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]

Ah, happy days

“Bill Gates says poverty is decreasing. He couldn’t be more wrong”, writes Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics.

Prior to colonisation, most people lived in subsistence economies where they enjoyed access to abundant commons – land, water, forests, livestock and robust systems of sharing and reciprocity. They had little if any money, but then they didn’t need it in order to live well – so it makes little sense to claim that they were poor. This way of life was violently destroyed by colonisers who forced people off the land and into European-owned mines, factories and plantations, where they were paid paltry wages for work they never wanted to do in the first place.

The comments give me hope.

Yes, a certain perspective is in order

“It’s entirely true that China’s economic growth rate has fallen to the lowest levels in 28 years, back to the dreadful stagnation of 1990, when China was only growing at 4 percent or so. That’s more than the U.S. is growing even in the middle of the Trump boom. We’d all kill for a gross domestic product growth rate as high as what China calls low. This is not, though, a commentary on how bad our own economic policy is, nor really one on how good China’s is today. Rather, it’s one on how terrible, appalling, and truly awful China’s economy used to be.”

Tim Worstall, writing in the Washington Examiner.

It is indeed worth noting, in these times of trade protectionism worries, concerns about Chinese building of runways and facilities in the South China Sea, its surveillance state apparatus, and so on, to step back and reflect on just how far that nation has come since the mass murdering rule of Mao. Tens of millions died from war and Man-made famines and dislocations during the “Great Leap Forward” and the “Cultural Revolution”. These are grim realities that, by the way, appear not to be as well known among Western-educated folk as they should be. It does not do any harm, and might even give us all a bit of calm, to realise that what has happened in China, with all caveats thrown in, is infinitely better than what happened before. The rise of a large middle class in China is, or should be, a positive force in the world.

Spanish practices

Taxi drivers in Madrid are on strike over “unfair competition” from online ride-sharing services such as Uber and Cabify, reports El Pais. In English. On the internet.

Discuss.

Persuading people that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is wrong

Sure enough, it cropped up in my Facebook feed: “As usual, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is right: There should be no billionaires.” What does she say?

A system that allows billionaires to exist when there are parts of Alabama where people are still getting ringworm because they don’t have access to public health is wrong.

I came here to write about it, but Jonathan got here first. And he is right that classical liberal ideas are not popular. But I am optimistic that this can be changed.

I explained on Facebook that I thought Ocasio-Cortez is wrong for two reasons: Wealth is created. There’s not a fixed quantity of it. So billionaires don’t take anything away from anyone. Even just stating it like that is worth doing. Because deep down, people know it is true. They know that people do useful things or make useful things when they do work. Once you get past semantic misunderstandings about what “wealth” is, it is self-evident.

Even my second reason did not meet much objection: that the “system” that allows billionaires to exist is also the best there is. There is no other way of distributing resources without removing incentives from people. If people cannot keep the fruits of their labour, you get less labour in the world, and people on the whole will be poorer. It is not a hard point to understand. The example with the butcher and the baker works. There are plenty of examples of places with different “systems” and even more poor people.

I encountered the argument that no-one needs all that money and that billionaires are greedy. This is an opportunity to discuss how billionaires become so rich. The popular image of Scrooge McDuck and his pile of gold does not bear much scrutiny. Typically, billionaires are rich because they are useful in small ways to vast numbers of people. Businesses like Amazon, Paypal and Windows are very scalable. Bezos, Musk and Gates do not wake up thinking, “5 billion is not enough, where can I get my next billion?” They simply keep doing what they do because they enjoy it and they know how to do it.

Another objection I encountered is that nobody needs all that money. I think people have an image of a pile of gold being kept from poor people but it is not hard to pierce that misconception. There is only so much stuff a person can have. Billionaires do not have much more stuff than an ordinary, moderately rich person. Once you have a nice house, a boat, and a fancy car (which in any case has no more utility than a cheap family car), there is not so much more a person can have. What happens to the rest of the money? It is spent paying people to do things that are ultimately useful to other people. It is invested. Billionaires tend to be quite philanthropic, and they tend to have their own pet projects related to making the world a better place. Because there is very little else to do with so many resources. It is not hard to turn it into a discussion about whether Gates, Musk and Bezos are more likely to know how to improve the world than, say, the US Federal government. And it is hard to have an especially strong opinion that the US government knows best how to improve the lives of poor people. There is at least room for doubt.

