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]

Let us remember their sacrifice a century ago

Because if we don’t, who will? I consider myself quite well versed in history, and I am certainly disposed to honour those killed while fighting Communism, yet even I had barely heard of the Soviet-Polish war of 1920. I had not thought of it for years until reminded by a post by Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit:

The war that saved Europe from Communism

Eat, drink and be merry. Tomorrow comes the Ice.

Hat tip to Ed Driscoll of Instapundit for at least giving Britain a few hours’ notice of its icy doom.

The news was first reported by Mark Townsend and Paul Harris in the Guardian‘s Sunday sister the Observer on Sun 22 Feb 2004. Since the world did not take the preventative measures the experts warned were necessary it is clear that nothing can save us now:

Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us

· Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war
· Britain will be ‘Siberian’ in less than 20 years
· Threat to the world is greater than terrorism

A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a ‘Siberian’ climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

Looking back at Christmas Day

It’s now that time of the year between Christmas and the New Year, when we here sometimes do big postings with lots of photos. Usually, these have been retrospective looks back at the year nearly concluded. I did photo-postings like this in 2013, in 2015, and in 2017. And see also other such photo-postings here in the past, like this one in 2014, and this one way back in 2006.

We’re not the only ones doing these retro-postings about the nearly-gone year. A few days back an email incame from David Thompson, flagging up the posting he did summarising his 2019, which will already have been much read on account of Instapundit already having linked to it. And one of Thompson’s commenters mentioned a similar posting by Christopher Snowdon, mostly about politicians wanting to tell us what not to eat, drink or smoke.

So, here’s another 2019 retrospective. But it’s not a look back at the whole of 2019, merely a look back at a walk I took in London, on Christmas Day 2019. I like to photo-walk in London on Christmas Day, especially if the weather is as great as it was that Day.

I began my walk by going to Victoria Street and turning right, towards Westminster Abbey, where I did what I often do around Westminster Abbey. I photoed my fellow digital photographers, who were photoing Westminster Abbey:

The lady on the left as we look is using one of those small but dedicated digital cameras, of the sort that nobody buys now and hardly anyone even uses now, because the logical thing, unless you want something like 25x zoom like I do, or really great photos that you could blow up and hang in an art gallery, is to use a mobile phone. But she is still using her tiny camera from about a decade ago. Odd.

Next some giant purple Christmas tree balls, outside the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre.

→ Continue reading: Looking back at Christmas Day

Sometimes experts get it right!

I now lurk on Twitter, and more recently, also on Facebook. Today, on Facebook, via Matt Ridley, this:

Still don’t know the link etiquette when quoting social media discoveries on a blog, so no link.

Usually, the most remembered prophecies are the ones that were proved totally wrong. Metal ships will all sink, aeroplanes can’t fly, cars will never catch on in Europe because chauffeurs, and so on. But this prophecy was – pretty much – right. And what’s more it came from someone running the very business he is prophesying about. He didn’t get everything about the mobile phones we now have. (No explicit mention of texting.) But, as Matt Ridley says: “Pretty good.”

Somewhere on the www there are presumably collections of such successful prophecies. Links please!

Also, what’s still to come for the telephone? Brain implants? 3D virtual reality transmission? Thought control of children? (Thought control by children?)

For a more immediate prophecy, I recently read this fascinating little blog posting by Jordan Peterson, about high tech telephone conmanship. Jordan Peterson being Jordan Peterson, it’s very grim and dark and miserable, and yet another circumstance that The Individual will have to defend himself against, and go a bit mad failing to defend himself against. But still, well worth a read if you missed it.

And also, e-scooters.

And, inevitably, see what Natalie said yesterday in the previous posting, which I only just read.

Ways in which modern society really is different

One line from an article about something else has been haunting me for the last two days. I seek to exorcise the ghost. Over at the Great Realignment, I did a post about an interview between Isaac Chotiner of the New Yorker and Professor David Runciman of Cambridge. The interview was about the recent UK election and Brexit, but I was so struck by the wider ramifications of a particular thought of his that I first made it into the title of that post, and now I will continue that theme here. Professor Runciman said,

“We are the first societies in human history where the old outnumber the young.”

Are we? If we are, what difference does it make? Who is “we” in this case?

That leads me to ask this question of our readers:

In what other ways do we in the modern world truly differ from our forebears?

Several years ago, I had a fascinating conversation on this very subject with a friend. (As a matter of fact it was Niall Kilmartin’s wife, so if this whole thing sounds familiar to you, Niall, that’s why.) She and I came up with a few more:

We are the first society in which parents can reasonably expect all their children to outlive them.

We are the first society in which an emigrant to a far country can reasonably expect to visit and be visited by their relatives in the old country.

