, and because it is socially acceptable to slag rich people, I’ll express that anti-social sentiment in public, pretending that it’s virtue and not vice.” Only, from what I can tell, envy is just about never virtuous, and should not, in fact, be socially acceptable.

In the mindless leftism department

In today’s edition of the mindless, knee-jerk leftism department, Reuters reports that Oxfam is upset that Singapore has low tax rates, apparently because this somehow creates “inequality”. Note that Singapore also has a notably low poverty rate, and that poor people in Singapore are better off than in almost all of the other countries on earth, and (given Oxfam’s purported original mission) poor people in Singapore eat pretty damn well, but as Singapore doesn’t mindlessly tax people for no reason, we are apparently to think of it as a terrible place.

Why the US Pulling Out of the UPU is a Big Deal

Yesterday, the US initiated the process for pulling out of the Universal Postal Union (UPU). This 144 year old institution is responsible for multilateral negotiation which sets rates at which packages approximately 5 pounds or less can be shipped. In age where government postal services competes in the market with companies like FedEx and Amazon, it seems absolutely absurd that a UN specialised agency is responsible for shipment rate setting in the 21st century.

While this might seem like a very boring and mundane situation, it is in fact a big deal. This has nothing to do with Trump and how the US is dealing with foreign affairs. This has to do with the US signalling that it is finished with institutions, which have been captured by certain countries with special interests, which use international organisations to legitimise their national agendas. In a statement, the US Chamber of Commerce said that the system is “exploited by a handful of countries.” Unfortunately, this trend occurs widely across the UN system and multilateral organisations. Take a look at the WTO and the UN Human Rights Council, for example.

Another case in point is the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). Like the UPU, the ITU was founded over 150 years ago in order for international negotiations of telegraph exchanges to take place. Currently it is responsible for global spectrum harmonisation, satellite orbital assignment and telephone numbering. However, in the 1980s a majority of member states agreed to use the ITU to set call termination rates between international calls. The US opted out of this process because telecommunications was liberalising and competition among telecoms companies as well as governments allowed for lower termination rates and a market based system. Arguably, this allowed for the dial up days of the Internet to emerge and develop rapidly.

I can raise many issues with multilateral institutions in the 21st century. Most of these institutions have a number of national members of the dictatorship persuasion that wish to control new and emerging technologies primarily developed and run by the private sector. I have written about this here, for example. However, the point that I wish to make here is that old institutions that are no longer fit for purpose need to die so that new institutions and organisational arrangements can emerge, as Douglas North noted. Within the UN, nothing ever dies.

What’s going on with Facebook?

Over at Libertarian Home, Simon Gibbs (who is the proprietor of Libertarian Home) asks:

I’m asking you a question: have you been tuning into these pages and what do you think is going on? Are some of these legit targets based on some criteria of public safety that you feel is valid? Or are they legitimately operated venues of dissenting opinion which is being squashed?

“These pages” being a list of pages which a certain Justin Harvey (commenting on a Facebook posting) says have been taken down, by Facebook.

I have only very recently plugged myself into Facebook, and have so far only lurked. I have posted nothing. Facebook is useful to me for keeping track of the doings of a few actual friends of mine (this one in particular), but otherwise I find it confusing. They keep nagging me to stick up a picture, so that my “friends” can know that I am really me, but my actual friends know this already.

Besides which, whatever combination of rumour and fact it is that Simon Gibbs is asking about make me think that if Facebook really, really wants me “to take a few moments” to update all my info, they can take a hike. The regular question with which Facebook confronts me whenever I open it, “What’s on your mind?”, feels downright creepy, given what I am coming to believe about the utter duplicity of Facebook’s masters and commanders, wanting, as they seem to, all the privileges but none of the obligations both of a common carrier and of a freelance publisher.

But what does our Commentariat think? I am not so concerned about the mere experience of using Facebook. Nor am I now asking about privacy. It is Facebook’s political biases that I am asking about, as is Simon Gibbs. One of my biases being in favour of people being allowed to express political opinions that I don’t share. The way it looks, to me, now, is that Facebook will be delighted to convey whatever opinions I express on Facebook to the world, until such time as the world starts, in noticeable numbers, paying attention to those opinions, at which point those opinions, being what they are, will vanish from view.