And so ordinary voters, even ones who have suffered good educations, can be persuaded that billionaires are not a problem, and perhaps also that capitalism is not a problem, and perhaps also that redistribution of wealth is not the best way to improve the world. We need to develop the marketing techniques to do this, and then sell these marketing techniques to politicians. The left have claimed a monopoly on virtue for too long. It should not be so hard for classical liberals to dispense with the greedy banker image and market themselves as the ones who care about the poor and downtrodden enough to have solutions that work.

Let’s be blunt: classical liberalism is losing

I put this comment up on a group page on Facebook about the latest comments from the young Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, quoted approvingly by two academics in the US, and re-post them here, with some adjustments:

The problem, as I keep noting, is the zero-sum mentality. For such an approach, creating wealth is incomprehensible, and that therefore having much wealth must be evil. She carries the assumption that for A to be richer than the average, B must have been robbed in some way. There’s no sense of a rising tide of wealth, or any grasp of the division of labour, the benefits of innovation, anything. And then there is a sort of hatred of the good for being the good, a hatred even for people who have achieved great success. Even if her concern for poor people is sincere, she’s just treating rich people as means to an end (giving that wealth to others); she just assumes that their wealth was gained wrongly. (In case Paul Marks or others make this point in the comments, some of the rise in inequality in recent times is down to central bank creation of money, which has tended to benefit owners of real estate and equities, but I suspect that Ms Ocasio-Cortez isn’t going all Ludwig von Mises on the Fed.)

She’s not alone in calling for massive redistribution and it is obviously tempting these days to be patronising and poke fun at a not-very-smart young woman (she has a certain cunning in how to market herself), but we should not do so. I don’t pity her. I despise her and her revelling in what amounts to thuggery (which is what coercive state redistribution amounts to, stripped of the fancy language). The rot goes far wider. Prominent academics (such as the people quoted in that NYT article I linked to above), the likes of Thomas Piketty, newspaper columnists, TV broadcasters and arguably even the Pope all press the same, flat-Earth economic buttons. They haven’t been confronted enough. So many “right-wing” politicians aren’t any good at this; they behave all too often like rabbits caught in headlights. Since 2008, this has become worse.

This book, Equal is Unfair, by Yaron Brook and Don Watkins, is particularly good at skewering this egalitarianism.

Also I would argue that Robert Nozick’s renowned book, Anarchy, State and Utopia, and its chapter on egalitarianism and the flaws of Marxism contains just about the most deadly critique of this egalitarian mindset I have ever read. It’s now almost 50 years’ old, but it remains totally on target.

At some point, Ms O-C is going to over-reach, and make an ass of herself, as they often seem to do. Or she may be shocked at being outflanked by people even more collectivist than she is, and start to get a bit wiser. Who knows?

But the mindset she represents is not going away. And our universities and colleges are full of people who imbibe re-heated Marxist, egalitarian notions from their post-68 lecturers. There’s a huge task for genuine classical liberals to take up.

Going “woke” is bad for business – hopefully

There has been something of a trend, it seems, of big firms adopting “woke” or politically correct agendas (here is a definition of “woke” for the befuddled) in recent months and years. The latest example is that of razor and men’s grooming products business Gillette, part of consumer giant Proctor & Gamble. Here is the advert and a discussion around it by the Wall Street Journal. Here is another version of the advertisement.

So what’s going on here? In my view, this is an attempt by a firm that is keen to stem outflow of market share to rivals, and which also fears a reduced demand for its products at a time when a lot of men seem to want to grow beards these days (although they still will want to trim them and keep them neat, etc). The firm’s top brass have concluded that in the current culture, where masculinity is considered to be “toxic”, and probably a contributor of right wing views, global warming and competitive team sports, that a change of tack is required. Make men buy something by worrying about their primal urges! Get into the good books of the chattering classes and the distributors of ad. industry campaign awards!

