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]

Canadian bank goes in for “struggle sessions”

As several commenters here note, a big feature of the current “woke” cultural revolution is how corporations have been actively going along with the drive towards “diversity” and “inclusion”. As I like to point out, free enterprise capitalism at most competitive is arguably the best way to drive out irrationalism and bigotry – an irrational firm that blocks the advance of men and women because of race etc is likely to lose money and be outperformed by firms not run in such a way.

Let me repeat: bigotry is a cost. (Check out this article about racism, the Jim Crow laws, and free markets.) Which is why it is wrong to claim that capitalism is somehow intrinsically racist.

Some of the actions that firms take to make their products, services and hiring polices more supposedly enlightened have, however, backfired if they contrast with actual reality. A case of about a year or so ago is Gillette, the brand of Proctor & Gamble, which decided that a way to connect with younger men was to denounce “toxic masculinity” and make out that many men are a bunch of loutish, beer-swilling boors who like barbecues. Seems like a winning, er, strategy. That was a case of a business that decided to trash its core audience – men. Great work, chaps!

Another, more recent example of how a commendable desire to avoid bigotry has tipped over into Maoist-sounding insanity comes from Royal Bank of Canada, Canada’s largest bank. I got a press release the other day. Here goes:

“At RBC, we acknowledge wide-spread systemic racism has disproportionately disadvantaged Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC) for far too long, significantly impeding the ability of those communities to compete equally in opportunities for economic and social advancement.”

I like how the bank refers to “systemic racism” without a need for scare quotes. It uses the term without any sign that this is controversial or might be contentious. It refers to it as a fact.

But the kicker is in the following, and I suggest anyone who thinks of working for RBC and similar institutions, had better take note of this “struggle session”:

“The only way we can truly represent the communities we serve and harness the potential of our diversity is to grow the number of BIPOC leaders across our bank. We’re starting with enhancing our existing company-wide Unconscious Bias training, and making anti-racism and anti-bias training mandatory for all employees.”

In other words, everyone – whether they have been hauled before HR for a supposed misdeed or not – are going to be lectured about their “unconscious bias”, just to be sure there are no gremlins inside their heads. No more using “micro-aggressions” such as the term “colour-blind”, or too much reference to dodgy stuff such as “merit”, “professionalism”, or, god forbid, “boosting shareholder value”. (Running a bank to make a profit – how fucking evil would that be?)

And RBC is hardly going to be an exception. At more or less any large organisation, this is going to be the standard, not the exception. I wonder how many people who try to get a job there (and given the wreckage caused by the lockdowns, people may not be able to be choosy), will have hours of their lives wasted while some HR idiot asks them to talk about their “unconscious racism” rather than learning about how to deliver services and products, or come up with new ones.

Part of this will no doubt play to the fact that part of the contemporary higher education system is churning out people with degrees that have limited traction when it comes to building successful business, but might be absolutely perfect for jobs in HR. Expect further gains in demand for people working in “diversity and inclusion” but who can barely comprehend a balance sheet, a profit-and-loss account, or for that matter, compound interest.

One consequence of all this is that people with an ounce of self respect, if they think they must work for a large corporation for a while to learn skills and build contacts (which is what I did) will want to break free asap, and work for themselves, and run their own businesses. If corporate HR continues down a route of compulsory indoctrination about “critical race theory” and all the rest, no-one of real talent or enterprise will want to waste time there. And when the lousy shareholder performance shows itself, you can bet that those arguing for all this will not own the consequences. And they won’t be willing to confront the fact that a firm’s future is increasingly under pressure if it spends more on HR “resources” than R&D.

There is, of course, a more “pragmatic” reason why firms such as RBC and others are doing things such as this. They are covering their behinds, and fear (with some justification) what could happen to them if they don’t go along. Read that press release again, folks, and note that while it talks about hiring goals, there is no specific time-frame or reference to quotas (yet). Ryan Bourne has this measured article saying that some of this corporate “wokeness” might not even be all bad at all, and just how firms shift with the times. But even Bourne realises how some of this culture war stuff is getting dangerously out of hand.