It may well be that, as a freelance enterprise rather than a government agency, Facebook is entitled to behave as it pleases, and face the commercial consequences. But if that’s so, what sort of consequences should those of us who do not share Facebook’s biases be trying to contrive for Facebook, and how? Besides, which, maybe Facebook actually is now a government agency in all but name.

Libertarian Home is an enterprise I admire. I especially enjoy attending its meetings, which happily for me mostly take place a mere walk away from where I live. But the LH commentariat is not as impressive as the one here, and I would love it if our commentariat were to take a serious crack at the questions that Simon Gibbs poses.

An Open Letter to a Terrible Podcast

[I’m intensely interested in the current generation of space entrepreneurs. They really do have the capacity to transform the future of our species. I’m obsessed enough to listen to several space-related podcasts and watch a couple of Youtube channels on the topic. For reference, good podcasts include “Planetary Radio” for coverage of planetary science missions and government space policy, “Interplanetary Podcast” (an irreverent program produced by the British Interplanetary Society), the “Aerospace Engineering Podcast” (a recent addition I don’t yet have a strong opinion of) for insights into new technology, and I watch Youtube episodes of “TMRO”, “The Everyday Astronaut”, and Scott Manley’s show, all of which have interesting content. “TMRO” in particular is wonderful at conveying enthusiasm for the progress being made these days. “Planetary Radio” is much stodgier and more government space program oriented, but has excellent content and typically covers the whole spectrum quite fairly.

And then, there’s “Talking Space”, a podcast that I’m no longer willing to listen to. I rarely tell people that I’ve stopped subscribing to their content, but in this case, I felt compelled to write them a note — it’s unusual to find people in this media segment who so faithfully channel Ellsworth Toohey. Even though almost no one who reads Samizdata will have heard their tiny podcast, I’ve included the entire content below:]

I regularly listened to your program until your episode just after Falcon Heavy’s test flight. I was disgusted at that time with your astonishingly negative attitude about that launch, and unsubscribed for a while, but I decided to give you another chance. Having just stopped listening halfway through “To the moon, Elon!”, I think I’m through with your podcast permanently.

The BFR, if it flies, will be the first fully reusable orbital launch vehicle in history, and will also be one of the heaviest lift vehicles in history. Musk claims it will reduce launch costs by a factor of about two orders of magnitude. Even if it only reduces launch costs by a factor of ten and not one hundred, it will be a major milestone in human history, and I don’t believe that I’m exaggerating.

Not a single mention of that had been made by the time I shut off the episode. All I heard was “it might take a years longer than Musk says” and “this will cost money, where will it come from?” and the even more offensive “Yawn” remark where one of your hosts expressed actual boredom with the news.

On the cost, Musk has a long track record of securing the funding he needs, and as to the former, when he was asked about the timing at the press conference, he absolutely owned up to the fact that they were unlikely, saying that the dates in question were optimistic and based on nothing going wrong.

We all know by now, after his work at several companies, both that Musk rarely makes his dates, but that he almost always manages to achieve the the engineering goals he’s set. SpaceX had its first orbital launch only ten years ago, but is now the world’s leading launch provider, with only the Chinese government launching more often, and given the customer contracts they have in hand and the continuous increase in launch rate, by next year SpaceX may be approaching the Chinese launch cadence. There’s very little reason to doubt that they’re technically capable of building BFR or that they’ve got real revenue that they can apply to R&D, given that even a cursory estimate shows that their operating revenue is now into ten figures.

As for the ridiculous “Yawn” comment: presuming BFR launches, and I presume it will given enough time, it will dramatically alter the cost of human access to space. If the costs end up where Musk claims they will, the price of things like human colonization of cislunar space will be in the feasible range for the first time. If they end up 10x past what he thinks they will be, they’re still going to cut the price of access to space by 90%. This changes everything, even for science missions, which will benefit tremendously from far cheaper launches.

Spending your time nattering about how much you dislike Musk (which was a clear subtext) or are bored by him, how unlikely it is that he’ll get the money needed for development when he clearly managed to get the money needed for the development of all his projects to date, and how he might miss his date by years when that’s utterly immaterial, demonstrated to me that you guys are not my sort of people. You utterly miss the interesting part here — I can imagine your analysis of the first passenger railroad being something like “but the cross-ties are made of wood and will rot! They’ll have to be replaced at intervals!”.