The problem here is that this illustrates the disconnect that there now is between that segment of the chattering classes that is influenced by leftist ideas and the rest of the population. The CEOs of modern firms may not all tack in this direction, but they have become convinced, or been convinced, that going “woke” is smart for business. Also, the kind of folk most likely to rub up against CEOs are the consultants and advertisement gurus who imbibed such modish ideas in colleges and unversities.

We see this kind of agenda at work in the wealth management industry, where firms are keen to stress how much of what they do is to promote environmental, social and governance-linked investment, never mind actually making money for clients and owners. Entrepreneurs are as celebrated as much for giving their wealth away as for the grubby process of, you know, making it in the first place. (One of my least-favourite expressions used by business folk of a certain type is how they want to “give back” to the “community” – this implies that they “took” something initially that wasn’t fully theirs.)

Clearly, a lot of this may be incubated in Western universities, and you have to wonder what sort of business decisions will be made by the kind of “coddled” youngsters now going through universities. I have been reading the Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, and what alarms me, as it should anyone, is what sort of future businessmen and women we will get if they are drawn from the sort of ranks these academics describe. What will be their desire to take risk, to invest wisely, to cater to genuine client needs? How susceptible will they be to political fads entering the boardroom and factory floor?

In the end, as some classical liberals say, the ultimate arbiter of all this is profit/loss. If Gillette’s market share rises after these ads, maybe the management will say “there, I told you so” and move on. I have made my own tiny vote on this by ensuring I buy from rivals such as Wilkinson’s Sword instead. Possibly, so will others of us “toxic males”.

Lord Deben on how (not) to influence and work for a better world

I think that this is a very revealing Tweet about last night’s House of Commons EU vote, from Lord Deben, formerly John Selwyn Gummer, and not in a good way:

So we leave all decisions to others and remove our major opportunity to influence and to work for a better world. We decide we are indeed just a nation of shopkeepers whose customers and suppliers decide and we obey. That instead of being the driver of the EU. What a come-down!

Lord Deben thinks that “we” were “the driver of the EU”, to which I would say that this “we” was only … a very few of us, and that also other EUropeans did quite a bit of driving. And, Lord Deben thinks that the best way to “influence and work for a better world” is to do politics, and EU politics at that.

Does Lord Deben think that Britain leaving the EU is not going to have any “influence” upon the world? I put it to him, as my trial lawyer ancestors would say, that this will have a big influence, provided only that it does happen. Just not the sort of influence that Lord Deben will like. It’s a lot to hope for, but I really do hope that Lord Deben is, approximately speaking, right about the sort of nation that Britain will become. Although, I can’t remember ever having “obeyed” a shopkeeper, unless they were the kind that collaborate with people like Lord Deben to restrict me in what I can buy.

When I think of the good that has been done for the world by inventors and entrepreneurs, and yes, shopkeepers, I think that Lord Deben’s is a very restricted view of the world and its possibilities.

Samizdata quote of the day

The logic of socialism is to look at someone in a wheelchair and punish the able-bodied by breaking their legs.

The Academic Agent, talking about The Problem with the BBC. The whole thing lasts just under ten minutes, and that little nugget comes about a minute before the end.

Thank you Instapundit.

LG unrolls a new kind of TV screen

Blogs like this one have a tendency to get rather doom-laden with the passing of time. As the political disappointments pile up and are fretted about, it tends to be forgotten that things could be a hell of a lot worse, and that in the meantime that there is much to celebrate.

Things like new gadgets and inventions. The one that I noticed recently was this new roll-up TV screen. That’s a link to a bit of video of an actor of rather modest means pretending to be a rich guy, of the sort who early-adopts such things as roll-up TV screens, before they are really good and way before they are cheap, but who is so very rich that this really doesn’t matter. He is not so much an impatient and/or extravagant idiot. He is more like a patron, giving the techies who did this, and who still have another decade of improvements and price-reductions to graft away at, a bit of well-deserved encouragement, for having at least got the thing working, sort-of, to the point where their bosses are now willing to boast about it. Well done lads, keep up the good work.

