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.

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Samizdata quote of the day

“The secret of happiness is freedom. The secret of freedom is courage.”

Thucydides

This quote appears in an article pointing out that present UK Conservative Party seems to have more or less given up on making the case for liberty.

Samizdata quote of the day

From the beginnings of recorded thought, intellectuals have told us their activity is most valuable. Plato valued the rational faculty above courage and the appetites and deemed that philosophers should rule; Aristotle held that intellectual contemplation was the highest activity. It is not surprising that surviving texts record this high evaluation of intellectual activity. The people who formulated evaluations, who wrote them down with reasons to back them up, were intellectuals, after all. They were praising themselves. Those who valued other things more than thinking things through with words, whether hunting or power or uninterrupted sensual pleasure, did not bother to leave enduring written records. Only the intellectual worked out a theory of who was best.

Robert Nozick. This essay is several years’ old and it remains in my view one of the very best explanations of why universities and other such places are full of persons so hostile to the open market economy. Given current angst over why so many young graduates, especially in fields such as the arts, are all keen on the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, its certainly worth thinking through.

Samizdata quote of the day

The best way to make people bad and poor is the illiberality of communism and fascism, and even the slow if sweet socialism of over-regulation. Women among the theocratic despots of Saudi Arabia are quartered at home, unable to flourish so much as driving an automobile. The economic nationalism of the new Alt-Right is impoverishing, and anyway closes us to ideas from the wide world. If betterment is slowing in the United States — a widely held if doubtful claim — we need the betterment coming from newly enriching countries such as China or India, not cutting ourselves off to “protect jobs” at home. Protectionist logic would have us make everything in Illinois or Chicago or our local street. Breakfast cereal. Accordions. Computers. It is childishly silly as economics, though stirring as nationalism.

Deirdre N. McCloskey

And some, I assume, are good people.

Seen online:

When America elects people, they’re not electing their best. They’re not electing you. They’re electing people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

On dismissing questions about democracy with cliches

I’m more than a little sick of people quoting Churchill (and generally mangling the quotation badly) in discussions about democracy as though his famous remark on the topic was a substitute for clear thinking.

Blithely saying “yes, it’s the worst form of government… except for all the others! hahaha!” doesn’t really lend any new information or depth to a discussion about legal systems, decision making and institutions.

Indeed, bringing up the quotation seems to often be a way of de facto avoiding meaningful in-depth discourse rather than a way to illuminate discourse. Perhaps I’m excessively caricaturing here, but one almost imagines the subtext as: “Ha, ha, yes, isn’t it funny and uncomfortable that this goddess I worship, Democracy, is such a fickle and awful violator of my trust. In fact, so deep is my devotion to Her in spite of Her terrible behavior, and so uncomfortable is this realization that my devotion may be misplaced, that I’d rather not have this discussion at all. So, how about the baseball playoffs?”

This is not useful. Turning away from a problem that makes you uncomfortable doesn’t fix the problem, it just perpetuates it. I recognize most people don’t agree with my view of the necessity, morality or efficacy of having a state, but even among those of you with the mainstream position on that topic, there is a lot of legitimate, and even important, discussion to be had here.

For example, there is always a central question about goals versus methods. That is to say: is the point to have as good a set of laws and as well managed a legal system as possible, with voting being used as a tool to try to achieve that, or is the notion that the maximally faithful expression of the general will is in itself the goal?

If it is the latter, of course, one must accept the idea that at intervals “the people” will vote for censorship, suppression of minorities, genocide, and even worse. If it is the former, then voting is a decision making process, and one must ask, really ask, if it is truly so important that one make sure that every last person, no matter how uninterested, uninformed, or frankly stupid, should get their input into the decisions being made?

