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]

The view from Brazil is that peace is also the health of the state

The most recent of my Last Friday of the Month meetings was actually not on the last Friday of March because that was Good Friday, and my speaker Bruno Nardi and I decided to hold it a week earlier, on the 23rd. Bruno Nardi is a Brazilian libertarian and he spoke, unsurprisingly, about Brazilian libertarianism. The Brazilian state having become more than usually obtrusive and kleptocratic in recent years, libertarianism in Brazil is doing rather well just now. (I very much fear that libertarianism in Britain may soon be about to do rather well also, but that is another story.)

Before telling us about the contemporary libertarian scene in Brazil, Bruno prefaced that story with some Brazilian history, which I am rather ashamed to admit was almost entirely new to me. On the other hand, his basic point was that Brazilian history is rather undramatic, so maybe I needn’t be so ashamed after all.

Brazil started out as a Portuguese colony, but did you know that, in or around 1814, it became an independent Kingdom? Perhaps you did, but I didn’t. I did know that around that time, various armies were crashing about in Spain and Portugal, because the Duke of Wellington and his army were busy pushing Napoleon’s army back over the Pyrenees. But as to what happened in Brazil as a result of its Mother Country being invaded, well, I had never given it a thought. If Hitler had managed to invade Britain in 1940, you can well imagine Churchill and our Royals and a boat full of government functionaries hopping across to Canada, and setting up a new and “independent” kingdom of Canada. In Brazil, this is what actually happened. (Googling has made me more confused about the exact date of all this, but it definitely happened around then.)

In general, however, the history of Brazil is notable for its paucity of dramatic history dates. After 1814-ish, the next history date that Bruno focussed on was some time around 1880 or 1890, when there was this big Constitutional change, the nature of which I now forget, and which in any case, said Bruno, had little effect on regular life for most Brazilians. Then something else political happened in 1930. And then the next date to be discussed was 1964! I thought: hang about. Weren’t the times between 1930 and 1964 rather dramatic for the world? Well, yes, these were dramatic times, for the world. But for Brazil, not so much. Brazil pretty much sat out World War 2, just as it had pretty much sat out World War 1.

A little light googling has told me that Brazil has been involved in warfare, a bit, as Bruno did mention, especially during the nineteenth century against neighbouring states, notably Paraguay. There were a number of internal rebellions, all defeated. And Brazil did get involved in the world wars, fighting against Germany in both, a bit. So there definitely is such a thing as Brazilian military history. But Brazilian involvement in war was indeed nearly nothing compared to what the European nations were doing to one another and to the rest of the world during those same times, or compared to such events as the American Civil War.

War, we libertarians are fond of telling each other, is the health of the state. Peruse the most recent posting here by our own WW1 historian, Patrick Crozier, to see how we often think about such things. So, what about that increasingly obtrusive and kleptocratic Brazilian state that has been putting itself about lately, stirring up misery and libertarianism? There have been no big wars to make the Brazilian state as healthy as it now is, and especially not recently. What of that?

The story Bruno Nardi told made me think of the book that explains how peace is also the health of the state, namely Mancur Olson’s public choice theory classic, The Rise and Decline of Nations. It is years since I read this, but the story that this book tells is of the slow accumulation and coagulation of politics, at the expense of mere business, as the institutions of a hitherto thriving nation gang up together to form “distributional coalitions” (that phrase I do definitely recall). The point being that if you get involved in a war, and especially if you lose a war, the way Germany and Japan lost WW2, that tends to break up such coalitions.

The last thing on the mind of a German trade unionist or businessman, in 1946, was lobbying the government for regulatory advantages or for subsidies for his particular little slice of the German economy. Such people at that time were more concerned to obtain certificates saying that they weren’t Nazis, a task made trickier by the fact that most of them were Nazis. Olson’s way of thinking makes the post-war (West) German and then Japanese economic miracles, and the relative sluggishness of the British economy at that time, a lot more understandable. Winning a war, as Olson points out, is not nearly so disruptive of those distributional coalitions, in fact it strengthens them, as Crozier’s earlier posting illustrates.

You’ll get a bit more of the flavour of Olson’s thinking if you read this SQotD from 2012.

I met up with Bruno Nardi again last week at a Libertarian Home meeting, where I spoke to him along the lines sketched out in the previous paragraphs, mentioning the title of Olson’s book, and I ended up by asking: Does that ring any bells with you, as a way of talking about Brazil and its history? Yes, he said, that’s what it was like. Gradually the political crooks got their various acts together and made their various deals and accommodations, and it got worse and worse and the state that they negotiated between them got bigger and bigger.