We are the first society in which the conversation is global.

The coming of the telegraph was the greatest jump in speed of communication that has ever occurred and, barring one of the least scientifically plausible tropes of science fiction turning out to be true after all, will ever occur. The telephone, radio and the internet merely finished the job.

We thought of a few more, but those were the biggest ones that I remember. Do you have any more? Do you disagree with any of those suggestions, or with Professor Runciman’s idea of the old outnumbering the young quoted earlier? Or is the whole idea that we are significantly different from the people of the past merely a childish manifestation of the desire to make ourselves seem special?

Samizdata quote of the day

What is the intellectual origin of the foreign policy views of Jeremy Corbyn’s inner circle? It is Lenin’s theory of imperialism.

In the early 20th century, building on the work of liberals such as John Hobson, Lenin argued that capitalism was being sustained only by the profits from colonial exploitation. These excess profits allowed domestic workers to be paid enough to prevent them from rising up against their capitalist employers. Imperialism was made possible by the power of capitalists to make the state provide military and political protection for their foreign investments.

From this two things follow. All foreign policy by capitalist countries is about creating empires, conquering property and exploiting resources. Kosovo as much as Iraq, Sierra Leone as much as Afghanistan, troops in West Germany as much as in Vietnam. Hence Mr Corbyn’s jaundiced view of Nato and any institutions connected with it, such as the European Union.

So Mr Corbyn argues, as he did in 2011, that “since World War Two, the big imperial force has been the United States on behalf of global capitalism and the biggest, mostly US-based corporations. The propaganda for this has presented itself as a voice for ‘freedom’ and carefully and consciously conflated it with market economics.”

The second thing that follows is that the troops on the front line of the movement to overthrow capitalism are national resistance movements. These are the heroes of socialist advance, even if sometimes they aren’t purely socialist.

So Mr Corbyn has given encouragement and support to the Iranian government, the Irish republicans, Hamas and Hezbollah, and Fidel Castro. He saw Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela as lights to the world, developing a new economic model worth emulating….

The Labour leader ignores or dismisses the idea that any of these groups or countries, such as Iran, might be imperialist powers because all that matters is that they resist western capitalist imperialism. So their imperialism, like that of the Soviet Union, is, he put it, “different”. Where resistance movements have turned to violence or fundamentalism Mr Corbyn says he disapproves but that the root cause is not their behaviour but ours….

There will be some who read this and will think I’m being unfair because I mentioned Lenin and Hezbollah and there is an election coming. But this article is unfair only if it’s an inaccurate description of Mr Corbyn’s views, and given that it is based on things he and his close advisers have written and said, it can’t be. If Mr Corbyn becomes prime minister he and his advisers will control foreign policy. Given that he departs so far from the postwar consensus and the traditional Labour position, it’s as well to understand what he thinks.

– Daniel Finkelstein, in a piece behind the Times paywall, but quoted (all of the above and more) by Mick Hartley.

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

Sir Charles Trevelyan, the Irish Potato Famine and the inversion of reality. Not laissez-faire in Ireland under Trevelyan – the opposite of laissez-faire.

This post is written by Paul Marks and is posted on his behalf as he is not in a position to post.

Part of the story of Sir Charles Trevelyan is fairly well known and accurately told. Charles Trevelyan was head of the relief efforts in Ireland under Russell’s government in the late 1840s – on his watch about a million Irish people died and millions more fled the country. But rather than being punished, or even dismissed in disgrace, Trevelyan was granted honours, made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) and later made a Baronet, not bad for the son of the Cornishman clergyman. He went on to the create the modern British Civil Service – which dominates modern life in in the United Kingdom.

With Sir Edwin Chadwick (the early 19th century follower of Jeremy Bentham who wrote many reports on local and national problems in Britain – with the recommended solution always being more local or central government officials, spending and regulations), Sir Charles Trevelyan could well be described as one of the key creators of modern government. If, for example, one wonders why General Douglas Haig was not dismissed in disgrace after July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme when twenty thousand British soldiers were killed and thirty thousand wounded for no real gain (the only officers being sent home in disgrace being those officers who had saved some of them men by ordering them stop attacking – against the orders of General Haig), then the case of Sir Charles Trevelyan is key – the results of his decisions were awful, but his paperwork was always perfect (as was the paperwork of Haig and his staff). The United Kingdom had ceased to be a society that always judged someone on their success or failure in their task – it had become, at least partly, a bureaucratic society where people were judged on their words and their paperwork. A General, in order to be great, did not need to win battles or capture important cities – what they needed to do was write official reports in the correct administrative manner, and a famine relief administrator did not have to actually save the population he was in charge of saving – what he had to do was follow (and, in the case of Sir Charles, actually invent) the correct administrative procedures.