As just one more of many example of this: the drafters of the U.S. constitution (and we know this because we have their writings) feared the very sort of Imperial Presidency we’ve developed. They wanted a very limited Presidency, and they wanted the President to be elected quite indirectly. Indeed, at the start of the U.S.’s experiment in government, the Electoral College was a meaningful body, and the Electoral College members were often chosen by state legislatures and not even directly by the people. This was specifically intended to impede the potential for large, ignorant mobs to have too much of a hand in the selection of the President.

Now, if your goal is to give “the people” as much say as possible in the selection of the President, well, this probably seems like a bad thing, and indeed, the electoral college would seem like an institution to be subverted or defanged to the greatest extent possible. If, on the other hand, you are trying to make sure that on average the decision made is reasonable (though perhaps not a particularly imaginative or interesting one) and that extreme decisions (especially extremely bad ones) are very unusual to impossible, this choice makes considerably more sense.

When people whip out the old “democracy is terrible except for everything else!” chestnut, and wink at you, what they’re ultimately doing is impeding thinking about this sort of thing, and certainly impeding having a meaningful discussion about the available points in the design space for institutions. Don’t be one of the people who quotes it as a substitute for having a real conversation.

(BTW, as an aside, most people get the original Churchill quotation badly mangled. It was:

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

That comes from a speech before the House of Commons on November 11, 1947. You will note that he’s far less glib than the average person misquoting him.)

British, indeed world, politics is dominated by the idea of ‘Social Reform’ – and this is an idea which violates basic economic law

What is “Social Reform”? Social Reform is the idea that increasing government spending and/or regulations reduces poverty or other “social ills” (sickness and so on) and it is the idea that has dominated British thinking since the late 19th century. Liberal Party “Radical Joe” Chamberlain of Birmingham (so beloved by Prime Minister May) outlined his program of using government to improve life (the central idea of “Social Reform”) in 1865 – but Liberal Party Manchester had already taken over such things as the provision of water and gas and undertaken various other “Social Reforms” in the years after the Act of 1835 set up modern local government in the cities and towns, replacing the old “Closed Corporations” – apart from in the one-square-mile City of London that has kept its Closed Corporation to this day.

Conservative Party Prime Minister Disraeli made it compulsory for local government to do about 40 Social Reforms (i.e. perpetual government spending functions) in 1875 – whether local tax payers wanted this or not. And J.S. Mill stated in 1848 (in his “Principles of Political Economy”) that “everyone agreed” (by which Mr Mill meant that he and his friends agreed – no opponent counted as part of “everyone”) that local government should do X,Y, Z, to help the people. Liberal Party Prime Minister Gladstone agreed in 1870 that School Boards be set up in most of the country (some towns, such as the one I am sitting in, refused to have one – but were forced to have one some 20 years later) to build state schools on the Prussian model – although denying they would be like the Prussian schools. And Conservative Party Prime Minister Disraeli put unions above the Common Law in 1875 – by allowing “picketing” (obstruction) and giving the unions immunity from some claims of civil damage. This was part of the theory that wages and conditions of work should not be determined by the market (by supply and demand) but by “collective bargaining” – basically (as W.H. Hutt explained in the “Strike Threat System”) of “give us what we want – or we will not allow people to go in or our of your place of business, at least we will make it very difficult for them to do so”. Conservative Party Disraeli was a Social Reformer – he had no love for “capitalists” believing (or half believing) that they “exploited” people, and Liberal Party Mr J. S. Mill had much the same opinion (indeed a more radical one) – longing for the day when workers co-ops would replace the “capitalists”.

Since about 1870 the British state has grown – not just spending more money, but spending more money even as a proportion of the economy (leading to a rise in taxes over time). In the early 19th century the state, at least as a proportion of the economy shrank – since the 1870s it has grown. Also the early 19th century witnessed deregulation – the repeal of various restrictions and edicts. From the 1870s onwards there has been a massive increase in regulation – with the state seeking to control every aspect of life, much the like the last years of Queen Elizabeth the First when there was an orgy of statute passing, often quite demented statutes such as the “Statute of Artificers” which tried to make everyone follow the occupation of their parents, there were also attempts to tie people to the parish of their birth and other throwbacks to the late Roman Empire (the Emperor Diocletian and all that).