In Brazil, the idea of libertarianism has usually been felt as foreign. But it’s an idea that Brazilians are now definitely getting told about.

You can read Bruno Nardi’s recent postings at Libertarian Home by going here. I particularly like the one entitled Take the hypothetical seriously. What if? What if, although Bruno didn’t ask this in that piece, Brazil was governed differently, in a more freedom-friendly way to the way it has been governed for the last few decades? And what if the same applied everywhere else?

So, what do we think about Syria?

Some questions:

Was there a chemical attack?

If so, who was the perpetrator?

More to the point, do we care? Yes, I know there is a treaty and all that but is chemicalling someone so much worse than shooting them? And is it worth fighting a war over?

100 years of the RAF, and a very British protest

Today marks the centenary of the Royal Air Force, established for bureaucratic convenience at the start of a financial year in 1918, beaten in the age stakes by the Finnish Air Force, formed on the preceding 6th March, a Force which has higher scoring aces, with implausible names like Hans Wind, but I digress. Whilst I am not one to celebrate bureaucracies (and the RAF is a bureaucracy), it has the merit of having done much to banish tyranny from the world, and has many tales of heroism in its relatively short history, even if for one-fifth of that, it has been part of the Blairmacht.

Today I would like to note one incident in the RAF’s history, which came at the ‘half-way’ mark, when in 1968, (actually on 5th April) after Harold Wilson’s Labour government decided not to commemorate the RAF’s 50th anniversary with a fly-past, and this did not go down well at all. In fact, it went down so badly that one RAF pilot, the heroic Flight Lieutenant Alan Pollock, threw away his career and very nearly his freedom in the ‘Tower Bridge incident‘, when, in protest at the lack of a commemoration, in his Hawker Hunter jet, he ‘buzzed’ the Houses of Parliament. Then on the spur of the moment, going down the Thames towards the sea, he flew under the top span of Tower Bridge at around 400 mph, and also ‘beat up’ a few airfields inverted, before landing, getting arrested but avoiding a court martial after being demobilised on health grounds by superiors eager to avoid the publicity of a trial, which is a weird echo of a similar ruse used in Viktor Suvorov’s ‘The Liberators’ when a Soviet Army soldier’s conduct presented a bureaucratic embarrassment that could not be concealed from higher authority. The jet only just missed hitting the top span of Tower Bridge with its tail, so no harm was done, however, it was close, there was a double-decker bus on the bridge at the time, and a cyclist on the bridge ripped his trousers dismounting in haste. Flt-Lt Pollock gallantly offered to pay for the trousers, but the cyclist declined.

It is a tribute to the political culture of the UK that discontent manifested itself in this way, rather than in something like a tanquetazo . The World would also be a better place if more people, like Flt-Lt Pollock, placed acting out of good principles over doing what is needed to maintain one’s position or career, when one is led by disgusting ones.

UPDATE: The Daily Mail have done a full interview with Alan Pollock, here it is.

Discussion point: What should the UK do about the Skripal case?

The basic facts are given in this Wikipedia page: Poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, and there is a BBC “What we know so far” piece here. I keep hoping to read somewhere that they are beginning to recover. I keep not doing it.

What should the UK government do? What do you think about the measures it has taken so far?

Here are some opinions from several different points of view to get you started:

What can Theresa May do about Russia over the Salisbury poisoning? – Dominic Waghorn, Sky TV.

After the Skripal attack, talk of war only plays into Vladimir Putin’s hands – Simon Jenkins in the Guardian.

Alex Salmond: Don’t shut down my TV show over spy attack – Andy McLaren, STV News.

Early Day Motion 392

From Hansard:

