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]

Some fallacies will never die

“SNP MSP claims border with England would ‘create jobs'”, writes Tom Gordon in the Herald.

AN SNP candidate has claimed that a new a trade border between Scotland and England resulting from independence could “create jobs”, despite the impact on business.

South Scotland MSP Emma Harper, who is challenging a Tory incumbent in Galloway & West Dumfries, was accused of spouting “half-witted nonsense” after the comment.

Speaking to ITV Border, Ms Harper criticised Boris Johnson for creating a Brexit hard border down the Irish Sea despite previous assurances it wouldn’t happen.

Asked “so why add another one here?”, she replied: “If a border will work, we can show that a border will work, there are issues that have been brought to my attention that show that jobs can be created if a border is created.

Job creation for guards: sounds just the Scottish National Party’s style. Perhaps that is why they are so keen on the Hate Crime (Scotland) Bill. Think of the career opportunities for snoopers and informers!

A fine speech by Joe Biden

Joe Biden, addressing the Senate of the United States:

“In the summer of ’37 Roosevelt had just come off a landslide victory over Alf Landon. He had a congress made up of solid New Dealers. But the nine old men of the court were thwarting his agenda. In this environment, Roosevelt – and remember this whole adage about “power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” – corrupted by power in my view – unveiled his court-packing plan. He wanted to increase the number of justices to fifteen, allowing himself to nominate those additional judges. It took an act of courage on behalf of his own party institutionally to stand up against this power grab.”

Video: Biden: “Court packing is a power grab.” (2005)

The title of the YouTube video might have given the game away: that eloquent speech by Joe Biden took place in 2005. The Joe Biden of 2021 does not speak as well in any sense: “Biden Appoints Court-Packing Commission – Puts Conservative Supreme Court Justices In His Sights”. The link goes to an article by Mary Chastain of Legal Insurrection, via Sarah Hoyt of Instapundit.

“Adam Smith was on the side of the angels …”

The following is the text of an email that I and all the many others on the Adam Smith Institute email list received today, from the ASI’s Eamonn Butler:

Today marks 245 years since the publication of The Wealth of Nations, one of the most important books ever written.

Smith revolutionised our understanding of commerce. He explained how trade enriches our lives and his works laid the foundations of a whole new field of study: economics.

Today though, Adam Smith’s legacy is under threat from those that would rewrite history.

Smith’s grave and statue have been linked to “slavery and colonialism,” according to Edinburgh City Council.

The grave and statue are being reviewed by the SNP-Labour Coalition Council’s Slavery and Colonialism Legacy Review Group. Their claim rests upon a quote by Adam Smith that said “slavery was ubiquitous and inevitable but that it was not as profitable as free labour“.

This is an extraordinary mischaracterisation.

Smith not only argued that slavery was morally reprehensible, but also provided intellectual ammunition to the abolitionist movement. The link Adam Smith has to slavery was as one of the authors of that vile practice’s destruction.

Smith, writing in the 18th century, thought slavery would continue. He could not have foreseen humanity’s subsequent liberal turn.

But it is abundantly clear that Smith thought slavery was grotesque. Smith wrote, in no uncertain terms, that slave owners’ “brutality, and baseness, so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished.”

Smith also argued that slaves are inefficient workers, because they cannot keep the fruits of their labour. His arguments against slavery were used by abolitionists.

Smith was on the side of the angels, holding humanist views well ahead of his time.

The links, all in the original email, are well worth clicking on.

As Eamonn Butler says, it was liberals, which then meant people who prized liberty, who put slavery on the defensive. It never completely went away, and socialists, national and otherwise, gave it a whole new lease of life in the twentieth century, although lease of death might be a better phrase. And in doing this socialists provided several more mountains of evidence that Adam Smith was right about slavery’s inefficiency, as well as about its brutality and baseness.

COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria – a quotation

Investigating the possibility and extension of a mass hysteria related to COVID-19 is beyond the scope of this article. In this article, we analyze a more fundamental question, namely, the role of the modern welfare state in mass hysteria. There can certainly be mass hysteria without the state in a private law society or within the context of a minimal state. This possibility exists due to the negativity bias of the human brain [55], which makes people vulnerable to delusions. Due to biological evolution, we focus on bad news as it may represent a possible threat [56]. Focusing on negative news and feeling a loss of control [57] may cause psychological stress that can develop into a hysteria and propagate to a larger group.

In a society with a minimal state, negative news may start such hysteria. Due to the negative news, some people start to believe in a threat. This threat evokes fear and begins to spread in society. Symptoms can also spread. Le Bon [58] called the spread of emotions through groups “contagion”. Once anxiety has spread and the majority of a group behaves in a certain way, there is the phenomenon of conformity, i.e., social pressure makes individuals behave in the same way as other members of the group. In the end, there may be a phenomenon that has been called emergent norms [59]: when a group establishes a norm, everyone ends up following that norm. For example, if a group decides to wear masks, everyone agrees to that norm. Emergent norms may explain the later stages of contagion. Contagion by fear can lead people to overreact strongly in a situation, even in a minimal state. Nonetheless, in a minimal state, there exist certain self-corrective mechanisms and limits that make it less likely for a mass hysteria to run out of control.

– from COVID-19 and the Political Economy of Mass Hysteria.

I strongly recommend reading this entire paper as it really does an excellent job of explaining where we are now.

This proves what I always said about Brexit!

Says absolutely everyone.

UK faces Brexit limbo after talks deadline missed

Britain risks weeks without trade transition plans from 1 January after missing EU parliament Sunday deadline

– The Guardian last night.

Europe shuts door on Britain over fears of mutant virus

• Countries ban UK travellers as Covid cases rise by 50% in a week • Health secretary admits new strain is ‘out of control’

Britain’s border with France was closed last night with all travellers and lorry drivers blocked from leaving and the EU ready to ban all arrivals to the bloc.

Fears were mounting of gridlock on roads in Kent as the Channel Tunnel said that its services would be suspended at 11pm yesterday amid an international scramble to quarantine Britain over a faster-spreading variant of coronavirus.

Flights, ferries and trains from Britain are expected to be banned by Brussels after a wave of European countries including Italy, the Netherlands and Ireland implemented bans on arrivals. Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany and Sweden also announced travel bans. Justin Trudeau, the Canadian prime minister, said no flights from the UK would be allowed to land for 72 hours, a move which came into effect at midnight.

– The Times this morning.

“Hey, Brexshitters, Macron just proved that being a member of the EU does not mean you lose control of your borders. This just proves how idiotic your “sovereignty” argument was.”

“Hey, Remoaners, all the awful things you said were going to happen if we left the EU without a deal are happening anyway. Might as well make it official.”

P.S. This proves what I always said about Covid, too.

How State lockdowns make actual planning difficult, if not impossible

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome to the future

‘Why did it take nine hours to go 130 miles in our new electric Porsche?’, was the question Linda Barnes and her mysteriously un-named husband found themselves asking at the end of a very long day, as reported by the Guardian:

A couple from Kent have described how it took them more than nine hours to drive 130 miles home from Bournemouth as they struggled to find a working charger capable of producing enough power to their electric car.

Linda Barnes and her husband had to visit six charging stations as one after another they were either out of order, already had a queue or were the slow, older versions that would never be able to provide a fast enough charge in the time.

While the couple seem to have been “incredibly unlucky”, according to the president of the AA, Edmund King, their case highlights some of the problems that need ironing out before electric car owners can rely on the UK’s charging infrastructure.

Though beset by tribulations, Ms Barnes keeps the faith:

Linda says she now knows why most drivers charge their cars at home overnight and avoid using the public network. “Our car is lovely to drive and electric cars are the future. However, someone needs to get a grip of the charging infrastructure,” she says.

Buried deep within that paragraph lies the answer to her question.