Further, even if Musk doesn’t manage this and Bezos (who is working to the same goals) does, it still doesn’t matter — the world is about to be transformed, and all you can do is look for excuses to grumble.

I realized, in the midst of listening, that I understood the name of your podcast at last. It’s “Talking Space”.

Not “Doing Space”. “Talking Space”.

The lot of you are talkers, and the same sort of talkers who have naysayed pretty much ever interesting development since private development of space technology began in earnest. People like Musk, and Bezos, and Beck, and Haot, and all the others, who are putting their money on the line and their skin in the game, are the doers.

I’m done listening to talkers who have nothing to say but negative things when they themselves haven’t done anything. Musk’s people managed to go from zero to launching 20+ commercial orbital missions a year in a decade. What have you gotten done that makes you feel you can look down on SpaceX’s achievements?

I’ll conclude by saying this even more bluntly: the people responsible for human progress don’t spend all their time negatively gossiping from the sidelines about people who have done far more for humanity than themselves. We need more competent entrepreneurs, not more nasty talking heads.

Samizdata quote of the day

In Great Britain, with changes in the type of work people do, and as capital has been reallocated from manufacturing to services, real household income has increased across every wage bracket. According to the Survey of Personal Incomes, families in the 90th percentile were paid 32 percent more in 2017 than they were in 1994. During this period, the bottom 20 percent experienced average annual real growth of between one percent and two percent, figures not matched by most of the rest of the income distribution range, so how can that old canard that “the poor keep getting poorer” possibly be true?

Neema Parvini

Samizdata quote of the day

“What can’t be stressed enough about what happened in 2008 is that for economies to grow and markets to rise, it’s necessary that the mediocre and lousy constantly be replaced by the good and brilliant.”

Real Clear Markets, reflecting on the decade since the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers.

(Hat-tip, Stephen Green of Instapundit.)

A letter from Marcel Bich

In 1973 Marcel Bich wrote a letter to shareholders when Société Bic was made a public company.

These principles of management have been developed over the past 20 years since I founded the company and then managed it. They were not shaped by a formal education in a French or American business school but are the result of the tough school of business which I entered at the age of 18 by the smallest door. Nobody will deny me the title of “money maker” as our company started in 1953 with an initial investment of 10,000 new Francs and today, it has grown to 150 million francs par-value share capital, all through internally generated funds, representing on average of almost doubling each year over the last 20 years.

Bic lowered the price of pens from something normal people could not afford to the point where they were disposable and cheap.

Bich didn’t just profit from the ballpoint; he won the race to make it cheap. When it first hit the market in 1946, a ballpoint pen sold for around $10, roughly equivalent to $100 today. Competition brought that price steadily down, but Bich’s design drove it into the ground. When the Bic Cristal hit American markets in 1959, the price was down to 19 cents a pen. Today the Cristal sells for about the same amount, despite inflation.

Of course, there are those who do not like this. But never mind that: back to the letter, Bich sounds like an excellent chap:

We are fiercely anti-technocratic. The way to keep the price of beef down is not by government price regulation, but by producing beef efficiently.

Technocracy is a widespread disease today. Starting at the top with the ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration ), it reaches all levels. It is particularly attractive to French people, Cartesian by nature. It results in a large number of administrators and organizers, but when it comes to rolling up your sleeves and doing the actual work there is nobody. Technocracy results in high production costs and, much more critical, low morale among employees who become discouraged and bored with their jobs in which they cannot take any initiative. By placing confidence in workers, employees and executives, everything becomes simpler. Contrary to popular belief, private enterprises have a greater chance of success today than they ever did. As proof, just look at the increasingly serious difficulties in which large state -owned companies find themselves.

It is an excellent letter.

What could have caused the crisis in Venezuela? It is a total mystery

It was tides. No, chemtrails. Or Trump? No, Jews, you can never go wrong blaming Jews. Or maybe it was just ‘bad luck‘. Or perhaps Brexit? Ah, it was global warming! Yes, global warming is what stymied the wise policies of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela. For sure.

Perry de Havilland, helpfully providing feedback when a thoughtful fellow on Twitter suggested we need to figure out what caused the crisis in Venezuela.