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]

China’s crackdown on profit-making education

China appears to be doing its level best to harm itself in the long term. This story hasn’t so far stirred a lot of international commentary, but it matters, I think. It shows that the rising nationalism (and arguably, a degree of paranoia) in China is reaching the point where it is damaging the domestic economy.

According to one report in Forbes:

Chinese authorities have ramped up their crackdown on after-school tutoring companies by unveiling a new set of sweeping regulations that bans the firms from making profits and raising capital from overseas markets.

Tutoring companies that teach school subjects are now required to register as non-profits. They are also banned from raising capital from overseas investors or through public listings.

What’s more, authorities will stop approving new tutoring companies seeking to teach China’s school syllabus, and require existing ones to undergo regulatory reviews and apply for licenses. The companies found to be in violation will be rectified or eradicated, according to the rules, without further elaboration.

The moves by Chinese authorities have hammered shares of firms operating in the space.

One story I read in the Wall Street Journal said that China, while hitting private sector education, is at the same time trying to make it easier for young couples to have more kids, reversing decades of its odious “one child” policy.

Why does this matter? Because the ever-shifting moves of Chinese authorities on certain sectors must make it hard for entrepreneurs in that country to plan ahead. One moment a chap like Alibaba’s Jack Ma is a sort of business “rock star”, and the next, he’s “disappeared”. In my job in the financial services industry, I have heard a lot of comments over the years on how vibrant, dynamic and coherent Chinese policymaking is, so much better than all that messy Western “neoliberalism”.

Well, it turns out that things in China aren’t quite what they are cracked up to be.

Christmas greetings from Samizdata

How State lockdowns make actual planning difficult, if not impossible

One of the paradoxes of the current lockdowns/restrictions that have been imposed by the State is that they make it much harder for private firms and individuals to plan ahead, particularly when the rules are nonsensical and change regularly. (Examples being how in the UK you can have a drink in a bar in certain places but you have to have it with a “substantial meal”, but the definition of latter is left unclear).

Critics of open societies and classical liberal conceptions of how things should be will argue that said classical liberals don’t fully appreciate the need for planning. Sometimes the phenomenon of the market is characterised as anarchic, and in need of planning and control. Markets are messy, so this argument goes, and wasteful and chaotic. So much neater to run things centrally. Now the arguments used to debunk this – such as from the Austrian school – are fairly well known and should be familiar to many of the readers of this blog (such as how no central planner, even aided by modern IT, can possibly know the vast array of tastes, desires and resources to make an extended market order actually work, etc).

But what strikes me is how advocates of Big Government, such as Paul Krugman, often don’t seem to appreciate how their policies and plans make it harder for individuals and the organisations they create to plan in the first place. The pandemic reaction is an example.

Some firms might have been able to plan once they know they are not going to be molested or face sudden changes to how they serve clients, but all too often this is not the case. Even with the Big Techs that have thrived recently, risks of anti-trust shakedowns are an uncertainty that might blunt their ability to plan and invest.

Across a large chunk of the economy, such as hospitality, entertainment, transport, sports and so on, planning has been a nightmare. To take one case in point: try to imagine how hard it has been to launch a film. In many cases, the movie industry has taken the line of least resistence and shut down.

This State regime uncertainty pushes back against the “just-in-time” inventory model that more stable times in the past had made possible, with its vast deepening of the division of labour. A far less predictable policymaking regime – aka “regime uncertainty” – is going to require people in future to accumulate more “padding” in the form of rising savings rates, back-up resources, and the like. But even such efforts are made harder as and when governments use fiat currency debasement to transfer savings to borrowers.

The need to plan ahead is in fact a central fact of life in a free society. We do it all the time. (Every day I jot down my work tasks for the day, for example.) The key is that these plans are those of free individuals acting on their judgement, and not because of some central, coercive authority standing over them.

When the State expands above a certain minimum level, this private planning becomes more, not less, difficult. It is in fact a classic rebuttal to President Barack Obama’s nonsensical “you did not build that” speech of a few years ago. People can and do build a great deal, provided the rules are clear and enforced. All too often, the State does a crummy job in defending legitimate boundaries, and as we see now, does a great deal of damage.

Samidata quote of the day

People react to discrediting evidence not by acknowledging reality but by entrenching their beliefs even further. This counter-productive thinking is further exacerbated by ‘cognitive dissonance’, another Festinger theory. When confronted with evidence disproving their beliefs, people will opt for the least painful choice, holding on to their beliefs, no matter how catastrophic these are, rather than admitting they have been wrong. Our political class – the Government – is currently providing a textbook example of this behaviour.

Karen Harradine

Solving the problem of dogs stuck to the ceiling

A concerned citizen writes,

Little know fact: sometimes dogs float to the ceiling and get stuck there. It’s a serious problem and we should really start to talk about it more to find a solution.