Samizata quote of the day

“If anti-state fanatics have been calling the shots for decades, why is the federal government bigger today than it was 40 years ago?”

Oliver Wiseman, writing a review of a book that alleges that most of our problems today were caused by free market think tanks and intellectuals. Wiseman is, rightly, dismissive of the book’s central claim.

Actually, I think there was enough context

“It’s actually a Republican myth that has, over the last 20 years, really crawled into even leftist discourse: that the small-business owner must be respected, that the small-business owner creates jobs and is part of the community.”

That was said by Vicky Osterweil, author of In Defense of Looting. Ms Osterweil was given such a fawning interview by Natalie Escobar of the American state radio station npr (note the cool lowercase initials) that it became an embarrassment, and the record of it is now prefaced by the words:

This story was updated on Sept. 1, 2020. The original version of this story, which is an interview with an author who holds strong political views and ideas, did not provide readers enough context for them to fully assess some of the controversial opinions discussed.

The sad story of Scots Wikipedia

Hats off to the Guardian for the pun in this headline:

Shock an aw: US teenager wrote huge slice of Scots Wikipedia

Nineteen-year-old says he is ‘devastated’ after being accused of cultural vandalism

The Scots Wikipedia entry on the Canada goose – or “Canadae guiss” – was at first honest about its provenance. A tag warned: “The ‘Scots’ that wis uised in this airticle wis written bi a body that’s mither tongue isna Scots. Please impruive this airticle gin ye can.”

But, as the author grew in confidence, so he removed the caveat, and continued on his Scots-writing spree.

Now an American teenager – who does not speak Scots, the language of Robert Burns – has been revealed as responsible for almost half of the entries on the Scots language version of Wikipedia.

If you are wondering how a nineteen year old managed to be responsible for creating or editing tens of thousands of articles, the answer is simple:

He wrote: “I was only a 12-year-old kid when I started, and sometimes when you start something young, you can’t see that the habit you’ve developed is unhealthy and unhelpful as you get older.”

Naming no names except my own, that sounds like a few of us here. Ten edits a day, most days, for two and a half thousand days. The work of half his life. The thing that made him special. And now they revile him for it. Believe me, I am not laughing when I call this a sad story.

Believe me, too, when I say I do not want to mock Scots. The Samizdata “Languages” category includes many other posts by me about endangered tongues. I want them to survive and grow. A world where everyone spoke only one language would be a grey place, and one more likely to fall to tyranny. For many a soul living under oppression their knowledge of something other than the majority language has been the one window to freer times or places that the censors could not brick up. Less portentously, I like the vigorous style of Scots. The fact that it is mostly mutually intelligible with English English has been the source of endless arguments about whether it is a dialect of English or a language in its own right. It is a pity that this question has been politicised. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that although Scots was a separate language in the Middle Ages, enough linguistic convergence has occurred to say that nowadays it is a dialect of English. There is nothing wrong with that. It would be equally valid to say Standard English and Scots are both dialects on the continuum of English (and that the group as a whole is called “English” is just a matter of historically familiar terminology, not an attribution of superiority. Brits should remember that if numbers of speakers were the criterion that decided the name of this language we would be speaking American.)

It is a sad reflection on the state of Scots that nobody stopped “AmaryllisGardner” for five seven years. Scarcely anyone seems to have questioned him. I cannot help thinking this fiasco would never have happened if linguists and the penumbra of people who are “into” languages had not been so down on prescriptivism. After all, if there truly is no correct or incorrect way to use language, our laddie’s version of Scots has as much claim to be right as the one they speak in Glasgow.

I am an anti-prescriptivist myself when it comes to daily life. It is wrong to sneer at anyone for their local mode of speech, and still worse to beat it out of them as was common in the past. The variety of any language that has become the standard did not do so because of any intrinsic superiority; it was mere chance. Nonetheless a command of standard English can unlock doors across the world for children in Barlanark, as it does for children in Brixton or Beijing. Fortunately children are good at picking up more than one language and code-switching between them.