Early Day Motion 392


Session: 2004-05
Date tabled: 14.12.2004
Primary sponsor: Smith, Llew

That this House welcomes John Pilger’s column for the New Statesman issue of 13th December, reminding readers of the devastating human cost of the so-termed ‘humanitarian’ invasion of Kosovo, led by NATO and the United States in the Spring of 1999, without any sanction of the United Nations Security Council; congratulates John Pilger on his expose of the fraudulent justifications for intervening in a ‘genocide’ that never really existed in Kosovo; recalls President Clinton’s Secretary of Defense William Cohen claimed, entirely without foundation, that ‘we’ve now seen about 100,000 military-aged [Albanian] men missing…..they may have been murdered’ and that David Scheffer, the US ambassador-at-large for war crimes, announced with equal inaccuracy that as many as ‘225,000 ethnic Albanian men aged between 14 and 59’ may have been killed; recalls that the leader of a Spanish forensic team sent to Kosovo returned home, complaining angrily that he and his colleagues had become part of ‘a semantic pirouette by the war propaganda machines, because we did not find one mass grave’; further recalls that one year later, the International War Crimes Tribunal, a body de facto set up by NATO, announced that the final count of bodies found in Kosovo’s ‘mass graves’ was 2,788; believes the pollution impact of the bombing of Kosovo is still emerging, including the impact of the use of depleted uranium munitions; and calls on the Government to provide full assistance in the clean up of Kosovo.

(Emphasis added.)

Signatures include:

Name: Corbyn, Jeremy. Party: Labour Party. Constituency: Islington North. Date Signed: 15.12.2004.

Name: McDonnell, John. Party: Labour Party. Constituency: Hayes & Harlington. Date Signed:

From yesterday’s Guardian:

Ratko Mladić convicted of war crimes and genocide at UN tribunal

The former Bosnian Serb commander Ratko Mladić, nicknamed the ‘butcher of Bosnia’, has been sentenced to life imprisonment after being convicted of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

More than 20 years after the Srebrenica massacre, Mladic was found guilty at the United Nations-backed international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague of 10 offences involving extermination, murder and persecution of civilian populations.

Edit: In the comments Jacob asks, “I was wondering what the massacre perpetrated by a Bosnian Serb in Bosnia had to do with Kosovo…” Fair point; in my efforts to make a Drudge-style snarky juxtaposition I failed to make the link clear. Given that we are talking about mass murders rather than day-to-day political point-scoring, I should have done so.

The link is that Mladic’s war crimes in Bosnia were part of the Yugoslav War(s), in which Slobodan Milosevic played a notorious role, which included egging on the Bosnian Serbs as well as his own crimes in Kosovo. The British Hard Left turned a blind eye to it all.

My intention was to point up how tawdry EDM 392, and by extension the whole business of soft-pedalling the crimes in former Yugoslavia, looks now in the light of yesterday’s conviction of Mladic.

US Navy: Penis in sky drawn by jet trail was ‘unacceptable’

A display of ‘airmanship‘, the sort, but not the pattern, that was needed in Operation Taxable on D-Day, appears to have fallen on ‘stony ground’ as it were, it looks like a pilot will be having a hard time.

US Navy officials have said it was “absolutely unacceptable” that one of their pilots used a jet’s contrail to draw a penis in the sky.

What else could, or should, he have used? Wider reaction is mixed:

Ramone Duran told the Seattle Times newspaper: “After it made the circles at the bottom, I knew what it was and started laughing.”
But one householder told KREM 2 she was upset about having to explain to her children…

However, the good news is that the Brylcreem Boys beat the Yanks to it:

In August this year, an RAF fighter pilot drew a 35-mile penis on radars monitoring skies over Lincolnshire, England.

Just wondering if they did that in the Cold War, and what the Soviet spy trawlers reported back.

Photo credits: ‘jon’, and, of course, the Secretary of the United States Navy.

So what should we do about North Korea?

By “we” I mean the American government of course.

Let’s try some Q and A:

Does North Korea currently possess the means to destroy cities in South Korea, Japan and even the United States?
I’m guessing that’s a “no”. My understanding is that building a missile is one thing, building an atomic bomb another thing and combining the two really difficult.

If not, are they likely to acquire those means any time soon?
Well, they seem to have spent a hell of a long time just getting to this stage. So, it could be a while yet.

Were they to acquire them how likely would they be to use them?
I suppose the question here is whether or not the threat of instant nuclear annihilation would deter them. The point is that the Norks are atheists. They do not have a heaven to go to. They want to receive their rewards in this world. There is no upside to being nuked. So, they can be deterred.

Of course, I say they are atheists but their system of government is clearly a hereditary monarchy. Monarchies tend to have gods attached. But as yet (to the best of my knowledge) the Norks haven’t come up with a heaven. But when they do… watch out.

So, the best approach is probably to do nothing and let deterrence do its thing?
Probably. Of course, it doesn’t have to be the US doing the deterring. Japan and South Korea could do much the same, after they had developed nuclear weapons of course.