But here is where the story gets strange – every source I have ever seen in my life, has described Sir Charles Trevelyan as a supporter of “Laissez Faire” (French for, basically, “leave alone”) “non-interventionist” “minimal government” and his policies are described in like manner. I must stress that I do not just mean sources such as “Wikipedia” (according to which the economic polices of General Perón were good for Argentina, and the failed communist, from each according to their ability – to each according to their need, experiment in the Plymouth colony in North America, in the early 17th century, never happened, despite Thanksgiving), I mean every source I have seen. Here is a quote from an article on the BBC website:

Laissez-faire, the reigning economic orthodoxy of the day, held that there should be as little government interference with the economy as possible. Under this doctrine, stopping the export of Irish grain was an unacceptable policy alternative, and it was therefore firmly rejected in London, though there were some British relief officials in Ireland who gave contrary advice.

It would seem odd for the creator of the modern Civil Service to be a roll-back-the-government person – but let us examine the theory in relation to what actually happened.

Let us test the theory that Ireland under Charles Trevelyan was a “laissez faire” place. Under this doctrine taxes would be very low – well were taxes very low? No, taxes were crushingly high – under the slogan of “Irish property must pay for Irish poverty” Irish Poor Law taxes, under the Act of 1838, (which had not even existed in the 18th century – the time of Edmund Burke) were pushed higher and higher – and the taxes were spread, although you wouldn’t know that from Wikipedia. As various “Poor Law Unions” went bankrupt the British government insisted that other Poor Law Unions that had not gone bankrupt, for example in the Province of Ulster, come to their aid – by pushing up their taxes. Thus taxes everywhere in Ireland became crushing. Taxes in Ireland had not been low before – indeed Edmund Burke had calculated that, relative to the wealth of the people, taxes in 18th century Ireland were much higher than taxes in England and Wales – but in the late 1840s under “laissez faire” Trevelyan taxes became much higher than they had been. The armed Royal Irish Constabulary, a national police force, perhaps more like a Gendarmerie, which had not existed in the 18th century, had its work cut out making sure these taxes were collected. And Charles Trevelyan insisted that the government education system, which also had not existed in the 18th century, not be neglected. The idea of perhaps spending the money devoted to the government schools on famine relief – well perhaps best not to mention that to him, even though Ireland had existed for many centuries without these government schools. Well, to a bureaucrat, children must be educated, even as they starved and died, just as dead men must be sent formal letters of complaint that they had not filled in government forms (no, I am not making that up) in relation to their relief work (even if they had not been paid – due to not filling in the correct forms).

Ah yes, the relief work. The endless “roads to nowhere” and other such schemes, Keynes did not invent these, but multiplier there was none. Charles Trevelyan was very determined that none of his relief projects should benefit the Irish economy (yes – you did read that correctly, NOT benefiting the Irish economy was his aim), that is why the roads tended to go from “nowhere to nowhere” and the other projects were of much the same “digging holes and filling them in again” type (much like the mad projects in France after the Revolution of 1848 – and yet no one calls them “laissez faire“). This was due to Trevelyan’s hatred, and hatred is not too strong a word, for Irish landowners – most of the anti-Irish comments that Irish Nationalists gleefully quote were actually directed at Irish landowners (most of whom were Protestants); Trevelyan hated them with a passion and attributed all the problems of Ireland to them (rather than to the Penal Laws, undermining the property rights of Roman Catholics and Dissenting Protestants, which had actually created the Irish “Peasant Plot” system over so many years – the Penal Laws had been repealed. but the system they created remained), no scheme must in-any-way benefit the accursed “gentry” (who Sir Charles seems to have regarded as close to being spawn of Satan). That the Whig Party itself was the creation of the aristocratic landowners does not seem to have carried much weight with Trevelyan – after all he was not working for the landowners, he was, at least in his own mind, on a mission from God (yes – God Himself) to set the world to rights. A Philosopher King – or rather a Philosopher Civil Servant, who treated the forms and regulations he created as Holy Texts.

None of the above is anything to do with “laissez faire” it is, basically, the opposite. Reality is being inverted by the claim that a laissez faire policy was followed in Ireland. A possible counter argument to all this would go as follows – “Sir Charles Trevelyan was a supporter of laissez faire – he did not follow laissez faire in the case of Ireland, but because he was so famous for rolling back the state elsewhere (whilst spawning the modern Civil Service) – it was assumed that he must have done so in the case of Ireland”, but does even that argument stand up? I do not believe it does. Certainly Sir Charles Trevelyan could talk in a pro free market way (just as General Haig could talk about military tactics – and sound every inch the “educated soldier”), but what did he actually do when he was NOT in Ireland?