→ Continue reading: British, indeed world, politics is dominated by the idea of ‘Social Reform’ – and this is an idea which violates basic economic law

Samizdata quote of the day

Turning to communism for fear of fascism is like suicide for fear of death

Perry de Havilland.

Sadly, it is time to recycle this one yet again it seems.

German Historicism and American Pragmatism are very different philosophies, but they have some similar results

German “Historicism” (whether of the “right”, Hegel, or the “left” Karl Marx) and American “Pragmatism” (Charles Pierce, William James, John Dewey….) are very different philosophies (very different indeed) – but they have some things in common which lead to some similar results. They both deny objective and universal truth – the Ralph Cudworth or Thomas Reid thinking of “We hold these truths to be self evident….” of the American Declaration of Independence and the philosophy of the Bill of Rights. Made most obvious by the Ninth Amendment – indeed the Bill of Right is clearly compiled in the wrong order, the Ninth Amendment should be the First Amendment and the Tenth Amendment should be the Second Amendment – read it and it should be obvious to you.

German Historicism holds that different “truths” apply to different “historical periods” and to different “races” and “classes” – perhaps the only answer that such a relativist philosophy deserves is the one that such men as Erik Brown, “Mad Jack” Churchill and Audie Murphy gave it. But there are books that refute it, for example Carl Menger’s “The Errors of Historicism” (1883 – specifically on the German “Historical School” of economics and its denial of the universal and objective laws of economic truth), “Human Action” by Ludwig Von Mises, and “The Poverty of Historicism” by Karl Popper.

→ Continue reading: German Historicism and American Pragmatism are very different philosophies, but they have some similar results

National Socialists are Socialists

National Socialists are socialists and trying to counter the “Identity Politics” of the left with more “Identity Politics” is like trying to counter arsenic with cyanide

One does not really need to read “The Road to Serfdom” by F.A. Hayek or “Omnipotent Government” by Ludwig Von Mises (although it is good to read these works – especially “Omnipotent Government”) to know that National Socialists are socialist collectivists – watching the Nazis, for that is what they are, marching at night with lighted touches through the University of Virginia chanting “Blood and Soil” should tell anyone that these people have nothing in common with the philosophy of the Bill of Rights – that they are collectivists, socialists.

“But Paul the opposition to them was controlled by Marxists – a movement that has murdered even more people than the Nazis” – and where have I denied that? I understand that very well – and I have condemned the left, in the strongest terms, all my life. But one does NOT oppose arsenic with cyanide – one does NOT oppose the “Identity Politics” of the “left” (of the Frankfurt School of Marxism “Diversity” crowd) with an “Identity Politics” of the “right”.

“But Paul one can not defeat the Marxists with the philosophy of the Bill of Rights (mocked for centuries now by the “educated” – Mr Hume, Mr Bentham and so on) – one can only defeat collectivism with a different form of collectivism”.

A pox on such a “victory” – and a pox on all those who choose it.

“…I find it rather regrettable that Lady Hale’s judgment makes so many references to defecation.”

said Lord Walker, a UK Supreme Court Justice in one, rather unfortunate case. However, we had better get used to Lady Hale’s judgments as she has now been nominated as the next President of the Supreme Court, a promotion from her position as Deputy President, and her influence on UK law will grow.

Why anyone should be concerned that a former academic lawyer with her track record should be in charge of a court that does not sit en banc is that she may well control the lists and influence which judges sit on particular cases, thereby having scope to shape the law.

She has long been a supporter of greater diversity in the judiciary.

“It may be a genuine occupational qualification to choose a black Othello or a female Desdemona, but could it be thought a genuine occupational qualification to bring a minority perspective to the business of judging in the higher courts?