Here is another bit of video showing off the same device.

Whether this particular LG version of the roll-up TV screen will ever work well I do not know. But some time soon, this gadget and other gadgets a lot like it will surely start working very well, and then ever more cheaply and compactly. Hurrah. I suspect that roll-up TV screens will be very popular, just like flat TV screens before them, and for very similar reasons.

The sales pitch offered in the first bit of video linked to above is that you will be able to roll the screen down into its small horizontal case, and then enjoy your expensive view through your expensively vast window. Or maybe the story here is that you are such a superior person that only you need know that you ever watch television at all. As for me, I am perpetually pushed for space in my little London home, and a roll-up TV might give me a further little bit of accessible CD shelf space. (Please spare me the anti-CD comments. I like them. If you can’t read that without telling me to stop with the CDs, well, the bit in brackets here.)

Another major plus that will follow from this roll-up TV screen being perfected is that a mobile computer would need then only be the size of its keyboard, because the screen could be the same width as that keyboard, but any old height you want, when you unroll it. Will the standard screen of a computer morph from smallish landscape, if you get my drift, to about-three-times-as-big roll-up portrait? In the age of mobile portrait-type phone screens, that might make sense. As might rolling them up only a little, when rolling them up a lot might be rather anti-social or inconvenient.

Roll-up TV screens will be both big enough to see from a bit of a distance, and yet also small enough to carry around with you without too much fuss. So they’ll be a godsend for people giving talks in unfamiliar surroundings, where they want to show computer imagery but don’t want to depend on their hosts to supply a working big screen.

One final point, about all such developments. I vaguely recall doing a posting here about how a man I admire a lot, Steve Davies, has been arguing that we need different history dates, to celebrate the creative achievements of free people, and to replace the insignificant and frequently very destructive moments, individual or collective deaths mostly, associated with the doings of mere governments. Yes, here we are. But I now think that the whole idea of having alternative dates of this sort is a mistake. What does it matter exactly when the shipping container became the benign influence upon the world that it now is, or the Jumbo jet, or the communications satellite, or the personal computer, or the pencil, or the water mill, or the wheel? Or the roll-up TV screen? The way to identify these various gadgets is the way I just did, with words that allude to and label them. Searching for an exact date for each one is a waste of time.

Recently, I have been waving around the date that is May 24th 1844, this being exactly the day when Samuel Morse first publicly demonstrated his electric telegraph and his Morse Code. But it you want to say that the really important bit of that story happened a bit earlier, or for that matter a bit later, for this or that reason, well, fine. The point is: the electric telegraph and the Morse Code, some time around then. The whys and wherefores of these great steps forward are worth celebrating, by naming them. The exactly-whens don’t really signify. Approximately-when will do just fine. Just because we know exactly when some King died, or exactly when a particular and particularly bloody battle occurred, doesn’t mean we have to fret about exactly which bit of creativity was the most creative, in some quite long drawn-out stretch of creative endeavour, such as is now occurring with these roll-up TV screens. The point is: roll-up TV screens! Some time around … now!

‘…If there are not… …great private fortresses… …to which you can flee from the State, …’ . And then the Patreon/Mastercard question….

The words of economist and philosopher Anthony de Jasay, in a long interview on YT. The full quote, as I transcribe it:

‘…The State can starve you if it has sufficient power over the economy. If there are not (as Schumpeter put it) great private fortresses in the economy to which you can flee from the State, when all these private fortresses are demolished, then you are utterly delivered to the State….’.

. He also said

‘…the State can starve you if it has sufficient power over jobs, over the economy, because it can decide that you will not get a job…’

But with the Patreon and Mastercard blacklisting of certain ‘right wing’ voices on YT, such as the brave Robert Spencer and where no state appears to have done anything, we have a situation where private companies are choosing to end contracts with individuals on what can only sensibly be termed political grounds. This might be the thin end of a very broad wedge. In a cashless society, it could make like very difficult indeed for certain individuals.

