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]

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 Anti-Saloon League is back

“Prohibition showed bans can be good for us”, writes David Aaronovitch in the Times. Unironically. He means it. He thinks Prohibition was good and wants it back. I suppose it was ever thus; it is like the way that when the people who remember the last banking crash die the banks start crazy lending again.

Mr Aaronovitch writes,

Your mental charge sheet against prohibition may well include the accusation that it didn’t get rid of drinking but sent it underground; that the resulting appetite for “bootlegged” liquor led to the rise of organised criminal syndicates, Al Capone, the mob and the St Valentine’s Day massacre; that it helped to make corrupt hypocrites out of public servants; that the rich were able to indulge while the poor were criminalised.

Why yes, it does.

And after just a few years the Americans saw what a disaster it was and repealed it. It may not improve your view of it to know that the Ku Klux Klan were very much in favour of prohibition.

That does not surprise me.

Strangely though, the one question that almost no one seems to ask of this epic public health measure is whether or not it actually improved public health. Yet it doesn’t take much digging into the available statistics to discover that it did — quite a lot, in fact.

Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to all kinds of adverse health conditions. The most obvious is alcoholic cirrhosis (or scarring) of the liver. In 1911 the death rate for cirrhosis among American men was nearly 30 per 100,000. By 1929 that had been reduced by more than 30 per cent. Registered admissions to mental hospitals for psychosis linked to alcohol more than halved. Even by 1933, when Volstead was revoked, alcohol consumption had gone down by a third since pre-prohibition. Whatever Mark Twain may have written, prohibition saved many, many lives.

The commenters made several good points to contradict that assertion. Some pointed out that in the same period alcohol consumption also went down other countries, including the UK, where alcohol continued to be legal. Bryan Dale said, “If prohibition reduced alcohol consumption by a third that can hardly be called a success. It was supposed to eliminate it entirely after all. With 2/3 as much alcohol being illegally consumed as had been done legally before prohibition, the impact on respect for the law must have been dreadful.” Others described well-stocked drinks cabinets in modern Saudi Arabia, or the way that the type of alcohol consumed shifts from beer to spirits when it must be sold and transported illegally.

I expect readers of this site can supply many other historical and factual arguments. All I will say is that there is a void at the heart of the passage I quoted above. Mr Aaronovitch never even questions the assumption that it is for him and people like him to decide what other human beings may or may not put in their own bodies.

It is past time for a Hayek statue

I agree with this, from Matt Kilcoyne of the Adam Smith Institute.

It is past time that Nobel Prize-winning economist and great social thinker, F A Hayek, had a statue in London.

Hayek is one of the greatest modern economists, and while his intellectual presence in academia is extraordinary, it is time for his legacy to be extended to the greater public.

Hayek traced the idea of spontaneous order from Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ to the present day. He made it one of the most important underpinnings of social and economic freedom. He also made groundbreaking contributions on trade cycle theory and policy, competition in currency, and even human psychology.

A physical memorial would not only honour him directly, it would also bring his name and presence before people who do not yet know of his books and his ideas, and prompt people to find out more about his output and his wide intellectual influence.

I have become very bored of people saying that “now is the time” for XYZ, when in truth it should have happened a long time ago. So he had me at “It is past time …”, even if the wording seems a bit clumsy. It has long (see paragraph 2 above) been “time for his legacy to be extended to the greater public”.

I Hope that, if this statue happens, it’s a good one. I look forward to taking photos of it.

Socialism is socialism until it turns nasty (because if it’s nasty it can’t be socialism)

Via Instapundit, a tweet:

Rand Paul: “Well if you vote for a Socialist, you might get Socialism”.

Ana Navarro: “Maduro is not a Socialist. He’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.”

But Maduro is – or certainly was – a socialist. And, he’s a corrupt, murderous thug who is starving his people.

As Instapundit might say, Kristian Niemietz smiles.

Earlier this year, Niemietz did one of my last Friday of the month talks, on the subject of his recent book about how socialists think and act – “it’s socialism”, “it’s not socialism” – every time, time after time. Read the book for a ton of patiently assembled chapter-and-verse details along these lines.