Getting back to this god stuff, the Iranians aren’t atheists are they?
No they’re not. And they believe in heaven. And they believe they would go to heaven if they nuked Israel. And rumour has it that the Norks are helping them with the tech. But my guess is that the Israelis have the means to deal with this threat before it becomes serious.

So, what you’re saying is that the US’s best approach is to do nothing?
Yes, I guess I am.

I would just add that it is remarkable how difficult smaller tyrannies find it to replicate 60-year old technology.

Samizdata quote of the day

The ADC is a fire-eater and longs for the fray.

– Douglas Haig, Diary entry for 20 July 1917 commenting on a meeting with American Commander-in-Chief Pershing and other members of his staff.

And the name of this fire-eating ADC?

George S. Patton.

A thought experiment on how private road owners would deal with the threat of terrorism

When dealing with complex political issues I often find it useful to ask myself what would happen in the absence of the state. This is not because I think that the glorious libertarian revolution is just around the corner but because such an exercise can at least give us some clues as to what the state should be doing in the here and now.

So, what do I mean by private roads?
Roads where the owners may decide who uses them, under what circumstances and have the means to enforce their decisions. The type of ownership could include purely commercial enterprises – out for a profit, individually-owned roads and – what I think will be the most common form – club-owned roads.

A lot would depend on people’s propensity to tolerate acts of terrorism. My guess is that this would be pretty low but I could be wrong. But that’s the great thing about the free market: it is a wonderful way of finding out what people really want. If the propensity is high then I would guess the outcome would be very similar to what we have now. Terrorism would simply be something that people would have to get used to. But let’s assume that the propensity is low. A commercial road owner would therefore have a very strong incentive to prevent terrorism.

Because, if a competitor was better at preventing terrorism then more people will want to use his roads.

But what of a road owned by a club?
This is an important example if I am right that most private roads would be in this form. The governance rules might be in the form of one frontage one vote. But it may be that the number of votes is proportional to the fees charged.

Now a road club will not have the same incentives as a commercial road – they would not exist to make money. But they would have incentives enough. The principal one would be that their members would want to preserve the value of their properties and one factor in that would be how likely it was that their properties became subject to terrorism.

Individual road owners, we can assume, would be in much the same position as clubs.

So, assuming there are strong incentives to prevent terrorism how would road owners go about it?
Obviously they would want to stop the terrorists. But they would also want to make it as easy as possible for non-terrorists to go about their business. And they would want to keep the costs down.

A key moment is what happens when someone enters the road – or road network – from one of the inevitably large number of frontages. You could have a guard on every frontage searching every person entering the road. However, this would be expensive. Not only that but it would be unlikely to be effective. Guards would get bored and become inattentive and would themselves become likely targets.

Another approach might be to deny access to anyone suspected of being an active terrorist. But this is fraught with difficulty. How would you know who is who?

Far simpler and more effective would be to ban anyone harbouring any terrorist sympathies whatsoever. Effective terrorist campaigns can always rely on a sea of sympathisers who are not themselves terrorists to aid and abet those who are. These sympathisers are usually easy to identify. Exceptions might be granted for children and members of the older generation. Or maybe there would be a system of vouching for people, guarantees of good behaviour or even the taking of hostages. The chances are that if private roads came about tomorrow terrorist sympathisers would wake up to find their properties surrounded by barbed wire.

The next issue would be those seeking entry from another road i.e. a road owned by another entity. What you would probably see is a system of guarantees. One road owner would guarantee the non-terrorist nature of their road users to other road owners. Obviously, there would be some fairly hefty compensation should one road owner’s users engage in acts of terrorism on another road owner’s territory. That would mean that road owners would be very careful who they let out.

There is a precedent for this – sort of. Those familiar with the movie The Day of the Jackal will recall that the idea that they might be letting a terrorist loose on foreign soil scared the living daylights out of the British government.

So, what would happen to the terrorist sympathisers?
It is difficult to see how terrorist sympathisers would be allowed to use non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. They would therefore only be allowed to use terrorist-sympathiser roads. As terrorist sympathisers tend to be poor and geographically concentrated, they would have an immediate problem over what to do for an income especially in the absence of a welfare state. Faced with poverty some would choose to leave for terrorist-sympathiser majority countries while others would choose to change their beliefs. Of course, there is the issue as to whether such conversions would be genuine. I have no answer to this.

