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]

Hey, Scottish council workers, how about we use your pension to build social housing?

To its credit the Times publishes several columnists who go against the opinions of its readers. Sometimes, however, I suspect that the Times ignobly picks writers who are not the best ambassadors for their causes. The readership of the paper’s Scotland section is devoutly Unionist. Every week Fiona Rintoul reminds them why. In an article called “Scotland can prosper once we take the wheel”, she writes:

Fresh ideas have also come from Jim Osborne, of the Scottish Banking and Finance Group. He has proposed reforming the pension system to benefit pensioners and the wider community. Scotland’s council pension funds, which control £45.5 billion of assets, could, he feels, help to support the expansion of Scotland’s social housing stock. This chimes with global developments in pension funds’ asset allocation. With bond yields at historic lows, pension funds are turning to infrastructure investments for yield.

Osborne has also suggested that Scottish local authorities be allowed to issue municipal bonds to power spending. Again, this chimes with global developments as bond markets diversify. Scottish local authority “munis” could form suitable investments for pension funds too.

In Lebanon, the leaves are falling off the magic money tree

This excellent article in the US Spectator by Paul Wood is two weeks old. That probably means all the prices he quotes should by now have an extra zero at the end. The vividness of his portrayal of Lebanon as the magic stops working is unaffected, so read it anyway: “What happens when your currency collapses?”

An extract:

The government continues to insist that for imports of some vital goods — food, fuel and medicines — the lira is worth the fictional rate of 1,500 to the dollar. What this means is vast government subsidies to import these goods.

This has had some perverse effects. For a long time, you could fill up your car for about five bucks. The gas station would charge you, say, 60,000 lira, which was $40 at the official exchange rate, except your lira would have come from the black market at a fraction of that. As any economist will tell you, if you don’t ration by price, you ration by queuing, as in the Soviet Union. So there have been long lines at gas stations and now actual rationing, a quarter of a tank per customer — and that’s if you can find a gas station open at all. A side effect of the fuel shortage is that the internet is slowing to a crawl, sometimes breaking down altogether. The commonly accepted explanation is that there’s not enough diesel to run the power plant belonging to the national phone and internet company.

It’s the same with medicines. We’ve just bought a year’s course of treatment for our daughter’s nanny, who has breast cancer. We went to the hospital with 225 million lira in cash. It filled a small backpack. Those lira cost some $15,000 on the black market but they paid for $150,000 worth of medicines at the official exchange rate.

Lebanon is temporarily the cheapest place in the world to have cancer. People are coming here for treatment; subsidized medicines of all kinds are being smuggled abroad. A hypertension drug named Atacand has turned up for sale in Kinshasa, at $20 a box. It was bought in Lebanon for $2 a box. Atacand is therefore unobtainable here now. One report about this absurd situation quoted a Lebanese expat in Kinshasa who was buying the drug there to send back to his village at home.

The human will to self-deception is strong. There are some who will read this article and only take in one line: “Lebanon is temporarily the cheapest place in the world to have cancer.” There are some in Lebanon living through these events who will only take in one thought: “Isn’t it great how fuel, food and medicine are so cheap now!” They will not ask themselves why they are so hard to get, or why, as Mr Wood mentions elsewhere in the article, half of Lebanon’s doctors have left to work abroad.

Be not afraid… on second thoughts, be afraid. It pays better.

The Metro reports,

NHS receptionist handed £56,000 after being sacked for being afraid of patients

A receptionist at an NHS clinic who was petrified of patients was wrongfully dismissed, a tribunal found.

Sacramenta D’Silva received £56,684 in compensation from Croydon Health Service NHS Trust.

She suffered from public phobia and told managers at the trust’s chest clinic, which she joined in 2003, that she only wanted to work in a back office booking appointments.

But her bosses said her role was public-facing.

Related: “Everyone’s a winner”, a post from last year about another public sector worker who won big at an employment tribunal.

Readers’ poll: what on earth did Boris mean?

Sky News on Twitter: “Boris Johnson has suggested the world’s leading nations should support a more ‘gender-neutral and feminine’ way of post-COVID economic recovery.”

“Gender neutral and feminine”? Click on the words below* that in your opinion best match what was going through Boris’s tousled head as he said these words.

(a) Pay up, Matt, I did it.

(b) Hey, if Joe can get away with “Those RFA pilots”, I can get away with this.

(c) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Carrie.

(d) You’re looking awfully pretty today, Ursula.

*Nothing will happen when you click. But you will feel better for having expressed yourself.

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.