The point Niemietz made that I especially liked was how socialists simultaneously define socialism by its processes, and by its outcomes. So, socialism begins with socialist processes – stealing the property of property owners, goodies for the poor, fixing prices in accordance with a central plan, taking over corporations and replacing capable corporate managers with party hacks, monopolising the media, and so on – therefore it’s obviously socialism. But then it turns nasty – far worse poverty than before, violent repression, corruption, savage inequality, and so on – therefore, equally obviously, it can’t be socialism. That we critics of socialism had predicted exactly these outcomes from these processes doesn’t register. Only the obvious non-socialism of what had earlier and equally obviously been socialism registers.

I sort of knew all this, of course I did. But Niemietz explained it better – “socialism also defined by its outcomes” – than I’ve ever heard it explained before. Or then again, maybe I just got there myself, and he merely said for me the thought I had arrived at. (What you hear best is that which you are best prepared to hear.)

A suggested compromise for helping the Kurds

Should American soldiers be fighting on the side of the Kurds, against Turkey? Yes!!!? No!!!? (Instapundit ruminations here.)

I suggest a compromise. All those Americans, and all those from anywhere, who think that there should be foreign soldiers fighting alongside the Kurds, against Turkey, should either (a) go there themselves and fight, or (b) themselves pay for other Kurd-supporting military enthusiasts to do the same. I’m too old for (a) and was in any case a rubbish fighter even when young. But for (b) I’d be willing to contribute, if persuaded that it is helping and isn’t a scam.

Discuss.

We have always been at war with Vapasia

India bans e-cigarettes as global vaping backlash grows

India has announced a ban on electronic cigarettes, as a backlash gathers pace worldwide about a technology promoted as less harmful than smoking tobacco.

[…]

“The decision was made keeping in mind the impact that e-cigarettes have on the youth of today,” India’s finance minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, told reporters in the capital, New Delhi.

[…]

The government said it would advance tobacco control efforts and contribute to a reduction in tobacco usage. Punishments include up to a year in prison.

[…]

According to the World Health Organization, India is the world’s second-largest consumer of traditional tobacco products, which are not covered by the new ban, killing nearly 900,000 people every year.

[…]

India is also the world’s third-largest producer of tobacco, the WHO says, and tobacco farmers are an important vote bank for political parties.

No, slavery did not make America, or the West, richer

US economic historian Deidre McCloskey debunks the claims – which I see have been given fresh impetus by the New York Times recently – that since the very earliest days of the colonies, slavery has been one of the main things that made America rich. This claim draws on a zero-sum mentality: the only way to raise living standards is squeezing surplus value out of workers against their will (to put it in Marxian terms). In other words, the claim goes against the classical liberal argument that slavery is ultimately not just wicked – which it is – but also economically stupid, because free labour is more productive than unfree labour. The more options people have about where and on what they work, the bigger the pie is. And even those small number of folk who get rich on slavery (but where did they get the guns and the whips and the land to use to jail said slaves?) could and did get even richer had they not been slavers. (There is also the ever-present fear that slavers must have that sooner or later there will be a revolt, in which said slavers get killed.)

The whole article is first class and I strongly recommend it. She takes issue with the “King Cotton” school of history that has gained some recent traction. Bookmark this article for when some apologist for coercion trots out the old line that no “great civilisation” ever existed without slavery. Quite simply, it is bullshit.

Here is another report about the NYT project (the NYT is behind a paywall, and I cannot be arsed to subscribe to a publication likely to damage my blood pressure).

Perils of alternate history wargaming

A father and son duo run a YouTube channel about historical tabletop wargaming called “Imperator Vespasian”. They run through demo games, talk about making and painting models and so on. Recently they were offline for about six months. They explain why in the following ten minute video:

“Unexpected side affects of Gaming! Channel update”

The two of them were creating a game called “A very British Civil War” set in an alternate-history 1938 in which Prime Minister Oswald Moseley was fighting to put down an anti-fascist rebellion. The British Union of Fascists was a playable faction. Here is a video they made about this game from six months ago.

Then the son’s school reported him to the police as a potential terrorist. Note that the father and son both say that the police were quite quick to realise that this case was not the best use of their time, and reserve their criticism for the school.

I am a little more sympathetic than are the “Imperator Vespasian” duo with the dilemma faced by schools over whether or not to bring the police in when they suspect a pupil is involved in crime as victim or perpetrator or both. The pair of them did make one unwise decision. Apparently their standard practice in their YouTube shows is to make announcements of what is happening in their games while “in character” for the various factions, with appropriate props as the backdrop. Fine when your prop is a medieval helmet, not so fine when it’s the lightning flash emblem of the BUF.