Discussion point – current events show why universal basic income would be a terrible idea

There are lots of reasons in my mind why UBI would be a bad idea. I know that some libertarians/classical liberals, such as the late Milton Friedman, favoured a form of it in the form of “negative income tax”, but largely because they wanted to sweep together existing welfare benefits into a single payment, and for that payment to be cut fairly low so as not to kill incentives. More recently, I have seen folk such as some (not all) “transhumanists” claim that in our marvellous tech future where there is no scarcity, we can have all these goodies for “free” (no more of that stuff about “there’s no such thing as a free lunch”), and that therefore UBI will be affordable and that it will be needed, as conventional “work” no longer exists. This sort of argument is bound to be made more and more because of how work practices have been hammered by the lockdowns, among other forces.

Apart from the implausibility of the idea that scarcity will be overcome – as seen by this critique of a Charles Stross book, another reason why I distrust UBI is that it is going to create a whole class of entitled brats if UBI were to not just replace existing welfare, but be added to them in significant ways. We have had a recent demonstration of what happens when lots of people are paid for doing nothing, with only a few diversions to amuse them, and the results aren’t pretty.

Do we want to scale that issue of people living in prolonged adolescence even more? The cultural/economic consequences of a world in which a handful of evil capitalists are paying all the taxes while the rest of the population loll around on UBI, updating blogs and being generally bored out of their minds is not one I look forward to. It could end up as Ray Bradbury-meets-George Orwell-meets Aldous Huxley. Here is a good case against UBI from David Henderson.

UBI is a terrible idea, at least in terms of somehow covering a vast chunk of the population and funded by a small group who, apparently, are happy to do so without conditions. If people think I misrepresent what UBI is, and can achieve, by all means come back to me in the comments. So far, all too often it appears to be sold as some sort of utopian replacement for work. I am not buying it.

It was the New Deal which put the Great in the Great Depression

The most significant thing about this Daniel Hannan tweet, I think, is not his praise of a Michael Gove speech, but his aside to the effect that FDR “turned a recession into a depression”. This idea is really getting around, and this is a very good thing.

It was the New Deal which put the Great in the Great Depression. (I found myself emitting this sentence at the end of this at my personal blog, which started out being about something else entirely, namely the current Lockdown, rather than about how the world will or will not emerge successfully from it.)

I just googled the above epigram, and the first piece I got to asked: Did New Deal Programs Help End the Great Depression? That item one in such a search casts doubt on (rather than simply endorsing) the claim that The New Deal did end the Great Depression, is a big propaganda step in the right direction.

What people now think is the quickest and best way to end an economic recession matters very much. That surely being why Hannan felt the need to say this about FDR’s disastrous economic policies, even though he was tweeting about something else.

Samizdata quote of the day

As Ludwig von Mises states in his magnum opus, Human Action, the “market process is the adjustment of the individual actions of the various members of the market society to the requirements of mutual cooperation”.

Thus, markets will always be imperfect, but that is precisely why markets exist in the first place! Markets never conform to the “ideal” of perfect competition, but this is completely irrelevant, since under such state of affairs, markets are unnecessary and redundant, since all resources are already perfectly allocated to their most valued uses. Market processes exist precisely because to generate the information necessary to better coordinate the plans and purposes of individuals in a peaceful and productive manner. The entrepreneurial lure for profit and the discipline of loss is what guides such imperfect processes in a tendency towards the creation of more complete information between buyers and sellers.

Rosolino Candela, from Are Markets Imperfect? Of Course, But That’s The Point!

The lasting impact of Wuhan coronavirus will be geopolitical

The report findings come as a group of Conservative MPs in the UK have written to the Trade Secretary to say that they plan to amend the Trade Bill currently before Parliament to legally require the Government to reduce strategic dependency on China. The letter — which cites the HJS report — is signed by 21 MPs including David Davis, Iain Duncan Smith, and Owen Paterson.

Click the link, read the report, interesting stuff.

