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]

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.

The revolting revolting rich

Ed West provided the quote about younger sons of Norman lords which became the SQotD for June 4th. He has now written a follow up piece, “Why the rich are revolting”

Today’s unrest involves two sections of US society, African-Americans and upper-middle-class whites, who together form the axis of the Democratic Party, but it is the latter who are far more engaged in racial activism. The “Great Awokening”, the mass movement focused on eradicating racism in America and with a quasi-religious, almost hysterical feel to it, is dominated by the upper middle class.

I knew that, but I did not know this:

That noble tradition of haute bourgeoisie revolution continues today, especially in the US. The Occupy movement, for example, is deeply opposed to the 1% but largely because they come from the 2-5%; Amy Chua cited figures suggesting that in New York, more than half it members earned $75,000 or more while only 8% were on low incomes, compared to 30% of the city. They also have hugely disproportionate numbers of graduates and post-grads among their members.

The wider Great Awokening, of which the 2020 disturbances are a part, is a very elite phenomenon, with progressive activists nearly twice as likely as the average American to make more than $100,000 a year, nearly three times as likely to have a postgraduate degree, and only one-quarter as likely to be black.

If Corbyn had won we’d have had free broadband by 2030

As in we would have had it.

15 November 2019:

General election 2019: Labour pledges free broadband for all

Labour has promised to give every home and business in the UK free full-fibre broadband by 2030, if it wins the general election.

The party would nationalise part of BT to deliver the policy and introduce a tax on tech giants to help pay for it.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell told the BBC the “visionary” £20bn plan would “ensure that broadband reaches the whole of the country”.

28 May 2020:

No more free petrol, Maduro tells Venezuelans

Venezuela’s socialist government says it is ending its policy of allowing motorists to fill up with free petrol as the country confronted an economic meltdown.

“Petrol must be paid for,” said President Maduro in a state TV address. He described the change, euphemistically, as a “normalisation and regularisation plan.”

Solving the problem of dogs stuck to the ceiling

A concerned citizen writes,

Little know fact: sometimes dogs float to the ceiling and get stuck there. It’s a serious problem and we should really start to talk about it more to find a solution.

I urge you to look at the pictures the blogger provides of dogs in this position. Few will remain unmoved. Except the dogs, they do remain unmoved, because they are stuck.

Although the writer did not try to make any political capital from this issue, it did lead me to wonder what other problems in modern society are conceptually similar to the plight of these dogs. I did think of one: as you no doubt recall from your perusal of page 61 of the 2019 Labour manifesto, the Labour Party pledged to tackle the insecurity of casual work by:

Ending bogus self-employment and creating a single status of ‘worker’ for everyone apart from those genuinely self-employed in business on their own account, so that employers can not evade workers’ rights; and banning overseas-only recruitment practices.
• Introducing a legal right to collective consultation on the implementation of new technology in workplaces.
• Banning zero-hour contracts and strengthening the law so that those who work regular hours for more than 12 weeks will have a right to a regular contract, reflecting those hours.

I think the gig economy might be a dogs-stuck-to-the-ceiling type of problem. Can you think of any others?

That this post is classified as “Hippos” is not an error. It was done firstly because that was the category that most closely matched the content, and secondly because we all need to be alert for hippos stuck to the ceiling.

Now, that’s what I call optimism!

“Council borrowed £1bn from taxpayers to bet on British sunshine”, report Gareth Davies and Charles Boutaud of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Among Thurrock’s rundown council estates and neglected public parks, typical of many towns after a decade of austerity, there is nothing to suggest that over the past three years the local council has borrowed and then invested hundreds of millions of pounds of other councils’ money.

Under the direction of a senior council officer Thurrock borrowed from about 150 local authorities across the UK with little public scrutiny. These loans were not for direct funding of council services, or investing in infrastructure – instead they financed solar farms more than a hundred miles away.

Now, let us not reflexively roll our eyes upon hearing the words “solar farms”. While there has been some reason for the widespread perception that investment in sunbeams has about the same record of success as investment in moonbeams, the technology of solar power genuinely has improved in recent years.