Now a libertarian might say that this is unfortunate but simply the choice of a business whether or not it wishes to do business with any particular person, and is not a matter for any form of legal regulation. Furthermore, if there is a breach of contract (e.g. a bogus justification for not processing payments), then damages are limited to the losses that flow from the breach and would cease at the point at which the contract could lawfully have been ended.

A counter argument might be that if it is to do this, a business (assuming that we are talking about the legal fiction of a body corporate) which seeks to refuse custom on political grounds (rather than on grounds of breaching the law), then it should be open about its aims, and be specifically empowered to pick and choose customers in its terms of service and in its company rules. So if Mastercard advertise to me that I can use my card for payment, without qualification, then it has fraudulently mis-represented to me what it will do since in an objective reality, making payment to Mr Robert Spencer, (pbuh) is perfectly innocuous, and my custom has been obtained by deceit, and Mastercard has in fact a general obligation to process payments made by me to whomever I choose, except where an illegality issue arises, where it need not advertise the fact.

And of course, a company does nothing, it has the legal fiction of a corporate personality, whereby it is supposedly liable for its acts, not always those who work for it. But if those who work for a company are not acting in its best interests, but in the interest of their own malevolence, can that company claim against them? Should the ‘veil of incorporation’ be pierced?

And what sort of a weapon might that be in certain judicial circuits in the United States, or other jurisdictions, where ‘social justice’ might be deemed a requisite corporate objective?

So, what would those who tend towards libertarianism, and some around here may be 0.999 (recurring) in the direction, others not so close to being an integer, say could or should be done about the situation, if anything?

And does the State (from its own pov) need to do anything more to restrict the internet if there is a ‘private’ solution to undesirable speech on the internet?

A couple of surprises in the Human Freedom Index for 2018

The Cato Institute has published its Human Freedom Index for 2018.

The jurisdictions that took the top 10 places, in order, were New Zealand, Switzerland, Hong Kong, Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and Denmark (tied in 6th place), Ireland and the United Kingdom (tied in 8th place), and Finland, Norway, and Taiwan (tied in 10th place). Selected countries rank as follows: Germany (13), the United States and Sweden (17), Republic of Korea (27), Japan (31), France and Chile (32), Italy (34), South Africa (63), Mexico (75), Kenya (82), Indonesia (85), Argentina and Turkey (tied in 107th place), India and Malaysia (tied in 110th place), United Arab Emirates (117), Russia (119), Nigeria (132), China (135), Pakistan (140), Zimbabwe (143), Saudi Arabia (146), Iran (153), Egypt (156), Iraq (159), Venezuela (161), and Syria (162).

The positions of Venezuela and Syria were about as surprising as a [insert your preferred metaphor of complete unsurprisingness here], but I did not expect to see Canada listed as more free than the United Kingdom and the United States as less free.

Alex Epstein on the 97% lie

Alex Epstein gives a well-deserved kicking to that 97% claim:

What you’ll find is that people don’t want to define what 97% agree on – because there is nothing remotely in the literature saying 97% agree we should ban most fossil fuel use.

It’s likely that 97% of people making the 97% claim have absolutely no idea where that number comes from.

If you look at the literature, the specific meaning of the 97% claim is: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that there is a global warming trend and that human beings are the main cause – that is, that we are over 50% responsible. …

But do the “97%” even say that? And are the actual percentage that do say that right? My opinion has long been: No; and: No.

I scroll down, and am pleased to discover that Epstein agrees with me:

But it gets even worse. Because it turns out that 97% didn’t even say that. …

Marxists used to believe that Marxist tyranny was needed to rescue the world’s economy from capitalists. But that excuse collapsed long ago. The biggest economic rescue acts that are now needed are to rescue the bits of the world’s economy that Marxist tyrants have been busy ruining. So, should Marxists abandon these methods? Yes. Are they abandoning these methods? Many presumably have, and have gone silent. But others, the ones we still hear shouting their nonsense, just fabricated a different set of excuses for those same old tyrannical methods.