I cannot think of any aspect of government in the bigger island of the then UK (Britain) that Sir Charles Trevelyan rolled back. And in India (no surprise – the man was part of “the Raj”) he is most associated with government road building (although at least the roads went to actual places in India – they were not “from nowhere to nowhere”) and other government “infrastructure”, and also with the spread of government schools in India. Trevelyan was passionately devoted to the spread of government schools in India – this may be a noble aim, but it is not exactly a roll-back-the-state aim. Still less a “radical”, “fanatical” devotion to “laissez faire“.

Paul Marks.

Samizdata quote of the day

Oh no. I’ve accidentally stayed up way too late reading about the 1560s attempt to set up copper mining and smelting works in Cumbria using German experts.

Anton Howes, historian of the origins of the Industrial Revolution.

The above is the first of a series of tweets. Read them all here. Howes was asked what exactly he’d been reading. Answer: This book.

I signed up to the Anton Howes Age of Invention newsletter a while back, and am always pleased when another installment shows up in my incoming emails.

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.

The lost chord, correction, TUC booklet

Seated one day at the organ
I was weary and ill at ease
And my fingers wandered idly
Over the noisy keys

I know not what I was playing
Or what I was dreaming then;
But I struck one chord of music
Like the sound of a great Amen

The Lost Chord was an immensely popular song of the late nineteenth century. It described how the singer had found, then lost, a chord played on the organ that seemed to bring infinite calm.

I have sought, but I seek it vainly
That one lost chord divine
Which came from the soul of the organ
And entered into mine

In like fashion did I, my friends, linger in the library of Her Majesty’s Treasury in my lunchtime many years ago, seeking to put off the moment when I would have to go back to my humble office and do some actual work. Like the fingers of the weary organist upon his instrument, thus did my skiving fingers wander idly across the spines of the publications the Treasury thought might help its minions control public expenditure*. By a chance equally slim did I find the booklet issued by the Trades Union Congress that I am going to talk about in this post. And by a fate equally tragic did I fail to take note of the title, author, year of publication or even the colour of the cover, and lost it again forever.

Which is a bit of a bummer really. This post would have been a lot more convincing if you guys didn’t just have to take my word for it that the damn TUC book ever existed. Then again, it was nice to be reminded of The Lost Chord which was the favourite song of an old chap I once knew who fought in the First World War.

This booklet. For anyone still reading, it was about “Technology in the Workplace” or summat. I got the impression that it had been published in the last years of Callaghan’s government. (This story takes place during Thatcher’s premiership.) It did not bring me infinite calm. It brought me a Hard Stare in the Paddington Bear sense from another patron of the library, because I was going “mwunk” and “pfuffle” from trying not to laugh.

The booklet was all about how when the bosses tried to introduce new technology, workers could use the power that came from being a member of a trade union to block it. It did not go so far as recommending that all new devices such as “word processors” and “computers” should be rejected out of hand, but it made quite clear that no such new-fangled gadgets should be allowed in if it meant the number of jobs for typesetters or stenographers should go down. The power of the unionised worker to resist such impositions was, of course, greatest in our great nationalised industries.

The pages of the little book were clean and perfectly squared off. I do not think anyone other than me had ever read it. Yet it seemed to come from a long-ago time or a foreign country, probably East Germany, so great were the changes that had come to Britain in those few years since it was published.

Yes, Britain changed. And now it’s changing back.

Jeremy Corbyn promises free broadband under Labour.

Labour’s proposal seems very popular, although, hilariously, support drops steeply when the question moves from “Do you like Labour’s plan to give you free stuff?” to “Do you like Labour’s plan to nationalise BT Openreach?” – but even then a solid third of the country hear Jeremy Corbyn say, “we’ll make the very fastest full-fibre broadband free to everybody, in every home in our country”, and also hear that the Labour manifesto is to reiterate the radical 2017 commitment to ‘sector-wide collective bargaining’ – and seriously believe that the “very fastest full-fibre broadband” is going to be brought to them by the unionised workforce of a nationalised industry.

*Or as the Treasury Diary handed out free to staff members one year described it, pubic expenditure.

Climategate ten years on.

Remember “Climategate”? There has been a TV show made about it. Lucy Mangan of the Guardian gives it four stars:

Climategate: Science of a Scandal review – the hack that cursed our planet

In 2009, a vicious attack was launched against groups fighting global warming. Scientists still can’t get over the death threats. And the world is on fire.

I dunno. As I always say whenever I post about these matters, I am willing to believe in global warming caused in significant part by man. But ten years after Climategate cursed the world and set it on fire you would have expected more of a… temperature rise.