Sean Clark, Thurrock’s director of finance, oversaw the investment of £604m in the solar industry, investments he says were prompted entirely by intermediaries approaching him with money-making opportunities. In an extraordinary interview with The Bureau, Clark wondered whether he had gone too far. At last count Thurrock owed other councils an unprecedented £1bn.

OK, now you can roll your eyes.

John Kent, the former Labour leader of Thurrock council, called on the current administration to come clean. He said: “People absolutely need to be aware that the council has borrowed £1bn – that’s billion with a b.” He claimed that the council had declined to give elected members or the public adequate details of precisely how it invested the money.

As you might have deduced from that, Thurrock Council is currently controlled by the Conservatives.

Come to sunny Thurrock, where the Tories splurge on borrowed money and it is left to Labour to be the voice of prudence! Or come to sunny Britain, which is the same except for the bit about Labour.

A new book by Anton Howes about the Royal Society of Arts is coming out soon

Yes, I learn from a tweet by Anton Howes, a young academic whom I greatly admire, that his first book, entitled Arts & Minds: How The Royal Society of Arts Changed a Nation will be out on May 12th. It is already available on Kindle.

I will start reading this book with the prejudice in my head that the Industrial Revolution was not only “industrial”; it also resembled what we more usually mean by a “revolution”, in the sense that it was also an ideological event. People didn’t just do this, for their own private and selfish reasons. They believed in doing it. They told each other, and anyone else who would listen, that what they were doing would do good, on a huge scale.

But unlike with almost all other “revolutions”, the ideologists of the Industrial Revolution were completely and triumphantly right. This triumphant rightness has been such an elephantine presence in the room of history, and is so very counter-intuitive (“Ideologists are all nutters!”), that the ideological nature of this revolution has now become nearly invisible.

The concluding paragraph of the Amazon blurb …:

Informative and entertaining, Arts and Minds reveals how a society of public-spirited individuals tried to make their country a better place, and draws vital lessons from their triumphs and failures for all would-be reformers today.

… together with the title of the book, arts and minds, suggest to me that the above prejudices will be confirmed and strengthened.

Samizdata half-forgotten sorta-quote of the day

If there is a disaster, would you like people for hundreds of miles around to drop everything and make herculean efforts to get those worst affected exactly the sort of help they need most – even when the helpers have no personal connection with the victims? Would you like factories worldwide to rush to switch production to making whatever they are short of in the disaster zone?

You would? Then let people make money by doing it. You can either rely on the small subset of people who will seriously disrupt their lives to help strangers out of pure charity, or you can also get help from the much larger pool of people who who are pushed from vague thoughts of benevolence into action by the prospect of profit. Let them sell goods of which there is a shortage at a higher price and soon there won’t be a shortage any more.

– something sorta like this was said by someone, whom I would gladly credit if I could remember who they were.

My post was prompted by this story by Edward Thicknesse in City A.M.: Coronavirus: Calls for price controls dismissed as ‘economically illiterate’.

What are the best arguments for libertarianism?

Coronavirus is dominating all our lives just now, but I have little to say about it other than that I, like almost everyone else, wish it all to stop, both the virus itself and the measures now believed necessary to combat it. Whether these measures have been and are insufficient or wise or excessive, I look forward to reading about in the months and years ahead, but do not now have much of an opinion about.

Instead, I would like to ask some questions about the political beliefs that most of us here share. What are the best arguments you know of in favour of libertarianism? I define “libertarianism” loosely, as a general inclination towards liberty, towards property as the way to solve the problems of contending liberties, general lifestyle freedom, and (very) little in the way of governmental power, either financial or regulatory.

Insofar as I can remember how I first thought about such things (during the 1960s and early 1970s), what made me a libertarian was that the world’s most free countries seemed also to be the nicest countries, while the least free countries were definitely the nastiest ones. This contrast was especially clear when you looked at single countries which had been divided into two countries, unfree and much freer, such as Korea and Germany.

What pushed me away from the majority “centrist” notion of how things should be (quite a lot of liberty but also a lot of government), was the thought that if extreme liberty worked amazingly well (Hong Kong seemed to me to illustrate that) and extreme lack of liberty definitely worked extremely badly, why would you want to have a “balanced” mixture of these two contending processes, one very good but the other extremely bad? There was a widespread view, then as now, that “business” needed to be quite free, but that things like healthcare, education, and (a particular interest of mine) architecture, could not or should not be treated only as businesses, as the mere outcomes of free and individual decisions, like the washing machine business or the hi-fi business. I thought: Why not? Surely this notion should be given a serious go, in at least some countries. I further thought that if it was given a serious go it would work out very well, and that it consequently would, or at least should, spread very widely and preferably to nearly everywhere.