Meanwhile, in debate I will continue to extol both languages and Wikipedia as splendid examples of spontaneous order. They still are. Most of the time.

The political purity spiral as experienced by the Instagram knitting community

I cannot knit and I am not on Instagram, but as someone who sews and is into politics, I cannot think how I came to miss this article from Gavin Haynes when it came out in January of this year. After seeing it recommended on the UK Politics subreddit, I hastened to post it here:

How knitters got knotted in a purity spiral

Mr Haynes discusses purity spirals throughout history, then narrows his focus to a couple of examples from 2018/19:

Our documentary analysed just two latter-day purity spirals — Instagram knitting culture and young adult novels. Both seemed perfectly-sized to be taken over — they were spaces big enough to have their own star system, yet small enough for the writ of a dominant group to hold.

In each, a vast tapestry of what were effectively small businesses competed for attention online by fluidly mixing personal and professional brand. On social media, opinion, diary and sales often existed within the same posts. Each individual small business was uniquely vulnerable to being un-personed, ‘cancelled’. But, simultaneously, each could benefit enormously from taking on the status of thought leader — from becoming a node that directed moral traffic.

To take the example of Instagram knitting: the unravelling began with a man called Nathan Taylor. Gay, living with HIV, nice as pie, Taylor started a hashtag aimed at promoting diversity in knitting, Diversknitty, to get people from different backgrounds to talk. And he did: the hashtag was a runaway hit, spawning over 17,000 posts.

But over the following months, the conversation took on a more strident tone. The list of things considered problematic grew. The definition of racism began to take on the terms mandated by intersectional social justice ideology.

The drama played out in the time-honoured way:

Finally, just as the guillotine had eventually come for Robespierre, Nathan Taylor, who had founded the #Diversknitty movement, found himself at its sharp end.

When Taylor tried to inject positivity back into Diversknitty, his moral authority burnt up inside minutes. A poem he’d written asking knitters to cool it (“With genuine SOLEM-KNITTY/I beg you, stop the enmity”) was in turn interpreted as a blatant act of white supremacy. When the mob finally came for him, he had a nervous breakdown. Yet even here, he was accused of malingering, his suicidal hospitalisation described online as a ‘white centring’ event.

Gavin Haynes also made a half hour Radio Four documentary telling the same story. (A BBC iPlayer sign-in is required to listen.) I am about to listen to it now.

A change of tune

“Brussels moves to preserve access to London clearing houses”, reports the Financial Times.

Brussels is to adopt emergency measures to preserve Europe’s access to crucial UK financial market infrastructure after the country’s post-Brexit transition period expires, the bloc’s regulation chief said on Thursday.

Valdis Dombrovskis, the European Commission’s executive vice-president in charge of financial policy, said Brussels would adopt “time-limited” access rights to make sure that European companies could still access UK-based clearing houses after the end of this year.

“This decision is being taken to address the possible risks to financial stability related to the specific area of derivatives clearing,” Mr Dombrovskis said. “However, we would encourage all market participants to prepare for all possible eventualities, as we have consistently called on them to do throughout this process.”

Mr Dombrovskis did not specify when the access rights would expire, but the move will provide short-term certainty for traders in the specific area of clearing while Brussels continues to discuss future relations with the UK.

To be frank I have only the vaguest idea what a clearing house does. It sounds worryingly like tidying. But whatever it is, for the EU to adopt “emergency measures to preserve Europe’s access to crucial UK financial market infrastructure” seems a distinct change from its previous policy, also mentioned in the article:

Brussels has repeatedly urged the financial sector and companies to adapt to the fact that Britain is leaving the single market; the EU also adopted legislation last year to make it easier to force clearing houses to relocate to the continent. But progress has been slower than the EU had hoped and investors have kept their business in the UK.

I am not surprised at the investors’ decision. I do not need to be an expert in decluttered differentials to be able to work out that if the EU felt the need to pass laws to make it easier to force investors to move their business out of the UK that means they would be better off staying put.