But what if the terrorists engaged in acts of terrorism from their own roads?
They could for instance mortar bomb non-terrorist-sympathiser roads. My guess is that they would get mortar-bombed back. Just to greater effect.

Yuval Noah Harari on how the knowledge economy reduces war

In this earlier posting about a book I had been reading, I talked about how reading can turn sort of knowledge into knowledge of a more solid sort. The author says something which you already sort of knew, but as soon as he says it, you know it much better. Often such knowledge consisted of things you already knew about separately, but you hadn’t connected them in your mind.

Recently this happened to me again. Like many others, I have lately been reading Homo Deus by Yuval Noah Harari. And I soon learned that Harari, like Steven Pinker, has noticed that the world has been becoming a lot less warlike.

I already agree with Harari that a major reason for this reduction in warfare is nuclear weapons. On page 17 of my paperback edition of Home Deus, he says this:

Nuclear weapons have turned war between superpowers into a mad act of collective suicide, and therefore forced the most powerful nations on earth to find alternative and peaceful ways to resolve conflicts. …

Quite so. But next comes this thought, which I had not, until now, put together in my mind:

… Simultaneously, the global economy has been transformed from a material-based economy into a knowledge-based economy. Previously the main sources of wealth were material assets such as gold mines, wheat fields and oil wells. Today the main source of wealth is knowledge. And whereas you can conquer oil fields through war, you cannot acquire knowledge that way. Hence as knowledge became the most important economic resource, the profitability of war declined and war became increasingly restricted to those parts of the world – such as the Middle East and Central Africa – where the economies are still old-fashioned material-based economies.

I knew that war is diminishing, in fact I have written blog postings about what a big change that is for humanity. And I knew that the knowledge economy is now becoming a bigger deal than the mere possession of agricultural or resource-rich land. Who now does not? But call me dumb, as maybe some tactless commenters will, but I had never – or never very clearly (only “sort of”) – made the causal connection between these two things. Taken together, the rise of the knowledge economy and the arrival of nuclear weapons, themselves a consequence of recently acquired knowledge, amount to a transformation in the cost-to-benefit ratio of war. It used to be that war incurred some costs, heavy costs if you did badly, but if you did well, war might yield handsome gains. Not any more, except when it comes to places still stuck in the logic of quarrelling over physical resources.

A more respectable reason, besides me being dumb, why I had not made this rather obvious connection is that there has been another process that has masked the peaceful nature of knowledge-based economies, which is that when “knowledge” first arrives in a society, its first impact is not to cause peace to happen, but rather that particular sort of war that is so misleadingly categorised as “civil”, i.e. war of the worst sort. Look at sixteenth century Germany, seventeenth century Britain, eighteenth century France and twentieth century Russia and China. All were in those times cursed by newly “educated” generations who each fervently believed that they possessed knowledge, of why and how they should rule the world, but who were really themselves possessed by various sorts of ideological frenzy. So maybe I can be forgiven, as can others who took a while to see or who still do not see the connection between knowledge and peace. It’s because the connection between knowledge and peace takes a while to even happen, and at first it goes in the wrong direction rather than the right one. To put it another way, it takes quite a while for “knowledge” to shed its sneer quotes. To put it yet another way, there are experts and there are “experts”.

Si vis pacem, para bellum

What will the West gain when Montenegro’s membership in NATO becomes official? Not much. Barely half a million people live there. The Boise, Idaho, metropolitan area is more populated than that. With roughly 2,000 soldiers, its miniscule army will hardly boost NATO’s military capacity by an iota.

Vladimir Putin wants it and needs it much more than we do, badly enough to assassinate an elected head of state and instigate a regime-change. That’s precisely why he shouldn’t have it.

For years now, the Kremlin has been violently expanding its power, its influence and even its territory in Europe and Asia. Every time Putin racks up a victory and gets away with it, he grows more confident that he can take more. That’s how it goes with expansionist dictators everywhere. So if you don’t want to go to war against Russia—and only an insane person would—the fewer wins in Putin’s column, the better.

Michael Totten

How dare the U.S. demand NATO states have the means to defend themselves!

If you needed yet another reason to reject the EU as an utterly toxic organisation, here is an absolute corker:

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Thursday that Europe must not cave in to U.S demands to raise military spending, arguing that development and humanitarian aid could also count as security.

No doubt Jean-Claude Juncker feels that NATO should deploy Oxfam, Save the Children & Charlotte Church to Riga, Vilnius and Tallinn in order to deter any Russian incursions into the Baltic states.