Wuhan coronavirus, in terms of foreign political fallout for the Chinese Communist Party globally, is like Chernobyl was for the Soviet Communist Party, but multiplied by twenty.

Covid-positive sex-mad Nazis and the Terminal Markets Act 1973

OK, the inclusion of the words “sex-mad” in that title was merely a desperate scheme1 to try and get you to read an article on a case brought against the UK by the European Commission in the European Court of Justice regarding the Terminal Markets Act 1973. However there really is mention of Nazis, and of the coronavirus, though not of the former being infected by the latter. In fact I would have preferred it if there had been less of the Nazi stuff2: the rather tasteless comparisons to World War II made me inclined to dismiss this “Briefings for Britain” piece on the case from two days ago, but I have a feeling that maybe it ought not to be dismissed.

In it, Caroline Bell writes:

This Thursday, the European Court of Justice delivers its verdict in the European Commission’s infraction proceedings against the United Kingdom for failing to impose VAT on transactions in the City’s multi-trillion-dollar derivatives markets. Launched during the murky days of the Brexit withdrawal negotiations in 2018, this judicial time bomb has the potential to blow up both free trade talks and the Withdrawal Treaty itself if the Court finds against the UK.

Which it did. The judgement issued today can be read here.

Caroline Bell speculates that a decision against the UK might have dramatic consequences:

In terms of trade talks, an adverse judgment would probably mean the City could kiss goodbye to any sort of enhanced equivalence (which Brussels is not willing to grant anyway) and even basic equivalence for financial services could be an issue. But for every blow the EU tries to strike here, the UK is in a position to retaliate much harder against EU financial institutions, so the outcome is again likely to be neutral. Does anyone even expect there to be a financial service agreement with the EU anymore? The EU’s action against the Swiss in this area to try to bring them to heel has badly backfired, and would do so if they applied the same tactics on the UK.

I know that quite a few of our readers work in the legal and financial fields. Is there anything to this story? What effect will the verdict on Case C‑276/19 have?

1I think it was the humourist Alan Coren who said that since the bestseller charts back then in the 70s always seemed to be topped by sex books, WWII books and golf books, his next book ought to be about sex-mad golfing Nazis. Edit: I had misremembered. Alan Peakall and Mr Ed have pointed out the existence of Golfing for Cats, pub. 1976. How many publishers would dare have that cover today?

2A wish shared by most of Planet Earth in 1945.

If you ever for a moment doubted that we are ruled by lunatics…

If you ever for a moment doubted that we are ruled by lunatics, let this dispel such notions:

The BoE said last week Britain’s economy could shrink by 14% this year – the most since the early 1700s – due to the government’s coronavirus shutdown, before growing by 15% in 2021. But the central bank warned there were risks of an even worse performance.

Haldane said in the longer term, Britain needed to put its net-zero carbon target and boosting growth in underperforming regions – as pledged by Prime Minister Boris Johnson before the coronavirus crisis – into its growth strategies.

Net zero is the most insane anti-economic notion conceived in the last few decades, a literal rejection of modern energy intensive technological society. The idea that the economic fallout caused by the Wuhan coronavirus lockdowns can be alleviated by making energy more expensive and travel less accessible is like, well, drinking bleach or fish tank cleaner to ward off said virus: the behaviour of genuine authentic unalloyed idiots.

The only way to put net zero carbon targets into growth strategies is to utterly repudiate net zero policies in favour of actual economic growth.

Mick Hartley on the politics of the Lockdown

I at first thought that I’d just wait and see, and avoid opining about Cornonavirus until the whole ghastly episode was over and we were all back to the new normal, whatever that turned out to be. But, having waited, I am already now seeing. It is becoming ever clearer, as a few were loudly asserting from the get-go, that this bug is far more widespread, but far less likely to kill you even if you get it, than had at first been proclaimed. I do not care who Professor Ferguson is bonking, but I care very much about how wrong he has been, about so much, for so long, and yet how the governing classes around the world, including the British government, still chose to listen to him. (Is it known (comments anyone?) what Ferguson thinks about climate change? I bet he’s been a fanatical catastrophist about that also.)