“So do we need to revive the argument for some special provision, akin to that in Northern Ireland, to enable the appointing commissions to take racial or gender balance into account when making their appointments? Would that really be such a bad thing? I think not.”

But some might prefer to have judges who judge the case before them on the basis of applying the law, rather than their own perspective, if one hoped for the rule of law to be seen to be maintained.

Lady Hale has however, speaking privately, cast doubt on her own judgment in one case, a meagre consolation for the losing party.

The trouble with the UK’s Supreme Court is that it is really the result of a Lefty wet dream about judicial activism, finally in 2005 (wef 2009) destroying a long tradition (before then vandalised in the 1870s) of the UK’s final court* being a committee of the House of Lords. (* Not for Scots Criminal Law, which remains under the Scottish Court of Session).

The UK’s Supreme Court has been described by one of its justices as a political court, being politicised by its inevitable involvement in devolution issues and interpretation of Human Rights and EU law (as was, to be fair, the House of Lords before it).

I have a modest proposal, that the Supreme Court be abolished, saving taxpayers money and removing an avenue for more legal fees to be charged in pursuit of a result, thereby removing work and money from the legal profession and reducing litigation risk. There is a simple alternative, that should a party find that litigation results in an injustice, or a nonsense whereby different UK courts have different precedents to follow, that party could petition Parliament to change the law, even in respect of that particular case, as happened in the Burmah Oil case. This approach would have the advantage of getting our Parliamentarians to see the consequences of the laws that they pass (or do not pass) and also take up time that could be spent passing more unhelpful legislation.

To those who say that our politicians should not be our judges, I say ‘Better than our judges being our politicians.

The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

There are several reasons, mostly to do with me getting older, which have caused me to slow down as a Samizdata contributor, but just recently something more mundane has been getting in my way. I needed a new computer screen, my previous one having stopped working. I thought that a sprint, metaphorically speaking, would sort this out, but the sprint turned into a marathon.

When buying things like computer screens, I prefer shopping in actual shops to internet shopping. I find returning defective goods to shops less complicated than returning them to internet suppliers, not least because I now get free travel on London’s public transport system, but also because I have a face in front of me to complain to and from whom to demand satisfaction. But more fundamentally, I like to see, close up, what I am thinking of buying, rather than relying on imperfect internet imagery. When I start out buying something like a new screen, I don’t really know what’s now being offered or what I would now like, until I start looking at what’s now available, in the flesh, so to speak.

So, for instance, as I got stuck into my screen browsing, I realised that I might appreciate at some time in the future being able to attach my screen to one of those bolted-onto-my-desk swinging arms, thereby freeing up some desk space. Not all screens have the screw holes in the back of them to make this easy. Often, those imperfect internet images don’t tell you about this.

I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of everything that happened during my screen marathon, but two particular things made life difficult. One, shops (Currys PC World in particular) have a nasty habit of displaying screens as being on sale when, it turns out, they aren’t available on account of having run out. Only the one manky old display version remains. Twice, my efforts to buy a screen were thwarted by this nasty little shop habit.

But worse, far worse, was that the first screen that I decided to buy, a Samsung S24F356, turned out to be defective. When I got it home and plugged it in, I discovered that it was seriously overheating. The right hand edge of the screen, near to where the power feeds in, quickly became almost too hot to touch. That couldn’t be good. The tropical weather that has been afflicting London lately solidified my determination not to tolerate this. So, back I went with it to Currys PC World Tottenham Court Road. And I swapped my Samsung S24F356 for an identical model, another Samsung S24F356. Everything else, apart from the overheating, about the Samsung S24F356 seemed very nice, and I assumed – well, I hoped – that the overheating on the first Samsung S24F356 was a one-off misfortune.

→ Continue reading: The overheating Samsung S24F356 – and thoughts about why there are so many complaints about capitalism

People will die!

If you don’t watch this video, people will die!