But was there really no one among the school staff who had ever wargamed? Or whose kids had wargamed, or whose kids’ friends had wargamed, or who was simply enough in touch with the lives of their male pupils to know that playing the Tyranids in Warhammer 40K does not mean you seek to literally devour all life? Given the nerdiness of historical tabletop gaming, I would have guessed that gamers were just as likely to end up as teachers as in the police force. So why did the police quickly get that this was fictional while the teachers did not?

Samizdata quote of the day

“We didn’t always know it at the time, but Hong Kong has been a kind of bellwether for the state of freedom in the wider world.”

Tyler Cowen.

He’s right, which is why, despite the mockers, I am writing about this topic quite a bit and intend to keep doing so.

If you want Pride you must allow the cry of “Shame!”

The Daily Mail shows a video in which

Muslim woman wearing a niqab shouts ‘shame on all of you despicable people’ in shocking homophobic rant at Pride march in London

This is the shocking moment a Muslim woman spits homophobic abuse at a reveller on a Pride march in east London.

The niqab-wearing woman was filmed screaming ‘shame on you’ to a woman draped in the LGBT rainbow flag during the rally on Hoe Street, Walthamstow, yesterday.

She screeches ‘God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ while a marshal in a high-vis jacket moves in to shield the clearly shaken Pride marcher.

The video was shared on Twitter by Yusuf Patel who wrote: ‘Disgusting homophobic abuse at those on Waltham Forest Pride today.

The report continues,

The Walthamstow arm of the Metropolitan Police said officers are investigating and branded the abuse a hate crime.

The force tweeted: ‘We are aware of footage circulating on social media of abuse directed at those taking part in the Waltham Forest Pride event and enquiries are underway.

‘Abusing someone because of their sexual orientation or gender identity is a hate crime.

Put aside the question of the direction in which your first impulse of sympathy might fall, and consider whether there is any objective reason to say that the Muslim woman is aggressing against the Pride marcher rather than vice versa – or neither. The Mail writer says that the Muslim woman “spits homophobic abuse” at the Pride marcher, but she does not literally spit. It cannot have been pleasant to have been on the receiving end of that tirade, but all she ultimately did was vehemently tell the marcher that she thought they ought to be ashamed of their sexuality. The very purpose of the Pride parades, as the name indicates, is for the participants to declare that they are not ashamed of their sexuality. To that end the Pride marchers went – proudly wrapped in their rainbow flags – down Hoe Street, Walthamstow, where they knew full well that many of the inhabitants would deeply disapprove of them. (I used to live in Walthamstow, just off Hoe Street. It is not a “Muslim area” as such, but there are many Muslims there.) The law allows Pride parades to do this, just as the law allows Orange Order parades in Northern Ireland to carry their flags through Catholic areas.

The current Establishment would like to ban the Orange Order march and arrest the Muslim woman for protesting against the LGBT Pride march. In my childhood it would have been the other way round. I would not be surprised to see the cycle return to something like its starting point (although perhaps with the roles of the protected national causes and religions played by different actors) before I die. Or, just a thought, we could let everyone speak.

The equal oppression of the laws

“… nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (14th amendment to the U.S. constitution)

Americans, especially right-wing ones, object if laws that protect them are applied unequally – if, for example, it is a crime for government emails to be held on private servers, but not when Hillary does it. But of course, right-wingers, especially American ones, believe that many laws don’t protect; they oppress. (And it is a point of honour in those who call themselves libertarians to believe that even more of the laws are like that.)

In the US, they seem to understand that these two beliefs support each other. The right dislike Obamacare – and were angry when Obama gave some Democrat constituencies waivers and deferrals when introducing it. No-one called them hypocrites for complaining about the unequal enforcement of a law they never wanted passed in the first place. Similarly, no-one seems to have missed the Logan Act during the centuries when it went unenforced, but did even the most fanatic NeverTrumper write “We should be above that” when Trump supporters pointed out that if the act was back in use then John Kerry should be prosecuted under it? Washington’s lobbyist class honours the Foreign Agents Registration Act far more in the breach than the observance, but the MSM seem keener to understate that fact than to denounce as hypocrites those right-wingers who say that now unregistered Republicans have been charged, prosecute some unregistered Democrats.