Someone who has done a lot to persuade me to get off the fence like this is Mick Hartley. As I mentioned in passing at the end of this earlier posting here, Mick Hartley has been very good on the subject of the Lockdown. His typical posting on the subject has tended to consist of a big quote from someone else, often dragged out from behind a paywall, with a few comments from him topping and tailing his posting. But, in his piece on Saturday, entitled Lockdown politics, although there are links in it to the thoughts of others, Hartley writes for himself.

On the whole I’d say that the left is more supportive of the lockdown than the right. Yes I know, left vs right doesn’t mean so much any more, but it still means something. The left more supportive of the state, perhaps, vs the right more concerned about individual freedom. I haven’t looked, but I imagine somewhere in the Guardian comments someone has said that the right only want to get back to work because they want to make money and don’t care about people’s lives. And, seen this morning prominently displayed in a window: “Capitalism isn’t worth dying for”. …

Which is odd in a way, because the lockdown might be seen as a left-wing cause. Against the lockdown, that is.

It’s clear that the poor are having a much harder time than the middle classes at the moment: stuck in worse accommodation, with worse facilities, desperate for an end to this, and, for many, worried sick about their jobs and their future. We hear almost exclusively now from the middle classes – what books they should read, what films they should watch, and how to keep their kids active and up-to-the-minute with their education. These are the people, generally, who don’t have big financial worries, can work from home, and feel perhaps rather smug about how well they’re coping. But it’s obvious that there’s a whole mass of people that we never hear from … destitute, miserable people stuck in lousy over-crowded housing wondering how on earth they’re going to cope.

The longer the lockdown continues, the worse it’s going to be. …

And for what? Who are we protecting? Well, Covid-19 is deadly serious notably for the very old – not at all for the young – and especially for men. So, we’re protecting old men, at the expense of just about everybody else. …

Whatever happened to the attitude embodied in the slogan “women and children first”?

You might think this would resonate with the left, but it doesn’t seem to. …

Will Keir Starmer start pressing Boris on ending lockdown? I hope so. He should do, in the name of the people that Labour claims to represent. He did, to be fair, make some noises to that effect some weeks back, asking for the government to set out guidelines for the return of schools and getting businesses back to work. I haven’t seen much since. …

And then this:

… I hope he pushes it more, because I’m beginning to lose faith in Boris ever getting together the necessary determination.

Me too. Read, as they say, the whole thing.

Labour, it seems to me and to many others I’m sure, has mutated from once upon a time being the party speaking for the poor, often against the government, to being the party of government, even when they aren’t the politicians in titular charge of that government. These people are now “supportive of the state”, to quote Hartley, even when they’re not personally in charge of it. It’s the process of government, whoever is doing it, whatever it is doing, that they now seem to worship. It is, as similar people in earlier times used to say, the principle of the thing, the principle being that they’re in charge. Many decades ago, Labour spoke for, well, Labour. The workers, the toiling masses. Now they represent most determinedly only those who labour away only in Civil Service offices or their allies in the media, in academia, and in the bureaucratised top end of big business.

Anyone official and highly educated sounding who challenges whatever happens to be the prevailing supposed wisdom of this governing class, on Coronavirus or on anything else, must be scolded into irrelevance and preferably silenced. The governors must be obeyed, even if they’re wrong. In fact especially if they’re wrong, just as the soldiers of the past were expected to obey their orders, no matter what they thought of the orders or of the aristocratic asses who often gave them. Whether they were good orders was an argument that those giving orders could have amongst themselves, but that orders must be obeyed was a given. “Capitalism” isn’t worth dying for, but this new dispensation is, right or wrong.

Our new class of entitled asses, together with all those who have placed their bets for life on carrying out their orders or trying to profit from them, seems now to be the limit of the Labour Party’s electoral ambition. And who knows? The awful thing is that this class and its hangers-on could be enough, in the not too distant future, to get them back into direct command of the governmental process that they so adore.