I further believed that “lifestyle” freedom and commercial freedom went well together, each reinforcing the other, despite the loudly expressed opinion from many of my contemporaries, who also favoured lifestyle freedom but who believed that only government power applied to the advantage of hitherto disadvantaged minorities could set them free.

So, those were my answers to my above questions, and such thinking continues to make me call myself a libertarian. But are mine the sort of arguments that will best persuade others to arrive at similar conclusions?

What I’m hoping for from commenters is not so much minute dissection of only a very few arguments, but rather quantity of arguments, each quickly and perhaps rather roughly described, together with expressed preferences for this sort argument over that, in terms of persuasiveness. Thanks in advance for as many answers to these questions as commenters are kind enough to supply.

Concerning quantity of arguments in particular, different people respond to different arguments, depending on how they already think, and therefore maybe quantity is the key to successful libertarian persuasion. We need lots of arguments, including many that we have either not yet thought of, or made much use of, or which we ourselves do not now consider very persuasive. Perhaps the title of this posting should be: What are all the arguments for libertarianism?

By the way, you don’t have to be a libertarian to contribute to this discussion. Quite the contrary. Every argument against libertarianism calls for a response, which it may get, or may not get but should.

Links have been lacking in this so far, so here is one to end with, although not a proper one because it is to a video recording of a talk that I myself gave in 2012, to the now alas dormant Libertarian Home. This talk was entitled Libertarianism Is Simple To Describe But Not Simple To Argue For. Partly because of what it said, this talk started well but became less coherent as it went on. But I’m still quite proud of it, because despite its meandering nature, it does refer to many different sorts of arguments for and against libertarianism, of the sort I seek to learn more about now.

Yes, we have no Eurobonds, we have no Eurobonds today

There’s a fruit store on our street
It’s run by a Greek.
And he keeps good things to eat
But you should hear him speak!
When you ask him anything, he never answers “no”.
He just “yes”es you to death, and as he takes your dough
He tells you
“Yes, we have no bananas
We have-a no bananas today.”

Those are some of the words to the 1923 hit song “Yes, We Have No Bananas” by Frank Silver and Irving Cohn. The song is mostly associated with World War II, but according to Wikipedia it had found its way into the history books before that:

The song was the theme of the outdoor relief protests in Belfast in 1932. These were a unique example of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland protesting together, and the song was used because it was one of the few non-sectarian songs that both communities knew. The song lent its title to a book about the depression in Belfast.

For nine decades “the depression” meant the one that started in 1929. But the coronavirus looks likely to bring in its wake an economic depression that may well take the definite article for itself. Naomi O’Leary of the Irish Times reports,

Euro finance ministers reach compromise to fund pandemic recovery

Deal dashes hopes of Italy, Ireland and seven others for the roll out of so-called corona bonds

The 19 members of the euro zone agreed a compromise on Thursday to aid states in need of funding to address the profound economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.

But it dashed the hopes of Italy, Ireland, Spain and six other member states that had called for eurobonds to bring down borrowing costs and send a signal of unity as the continent confronts a health crisis that is threatens to become an economic disaster.

Under the deal, states can borrow from the European Stability Mechanism bailout fund to finance spending needed to overcome the crisis.

I do not seek to play down their achievement in reaching a compromise at all. Every finance minister on Earth must be passing sleepless nights wondering how best to deal with our current predicament. But the dilemma faced by the Eurozone countries is particularly acute. Italy and Spain will never forgive the EU if they receive no help in their hour of need. But the northern countries were repeatedly assured that EU membership and the adoption of the Euro would never mean they had to write a blank cheque to what they see as the spendthrifts to the south (and a few other directions besides). The Dutch, the Germans, the Finns and the Austrians must hope that when they say, “yes, we have no Eurobonds” the upbeat momentum of the first three words will carry them over the next two.