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]

You keep using that word “economy”. I do not think it means what you think it means.

“UK green economy has shrunk since 2014”, laments the Guardian.

The number of people employed in the “low carbon and renewable energy economy” declined by more than 11,000 to 235,900 between 2014 and 2018, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Green businesses fared little better, seeing their numbers drop from an estimated 93,500 to 88,500 over the same four-year period.

[…]

Critics of the Conservative government’s record of support for the low carbon and renewables sector blamed the Treasury’s dramatic cut in subsidies to the solar power industry for the sudden loss of employment.

Solar panel installers were among the many businesses connected to the industry that went bust after the Treasury cut subsidy payments by 65% in 2015 before abolishing them altogether last year.

Obligatory “Princess Bride” clip for those benighted souls who haven’t seen it.

The rewards of compliance

The headline you see when you click on this BBC new story is “Macau: China’s other ‘one country, two systems’ region”, but the headline on the BBC front page that takes you to the story is “HK’s model neighbour that stays loyal to China”.

The rest of the story follows that line.

We hear that Macau has the third highest per capita GDP in the world and that China “has expanded its economy phenomenally”. The government hands out cash to residents “as part of a wealth-sharing programme”. A lady called Mrs Lam – not that Mrs Lam – says of Macau’s relations with China, “We understand the boundaries quite well” and “there has been a big focus on improving the region’s economy as well as its education system”. Even the democracy activist found by the BBC says, when reference is made to the Hong Kong protests, “This dissent does not exist in Macau.”

President Xi Jinping of China is quoted as saying, “I wish to stress that the handling of [Hong Kong and Macau] affairs is strictly China’s internal matter, there is no need for any external force to dictate things to us.”

The article reads as if Mr Xi dictated it to the BBC.

If you want to be welcome, do not demand entry

The ceremonial of the State Opening of Parliament includes a moment when Black Rod, the Queen’s representative, approaches the door of the Commons to summon MPs for the Queen’s Speech. Tradition demands that he – or in 2019, she – has the door slammed in her face to symbolise the independence of the Commons from the Crown. Only after knocking three times is Black Rod allowed to enter.

The door closed to a demand but open to a request is a powerful symbol.

In the election we have just had, one of the most contentious issues was immigration and nationality. As stated in its manifesto Labour’s policy was to give the vote to “all UK residents”, and not just the vote, automatic citizenship, according to the Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey. Labour did not exactly shout about the fact that “UK residents” includes foreign citizens, but several people including the Prime Minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings did notice. He then informed the nation in his own inimitable style: “BATSIGNAL!! DON’T LET CORBYN-STURGEON CHEAT A SECOND REFERENDUM WITH MILLIONS OF FOREIGN VOTES”.

But underneath the all-caps headline he made a fair point:

Before the 23 June 2016, many such as the Economist and FT predicted a Leave win would boost extremists and make immigration the central issue in politics. VL said the opposite would happen: that once people know there’ll be democratic control, it will quickly fade as an issue and attitudes towards immigrants will improve. VL was right, the FT was wrong — as all academic research shows. If you want immigration to fade from politics, then democratic control is the answer. If you go with Corbyn and free movement for the whole world, then immigration will be all over the news and extremism will grow. A system like Australia’s will be fairer, good for the economy and take the heat out of the issue.

Imagine that Corbyn had won, formed a coalition government, enacted Labour’s manifesto promise to give the vote to EU citizens and others, and held a second referendum in which their 2.4 million votes for Remain swept away the majority for Leave among British citizens. Imagine if the ignored and scorned people of Leave-voting towns in what were once Labour heartlands saw that Labour had imported a new foreign electorate to replace them. Some may not like that wording but it would have been accurate. Imagine the bitterness towards foreign residents in the UK if that had happened.

It didn’t, thanks in no small measure to Mr Cummings himself. In a month or two the Guardian will report that public hostility to immigration has gone down and attribute it to a burgeoning movement to rejoin the EU. But the real reason will be that people will feel that at some level the wishes of the existing citizens of the UK control who else comes in the country. When you know you can close the door you become more willing to open it in welcome.

Having written the above, I remembered that this is not the first post of mine with a title that uses the metaphor of knocking on a door. Rather than be embarrassed at repeating myself, I will assert that it is a metaphor with several applications. Here is the old post: “To knock on the door is better than booting it in”. It is about relations between transgender and cisgender women.

How to defeat the Chinese Communists

How can the HongKongers defeat the Chinese Communists (hereinafter termed ChiComs), and preserve their HongKonger way of life approximately as it now is? In the short run, they probably can’t. During the next few months, the ChiCom repression in Hong Kong will surely get ever nastier, and the bigger plan, to just gobble it up and digest it into ChiCom China will surely bash onwards.