This attitude, I believe, extends to the first amendment. Legal exceptions to the first amendment (‘fighting words’, ‘clear and present danger’) are few, and the right wants it kept that way. But so long as those exceptions apply to them, the right also want them applied to any left-wing violator. They see that as defending free speech – not betraying it.

Here in Britain, by contrast, confusion reigns. Right-wing blogger Sargon of Akkad jokes about not offering violence to a left-wing politico – and the police visit him. Left-wing BBC comedian Jo Brand jokes about thowing acid rather than mikshake over Farage – and the police do not visit her. Whereupon Brendan O’Neill (who has written freedom-supporting articles in the past) writes in the Spectator (of which the same can be said) rebuking Mr Farage for suggesting that they should have.

(A PC gang once visited a pub where Nigel Farage, his wife and their children were dining, eager to cause harm. And he knows the drycleaning cost of getting mikshake off your suit. So I have a bit more sympathy for Nigel than for any other party leader, even Boris, when he yields to the temptation to wonder whether, despite Brand’s claims, it was not quite only a joke. But let us take it that it was just a joke.)

Brendan appears to be saying the true lover of free speech should not demand “the equal oppression of the laws”. Brendan wants an equal liberation from hate speech laws – Jo Brand must have the right to joke about throwing acid at Farage and Count Dankula must be free to film his dog doing a Nazi salute. I would like that too, but meanwhile,

“It is a settled rule with me to make the most of my actual situation, and not to refuse to do a proper thing because there is something else, more proper, which I am not able to do.” (Edmund Burke)

By criticising Nigel for resisting the double-standard (that Brendan also hates), Brendan implies that Farage’s demand for legal equality, not just Brand’s exploitation of left-wing privilege, is what stands in the way of that equal liberation. I think he is making a mistake – and confusing his mistake with the meaning of ‘free speech’.

I would much rather live in a Britain where neither Sargon nor Jo had a visit from the police – but I don’t. I’d criticise Farage if I thought Jo Brand dissapproved the police visiting Sargon – but I don’t (this pertinent hint merely confirms things I’ve heard her say). Unequal enforcement of the hate speech laws has been an essential part of maintaining them from the start. You don’t fight them by protecting that inequality. Free speech means the state shall not control what we may say. The state has yet more control when it does not just ban speech but bans it arbitrarily. So when people try to end that arbitrariness, they may not be failing to “disagree with what you say but defend your right to say it”, as Brendan claims; they may be defending free speech.

For clarity, let me illustrate with an example programme. Imagine (but don’t hold your breath for it) that PM Boris (radicalised by how he’s been treated, and heading a party purified by defections, internal deselections and/or external Brexit Party rivals) announces a bill to roll back the attack on free speech (e.g. repeal every such law since 9/11). However, he also announces that, while this bill slowly works its way towards the royal assent, his government, to protect equality before the law, will prosecute a backlog of unlawfully-suppressed cases from those years – remarks that were ever so woke, but were also hate speech as defined by the equitably-phrased laws, uttered by people who had also demanded the laws punish far less hateful remarks of their opponents.

– To Brendan (I would guess if I had only the Spectator article as my guide), these prosecutions would be no better than evil revenge, discrediting the cause and making the return of laws against ‘hate’ speech more likely.

– To me, they would be a good way of educating the public about what was wrong with those laws, and also a way to make the left think twice about reimposing them the moment they got back in power. But, beyond these tactical points, they would also uphold the principle of equality before the law.

We will not lack for mind-broadening frenemies to defend even after tolerating ‘equality before the law’ arguments against the loudest “I can say it but you can’t” enforcers of the double-standard. The woker-than-thou of today love purging the woke of yesterday – they will supply.

Equality before the law is good in itself. Demanding equality of oppression before the law is a way to expose a dishonest process. Think carefully before judging it a betrayal of our war against the hate speech laws’ evil goal, rather than a way – that can be both honest in itself and effective – of waging it.

Samizdata quote of the day

And yet here’s the thing about that freedom. Why does, why should they, anyone need a licence from the government to export LNG? Note what this isn’t. It’s not a licence saying “and sure, your plant now meets standards.” With something as explosive as natural gas that’s fair enough perhaps, to require one of those. No, this licence is the government taking upon itself the power to regulate who you may sell your own produce to. Which isn’t actually freedom, is it?

Tim Worstall