Meanwhile I note, with a twinge of satisfaction amidst all the gloom, that the British politician speaking up most loudly for the right of workers, especially poorer workers, to get back to work is this excellent man. The sooner the campaign gets under way to replace Boris with him, the better.

Samizdata quote of the day

If no one will buy this oil then why is there a market price for it? And why are there transactions occurring at this market price?

We can go further. This oil is owned by someone. That means someone has bought it.

It’s entirely true that some of this oil – say maturing futures at Cushing – has a negative price. But that’s just an annoying market price, not the absence of a market nor a lack of a price at which someone will buy it.

Tim Worstall

Lockdown socialism eventually runs out of other persons’ money

This is too long and not right for a Samizdata Quote of the Day. I am busy today, but just have to put this up:

Under Lockdown Socialism:

–you can stay in your residence, but paying rent or paying your mortgage is optional.

–you can obtain groceries and shop on line, but having a job is optional.

–other people work at farms, factories, and distribution services to make sure that you have food on the table, but you can sit at home waiting for a vaccine.

–people still work in nursing homes that have lost so many patients that they no longer have enough revenue to make payroll.

–professors and teachers are paid even though schools are shut down.

–police protect your property even though they are at risk for catching the virus and criminals are being set free.

–state and local governments will continue paying employees even though sales tax revenue has collapsed.

–if you own a small business, you don’t need revenue, because the government will keep sending checks.

–if you own shares in an airline, a bank, or other fragile corporations, don’t worry, the Treasury will work something out.

This might not be sustainable.

Arnold Kling. (Hat-tip, Tyler Cowen at his Marginal Revolution economics blog.)

Margaret Thatcher once famously said (to the fury of the Left) that socialists always run out of other people’s money. Same applies to locking people down for months on end. It will end. The issue is how high the rubble is going to be.

Samizdata quote of the day

“The coronavirus outbreak gives us a neat experiment in what happens when humans suddenly dramatically reduce both production and consumption. And, to put it mildly, most of us are not enjoying it one bit. That suggests that instead of the hair shirtery favoured by the Gretas of this world, our best solution is creating the technologies that allow us to keep consuming while also keeping the planet cool with our doing so.”

Tim Worstall.

Yes, we have no Eurobonds, we have no Eurobonds today

There’s a fruit store on our street
It’s run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers “no”.
He just “yes”es you to death, and as he takes your dough
He tells you
“Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.”

Those are some of the words to the 1923 hit song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn. The song is mostly associated with World War II, but according to Wikipedia it had found its way into the history books before that:

The song was the theme of the outdoor relief protests in Belfast in 1932. These were a unique example of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland protesting together, and the song was used because it was one of the few non-sectarian songs that both communities knew. The song lent its title to a book about the depression in Belfast.

For nine decades “the depression” meant the one that started in 1929. But the coronavirus looks likely to bring in its wake an economic depression that may well take the definite article for itself. Naomi O’Leary of the Irish Times reports,

Euro finance ministers reach compromise to fund pandemic recovery

Deal dashes hopes of Italy, Ireland and seven others for the roll out of so-called corona bonds

The 19 members of the euro zone agreed a compromise on Thursday to aid states in need of funding to address the profound economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

But it dashed the hopes of Italy, Ireland, Spain and six other member states that had called for eurobonds to bring down borrowing costs and send a signal of unity as the continent confronts a health crisis that is threatens to become an economic disaster.

Under the deal, states can borrow from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund to finance spending needed to overcome the crisis.

I do not seek to play down their achievement in reaching a compromise at all. Every finance minister on Earth must be passing sleepless nights wondering how best to deal with our current predicament. But the dilemma faced by the Eurozone countries is particularly acute. Italy and Spain will never forgive the EU if they receive no help in their hour of need. But the northern countries were repeatedly assured that EU membership and the adoption of the Euro would never mean they had to write a blank cheque to what they see as the spendthrifts to the south (and a few other directions besides). The Dutch, the Germans, the Finns and the Austrians must hope that when they say, “yes, we have no Eurobonds” the upbeat momentum of the first three words will carry them over the next two.