But then again, I thought that these Hong Kong demonstrations would all be snuffed out months ago. So what the hell do I know? I thought they’d just send in the tanks, and to hell with “world opinion”. But the ChiComs, it turned out, didn’t want to just kill everyone who dared to disobey, plus anyone else who happened to be standing about nearby. That would not be a good look for them. What are they? Russians? Far too unsophisticated. Instead the plan has been to divide and conquer, and it presumably still is. By putting violent agent provovateurs in among the demonstrators, and by ramping up the violence simultaneously perpetrated by the police, the plan was, and is, to turn the peaceful and hugely well attended demonstrations into far smaller, far more violent street battles of the sort that would disgust regular people. Who would then turn around and support law and order, increased spending on public housing, blah blah. So far, this has not worked.

And for as long as any ChiCom plan for Hong Kong continues not to work, “world opinion” has that much more time to shake itself free from the sneer quotes and get itself organised, to try to help Hong Kong to stay semi-free.

Those district rat-catcher (or whatever) elections last Sunday came at just the wrong time for the ChiComs, because they gave peaceful HongKongers the chance to make their opinions known, about creatures of a far more significant sort than rats, and at just the time when the ChiCom plan should have started seriously shutting the HongKongers up. These elections were a landslide.

The ChiComs are very keen to exude indifference to world opinion, but they clearly do care about it, because if they truly didn’t care about it, those tanks would have gone in months ago, just as I had assumed they would. So, since world opinion clearly has some effect, the first thing the rest of us can do to help the HongKongers is to keep our eyeballs on Hong Kong.

As I say, I continue to be pessimistic about the medium-term future in Hong Kong. But in the longer run, if the HongKongers can’t have a local victory, they can set about getting their revenge. And all of the rest of us who care can join in and help them.

We, the HongKongers and all their supporters around the world, can start talking seriously about toppling the ChiComs, not just by continuing to contest Hong Kong, but also by talking about China as a whole.

If the ChiComs won’t let Hong Kong be, then the HongKongers have a perfect right to start talking about China as a whole, since that’s what is now trying to swallow them up. If they aren’t allowed the distinct and distinctly better system that they were promised, then the only system they are allowed becomes fair game for their complaints and for their recommendations. That’s a claim that will make sense to anyone able to think for themselves. It won’t persuade the ChiComs, but persuading everyone else in the world with a clutch of honest brain cells to rub together is a fine start.

What needs to happen is some re-framing.

→ Continue reading: How to defeat the Chinese Communists

Do not mutate the state at too great a rate

Via Guido, I found a good article on evolution and billionaire-bashing written from a mildly left-wing perspective by the science writer Tom Chivers:

There’s a principle in evolution, which is that a gene mutation with a small effect can sometimes be good, but mutations with large effects are almost always bad. Imagine you have a species of deer. It’s a quite successful deer, pretty good at running away from cheetahs. But its legs are fractionally too short for optimal running. If it has a mutation that changes the length of its legs by half an inch, there’s about a 50/50 chance that it’ll be in the right direction, and even if it’s in the wrong direction it might not be fatal. But if it has a mutation that lengthens its legs by two feet, it’ll almost certainly render it incapable of running at all.

And later,

By analogy, the economic system sort of works. It is making people better off and healthier and longer-lived (and, it seems, happier). We could improve it; make its legs a little longer. Making billionaires pay significantly more tax (Gates said he was happy to pay double, remember) seems a making-legs-half-an-inch-longer sort of idea. It might make a few of them move to Grand Cayman, but it should increase tax revenues, and not increase the unemployment rate or damage the economy too badly. If it doesn’t work out like that, at least you haven’t irretrievably screwed a global economy that is slowly lifting people out of poverty, and you can change it back. As McDonnell said on Today, there’s plenty of room for a flatter, more equal society, without getting rid of billionaires entirely.

But “making it impossible for there to be billionaires any more” seems more like a making-legs-two-feet-longer sort of idea. The economic system creates very rich people, often but not always as a reward for creating or selling things that people want, such as Harry Potter or Microsoft Windows or petroleum. I don’t know exactly how you’d change the system to stop it doing that (and Corbyn hasn’t, I think, been specific), but it’d have to be something pretty radical and profound. And then you really do run the risk of doing terrible damage to the workings of the economy. Maybe Corbyn, Russell-Moyle and McDonnell are sufficiently farsighted and brilliant to be able to do it without screwing it all up, but I am unconvinced.

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.