I urge you to look at the pictures the blogger provides of dogs in this position. Few will remain unmoved. Except the dogs, they do remain unmoved, because they are stuck.

Although the writer did not try to make any political capital from this issue, it did lead me to wonder what other problems in modern society are conceptually similar to the plight of these dogs. I did think of one: as you no doubt recall from your perusal of page 61 of the 2019 Labour manifesto, the Labour Party pledged to tackle the insecurity of casual work by:

Ending bogus self-employment and creating a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account, so that employers can not evade workers’ rights; and banning overseas-only recruitment practices.
• Introducing a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces.
• Banning zero-hour contracts and strengthening the law so that those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract, reflecting those hours.

I think the gig economy might be a dogs-stuck-to-the-ceiling type of problem. Can you think of any others?

That this post is classified as “Hippos” is not an error. It was done firstly because that was the category that most closely matched the content, and secondly because we all need to be alert for hippos stuck to the ceiling.

Destroying our economy to save the NHS?

This is probably one of the few places in the internet, never mind the regular media, where people can get to debate the wonders of socialised medicine without being under the burden of proving that they are not evil. In the UK, we have had since the late 1940s a healthcare system that dominates the field, with a relatively small private sector. The National Health Service, funded from tax and run as a monopoly, with politicians and civil servants allocating resources, was modeled, as so many post-war institutions were, on the idea of state central planning. The narrative of the time was that planning was the way to go, unlike all that messy, chaotic “laissez faire” that had been associated, however wrongly, with the Great Depression and so on. (Here is a good paper on the NHS by the Institute of Economic Affairs.) I can also recommend this book, by James Bartholomew on the many problems with the UK welfare state.

The NHS, like many of the other socialised medical systems in much of the developed world, faces the monstrous coronavirus. And so much of the current policy approach – the UK is going into more of a lockdown as of this weekend – is designed, so it is said, to flatten the potential surge of infections and deaths, so that the NHS and other systems don’t collapse. The cost/benefit calculation is being made that it is better to smash the world economy, to force millions into idleness, possibly for months, and tide them over with cash payments funded from vast amounts of debt, than it is to allow the NHS/other to be forced into a nightmare of running out of resources. In some ways I can see the merits of preventing a horrendous surge in deaths; I also think that saving the NHS and other models of healthcare is a sort of virility test of today’s Welfare States. Nothing can be done to admit they have limits, even if that means economic damage on a major scale.

That cost/benefit calculation may look just about defensible now, but what about in two months’ time, particularly if there is no real sign of a deceleration in the virus, but if the struggle to buy even basic household necessities leaves a lot of people in real hardship? I assume that farmers and others in the food production business are not being told to stay at home, but such is the level of madness about this situation that I wonder. I’d like to know how locking people in their homes for months is going to be enforced.

There are also health considerations to be taken into account by such a lock-down, particularly if it goes on for months on end. Humanity is not designed for prison, and those of us in relatively free societies (“relatively” being the operative word) will move from being restless to downright homicidal of this goes on into the summer and beyond. There aren’t enough police to keep everyone cooped up in their homes.

Those bastards in the Chinese Communist Party have a lot to answer for. And yes, COVID-19 began there, and it shows how derelict some of our media/political class has become that is frowned upon to point that out. (The anger is rising, and will have major consequences for our geopolitics.) It would be rather ironic to think that something unleashed by a Communist state, whether by accident or whatever, has put such pressure on Welfare State societies in the West.

Final point: I was due to give a talk tonight at Brian Micklethwait’s place about the recent calls for anti-trust assaults on the Big Techs such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, and I was going to look at parallels with the campaign to break up J D Rockefeller’s Standard Oil more than a century ago. One thing you can say about Rockefeller, was that as well as being a brilliant businessman, and philanthropist in the area of healthcare, among others, he also understood the importance of integrated supply chains in commerce. He’d have looked at our current predicament with interest.

Samizdata quote of the day

Woman who no-one had heard of until she married a royal “set out to prove that women don’t need men to give them status”. I mean I agree but she’s got her work cut out.

– Rob Fisher, commenting on this.

A Lusitanian* adventure

Last month, the Sage of Kettering and I went on another trip, this time to England’s oldest ally, Portugal. *It involved brief excursions into Spain over a raia (‘the stripe’ as it is called), one of Europe’s oldest borders, almost unchanged but still disputed many centuries after delineation in 1297, so it was an Iberian adventure. We focused on the north of Portugal, and then Lisbon.

We flew to Porto, with the least user-friendly tram system I have yet used, and made our way up north by noisy Diesel train through pleasant farmland, brushing the Atlantic coast on the way to our first stage, the fine fortress town of Valença on the Minho river, which here forms the border with Spain. Valença has a striking fortress citadel as its old town, with many layers of defences. The scale of the walls can be judged by the horses in the pictures. A drone video of the fortress, a 17th Century construction on an older 13th Century construction, is here.

→ Continue reading: A Lusitanian* adventure

One day the Times headline writers might figure out what actually helps save rhinos

The paper edition of the Times that hit my doormat this morning had an interesting headline: “Hi-tech kit keeps rhinos safe from poachers”.

The online version has an even more interesting headline: “Hi-tech kit and ex-spies keeps South Africa’s rhinos safe from poachers”.

Neither headline is untrue, both the hi-tech gadgetry and the spies are helping preserve the rhinos, but both are missing something. My use of the “Deleted by the PC Media” tag is a little inaccurate, as is my use of the “Hippos” tag, but we seem to lack a tag for “Rhinos” or for “Never even entered the PC Media’s pretty little heads despite the facts staring them in the face from their own reporting”. See if you can guess what the missing factor is from this excerpt:

South Africa, home to 80 per cent of the world’s 29,000 rhinos, loses about three a day to poachers, the vast majority in state parks. Private reserves have become essential to preventing the animals from extinction, as long as the owners can afford to protect them.

Turning the 150,000-acre reserve into a 21st-century fortress in the African bush costs £1 million a year but the investment has paid off. The park has not lost a rhino in the past two years. It is hardly surprising. At each of the park’s four gates, guests visiting its five-star lodges, as well as staff, only enter after systems have checked numberplates and fingerprints against a national criminal database and are tracked and monitored until they leave.

Kruger National Park is far less secure and the rate of survival among its 9,000-strong rhino population is poor. Sixty per cent of all poaching incidents in South Africa occur there. Too often its rangers, police and officials are in the pay of poachers. Rhino horns can fetch up to £70,000 per kilogram in Asia, where they are imagined to cure a range of ills from hangovers to cancer.

Equality denied boarding at Aeroflot?

News reaches us from Russia, that, despite 70 years of Leninism and now an assault by the Cultural Marxists, notions of equality do not appear to be taking off at Aeroflot, reportedly with a fleet of newish aircraft, now Russia most powerful ‘brand’ (surely ‘Kalashnikov’, but I digress).

Russia’s flagship carrier Aeroflot is fighting a legal battle with several of its female flight attendants who say it favours slim and attractive cabin crew.

One case has been thrown out of court. The concept of someone actually needing to be up to the job appears to have survived in Russia.

The company argues that every extra kilogram of weight forces Aeroflot to spend more on fuel.
Its application form for would-be flight attendants requires details of height, weight and clothing size.
Staff have to meet a minimum height requirement because they need to store hand luggage in the overhead lockers, Aeroflot says.

The fuel penalty was quoted as every extra kilogram of weight costing an extra 800 roubles (£11; $14) annually on fuel, but Aeroflot has other points.

‘…a survey carried out for Aeroflot showed that passengers preferred attractive flight attendants and agreed that an airline had a right to stipulate weight limits and clothes sizes for its staff.

Perish the thought that the fat and the short are not wanted, it’s all down to job-need.

In one case, the complaint is stark.

Ms Ierusalimskaya, aged 45, wants Aeroflot to pay her 1m roubles (£14,000; $17,750) in compensation, Russia’s Kommersant news reports. Her clothes size is 52 (XL, under the international system).
She said the airline had transferred her to domestic flights, cutting her income. She complained that Aeroflot’s rules required stewardesses to be at least 160cm (5ft 3ins) tall and have a clothes size no larger than 48 (L; 16 in UK; 42 in Germany; 14 in US).

Aeroflot’s point of view:

“A heavy physical build makes it harder for a flight attendant to move around the cabin and provide a smooth service for the passenger,” an Aeroflot official told the court.

Quite, you can’t have stewardesses so wide that they would need to be punted down the aisle with a trolley, that’s just not safe.

But a Russian Trade Unionist, helpfully called Boris, is on the warpath.

Boris Kravchenko called Ms Ierusalimskaya’s case “an unprecedented case of sex discrimination”. He is a member of President Vladimir Putin’s Council for Human Rights, and chairs the Russian Labour Confederation.
“The trade unions in this sector have teeth,” he said, warning of possible strike action “if such discriminatory behaviour persists”. He was speaking to Russia’s RBC news website.

Boris is keeping rather quiet about what happened to women with Beria it seems.

Now does this resistance to PC blandishments augur well for Russia, in that it might have a cultural meta-context where, if other silly and evil notions of statism and/or banditry can be got rid of, it might lay the basis of a free and prosperous commonwealth? And are we in the West closer to that goal?

Sticking it to Ken Loach

Comedy might not be Loach’s forte. But there is splendid unintentional humour in this class warrior standing up at a dinner sponsored by large corporations to denounce the Government that pays him so handsomely to keep churning out his Marxist drivel.

Harry Phibbs

Welcome to the new Samizdata server

Enjoy! [edit: Tuesday December 6th, SSL is now enabled.]

hippocannon